The 25 Greatest Non-Title Fights in UFC History
Dan Henderson (left) against Mauricio Rua/ photo cred: Lauron Zaugg for MMAWeekly.com
Since the inception of the sport, the UFC has become the flagship for everything mixed martial arts.
In a continued effort to cultivate the promotion as the best in the biz, the UFC has assembled most, if not all, of the greatest fighters under one roof, which has produced some of the best and most memorable fights in the history of the sport.
Though there is something enchanting about a five-round championship tilt, many battles that have been fought inside the Octagon may have been relegated as three-round affairs or may have been limited to the preliminary portion of the event.
Here, we will recap some of the greater fights in the organization where no belt was on the line—just pride, dreams and aspirations.
[Dan Henderson (left) against Mauricio Rua/ photo cred: Lauron Zaugg for MMAWeekly.com]
TUF 9 Finale: Clay Guida vs. Diego Sanchez
Clay Guida (left) against Diego Sanchez/ photo cred: Scott Peterson for MMAWeekly.com
In a pivotal lightweight affair, Diego Sanchez was looking to continue his ascension in the 155-pound class, though tested veteran Clay Guida stood in his way.
In the few moments of the fight, Sanchez set the tone of the bout, dropping Guida with a head kick. "The Carpenter" quickly rose back up to his feet, but not before being met with a dozen uppercuts against the cage.
In the second round, Guida began to utilize his wrestling by taking down the bruising Sanchez, who answered in kind with hellish elbows from the bottom.
In the end, "The Dream" edged Guida in a "Fight of the Year" performance from both men.
UFC 76: Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio Rua
Forrest Griffin/ photo cred: Scott Peterson for MMAWeekly.com
In arguably the most important fight of his career, Forrest Griffin rose to the occasion as he was matched up against the consensus No. 1 light heavyweight fighter in the world in Mauricio Rua.
"Shogun" Rua became a staple of the Pride circuit, where he became the organization's 2005 middleweight Grand Prix champion, besting Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona in the talent-laden tournament.
Rua gave Griffin some resistance early on, however the cardio machine that is The Ultimate Fighter veteran quickly wilted the Brazilian.
In the third round, Griffin continued to pour on the action where he eventually took the back of Rua, cinching in the rear-naked choke and eliciting the tapout in a memorable performance.
TUF 1 Finale: Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar
Forrest Griffin (left) squaring off with Stephan Bonnar/ photo cred: MMAWeekly.com
It's one of the most recognizable battles to ever grace the Octagon and is likely the cornerstone of what changed the MMA landscape for the foreseeable future.
At the inaugural The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Finale, light heavyweight finalists Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar met in order to determine a new UFC signee, who would be given a six-figure contract with the organization.
In a hellish battle, both men threw bombs, lunging looping hooks, knees in the clinch and kicks galore. In a bloody, back-and-forth fight, Griffin edged his antithesis by a narrow decision, though both men were granted contracts with the organization and have solidified their standings as fan favorites.
TUF 6 Finale: Jared Rollins vs. Jon Koppenhaver
War Machine aka Jon Koppenhaver/ photo cred: sherdog.com
An "upper decker" altercation whilst in the TUF house spearheaded a welterweight collision pitting Jon Koppenhaver, who is now legally dubbed War Machine, against Jared Rollins.
The two heavy-hitters wasted little time in getting familiar with another inside the Octagon, with "J-Roc" asserting his dominance early, courtesy of some flying knees, wading hooks and some superior grappling skills.
In the final round, Koppenhaver pulled a "Hail Mary" as he managed to reverse the jiu-jitsu ace from within guard, ending up in mount and pounding away with telling blows, calling a halt to the bout in the waning moments of the fight via TKO.
TUF 3 Finale: Ed Herman vs. Kendall Grove
Kendall Grove/ photo cred: Jeff Cain for MMAWeekly.com
It always seems that The Ultimate Fighter makes its combatants rise to the occasion.
