ESPN's ESPY Awards prove MMA is on the rise, but still has a long way to go

2011's nominees for "Best Fighter." Do Jon Jones and Georges St. Pierre have a chance against the juggernaut that is Manny Pacquiao?

Mixed martial arts fanatics might see some familiar faces when they tune in to the ESPYs tonight (July 13, 2011) on ESPN, hosted by Seth Meyers.

That's because this year, MMA will be more involved with the show than ever.

For the "Fighter of the Year" award (which includes both boxers and mixed martial artists), current UFC champions Jon Jones and Georges St. Pierre have been nominated.

This will be St. Pierre's third nomination. The welterweight champion of the world defended his UFC title twice since coming up short for the ESPY award in 2010 to boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Jones has more than earned his first ever nomination.

He defeated veteran Vladimir Matyushenko in a headlining bout, dominated a then-undefeated Ryan Bader and beat the title from the clutches of then-champion Mauricio Rua just two months later at UFC 128 to become the UFC light heavyweight champion at just 23 years old.

But that's not all.

Even more impressively, a non-UFC fighter has been nominated for the first time. Strikeforce heavyweight Fabricio Werdum is in contention for "Upset of the Year" for his first round triangle submission victory of Fedor Emelianenko in July of 2010, ending the Russian's 10 year streak of domination.

Of course, none are expected to win.

Anthony Pettis shocked the mixed martial arts world with "The Showtime Kick," one of the craziest moments in MMA history. Not just 2010, but ever, when he bounced off the cage and landed a bullseye kick to Ben Henderson's face to win the WEC lightweight title last December.

The feat put him in contention for "Play of the Year," a 16-deep competition that was voted on by the fans. Despite that, he would lose to a tag team interception by Oklahoma State football players in the first round of fan voting. It was a play so amazing that Oklahoma State still went on to lose the game.

MMA still has a long way to go to truly be mainstream.

The sport didn't even get recognized by the ESPY's until 2007, when they merged MMA with Boxing to form the "Best Fighter" category. Before then, it was boxing and boxing alone that was represented in combat sports.

No MMA fighter has ever won an ESPY. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao have cleaned house on the "Best Fighter" award since its inception. Randy Couture and Quinton Jackson fell short in 2007, GSP in 2008, Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida in 2009 and St. Pierre again in 2010.

With the current state of the award, it feels like MMA fighters get nominated simply as part of the "Rooney Rule."

Frankie Edgar also failed last year, the first MMA fighter nominated for something outside of "Best Fighter," in his bid for "Upset of the Year" for his surprise UFC lightweight title victory over B.J. Penn at UFC 112.

So Maniacs, what do you think?

Will MMA finally break the streak this year? Or are we still a long ways off?

Opinions, please.

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