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MMA Highlights – The Greatest and Most Important Fights in History

Over the last twenty-five years, mixed martial arts has evolved and grown at an unprecedented rate. From the earliest competitions, pitting fighters from different disciplines against each other to determine which art form is best, to its current status as a mainstream athletic contest, the sport has made immense progress.

Along the way, there have been numerous eras, promotions, and fighters, all playing their unique role in progressing the industry.

For the novice MMA connoisseur, this guide will act as a history lesson, highlighting the most essential bouts along the sport’s long, often-challenging path.

Others, who were fortunate enough to discover the industry in its infancy may find this resource nostalgic — a refresher of some of the most impactful nights or most exciting moments in the fandom.

The contests listed here are not in order of importance, nor does this list include every significant bout that ever took place. There have been numerous sport-changing bouts over the last two decades in MMA.

These are, however, matches that one must see to fully understand where this sport came from and appreciate how significantly it continues to evolve.

Royce Gracie vs. Gerard Gordeau

  • Date: November 12, 1993
  • Event: UFC 1: The Beginning
  • Location: Denver, Colorado, USA
  • What was at stake? The UFC 1 Tournament Championship ($50,000).

Royce Gracie and Gerard Gordeau met in the finals of the inaugural UFC event back in 1993. It was the third fight of the night for each man. Both of Gordeau’s previous fights were quick TKOs, dispatching both opponents within the first minute of the first round.

Royce Gracie and Gerard Gordeau

Gracie was equally impressive, but in a different way. The lanky Brazilian was easily the smallest man in the tournament, but he was also the only one that knew jiu-jitsu. In the first two fights, he took his opponents to the ground where he secured submission holds and forced them both to tap out.

In the final fight, the size difference was as dramatic as it had been all night. Gerard Gordeau was a 6’5” towering savate and karate expert, a full five inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than his opponent.

Despite the physical stats, November 12, 1993 was the night the martial arts world learned that we’re all the same height on the ground.

Similar to how his previous fights had played out, once again Royce shot in for a takedown and dragged his opponent to the ground. There, Gracie was in his element while Gerard was utterly lost. After only one minute, forty-four seconds of action, Royce Gracie secured a rear naked choke, forcing his opponent to submit.

The event would change the face of martial arts forever. It was no longer enough to train karate, boxing, or kung fu alone; the world was now aware of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the concept that none of that other stuff worked once the fight went to the ground.

Gracie pocketed $50,000 for the victory and set into motion the events that have led to the sport becoming a mainstream, billion-dollar industry.

Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama

  • Date: June 23, 2002
  • Event: Pride 21
  • Location: Saitama, Japan
  • What was at stake? Award for the toughest face. Won 2002 Fight of the Year.

Compared to some of the other fights on our list, this bout between Don Frye and a Japanese professional wrestler with a professional MMA record of 1-4 may seem out of place.

However, once you’ve seen it, you will immediately understand why this fight is one of the more memorable in the history of the sport.

Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama

As far as mixed martial arts is concerned, this fight offered very little in terms of technique or skill. In fact, it resembles a hockey fight more so than your typical MMA bout. But what this match offers in droves are levels of heart and toughness that have rarely been seen in either the ring or cage.

There was no feeling out period at the start of the fight. When the bell rung, both fighters charged at each other immediately.

After a quick opening exchange, the two men found themselves chest to chest, each man with his left hand positioned on the back of his opponent’s head, while his right arm fired a steady stream of punches directly at his rival’s face.

It was if both men decided this fight would be about determining which man was toughest, rather than who was the best all-around fighter.

The action never relented, and each man had his moments in control of the fight. Additionally, neither man seemed interested in any defensive measures. They just kept attacking each other with everything they had, waiting for the other to drop.

Finally, after six minutes of non-stop aggression, Takayama’s body could endure no more. His face was swollen and disfigured, and he was undoubtedly physically exhausted from the sustained “car accident” the two men put each other through.

Don Frye won the fight by TKO. It is positively a one-of-a-kind fight that one must see to comprehend and believe fully.

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira 1

  • Date: March 16, 2003
  • Event: Pride 25: Body Blow
  • Location: Yokohama, Japan
  • What was at stake? Pride FC World Heavyweight Championship.

At the time that this fight took place, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira was spoken of as the most celebrated heavyweight mixed martial artist in the world. Using his slick boxing and dynamite jiu-jitsu, he was undefeated in Pride and sporting a 19-1-1 record. Minotauro entered the fight as a heavy favorite.

Approaching their Pride 25 bout, Fedor was a bit of unknown commodity. He was unquestionably a talented fighter and had a very strong run in the RINGS organization, as well as two dominant showings in Pride, but he was not expected to fare as well against the incumbent champion.

Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Fedor enjoyed using his judo to take fighters to the ground, where he would ground and pound, which was seen as a death sentence against the mighty Minotauro’s guard.

Nogueira had finished four of his six Pride fights by triangle choke from his guard, after all. The world would quickly learn that Fedor wasn’t like other fighters; those rules didn’t apply to him.

Emelianenko opened up with a flurry of his lightning quick hands early in the fight, sending Big Nog to his back. From there, Fedor followed him to the ground, choosing to set up right in the Brazilian’s famed guard, much to the chagrin of the commentators calling the fights. This is where the majority of the battle would play out.

Both men were fighting from their position of power, Fedor on the top throwing some of the hardest ground punches ever witnessed, Nog on the bottom, absorbing them all while attempting submission after submission.

The Russian’s onslaught was remarkable for its violence. The punches landed with such a thud, the play-by-play commentator described the sound as, “Somebody hitting a buffalo with a baseball bat.”

After three rounds of fighting, the bout went to a decision. There, Fedor Emelianenko was declared the winner, and the reign of The Last Emperor began. He would never relinquish his title, instead outlasting the organization, and would not taste defeat for the next seven years.

Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture 1

  • Date: June 6, 2003
  • Event: UFC 43
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.

In 2003, Chuck Liddell was supposed to be challenging Tito Ortiz for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. However, Tito was not interested in the fight, giving excuses about past friendships and appearing to do everything in his power to stall or duck the match up entirely.

Eventually, he got his way when the UFC decided they would create an interim title to stop Ortiz from holding up the division and force his hand.

The expectation being, of course, that Chuck Liddell would easily defeat this old man coming off two straight defeats in the heavyweight division and a ten-month layoff.

But if there’s one thing Randy Couture has proven throughout his career, it’s that anytime he’s expected to lose or is looked past, he shocks the world with another performance you never saw coming. This time, the Iceman was no different.

The expectation going into the fight was that Chuck’s ability to get up from takedowns, keep the fight standing and land his heavy hands was going to be the difference in the contest.

There were moments early on where Liddell seemed to be landing shots, but Randy was surprisingly game. When standing, he pressured the superior kickboxer using the threat of the takedown to land punches and dirty boxing. He also mixed in several legitimate takedowns and a huge slam to keep Liddell honest, but the Iceman sprung back up each time.

Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture

With every minute that passed, Couture looked to be more and more in control of the fight. By the third round, the Iceman looked gassed.

Randy spent the third round stalking Liddell around the ring, throwing crisp straight punches when in range. He fired disciplined left and right straights right down the middle, beating Chuck’s looping punches to the mark.

After winning several exchanges on the feet, Couture took a visibly exhausted and beaten Liddell down once again. This time he quickly secured the mount, where he rained down punches until the fight was stopped.

B.J. Penn vs. Takanori Gomi

  • Date: October 10, 2003
  • Event: K-1 Rumble on the Rock 4
  • Location: Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
  • What was at stake? Rumble on the Rock Lightweight Championship, Unofficial Best Lightweight in the World.

In 2003, B.J. Penn was beginning to get mentioned in conversations about the greatest lightweight fighter in the world. Still, extremely early in his career, B.J. amassed a 5-1-1 record with all of his fights taking place in the UFC.

Following a disappointing decision draw in the Lightweight Championship Tournament Finals against Caul Uno, the UFC decided to disband the lightweight division.

