Real Talk 28: The (Unofficial) 2018 SoCal Sprawler Awards!

Because if Ariel Helwani can have his own MMA awards show on ESPN 2, why can’t I have my own MMA awards column on SCU?

When a great fight like Nunes vs. Cyborg from UFC 232 or Richard LeRoy vs. Jalin Turner from CXF 8 in 2017 goes down, nothing goes up on here that acknowledges that.

Now I’m not going to call on SCU to establish separate monthly rankings or awards for MMA yet. But since we cover MMA, I believe the sport deserves to be recognized by SCU. So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and change all that!

The (Unofficial) 2018 SoCal Sprawler Awards!

For the inaugural (and unofficial) SoCal Sprawler Awards, I’m going to be recognizing my favorite SoCal MMA moments and fights of 2018 in several categories.

No more talk. Let’s get right to it!

MMA Promotion of the Year
(Open to any promotion that has held three events with pro MMA fights in Southern California in 2018)
  1. California Xtreme Fighting
  2. Legacy Fighting Alliance
  3. King of the Cage

Honorary Mention: Roy Englebrecht Promotions

We start off with MMA promotion of the year. While this category is somewhat light on nominees, this was a tough call.

My overall #1 pick went to California Xtreme Fighting. If you’re looking for a promotion that showcases the best local fighters, look no further than CXF. Their events are a great place to catch MMA’s rising stars before they hit the big time. In 2018, Edmen Shahbazyan gained two wins before getting a spot on Dana White’s Contender Series to win a UFC contract. On top of featuring some of the best prospects in SoCal, the fights in CXF are fun to watch. CXF has also co-promoted events with the Dublin-based Celtic Gladiator promotion, which adds to list of reasons why they were my top pick for 2018. If you’re a jaded UFC fan, I highly suggest giving CXF a look in 2019.

After CXF, Legacy Fighting Alliance gets my choice for runner-up. Having run four events in SoCal with their main cards air on AXS TV, they have given many local fighters a great platform to showcase their skills and get noticed. Much like CXF, you’re going to see a lot of fun fights in LFA. After LFA, King of the Cage gets my pick as the third best MMA promotion to run in SoCal in 2018. The fights I’ve seen them put on have been fun, and they’re the only regional promotion in SoCal to run a big venue such as Citizens Business Bank Arena.

Roy Englebrecht Promotions holds a lot of events in SoCal featuring boxing, as well as professional and amateur MMA. They also draw some pretty good crowds for their Fight Club OC Boxing/MMA events. I felt they deserved an honorable mention here for their contributions to SoCal MMA. Bellator MMA is technically the biggest promotion in the field of eligible promotions in the criteria I set, but I didn’t think their cards were strong enough to place higher than the ones mentioned.

SoCal MMA Event of the Year
(Open to any event with pro MMA fights held in Southern California in 2018)
  1. UFC 232: Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 in Inglewood, CA (December 29th, 2018)
  2. LFA 36: Simon vs. Zani in Cabazon, CA (March 23rd, 2018)
  3. CXF 11: Alpha Dog in Burbank, CA (February 17th, 2018)

This has been a fun year for MMA events in SoCal. There are plenty of events going on, and a lot of them are producing memorable moments and fight. Unfortunately, I had to narrow things down to three cards.

From a historical standpoint, I don’t think any SoCal MMA event will ever top UFC 232. From the last-minute move to Inglewood from Las Vegas, to the much talked about knockout of Cyborg by Amanda Nunes, UFC 232 will go down as the most memorable MMA event to ever take place in SoCal. Yeah, there was Dynamite!! USA with Brock Lesnar’s MMA debut, the first UFC on Fox card, the Affliction events with Fedor, and some Ronda Rousey fights, but UFC 232 was a historic event in MMA for both the right and wrong reasons. Along with that, the fights were extremely fun to watch, and it also showcased the best MMA fight in SoCal in 2018.

Legacy Fighting Alliance put on some really fun shows during their SoCal stops in 2018, but I didn’t think any of them were better than LFA 36: Simon vs. Zani. The main card showcased seven professional fights, with all seven bouts ending by way of a finish. Rounding out this category is CXF 11: Alpha Dog. With only one fight going to a decision, this was a card full of finishes. CXF 11 also featured one of the best fights of the year in SoCal, which I’ll talk about below. With that said, I felt CXF 11 deserved to be recognized as one of the better cards of the year. It is a great example of what CXF can do and a great introduction to new fans looking to get into the promotion.

