Midway through '09, MMA's elite stand out from pack

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A year's worth of action in six months time -- that is how the first half of 2009 felt for many mixed martial arts fans. With some of the most anticipated fights of the year looming large, now feels like the right time to pause for a breath.

Here's an early glance at the tops of 2009.

Machida is a clear favorite at the midway point. With two major wins in the bank -- over Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans -- and a potential third coming against Mauricio Rua in October, Machida's ledger might be too much for anyone to top this year.

His unique style and martial arts heritage make the 31-year-old Brazilian one of the most discussed fighters in the sport after his thrashing of Evans in May.


• Mike Thomas BrownBrown is also 2-0 in the first six months of the year. Odds are, he'll get one more chance prove himself in 2009. If Brown can stop his next challenger, widely rumored to be the dangerous Jose Aldo, he'll have established himself as the clear-cut No. 1 featherweight in MMA.

• FedorEmelianenkoEven if Emelianenko fights just twice in '09, wins over AndreiArlovski and Josh Barnett,whom Fedor fights Aug. 1, could easily be enough for the Russian to stand alone as the sport's premiere competitor.

• Georges St. PierreA dominant win for St. Pierre over B.J. Penn kicked off this year's campaign. While allegations of improperly using Vaseline marred his victory against Penn, the No. 1 welterweight in MMA can reaffirm his status with a decisive win over Thiago Alves on July 11.

Of course, should any of the aforementioned fighters lose then a strong contingent of off-the-radar candidates might emerge. For now, Machida and the the rest of the quartet are clear frontrunners.

Kaufman (10-0) has separated herself from the pack with three wins in three fights, but you can't make mention of fighter of the year honors on the female side without discussing Aug. 15's showdown between Gina Carano and Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. It doesn't take a genius to suggest the winner between those two stands a good chance of being MMA's top female fighter in '09. So let me suggest it.

It seems like every weekend a new fight video turns into a viral clip. Of the many entertaining and meaningful bouts that played out from January through June, Miguel Torres' unanimous-decision win over Takeya Mizugaki more than holds its own.

Hoping for a repeat of last year's honor when he and Yoshiro Maeda captured the award, WEC bantamweight champion Torres is joined this time by Mizugaki following a tremendous 135-pound title fight. Mizugaki wasn't expected to be a serious challenger, yet it was his determination against Torres' tenacity that makes this one special.


• Thierry Quenneville def. Doug Evans triangle/armbar 1:48 R2 -- XMMA 7A contender for Round of the Year, Quenneville and Evans made for a tremendous battle.

• Mike Thomas Brown def. Urijah Faber II by unanimous decision -- WEC 41This was a brutal contest in which Faber fought for more than 20 minutes with a busted right hand. He also dealt with a dislocated thumb on his left hand, all the while Brown pushed forward and never gave the former WEC champion an inch.

Worth Watching Again:

•Martin Kampmann def. Carlos Condit by split decision -- UFC Fight Night 18

•Jamie Varner def. Donald Cerrone by technical decision 1:58 R5 -- WEC 38

Because Abel Cullum vs. Hideo Tokoro played out with a 10-minute opening period, it has some inherent advantages over North America's more traditional five-minute variety. As it were, I'm inclined to name the opening round of the Dream featherweight tournament bout tops of the year thus far.


• Round 1: ThierryQuenneville vs. DougEvans -- XMMA 7Heck of a fight highlighted by a frantic opening round. Quenneville was on the ropes but recovered to win by submission in the middle of the fight.

• Round 1: Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida -- T.U.F. 9 FinaleDiego should be proud of his performance against Guida; He charged out off the opening bell and unleashed everything he had against the hard-nosed lightweight from Chicago. The fact that Guida could take it made this round a memorable one.

There has been no shortage of beautiful submissions to choose from, but Tony Imada made the strongest claim with his reverse standing inverted triangle over Jorge Masvidal. In a stunning come-from-behind finish, he put Masvidal down to advance to the finals of Bellator's lightweight tournament.

It'll take some sort of levitating submission -- one no one has seen before -- to trump Imada's leg choke. I'm not sure a Ryo Chonan-Anderson Silva-type sub would even be strong enough to best what Imada did to Masvidal.


•Demian Maia's triangle over Chael Sonnen -- UFC 95Recognizing flawless Brazilian jiu-jitsu when we see it, Maia deserves serious consideration for his setup and finish of a perfect triangle choke against Sonnen.

•Ovince St. Preux catches Ombey Mobley in a calf-slicer --XFC 8St. Preux found a slick pressure submission in his old Volunteer stomping grounds of Knoxville, Tenn.

Worth Watching Again:

•Marlon Sandro standing arm-triangle over Matt Jaggers --Sengoku 7

• Hatsu Hioki triangle/armbar combo over Chris Manuel -- Sengoku 7

The early consensus made Fedor Emelianenko's overhand right against Andrei Arlovski, timed perfectly as the former UFC champion leapt forward for a flying knee, the best knockout of '09. Because of the moment and fighters involved, it still stands -- though not by much as competition for knockout of the year was fierce in the first half.


• Lyoto Machida stops Rashad Evans -- UFC 98A pristine performance from Machida culminated with a clean KO that rendered Evans useless against the cage. It took several well-placed attacks from the Brazilian to put away a then-undefeated champion.

• Yahir Reyes KO spinning backfist of Estevan Payan -- Bellator VIWe've seen spinning back fists and forearms and elbows. But few with such violence that the stopped a fighter in his tracks, lifted him off his feet and slammed hard to the canvas. That's exactly what Reyes accomplished against Payan in a beauty of finish.

Worth Watching Again:

• Ray MercerdropsTim Sylvia -- Adrenaline MMA III

• Jose Aldo's double flying knee stuns Cub Swanson in eight seconds -- WEC 41

• Nick Paceviolently endsCollin Tebo's night -- Bellator XI