Our 'alternative' picks for KO of the year

Editor’s note: Next week, the ESPN MMA page will roll out its official end-of-the 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.

It used to be, you could win “Knockout of the year” with a punch. Or maybe, if you were feeling fancy, a high kick.

In 2011 however, the game changed considerably. This year, you likely weren’t even going to be a legitimate contender for a KOTY award without doing something to bend the rules of space and time. Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida saw to that with their respective front kick knockouts of Vitor Belfort and Randy Couture and the two Brazilians will probably fetch most votes on mainstream KO of the year ballots for those highlight reel finishes.

Truth is though, this is perhaps the most competitive of all end-of-the-year MMA awards. With apologies to Silva and Machida, there was Carlos Condit’s flying knee KO of Dong Hyun Kim to consider. There was John Makdessi’s spinning backfist on Kyle Watson. There was the time in Bellator that Hector Lombard hit Falaniko Vitale so hard that Lombard knew it was over before Vitale’s brain gave his body the memo.

In addition to those gems, there were any number of spinning, flipping kicks on the independent circuit.

It was, in short, a good year for head trauma. With such a wide array to choose from, here are our selections for best alternative knockouts of the year ...

Chad Dundas’ pick: Adam Khaliev versus Alexei Belyaev, League S-70 Fight Nights, Russian Championship First Round, Dec. 22, 2011 in Volgograd, Russia.

Look, I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that prior to a few days ago I had ever heard of Adam Khaliev or Alexei Belyaev, of something called League S-70 Fight Nights or -- for that matter -- the Profsoyuzov Sports Hall in Volgograd, Russia. The truth is, I had not heard of any of them and even as I sit here today I’m not sure what many of those words mean.

What I do know is this: Khaliev’s “tornado kick” KO of Belyaev is simply too unbelievable to be left out of any knockout of the year discussion. It is so amazing that not much context is needed – which is good, because we don’t have much – except to say that Khaliev caught Belyaev against the ropes two minutes, 26 seconds into their middleweight bout and made him pay with a kick that must absolutely be watched in slow motion to be fully appreciated.

After viewing the video numerous times, I’m still not sure if my favorite part is the pinpoint accuracy of the kick itself or the way Khaliev (whose personal style can best be described as “high school janitor”) nonchalantly walks away after it happens as if to say, “No big deal.” In any case, Khaliev is reportedly now 2-0 in MMA so, yeah, watch out for that dude.

(Credit to the guys at MiddleEasy.com for reportedly being the first to dig this up.)

Chuck Mindenhall’s pick: Cheick Kongo versus Pat Barry at UFC on Versus 4, June 26, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Penn.

The fight between Kongo and Barry was a co-main event that was forced into the main event spot when the whole Nate Marquardt fiasco went down in Pittsburgh. How did the heavyweights handle the spotlight? Let’s just say you know it was a banner year in MMA when this fight isn’t mentioned as Fight of the year. And if there were such a thing as Round of the year (and in some corners there might be), this one would be it.

Everybody knew that it wouldn’t be pat-a-cake with these guys, and Barry moved forward from the opening bell to drop some bombs. Though he was giving up over eight inches of reach, Barry cocked back and threw a big looping right midway through the round like a pitcher delivering a hanging curveball. It hit Kongo square behind his left ear -- traditionally the “black spot” for knockouts -- and Kongo collapsed backwards on himself.

Kongo was out. It was over.

But it wasn’t. Kongo groped for a single leg and avoided the followup damage enough to get back to his feet. For a split second, anyway. Just as soon as he got there, Barry landed another big right to the temple that dropped the Frenchman again, who by now was flailing through the air, windmilling in trouble. If referee Dan Mirigliotta’s stomach was weaker, this fight would have been over.

But again, it wasn’t.

Kongo scrambled to a knee, and latched onto a single leg again, before improbably staggering back to his feet. Then he retreated toward the fence, and Barry came forward again for the finish, remembering the job he left undone against Mirko Filipovic a year earlier. That’s when Kongo, out of nowhere, wits restored from his own deep reserves, planted and countered with a right hook that grazed Barry. Then another right while standing in the pocket landed on Barry’s jaw, dropping him unconscious. Barry’s knee bent under his weight like he was sliding into second. Barry, like the crowd that night in Pittsburgh, never knew what hit him.

Not many fights have three knockouts in a single round, but this one did. And Kongo’s counted most.

Previously: Our picks for alternative Fight of the year and alternative Submission of the year.

Up next: Alternative fight card of the year.