SoCal MMA Submission of the Year
(Open to any pro MMA fight that featured a Submission/Technical Submission finish in Southern California in 2018)
  1. Javier Garcia over Rob Gooch via Technical Submission from an Inverted Triangle Choke (CXF 15)
  2. Ryan Hall over BJ Penn via Imanari Roll into a Heel Hook (UFC 232)
  3. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane over Alejandra Lara via Armbar (Bellator 201)

This might garner some heat and controversy, but I will stand by this.

My pick for the best MMA submission from 2018 in SoCal goes to Javier Garcia’s against Rob Gooch at CXF 15. The fight started out with both fighters looking for submissions. Gooch would sweep Garcia twice in an effort to gain dominant position while fishing for guillotine chokes. Garcia fought off these attempts and went for a guillotine of his own. Gooch would use this for a takedown attempt, but Garcia would trap him with an Inverted Triangle Choke over two minutes into the fight before Gooch fell unconscious. I thought this was a fun grappling match with a super-rare finish in MMA. For that, it got my pick for SoCal MMA Submission of the Year.

Javier Garcia over Rob Gooch via Technical Submission from an Inverted Triangle Choke at CXF 15

My pick for the second best MMA submission from 2018 in SoCal went to Ryan Hall’s Imanari Roll into a Heel Hook at UFC 232 on legendary Jiu-Jitsu black belt, B.J. Penn. Much like the Inverted Triangle, this is an extremely rare finish in MMA and grappling. Not only was this a great looking submission, but it was a huge moment for the Jiu-Jitsu world. Ryan Hall, one of the most highly revered practitioners in Jiu-Jitsu, pulled this off on one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time. Oh, and BJ hadn’t been submitted in MMA competition before this. While this was my runner-up pick, it was still a great submission.

Finally, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s win over Alejandra Lara at Bellator 201 via Armbar to retain the Bellator Women’s Flyweight title. This was my third favorite submission of the year in SoCal. Macfarlane did a good job at setting it up from the mount and fighting off Alejandra Lara’s defense of the move. Despite Lara’s attempts to fight off the submission, Macfarlane displayed great patience before she was able to finish off her opponent. While Macfarlane pulled off the submission and got the win, I give Alejandra Lara a lot of credit for trying to fight it off the way she did.

SoCal MMA Knockout of the Year
(Open to any pro MMA fight that featured a KO/TKO finish in Southern California in 2018)
  1. Kailan Hill over Andre Walker via Spinning Backfist/Elbow Strike at 0:11 of Round 1 (LFA 54)
  2. Curtis Millender over Nick Barnes via Head Kick (LFA 30)
  3. Amanda Nunes over Cris Cyborg via Overhand Right at 0:51 of Round 1 (UFC 232)

This is another pick that might garner some heat, but I stand by it as well.

Yes, Nunes vs. Cyborg was a great fight and the finish was a tremendous moment in MMA history. But I thought Kailan Hill’s spectacular 11 second knockout over Andre Walker at LFA 54 was the best KO I’ve seen in SoCal this year. A fast knockout is always fun to see in MMA. And a knockout from a spinning strike is even more fun. Kailan Hill’s quick win over Andre Walker had both of those things. Check out the video above and you’ll see why I went this that as my favorite SoCal MMA knockout of 2018 over Nunes vs. Cyborg.

I also went with Curtis Millender’s K.O. over Nick Barnes via Head Kick from LFA 30 over Nunes knocking out Cyborg. To me, this ranks above that simply because of Millender’s technique while he was off balance. After taking a kick from Nick Barnes to his lead leg, Millender landed an off-balance straight right hand and followed that up with a head kick from his right leg after finding his balance with his left. Just like with the Kailan Hill, check out the video and see why I went with this over Nunes knocking out Cyborg.

SoCal MMA Performance of the Year
(Open to any fighter for any outstanding performance during a pro MMA event in Southern California in 2018)
  1. Amanda Nunes at UFC 232
  2. Henry Cejudo at UFC 227
  3. Vinny Magalhães at PFL 9

I felt that all three performances mentioned were the best in 2018 for various reasons. But I had to select these moments in order, so I thought deeply about this and feel like I made the right decisions.

Going into the biggest women’s MMA fight in history, Amanda Nunes had been quietly making MMA history. She was the first openly gay champion in the UFC. Her list of victories include the best female MMA fighters of all time. Ronda Rousey, Julia Budd, Sara McMann, Miesha Tate, and Valentina Shevchenko (twice). At UFC 232, Amanda made more history when she knocked out Cyborg and became the first woman to hold two titles at the same time in the UFC. The win sent shockwaves through the world of MMA, as it seemed like almost everyone thought Cyborg was going to win. But In the end, though, it was Nunes’ speed that overcame Cyborg’s power in Inglewood on December 29th, 2018.