Both Ed Herman and Kendall Grove did just that when the dynamic duo met in the TUF 3 finale, where the two middleweight notables went three hard-fought rounds.
On the feet, Grove was able to find his range with leaping knees to the body, while Herman gave the Hawaiian some reasons to be concerned on the mat, nearly cinching several submissions throughout the bout.
The fight ended with the lanky Grove looking to lock up a rear-naked choke, with Herman doing his best to fend off the hold.
The close decision win went in favor of Grove, however, a la Bonnar-Griffin, both men were awarded the coveted six-figure contract with the UFC, thanks to their aesthetically pleasing performance.
UFC 59: Forrest Griffin vs. Tito Ortiz
Tito Ortiz (left) with Forrest Griffin/ photo cred: Ken Pishna for MMAWeekly.com
At the time, Tito Ortiz was still regarded as one of the best fighters in the 205-pound class, while Griffin, though talented, was a budding contender who had yet to cinch a signature performance that would dub him worthy of fighting a former champion in "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy."
In the early goings, Ortiz dominated Griffin with his patented double-leg takedown and stifling ground-and-pound. After Griffin had been opened up with punches and elbows, the TUF vet fought more courageously in the later rounds.
In the second round, Griffin was able to fend off all takedowns from Ortiz, hitting him with his long jabs and straights from a distance. His confidence continued to grow and Griffin began to clearly assert his superior striking skills, though a late takedown from Ortiz in the third earned him the contentious split-decision win.
Griffin later made amends by earning a split decision of his own in their inevitable rematch years later.
UFC 69: Roger Huerta vs. Leonard Garcia
Roger Huerta/ photo cred: MMAWeekly.com
It's the fight that launched both the careers of Roger Huerta and Leonard Garcia.
This lightweight affair took place some years ago as both men were looking to break through the ranks, but what ensued was an all-out war.
Both men traded blows in the center of the cage, winging punches and kicks galore. Huerta asserted himself with his superior conditioning, however Garcia was there to answer for every punch.
In the end, "El Matador" did enough to earn the decision win, though both men showed their mutual admiration afterwards and have since reached great heights in their respective mixed martial arts careers.
UFC 79: Wanderlei Silva vs. Chuck Liddell
Wanderlei Silva (left) with Chuck Liddell/ photo cred: Ken Pishna for MMAWeekly.com
It was a highly anticipated fight, years in the making.
Though fans were teased with this light heavyweight encounter years before, it took the fall of the now-defunct Pride organization to make this fight a reality.
At UFC 79, legendary fighters Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva finally engaged in their 205-pound affair, and neither man failed to disappoint.
The two strikers went toe-to-toe for the entire duration of the fight. Liddell edged the Brazilian with his long punches and pivotal takedowns. "The Iceman" was awarded with the decision win, though both of their stocks rose in the process.
UFC 102: Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Randy Couture (left) with Rodrigo Nogueira/ photo cred: Ken Pishna for MMAWeekly.com
It's not often that a fight of this magnitude lives up to its expectations, but both Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira turned in arguably one of the best heavyweight collisions of all time.
The UFC Hall of Famer in Couture was the consummate favorite leading into the match, though Nogueira quickly proved oddsmakers wrong, asserting his superior boxing skills, rocking and dropping the former world champion several times throughout the bout.
Couture never gave up and continued to press the action throughout, though in the end, Nogueira had done enough to earn the decision win. Both men walked away with "Fight of the Night" honors for their performance.
UFC 139: Mauricio Rua vs. Dan Henderson
Dan Henderson (left) with Mauricio Rua/ photo cred: Laron Zaugg for MMAWeekly.com
In the promotion's second five-round, non-title affair, former Pride champions Mauricio Rua and Dan Henderson engaged in a throwback that could have taken place some years ago in Japan.
Instead, the duo met inside the Octagon at UFC 139, where the two light heavyweight contenders battled in a rollicking, back-and-forth fight that had the attending crowd at the HP Pavilion on their feet.
