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5 Oz. 2009 MMA Awards: Comeback Fighter of the Year

Mauricio-Shogun-RuaLadies and gentlemen, it’s time! It has been an extraordinary year of ups and down for all of those involved in the rapidly growing world of mixed martial arts, but all things must come to an end, and it’s time for to dish out our official year end awards for the crazy year that was 2009.
We’ll be diving headfirst into a series of fifteen end of the year awards, with a new award being distributed every single day through December 31 with a special two part New Years Eve year-end award extravaganza.

In this edition we have FiveOuncesofPain’s top five fighters that made the biggest turn-arounds with their careers, along with how they were generally viewed by the masses since the beginning of the year:

1. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: Despite suffering a “defeat” in his championship bid, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua had a career defining year in 2009. Shogun seemed to be a victim of the circumstances heading into this year. The first of which being a serious knee injury that plagued him before and after his UFC debut loss at the hands of Forrest Griffin. It was this defeat that caused many that didn’t know any better to proclaim that the twenty-something phenom was all but finished. There were many that firmly believed Mauricio would never be the same fighter he was in PRIDE. Then it was his “Fight of the Night” victory over an aging Mark Coleman. Many of Shogun’s critics pointed to this win as somehow being another sign that Rua was not the same dominant fighter he once was. Of course, this was well before Coleman shocked many by toppling the much younger Stephan Bonnar. Shogun began to turn heads and opinions in 2009 after his first round demolition of Chuck Liddell, but it wasn’t until his hard-fought “loss” at the hands of Lyoto Machida that Mauricio was finally given the credit and recognition he deserves as being one of the best pound for pound fighters in the sport.

2. Roy “Big Country” Nelson: While he was widely viewed as the favorite going into The Ultimate Fighter house for the series’ tenth season, many don’t realize that “Big Country” was 0-2 in his previous two bouts heading into the show. Nelson bounced back from a duo of losses to Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson by notching wins over Kimbo Slice, Justin Wren and James McSweeney in the house before knocking Brendan Schaub senseless for the TUF 10 championship and six-figure UFC contract.

3. Michihiro Omigawa: Entering 2009 Omigawa was sporting a less than impressive record of 4-7. Many of you old school fans will vaguely remember Michihiro as the Japanese Judoka that was knocked out with an Aaron Riley head kick at PRIDE Bushido 7, or perhaps for his unanimous decision defeats at the hands of Thiago Tavares and Matt Wiman in the UFC. That’s why it came as such a huge shock when the weathered veteran notched consecutive victories over the likes of L.C. Davis, Nam Phan and Marlon Sandro on his way to the Sengoku Featherweight GP Finals. Omigawa further went on to close out 2009 with another impressive victory over the favored Hatsu Hioki.

4. Mark Coleman: Coleman hadn’t fought in well over two years going into his UFC 93 TKO defeat at the hands of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, but it was the 45 year old veteran’s unanimous decision victory over the much younger and favored Stephan Bonnar that made “The Hammer” a no-brainer for this list.

5. Josh Koscheck: Kos showed exactly how you pick yourself up from an unexpected defeat in 2009 as the AKA trained fighter bounced back from an upset loss to Paulo Thiago by blowing through highly respected fighters such as Frank Trigg and Anthony Johnson to place himself right back into the title picture at 170 pounds in the UFC.

  • Jak says:

    Shogun is definitely the comebacker of the year.

    I suppose my problem with Nelson and Coleman being mentioned are that their “comebacks” won’t last. Coleman beat Bonnar… and that’s about it. I don’t think any of asked for Coleman vs. Couture, but for some reason we got it anyways. :(

    Nelson won a reality show against complete amateurs, even compared to other seasons, the HW class was pretty d*mn crappy on the show this season. Put him against any of the prospect HW’s in the UFC and he’s going to lose. Sure he could beat guys like Hague or maybe a rematch with Rothwell, but who cares?

    Personally, i thought Chael Sonnen really stepped up after losing to Maia by beating prospect Dan Miller and contender Yushin Okami.

    Joe Stevenson had a pretty d*mn good comeback year with an amazing grappling win over Nate Diaz and a beat down of Spencer Fisher.

    Vitor Belfort went from a guy fighting guys like Terry Martin and nobody really caring, to beating down Lindland and Franklin in the too bigger organizations at the time.

    Matt Brown really pushed himself into prospect contention by knocking out Sell and submitting WIlks.

