Sitting down to write any best-of list is a no-win situation for the writer. There's always someone who gets left off, and you hear about it. (Sorry Mac Danzig.) Or there's someone who shouldn't be there, and you hear about it. (You're welcome, Frank Mir.)
But that's also what makes these lists so great – they always elicit discussion. There's no right or wrong answers, but all the opinions bring out some great and endless debates, part of what makes sports in general, and mixed martial arts in particular, so fun to talk about.
It's in that vein that we bring you the best knockouts of 2010, and in a little different style than a typical Top 10 list. Sure, dropping in some fun categories apart from one man's opinion of the best of the year is a cheap way to list more knockouts – ensuring there are fewer snubs. But despite taking the easy way out, we still hope you'll enjoy a look back at 25 of the year's best knockouts. We beseech you: Go easy on the writer. And let the debate begin.
The Best of the Best(HM) Takanori Gomi vs. Tyson Griffin
UFC on Versus 2, Aug. 1
It was assumed the best days for "The Fireball Kid" were behind him when he signed with the UFC early in the year. When Kenny Florian submitted him in March, he became yet another high-profile UFC signee to lose his debut for the company. A knockout was the last thing most people expected when Gomi took on Griffin. In his 17-fight career, Griffin had never been stopped – his three losses had all been decisions. Gomi, a southpaw, put an end to all that when he fired a left cross that nipped Griffin, then threw a right hook that sent Griffin face-first to the canvas. Gomi got off a few short shots on the ground before the fight was stopped. Was it the signal of Gomi's return to his glory days in Pride, where he was a lightweight champion? We may find out Jan. 1 when he meets Clay Guida at UFC 125. (5) Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Lindland
Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu, Dec. 4
The week before his fight with Lindland, Lawler told MMA Fighting he expected his opponent, an Olympic medalist Greco-Roman wrestler, to stand and trade with him. That may have been Mistake No. 1. Just 45 seconds into their fight in St. Louis, only eight miles down the road from his H.I.T. Squad training base, Lawler showed why he's one of the most feared boxers in the sport. He drilled Lindland with a left, scooted to the side of a counter left and landed a short right uppercut to the chin that was followed immediately by a right hook that dropped Lindland to the mat. If there was a Mistake No. 2, it was thanks to instinct. Lindland rolled over quickly after hitting the ground, just in time for Lawler to rain down another right to the chin from his knees that put Lindland out for good. Lawler was nice enough to straighten Lindland's legs out for the doctor as he calmly stood up to celebrate the win that ultimately got him a middleweight title shot against Jacare Souza. It was the second highlight reel KO for Lawler in 2010 – in January, he starched Melvin Manhoef in the first round in one of the year's best out-of-nowhere finishes.(4) Rich Franklin vs. Chuck Liddell
UFC 115, June 12
In what has become an annual event the last three years that has grown hard to stomach for many fans – not to mention UFC president Dana White – former UFC light heavyweight champ Chuck Liddell again went down to knockout, this time to former middleweight champ and fellow legend Rich Franklin. Liddell, though, had looked closer to the "Iceman" of old than he had in several years throughout the first round – and he even broke Franklin's left arm with a kick. But when Liddell stepped in for a straight right and came up empty, Franklin countered with a tight right straight to the kisser that planted the UFC Hall of Famer. Two more big ones on the ground were enough icing on the cake for Herb Dean to shut it down late in the first. For Franklin, it was arguably the most high-profile victory of his career – and a win over Forrest Griffin at UFC 126 would have him, and the UFC, wondering about one more run at a title. For Liddell, it was likely his swan song. White said after the fight he guaranteed it was Liddell's last – though he's made that promise and gone back on it once before. (3) Carlos Condit vs. Dan Hardy
UFC 120, Oct. 16
