Unless you're the hardest of hard-core mixed martial arts fans, you had never heard of Jose Aldo at the start of 2009. Heck, unless you're a hard-core mixed martial arts fan, you probably still haven't heard of Jose Aldo.
But there's no one in the sport who had a more impressive year than Aldo, the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion, and Aldo is our choice for Fighter of the Year.
Here's what Aldo's 2009 looked like:
Jan. 25: Knocked out Rolando Perez with a knee and punches at the 4:15 mark of the first round of their fight at WEC 38.
March 1: Needed just 1:39 to TKO Chris Mickle with a barrage of punches at WEC 39.
June 7: Flew across the ring at the outset of his fight with Cub Swanson, landing a flying knee that flattened Swanson and finished the fight in a ridiculous eight seconds.
Nov. 18: Won the featherweight championship of the world by dominating Mike Brown, beating the guy who was -- until that night -- universally recognized as the beast featherweight in the world by TKO at 1:20 of the second round.
MMA is a brutal sport, and fighters just can't fight that often. Fighting four times in a calendar year is rare. Winning four times in a calendar year is rarer still. Going 4-0, needing a grand total of just over 12 minutes to win all four fights and winning the world championship is just about unheard of.
Aldo is only 23 years old, and it's scary how good he could become. He was aleady the best fighter of 2009.
2. Fedor Emelianenko: The sport's heavyweight champion knocked out Andrei Arlovski and TKO'd Brett Rogers and showed once again that he's the best in the world.
3. Georges St. Pierre: Thoroughly dominated the two fighters who were supposed to be his stiffest tests, B.J. Penn and Thiago Alves.
4. Cris Cyborg: She destroyed Gina Carano in a fight that took women's MMA to a new level.
5. Lyoto Machida: The UFC's light heavyweight champion showed that he's a striker with knockout power, and not just an elusive tactician. His rematch with Shogun Rua (who is also worthy of Fighter of the Year consideration) is one of the most anticipated fights in 2010.