MMA's 25 Best Rivalries Since the Ultimate Fighter Season 1
Since Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar rocked the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas in 2005, the sport of mixed martial arts has seen new heights, expanding to bigger audiences by the year.
Just a few weeks ago, the UFC ventured back to the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janiero, Brazil—a feat that just a few years ago was thought as a wild endeavor that would never gain this much momentum so quickly.
Given the the ascension of mixed martial arts, many fighters of different backgrounds, mentalities and personas have now all melded together. For the most part, many of these combatants have remained relatively respectful of one another.
But every now and then you get a Nick Diaz, Chael Sonnen or Tito Ortiz thrown in there, and a budding rivalry begins.
Leonard Garcia vs. Nam Phan
These two featherweight heavy hitters originally met in the season twelve finale of The Ultimate Fighter, where Nam Phan's boxing prowess really shined against the wild style of Leonard Garcia.
Though many believed that Phan had done enough to earn the decision win after three rounds of action, Garcia took home the contentious split-decision win. Both men walked away with "Fight of the Night" honors, though a rematch was imminent.
The duo finally met once again last October at UFC 136. Phan, again, used his precision boxing and ripping hooks to wilt "Bad Boy" early, though Garcia came back storming in the third, rocking and dropping Phan in the waning moments of the fight.
In the end, the two earned each other's mutual respect, though Phan walked away with the decision win and rightfully so.
Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung
A relative unknown before he entered the WEC, Chan Sung Jung became an overnight sensation when he was pitted against the equally game Leonard Garcia.
In what has been coveted as one of the best fights in MMA history, Garcia and Jung went toe-to-toe for the full 15 minutes of action, mirroring Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.
In the end, Garcia walked away with the contentious split-decision win, though the two eventually met once again but this time under the UFC banner.
The first round was a bit tapered, though things became interesting in the second as "The Korean Zombie" muscled the Greg Jackson product to the ground and cinched the first ever twister inside the Octagon, submitting Garcia in the process.
The victory sealed their rivalry and earned Jung high praise and "Submission of the Year" for his efforts.
Charlie Valencia vs. Antonio Banuelos and Ian McCall
Whilst under the WEC, Charlie Valencia was one of the most feared men in the bantamweight class and for good reason.
The dynamic fighter had both power punches and underrated wrestling skills at his disposal, to which he showed in his initial battle against spitfire Antonio Banuelos some years ago.
Banuelos got the best of Valencia early, though the Californian rallied back with the first round knockout victory.
Hoping to avenge his friend, Ian McCall next stepped up to the plate, though "Uncle Creepy" later would become Valencia's greatest highlight finish to date.
Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz
These two former light heavyweight champions first met at UFC 73. Then, Ortiz was still widely considered among the best in his class, though Rashad Evans was an up-and-comer had yet to earn a signature win, which would elevate him towards a shot at the title.
In a tight-knit bout, Ortiz appeared to edge Evans early, though an errant point deduction thanks to Ortiz grabbing the fence repeatedly caused the fight to end in a draw.
Only recently have the two settled the score, as the duo met again last August at UFC 133, where Evans dominated Ortiz, finishing off "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" with a second-round barrage of strikes.
Evans may have won their inevitable rematch, though Ortiz won their verbal warfare with just four words.
Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard
This three-part battle began humbly.
In their first encounter, Gray Maynard dominated the smaller Frankie Edgar, muscling the New Jersey native to the ground time and time again, where he earned the decision win after three rounds of action.
The next time these two met, Edgar reigned as the king of the lightweight class while Maynard was the hungry contender hoping to dethrone his rival. The Xtreme Couture product looked to have the fight all but won, dropping Edgar all over the cage with some heavy leather.
Edgar survived the onslaught and battled back in the later rounds and eventually took the bout to a draw.
After nine months of anticipation, Edgar and Maynard met in a rubber match. Much like the first outing, Maynard had the Ricardo Almeida protege on ice skates early, though in a rousing comeback, Edgar finished Maynard off with strikes in the fourth, earning "Knockout of the Night" for his performance.
Jorge Santiago vs. Kazuo Misaki
One of the most underrated and least talked-about rivalries out there, Jorge Santiago and Kazuo Misaki are each other's Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
These two middleweight notables initially met in the finals of Sengoku's first middleweight Grand Prix. Both men had rocked each other on several occasions in a back-and-forth battle.