Around this same time, another lightweight fighter across the Pacific was receiving similar praise as potentially the greatest prizefighter at his weight class.

The Japanese slugger was recently the Shooto World Lightweight Champion and built a 14-1 record in his young five-year career. His only loss was a majority decision against Joachim Hansen.

B.J. Penn and Takanori Gomi

With B.J. being left without a weight class in his home promotion, it only made sense to capitalize on this opportunity to pit two of the top lightweights in the world against each other to settle the debate once and for all. The fight was negotiated, and it was decided that it would take place in Hawaii for the K-1 Rumble on the Rock promotion.

The expectation before the fight was that Gomi would present significant challenges for the young Prodigy. The Fireball Kid was a gifted wrestler with extremely heavy hands. The belief was that the Japanese talent’s strength and power would overwhelm his less experienced foe.

As it turned out, the experts couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only was Penn the better fighter, but the gap between the two lightweights was also much broader than anyone ever imagined.

Within seconds, the young Hawaiian had Gomi’s back on the mat while he delivered punishing blows from on top. As the fight progressed, the Prodigy’s superior jiu-jitsu became apparent.

But he wasn’t only better on the ground. When standing, Penn put himself into the line of fire, playing directly into his opponent’s strengths. He stood toe-to-toe with Takanori, exchanging punches, bobbing and weaving, and bloodying up his lightweight rival.

In the third round, Penn scored another takedown in the first twenty seconds, just as he had in the beginning. Once again, he took Gomi’s back and began battering him with short punches from behind.

At this point in the match, the Fireball Kid was bleeding profusely and started to wilt. B.J. was relentless, pounding on his opponent until Gomi gave up his back. The Prodigy then sunk in the choke and cemented himself as the best lightweight fighter in the world.

Matt Hughes vs. B.J. Penn 1

  • Date: January 31, 2004
  • Event: UFC 46
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Welterweight Championship.

When it was announced that B.J. Penn would be filling in for an injured GSP to fight Matt Hughes for his welterweight title, the entire MMA world assumed the Penn had either lost his mind or was being punished by the UFC.

At the time, Matt Hughes had a record of 35-3 and had just finished cleaning out his entire division after five consecutive title defenses. With his farmer strength and stalwart wrestling, Hughes was too strong for men his own size; the idea that a lightweight would move up and face him seemed absurd.

In pre-fight interviews, Hughes himself claimed to be insulted by Penn’s audacity. To even think he could come into the greatest champion of all time’s (at that time he was) division and challenge for the belt.

It was outrageous, it was dangerous, and it was very much B.J. Penn.

If you’ve only seen the latter part of B.J. Penn’s career, it may be hard to understand just how talented The Prodigy actually was. He had excellent boxing and even better jiu-jitsu. In fact, Penn holds the record for fastest promotion from white belt to black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a feat he accomplished in an incomprehensible three years.

It was evident mere seconds after the opening round began that the champion had grossly underestimated his opponent. B.J.’s hand speed and accuracy immediately troubled Hughes, and after the first couple exchanges, Hughes was dropped from a short hook and was forced to fight off of his back.

The Prodigy worked from the top, in Hughes’ typical position, landing ground and pound from inside the wrestler’s guard.

As the minutes went by, it was becoming more and more evident that Matt Hughes was going to be unable to get off of his back. Penn was swarming from the top seamlessly transitioning before landing punches and working to pass his opponent’s guard.

With ninety seconds left in the round, B.J. was able to pass into mount after scoring a vicious shot while standing over Hughes. In response, the champ gave up his back to avoid taking more punishment, and within seconds, B.J. Penn secured the rear naked choke.

Matt Hughes B.J. Penn

Not only did he conquer the most dominant champion in the sport at the time, but the fight was also a one-sided beat down. In just his ninth professional fight, B.J. Penn was now the UFC welterweight champion.

Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 1

  • Date: April 2, 2004
  • Event: UFC 47
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? A long-standing feud. Schadenfreude.

Truth be told, by the time Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz finally fought, the result was a foregone conclusion. But this wasn’t about watching a competitive fight. It was about comeuppance, it was about teaching a lesson, and it was cathartic.

You see, this fight was supposed to take place years earlier, back when Tito was the light heavyweight champion, and Chuck was the challenger. But Ortiz was extremely reluctant to face the Iceman in the cage.

Excuse after excuse came pouring out, the most popular being that the two men were formally training partners that had agreed never to fight each other; Chuck Liddell disagreed with that account of the story.

Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz

The two had formerly trained together, but according to Liddell, he consistently got the better of Tito in the gym, and now the Huntington Beach Bad Boy was running scared, ducking his commitments.

Negotiations dragged on, and Dana White continued to air his frustrations to the public. His champion was refusing to face the number one contender; he would need a new approach.

The plan was simple. The UFC created an interim Light Heavyweight Championship which would be up for grabs in a bout between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. Either Tito’s next fight would be to unify the titles, or he would be stripped of his championship, and the interim tag would be dropped from the other man’s claim.

Now all that had to happen was for Iceman to dispatch his much older opponent, dropping down from heavyweight to fight at 205 for the first time, and everything would be in place.

But this is MMA, and when you try to manufacture specific outcomes, terrible things happen. Couture was a rejuvenated man at light heavyweight, and Liddell was spotted partying in casinos the night before the fight.

It was an unfortunate combination for Chuck, and he was consistently beaten to the punch, dirty boxed in the clinch, and eventually taken to the ground and finished by the Natural.

Chuck was now on the outside looking in, and Tito agreed to fight Randy. Couture overwhelmed Tito Ortiz with ease, unifying both belts for himself. Now without his title and lacking his previous leverage, Ortiz was forced to agree to fight Chuck Liddell.

After years of back-and-forth and disappointments, the fight was finally scheduled, and in April 2004, the two rivals finally faced off for the first time.

By the time it was fight night, the public sentiment was essentially that Tito was going to be massacred, and everyone wanted to see it.

It was not expected to be a competitive fight; it was more of a public flogging for ducking the challenge all of those years. The match did not disappoint.

After spending the majority of the first round feeling each other out and stalking around the ring, Chuck unleashed at the end of the round.

With Tito up against the cage, he through a powerful punch combination followed by a high kick. Ortiz was staggered, but played it off and survived the round. But he would not be in the fight much longer.

When the second round started, it was clear that Liddell was done with the feeling-out process. Emboldened by the end of the previous stanza, Chuck once again stalked his opponent, eventually walking him to the cage.

Once again Iceman unleashed some absolute bombs, this time catching Tito on the chin. After several more punches, Ortiz sank to the ground in a collapsed heap. Liddell was awarded the knock out win in thirty-eight seconds of the second round.

Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson 2

  • Date: October 31, 2004
  • Event: Pride 28
  • Location: Saitama, Japan
  • What was at stake? Pride Middleweight Championship.

The first time Rampage and Wanderlei Silva fought, it was in the finals of the Pride 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix. While Silva got to fight Hidehiko Yoshida in his first fight that night, Jackson faced off against the much more dangerous Chuck Liddell.

When the two fought later in the evening, Wanderlei was the fresher of the two warriors, and he was able to knock out his opponent with his vicious knees in the very first round.

Both fighters were the hottest competitors in the weight class, and after the uneven circumstances of their first match, a rematch was made for only five months later. This was a rivalry with genuine hatred, and the follow-up contest was a highly anticipated bout.

Silva was in the midst of his historical twenty-fight undefeated streak, and Rampage was seen as his most formidable challenger.

Rampage had revenge on the mind at the start of the bout, as there was no easing into the action or feeling-out process. Jackson had apparently prepared for “The Axe Murderer’s” famous clinch and settled to fight at that range from the very beginning.

For much of the opening refrain, the young challenger had an answer for everything the champion threw at him. He was blocking punches, checking kicks and responding with counter hooks and knees of his own.

