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So much to give thanks for in 2015, but let’s focus on these…

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The year 2015 will go down as one of the more important ones in MMA history, with everything from the unveiling of the Reebok fighter kits to USADA presenting pee cups to off-the-clock fighters to Duane Ludwig’s bootleg peanut butter being sold over the counter…the simple truth is, it’s been a pretty freaking historic year.

But other things occurred this year that we should be thankful for. Too much incredible sh*t to recount in one half-cocked column, really. Yet since today is all about handing out thanks, here are a few items that I’ve personally narrowed down within the mixed techniques, hopefully worthy of a little of your gratitude.

Won’t you join me in giving thanks to…

Hendo Hendo'ing
(Courtesy of Dan Henderson's Twitter)

THE OLD DUDES
Forget for a second that the entire UFC heavyweight division is on average older than John Belushi was at his time of death, most are spring chickens next to Dan Henderson, Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie. Henderson is 45 years old and still drinking cocktails out of coconuts, which is of course a tribute to his mettle — but he’s also still fighting. His career has become an ellipsis that is trailing off into unknown sectors. Most don’t even know where it started any more. And while it’s true he lost to Vitor Belfort recently, if there’s one thing Hendo himself will tell you it’s that…well, there were circumstances in play that had nothing to do with any kind of ricketiness. He’s going to keep fighting until he’s put on the ice floe.

No, Hendo’s a marvel, then again so is soon-to-be 52-year old Ken Shamrock, who fights soon-to-be 49-year old Royce Gracie in February. That’s one hundred combined years of memory banks colliding in Houston. Not into the avuncular matchmaking? You are likely an ageist, is all. Shamrock knows that kind of discrimination when he sees it.

He’s heard about it since 1996, back when he defeated Kimo at UFC 8 at the tender age of 33 (Belushi’s age when he fled the Earth, by the way). For reference, that was the year Sage Northcutt was born. The wisdom Shamrock and the other old dudes are imparting on us? Turns out when you get over the hill there are other sets of hills.

Nik Lentz (MMA F)

NIK LENTZ'S POETRY
Let it flow through you, like you were a tap…

But nothing keeps you happy
So you persist

in seeking out glory
you're a narcissist

All you are is an image
so now you must try
to reacquire the spotlight
narcissistics apply

–excerpt from Lentz’s famous Ode to B.J. Penn

(You tell me if Lentz is a poor man’s Wordsworth, or a rich man’s Seuss…either way, I want to thank the "Carny" for pushing his pen so fearlessly towards the sound of music).

THE MATCHMAKING
Maybe it was the rash of injuries that ransacked 2014, or that Dana White lamented never putting together the "superfights" he flirted with back in 2012, or that The Time is Now campaign was more literal than we know…but 2015 has been one of the more it’s-now-or-never years for the matchmakers.

Go back and revisit some of the bouts that Sean Shelby and Joe Silva have put together, just for the joy of captivating the imagination. There was Urijah Faber and Frankie Edgar. There was Eddie Alvarez and Gilbert Melendez. There was Benson Henderson vs. Brandon Thatch (on short notice). And they even tried to put Tony Ferguson against Khabib Nurmagomedov, before fate struck down upon such greed.

And that’s nothing compared to what’s still in store and currently booked for December. Paige VanZant and Rose Namajunas? Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar? Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman? Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo? Yoel Romero vs. Jacare Souza? It’s…it’s too much.

It’s too much. But thank you.

JON ANIK
See, I can’t be the only one who views Anik as not only a pioneer in fighter name pronunciation, but as a kind of martyr for undertaking the task. Brazilian fighters are no joke, especially when it comes to the little curve balls those names present to lazy American phonetics. Anik handles his business. He puts all the right emphases where needed, and shows restraint in names that are optical illusions (like Rani Yahya). He’s not afraid to draw up some phlegm to get the damn thing sounding right.

We see you, Jon Anik. Moreover, we hear you.

USADA
This can’t be understated — the idea of a third-party agency coming in to test UFC athletes year-round, out of competition, is a gain for the sport. The whole process is still developing, but the pursuit of a cleaner sport should always be applauded. It could be — and maybe should be — the story of the year.

UFC 193 photos


UNDERDOGS KILLING IT
Coming into this year, you’d never have believed that the likes of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Rafael dos Anjos, Fabricio Werdum and Daniel Cormier would all be champions in the UFC. Even as the year begins to creep towards its end, some of those names just don’t look feasible at the top.

But in this sport, a whole lot is possible. Overnight stardom is not out of the question. The world is always so ready to be shocked. Radars don’t tell the whole story. And for every invincible champion, there’s a counterpart already invented coming up the ranks who is going to humble the hell out of you.

There’s no greater example of this that Holly Holm, who not only beat the game’s most transcendent figure in Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 — she destroyed her.

THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER
LOL! Just kidding. That vehicle is more like a jalopy now.

LUCAS MIDDLEBROOK
See, it wasn’t that Nick Diaz showed up with actual counsel for his September hearing before the Nevada Athletic Commission, it’s that his lead counsel — Lucas Middlebrook — stood in the wheelhouse of petty tyranny and swung for the fences.

Middlebrook became a cult figure for presenting Diaz’s case before a panel of icy bureaucrats, a case that really was pretty freaking sound about why his (third) hot marijuana test should be thrown out. Yet it wasn’t just that he presented the case, which any dummy could tell was effective (especially after Anderson Silva appeared before the board talking about libido-enhancing elixirs from Thailand a month earlier). It was that he met the perukes blow-for-blow on a playing field that they know best. That is, disdain.

For his troubles his client received a five-year ban that set the world afire with a mission to #FreeNickDiaz, and exposed the NAC as a power-hungry group of reactionaries, who don’t like to be made foolish in their own (non)courtroom.

Thanks, Lucas.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
(Esther Lin, MMA Fighting)

FIGHT PASS
And speaking of that, the Diaz hearing was all made available by the UFC’s Fight Pass, which began airing the proceedings live. Make no mistake, the NAC hearings are the hit show of 2015. Pat Lundvall has become the greatest daytime villain since Stefano on Days of Our Lives. What happens in the all-new season in 2016?

Stay tuned.