The final weekend of 2011 offered a poignant conclusion for the year itself: things were busy. It could be said that nearly every weekend over the last 12 months had something for your average MMA watcher. In other words, it was quite a run for the sport; unprecedented, really, if you factor in a never-ending news cycle that kept media guessing and fans enthralled.
There's no question that 2011 marked a pivotal stretch in revealing the future course for MMA. When Zuffa purchased Strikeforce in March, the path was charted. That piece of news reverberated around the industry the remainder of the year, and was evident yet again at UFC 141 on Friday.
What does the MMA world look like on Jan. 2, 2012, if Strikeforce's majority shareholder doesn't push to sell, if the ballyhooed heavyweight grand prix takes place as planned, and if Alistair Overeem has his hand raised in that venue as opposed to the Octagon, where he rattled Brock Lesnar to retirement? We'll never know the answers, though that hypothetical could stick around for a while. Ramifications of the sale were obviously massive. This is Zuffa's time. We've known this to be true in a practical sense for several years, but the Strikeforce deal was indicative of something larger.
Consolidation, that's the story of 2011 for MMA. The business is tinted one color for the foreseeable future.
Zuffa's largesse upon the industry is clearly evident via growing interest from major media conglomerates. The UFC's seven-year deal with Fox is game-changing in and of itself, but gazing through a wider lens, what message was sent to advertisers, marketers, branders et al about MMA that News Corp was willing to get behind the sport the way it did? Similarly, Viacom, with its controlling-interest purchase of Bellator, stated its intentions about remaining connected to MMA.
Five years ago, moves like these would have been unheard of. Now, it's how things are done.
Fighters, too, were a major piece of the puzzle. We tend to forget their role in all of this. So much praise is heaped on promoters, who rightly get their fair share, yet mixed martial artists are really the ones prompting fans to come back. In terms of pure action, has there been a better campaign than 2011? What's your fight of the year? If three or four bouts don't immediately pop into your head, consider yourself decisive.
It wasn't all great, of course. Nothing is. This was the year of tweet bonus -- meaning "in addition to" -- as UFC fighters were compelled to tweet out pithy little things that sometimes left behind a thorny trail. The Miguel Torres saga was bad for everyone, and spoke to the UFC's most consistent battle, the one it has with itself.
Here's the bottom line on 2011: MMA grew up.
Before heading full force into the coming year, let's look back on the last throes of 2011. From Tokyo to Las Vegas, from A-plus to F, here's how New Year's Eve weekend stacked up.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.