As the extended first round proceeded on, each man had his moments on top, although Jackson spent more time in control. He was able to get Wanderlei on his back and spent several minutes in the Brazilian’s guard working heavy ground and pound, though Silva landed some offense from the vulnerable position as well.

The fighters were stood up for the last 1:45 of the round, which is when Quinton scored his best punch of the fight.

A laser right-hand landed flush on the chin of the champion, and Silva spent the last minute of the round just trying to survive. Had the period been two minutes longer, the title most likely would have changed hands that night.

Being so close to victory but being unable to finish undoubtedly took its toll on Rampage, and he entered the second round looking visibly gassed. Whereas earlier he was finding success covering up and blocking Silva’s shots only to return with his own, now he was getting caught.

Also, similar to the first round, the fight went to the ground, but this time Rampage did not have the stamina to keep his position, and he was quickly swept and ended up on the bottom.

Wanderlei began to pour it on from on top, raining shots and then soccer kicks and stomps from above his bewildered challenger. The experienced Silva then had the foresight to stand up, dragging his exhausted opponent into his territory.

Wanderlei Silva and Quinton Jackson

This time he was met with a flurry of shattering knees that knocked him out and sent him collapsing through the ropes, out of the ring.

Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar 1

  • Date: April 9, 2005
  • Event: The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Finale
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Light Heavyweight Championship (six-figure UFC contract, a Scion car, a dirt bike, and an Audemars Piguet watch).

This fight is arguably the most critical MMA bout in the history of the sport. At the very least this is true for the UFC promotion, which Dana White has repeatedly said himself.

It may seem odd that the finale of a reality show between two novice fighters (at the time) would hold such importance in the fastest growing sport in the world, but to understand why, you must understand the time and place in MMA history that this fight occupied.

When The Ultimate Fighter show was launched on Spike, the UFC was in dire straits. The sport was failing to receive mainstream attention and still carried the stigma of “human cockfighting,” which it was once called by John McCain.

Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar

The Fertitta brothers, casino moguls who purchased the organization at the behest of their high school friend Dana White, were sinking considerable money into the business with no payoff.

That was until the live show finale which took place on April 9, 2005, on Spike TV. This was the owner’s Hail Mary play. After no networks wanted the show, they financed it themselves. The success of the finale would determine if there would be additional seasons, or if the Fertittas would decide to sell.

Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonner were the two finalists from the light heavyweight division. They would be fighting on the undercard of the show with the winner receiving a vague “six-figure contract” with the UFC.

The two men fought with every ounce of their will, both taking extraordinary amounts of punishment, neither willing to back down an inch. It looked like a Rocky movie.

One fighter would gain the upper hand and begin pouring on the attack, smelling the victory, then the other would recover and turn the tide. This happened time and time again, but the action never let up.

Dana White has mentioned in interviews that as the fight progressed, the rating continued to climb, implying that people were watching this masterpiece and calling friends and family to have them tune in.

Forrest Griffin won a razor-thin decision, and it was announced that he would receive the UFC contract. However, some fights are so phenomenal there just can’t be a loser, and this was one of those times.

White immediately announced that Bonnar would be receiving a contract as well. The impressive showing convinced Spike to buy additional seasons of the show, and from that point forward, the UFC and mixed martial arts grew into a mainstream sport.

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic

  • Date: August 28, 2005
  • Event: Pride Conflict 2005
  • Location: Saitama, Japan
  • What was at stake? Pride Heavyweight Championship.

In 2005, when Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Cro Cop finally met in a Pride ring, it was far-and-away the biggest and most anticipated match in the history of the sport. With both fighters still firmly in their prime, it was the culmination of two years of anxiously waiting for the two most dangerous heavyweight fighters in the world to finally meet.

To understand how exciting it was when the fight finally arrived, you must understand how much happened between everyone realizing “Fedor and Cro Cop need to fight” and the two men standing in the ring.

From the time Fedor captured the heavyweight title in 2003, it was clear that he was not your typical champion. He was undersized for the weight class, but his combination of technique, ferocity, grace and calm under pressure meant he always had an answer to his opponents’ strengths.

Against the massive challengers Pride sent him, he utilized his speed and skill to submit them. Against technicians, he overwhelmed them with swarming striking and powerful ground and pound.

Mirko Cro Cop hit the world of MMA like a wrecking ball. He debuted in 2001, and he immediately had the MMA world’s full attention. He wasn’t just beating people, he was hurting people. He was scary.

The left-handed veteran kickboxer combined razor-sharp striking with brutal power and the most dangerous weapon in the whole game, his left high kick. He could uncork that kick at any moment, in the blink of an eye, and if it landed, the fight was over.

By late 2003, the fans were clamoring for the heavyweight showdown. After going 7-0-2 (the two draws came from special rules fights that Cro Cop clearly won and dominated; Pride did weird stuff sometimes) in his first nine fights, it was beginning to look like the MMA world wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

Fedor agreed to fight in a New Year’s event called Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye at the end of 2003. The annual event hosted by legendary Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki offered to pay him more, so he accepted.

This led to Pride scheduling an interim heavyweight title fight between Cro Cop and Minotauro Nogueira. The winner would face Fedor upon his return.

After strategically dismantling Big Nog for the entirety of the ten-minute first round, Cro Cop found himself in Minotauro’s world on the ground early in the second period. Despite dominating nearly the entire fight, he made a single tactical error and was caught in an armbar. This would be the first hurdle to delay the inevitable super fight.

Pride did their best to get the two juggernauts in the ring in April of 2004 when both competitors were placed on the same side of the Pride Total Elimination 2004 tournament bracket.

Fedor would only need to beat Mark Coleman, while Cro Cop was an extraordinarily heavy favorite against Kevin Randleman. If they could advance past round one, which was extremely likely, the fight would finally happen.

Emelianenko had his hands full with Coleman early, but was able to secure an armbar victory in the first round. Cro Cop, on the other hand, suffered one of the all-time upset defeats when Kevin Randleman landed a shocking left hook that immediately separated the Croatian from his consciousness. The fight was beginning to look cursed.

Fedor defended his belt against Nogueira again, a fight that had to be scheduled twice after an incidental headbutt caused a nasty ending of the first bout prematurely.

And thank goodness it did, because Minotauro was winning that fight, which may have finished the possibility of the Cro Cop bout entirely. Fedor soundly battered the Brazilian when the match resumed four months later.

Next, there were some rumors about the champion possibly being unenthusiastic about fighting the Croatian kickboxing machine, so Pride did something brilliant to change his mind.

They scheduled a match between Mirko and Fedor’s brother, Alexander Emelianenko. Cro Cop attacked the Russian brother with ferocity, decidedly sending a message through his assault. The fight ended in a nasty head kick knockout.

After Alexander, Mirko fought four more times, including avenging his loss to Kevin Randleman. Finally, in August 2005, the fight was scheduled to take place. Despite impossible expectations brought on by years of waiting and near-misses, both warriors brought their best, and the battle somehow lived up to all of the hype.

Fedor executed a perfect game plan and fought the fight of his life. He still suffered a shattered nose and tons of additional punishment to his body, but he successfully avoided the left high kick that ended so many fighter’s nights.

The Russian spent much of the fight in close range, threatening the clinch or takedown, but choosing to rip shots to the body instead.

The legendary champion continued to pull away as the fight went on and the bodywork accumulated. Finally, after three rounds of fighting (one ten-minute round and two five-minute rounds), the question was answered.

Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Filipovic

Matt Hughes vs. Georges St-Pierre 2

  • Date: November 18, 2006
  • Event: UFC 65
  • Location: Sacramento, California, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Welterweight Championship.

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally you can tell going into a fight that a monumental changing of the guards is about to take place. Georges St-Pierre lost his first attempt at taking Matt Hughes’ gold, but when the second fight rolled around two years later, there was a different feel to the Canadian fighter.

Following his loss, he had won five straight, with victories over notable fighters such as Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk, and B.J. Penn.

