Every year, MMA’s regional circuits play host to breakout performances and unexpected resurgences, as well as bitter trips further into obscurity. 2014 was certainly no different, as it saw its share of steady climbs back up the ranks as well as exits from the sport entirely. Here, then, is a recap of some of the biggest moves from those featured in BtO this year.
Retirements: Leonard Garcia, Cody McKenzie
Known as much for controversial decision victories as for the hyper-aggressive style by which he earned them, Garcia retired following a first-round submission loss to Daniel Pineda in November. He had been released from the UFC in 2013 and seemed well on his way back following three straight victories (all by submission or TKO). However, the loss to Pineda, and the first-round submission to Damon Jackson which preceded it, would end up being enough to persuade the 35-year-old to hang up his gloves.
Cody McKenzie (coincidentally, Garcia’s last UFC opponent) also retired this year. He’d managed a fair 3-4 run in the Octagon before being released in 2013. He won his first post-UFC outing, but would go on to lose two straight, the last a KO, before finally calling it quits.
UFC Signings and Returns: Roan Carneiro, Konstantin Erokhin, Damon Jackson, Alan Jouban, Joe Soto
Damon Jackson was brought into the fold after submitting Leonard Garcia; Jouban was signed following a decision victory over Strikeforce and Bellator veteran Ricky Legere; former Bellator champ Joe Soto, who may be the first contender ever brought into a Zuffa-run UFC title fight with no previous UFC experience, found himself fighting at UFC 177 after winning six straight on the regionals. Of these three, only Jouban won his debut.
Still waiting to make his debut is Russian knockout artist Konstantin Erokhin, who put away Brett Rogers, Richard Odoms, and Dave Huckaba this year to earn his spot on UFC on Fox 14 coming up later this month. And Roan Carneiro will make his return to the Octagon after almost eight years away thanks to a five-fight win streak capped off with a unanimous decision over Brock Larson.
Returns from Hiatus: Luciano Azevedo, Jonathan Brookins, Abel Cullum, Karen Darabedyan, Edwin Dewees, Wagnney Fabiano, Matt Fiordirosa, Rambaa Somdet, Lowen Tynanes, Falaniko Vitale
Neither Matt Fiordirosa nor Lowen Tynanes have gotten much exposure, but both are likely familiar to hardcore fans. Fiordirosa was a prospect out of Illinois’s Team Curran who hadn’t fought since 2010; he returned this year with two straight TKO victories. Tynanes made a big impression when, in only his second professional fight, he earned a TKO stoppage of Eduard Folayang. The undefeated Hawaiian’s rise would be hampered by bizarre contract disputes with King of the Cage that kept him from fighting for over a year; he returned in 2014 with a tidy first-round submission win.
Former top featherweight Wagnney Fabiano, as well as PRIDE veteran Luciano Azevedo, Dream and EliteXC vet Abel Cullum, and former WEC lightweight Karen Darabedyan all made successful ventures back into fighting. Cullum probably came away the best, winning twice, including a first-round submission over UFC castaway Ulysses Gomez.
Meanwhile, flyweight Rambaa Somdet would return in November only to drop a split-decision to Christian Pitpitunge. The defeat would halt an eleven-fight winning streak.
Former UFC fighters Jonathan Brookins, Falaniko Vitale, and Edwin Dewees also all made returns to the ring. Brookins went 2-1 this year after taking 2013 off, while veterans Vitale and Dewees had a rather worse time of it; both were returning after two years off, and both were defeated within the distance.
The Worst: Daniel Acacio, Antonio Banuelos, Chase Beebe, George Sotiropoulos, Oli Thompson, Eddie Yagin
Many veterans have turned in mixed results this year, but a few have experienced especially deep slumps in 2014.
PRIDE veteran Daniel Acacio went 0-3 this year; it’s only the second time in his 15-year career that Acacio lost every bout. Former UFC heavyweight Oli Thompson also went winless for the year at 0-3.
Former WEC luminaries Chase Beebe and Antonio Banuelos also continued to struggle in 2014. Beebe, once the sport’s top bantwamweight, went 0-2, putting him two years away from his last victory. Meanwhile, Banuelos lost by TKO (corner stoppage) in his lone bout of 2014, and he’s now three years removed from his last win.
And for George Sotiropoulos, the troubles that culminated in his release from the UFC continued to dog him outside the Octagon this year. Having been cut from the UFC after four straight losses, Sotiropoulos then dropped a unanimous decision to Mike Ricci at Titan Fighting Championship 29 in August. He hasn’t won a fight in four years.
And finally, Eddie Yagin returned to MMA after a medical suspension ended his UFC career prematurely at 1-1. Yagin had taken a split-decision over Mark Hominick, but swelling in his brain after a subsequent training injury saw him removed from the UFC’s roster. Yagin returned in 2014 after two years stuck on the sidelines, but lost both fights.
The Best: Chris Barnett, Konstantin Erokhin, Mizuto Hirota, Satoru Kitaoka, Vinny Magalhaes, Jeff Monson, Diego Nunes, Damacio Page, Akop Stephanyan, Caol Uno, Brandon Vera, Kazunori Yokota
After nearly three years away from competition, prospect Chris Barnett returned with a vengeance, going 5-0, with all victories coming by way of TKO. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Erokhin put four straight wins under his belt, culminating in a UFC signing.
Sengoku veterans Satoru Kitaoka and Kazunori Yokota, as well as UFC veterans Caol Uno and Mizuto Hirota all went 3-0 this year. Yokota capped off his year with a decision win over upstart Isao Kobayashi, while Hirota has rebounded from a winless 2013 that saw him released from the UFC. Uno remains undefeated in the last two years.
Akop Stepanyan has made a steady climb back up the ranks after his 1-4 run in Bellator saw him back to the regionals. He’s beaten increasingly stronger competition, culminating in a startling headkick-KO of Eddie Yagin. Damacio Page put an exclamation point at the end of his 3-0 year as well with his first-round KO of Brian Hall in October.
Former UFC mainstays Diego Nunes and Brandon Vera, neither of whom have won a fight in years, made thunderous returns back to the win column, Nunes with a head-turning KO of Joachim Hansen in November and, in December, Vera by way of a TKO (punch and soccer kicks) of Igor Subora.
MMA iron man Jeff Monson may have only wound up going 3-3 this year, but that’s a significant improvement over 2013’s 1-4 run. And Vinny Magalhaes, who’s 1-4 record inside the Octagon belies how dominant he can be, returned to the regional circuit after his latest UFC release. He went 2-0 this year (both by submission), with the lattermost coming against fellow UFC veteran Jason Brilz.
Ready for the Big Show: Chris Barnett, Mamed Khalidov, Akop Stepanyan, Caol Uno, Kazunori Yokota
Chris Barnett has got to be on the short list of possible UFC signings, provided the super heavyweight can cut to the UFC’s 265-pound limit.
Akop Stepanyan’s successful, methodical climb up the comeback trail, combined with his exciting style, should see him back in Bellator soon.
Mamed Khalidov, who went 2-0 this year and is nigh-undefeated in the last five years, is, as ever, ready for the spotlight. However, a lucrative contract with Polish organization KSW will likely keep him fighting overseas for the foreseeable future.
At nearly 40 years old, Caol Uno is enjoying a late-career resurgence, and another turn in the UFC would certainly be warranted. And fellow featherweight stand-out Kazunori Yokota, with his ten straight victories, including a unanimous decision over 16-2-4 Kobayashi, should also be drawing some interest from major North American promotions.
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