Our 'alternative' picks for Fight of the year

Editor’s note: Next week, the ESPN MMA page will roll out it's official end-of-they year awards. With winners in each of the most popular categories seemingly pretty clear cut, however, ESPN staffers Chuck Mindenhall and Chad Dundas will take the final week of 2011 to offer up a few “alternative” choices. To lead things off on Monday, the granddaddy of them all: "Fight of the year."

According to most fans and analysts, the 2011 fight of the year essentially boils down to a three-horse race between Dan Henderson versus Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 139, Eddie Alvarez versus Michael Chandler at Bellator 58 and Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard III from UFC 136.

To that, we say: Bah, humbug.

All three of the above are stellar picks, but we’d be loath honor them at the expense of a few others. There was landmark action inside cages the world over during 2011, so here are a couple of “alternative” options for the all-important Fight of the year ...

Chad Dundas’ pick: Clay Guida versus Ben Henderson at UFC on Fox, Nov. 12 in Anaheim, Calif.

As Octagon-centric FOTY candidates are concerned, it doesn’t get much more “alternative” than Guida versusHenderson, a bout seen only on the Internet and by the live crowd at Honda Center despite the fact it took place on the same card as the UFC’s first live broadcast on network television.

Leading up to the groundbreaking event, Henderson promised that he and Guida would steal the show from heavyweights Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. And guess what? They did. Especially after dos Santos knocked out Velasquez just 64 seconds into their televised main event.

While the big guys called it quits early, lightweights Guida and Henderson gave MMA fans just about everything they could want from a fight. There were wild flurries on the feet and madcap scrambles on the ground, as the pair set the pace in the first with a high-octane striking exchange that saw Henderson drop Guida with a punch. In the second, Guida stormed back and scored with a spinning back fist so out of the blue that it seemed to surprise Guida himself, sending the Chicago native stumbling across the cage. In the third, Henderson fired off a crazy Taekwondo-style axe kick which barely missed. Down the stretch, Guida threatened with a guillotine attempt so tight, it likely would’ve finished any normal human being.

All the while, hair flew like the dickens.

When it was over, Henderson emerged with a unanimous decision win that netted him the chance to take on Edgar for the 155-pound title on Feb. 26 at UFC 144. Guida was defeated on the cards, but emerged with a “Fight of the night” bonus and the satisfaction of participating in perhaps the best fight of the year that nobody got to see.

Chuck Mindenhall’s pick: Dan Henderson versus Fedor Emelianenko in Strikeforce, July 30, 2011 in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

In talking about Henderson and Rua’s five-round war, we forget about the member’s club entertainment that went on with Henderson-Fedor back in July. There was a romantic context to this one similar to Henderson’s UFC 139 battle with Rua; he and Emelianenko were longtime parallel champions in Pride who’d never had the inclination (publicly) to smash one another. Strikeforce dubbed it a heavyweight superfight -- neither man had ever been knocked out, and yet both had stupidly powerful right hands. Hendo barely made the heavyweight minimum, while Fedor looked in the best shape of his life.

When the bell rang, Emelianenko came out swinging. Henderson, always cooperative for this kind of request, dropped his head and swung back. It was a manic first minute. After some long moments in a Greco clinch, when they separated Emelianenko dropped Henderson with a left uppercut/overhand right combo and jumped on him in a heap. Fedor rained down the would-be finishing punches that ended up lulling the eye a little bit, as Henderson was very quietly grabbing onto Emelianenko’s right leg and executing his escape.

What happened next was the sneakiest turn of events of the year; while he slipped out the hatch Henderson threw a right uppercut through Fedor’s armpit that knocked him out. The follow-up right hand woke him back up, but it was too late as Herb Dean jumped in there and signalled the copter. This all happened in the space of ten seconds. When asked what he called the move afterwards, Henderson said very simply, “wrestling” -- his answer as terse as the sequence. It was the first time Emelianenko had ever knocked out, and it added to Henderson’s lore.

Coming on Tuesday: "Alternative" Submission of the year