During the calendar year, there were many spectacular knockouts coming from likely candidates and surprising sources alike. And while I have a feeling many will disagree with me, my pick for Knockout of the Year goes to Anderson Silva for his spectacular, backpedaling, one-punch finish over Forrest Griffin at UFC 101.
The reason for my pick goes deeper than just the fight-ending strike.
It may be hard to remember now, but Silva came into the fight under a harsh glare of criticism. After back-to-back performances described as "lackluster" or "disinterested" by many, the fans were down on him to the point that when he walked into the Wachovia Center, he nearly drowned in a sea of boos from the crowd of 17,411. Philadelphia is not exactly known for its forgiving sports fans, so it was clear he would need to do something spectacular.
Greatness in sports is often defined by the ability to excel in moments that make mortals wither.
Think about this for a second: Silva came into the fight with a 10-fight win streak, as the UFC middleweight champion and was universally thought of as one of the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Finally, he was moving up in weight against a former light-heavyweight champion, and despite it all, he was being booed out of the building.
Did he crumble under the pressure? No. Just the opposite, the superstar put on possibly the most masterful performance of his UFC career. He slipped, slided and dodged Griffin's strikes. He knocked Griffin down early, then offered to help him up. At one point, the showman dropped his hands and implored Griffin to come at him with more.
The final sequence was vintage Silva. Griffin came forward throwing a straight right, then a left. Silva beckpedaled in a controlled manner, just slipping out of Griffin's range. As Griffin wound up for another punch in the sequence, Silva -- still moving backward -- blasted him with a short right hand right to the point of the jaw.
Griffin's head snapped sideways and he fells backwards in a heap, his leg for a moment straight up in the air before crashing to the mat with the rest of his body.
The buzz that reverberated through the crowd was something that only a superstar can muster, and doing it under those conditions is something only a great can do. The buzz so overwhelmed the arena that the event's final match -- the lightweight title fight between the equally legendary champ B.J. Penn and challenger Kenny Florian -- was essentially fought in its shadow.
Just like that, the MMA world was back in Silva's corner.
While my No. 2 pick below was a more traditional power knockout favored by the masses, no other KO in 2009 had as much back story, depth and future importance, and for that, it gets my KO of the Year designation.
There was no shortage of great KO's, and with apologies to the many others than legitimate claims to the list, here are the rest of my top five:
2. Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping, UFC 100
It was arguably the most devastating and most vicious KO of the year. Henderson and Bisping had spent a season on The Ultimate Fighter together, and it became clear Hendo was not very fond of the brash Brit upstart.
As the fight progressed, it became quite obvious Bisping was flirting with danger, continually circling to his left and directly into Henderson's power hand. In the second round, the mistake cost him. Henderson perfectly timed the right, blasting Bisping with a crushing right hand that folded him. The fight was essentially over, but before referee Mario Yamasaki could get in between them to wave it off, Henderson added a final, flying strike for good measure.
3. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brett Rogers, Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers
Emelianenko actually authored two of the year's most brutal punches, also hammering Andrei Arlovski in a January highlight-reel finish.
His win over Rogers gets the nod because of the setting; the previously unbeaten Rogers truly pushed Emelianenko into the second round before joining the long and storied list of his victims. The devastating overhand right that felled Rogers was loud enough to almost sound cartoonish in nature.
4. Dan Hornbuckle vs. Akihiro Gono, Sengoku 9
Possibly the single most destructive strike of 2009 came from the right leg of Hornbuckle. Midway through the third round of their bout, Gono threw a lazy body kick. Hornbuckle caught Gono's leg and while he was still off-balance, Hornbuckle fired off a head kick that caught Gono at full power. The Japanese fighter toppled over like a fallen tree, unconscious before he hit the mat. Gono spent a day in the hospital afterward, but was amazingly back in the ring three months later, defeating Yoon Young Kim.
5. John Howard vs. Dennis Hallman, The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale
The most difficult time to get a knockout is when you desperately need one. Howard was in that situation in early December, behind on the judges scorecards after two rounds and with the third winding down. Then, suddenly, with the clock inside of 10 seconds remaining, it came. During a final striking exchange, Howard blasted Hallman with a left hook, putting the veteran down for the count in MMA's equivalent of the 9th-inning walkoff home run.