GSP was a raw talent with immense physical skills the first time the two met, but he also was in awe of Matt Hughes, the fighter he had looked up to the most. Finally given the opportunity to exact his revenge, he would not make the same mistake twice.

Matt Hughs and George St Pierre

This time St-Pierre was more aggressive, fighting at a fast pace while bringing the fight to Matt Hughes.

The champion was clearly first-round on the feet, but he was unable to secure a takedown. Next, GSP decided to flip the script on Matt and shot for a takedown of his own. He was successful, and once on the mat, Rush continued his assault. It wouldn’t be for long, though, because Georges decided to stand back up where his advantage was greatest.

It was a wise move, because just before the end of the round, GSP stuffed another takedown before landing a perfect right hand that sent Hughes reeling to the ground.

Matt Hughes began the second round with a visible smirk on his face, a subconscious sign of submission. The fight was already over, without either man realizing it.

Round two was more of the same with Georges winning the stand-up battle and in full control of the fight. A quarter of the way through the round, GSP launched a left high kick that hit its mark flush. Hughes slumped to the mat defeated. The reign of one legendary long-term champion was ending, but an even greater one was just beginning.

Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia

  • Date: March 3, 2007
  • Event: UFC 68
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Heavyweight Championship.

After Randy Couture’s second knockout loss to Chuck Liddell at light heavyweight, it seemed that The Natural’s age had finally caught up with him and his time in the sport was coming to an end. He announced his retirement in the cage and was pegged as a sure-fire Hall of Famer after his highly decorated career, during which he won two titles in two different weight classes.

What positively wasn’t expected was for the legendary fighter to come out of retirement to face yet another deadly knockout artist, only this time a sixty-pound heavier version.

But this is precisely what Couture did when he announced he would face Tim Sylvia for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Sylvia was on a six-fight winning streak, three of which were for the title.

Entering the fight, Couture was nearly forty-four-years old and a +205 underdog. He was also giving up five inches of reach and seven inches of height.

But if there’s one thing The Natural was known for throughout his career, it was shocking the world anytime he was too slow, too old, or too overmatched. This fight would be no different, in that regard.

Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia

Couture opened the bout with a light lead leg kick followed by a booming straight right hand that dropped Sylvia with the first punch of the fight.

He never relinquished any of the momentum gained in that opening exchange.

Randy Couture kept Tim Sylvia confused the entire fight, and while he never put the giant champion in any danger of being finished, as each round came to a close, his lead was expanding on the scorecards.

Round after round, the crowd grew louder and more excited as the arena could feel the upset becoming more likely. By the fifth round, it was a fever pitch with the announcers joining in. At the conclusion of the fight, Randy Couture was awarded a unanimous decision, winning every single round on all three judges’ scorecards. It was one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.

Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva

  • Date: December 29, 2007
  • Event: UFC 79
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? In their primes, these two men were considered the best light heavyweights in the world, Silva in Pride and Liddell in the UFC. They were older when the fight finally took place, but it was still significant.

In the early 2000’s, when Pride was still at the height of its popularity Chuck Liddell versus Wanderlei Silva was the dream match to lead all dream matches. In Japan, a prime Wanderlei Silva was an unstoppable tornado of violence and fury in the midst of his legendary twenty-fight win streak.

In the States, Chuck Liddell was king, having finally triumphed over Randy Couture to take the light heavyweight belt.

The two rival organizations tried to work a deal to make the fight happen. In 2003, Dana White accompanied Liddell to Japan, where the Iceman would be participating in the Pride Final Conflict 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix tournament. If they both advanced to the finals, the matchup would take place while the two legends were at the height of their powers.

The tournament brackets weren’t exactly fair. While Wanderlei only had to beat an aging and injured Kazushi Sakuraba in the first round, Chuck was matched up with Alistair Overeem. Both men knocked out their opening round opponents to advance.

Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva

In the next round, Silva fought Hidehiko Yoshida, an Olympic judoka but a relative novice mixed martial artist.

While Wanderlei fought an opponent with very little training in striking, Chuck Liddell had a second-round date with a young, peak-conditioned Rampage Jackson. The Iceman was unable to advance past the tenacious foe and was eliminated from the tournament. This put the mega-fight on hold for the foreseeable future.

In March 2007, the UFC purchased Pride FC and eventually settled on combining the two rosters under one umbrella. This opened the way for the two most dominant light heavyweights of their era to finally face off.

In December of that same year, when the fight finally happened, both men were slightly beyond their respective primes, but this did nothing to diminish the excitement of the bout itself.

Both fighters started out cautiously, but as the first round progressed and the athletes got comfortable, the pace drastically increased. Most of the first round saw Chuck stalking Silva, landing solid right hands, although Silva landed some effective flurries of his own when backed against the cage.

The second round was the highlight of the fight. Both men landed combinations that would have put lesser opponents away, but neither was willing to go down with the stakes this high. At the end of the round, both men were showing signs of damage on their faces, and each realized they were in a war.

The back-and-forth affair continued and headed into the final round; it was anybody’s fight. The fifth round would determine the winner. The entire crowd stood and roared for the bulk of the last period, and just as the previous twenty-minutes had been, this was close as well.

Finally, the Iceman scored with a spinning back-fist that wobbled his Brazilian opponent. It would prove to be the deciding strike in a bout that was decided by the narrowest of margins. After nearly four years of speculation, Chuck Liddell had won the battle of the legends.

Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir 2

  • Date: July 11, 2009
  • Event: UFC 100
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Heavyweight Championship.

In 2008, Brock Lesnar’s UFC debut was spoiled when, after being in control for all of the fight, he was caught in a flash kneebar by Frank Mir and forced to tap.

This loss apparently ate at the hulking professional wrestler-turned-martial artist for the next year and a half. After becoming the heavyweight champion by beating Randy Couture, Brock would finally get his rematch at UFC 100, headlining the biggest card in the promotion’s history at the time.

This time The Beast was more prepared and more experienced, and it absolutely showed in the fight. It was apparently personal to Brock, evident by the enormous wrestler refusing to touch gloves during the referee’s instructions. After a feeling-out process, Mir dove for a kneebar, trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Brock stuffed the attempt and ended up on top in half guard. He’d never be put in danger again. For the next several minutes, Brock continued to smother his opponent, landing short punches to Frank Mir’s head.

Lesnar was able to generate enormous amounts of power with his sharp, quick punches, and Mir’s face began showing the damage immediately.

Brock Lesnar was happy to sit in half guard unleashing these short, piston-like punches, and Frank began to wilt. He survived the round, and mounted some offense early in the second round, but eventually ended up back underneath his goliath foe.

This time Brock pressed his opponent against the cage before unleashing his onslaught of short punches.

Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir

Gina Carano vs. Cris Cyborg

  • Date: August 15, 2009
  • Event: Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg
  • Location: San Jose, California
  • What was at stake? Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Championship.

Before anyone in the MMA world knew who Ronda Rousey was, Gina Carano was the face that was going to bring women’s mixed martial arts mainstream. The stunning brunette was sporting an undefeated MMA record in addition to going 12-1-1 Muay Thai kickboxing bouts.

Opposite Carano was Cristiane Justino Venancio, better known solely as Cyborg. The Brazilian powerhouse had only lost one fight, her first one, and was riding a seven-fight win streak.

Gina Carano and Cris Cuborg

Scott Coker, CEO of Strikeforce, determined that the match would be for the inaugural Women’s Featherweight Championship (he called it the Lightweight championship at the time, but it was fought at 145 pounds, which is now featherweight).

The highly anticipated bout was scheduled as the main event, making it the first time women headlined a major MMA event.

Cyborg was a heavy favorite going into the fight and rightly so. The Brazilian, who has battled steroid accusations her entire career, was visibly more muscular and powerful than her opponent. The match started more even than most anticipated. In fact, early in the first round, Carano found herself in the top position on the ground.

Justino was able to reverse position, but after some additional scrambling, Gina ended up in full mount. For some reason, she chose to abandon the mount position, which would prove to be an error in judgment. Once back up on the feet, Cyborg unleashed the accurate, powerful punches for which she’s become famous.