Henderson rocked and dropped Rua early, though the Brazilian answered back in the later rounds by mounting the Olympian and pounding away with heavy shots from up top.
In the end, Henderson took home the close decision win in what has been regarded as one of the greatest fights of all time.
TUF 6 Finale: Clay Guida vs. Roger Huerta
Clay Guida (left) eating a Roger Huerta head kick/ photo cred: Scott Petersen for MMAWeekly.com
At the time, the UFC finally pit two of their most exciting lightweight fighters against one another, as Roger Huerta took on the wild man Clay Guida.
"The Carpenter" dominated Huerta early with his stifling wrestling skills, rocking the pretty boy with a crushing right hand on the ground which nearly had the Texan all but out.
In a do-or-die performance, Huerta turned the tides in the third and final round, rocking Guida with leaping knees to the chin early, deftly taking his back and locking in a fight-ending rear-naked choke.
The gutsy performance saved Huerta from suffering his first loss inside the Octagon whilst turning in his most memorable one to date.
UFC 67: Frankie Edgar vs. Tyson Griffin
Frankie Edgar (left) with Tyson Griffin/ photo cred: MMAWeekly.com
In his promotional debut, little did everyone know that Tyson Griffin would be welcoming in the future lightweight kingpin in Frankie Edgar.
In a back-and-forth, high-paced battle, Edgar began to edge the Xtreme Couture product with his more technically-sound striking skills and underrated wrestling.
Save for a late knee bar from Griffin, Edgar seemed to be ahead of the score cards, though in the end, the two 155-pound dynamos solidified themselves as would-be contenders in the division with their fan-friendly performance.
UFC on FOX 1: Benson Henderson vs. Clay Guida
Benson Henderson (left) eating a right from Clay Guida/ photo cred: Laron Zaugg for MMAWeekly.com
It's a shame that the UFC couldn't make any room for Guida and Benson Henderson on their televised portion of their first endeavor on FOX.
In a No. 1-contender battle, lightweight dynamos in Guida and Henderson brought the action for every second of their monumental battle.
Though the size discrepancy was evident, the Greg Jackson product in Guida remained unrelenting, wading into the fray with looping hooks. The rock 'em-sock 'em battle saw both men staggered on several occasions, though the wrestling skills and powerful clinch work from Henderson was enough to secure the decision win in this "Fight of the Night" battle.
UFN 6: Karo Parisyan vs. Diego Sanchez
Karo Parisyan/ photo cred: Scott Petersen for MMAWeekly.com
Back when Karo Parisyan was coveted as one of the best fighters in the welterweight class, he was just one win away from finally earning his shot at UFC gold.
Unfortunately for him, the Armenian was matched up against the rising Diego Sanchez. The onward onslaught of Sanchez began to wilt "The Heat" as the fight wore on, though the touted Judo player managed a beautiful throw in the later stages of the fight, tossing Sanchez upside his head.
Punches, kicks and knees were thrown, with one knee connecting on Parisyan's grill, sending his tooth flying outside the cage.
Sanchez did enough to earn the decision win in what is regarded as one of the best welterweight fights to ever grace the Octagon.
UFC 49: Karo Parisyan vs. Nick Diaz
Nick Diaz/ photo cred: MMAWeekly.com
Imagine Nick Diaz now, but make him less technical and a lot more crazy.
That's exactly what we saw when the Stockton fighter stepped into the cage with the aforementioned Parisyan at UFC 49.
The two budding contenders went tit-for-tat in a three-round battle, with Diaz using his superior boxing skills to bludgeon the face of Parisyan, while the Judo stylist used his impressive throws and takedowns in order to bring the Cesar Gracie fighter to the mat, time and time again.
In the end, judges favored the positional superiority of Parisyan and awarded him the contentious split-decision win, though everyone became aware of the skills and promise of both men soon after.
