As 2012 comes to an end, it is a good time to look at the year that was in MMA.  Who emerged in 2012?  Who was the best fighter of the past year?  What news headline stood out?  The writers at The MMA Corner got together to find the answers to these questions and more.  Every writer for the site was asked to nominate fighters, events and the like for each category.  Once nominations were in, we narrowed the field and voted for the winners of the awards.

While these awards are for 2012, writers were asked to consider the year between Dec. 15, 2011 and Dec. 15, 2012.  This allowed us to consider last year’s end-of-the-year card and still get the results up by the end of this year.

Here are The MMA Corner’s winners for the end of the year awards.

Fighter of the Year: Benson Henderson

Henderson went 3-0 in 2012, but it wasn’t just those wins that were impressive.  It was who those wins came against.  Henderson won championship gold again by defeating Frankie Edgar.  The former WEC lightweight champion finally achieved the dream of winning the belt for the biggest and most prestigious organization in the world.  He then went on to defend his UFC title two times against top competition, securing his spot as Fighter of the Year along the way.

Honorable Mention: Anderson Silva, Demetrious Johnson, Ronda Rousey

Female Fighter of the Year: Ronda Rousey

This should come as no surprise to anyone.  Rousey had such an impressive 2012 that she earned a nomination and votes as Fighter of the Year, regardless of gender.  The former Olympic judoka only fought two times in 2012, but she made headlines when she did compete.  Rousey won the Strikeforce bantamweight woman’s title and defended it.  She stopped both of her opponents via armbar in the first round.  Rousey was then given the first-ever woman’s belt for the UFC.

Honorable Mention: Sara McMann, Jessica Penne

Fight of the Year: Co-Winners: Chan-Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier (UFC on Fuel TV 3)/Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner (UFC on Fox 4)

Varner (L) delivers a left hand against Lauzon (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

For the first time this year, we had a tie when the votes were tallied.  First up was Chan-Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier.  This was a featherweight battle to cast one of them into title contention, and the fight delivered everything.  Jung was an underdog—a brawler going against a complete fighter.  But none of that mattered when the bell rang.  Jung slashed Poirier’s head open early with an elbow, but Poirier landed big strikes later in the round.  The second round could be the best round in MMA all year.  It saw flying knees, brutal strikes, takedowns, reversals, mounts and numerous submission attempts.  The fight ended in the fourth when Jung completed the upset with a D’arce choke.

Then we have a lightweight battle between Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner that saw everything.  The first round was a stand-up affair that saw Varner demonstrate great striking and power while Lauzon showed flurries and his unstoppable will. In the second round, it was a mix of striking and battling on the ground that had absolutely everything.  The fight finally ended in the third round with Lauzon submitting Varner with a triangle.  Lauzon also earned a bonus for “Submission of the Night” and he and Varner earned the “Fight of the Night” bonus.

It is interesting to note that both co-winners and three of the top four vote-getters were fights from free shows this year.

Honorable Mention: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall (UFC on FX 2), Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar (UFC 144)

KO of the Year: Edson Barboza’s wheel kick of Terry Etim (UFC 142)

This year saw a lot of great knockouts, but one stood out above the rest and ran away with this award.  Ground specialist Terry Etim met striker Edson Barboza in a classic striker vs. grappler match-up at UFC 142.  Whoever could dictate where the fight would happen would have the advantage.  Barboza’s spinning wheel kick in the third stanza ended the suspense and created a highlight reel victory that will be seen for years. 

Honarable Mention: Rustam Khabilov’s KO of Vinc Pichel (TUF 16 Finale), Chris Weidman’s KO of Mark Munoz (UFC on Fuel TV 4), Cung Le’s KO of Rich Franklin (UFC on Fuel TV 6), Tim Boetsch’s KO of Yushin Okami (UFC 144), Zorobabel Moreira’s Soccer-Kick KO of Roger Huerta (One FC 4)

Submission of the Year: Charles Oliveira’s calf slicer of Eric Wisely (UFC on Fox 2)

Charles Oliveira’s slick submission took less then two minutes but still stands out in the memories of many fans for two reasons.  First was the incredible transition from one submission attempt to another to another that set up the calf slice and, second, because it is the only calf-slicer victory in the history of the UFC.

