In such an injury saddled year, the feel good moments in MMA have been rather forgotten about. So much controversy has surrounded this year in terms of drug testing, lawsuits, and ex-fighters being in trouble with the law. It’s time we look at some of the biggest positives of the year. The moments that made you feel proud to be an MMA fan. Here are those moments that should be remembered from 2014.
1.The return of Dominick Cruz at UFC 178
Although the mention of Dominick Cruz’s name is disheartening at this time, it doesn’t take away from his incredible performance. A yearlong layoff always makes you question how a fighter can bounce back. Cruz was coming off a three-year layoff, which hadn’t occurred in MMA history. The matchup against Takeya Mizugaki was a stern test for Cruz, considering Mizugaki’s speed and ability to mix up his combinations. On a five fight-winning streak, he was supposed to be a formidable opponent.
In a matter of 45 seconds, the fight was already becoming a one-sided mauling. Cruz was utilizing his jab to fluster Mizugaki, before taking him down with ease. He took Mizugaki’s back and started landing heavy left hands. The heavy left hands against the fence in complete control were very reminiscent of Brock Lesnar in his prime. While he isn’t worldly recognized, Mizugaki is one of the top five bantamweights in the world. This was far from anything close to being a tune-up fight. This was Cruz reminding the world why he’s still the best bantamweight in the world. Unfortunately this will take a year for him to confirm following the news of his third torn ACL injury. This doesn’t take away from him being the best feel good moment of 2014.
2. The end of TRT
There wasn’t a bigger relief this year than TRT being removed from competition. Fighters can finally feel safe in facing their opponents that should be clean. They know that their on a even ground in terms of using proper supplements. From fighters being worried about their livelihoods to writers having to consistently talk about it, this was a true cancer to the sport at all angles. Everyone was tired about having to hear the dreaded word.
The Nevada state athletic commission finally stepped in to make the necessary change. Of course, fighters still tried to cheat the system and attempt to get away with it. The likes of Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva come to mind. That doesn’t take away from this hazardous issue being fully eliminated. It was a monumental step that had to be done. While the sport could take extra steps in terms of drug testing, the abolishment of TRT was a must to accomplish in 2014. They managed to eliminate it by February.
3. Anthony Pettis’ UFC return and showing gratitude
This doesn’t fully apply to his return inside the octagon. Feel good moments in MMA don’t always pertain towards performances inside the cage. Now his victory over Gilbert Melendez will surely be mentioned. After weathering a tremendous amount of pressure in the first round, Pettis got into a rhythm and landed a straight left that rattled Melendez. That led to Melendez going for a single leg takedown out of desperation. He was unable to keep his neck from being exposed in the process. Pettis secured the guillotine from pulling full guard and securing his first title defense. He became the first man to submit one of the greatest lightweights in MMA history.
After a sixteen-month layoff, it doesn’t get much better than that. How can Pettis be more of a fan favorite after that moment? He buys his mother a car and house by Christmas day. All of this was recorded on his Instagram in showing his mother’s reactions. Pettis has a tattoo on his chest saying “all that I ever will be I owe to my mother”. After cashing in on a big payday from his title defense at UFC 181 and being on the cover of Wheaties, he gave back to the mother that made countless sacrifices for him. What a beautiful story from one of the most exhilarating fighters in MMA today. It’s stories like this that deserve more credence.
4. Robbie Lawler being the ultimate team player
Anything that applies to Robbie Lawler has to make you smile. After being the comeback fighter in 2013, he ascended into becoming the fighter of the year in 2014. The resurgence of Lawler keeps on growing into now becoming the UFC welterweight champion. While seeing an exciting and humble fighter succeed, there is more to Lawler’s success that makes this a feel good moment. It tends to be overlooked that Lawler fought four times in 2014. That is an absurd rate for someone that has virtually been the number one contender.
The five round war against Johny Hendricks at UFC 171 in March was something that you would expect take around four to six months to recover from. Instead he came back in two months at UFC 173 and dominates Jake Ellenberger. If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, he does the UFC a favor and faces Matt Brown in July to give them a compelling main event on Fox. With so many injuries to their top stars, they were forced to somewhat rush the ultimate “fan favorite” bout. That fight delivered in Lawler getting the better of Brown. Then he finally receives a few months of rest, before being rushed into fighting Hendricks for the title in December. That was due to Chris Weidman getting injured in his training camp. It was a bizarre year for Lawler, yet it was his most successful one. Four captivating fights and him quietly being the ultimate team player for a company that needed him in key main event slots.
5. Bellator’s resurgence
You may not like Bellator’s motto of putting older recognized fighters in headlining spots or interest in professional wrestlers. There is still no denying that their stock has boomed, since the removal of Bjorn Rebney as president. Scott Coker has jolted the organization in a major way. The positive reviews of their big events in September and November are well documented. From being there live in September at the Mohegan Sun, I felt a more positive vibe and push for the future. The removal of focusing on dull tournaments and weekly events couldn’t have been more beneficial for them. Fewer events that can bolster cards featuring fan-friendly fights have always been Coker’s forte. He proved that once again in putting Joe Schilling versus Melvin Manhoef together.
Their major achievement of scoring a 2.0 rating for the event headlined by Stephen Bonnar versus Tito Ortiz was impressive. Although the fight was dreadful, there were plenty of other fights to enjoy. The ramp and titration entrance was well received. Everything about Bellator seems refreshing under Coker’s helm. Business is better when actual competitors arise. They still have ways to go towards being a true competitor to the UFC, but there is no denying that Bellator has gotten their attention. That is the main reason why many believe that CM Punk was actually signed by the UFC. Competition is always good for the consumer and that is why Bellator’s resurgence is a feel good moment.
The return of Cat Zingano at UFC 178
Some might be confused on why she is low on the list. Zingano’s return was a big deal, but her performance wasn’t all that spectacular. She was coming off an 18-month layoff that was evident early on. Amanda Nunes thoroughly dominated her in the first round. Eventually, Nunes gassed out like she has done in the past. It wasn’t a top-tier opponent for Zingano to truly make her mark. Nevertheless, it was a feel good moment after the tragic loss of her husband. The win certified her status as Ronda Rousey’s next opponent.
Team Alpha Male produces a champion despite conflict
Duane Ludwig has been a joy to watch over the past two years. His coaching has pushed Team Alpha Male to greater heights in producing highlight-reel finishes and title rematches. It has made T.J Dillashaw, Joseph Benavidez, and Chad Mendes into blistering strikers. Sadly it never truly rubbed on Urijah Faber, who eventually decided that Ludwig had to part ways with the team. That hasn’t stopped the rest of them from using Ludwig. That led to his quote on quote last day in coaching Dillashaw against Renan Barao at UFC 173. An absolute clinic was on display from Dillashaw in becoming Team Alpha Male’s first UFC champion. To finally see an outstanding coach and student of the game get rewarded in the biggest upset of the year was heart warming.
Fan friendly matchmaking
This may seem like a general statement, but the matchmaking was very good this year given the circumstances. Many star fighters were injured that caused the UFC to reshuffle certain fights. Sean Shelby and Joe Silva did a masterful job in making fan favorites collide. We saw Mark Hunt versus Roy Nelson finally happen. Matt Brown versus Robbie Lawler was mentioned above as one of those mouth-watering fights. Luke Rockhold versus Michael Bisping and Conor McGregor versus Dustin Poirier had fans fired up. They listened to the fans in wanting to see either fan favorites collide or grudges settled. In such a rough year, listening to the fans was important to do. The UFC did just that in putting together the best product possible.