There have been a lot of big stories and big occurrences in 2011 within the sport of mixed martial arts.  There have been new television deals, one promotion absorbing another, epic fights, implementation of benefits for those who risk their health inside the cage and more.  So what are we here at The MMA Corner most thankful for in MMA in 2011?

Chase Buzzell: I am thankful the UFC has created an insurance policy to provide fighters with greater protection. Throughout my MMA writing career I have been critical of the UFC and campaigned for reform. My intentions have never been ill-willed, rather having a brother who is a professional fighter, being a lawyer who has dealt with fighter contracts, promotion companies, sponsors, etc., I have often seen the fighter being the last entity taken into consideration. MMA would not exist if not for the UFC. However, at the same time I feel that UFC has stifled the growth of the sport, in some respects. Thus, when the UFC announced a plan for an insurance policy to cover 350 athletes, I was incredibly pleased. Fighters are the reason fans show up and pay premium dollar and I feel that we should protect the fighters with various mechanisms, insurance is a great start.

So, thank you, UFC, for extending an insurance policy to your top talent, it is money well spent.

Gregory Chase: I am thankful for the movie Warrior that came out this year. The film was the most accurate-to-date account of MMA and was one of the best sports-dramas put together on the big screen. The sport is still growing and attention in the media must be played like a chess game. Having this very well-done film bring the sport to the forefront a little more is a tremendous testament to how far it has already come. With Randy Couture, Rampage Jackson and Gina Carano next year, the MMA athletes are having great outlets for more exposure, as did the actors and fighters in Warrior.

Along with that, I am thankful for Gina Carano in MMA!

Richard Wilcoxon: There are many things to be thankful for this year in the sport of MMA. However, I am going to limit myself. I am most thankful for the UFC purchasing Strikeforce and slowly moving the talent over. For years, there have been on-going debates about who is the best organization or had the best fighers. No top-10 ranking could really be accurate because the top-ranked fighters couldn’t meet.

While the debate between Pride FC and the UFC ended with the UFC purchasing Pride, the debate didn’t end because many top fighters moved to other organizations. As recently as the beginning of this year it was widely being argued that Strikeforce had the best heavyweight division and a host of other top fighters like Nick Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, Dan Henderson and Jake Shields. However, now at last, the arguments can stop, as the Strikeforce talent is being matched with their UFC counterparts.

Brian McKenna: Zuffa did a lot this past year, and I am very thankful for it. First, for the company to merge the WEC into the UFC was fantastic because the featherweights and bantamweights were finally put on display. There was a time where people didn’t think that those lower weight classes could carry a pay-per-view card, and then Dominick Cruz blew people away by defending his title twice in the last year against both Urijah Faber and Demetrius Johnson in exciting fights. Without this merger, Jose Aldo’s abilities would be buried along with great lightweights such as Donald Cerrone, who has won four times with the UFC, and Ben Henderson, the current No. 1 contender.

Second, with Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce, many people were curious as to if and when these fighters would come over and fight in the UFC. While at first it appeared as though it would be “business as usual,” it became clear that it was not. Superstar welterweight Nick Diaz stormed into the promotion and took down B.J. Penn in a grand fashion and will now be the next fighter to challenge for the welterweight title. Cung Le put on a great fight against Wanderlei Silva last week, and we can expect big things to come from Alistair Overeem on the final card of the year.

Had Zuffa sat around and not done anything, we would be playing the “what if” game, but instead they made moves to make their already strong roster even stronger, and for that I am very thankful.

Duncan Price: I am thankful that the UFC made it over to the United Kingdom this year. After months of “will they, won’t they?,” we were finally rewarded for our patience with UFC 138. Although the event was blighted by injuries and lacked star-power, the weekend was a successful one as the fans got behind the fighters right from the first preliminary bout.

I was fortunate enough to meet a few of the combatants from the UFC 138 card over that weekend and it made me realise how lucky we are to follow a sport with so much public access. As a fan of many other sports, it struck me that there is no way you would get near someone who is a star in say soccer, basketball or baseball. Imagine wandering up to David Beckham, LeBron James or Alex Rodriguez for a chat in bar, you wouldn’t even get near them.

I hope the UFC took notice that the British supporters are some of the most passionate and dedicated in the world.

Joe Atkins: I don’t know precisely when the UFC started airing fights on Facebook, but I’m thankful that they did. Fans now have access to every fight, which is great because oftentimes the undercard is just as exciting as the main.

