UFC: 15 of the Greatest Fights of All Time
The UFC held its first event on November 12, 1993. The fight card, a one-night tournament, drew 7,800 fans to the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colo. Royce Gracie, who submitted Gerard Gordeau, won that tournament. On Saturday night, the promotion held its 352nd event, drawing 9,552 fans to the Brisbane Entertainment Centre in Brisbane, Australia to see Mark Hunt knock out Frank Mir in the main event.
Between those two events, the promotion has staged thousands of fights; some have been good, some have been bad, and some turned into the most memorable bouts in combat sports history. When considering what fights made this most memorable list, we considered a number of factors, including the importance of the fight to the promotion, the manner in which the fight was won (or lost), and if the fight could stand up to repeated viewings.
What follows are the 15 greatest fights in the history of the UFC. If you’ve seen these fights before, watch them again; if you haven’t seen them, well, set aside some time because you really need to see these historical battles inside the Octagon. In the future, new fights may dislodge a lower-ranked fight from this list — after all, there are some recent fights that are highly ranked in the top 15 UFC fights of all time.
15. Forrest Griffin vs. Quinton Jackson: UFC 86
This fight was the second title defense of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s UFC light heavyweight championship reign. In this contest, Forrest Griffin’s goal was to stick and move, keeping Jackson at distance. Griffin did just that early on, but as the first round wore on, Jackson’s power caught him on two occasions — he even got dropped to the mat. In the second round, Griffin buckled Jackson’s leg with a kick, and when Jackson moved in for a takedown he found himself under Griffin on the mat. Griffin spent the rest of the round in control of Jackson on the ground.
The third round was fairly uneventful, which allowed Jackson to recover from the leg kicks that hurt him earlier in the fight. With that being said, Griffin still kept Jackson at distance, which prevented him from scoring with his strikes. In the fourth round, Jackson was able to close the distance and land some strikes, opening up a cut over Griffin’s right eye.
After landing those strikes, Jackson took the fight to the ground, but he found himself briefly caught in a triangle choke by Griffin. In the final round, Jackson was unable to close the distance, which prevented him from making a late run for the stoppage. When the cards were read, Griffin captured the title by unanimous decision, only to lose the title in his next outing — by TKO to Rashad Evans.
14. Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: UFC 102
Randy Couture entered this fight coming off a loss to Brock Lesnar, a fight in which Lesnar captured the UFC heavyweight title. As for Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he too lost his last fight, getting TKO-ed by Frank Mir and losing the interim UFC heavyweight championship. There was not much going on in this fight until Nogueira knocked Couture down with a big right hand with three minutes left in the first round.
Once the fight was on the ground, Nogueira, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, gave his best effort to choke Couture out, but Couture was able to fight off the submission attempt. In the second round, Couture tried to work ground and pound, but Nogueira easily reversed and went for an arm triangle choke, which Couture was avoided, but he remained under Nogueira.
Things became even more bleak for Couture in the third round when he knocked Couture to the ground and positively assaulted him with ground and pound. Couture was able to reverse, but he was unable to capitalize on that reversal. Nogueira took the fight, which won “Fight of the Night” by unanimous decision.
13. Diego Sanchez vs. Karo Parisyan: UFC Fight Night 6
This 2006 fight between highly ranked welterweights Diego Sanchez and Karo Parisyan went to the ground early. Sanchez had Parisyan in trouble as he went for submissions, opening a cut under Parisyan’s eye. Meanwhile, Parisyan let Sanchez know that he would have to be aware of his world-class judo throws. Round two opened with Parisyan using his hands to back Sanchez into the cage, where he picked Sanchez up and dumped him to the mat.
Later in the round, Sanchez gained a takedown of his own and worked to land as many strikes as he possibly could. The third round had a little bit of everything from Sanchez; brutal strikes, submission attempts, and most of all, an overwhelming desire to keep control of the fight. When this “Fight of the Night” came to a close, it was a clear win for Sanchez who remained unbeaten at 16-0.
12. Matt Hughes vs. B.J. Penn II: UFC 63
The first time Matt Hughes met B.J. Penn in the Octagon was UFC 46. Hughes lost that fight, and his UFC welterweight title, submitting to a rear-naked choke in the first round. The rematch came more than two years late, and once again Hughes held the UFC welterweight title. For the first two rounds it looked like Penn was on his way to recapturing his title, even threatening a submission for the final 30 seconds of the second round.