For the last half of the first round, Cyborg stalked Carano landing anything she wanted and taking no damage in return. Eventually, the fight fell back on the ground, this time with Gina stuck under the vicious ground and pound of Cris Cyborg.

After a valiant effort, Carano succumbed to a TKO defeat with only one second left in the first round. Gina never fought again, choosing to act in movies instead.

Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen 1

  • Date: August 7, 2010
  • Event: UFC 117
  • Location: Oakland, California, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Middleweight Championship.

Heading into their August 2010 fight, Chael Sonnen had a lot to say. He spent the lead up to the fight trash talking Silva and letting him know that he’d be spending his entire night on his back. Silva, coming off an uninspired performance against Demian Maia in Abu Dhabi was under pressure.

Not only was he facing one of the mightiest wrestlers in the division, but he had also earned the ire of his employers, the UFC. Dana White was so furious about Anderson’s performance in the Middle East that he intended to cut the legendary champion should he lose the title.

The pressure was on because the Spider was about to be in the fight of his life.

From the very start of the bout, Silva poured on the pressure. He stalked the Brazilian Muay Thai expert around the cage aggressively, throwing leg kicks, punches, and shooting for takedowns.

Early in the first round, Sonnen landed a beautiful left straight that buckled Silva’s knees and definitely hurt him. Silva recovered, but Chael just kept coming forward, refusing to let the Spider set up and find his rhythm.

Midway through the first, the American Gangster landed his first takedown. It would be the first of many. Stuck under Sonnen’s smothering top control, Silva was helpless. The Oregonian wrestler was relentless on the ground, just as he had been on the feet.

Never stalling, never resting, always trying to land shots or improve positions to keep the long-time champion on the defensive.

The next few rounds were more of the same, with Sonnen pressing forward on the feet, keeping the Brazilian counterpuncher on his heels and uncomfortable.

Once the opportunity presented itself, he shot for his patented power double leg takedown and followed up with ground and pound on the mat. By the end of the third round, it was clear that Silva had lost every round, and it was beginning to look like an upset.

Entering the championship rounds, the fight appeared to be following the same pattern. Once again Chael got the takedown, once again he was sitting in the Spider’s guard throwing short shots at any body part he could hit.

Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen

Once again fighting off of his back, Anderson beat Chael with some brutal elbows, opening a gash over the challenger’s left eye.

At the beginning of the fifth and final round, Anderson Silva was certainly way behind on the scorecards. To have any hope of winning, he’d need a finish. The one positive was that he appeared to be the fresher man.

After some brief exchanges which led to Silva losing his footing, the two men were back on the mat in the configuration in which they had spent so much of the fight. Sonnen was sitting in the champion’s guard throwing short shots to the body and head.

Silva laid back with Chael in his closed guard, with the challenger content to sit there scoring light punches on his way to a career-defining upset win. But a momentary lapse of focus is all it takes when you’re facing true greatness.

Chael Sonnen laid too far forward in the Brazilians guard, allowing the Spider to shoot his legs around his head, trapping Chael in a triangle choke. He was forced to tap out, and lost after dominating twenty-three minutes of the twenty-five-minute long fight.

Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez

  • Date: October 23, 2010
  • Event: UFC 121
  • Location: Anaheim, California, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Heavyweight Championship.

When it came time for Cain Velasquez to challenge for the UFC Heavyweight Championship, he was undefeated at 8-0 and coming off a knockout of the night performance over Minotauro Nogueira.

Brock, on the other hand, was also following a remarkable achievement in which he barely survived a first-round beating from Shane Carwin but went on to secure a submission victory in the second.

Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez

The two men met at UFC 121 in Anaheim, California. Coming into the match, the big question was if Cain could utilize his wrestling advantage against the much bigger, stronger Lesnar. As it turned out, strength and wrestling would be secondary to boxing and poise.

The bout began with Lesnar rushing across the cage at the challenger throwing punches and knees. Velasquez responded by wildly throwing punches in return. In the first minutes of the fight, it looked to be a violent brawl.

After a few exchanges, Brock shot in for a takedown and put Cain on his back. However, the challenger quickly stood to his feet and was pressed against the cage instead.

With his back against the cage, Cain Velasquez gained his composure and was able to defend further takedown attempts. Once the two men separated, it was a different fight.

Velasquez began finding a home for his boxing combos before taking the much more massive Brock to the ground. There he landed some solid ground and pound.

Lesnar eventually made his way to his feet, but he was winded and hurt. The challenger landed some additional punches and sent Lesnar into his now legendary helicopter spin.

Next, Velasquez got his opponent on the ground once again where he poured on more punches until the referee stopped the fight. Cain Velasquez became the new UFC heavyweight champion at 4:12 of the opening round.

Benson Henderson vs. Anthony “Showtime” Pettis

  • Date: December 16, 2010
  • Event: WEC 53
  • Location: Glendale, Arizona, USA
  • What was at stake? WEC Lightweight Championship.

When Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson fought each other for the first time at WEC 53, both fighters were in the prime of their careers with records of 12-1. Henderson was the WEC lightweight champion and a -225 favorite.

Early in the fight, Benson’s wrestling was the difference maker, and Pettis spent a majority of the round pressed against the cage or struggling to get up off the mat. It would be the champ’s best round of the fight.

As the battle progressed and Pettis opened up his arsenal of creative striking, Henderson struggled with the tenacious challenger.

After a second round that saw Showtime dominate on the feet as well as land a few takedowns, the third round was even more in the challenger’s favor. Pettis spent a significant portion of the period on Benson’s back, landing shots to the champion’s face from behind.

The fourth round saw a return of Henderson’s dominant grappling. Pettis was also game on the ground, and after numerous entertaining scrambles, the champ was able to get Anthony’s back and secure a rear naked choke.

In desperation, Showtime was fit to defend the submission hold and survive the round, forcing the fifth round for all the marbles.

The fifth round was where history was made. With Benson backing up and Pettis giving chase, the challenger leapt into the air, pushing himself off the cage with his right foot, propelling himself into a flying-right-kick to Henderson’s head.

Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis

The maneuver would go on to be named the “Showtime kick” and is one of the more memorable moments in all of MMA.

The fight went to the scorecards, and Anthony Pettis was declared the winner by unanimous decision. He was the new WEC lightweight champion, and a star was born.

Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 2

  • Date: January 1, 2011
  • Event: UFC 125
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Lightweight Championship.

Three years before the classic second chapter between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, the two lightweights met in the octagon in Broomfield, Colorado. On that night, Maynard was the better man, and as such he was rewarded a unanimous decision victory.

Coming into the fight, the bout did not generate much buzz, but once these warriors finished their night, there assuredly was.

The two men were cautious during the opening minutes of the fight, each feeling each other out, throwing jabs and leg kicks, but not really committing to the attack.

The contest opened up after the first ninety seconds passed when Maynard landed a thudding left hook that dropped Frankie to the ground. With Edgar hurt and scrambling to find his footing and his balance, Maynard went on a full attack.

Gray chased his opponent, unloading heavy hooks and uppercuts in an effort to end the fight early. After two well-placed uppercuts, Frankie fell back again.

Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard

The assault continued; Maynard unloaded punch after punch to Edgar on the ground, and Yves Lavigne crept ever closer, preparing to stop the fight. Frankie continued to attempt standing, but each time his wobbly legs would not support him.

When Edgar did finally get to his feet, it was apparent that he was badly hurt and on shaky legs. The round continued with Frankie Edgar fighting to survive while Maynard attempted to put him away. Despite being visibly out on his feet, Frankie survived the round.

The Frankie Edgar that appeared in round two seemed like an entirely different person. While the man in the first round was stumbling, this Frankie was bouncing lightly on his feet, rejuvenated.

The fresh new Edgar brought the fight to Maynard, landing solid body kicks early, and calmly eluding the same left hook that put him in so much trouble just a round ago. Round two went decidedly to Frankie Edgar.