Nunes wasn’t the only UFC fighter to make history in SoCal this year. On August 4th, 2018 at UFC 227 in Los Angeles, Henry Cejudo became the first Olympic gold medalist to win a UFC title when he defeated the most successful titleholder in UFC history, Demetrious Johnson, in a rematch of their April 23th, 2016 title bout that saw Johnson retain via TKO in the first round. But at UFC 227, the LA native Cejudo would use his Olympic-level freestyle wrestling skills to get a tough decision victory to end the reign of Johnson.

Rounding out the category is Vinny Magalhães’s performance at PFL 9 in Long Beach, CA as part of the PFL Playoffs. Trying to get a first-round submission win in a professional MMA fight is tough enough as it is. Getting two in one night is even tougher.

But on October 13th, 2018, Vinny Magalhães was able to walk out with two wins by way of Kimura to earn a spot in the PFL Championship Finals on December 31st, 2018 in New York City. His total fight time at PFL 9 in Long Beach for both fights combined for 3:18. While Vinny’s performance wasn’t as prolific and historical as Nunes or Cejudo’s performances, it was still worthy of being mentioned among them as one of the best single-night performances in recent MMA history.

SoCal MMA “Hello, Japan!” Moment of the Year
(Open to the worst moments involving pro MMA in Southern California in 2018)
  1. Drew Chatman DQ’d for unsportsmanlike conduct’ at LFA 36

At LFA 36, Drew Chatman and Irvins Ayala made their professional MMA debuts after the televised main card ended. Little did anyone know, this fight would end up being one of the strangest and worst MMA moments in 2018. Nor just in SoCal, but the entire MMA world. After Ayala knocked himself out on Chatman’s shin when going for a hammer fist, the fight was stopped and appeared to be called for Chatman. Immediately after the fight was stopped, Chatman decided to celebrate his win by doing a front flip off the back of Ayala as he was unconscious. This would result in an instant disqualification for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.

For that, I give Drew Chatman the 2018 SoCal MMA “Hello, Japan!” Moment of the Year.

Dishonorable Mention; Oscar De La Hoya knowing the names of fighters on his undercard.

SoCal MMA Most Memorable Moment of the Year
(Open to the best moments involving pro MMA in Southern California in 2018)
  1. Amanda Nunes knocks out Cyborg at UFC 232. Cyborg shows class in defeat.
  2. UFC 232 moved to Inglewood from Las Vegas on short notice.
  3. Henry Cejudo becomes the UFC Flyweight Champion at UFC 227.

This was a no-brainer for me. Nearly everyone inside Amanda Nunes defeating Cris Cyborg in 51 seconds at UFC 232 was an iconic moment in MMA history. The Forum in Inglewood were on their feet going crazy as these two women swung wildly at a ferocious pace. When Amanda Nunes defeated the most feared woman in the sport of MMA with a devastating right hand, she did so to become the first female two-division champion in UFC history. The action was wild, non-stop, and everything most MMA fans want in a fight.

What made the moment even more special was Cris Cyborg’s show of class after being defeated. In an age where trash talkers get the most fanfare, Cris Cyborg showed nothing but class following her loss to Nunes by congratulating her in the middle of the Octagon. After her bout, Cris Cyborg walked out of the arena with a smile on her face and took pictures with fans as she made her way back to the locker room. It was a true show of sportsmanship from Cyborg, who acted like a true role model that night for all aspiring fighters.

This moment though wouldn’t have happened in SoCal if it weren’t for my pick for the second most memorable SoCal MMA moment of 2018: the UFC moving UFC 232 to Inglewood from Las Vegas on six days notice after one of Jon Jones’ drug tests came back with trace amounts of a banned substance.

The story of this moment has been well documented by many. While everyone has their opinions on the matter, it was still a major moment not just in SoCal MMA history, but in MMA history as well. For that, I placed this as the second most memorable SoCal MMA moment of 2018.

My third most memorable moment in SoCal MMA for 2018 took place at UFC 227 when Los Angeles native Henry Cejudo ended the historic UFC Flyweight title reign of Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson at the Staples Center in LA. During his reign that lasted close to six years, Johnson set the record for most successful and consecutive title defenses in UFC history. Along with ending the historic reign of Johnson to become the 2nd UFC Flyweight Champion, Cejudo also made history by becoming the first Olympic gold medalist to win a UFC title. Had UFC 232 not been moved to Inglewood, this would’ve been the top moment in SoCal MMA for 2018.

Honorable Mentions: Uriah Hall sends a heartfelt message to his sister after KO win at UFC 232. Marcus Kowal dedicates fight at CXF 11 to his late son, Liam.

2018 in SoCal also saw some emotional tributes inside the cage from victorious fighters to their loved ones.