When the round ended, Penn was winded, and the look on his face when the third round began didn’t inspire any confidence. Hughes noticed this and looked to dominate Penn on the ground, which he did, putting Penn in the crucifix position and assaulting him with strikes, bringing referee John McCarthy in to stop the fight at the 3:53 mark. This fight also goes down as the night that Georges St-Pierre walked into the Octagon and uttered the infamous line, “I am not impressed by your performance.”
11. Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva: UFC 79
Fans had clamored for this fight for a long time; the problem being that these two light heavyweight beasts had been competing in different organizations — Chuck Liddell in the UFC and Wanderlei Silva in PRIDE. When the two circled each other for the first two minutes, UFC commentator Joe Rogan said, “These are two dogs that have been staring at each other through the fence for a long time.”
The first round was mostly circling and feinting, but with 1:20 left, things picked up, and by that we mean these two started throwing punches intended to take each other’s heads off. Things loosened up in the second round, with Silva landing his punches and kicks, but the tide turned with 1:15 left when Liddell forced Silva to the cage and threw everything he had at Silva, who returned the favor. With 30 seconds left in the round, the two bloodied fighters stood and exchanged punched until Liddell took the fight to the ground.
Liddell owned the third round, using two takedowns to secure his victory while taking every opportunity afforded him to land strikes when he could. The fight, which won “Fight of the Night,” was the last victory of Liddell’s career, he lost his next three fights and retire from the UFC. Silva fought eight more times for the UFC, going 4-4 over that time. Silva is currently signed with Bellator.
10. Tim Sylvia vs. Randy Couture: UFC 68
Couture announced his retirement in February 2006 after losing to Liddell at UFC 52. In March 2007, Couture returned to the Octagon to face Tim Sylvia for Sylvia’s heavyweight title. Entering the fight, Sylvia was 13 years younger than Couture and had a six-inch height advantage and an almost 12-inch reach advantage. Oh, and he weighed 40.5 pounds more than Couture. In short, the older, shorter, lighter Couture was at a huge disadvantage — at least on paper.
All those advantages went out the window within the first 10 seconds of the fight as Couture blitzed Sylvia, knocking him down with a big right hand and looking for the finish before taking Sylvia’s back, where he spent the remainder of the round. Couture also controlled the second round, taking Sylvia to the mat before working ground and pound inside the guard of his much larger opponent.
The third round also belonged to Couture, who picked apart his much bigger opponent on the feet. Sylvia seemed unable to use his height and reach advantage. The fourth and fifth rounds were more of the same; Couture used his takedowns and ground game to dominate Sylvia. When the fight came to a close, everyone in the arena was on their feet applauding the dominant performance that Couture put forth to capture the heavyweight title. When Couture got the mic at the end of the fight, he said, “Not bad for an old man.” Truer words were never spoken inside the Octagon.
9. Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida: The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale
Something you should be aware of: Whenever Diego Sanchez or Clay Guida step into the Octagon you will see some of the most intense dudes in MMA. So a fight that features both of them, well that will be bonkers. These two ran directly to the center of the Octagon and just started unloading punches at each other. Commentator Joe Rogan didn’t even try to call the action, he just repeated, “Oh my God, Oh my God.”
The first minute was pure aggression with Sanchez getting the best of the exchanges, bloodying Guida, who eventually found an opening in the attack and took the fight to the ground. When the fight went back to standing, Sanchez dropped Guida with a head kick, but he didn’t stay down for long, getting back to his feet only to get smashed again by the strikes of Sanchez.
Guida was able to get the fight to the ground early in the second round, eating elbows from the bottom for his effort before landing some ground and pound of his own. Things slowed down in the third and final round, but the two still threw punches with bad intentions. When the results were read for this “Fight of the Night” winning contest, Sanchez took the win via split decision.
8. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II: UFC 52
The first time Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg met, Hughes defended his UFC welterweight title by stopping Trigg via a standing rear-naked choke. Less than two years later, the two met again. Things were tense from the get-go in this one, as Trigg stepped into Hughes during the staredown, which resulted in Hughes shoving Trigg and Trigg blowing Hughes a kiss as he backed into his corner before the start of the action.
