European Throwdown: France Comes to the Party

There was a collective sigh of relief throughout mixed martial arts circles in France last Sunday when news broke that the government had legalized the sport after a long struggle. The country was the last of the major European nations that still banned MMA.

After months of supreme efforts by fighters like Jess Liaudin (Pictures) and Cyrille Diabate (Pictures) as well as movie directors like Paul Beletre and Omar Bouhelal, the government department for heath, youth and sports softened its tone and made major concessions to one of Europe's major fighting nations.

As of Jan. 27, French promoters are allowed to hold events under Shooto rules. The only restrictions are the use of elbow strikes to the head of a downed opponent, which remains illegal. Referees are also advised to immediately stop any bout in which a fighter takes three clean shots to the head on the ground, regardless of the competitor's experience inside the ring.

To speed up the organization and regulation of new shows, French fighters have created an MMA commission. PRIDE Bushido veteran and Fightsport magazine founder Bertrand Amoussou has been appointed president of the commission, which immediately joined the French Federation of Full Contact Sports.

The legalization of MMA in their home country will give French fighters, who are already considered among the best in Europe, even more opportunities to improve and display their skills. Fans around the world can look forward to more exciting fighters in the mold of Samy Schiavo (Pictures), Moise Rimbon and Cheick Kongo (Pictures).

Unlike, which chose Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as the strongest performer of 2007, readers of the German Web site have voted for Anderson Silva as the successor of Mirko "Cro Cop" (2006) and Mauricio Rua (Pictures) (2005) as fighter of the year.

The 32-year-old Brazilian, who successfully defended his UFC middleweight championship three times last year, snatched 46.2 percent of the votes. Quinton Jackson (Pictures) (30.8 percent) and Randy Couture (Pictures) (17.1 percent) finished second and third respectively.

The Ground & Pound Awards, which were given out for the third consecutive year in 2007, awarded prizes to fighters, fight teams, fights, promotions and events. Fans, fighters, managers, promoters and trainers from all over the world decided on winners in 16 categories.

Complete results:
Fighter of the Year: Anderson Silva (Brazil)
Female Fighter of the Year: Tara Larosa (Pictures) (USA)
Fight Team of the Year: Xtreme Couture (USA)
Rookie of the Year: Thiago Silva (Pictures) (Brazil)
Most Improved Fighter: Robbie Lawler (Pictures) (USA)
Best Young Fighter: Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (Pictures) (Cameroon)
Cult Fighter of the Year: Jason Miller (USA)
German Fighter of the Year: Dennis Siver (Pictures) (Mannheim)
Boxer of the Year: Floyd Mayweather Jr. (USA)
Kickboxer of the Year: Semmy Schilt (Pictures) (Holland)
Grappler of the Year: Marcelo Garcia (Pictures) and Roger Gracie (Pictures) (both Brazil)

Fight of the Year: Takanori Gomi (Pictures) vs. Nick Diaz (Pictures) (PRIDE 33)
Knockout of the Year: Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures) vs. Mirko Filipovic (Pictures) (UFC 70)
Submission of the Year: Nick Diaz (Pictures) vs. Takanori Gomi (Pictures) (PRIDE 33)

Best Promotion: Ultimate Fighting Championship
Fight Event of the Year: PRIDE 33 "The Second Coming"

A group of three European fighters will be in action Friday in Canada at Hardcore Championship Fighting's "Destiny" event.

The most prominent spot on the card features Armenia's "Young Vagabond" Gegard Mousasi (Pictures) squaring off against grim Chute Boxer Evangelista Santos (Pictures). The bout against "Cyborg" will be Mousasi's first of two bouts within 30 days, as the well-rounded 22-year-old fighter has another match coming up against Dutchman Dave Dalgliesh on March 2 in Holland.

Not quite as busy but faced with an equal challenge is Croatian kickboxer Damir Mirenic, who lost his North American debut against Mousasi last October. The 33-year-old middleweight takes on Team Quest fighter Mike Pyle (Pictures). "Quicksand," as the very experienced Pyle is dubbed, went 3-3 in the IFL and in EliteXC over the past two years.

Also on the card is Miodrag Petkovic. The 39-year-old Serbian submission specialist is set to make his HCF debut against undefeated Canadian King of the Cage champion Tim Hague. Even though he had a rough spell recently, dropping four of his last five fights, they don't call Petkovic "Pele" for no reason: The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder has knocked out Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic's sparring partner Igor Pokrajac twice.

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