Round three began much like two had, with Edgar controlling the fight, fully recovered from his agonizing first round. Edgar scored early with some effective kicks and a straight right, but Maynard got his second wind later in the period.

Both fighters spent portions of the round scoring meaningful shots on their opponents, and the action shifted back and forth. Edgar had the most success early in the round, while Maynard closed it out better.

It would be up to the judges to decide which fighter earned the round.

By round four, Edgar was fighting as if he had never been hurt fifteen minutes prior. His reaction time was sharp, and he was able to take his larger opponent down for a portion of the round.

When Maynard did get back on his feet, the combatant ate punches. Meanwhile, Gray’s own punches were slowing down, and he was struggling to land on the champ.

Both men gave their best to round five. They went back and forth trading shots and trading takedown attempts, as both warriors fought to secure the decision victory. With a little more than a minute left in the round Frankie Edgar connected with a beautiful combination that snapped his rival’s head back.

As the clock ticked down, each man unloaded everything in their arsenal in a wild flurry at each other.

When time expired, the crowd exploded in delight. They had just witnessed one of the greatest fights in the history of the sport. After the judges’ scorecards were counted, the result was a split draw.

One judge scored the fight 48-46 Maynard, another thought 48-46 Edgar, and the final judge said 47-47. The masterpiece bout was too close for either man to win or lose.

Dan Henderson vs Mauricio “Shogun” Rua

  • Date: November 19, 2011
  • Event: UFC 139
  • Location: San Jose, California, USA
  • What was at stake? Just two prideful veterans of the sport putting on an all-time classic bout.

Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua spent the bulk of their respective primes fighting in Japan for Pride FC. When the two were paired up for the UFC 139, it was expected to be a competitive, entertaining fight.

But what nobody anticipated was that it would go down as possibly the greatest MMA fight of all time. It was one of those magical battles, where each man survived moments when they most certainly should have been put away, and rallied to turn the tides on their foe.

Shogun tried to press the action early with a leg kick and takedown attempt, which Henderson was able to deny. After defending the takedown, Hendo unloaded with some massive punches that opened up a troublesome cut above Rua’s eye followed by a stiff toss to the mat.

Dan was in charge until Shogun landed a counterpunch that stunned the American wrestler and forced him to attempt a takedown of his own. The round ended with both men clinched against the fence.

The second round was similar to the first. Henderson landed the more significant shots while Shogun worked the clinch against the cage and threw combinations when exchanging on the feet. Both men scored well, with Hendo seemingly landing the more impactful strikes.

As the fight progressed, it became apparent to all who were watching that this was an instant classic. In the third, the two had some big exchanges before Dan’s nuclear right hand dropped Rua and hurt him badly.

Once again, the Brazilian survived and was even able to secure Henderson’s back for a spell, where he was able to land some effective punches.

In the fourth, Shogun was put on his back early in the round. After a massive punch from Hendo, Rua was able to escape to his feet where he landed a momentum-shifting uppercut of his own.

The Brazilian Muay Thai fighter followed the uppercut with two more punches, and the fight looked to be nearing an end. Now in control, Rua once again shot for a takedown and dragged the fight to the mat, where he took his opponent’s back. But Dan once again escaped and landed a nice elbow right as the round ended.

Just after the fifth round started, Shogun was able to stuff a takedown and land in full mount on top of his opponent. From there he rained punches on an opponent desperately working to improve his position.

The two grappled for the entirety of the round, with Rua working for the mount or to take Henderson’s back, while Hendo worked to put his crafty opponent into half guard.

When the bell sounded, the crowd erupted with respect for both combatants.

Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua

The decision went to the judges’ scorecards who all scored the match 48-47, three rounds to two for the winner Dan Henderson.

Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate 1

  • Date: March 3, 2012
  • Event: Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio, USA
  • What was at stake? Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Championship.

When Ronda fought for her first title back in 2012, she was obviously a rising star, but it still wasn’t clear just how enormous she would become. While Miesha Tate was the defending champion with fourteen fights on her resume, Ronda was still relatively new. In fact, this title fight was only her fifth professional bout.

Going into the title fight again Miesha, no adversary had yet lasted a minute with the fiery judoka. Opponent after opponent was quickly tossed to the floor and arm barred.

The sport of women’s MMA was frankly too young for any of the athletes to have enough experience to compete with a lifetime of Olympic Judo training.

Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate

Miesha, on the other hand, was riding a six-fight winning streak, going three years without a loss. Additionally, she had recently won the Strikeforce Bantamweight Women’s Tournament. To say that both women were coming into the fight hot is an understatement. It was a shame that one would have to lose.

After all of the trash talking and comments in the media and online, on March 3, 2012, the fight was finally here. The bout began like so many of Rousey’s matches.

Rowdy walked through a flurry of punches in order to grab the clinch, and she promptly judo-tossed Tate to the floor. But that’s where the similarities to previous opponents ended. Miesha was caught in the same armbar, but she defended and was able to escape.

After escaping the near submission, Tate found herself on top of Rousey and then got her back. The fight was a grappling clinic, with both fighters performing superbly.

Twice Miesha was able to take Ronda’s back and threaten a rear naked choke, and twice Ronda got herself out of trouble. With only two minutes left in the round, the fighters stood and began trading punches again.

Rousey used this opportunity to secure another clinch and tossed Tate with vigor, slamming her hard to the mat and landing on top of her. From there, the burgeoning star obtained top mount and softened her with punches before locking in a gruesome armbar that appeared to dislocate the former champ’s arm.

The thrilling back and forth bout got the attention of fans and the industry. Ronda Rousey’s star power was undeniable, and her title fight with Miesha Tate is credited with changing Dana White’s mind about women’s MMA in the UFC. The rest is history!

Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos 2

  • Date: December 29, 2012
  • Event: UFC 155
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Heavyweight Championship.

Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos’ second match was one of the most brutal beatdowns the sport has ever seen. It wasn’t an explosive victory that left Dos Santos unconscious and confused, this was something different. It was a slow, sustained, constant grinding that looked more like torture than a professional title fight.

To understand the way Velasquez relished his domination of his Brazilian counterpart, you have to understand the context of their first fight. In November 2011, the UFC held their first fight card on Fox.

The live broadcast was the most watched live hour of MMA ever in the US, with Velasquez and Dos Santos headlining the main event.

The pre-fight videos rightfully built the fight up as two of the best heavyweights in the world going to battle for Cain Velasquez’s first title defense. After humiliating Brock Lesnar in a one-sided massacre, Cain’s stock had never been higher, and this live show with a peak viewership of over eight-million viewers was meant to be his coming out party.

After what felt like an eternity of promotional videos, hype videos, and fighter interviews, it was finally time for the fight. Velasquez opened up with two consecutive leg kicks, and Junior responded with a right straight.

Next, Cain threw two more leg kicks, and then the whole show came crashing down. Only one minute and four seconds into the first round, Dos Santos unleashed an overhand right hand that reminded one of the Hammer of Thor.

He followed up with some punches on the ground before the ref stepped in and the show was over.

Being knocked out so quickly in front of the largest live viewership of all time, on the debut show on Fox was humiliating for Cain. It later came out that the heavyweight powerhouse had fought injured.

He rehabbed his injuries and won a return bout against Bigfoot Silva before being granted his rematch against Junior. On December 29, 2012, Cain Velasquez would finally get the chance to exact his revenge.

Healed from his knee injury and fueled by revenge, the version of Cain that Junior Dos Santos was locked in the cage with that night was terrifying. For twenty-five consecutive minutes, Cain pressured the Brazilian against the fence, battered him with heavy striking, and attacked him with takedowns. He never relented, and he never tried to end the fight.

Dos Santos was never able to get his rhythm or get any offense going. Cain was continually pressing him against the fence, working him over in the clinch, or taking him down to ground and pound.

Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos

After five rounds of action, the judges rendered a decision. Velasquez won every round, some by a margin of 10-8 or 10-7, and was awarded the heavyweight title once again.

Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva 1

  • Date: July 6, 2013
  • Event: UFC 162
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Middleweight Championship.

Usually, when a long-time champion is finally defeated, it comes as a surprise to the majority of the MMA world. But when Chris Weidman challenged for Anderson Silva’s middleweight title, this was not the case.

While the casinos had Silva as a 2-to-1 favorite, many fighters and professional pundits predicted that Weidman would be the man to finally dethrone the Spider.

Welterweight legend Georges St-Pierre had the most damning prediction saying,

“Not only is Chris Weidman going to beat Anderson Silva, I believe he’s going to finish Anderson. I believe it’s not going to last too long, this fight. This fight will shock a lot of people.”

From early in the fight, something seemed “off” with Silva, although it may have been merely frustration. He was showboating even more than usual, dropping his hands and daring the challenger to hit him.

Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva

Weidman complied, which seemingly caused Anderson to clown around more. The reigning champion was able to find success with leg kicks of his own, but for the most part, his first round was unimpressive.

Early in the second round, Chris Weidman landed a left hook that landed flush. In response, the Spider pretended to be wobbled, once again mocking his worthy challenger.

Chris threw another that scored, prompting Silva to attempt to drop his hands and roll with the punches as he typically did. Rather than throw a left then right then left, Weidman threw two left hands, throwing off the champ’s timing and landing a huge shot that sent him to the mat.

Once the hungry young challenger had his legendary opponent dazed and on the mat, he quickly descended upon him, throwing brutal finishing blows. After seven years of never changing hands, someone had finally wrested away the middleweight title from Anderson Silva.

Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson

  • Date: September 21, 2013
  • Event: UFC 165
  • Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • What was at stake? UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.

If there has been one common theme in all of Jon Jones’ fights, it’s been his significant reach advantage. But coming into his title defense against the 6’5” Alexander Gustafsson, this was not going to be the case. The talented Swedish boxer was nearly as long as Jones and an inch taller, and was entering the championship bout on a six-fight win streak.

For Jones, the fight was his sixth Light Heavyweight title defense. A win would break the record for the number of title defenses previously set by Tito Ortiz.

It was evident from early on that this would not be the typical Jon Jones dominating performance. Where so many fighters before him were unable to solve Bones’ length, Gustafsson was able to touch the champion.

He started the fight aggressively, circling Jon, landing leg kicks, jabs, and right hands. He got the better of the champ for most of the first round, culminating in a brief takedown at the end of the period. It was the first time Jon Jones was ever taken down in his career.

The second round saw more of the same, two rangy fighters each showing moments of brilliance with scoring offenses. As the bout progressed, Jones began to lean more heavily on his kicking game and short elbows inside, while Alexander tended to find more success with his punches.

After the first half of the contest, Bones Jones’ title appeared to be seriously in danger; he was in the fight of his life.

As the two fighters advanced to the later rounds, a mix of fatigue and the accumulation of Jon’s leg kicks began slightly slowing the Swede. Going into the fourth round, Joe Rogan on color commentary suggested that the champ may be losing the fight. His eyes were swollen and cut. The challenger appeared to be the fresher man.

Gustafsson seemed to be pulling away in the fourth. Jones continued to score with kicks to the legs and body, but Alexander was finding significant success with his boxing.

He spent the majority of the round stuffing takedowns, peppering the champion with jabs, and firing in sneaky right hands. But with less than a minute in the round, Jones launched a spinning back elbow followed by a quick knee to the chin that rocked the game challenger.

Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson

Alexander Gustafsson recovered in time for the fifth round, and the fight continued to be a Rocky-like back-and-forth battle. Midway through the last stanza, with both fighters badly hurt and exhausted, Jones appeared to solve the puzzle.

He began utilizing an attack of short standing elbows and high kicks, changing his strategy to confuse and surprise the challenger. He also finally landed a takedown, though they didn’t stay on the ground for long.

It took both men everything they had to survive the duration of the fight, at which point it went to the judge’s scorecard for a decision. The judges scored the bout a unanimous decision victory for Jon Jones, much to the dismay of his deserving challenger.

Fans were split on the decision, though the MMA media tended to agree with the decision. Despite the controversial ending, it’s considered one of the best light heavyweight title fights of all time, and unquestionably the closest Jon Jones ever came to losing his title.

Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier

  • Date: January 3, 2015; July 29, 2017
  • Event: UFC 182; UFC 214
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Anaheim, California, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.

Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones have fought each other twice, although only one result will count in the record books. Leading up to UFC 182, Cormier versus Jones was one of the most anticipated light heavyweight fights in UFC history.

Cormier, an Olympic wrestler, was coming into the contest undefeated in MMA at 15-0, while Jones was 20-1 with his only loss coming by way of a controversial disqualification.

Cormier had only made his light heavyweight debut two fights before challenging Jones. Before that, he fought at heavyweight, where he handily defeated notable heavyweights like Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, and Josh Barnett.

Despite being eight years older and giving up a shocking twelve inches in reach, Daniel Cormier was expected to be Jon Jones’ most significant challenge yet.

Much of the heat between these two opponents comes from how often they’ve been scheduled to fight without the entirety taking place. The first time they were expected to meet was at UFC 178 after Alexander Gustafsson was forced to pull out of his rematch with Jones due to injury.

Cormier stepped in as a replacement, but Jones subsequently injured himself in training, delaying the bout until UFC 182.

Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier

Leading up to their first fight, there were a couple controversial heated interactions at promotional events. After one television interview, live microphones caught some Jon Jones trash talk that was not congruent with his public persona, validating Cormier’s opinion that Jones was a phony.

Then at a promotional stare down, the two men got into a shoving match that came to blows and had to be separated by a large crowd.

UFC 182 finally arrived, and the two rivals would finally get the chance to fight each other legally. Daniel Cormier had some success ducking and moving into range to land punches in the first round, but for the majority of the fight, Bones’ length frustrated him.

Keeping his challenger at the end of his reach while working kicks and punches to the body, Jones was able to tire out and outpoint Daniel. Jones won four out of the five possible rounds on his way to yet another title defense victory.

After the bout, news broke that Jon had failed a drug test a month before the title fight. He tested positive for cocaine metabolites, but because it was supposed to be out-of-contest testing, which is not supposed to check for recreational drugs, he went unpunished.

But before he could defend the title again, Jones was in a hit-and-run accident in which he injured a pregnant woman before abandoning his car and running away.

For this act, he was stripped of the title and suspended.

Daniel Cormier went on to win the vacant light heavyweight championship in Jones’ absence.

The two rivals were scheduled to fight again, but this time Daniel was injured in training, forcing the newly reinstated Jones to fight Ovince Saint Preux for an interim title instead, which he won soundly.

Now, the rematch between Cormier and Bones Jones was scheduled for UFC 200, one of the biggest cards in UFC history. This time, Jones tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and was pulled from the bout at the last minute.

Finally, at UFC 214, the two men met again in the octagon. Jones, returning from suspension, looked better than ever. Once again, Daniel Cormier had success early navigating Jon’s reach, but he never had his enemy in danger.

In the third round, Jones timed a left high kick perfectly for when Cormier was ducking, knocking him to the ground, dazed. Jones finished with brutal punches to the defenseless competitor, giving Daniel the first KO of his career.

A few weeks after the title bout, news broke that Jon Jones had once again been flagged for a USADA anti-doping violation. This time for an anabolic steroid. Because he fought with the advantage of performance-enhancing drugs, the win was changed to a No Contest, and the title was returned to Daniel Cormier.

It is highly unlikely that the two men will fight for a third time, given Jon Jones’ legal status in the sport.

Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2

  • Date: July 11, 2015
  • Event: UFC 189
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Welterweight Championship.

Sometimes two combatants are just made for one another. In the case of Rory Macdonald and Robbie Lawler, this was undoubtedly the case. The two had fought a thrilling back-and-forth bout in 2013, which Lawler won by split decision. A year and a half later they would meet again, this time for Robbie’s welterweight title.

