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Mixed-martial-arts superlatives from the first half of 2010

Midway through 2009, I wrote of a "year's worth of action in six months time." Flip the calendar 12 times, here we are again. The first half of 2010 was as busy and meaningful a stretch to MMA as any during its steeply inclined rise to prominence. While plenty remains to be settled as summer devolves into winter, the following fighters, fights, submissions and knockouts could all make a good case to be the year's best when it's all said and done.

Last year I divided the category by gender. Not so much this time around. A fighter is a fighter in my estimation, and Cris "Cyborg" Santos deserves to be thought of in the same way as Mauricio "Shogun" Rua There isn't a clear frontrunner, but plenty of solid options exist heading into the latter half of the year.

Fabricio Werdum: He submitted Fedor Emelianenko in 69 seconds. If that's all Werdum does this year, he's in the argument. Defeating Fedor again in a rematch or capturing the Strikeforce heavyweight title against current champion Alistair Overeem, would almost ensure the 32-year-old Brazilian earns the accolade.

Dominick Cruz: One of the quickest, most intriguing fighters in MMA, Cruz (15-1) put on a clinic against WEC bantamweight champion Brian Bowles in March to take the belt for himself. The top-ranked 135-pounder meets No. 2 Joseph Benavidez (12-1) on Aug. 18, essentially one year after outpointing the title challenger. A win with style could push him to the top.

Jose Aldo: Another WEC champion, the young Brazilian could easily be considered the most dynamic fighter on the list. Aldo's upside is near limitless. The 23-year-old featherweight, 17-1, crushed Urijah Faber in April. He is slated to fight Sept. 30 against Manvel Gamburayn, a tough challenger who won't be given a shot.

Cris "Cyborg" Santos: One of the few fighters with two quality wins already this year, "Cyborg" is far and away the most dangerous woman competing today. Having put away Marloes Coenen and Jan Finny in overwhelming ways, a third vicious victory -- say against the likes of Erin Toughill, who is rumored as the next challenger for the Strikeforce woman's 145-pound title -- could help put "Cyborg" (10-1) over the top.

• Were it not for his bum knee, Mauricio Rua would be regarded alongside Werdum as a serious Fighter Of The Year contender. We know he won't compete again before 2011, leaving just the clean knockout over the previously unbeaten Lyoto Machida.

• If you're looking for an dark horse, check out 33-year-old Marlon Sandro -- two fights. two knockouts, a combined 47 seconds. Ranked seventh at featherweight by SI.com. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for him to fight twice more; a pair of victories would lift his record to 19-1.

So many great scraps to choose from, this award really boils down to what you like watching. Want a relentless war, short on technique, tall on everything else? You've got Leonard Garcia's fight against Chan Sng Jung, which will be part of the debate no matter what the remainder of the year delivers. Looking for something less wild but nonetheless impressive? Here are the opening four contenders for best bout of 2010, from most to least likely.

1. Garcia vs. Jung: Just a wild featherweight fight leading into Zuffa's Aldo vs. Faber faux WEC pay-per-view in April. Rapidly faltering technique combined with increased agression was an early indication that these two were meant for one another. The "Korean Zombie" mythology, if there is such a thing, was born out of the nature of Jung's performance. Garcia (14-5-1) played along, unloading so many power shots his right hand was badly broken in the first round. Jung (10-2) was also forced to the hospital afterwards because of a damaged hand.

2. Chris Leben vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama: Tremendous back and forth battle from the middleweight pair which Leben took in R3 with a surprising triangle choke finish.

3. Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin: The return of Lesnar after a year absence. Carwin, undefeated, going down in R2 after it looked like he's put the UFC heavyweight champion away early. A stunning result.

4. Mark Munoz vs. Kendall Grove: On an otherwise disappointing spring evening in Abu Dhabi, Munoz (8-1) survived early trouble to rally past Grove (12-7) with a vicious second-round stoppage. While it lasted, the middleweight contest was enthralling.