UFC 45: Robbie Lawler vs. Chris Lytle
Robbie Lawler/ photo cred: Jeff Cain for MMAWeekly.com
Early on in his career, Robbie Lawler was a man who showed a lot of promise, thanks to his heavy hands and amateur background as a wrestler.
But what endeared him most to the fans was his willingness to throw himself into the fray in order to elicit roars from the attending crowd.
His young-minded approach was shared by the slightly matured Chris Lytle, and when these two finally met at UFC 45, the duo produced fireworks.
Both men traded blow-for-blow, though the chin and superior knockout power of Lawler proved evident as the fight wore on, as the Miletich product dropped Lytle to the canvas on several occasions.
In the end, both men were adorned with admiration for their exciting 15-minute battle, though the "Ruthless" one in Lawler had done enough to earn the decision win.
UFC 78: Chris Lytle vs. Thiago Alves
Thiago Alves/ photo cred: MMAWeekly.com
On his way towards his shot at the welterweight title, Thiago Alves was pitted against tested veteran Chris Lytle at UFC 78.
At the time, it was almost regarded as a right of passage to fight someone of Lytle's stature, though the part-time firefighter made it clear that he is anything but a push over.
The former professional boxer rocked Alves early, though the Brazilian answered back with crippling leg kicks and heavy hooks of his own.
The back-and-forth affair had already solidified itself as the evening's "Fight of the Night" after two rounds of action, though a cut suffered by Lytle stopped the bout before it could reach the final bell, much to the dismay of the fans.
UFC 141: Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone
Nate Diaz (left) lunging at Donald Cerrone/ photo cred: Scott Petersen for MMAWeekly.com
This past December, rising contender Donald Cerrone was likely one win away from his shot at lightweight gold, though The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 winner Nate Diaz stood in his way.
Cerrone was the favorite heading into the bout, though Diaz spoiled the party of the "Cowboy," showing his superior striking skills by lunging at Cerrone with long jabs and straights, battering and bruising his face early on in the first round.
The relentless pressure of the Californian continued, though Cerrone battled back in the waning moments of the fight as he connected on several low kicks. The telling blows were not enough, however, as Diaz rightfully earned the decision win in this "Fight of the Night" battle.
UFC 47: Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
Nick Diaz/ photo cred: Sherdog.com
At the time, many people believed that Nick Diaz was biting off more than he could chew in wanting to take on the hard-hitting Robbie Lawler.
Diaz quickly proved his detractors wrong by rocking the striking ace early, though Lawler turned up the tempo in the first round, lunging at Diaz with heavy-hooks, flying knees and punches in bunches.
It seemed like a matter of time before Lawler would land that telling blow, however, and early on in the second round Diaz landed a counter right hook which landed flush. Lawler went face first into the canvas, allowing Diaz to record the upset knockout victory over the knockout artist.
UFC on Versus 3: Diego Sanchez vs. Martin Kampmann
Martin Kampmann (left) with Diego Sanchez post-fight/ photo cred: Ken Pishna for MMAWeekly.com
In a welterweight affair, Diego Sanchez was looking to build upon a "Fight of the Night" performance against Paulo Thiago when he took on former contender Martin Kampmann, as the two served as the main event for the UFC's third endeavor on Versus.
The fight took on a life of its own, as Kampmann battered the face of Sanchez early with some sharp counters and hard strikes.
Over the course of the bout, Sanchez's face began to show the brunt of the blows, creating several deep lacerations, though "The Dream" continued to plod forward.
Sanchez finally managed to cinch a takedown in the waning moments of the fight, and visibly staggered "The Hitman" with some heavy hooks up against the fence.
In the end, Sanchez earned the close decision win, though both were granted "Fight of the Night" for their memorable performance.
UFC on Versus 4: Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo
After Nate Marquardt failed to gain medical clearance for his main-event tilt against Rick Story, a heavyweight affair pitting Cheick Kongo against Pat Barry took headlining duties.
Early on, the action between Kongo and Barry was slow and methodical—all that went out the window when the K-1 veteran in Barry dropped the Frenchman with a hard right hook.