Heading into the fifth and final round, Misaki seemed to have the fight all but won, though Santiago's jiu-jitsu prowess took over as he submitted the former Pride champion in the late stages of the bout.
Next, the two met in an inevitable rematch, where Misaki was now serving as the challenger to Santiago's title. Much like their first outing, both men had their moments, though Misaki appeared to gain the upper hand.
In another late rally, Santiago stopped the Japanese star in the final round, where he punished Misaki with heavy shots from within mount, eliciting Misaki's corner to stop the fight, resulting in the TKO finish.
Jamie Varner vs. Donald Cerrone
To say that Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner genuinely dislike each other would be a gross understatement.
Their mutual hatred began after their initial encounter, where after four rounds of action, the then-WEC lightweight champion Varner was deemed unable to continue after he took an errant knee to the face.
For a long while, Varner mended from injury before he returned to the cage. Eventually, the two met over a year later where their disdain had reached a boiling point.
In a dominant performance, Cerrone evened the score after rocking the Arizona fighter early, controlling him both on the feet and on the ground and eventually took home the decision win in a "Fight of the Night" performance.
Benson Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone
Unlike Cerrone's rivalry with Varner, the "Cowboy" has nothing but respect for current UFC contender Benson Henderson and the feeling is mutual.
Despite having a camaraderie, these two engaged in an all-out war at WEC 43 which displayed both Cerrone's underrated jiu-jitsu skills and Henderson's ability to stave off submission time and time again.
In the end, "Bendo" walked away with the contentious decision win.
Needing a decisive end to their battle, the two met shortly thereafter, this time when Henderson became the organization's undisputed lightweight champion. In an upset, "Smooth" cinched the first-round finish when he caught Cerrone in a tight, tight guillotine choke.
To date, Henderson remains the only man to stop the surging Cerrone.
Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
In their initial outing, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was coveted as the big man on campus, widely considered among the top three best heavyweight fighters in the world.
Frank Mir, on the other hand, was a former world champion who had lost some of his luster and was looking to regain some of his prestige.
In arguably the best performance of his career, Mir dismantled Nogueira for two rounds, rocking and dropping the Brazilian on several occasions before finishing him off with strikes in the second stanza.
The duo would meet three years later serving as the co-main event for UFC 140. Nogueira was coming off of a dominant victory over Brendan Schaub, knocking out the knockout artist in the first round.
Again, Nogueira showed his heavy hands and boxing prowess when he wobbled Mir to the canvas early. However, after attempting to cinch a guillotine choke, Mir had enough time to recover when he eventually reversed positions and winded up on top.
Immediately, the Las Vegas fighter secured a tight kimura and refused to relent. With Nogueira refusing to tap, Mir had no choice but to break the arm of the legendary submission specialist, who now became the victim of two decisive losses to the former UFC champ.
Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping
After both Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping served their stint as coaches on season nine of The Ultimate Fighter, lines were already drawn amongst the fans.
Bisping was coveted as the "U.K. Bad Guy" while Henderson was regarded as the overly patriotic, lovable and unassuming legend.
The two met in arguably the organization's most memorable event, UFC 100. In a rousing performance, Henderson launched Bisping into unconsciousness with a devastating right hook, finishing off the Brit with another high-flying hook to the face, which earned "Knockout of the Year" for his performance.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz
It's rare that a rivalry comes to a boiling point well before the two even enter the cage.
Though a match between Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz is contingent on the Stockton fighter's upcoming battle with Carlos Condit, it's a fight that all the fans want to see nonetheless.
Diaz and St-Pierre first came to a head when the enigmatic Cesar Gracie fighter ditched several pre-fight press conferences for their initial encounter at UFC 137. Diaz was removed from the event, which, needless to say, rubbed the Canadian the wrong way.
In the end, Diaz took main event honors at the October event after St-Pierre fell out due to injury, taking on BJ Penn. In a dominant performance, Diaz deftly defeated the Hawaiian, battering and bruising the former world champion after three rounds of action.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Serra
After becoming buddy-buddy on season four of The Ultimate Fighter, both St-Pierre and Matt Serra eventually met in a welterweight collision at UFC 69.
In an upset, Serra stormed through the Canadian in a first-round thriller, finishing him off with strikes, cinching the 170-pound title in the process.
Though St-Pierre was complimentary of Serra initially, he quickly turned towards the negative, insinuating that Serra got lucky with his underdog performance.
Needless to say, Serra and the crew didn't take kindly to those comments and some words were exchanged.