During the UFC 232 prelims, Uriah Hall scored a huge come-from-behind knockout win against Bevon Lewis. During his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan inside the Octagon, Hall delivered some powerful words of encouragement to his sitter, who is currently battling depression. Following the bout, Hall spoke to the media and explained the emotions behind his post-fight interview and his sister’s battle with depression.

At CXF 11, Marcus Kowal made his return to MMA competition against Benji Gomez after a multi-year layoff. The fight lasted 2:56 before Kowal scored a submission victory over Gomez. After the bout, Kowal dedicated the fight to his late son Liam, who was killed on September 3rd, 2016 by a drunk driver as Liam’s 15-year-old aunt was taking him out for a walk. Liam was only 15 months old. Kowal, who was joined by his wife and their son inside the cage after the fight, announced that he was dedicating his life to fighting drunk driving and lobbying to lower the legal blood-alcohol limits for DUIs from 0.8% or higher to 0.4% or higher.

SoCal MMA Fighter of the Year
(Open to any pro MMA fighter to have fought in Southern California at least three times in 2018)

1. A.J. Bryant (MMA Record: 4-0 in 2018)
2. Moses Murrietta (3-0 in 2018)
3. Gabriel Green (3-0 in 2018)

For SoCal MMA Fighter of the Year, I decided to go with the CXF Featherweight Champion A.J. Bryant. For most regional fighters, getting four fights in a year can be tough. Winning those fights is another story. For A.J. Bryant, his 2018 was perfect after going 4-0. On April 21st, 2018, Bryant defeated Brian Del Rosario to hand Del Rosario the first loss of his career while becoming the CXF Featherweight Champion. Since then, Bryant went on to successfully defend the title twice.

My second choice for SoCal MMA Fighter of the Year goes to Moses Murrietta, who went 3-0 throughout 2018 in promotions such as Bellator and LFA. All of Murrietta’s wins in 2018 came by way of finish, including a highlight reel KO against Sidiah Parker at LFA 54. His fights in 2018 also never went to a third round, which is one of the main reasons why I had him behind A.J. Bryant. For third place, I had to go with Gabriel Green, who also went 3-0 in 2018 with all his wins coming by way of finish. In 2018, Green competed in Bellator, Combate Americas, and CXF. After doing the research and thinking things over, I felt like Green was a good choice to round out the top three.

SoCal MMA Fight of the Year
(Open to any pro MMA fight to take place in Southern California in 2018)
  1. Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes – UFC 232
  2. Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo – UFC 227
  3. Brian Del Rosario vs. Donte Stubbs – CXF 11

Southern California hosted a lot of exciting fights in 2018, but Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes from UFC 232 for the UFC Women’s Featherweight title was my pick for SoCal MMA Fight of the Year. From a historical standpoint, I don’t think any fight will top this. You had the most feared female MMA fighter of all time in Cyborg going up against a woman in Nunes, who many people overlooked due to a lack of good marketing by the UFC and because of Cyborg’s reputation as an unstoppable force in MMA. The action itself was intense and hectic, with the finish being one of the most shocking in MMA history when Amanda Nunes ended Cyborg’s 20-fight winning streak with a vicious overhand right.

In second, I went with Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo from UFC 227 for the Flyweight title. Had Cyborg vs. Nunes gone down in Vegas as originally planned, this would’ve been my top pick for SoCal MMA Fight of the Year in 2018. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a better UFC Flyweight title fight than this. This was a really exciting back-and-forth fight that could’ve gone either way. Along with the action, the historical significance of Henry Cejudo becoming the first Olympic gold medalist to win a UFC title also makes this fight a little more special.

For the third best MMA fight in SoCal for 2018, I went with Brian Del Rosario vs. Donte Stubbs from CXF 11: Alpha Dog. It was a really fun back-and-forth battle The fight came to an end with an exciting finish after Stubbs dropped Del Rosario with a left cross, only to get caught in a Triangle Choke after following Del Rosario to the ground. I thought this was the best fight featuring local fighters that I’ve seen this year and is very deserving of being mentioned alongside Cyborg/Nunes and Johnson/Cejudo.

Brian Del Rosario locks in a Triangle Choke to defeat Donte Stubbs at CXF 11.

Final Thoughts

2018 was a great year for MMA in Southern California. With multiple events from the top promotions in the sport such as the UFC, Bellator, LFA, and Combate Americas, to unique and special events like Golden Boy MMA’s debut event, to tons of great action from the regional scene, SoCal was packed with a lot of great fights in 2018. It is a great time to be a fan of MMA in SoCal, and I highly recommend that everyone check out the local fight scene more. We have a lot of great things going on here that you don’t want to miss out on!

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