Event of the Half-Year: UFC 146

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

What do you get when you cram ten heavyweights (or, as Dan Hardy put it, nine heavyweights and a fat guy) onto one main card for one big pay-per-view on a Saturday night in Las Vegas? Heading into UFC 146, that was the question. The answer, according to most fans and media members, was: something great or something terrible, but very little in between.

When you think about it in those terms, UFC 146 turned out far, far better than anyone had a right to expect. When it comes to heavyweights, it’s usually feast or famine. Either they let the cannons roar and knock each other out in the first round, or they end up wheezing all over each other until the judges have seen enough and declare one of them the victor just so we can all go home. A main card of nothing but heavyweights? It sounded ambitious. It also sounded like the stuff disasters are made of.

Instead, what we got was a masterpiece. Five heavyweight fights, five finishes -- three in the first round -- and zero disappointments. Despite the numerous ways that it could have gone wrong, there was almost no way it could have gone better.

What makes UFC 146 more impressive is how many obstacles it had to clear before the first punch was even thrown. Once Alistair Overeem was found to have an over-abundance of testosterone that resulted in a suspension, Frank Mir got called up to take his place in the main event title fight against Junior dos Santos. Then Cain Velasquez, who was supposed to fight Mir, got Antonio Silva instead. Then Roy Nelson, who was supposed to fight Silva, got Gabriel Gonzaga. Then Gonzaga got hurt, and Nelson was given Dave Herman. If you’re aren’t exhausted and confused yet, just wait. We haven’t even gotten to the undercard.

What’s important is, even after this game of musical chairs, the card was even better in execution than it was on paper. Stefan Struve showed off his submission skills against Lavar Johnson (who, of course, was himself a late replacement for the injured Mark Hunt). Stipe Miocic announced his UFC presence with authority in a skull-slicing win over Shane del Rosario. Nelson knocked out Herman. Velasquez beat the plasma out of Silva. JDS called his shot and retained his title with a second-round TKO of a game Mir. What else could you want?

Well, a great prelim card would be nice. Maybe even one featuring breakout wins for guys like Paul Sass and Glover Teixeira, plus how about a career-salvaging knockout for Dan Hardy? Done. And -- what’s that? -- you also want to see former WEC champ Jamie Varner, the man the MMA world forgot about and left for dead, shock everyone with a first-round knockout of undefeated Brazilian terror Edson Barboza? Okay. Why not.

By the time it was all over, even the hot dog vendors were out of breath. More importantly, the heavyweights had proved that they were serious martial artists who could carry a card and put on a show. Even with a full summer lineup on the way, that’s a performance that’s going to be hard to beat.

2. UFC on FUEL TV: Gustafsson vs. Silva (aka: UFC Sweden)

I admit it, I’m biased. I had the privilege of attending the UFC’s Swedish debut in Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe Arena, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. Not only was the card spectacular (Gustafsson, Brian Stann, and Siyar Bahadurzada were worth the trip alone), but there’s always something special about seeing an event through the eyes of such a passionate crowd. The ovation for Gustafsson gave me chills, and I’ve never seen any crowd more excited about Reza Madadi (who is, in fairness, a pretty rad dude). Plus, the Swedes are just nice as hell.

3. UFC on FUEL TV: Korean Zombie vs. Poirer

This one makes the list almost solely for the main event. Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier was, after all, the fight of the half-year. You add in a dash of Donald Cerrone, a hint of Yves Jabouin and Tom Lawlor, plus an old-fashioned blood-and-guts battle between Igor Pokrajac and Fabio Maldonado, and you’ve got yourself an event worth remembering.

4. Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier

With two exciting big men like Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett battling it out in the finals, you could almost convince yourself that the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix was a success. Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson also did their part in reminding us of the existence of the Strikeforce lightweight title, so what else do you want, really?

5. UFC 145

Jon Jones continued his reign of supremacy in a showdown with former teammate Rashad Evans, while Michael McDonald and Ben Rothwell both notched first-round KO wins that resulted in the kind of highlights you can’t stand to watch, but can’t look away from. Somewhere in there, Rory MacDonald also found time to dominate another opponent.

Honorable mentions:

UFC 143

Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey

UFC 142

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