We all have our favorites submissions. The following deserve consideration at the end of the year.

• Fabricio Werdum tapped Fedor Emelianenko in 69 seconds with a triangle choke/armbar combination June 26 in San Jose, Calif. Yep. Because of the magnitude of the moment, this finish is at the top of the list. It'll have to take something incredible to supplant what Werdum accomplished on the Strikeforce card.

Cole Miller earned submission of the night honors Jan. 2 at UFC 102 with his inverted triangle/Kimura sequence against Dan Lauzon. Thing of beauty from one of the most passionate guys in the sport.

• This is one many people probably haven't seen. On the female side of the sport, Michelle Waterson finished a flying armbar against Rosary Califano.

Rousimar Palhares was in total control when he heel-hooked Tomasz Drwal in March.

Scott Jorgensen literally lifted Chad George off his feet while securing a 10-finger guillotine in March.

So many to choose from. Here's a two-hand selection of the best:

Robbie Lawler had been plastered with leg kicks by Melvin Manhoef for eight minutes. But he knew and was counting on the fact that it only takes one significant punch to completely change a fight. That's exactly what happened when Lawler lunged with a right hand and made the Dutch striker dance involuntarily. It was the first time Manhoef had been knocked out cold.

Cole Escovedo snapped off a left high kick against Yoshiro Maeda that crackled on the the Japanese fighter's jaw. Maeda's arms went stiff, as if he was signaling a touchdown, during his fall to the canvas.

Keith Jardine had been knocked out before, but never as bad as how Ryan Bader did him. A solid knee to the midsection pushed Jardine to the fence on Feb. 21 at UFC 104 in Los Angeles. Bader waded in with a from-the-hip left hook that crumbled the journeyman fighter two minutes into the third round.

• You have two to choose from when it comes down to Marlon Sandro: his nine-second special against Tomonari Kanomata or a vicious finish 38 seconds after the opening bell against Masanori Kanehara. I'm leaning towards the latter -- easily one of the sharpest, well setup, incredibly vicious knockouts this year.

• As previously mentioned in regards to Mauricio Rua's FOTY credentials, his ability to hurt, mount and finish Machida with a conscious deadening punch from the mount was excellence.

• An outcome worth watching because of Paul Daley's aggression. It wasn't enough to plaster Dustin Hazellet with a left hook, he wanted to demolish the slender Ohioan.

• Ah, Gerald Harris's slam against Dave Branch at UFC 116. Knocking someone out with a hard takedown is incredibly difficult to pull off.

• The women shine again, this time with an angry exchange that gets Zoila Frausto to jump to the top of the cage after finishing Rosie Sexton following a free-standing knee to Sexton's jaw.

Mike Russow shouldn't have been on his feet in the third round. But there stood the Chicago cop -- who looks like he spends most evenings at Giordano's -- standing in front of a bundle of oxygen-starved muscles named Todd Duffee.

Fifty-six of the 58 strikes Duffee landed over 12 and a half minutes were considered "power strikes," according to CompuStrike. However, the 24-year-old hyped powerhouse missed 68 percent of his attempted strikes in the fight, and flirted with the Mendoza Line in the third. That's a lot of swinging and missing. It was no wonder then the battered Russow, an efficient 22-for-47 in the fight and 6-for-11 en route to his stunning third-round knockout, managed to land a fight-changing right hand that dropped Duffee on the spot.

I don't think there's much for debate here. Russow-Duffee, unless something spectacular happens, will remain the year's best comeback -- or at least the most shocking. Honorable mention, however, belongs to Robbie Lawler after his hail mary against Melvin Manhoef.

Chris Leben and George Sotiropolous have enjoyed wonderful 2010 campaigns so far. Each seems bound for a high-profile fight.

I don't think there's been anyone consistently better than Evan "Velcro" Dunham (11-0) this year. His efforts against Efrain Escudero and Tyson Griffin were outstanding. Several young prospects will have their chance to shine, but for now Dunham appears to be the next great fighter.

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