  • keyboardwarrior says:

    Agree with Jak, I don’t think Coleman winning one fight, against Bonnar who hadn’t won since 2007, justifies a spot on this list.

  • Angry Mike says:

    Belfort would get my vote for top comeback. Rua was out due to injuries, but he wasn’t as far gone as Belfort. Belfort, who was healthy, had to claw his way back to the big time, and he did it with devastating wins over Lindland and Franklin. Sure, you could say that Lindland and Franklin are toward the back end of their careers, but Belfort’s destruction of both of them was nothing short of amazing. He went from a distant memory to top contender this year.

  • Rece Rock says:

    Agreed- Think Nelson should be a lil lower on the list really… what are they gonna do with Nelson? guess he will just be a stepping stone at best. Dunno, maybe after they milk the cash cow Kimbo dry he’ll get fed to Roy again for one last dip into the money bucket, then both of them can dance off to obscurity or Japan.

  • Makington says:

    @Jak great call on Joe Stevenson. He was 1-3 with embarrassing losses to KenFlo and BJ, and he came back strong against contenders in Diaz and Fisher.

    Good list Cory, I thought they all made sense, although admittedly Coleman’s stock definitely isn’t on the rise.

    I guess you could also make an argument for Sakuraba. He is obviously in the twilight of his career, but he came back with 2 wins after double losses this year. True, Zelg Galesic was pounding his face into oblivion before he pulled the kneebar out of nowhere but it was still a win, and when he needed one most. Personally, I hope he calls it a career and cements himself as one of the greatest of all time but he did rail off 2 big wins this year after coming off 2 bad losses.

  • KTru says:

    Damn, 3 correctly picked awards so far, I will pat myself on the back later
    in the other 2 categories I was wrong, I stated my case but cannot argue with why they were not.

    I think you have to have a perfect record in order to make this list (Rua beat Machida)
    Stevenson has re-established himself but lost badly to Diego
    Kos was always a top 5-10 WW and still is there
    Beating a low level Terry Martin an over-rated Lindland, gets Belfort close, but not the top

    Shogun came back from 2 major knee surgeries to show everyone including myself, the doubters, the people saying he was only good with Pride rules (and the possible use of steroids), to make at least the claim, of being the number 2 Light Heavyweight in the world.

    Welcome back Mauricio

  • nope says:

    IMO, Shogun is correct…followed by Jaks list. Chael Sonnen and Stevenson def belong. Agreed on Matt Brown too.

  • MCM says:

    Like everyone else agreeing with Jak, I too thought Sonnen should be on the list. The guy worked back from a loss to Mia and is now in a #1 contenders match with Nate.

    I’m a “Big Country” fan, but his win on the show was a gimme. If he comes out next year and beats some quality name fighters, (Rothwell, Herring, Kongo) and puts himself into title contention, I’d sat that’s a comeback. Beating inexperienced fighters on TUF was rather unimpressive.

  • edub says:

    Good list.

    It is a very opionated article as there are so many fighters to choose from. I personally would have to put Gilbert Melendez in there also. After the losses to Josh and Ishida he really stepped his game up enormously and has seemed to develope some sick sick KO power.

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    Is a comeback just a guy who lost a fight winning his next one?. If so there are a lot of “comebacks” happening. Comebacks to me have been guys getting their asses kicked during a fight and then coming back to win or a guy retiring or being out through injury then coming back and not just having a win after a loss or 2.

  • kokondo says:

    Honorable Mention- Kimbo Slice?

    Devestating/Embarrassing loss to a TUF Cast-off, left a high paying defunct organization, thrown into a reality show on a backhanded dare and took it all in stride humbly, even notching a win against a legit Houston Alexander, albeit an unimpressive decision.

  • edub says:

    Scott Smith came back from defeat in two fights this year. I think that should land him an honorable mention spot too.

  • fraz says:

    Jak pretty much nailed it in that first comment.

    (This is the first of the Awards blog series that you’ve wiffed on, Cory.)

    Merry Christmas 5 oz.

  • Big Man on Campus says:

    As this is just an IMO piece (unfortunately I don’t get access to all of the MMA available, tho from what I’ve read on 5oz and other sources this is appears to be a very good list Cory), I’d have to consider Scott Smith’s fight with Cung Li as one that may have missed the list (even for a guy who is 3-2 in his last 5).


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