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The best knockouts of the past year

You OK, Chuck? Liddell never saw Quinton Jackson's vicious onslaught coming -- until it was too late. AP Photo/Eric Jamison

The numerous ways in which fighters can register victories is one of MMA's biggest drawing cards. Fans applaud action-packed bouts that go the distance, but very few things rev them up like a knockout.

Witnessing a guy go down from a straight right hand, left hook or well-placed kick leaves paying customers begging for more. And during the past year, mixed martial arts fans have been treated to numerous bout-ending strikes.

Among the early stoppages that deserve mention is Josh Koscheck's second-round TKO in March of Dustin Hazelett at UFC 82. This was an exciting match from the start, as each fighter landed many hard punches and kicks from the stand-up position.

The only time a punch wasn't delivered was when Koscheck and Hazelett searched each other for defensive weaknesses. But it never took long to find vulnerable spots, and the two exploited every opportunity.

After many punches had been delivered, the most telling blow was a Koscheck head kick that stunned Hazelett and sent him to the ground. Koscheck then delivered lefts and rights, forcing referee Herb Dean to call off the assault.

Light heavyweight Houston Alexander added to his growing reputation in September at UFC 75 with an impressive first-round knockout of Alessio Sakara. It was the second TKO win in a row for Alexander, who made an impressive UFC debut in May 2007 by taking Keith Jardine out in 48 seconds.

While each of Alexander's stoppages had many jumping on his bandwagon, the TKO of Sakara was most memorable. Each man landed punishing right hands during the bout, until a left knee from Alexander landed flush on Sakara's jaw and dropped him.

All Alexander had to do was jump on Sakara and pound away. That's exactly what he did, and the fight was stopped. It took Alexander little more than a minute to put Sakara away.

These are just two of many knockouts in the past year that left fans shaking their heads in amazement. But they weren't among the top five.

Deciding which five knockouts of the past 12 months are best was no easy task.

Knockouts were judged on the strike's crispness. Another factor taken into consideration was the importance of the bout -- how much impact the outcome had on each fighter's career. The impact a knockout might have had on MMA also was taken into consideration.

5. Anthony Johnson-Tommy Speer -- April 2

Eager to rebound from a submission loss in September to Rich Clementi, welterweight Johnson wanted to look impressive against Speer. Johnson accomplished his goal.

Using his superior reach and punching power, Johnson dazed Speer with a left kick to the head. But the strike that put this one away was a beautiful right hand at the 51-second mark that left Speer slumped against the cage.

4. James Irvin-Houston Alexander -- April 5

After breaking into UFC with back-to-back, jaw-dropping TKOs, light heavyweight Alexander seemed poised for superstardom. But then he suffered his first defeat -- a first-round TKO in November to Thiago Silva.

Alexander was looking to pounce back against Irvin on the same UFC Fight Night card as Johnson-Speer. But Alexander quickly found out that getting back on the winning track would not be easy.

Just seconds into the match, Irvin delivered a hard right hand that floored Alexander. As Irvin was about to land another blow while Alexander was on the ground, referee Steve Mazzagatti jumped in. The fight was over in a UFC record-tying eight seconds.

3. Robbie Lawler-Murilo Rua -- Sept. 15, 2007

Though he held the EliteXC middleweight title, Rua has been unable to shred his reputation of losing to big-name fighters. He hoped to do that against Lawler in September.

But the hard-hitting Lawler would spoil Rua's ambitions. Lawler vowed that if Rua fought standing up, he would be stopped. Rua failed to heed those words, and it cost him the title.

For the most part this bout was fought standing up, and often Rua was the aggressor. But Lawler made him pay in the third round when he landed a vicious left uppercut that rocked Rua.

Lawler followed the punch with a right hook and right uppercut, dropping Rua. He began pounding Rua, and seconds later, Lawler was the new middleweight champion.

2. Brian Stann-Doug Marshall -- March 26

World Extreme Cagefighting doesn't garner the same level of attention as its older sibling (Ultimate Fighting Championship), but that shouldn't diminish the quality of its fighters or bouts. An example of the quality of talent that exists inside WEC was displayed March 26 when light heavyweight champion Doug Marshall defended against the hard-hitting Stann.

During interviews leading to the fight, Stann made it clear he intended to end it early. And true to his word, Stann came out throwing hard left jabs and straight rights.

Stann stalked the champion, who spent much of his time backpedaling. But after running out of real estate, Marshall decided to stand and fight.

That decision would cost him the title. As the fighters traded blows, a compact left hook to the chin floored Marshall. A few more strikes from Stann, who only has six pro fights, ended matters at 1:35 of the first.

1. Chuck Liddell-Quinton Jackson II -- May 26, 2007

This was the easiest selection of all. Sure, there were more impressive punches thrown the past 12 months, but this was the fight that brought mixed martial arts into the mainstream. There was so much pre-fight buildup that people who never saw an MMA match were lining up to witness this event.

Chuck Liddell, the light heavyweight champion, had begun to transcend MMA. He was endorsing products and making numerous television appearances – HBO's "Entourage" and every topflight sports talk show, for example -- even ESPN "Pardon the Interruption" co-host Michael Wilbon mentioned Liddell's name on a regular basis.

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was the relative newcomer to UFC. He built his reputation in PRIDE, but what was more important was that he already possessed a second-round TKO win over Liddell during a PRIDE bout in November 2003.

Liddell's growing popularity and Jackson's colorful personality inside and outside the cage, aside from each man's fighting ability, made this a mega-fight. And the match lived up to the hype.

With the amount of punching power each man possessed, no one expected this bout to go the distance. And based on the caution Liddell and Jackson showed, they understood that one mistake could prove disastrous.

But Jackson's hand speed and pinpoint accuracy would end the suspense. About a minute and a half into the fight, Jackson unleashed a right hook that caught Liddell square on the jaw.

The impact of the punch dropped Liddell immediately. Jackson jumped on his fallen foe and began pounding him. Seconds later, the fight was over, and Jackson had become the new UFC 205-pound champion.

Despite its brevity (1:53 of the first) and Jackson's 2-0 record against Liddell, the possibility of a third match looms. Liddell, who would follow the loss to Jackson with a split decision setback in September against Keith Jardine, righted his ship in December with a unanimous decision over Wanderlei Silva.

Jackson returned to the cage in September and defeated PRIDE middleweight king Dan Henderson by unanimous decision. He is scheduled to make his second title defense July 5 against Forrest Griffin at UFC 86 in Las Vegas.

Franklin McNeil covers boxing and mixed martial arts for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.