It's never easy to win when your opponent has the home cage advantage, and Carlos Condit had no favors done for him when passport issues delayed his departure for London from the States by an extra day. That gave his outspoken British opponent, Dan Hardy, a little more to nibble on in the days leading up to their fight at the O2 Arena. But in the end, it was a left hook from Condit that shut Hardy's mouth, and two follow-up rights on the ground that sealed the deal. For a heavily hyped fight thanks to a typical amount of Hardy trash talk, both fighters proceeded with caution through much of the first round – firing off dozens of kicks between them. And each took turns scoring with carefully timed strikes. But deep in the first round, they threw simultaneous left hooks – and Condit's landed first and, more importantly, hardest. Hardy, the hometown favorite from Nottingham, England, may have recovered from that one shot – but two Condit rights on the ground left the O2 Arena buzzing. (2) Cole Escovedo vs. Yoshiro Maeda
Dream 13, March 22
Things had been going pretty well for Cole Escovedo since he returned to the game from a nearly three-year absence. The former WEC featherweight champ, who lost his title to Urijah Faber at WEC 19, had been forced out of the sport after spinal surgery resulting from complications from a staph infection. But four straight wins, including three stoppages, had him riding high. Then came his stiffest test since his WEC days, a bout against ex-WEC top bantamweight contender Yoshiro Maeda at Dream 13 – where he was a more than 2-to-1 underdog. The taller Escovedo used kicks to fend off the early offense from Maeda, whose combinations were finding a home continually in the first minute. After a short stoppage for an accidental eye poke, Maeda continued to pick Escovedo apart in the standup game. But then Escovedo threw out a very routine right inside leg kick that Maeda ducked low to defend. And that was followed with a left head kick that seemingly came out of nowhere, perfectly placed and perfectly crisp. Maeda fell instantly, his arms stiffening up as Escovedo moved in for the finish that wasn't needed as the referee jumped in to make sure Escovedo knew Maeda was out. (1) Paul Daley vs. Scott Smith
Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu, Dec. 4
It was pretty easy to predict a slugfest between Paul Daley, one of the most feared strikers in MMA, and Scott Smith, the sport's comeback kid known for brawling and pulling victory out of the jaws of defeat. All eyes were on Daley, though, who was making his return to the big stage after being famously cut by the UFC after his infamous post-fight sucker punch of Josh Koscheck in May. And he didn't disappoint. Daley set the tone quickly – as if Smith or anyone else thought he would do anything but look for the home run punch. A left-right combination put Smith on his backside and Daley followed it in. But Smith quickly worked back to his feet and even showed some offense just before the lights went out. As Smith came forward, Daley covered up, then reared back with a left to the chin that had Smith face-planting in the center of the cage and Showtime announcer Mauro Ranallo letting out the best "Mama mia!" call of the year – even better than his Sarah Kaufman "Mamma mia!" call. The Slammy Awards ...
... in which our heroes pick their opponents up and try to power bomb them through the canvas.Gerald Harris vs. David Branch
UFC 116, July 3
Though his nickname is "The Hurricane," Harris delivered brought Branch down like an avalanche on the back of his head – right in front of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, whose grimacing reaction told the story. Sarah Kaufman vs. Roxanne Modafferi
Strikeforce Challengers 9, July 23
As Modafferi worked from her back looking for a triangle, then an armbar, Kaufman's defense was to pick her up and slam her straight down. Suffice it to say, it worked. Eddie Wineland vs. Ken Stone
WEC 53, Dec. 16
The scariest of these three power slams, Wineland's had the most strategy behind it. When Stone jumped guard, Wineland carried him calmly to his corner, listened to his coaches' instructions, then let loose with an all-time highlight-worthy knockout to help the WEC go out with a bang. Stone was out on the canvas for several minutes following the slam – which wasn't shown on the Versus broadcast. But after a trip to the hospital, fortunately he was cleared and released. The win was Wineland's second straight Knockout of the Night – he stopped Will Campuzano with a rare body shot KO in June. The Where Did THAT Come From?!? Awards ...
... in which our heroes showed no signs of life, then ended things in a snap.
