Pete Lampasona over at TheFightNerd has put together a pretty decent list of grand and exciting things that went down in the Northeast scene in 2011 (read it here: http://www.thefightnerd.com/2011-north-eastern-regional-mma-awards/). But it ain't MMA Journalist's official "best of" list, which is recognized as law in four different states and gospel in various religions and cults throughout the world. So! Best of 2011!
-Best Transition to Pro by an Amateur: Jimbo Hoffman - Hoffman capped off 2010 (and a long and fruitful amateur career) with a win via guillotine over the always tough Kenny Rivera, and then two months later stepped into ROC's cage to make his pro debut. Whereas it took Hoffman and minute and five seconds to put Rivera to sleep, his ROC fight against Yaser Shaukat was all of 47 seconds. He followed that win up with another submission victory in June. If Hoffman keeps it up, he's going to be fighting for a featherweight belt soon.
-Best Meteoric Rise to the Top and Shoe-In for When the UFC Comes to Town: Tom DeBlass - While you and I were doing mundane things like working in offices and watching The Ultimate Fighter, Ricardo Almeida-trained black belt DeBlass was racking up wins via quick sub, knockout and hard-fought decision against UFC veterans, local trashtalkers, and ex-powerlifters. Now DeBlass is a ROC light-heavyweight champ, a huge ticket seller and draw, and a total shoe-in for some Octagon action if and when the UFC comes to town. I feel inadequate now - how about you?
-Best Meteoric Rise to the Top and Shoe-In for When the UFC Comes to Town, Part 2: Aljamain Sterling - Five pro fights in 2011, and all of them won in convincing fashion. Yup, that's Sterling, who rocketed up the ranks of the "little guys" to become the Supreme Ruler of Munchkin Land. If the UFC comes to town (like, in June, for instance), homeboy is their local bantamweight badass for sure.
-Best Knack for Inducing Convulsions in an Opponent: Lucas Pimenta - Gold Team Fighters rep Pimenta started off the year a bit "meh", but in his last two trips to into combat, once at Cage Fury Fighting Championship and once at a Bellator undercard, he hit his foes so hard they had seizures. That's, uh, some pretty damn hard hitting, no? Watch out for this guy. No, seriously, watch out. He will freakin' kill you if he punches you.
-Best Clear and Convincing Win in a Rematch: Al Iaquinta vs. Gabriel Miglioli II - At ROC 36 lightweight stud Iaquinta and Brazilian dynamo Miglioli went to war, and the close decision that went to Iaquinta left a bad taste in the mouths of some. Their immediate rematch, however, eradicated all doubts. At ROC 37, it took Iaquinta just 26 seconds to plant a kick to Miglioli's face with surgical precision and TKO the stunned fighter with punches. After that, the only bad taste in anyone's mouth was Iaquinta's foot, which left Miglioli begging his corner for some mouthwash.
-Best "Oh My God, He's Dead" Moment: Chris Liguori vs. John Salgado II - I'm not quite sure why Liguori and Salgado rematched at ROC 37, as Liguori had beaten him convincingly before, but instead of a decision win, this time around Liguori blasted Salgado in the chops so hard Salgado spun around and dropped to the canvas like a mannequin thrown from a third-story window. Of course I knew Salgado wasn't dead, but I was still left wondering if he had a last will and testament in place.
-Best Underground Fighter Ready to Transition to the Sanctioned Scene: Jonathan Rodriquez - Sometimes the UCL will give us fighters who are talented and ready, sometimes it will give us fighters who need a bit more seasoning before making the leap into sanctioned fighting (where the competition can sometimes be steeper). With his seemingly unstoppable triangle choke, Rodriquez is the former. If you're old school like me, you might remember when Jutaro Nakao was tapping EVERYBODY with triangles - Rodriguez reminds me of that.
-Best League Clinging to the Ideal that Kung Fu is All You Need: Manup Standup - Way out in Jamaica, Queens, there's an underground full-contact kung fu tournament where the competitors can summon lightning bolts and fireballs, and the injured are treated with judicious applications of chi. Or so they think. Regardless, it's awesome.
-Best Post-Fight Victory Celebration: James Funaro - Funaro made his pro debut at CFFC 7, and after smoothly guillotine-ing opponent Billy Dee Williams in a little over a minute, he jumped to his feet, pointed at his twin brother on the other side of the cage, and screamed "Fuck you, Joe!" No one is quite sure why, so let's just chalk that one off to sibling rivalry. Or something.
-Best Recovery from an Accidental Eye-Gouge: Igor Gracie - What happens when you poke a Gracie in the eye? Well, if it's Igor, he waves off the doctor, and promptly gets his CFFC 9 opponent Quinton McCottrell down and subs the crap out of him. Literally, there was no crap left in McCottrell after that.
-Best Future Champ: Artur Rofi - Romulo Bittencourt-trained Rofi has staked out CFFC as his territory, and thus far, everyone who's faced him has had been brutally subbed or brutally KO'd - or both. Until someone figures out how to douse the flames of his burning, aggressive jiu-jitsu, Rofi is going to keep racking up wins, and if he keeps it up, a championship belt around his waist is inevitable.
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