Honorable Mention: Matt Wiman’s armbar submission of Paul Sass (UFC on Fuel TV 5), Chan-Sung Jung’s D’arce choke submission of Dustin Poirier (UFC on Fuel 3), Ronda Rousey’s armbar submission of Miesha Tate (Strikeforce: Tate vs Rousey)

Comeback Fighter of the Year: Cub Swanson

Since the end of 2008, Swanson had been alternating wins and losses.  He seemed to have settled into a middle-of-the-pack type of fighter who was always a risk to be cut.  But everything changed in 2012.  Swanson suddenly seems to have put it all together.  He reeled off three victories, each one of over a tougher opponent than the last, and has found himself in the top-10 rankings again.

Honorable Mention: Jamie Varner, Mike Swick, Dan Hardy, Tim Boetsch

Comeback of the Year: Tim Boetsch over Yushin Okami (UFC 144)

The start of the fight showed the dominance everyone expected out of Okami.  His striking was quicker and more accurate.  He landed the only takedowns of the fight, where he went for several submission attempts and showed effective ground-and-pound.  After two rounds, a bloodied Boetsch needed a stoppage to win.  He came out and landed hard strikes from the clinch, including a head kick that appeared to stun Okami.  Boetsch followed up with uppercuts that sent Okami crumbling to the floor and sealed the Comeback of the Year for Boetsch.

Honorable Mention: Martin Kampmann over Thiago Alves (UFC on FX 2), Martin Kampmann over Jake Ellenberger (TUF 15 Finale)

Breakout Fighter of the Year: Co-Winners: Johny Hendricks/Glover Teixeira

Hendricks (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Our second and final tie of the year comes for the Breakout Fighter of the Year.  Johny Hendricks moved from outside the top 10 to firmly entrenched as the No. 2 welterweight in the world.  His miraculous run started at last year’s end-of-the-year show where he fought longtime No. 2 welterweight Jon Fitch.  Everyone thought Fitch would be too much, but Hendricks didn’t buy it.  He knocked out Fitch in under a minute.  Next, he faced off with Josh Koscheck and won a hard-fought decision.  Finally, he squared off with Martin Kampmann, who he finished in under a minute to prove he is the top contender for the welterweight title.

Glover Teixeira had two fights this year.  The light heavyweight faced Kyle Kingsbury at UFC 146, completely destroying him.  He then faced late replacement Fabio Maldonado at UFC 153, where he battered the fighter until the doctors stepped in and stopped it in the second round.

Honorable Mention: Nick Newell , Chris Weidman, Ronda Rousey, Alexander Gustafsson

Upset of the Year: Jamie Varner over Edson Barboza (UFC 146)

Jamie Varner was a former WEC champion but seemed to be washed up.  Since the beginning of 2010, he was 3-4-1 heading into the fight.  Barboza was a fighter headed in the other direction.  He was undefeated in his career and had reeled off four straight wins in the UFC against opponents who appeared tougher than Varner.  But that is why fights are not decided on paper.  Varner rocked Barboza and the referee stopped the fight in the first round.

Honorable Mention: Johny Hendricks over Jon Fitch (UFC 141), Tyson Nam over Eduardo Dantas (Shooto Brazil 33)

Biggest Story of the Year: Cancellation of UFC 151

This year had a number of big stories, but only one could win the Biggest Story of the Year.  The writers decided that the UFC canceling its first event ever had to take the award.  There was plenty of blame to go around and plenty of angles to discuss.

Honorable Mention: Rise of Ronda Rousey and women’s MMA, Injury Bug, Addition of a UFC flyweight division

Other Awards:

Gym of the Year:  Blackzilians
Honorable Mention: Black House, Jackson’s MMA, Tristar

Trainer of the Year:  Firas Zahabi
Honorable Mention: Andre Pederneiras, Greg Jackson

Broadcast Analyst of the Year:  Pat Miletich
Honorable Mention: Michael Schiavello, Jon Anik, Joe Rogan

Event of the Year:  UFC 144
Honorable Mention: UFC 146, UFC on Fox 4, Invicta FC 1, UFC on Fox 5

Ring Girl of the Year:  Brittney Palmer
Honorable Mention: Jade Bryce, Arianny Celeste 

Top Photo: UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Richard Wilcoxon
Staff Writer

An East Coast native, Richard Wilcoxon grew up a die hard fan of traditional team sports. In the early 1990's, he stumbled onto the sport of MMA and has been hooked ever since. He started writing about the sport on his Sporting News member blog in 2005 where he worked to spread his passion for the sport. He eventually became an official staff writer for Sporting News' "The Rumble" MMA/boxing blog before joining The MMA Corner.