The two met once again at UFC 83 in St-Pierre's backyard of Montreal, where the welterweight great dominated the New Yorker from start to finish, cinching the TKO victory after two rounds of action.
These two guys have since made nice.
Chris Lytle vs. Matt Serra
These two welterweight standouts initially met at the season four finale of The Ultimate Fighter, a special stint which featured an All-Star cast of veterans.
After three rounds of contentious action, Serra edged Lytle in a lackluster performance which earned him a shot at the welterweight title.
Years later, the two met again at UFC 119 in September of 2010, where this time the two turned in a "Fight of the Night"-worthy performance, going toe-to-toe for the full fifteen minutes of action.
This time, Lytle earned the clear-cut decision win.
Spencer Fisher vs. Sam Stout
UFC 58 served as the first venture of Sam Stout inside the Octagon. There, the Canadian took on respected veteran Spencer Fisher, who made his lightweight debut opposite of Stout.
In a back-and-forth battle which was largely contested on the feet with these two heavy hitters, Stout upset Fisher, taking home the split-decision win.
Over a year later, the duo met at UFC Fight Night 10, where they served as the main event of the evening. In another fan-friendly battle, the two striking aficionados went toe-to-toe for another 15 spirited minutes, though this time Fisher did enough to edge his rival, taking home the decision win and evening up the score.
BJ Penn vs. Sean Sherk
Sean Sherk was fresh off of a dominant victory over Hermes Franca, making the first successful defense of his lightweight title. However, after the 155-pound scrap, both Franca and Sherk tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Though Sherk vehemently protested the allegations, he was stripped of his title and served a suspension handed down by the California State Athletic Commission.
Some time later, BJ Penn contended for the vacant title opposite of then-top contender Joe Stevenson, dominating The Ultimate Fighter season two winner, finishing him off with a rear-naked choke in the second.
Soon after the bout was over, Penn took the mic and boldly proclaimed, "Sean Sherk. You're dead."
Thus, the rivalry began. Leading up to the bout, Penn poked and prodded at Sherk, calling him a "cheater" among other things thanks to his link towards steroids.
After two rounds of competitive action, Penn finally upped the intensity in the third where he sent Sherk reeling to the mat with a flying knee. Ground-and-pound blows eventually sealed the TKO finish when the Minnesota fighter was deemed unable to continue.
Cristiane Santos vs. Ronda Rousey
After a dominant performance upon her year-and-a-half-long absence, Cristiane Santos tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
A knockout victory over Hiroko Yamanaka last December was overturned to a no-contest and the Brazilian has since been suspended for one year by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
The outspoken Ronda Rousey, who was thought to be an immediate contender to Santos' 145-pound title—which has since been stripped—has since ripped into "Cyborg," who responded in kind.
Santos took to Twitter to attack Rousey, where she insinuated that the Olympian would be her next victim, tweeting a picture of a battered and bruised Gina Carano, a crowning achievement of her handy work.
Needless to say, Rousey didn't think the crass move was in good taste and let Santos know exactly how she feels.
Jason "Mayhem" Miller vs. the Cesar Gracie Crew
After Jake Shields' rousing performance against Dan Henderson, former opponent Jason Miller took to the cage and asked for a rematch against the then-Strikeforce middleweight champion.
In an unprecedented turn of events, the entire Cesar Gracie crew—Nate Diaz, Nick Diaz and Gilbert Melendez among others—began to beat down the Bully Beatdown host, pummeling him on live television in an all-out brawl.
Needless to say, things haven't exactly mended. Don't believe me? Check out DontBeScaredHomie.com.
Nick Diaz vs. KJ Noons
At the time, KJ Noons was an unheralded lightweight fighter who, just two fights prior, was knocked out by the heavy hitting Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett.
The Hawaiian was pitted against UFC and Pride veteran Nick Diaz for the EliteXC 160-pound title.
In an upset, Noons stopped Diaz inside of the first round, rocking and dropping the Stockton fighter on several occasions, though the bout was finally stopped due to multiple lacerations.
Soon after, Diaz rose back up the ranks and earned a rematch with Noons, though the reigning and defending champion opted to ask the crowd how the felt about Diaz as the next contender to his title.
And then, all hell broke loose.
After the wild melee, Diaz and Noons would reunite years later, this time when the Gracie fighter served as the Strikeforce welterweight champion. In a five-round thriller, Diaz edged Noons by decision in the organization's "Fight of the Year" in 2010.