Robbie Lawler vs. Melvin Manhoef
Strikeforce: Miami, Jan. 30
Manhoef's kicks to Lawler's lead leg and body were vicious, and Lawler ate plenty of them in the Dutchman's Strikeforce debut. The fact that Lawler was able to stay standing was a moral victory in the first round. But after eating a leg kick for the umpteenth time in the round, Lawler answered with an overhand right that had Manhoef out on his feet, and a second later out on the canvas for the first time in more than five years. Mike Russow vs. Todd Duffee
UFC 116, July 3
There was nothing pretty about this fight. Duffee came in hyped for his UFC record 7-second knockout of Tim Hague at UFC 102 in his promotion debut. And Russow won his debut on that same card. But this battle of big men was all Duffee for more than 12 minutes, as he easily out-struck Russow, who mounted next to nothing offensively – until a straight right from nowhere was enough to end Duffee's night. Russow got a Knockout of the Night bonus (and a broken arm) for his troubles; Duffee got an eventual pink slip. Frank Mir vs. Mirko Cro Cop
UFC 119, Sept. 25
Enter the boo birds. UFC 119 was panned as one of the worst cards in the promotion's history because many of its fights didn't live up to their billing. At the front of the list was this one, a battle of heavyweight legends. Both fighters seemed to be just going through the motions, neither taking any chances. But late in the fight, a close-range exchange saw Mir pull Cro Cop's head down just enough to land a right knee to the chin, flooring the Pride legend. Despite the finish, UFC president Dana White was so disgusted with the overall malaise with the main event in general that he snubbed Mir with a Knockout of the Night bonus – despite that being the only KO on the card. The Don't-Blink Awards ...
... in which our heroes turned the lights out, and quickly.
Marlon Sandro vs. Tomonari Kanomata
Sengoku Raiden Championships 12, March 7
Sandro won the Sengoku featherweight title with an equally impressive KO of Masanori Kanehara later in the year in just 38 seconds. But it was his 9-second knockout of Kanomata that was real blink-and-miss-it quality. Sandro, a BJJ black belt, staggered Kanomata with a left, then pulled a right uppercut from the depths. His walk to the ring took more energy than his victory.Hector Lombard vs. Jay Silva
Bellator 18, May 13
Even in its infancy, Bellator has not been shy about giving the MMA world some best-of-the-year quality highlights. Lombard's 6-second knockout of Silva seemed to say, "Take that, Todd Duffee!" Lombard, Bellator's first middleweight champ and unbeaten since a 2006 loss to Gegard Mousasi, needed only two punches to make Bellator history: a left, then a right. Some follow-up shots weren't needed, as Silva was already napping.BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes
UFC 123, Nov. 20
Expecting Penn to beat Hughes in their trilogy fight in Detroit wasn't a stretch. Expecting him to move up to welterweight and put Hughes' lights out in 21 seconds? The odds would've been off the charts. After catching an early Hughes kick, Penn landed a power right hand that put Hughes on his back, and three big shots to the chin later, the newest UFC Hall of Fame member was out cold for the first time in his career. The Namemaker Awards ...
... in which our heroes put themselves on the map.
Pat Curran vs. Mike Ricci
Bellator 14, April 15
Prior to getting a shot in Bellator's lightweight tournament, Curran's claim to fame, other than being cousins with former WEC and UFC fighter Jeff Curran, was his appearance on the Tapout reality show. That all changed three minutes in against Ricci, an unbeaten Georges St-Pierre prodigy when, after keeping his distance and doing plenty of range-finding, Curran came straight forward with a right hand to the chin that changed the course of his career. Two upset wins later, Curran was Bellator's Season 2 lightweight champion. Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Joachim Hansen
Dream 14, May 29
Saying Takaya didn't have a name is probably a stretch, though the "Streetfight Bancho" was not well known outside of Japan. And though Hansen, coming off losses to Shinya Aoki and Bibiano Fernandes, had seen better days, he had never been knocked out in nearly 30 fights. Takaya put a stop to that with a quick barrage of jabs that staggered "Hellboy." A right to the chin put him on his back, and another right on the ground was all she wrote.Pablo Garza vs. Fredson Paixao
TUF 12 Finale, Dec. 4
Along with Eddie Wineland's power slam of Ken Stone 12 days later, Garza's knockout of Paixao was one of the scarier moments in the sport in 2010. Garza, welcomed the featherweight division to the UFC with a flying knee directly to Paixao's chin. Out cold for several minutes and on his back for several more, Paixao was administered oxygen, given a neck collar and was ultimately taken from cageside on a stretcher. Garza's 7-inch height advantage was noticeable, and that almost certainly helped the big knee do much of its work.The Big Stage, Bigger Response Awards ...
... in which our heroes entered with plenty on the line, and were up to the task.
Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
UFC 110, Feb. 21
With a shot at heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar on the line, not to mention already being touted as the type of fighter who could dethrone Lesnar, Velasquez stayed unbeaten with an improbable first-round stoppage of "Big Nog" – a man who had been stopped just once in his legendary career, and never in the first round. Velasquez hammered Nogueira with a two-punch combo to drop him, and the first of several follow-ups on the ground ushered in a new era of heavyweight fighter, which Velasquez confirmed with his TKO of Lesnar in October. Manny Gamburyan vs. Mike Brown
WEC 48, April 24
Brown, looking to get another crack at featherweight champ Jose Aldo, who took his title six months earlier, wound up on the business end of Gamburyan's "Anvil" nickname when the Armenian stopped him in his tracks with a booming right hand. To deliver the punch in tight quarters, Gamburyan had to eat a left from Brown – but the title shot he got against Aldo was worth it, as was his $65,000 Knockout of the Night bonus on the WEC's first and only pay-per-view.Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Lyoto Machida
UFC 113, May 8
Coming off a controversial decision loss to Machida at UFC 104 six months earlier, a fight many believed he won, Rua came to Montreal with something to prove. He did so with authority, handing Machida his first loss and taking the light heavyweight title. Determined to not let the judges decide his fate in the rematch, Rua turned a competitive first frame around instantly. He dropped Machida with a vicious right and an onslaught of punches on the mat left no doubt the second time around.The Ain't That a Kick in the Head Awards ...
... in which our heroes did their handiwork using their feet.
Anthony Pettis vs. Danny Castillo
WEC 47, March 6
Pettis would become known later in the year for an even more impressive kick to the head with the WEC lightweight title on the line. But it was his Knockout of the Night win in Columbus, Ohio, that took him from prospect status to star-in-the-making. A high left kick caught Castillo flush, and a star was born.Maximo Blanco vs. Chang Hyun Kim
Sengoku Raiden Championships 12, March 7
With all of his wins by knockout, there was only one thing on Blanco's mind against Kim. One guess what it was. He got it, and by way of just a straight silly "uppercut" with his foot. Most head kicks are roundhouses, from the side. Blanco, keeping a relentless and fearless early pace, chased Kim into a corner of the ring, and when Kim dropped his head momentarily from a Blanco right, Blanco brought his left foot straight up and connected with Kim's chin. A few punches later, Blanco had yet another highlight-reel finish, his third straight knockout and new status as one of the world's best up-and-coming lightweights. George Roop vs. Chan Sung Jung
WEC 51, Sept. 30
Chan Sung Jung really deserves better. Many believe he was robbed of a decision win by the judges at WEC 48 against Leonard Garcia. But in that fight, "The Korean Zombie" was truly born to a new legion of fans. His reward? TUF 8 veteran Roop, who has bounced between 135, 145 and 155 pounds. Roop was a big underdog against Jung, but in the second round he found out another way to stop a zombie, other than asking the judges to decide: a kick to the noggin. Roop delivered a picture-perfect left-right combination and instantly threw a left kick to the head that had Jung out before his head hit the mat. It was just the second knockout in Roop's career, and proving there might be something in the water in Denver, the first also came in the shadow of the Rockies. The Too-Good-To-Not-Mention Award ...
... in which our hero didn't get a knockout, per se, but hey, who cares, because it was awesome.
Anthony Pettis vs. Ben Henderson
WEC 53, Dec. 16
OK, OK. When Pettis jumped into the cage with his right foot and catapulted himself into the air to slap lightweight champ Ben Henderson across the mouth with the same foot, all in one crazy only-in-a-video-game motion, he didn't really knock Henderson out. But are you kidding me?!? Nine times out of 10, that shot results in a KO, assuming we'd see that move pulled off another nine times – which we will not. A once-in-a-lifetime move like Pettis' "Showtime Kick" deserves a spot on every list. I'd find a way to put it on the Submissions of the Year list if I could, it was that good. And hey, though Henderson said after the fight he wasn't knocked out – and he did make a valiant takedown effort to try and salvage the round and the fight – let's just go ahead and say he was out for a second and came back to when he hit the floor. No matter, it was a legendary move that helped make a great fight a legendary fight, and Pettis was immortalized because of it. He gets the biggest Honorable Mention asterisk of the year.