After a first round spent mostly feeling each other out, the fight exploded into an all-out war of attrition in the second round. Rory wasn’t content using his well-rounded skill set to fight Lawler at range, opting instead to stay in Robbie’s range and slug it out with the ferocious southpaw.

While it may not have been the smartest strategy to win the fight, it surely made it more entertaining.

In the second round, the fighters began opening up more, frequently exchanging on the feet. Each fighter landed significant shots, but Rory’s nose was busted, and the champion gained the momentum.

Lawler continued plodding forward, bobbing and weaving to set up his explosive power punches while MacDonald continued flicking the jab and working angles and counterpunches.

The fight continued in the same fashion through the majority of round three. However, late in the round, Rory threw a perfectly-timed head kick that found its mark and wobbled the champion. MacDonald’s killer instinct kicked in, and he jumped on Robbie, unloading his arsenal in an attempt to end the fight. Alas, the champ survived the round.

When the fourth round began, Robbie Lawler had still not fully recovered. He spent much of the period just surviving while the challenger was in pursuit unloading everything he had. Lawler survived the round, but not without paying the price.

Robbie Lawler and Rory McDonald

Rory’s nose was obviously broken, and Robbie was sporting an enormous gash through his lip that seemed to leave it hanging off.

Lawler spat a mouthful of blood to begin the final stanza and re-engaged his opponent once again. In the last round, the champion found a home for his left straight, landing it on the shattered nose of his competitor several times before sending him crashing to the mat defeated. Lawler retained his title, emerging victorious in one of the top five MMA fights of all-time.

Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor

  • Date: December 12, 2015
  • Event: UFC 194
  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Featherweight Championship.

When Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo signed to fight each other, many MMA fans still were uncertain if the brash Irishman was deserving of a title shot yet, and much more believed he would be in over his head with the reigning champion.

The fight was scheduled for UFC 189 and was preceded by an international promotional tour. Along the many stops, Conor continued to press the Brazilian’s buttons with clever trash talk and wild behavior.

Aldo was unfamiliar with an opponent treating him so disrespectfully. He was accustomed to his opponents not wanting to upset the talented champion, perhaps even fearing him. But McGregor was a different breed and utterly fearless.

Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor

After the extensive promotional tour, the public was clamoring to see the old guard versus the new, exciting superstar.

Unfortunately, mere weeks before the match was set to take place, Aldo was pulled from the fight with a rib injury. This infuriated Dana White and the UFC leadership, as well as Conor. A late replacement was found, and the bout was set for the interim featherweight title instead. McGregor won by second-round TKO, and his sights were once again firmly fixed on the Brazilian.

Aldo versus McGregor was rescheduled for UFC 194, and this time there would be no injuries or disruptions. On December 12, 2015, both men made it to the ring for the featherweight unification bout.

After the entrances and introductions, there was a palpable tension in the air. The fight was finally going to happen.

The bell rung and both fighters met at the center of the cage. There they danced, feeling each other out and gauging the distance, with each just throwing feints and waiting to engage.

Then, Jose Aldo began throwing a combination, desperate to finally get his hands on the man who had disrespected him so much for all those months. In a very uncharacteristic fashion, Jose overextended in an effort to land a left hook, leaving himself open for Conor’s best punch.

Just as McGregor had predicted, Aldo was open for his destructive counter left straight, which he immediately launched in response to Aldo’s aggression. It landed flush, sending the champ tumbling onto the mat, face-first.

The boisterous Irish fighter followed up with hammer-fists, forcing the referee to intervene. After all of the build-up, Conor McGregor won in only thirteen seconds.

Michael Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold

  • Date: June 4, 2016
  • Event: UFC 199
  • Location: Inglewood, California, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Middleweight Championship.

Luke Rockhold stepped into the cage for his first UFC middleweight title defense as an enormous -600 favorite. He was fighting a thirty-seven-year old challenger in Michael Bisping that he had already submitted to when they fought less than two years prior.

With advantages in height, reach and age, the fight appeared to be nothing more than a formality, and Rockhold’s body language suggested he felt the same way.

The aging Englishman, perhaps sensing this would be his last opportunity to win UFC gold, started the fight aggressively. He pressed the action, winging jabs and right straights while circling his younger opponent.

The champion stayed calm, responding mostly with kicks to the legs and body of the challenger. Bisping kept Luke working, staying in the pocket and forcing him to engage time and time again.

After a punch from Rockhold, Bisping countered with a left hook of his own that landed cleanly right on the champ’s jaw.

Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold

The referee stopped the fight at 3:36 of the first round, giving Michael Bisping the first UFC championship of his long career.

Conor McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez

  • Date: 12 November 2016
  • Event: UFC 205
  • Location: New York City, New York, USA
  • What was at stake? UFC Lightweight Championship; becoming the first simultaneous 2-division champ.

If there’s one thing the UFC has made abundantly apparent, it’s that there’s a set of rules for Conor McGregor and a set of rules for everybody else. After capturing the featherweight title nearly a year earlier, Conor had yet to defend his title.

Despite this fact, he was never stripped and in November 2016, was given the opportunity to fight for the lightweight championship so that he may become the first fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously.

Like his previous opponents not named Nate Diaz, the story of this fight was Conor’s ability to judge distance combined with his five-inch reach advantage and deadly counter left hand.

Conor McGregor and Eddie Alvarez

Alvarez, accustomed to outworking his opponents in grind-it-out scrappy brawls seemed unprepared for the power generated by McGregor’s back-skipping counter left. The first time it landed, early in the first round, Alvarez was dropped onto his butt.

Conor landed the punch twice more in the first round, dropping the game champion each time. After delivering some punishment on the ground, Eddie was allowed to stand back up. Back on the feet, the lightweight champion was unable to solve the distance problem, settling for some low leg kicks and a decent combo to the body as a consolation.

Alvarez survived the first round, but it was clear that he was being outgunned by the much larger Irish challenger. The second round started the same as the first, with Conor maintaining the range, waiting for his moments, and firing his laser-like left hand.

McGregor began taunting his opponent, putting his hands behind his back, hoping to draw the smaller man in.

Yet another counter left tagged the Philly-based fighter, and he staggered into a takedown attempt. After pressing his opponent against the cage, unable to land the takedown, the men returned to the stand-up fight.

Eddie threw a straight right hand that McGregor backed out of range from before returning fire with a three-punch combo of his own. This time Alvarez was knocked out. Just like that, Conor McGregor had made history and was now ruling over two divisions simultaneously.

In Conclusion

Since the beginning of mixed martial arts, there have been hundreds of incredibly entertaining fights across numerous promotions and weight classes. What ultimately makes for a great contest really depends on who is watching and what they appreciate most.

Some fans only care when the stakes are at their highest when a title is on the line. Others enjoy a technical chess match where two warriors display their skills at the highest levels. Then there are the hammer fists, almost wholly devoid of technique but which require a level of toughness and grit that inspires us just by watching.

This list of highlights from the last few decades of the sport contains examples of each of these types of scraps. Truth be told, this list could easily be twice as long. So many incredible talents have come and gone, leaving everything they had in the ring or cage to entertain us spectators.

The fights included here are in chronological order. Should you choose to use this guide as a resource and watch all of the individual bouts, make a note of how the sport has evolved and changed over time.

Notice how the earlier fighters tended to be a bit more one-dimensional, though every bit as tough.

MMA is ever-evolving; just as one style becomes the most dominant, someone creates a counter attack that the rest of the industry must learn. It’s an arms race with everybody developing the sharpest, most diverse arsenal available to them physically. The things fighters will be doing in five years seem like impossibilities today.

Things have always been like this, starting with Royce Gracie showing the world how important grappling was back in 1993. The era of the wrestlers came next. The dominant wrestlers and their ground and pound were eventually replaced by potent strikers with just enough wrestling ability to keep fights standing.

And now we are seeing well-rounded fighters that can do it all, but specialize in one particular skill or another. What will come next is anyone’s guess, but we will all be watching and waiting to expand this guide further.

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