Kongo made every attempt to get back to his feet, though Barry continued to attack the Wolfslair fighter with a bevvy of strikes, dropping him once again before he made his way back up.
Kongo backpedaled against the cage, stood his ground and connected on a hard right uppercut on an overzealous Barry, leveling the heavy-hitter instantly from the blow.
The victory earned Kongo both "Knockout of the Night" and 2011's "Comeback of the Year" at the World MMA awards.
UFC 101: Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin
Anderson Silva (left) squaring off with Forrest Griffin/ photo cred: Dave Mandel for Sherdog.com
After turning in a lackluster performance against Thales Leites in his previous outing, Anderson Silva was matched up against the recently dethroned UFC light heavyweight champion, Forrest Griffin.
If there was any fighter who would make Silva fight at his A-game, it would be the always-tough Griffin, who is well revered for pushing the pace on his opponents.
After measuring his opponent for the first few minutes, Silva quickly waded in and dropped Griffin with a looping right hook. Once Griffin hit the deck, the fight was already decided.
"The Spider" continued to stalk Griffin before he dropped him again with another right hand, adding insult to injury by extending his hand to help him back to his feet.
Griffin again waded forward, though a retreating Silva sent Griffin to the canvas once again with a short jab, sealing the "Knockout of the Night" finish in the process.
UFC 121: Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago
Diego Sanchez (top) pounding away on Paulo Thiago/ photo cred: Scott Petersen for MMAWeekly.com
After dropping two-consecutive bouts inside the Octagon, Diego Sanchez was in desperate need of a win. In his way was former contender Paulo Thiago, a heavy-hitting Brazilian who wielded black belt jiu-jitsu skills.
A heavy underdog heading into the bout, Sanchez had his back up against the wall and could very well be handed his walking papers from the organization with another lackluster performance.
Sanchez was rocked and dropped early from Thiago, though stormed back in the later rounds thanks to his superior pace and conditioning. Thiago began to visibly tire as the fight wore on, which inhibited Sanchez to go all out, taking down and mounting his foe on several occasions, pounding away with hard punches from up top.
The impressive performance earned both men "Fight of the Night" honors, though Sanchez was the only man to leave the Octagon with a win after three rounds of action.
UFC 116: Chris Leben vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama
Yoshihiro Akiyama (left) squaring off with Chris Leben/ photo cred: MMAJunkie.com
Just a few weeks removed from his victory over Aaron Simpson, Chris Leben was called to duty once again after the legendary Wanderlei Silva bowed out due to injury.
Leben stepped in for "The Axe Murderer," taking on veteran Yoshihiro Akiyama, who at the time was regarded as one of the best in the middleweight division.
Akiyama showed his Judo prowess early, taking down "The Crippler" on several occasions. On the feet, the Japanese fighter exploited Leben with crushing hooks early, though the Zombie-like fighter continued to plod forward and walked through every blow.
Leben began to wear on Akiyama, and once the accomplished grappler was visibly fatigued, Leben took the opportunity to cinch up a late-rally triangle choke, submitting him in the third and final round.
UFC 139: Wanderlei Silva vs. Cung Le
Wanderlei Silva (left) squaring off with Cung Le/ photo cred: Scott Petersen for MMAWeekly.com
Likely on the verge of retirement with another loss pending, Wanderlei Silva knew that he was in a do-or-die situation when he welcomed former Strikeforce champion Cung Le into the UFC.
The Sanshou specialist showed his kickboxing superiority early, dropping Silva with a spinning backfist. The former Pride champion continued to trudge on, eating kicks to the body throughout.
After surviving the first round, Silva upped the temp in the second round by stalking Le early, and Le had no answer for the pressure of the Brazilian.
Silva rocked and dropped Le with a barrage of strikes against the cage, devastating Le with knees in the clinch and sealing the TKO finish with ground-and-pound blows, earning "Fight of the Night" for his come-from-behind performance which likely saved his career.