I’m also relieved that Mirko Cro Cop finally decided to retire. It was painful to watch Mirko, a K-1 and Pride legend, being knocked out over and over again by fighters with only half his experience.

Sean Smith: Aside from the ill-fated turkey that I plan on devouring this Thursday, I am most thankful for Fox Broadcasting Company. They aren’t the first network to venture into MMA, but Fox decided to step up to the plate earlier this year and became the first network to broadcast a UFC event on network television.

As a result of the UFC’s seven-year deal with Fox, mixed martial arts can finally be seen on an equal platform with professional football, baseball and other major sports for the foreseeable future.

While my family is watching football on Thanksgiving, I’ll be dreaming of a day when everyone is hurrying to finish their dinner in order to catch Thanksgiving Day fights on Fox.

Corey Adams: Thanksgiving is a time where we get a day off from work and get to spend time with our families. But aside from being thankful for my biological family, I’m thankful for my family here at The MMA Corner. Starting with the creator, down to our newest members, I just thank all of them for the countless hours they have put in to help this site grow.

As far as being thankful for our MMA world, I’m so glad we have such humble fighters in the UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator and all throughout the sport of MMA. From the stand-out UFC champions, to the local titleholders, we are blessed to have such great people who go out and compete to entertain us fans. MMA presidents and officials have done a great job this year by putting together a roster full of fighters who give 110% every time they step in the cage. Even if they fail to come out on top, they are humble in defeat and that is what I’m thankful for in MMA.

Rob Tatum: Where to start? This past year was without a doubt the biggest year ever for the sport of mixed martial arts. Within the last twelve months Zuffa has merged the WEC with the UFC, purchased Strikeforce and secured a seven-year deal to be broadcast on the Fox networks. That alone is enough to make anyone’s head spin.

Couple that with the fact that Bellator was purchased by a large entity like Viacom and will be moving to Spike within a year (to replace the departing UFC), HDNet has continued its coverage of regional promotions like Titan FC, MFC and Pro Elite (as well as Japanese promotion Dream), and the explosion in coverage from all media outlets, the future could not be brighter for the sport. It’s a far cry from the days when fans were forced to scour video stores for VHS tapes of fights and the sport was banned in a majority of the states.

So, what am I most thankful for in the world of MMA? Just being a part of it. Covering this sport has changed my life and I wouldn’t change it for a second. I remember when I used to have to think about what my weekend would involve. Now I am genuinely surprised when there’s not an event to cover. And in 2012 there are even more events on deck. There couldn’t be a better time to be fan, fighter or writer and I’m lucky to be on board for the journey.

Bryan Henderson: I have to echo the opinion of a number of my colleagues here: There is so much to be thankful for in the great sport of mixed martial arts this year, from being a part of this as a writer and fan, to working with the great staff here at The MMA Corner, to all that Zuffa has done this year, to the proliferation of mixed martial arts across the spectrum of network and cable television (and the new deals in place for the future, including the UFC on Fox networks, Bellator’s move to Spike and BAMMA’s new deal with HDNet).

If I had to pick one thing that I am most thankful for, however, it would be the expanded schedules of the major MMA promotions. Not only does it give us hope that one day MMA will be as common a weekly broadcast event as other major sports, but it also means more opportunities for up-and-coming fighters.

Bellator has signed a number of prospects this year that have held the prospect tag for a lengthy amount of time – guys like Ryan Ford and Douglas Lima, and the UFC and Strikeforce have also provided many more opportunities than in years past. While not all of these fighters will turn into the next superstar, or even stick around for longer than one fight on the big stage, it is great that more and more of them are getting the chance to break through with the big shows.

Josh Davis: So many things happened in mixed martial arts this year that it is hard to choose just one thing to be thankful for. I myself am thankful for numerous things in MMA this year, but I am especially thankful to Zuffa for bringing Nick Diaz over to the UFC and giving him the opportunity to fight Georges St-Pierre. Personally this is a fight that I have been asking for for quite some time and even though it hasn’t happened yet, I am very thankful that this fight is going to happen.

I am also thankful for one more thing. I am thankful for TheMMACorner.com website and the staff that works for it. Without everybody here, this site would not be where it is today. We have come a long way in a very short period of time and our outlook continues to be good. Without each and everyone of our writers, this site could not function. So I want to say thank you and let them know that I am thankful for their hard work and dedication to The MMA Corner.

Image: Turkey-hands can wear MMA gloves too! (Turkey-hand from lynniepinnie.com/MMA glove from Hayabusa/combined image created by Bryan Henderson/The MMA Corner)