Nick Diaz vs. Joe Riggs
After a contentious decision loss to Joe Riggs at UFC 57, the battle continued, but not inside the cage.
While both Nick Diaz and Riggs were being tended to inside a hospital in Las Vegas, the two welterweight dynamos went at it again, engaging in a post-fight brawl that has since become a legendary story told by all of Diaz's most hardcore fans.
As the story goes, Diaz won their second outing.
Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir
In his initial foray inside the Octagon, Brock Lesnar was pitted against a former world champion in Frank Mir. Lesnar started strong, though the submission whiz that is Mir caught a leg and cinched up a kneebar and stopped the ex-WWE star inside of the first round.
Afterwards, Lesnar ascended the heavyweight ranks quickly, defeating Heath Herring and then-champion Randy Couture to claim the UFC title.
Meanwhile, Mir continued his ascension with a second-round knockout victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, claiming the interim title in the process.
Both Lesnar and Mir met again at UFC 100 in an effort to unify the heavyweight belts. However, this bout ended much differently.
Lesnar dominated Mir from the opening bell, finishing off the Las Vegas fighter with a second-round knockout, courtesy of some heavy ground-and-pound blows.
Mir, though, apparently has aspirations to kill Lesnar. No Bueno.
Michael Bisping vs. Jason "Mayhem" Miller
After the two served as coaches on season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, neither Bisping nor Miller were particularly "fans" of one another.
The two had pranked each other all season long, even engaging in a near collision mid-show, though cooler heads prevailed.
Instead, the two opted to save their aggression for the Octagon, where the Brit dominated the loud-mouthed Miller, finishing off the former Icon Sport middleweight champion with strikes inside of the third round.
Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva...and Brazil
Though the rivalry that exists between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen began well before their initial encounter at UFC 117, you need to look no further than this candid interview to ascertain just why "The Spider" and his native Brazil just can't quite take a liking to the Team Quest product.
The video speaks for itself.
Rashad Evans vs. Quinton Jackson
Soon after Quinton Jackson's victory over Keith Jardine at UFC 96, Rashad Evans immediately found his nemesis.
Though their rivalry was cordial at first, it came to a boiling point when the two served as coaches on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter.
On several occasions, the two hot-headed light heavyweights nearly came to blows, but their instinct to fight was reserved for their inevitable encounter at UFC 114 in May of 2010.
There, Evans dominated Jackson for the first two rounds thanks to superior control on the ground, though "Rampage" came rallying back in the third, nearly finishing off Evans with some heavy shots, though the TUF vet survived the barrage.
In the end, Evans earned the decision win, though bad feelings still linger.
Urijah Faber vs. Dominick Cruz
In their first outing, Dominick Cruz was a young up-and-comer looking to gain some steam, while Urijah Faber was the king of the featherweight division.
"The California Kid" deftly submitted Cruz with a first-round guillotine choke, though the loss motivated the Alliance MMA product to reassess his game and evolve tremendously.
Shortly thereafter, Cruz dropped to the bantamweight class where he became the WEC's 135-pound champion and with his victory over Scott Jorgensen, he became the UFC's new champ once the organizations merged.
In his first bout inside the Octagon, Cruz took on Faber in a highly-anticipated rematch. In a rollicking five-round battle, Faber rocked and dropped Cruz several times, though the champ came storming back with takedowns and some unorthodox strikes of his own.
In the end, both men earned "Fight of the Night" for their performance, though Cruz walked away with the close decision win.
Now, the two have since been pegged as coaches for the season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, where the two will meet again in a rubber match later this year.
Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin
After winning season one of The Ultimate Fighter, Forrest Griffin quickly became a contender in the talent-laden light heavyweight class, though he had his stern test in former world champion Tito Ortiz when the two met first at UFC 59 in 2006.
Ortiz dominated Griffin early with ground-and-pound blows, though the TUF vet responded better after having been roughed up in the first.
Thereafter, Griffin came on in the later rounds, landing combinations on the feet which rattled a fatigued Ortiz. In the end, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" was awarded the contentious split-decision win.
In 2009, the two were former world champions hoping to regain glory.
In another aesthetically-pleasing performance which largely mirrored their first outing, both Ortiz and Griffin went the full 15 minutes in a back-and-forth battle, though Griffin largely dominated the third and final round.
Again, the bout went to a decision, though Griffin this time earned the decision, evening up the score.
Now, Ortiz seeks a third and final bout with this rival in order to close out his historic career.