Early in this fight, the two tied up along the cage and Trigg landed an accidental knee to the groin of Hughes. Referee Mario Yamasaki responded to the blow by telling Trigg to watch his knees. Meanwhile, Hughes was obviously distracted by the shot. However, since the referee did not stop the action, Trigg fought on, taking advantage of the situation and putting Hughes to the ground where he tried to end the fight. Hughes was able to weather the storm, even fighting off a deep choke attempt.
Once Hughes slipped free from the choke, he got to his feet, lifted Trigg off his feet, and ran him across the cage, slamming him to the ground where he mounted Trigg and rained down elbows. Trigg gave up his back and Hughes sank in the rear-naked choke for the submission win at 4:05 of the first round. The fight was one of the best one-round fights in UFC history, and a good example of just how resilient and tough Hughes was during his prime.
7. Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva 1: UFC Fight Night 33
If you want to see two extremely large men try to knock each other out cold for 25 straight minutes, this is a must-see fight. The first half of the first round didn’t have a lot of action, but when these two decided to open up, the fists began flying, and Antonio Silva got the best of things, briefly putting Mark Hunt onto the mat with a short right hand. Silva hurt Hunt again in the second round, landing a brutal leg kick to Hunt’s calf, which forced him to switch his stance.
In the third round, Hunt briefly gained a takedown, but the fight quickly went back to the feet. With a little more than two minutes left in the round, Hunt dropped Silva with a right and worked for the finish with ground and pound. Silva looked like he was running out of gas in the fourth round, but he was still able to land some leg kicks that hurt Hunt. However, Hunt was relentless, taking Silva to the mat. When they stood, Hunt threw some heavy elbows that cut Silva, but Silva responded with a brutal striking assault that backed Hunt into the cage.
With 1:45 left in the round, Silva took the fight to the mat, and he gained full mount, bloodying Hunt with strikes. At one point it looked, and sounded, like the referee was going to wave off the fight. Neither fighter looked like they had anything left in the final round, but that didn’t stop them from throwing heavy hands. Hunt got the best of this round, throwing punches to the head and body before the referee paused the fight to look at the gash on Silva’s head.
The doctor allowed the fight to continue, and continue it did, with the clearly exhausted fighters doing whatever they could to gain the finish. When the fight came to an end, it was scored a majority draw, and somehow, that felt right. Unfortunately, Silva failed his post-fight drug test, forfeiting his portion of the “Fight of the Night” bonus and receiving a nine-month suspension.
6. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson: UFC 165
The promotion of this fight was, shall we say, cheesy. The UFC basically went with, “These guys are both tall,” when promoting Jon Jones’ sixth UFC light heavyweight title defense. Had they known how competitive this fight would be, they would have undoubtedly used a different angle.
The first round was a sign that Jones, a nine-to-one favorite going into the bout, was in for a fight. Alexander Gustafsson cut Jones with a right hand early in the round and was able to take him down, something Jones’ previous UFC opponents had failed to do in 16 attempts. Jones picked up his pace in the second round, but Gustafsson never backed down from Jones’ striking attacks.
By the time the fifth and final round came around, Jones’ face was a bloody, puffy mess. The champion remained aggressive, though, and took control of the fight, gaining the unanimous decision win. If there were questions about Jones’ heart or Gustafsson’s toughness heading into this fight, they were answered in this bout.
5. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard III: UFC 136
The first time Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard met, in 2008, Maynard earned a unanimous decision win. The second time these two met, in January 2011, it was for Frankie Edgar’s UFC lightweight belt. After five rounds of action, the fight ended in a draw. About 10 months after that fight, the two met for a third time, in the main event of UFC 136. Edgar was holding his own in the first round until Maynard landed an uppercut with 2:35 left in the round that rocked Edgar, but failed to put him out.
With 1:40 left, things got worse for Edgar when he was dropped by Maynard, who then went for the kill, throwing everything he had at a bloodied and dazed Edgar. The assault left UFC commentator Mike Goldberg wondering, “What is keeping him standing?” When the second round started, Maynard couldn’t get close to Edgar, who kept him at a distance with his boxing, giving himself time to recover from the beating he took in the first round.
The third round was more of the same from Edgar. By the fourth round, Edgar showed his movement and footwork, taking over the fight. With 1:15 left in the fourth stanza, it was Edgar’s turn to damage his opponent with an uppercut — the difference being that once Edgar hurt Maynard, he was able to put the fight away, landing several rights before wrapping things up with lefts on the ground. The final result of the “Knockout of the Night”-winning fight was a KO at 3:54 of the fourth round.
4. Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua: UFC 139
The five-round striking war between Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua heated up within the first minute of the first round, leaving Rua’s face bloodied. Henderson was aggressive through the first three rounds, pushing the pace and looking for the knockout throughout, but especially during the third round when he dropped Rua with a huge right hand. He wasn’t able to put Rua away, but he did a lot of damage with his ground and pound.
Henderson used a huge amount of energy going for the third-round knockout, and by the midpoint of the fourth stanza it was clear that Henderson’s tank was empty. With Henderson depleted, Rua did his best to pound out the win in the fifth and final round, but Henderson took everything his opponent could offer and survived those final five minutes to get the win.
After the fight, neither man could attend the press conference as they had to both go to the hospital. This fight was a great performance by both men, and an excellent return to the UFC for Henderson, who had spent the two previous years fighting for Strikeforce. After the fight, UFC president Dana White declared the bout one of the top three fights in the history of the promotion.
3. Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2: UFC 189
The 2015 fight between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald was both a rematch and the first defense of Lawler’s UFC welterweight title reign. The first fight between these two, in 2013, ended in a split decision victory for Lawler. The first round of this rematch was fairly even, but Lawler began to find his range near the end of the first stanza, bloodying MacDonald badly with his strikes.
Despite his badly damaged nose, MacDonald kept moving forward, throwing and landing strikes of his own. Lawler looked excellent at the beginning of the third round, showing a lot of movement and landing brutal blows, mostly to the face of his opponent. However, as the third round came to a close, MacDonald turned the fight to his advantage, badly hurting Lawler with a head kick and strikes against the fence.
At the start of the fourth round, it was all MacDonald, who again hurt Lawler, mixing up his strikes and coming at Lawler from all angles with punches, kicks, and elbows. By this point, both fighters looked like they had run face first into a brick wall multiple times. When the round ended the two stood in the center of the Octagon and stared each other down, their vision clouded by blood.
When the final round began it was anybody’s fight to win. One minute into the fifth round, Lawler made it his fight when he literally crushed MacDonald’s nose. The strike dropped MacDonald to the mat in pain. The fight took home “Fight of the Night” honors and many MMA outlets named it 2015’s best MMA fight, with UFC president Dana White calling it, “The fight of the ever.”
2. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen: UFC 117
The lead-up to this one was nasty, with plenty of trash talk from Chael Sonnen. However, as soon as the first round began, it was apparent that Sonnen would be able to back up that trash talk. Sonnen hurt then-UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva several times early in the first round with strikes, and then took the fight to the ground where he was in complete control.
The second, third, fourth, and most of the fifth round involved more of the same, with Sonnen taking the fight to the mat and then looking to break down Silva with ground and pound. Over the course of the fight, Sonnen landed 320 strikes to Silva’s 64. And it looked like Silva’s reign as middleweight champion would come to an end.
However, with just two minutes left in the final round, Sonnen slipped up and allowed Silva to secure a triangle choke. Seconds after the submission hold was applied, Sonnen tapped and the title remained around the waist of Silva. The win was an incredible comeback victory. The bout won “Fight of the Night” and “Submission of the Night” honors.
1. Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar: TUF 1 Finale
This fight may be the most important contest in the history of the UFC. Without this bout there’s no telling where the UFC would be today. The matchup between Griffin and Stephan Bonnar was nothing but two light heavyweights trying to knock each other out for 15 minutes straight. When the first round ended the fighters received a standing ovation from the crowd inside the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. Many in the audience would not take their seats again until well after the fight ended.
By the time the second round came to a close, Griffin was a bloody mess and it was a wonder how either man had enough left in the tank to make it through another five minutes — but that’s exactly what they did. The pace slowed during the third round, but that didn’t make the fight any less entertaining. Each time one fighter looked to land a strike, the other looked for a counter. When the horn sounded to end the fight, the bloody pair of fighters raised their hands to the raucous approval of the crowd.
When the result of the fight was announced, awarding the victory to Griffin, Bonnar collapsed to the mat. The UFC thought so much of the fight that it offered UFC contracts to both fighters. Originally only the winner was going to earn a deal with the promotion. In case you don’t remember, this fight was not the main event, the headlining bout was a light heavyweight scrap between Rich Franklin and Ken Shamrock. Franklin won that fight by first round TKO. Both Griffin and Bonnar were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2013.