I don’t think I’m alone in saying that as an MMA fan, I can be a little moody sometimes. The MMA news cycle tends to be just that: cyclical. Bad news tends to come in heaps, and when it does it’s hard to not get cynical and jaded. But here’s my latest attempt to inject some positivity into both my writings and the scene at large: today I’ll be focusing on the 10 career-defining moments of my ten favorite fighters.
But first, a quick word: this is pure fan service, and I’m the fan. If you don’t agree with my choices, feel free to submit your own. But I’m not taking some grand stand with this list: this is just the 10 moments I’ll never forget in the careers of my favorite fighters. These are the moments that when I think back about them, not only do I think that this moment defines the fighter, I can’t help but recall the crazy emotions that ran through my head, some of which I physically acted out, and all of which I’ll share here openly and honestly. I should probably consider at least some of them embarrassing, but hey, it comes with the territory of being a true fan of a sport I love. So let’s begin.
The first entry on this list actually isn’t a fight moment at all. Rather, this occurred outside of the ring/cage at a fan expo. This video perfectly exemplifies the amazing duality of Wanderlei Silva: for over a decade “The Axe Murderer” has been regarded as one of the most intimidating, “crap your pants scary” fighters on the planet.
Outside of the ring or cage, however, he is one of the most gentle, honest, appreciative and humble fighters I have ever seen.
In this video, a member of the expo tells Wanderlei Silva that his line has gotten too long, and that he can no longer both take pictures and sign autographs with fans. He is told that if fans want to take pictures, they have to take them while they’re in line.
Silva immediately and loudly objects, and demands that his fans be allowed to take pictures with him. The best moment of the video occurs at the end, when the exasperated expo organizer caves and tells Wanderlei “you do whatever you want”… and Silva immediately responds by saying “OK” and then taking a picture with a fan.
That, my friends, is Wanderlei Silva. That’s why he’s always been and will always be one of my favorite fighters, and that’s why I always remember this moment when asked to define “The Axe Murderer."
I’m going to pull a hipster moment on you guys: I was a fan of Lyoto Machida before it was cool to be a fan of Lyoto Machida. Back when the term “running” was mostly accepted as an accurate description of Machida’s fighting style, I was saying how Machida had all the tools to be a champion one day.
When Machida KTFO’d Rashad Evans, it was one of the most vindicating moments I had ever experienced as an MMA fan. That moment made it all worth it, and although our time in the sun proved to be all-too-brief, warmly ringing in “The Machida Era” as a Lyoto Machida super-fan remains my defining memory of “The Dragon."
Usually when one of my favorite fighters scores an incredible victory, I shout out random things or pump my fists in the air or just generally do something that looks very foolish but feels very good in the moment.
For Alistair Overeem, all I did was smirk.
It happened after Overeem completely obliterated Brock Lesnar. It was the kind of smirk that said “Well, what did you expect?” It was the kind of smirk that showed how I knew that “The Reem” had arrived in the UFC and was about to take the promotion by storm.
Despite the recent scandals surrounding Overeem that have many questioning the validity of this win, I still remember that day when Overeem lived up to, and even surpassed, his hype. And I definitely remember the nonchalant smirk that spread across my face as most of my other friends sat in stunned silence.
Like I said before, I tend to act out when one of my favorite fighters win. This is the first (but not the last) of those examples. To this day, I believe that Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley was one of the best one-round fights in MMA history.
The back-and-forth was tremendous, Diaz rallying under pressure was tremendous, and after Diaz managed to rock Daley and give him the first true knockout loss of his career, I was jumping for joy and may have uttered the phrase “209 MOTHER****ERS!” to no one in particular and almost as loud as I could.
The reason this moment stands out to me so clearly is not just because it was one of the greatest knockouts of all time, but because my reaction was right out of some stock film of people being shown something amazing and saying “ooh” and “aah”.
When Dan Henderson landed his epic hook square on the jaw of Michael Bisping, my jaw hit the floor and all I could say was, “OOH!”
When he followed that up with an incredible diving shot that further knocked Bisping into unconsciousness, my jaw dropped even more and I let out a shocked “AAH!”
In a career filled with unforgettable moments, Dan Henderson’s total destruction of Michael Bisping still stands the test of time and stands out as my favorite moment from one of my favorite fighters.
I had the privilege of watching Anthony Pettis fight Benson Henderson with my best friend, and the reaction we both had to the famous “Showtime Kick” is something I’ll probably never forget.
When it happened, I leaned back in my chair in shock, as if my brain could not accept the awesomeness it had just seen and was in the beginning stages of making my body move away in fear. I ended up leaning so far back in my chair that I heard a noticeable crack. Meanwhile, my friend was shouting, “What he hell was that?!” at the top of his lungs.
Since it was both one of the fondest memories I have of Anthony Pettis and one of the fondest memories I have of watching fights with friends, this “Showtime Kick” continues to define Anthony Pettis in my eyes.
I’ve always been a fan of Forrest Griffin. I love a good underdog story, and Griffin’s has been one of the best underdog stories in the history of MMA.
Here’s a little back-story for you: back when PRIDE FC was the be-all and end-all, I was a staunch UFC fan and always defended the UFC’s fighters when the inevitable “PRIDE vs. UFC” debate started and the legions of PRIDE fans would claim how anyone from PRIDE could immediately come into the UFC and run roughshod over the competition.
At least in my opinion, this debate reached its ultimate conclusion when Mauricio Rua fought Forrest Griffin.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, oh no. “Shogun” was supposed to make quick work of Griffin before heading straight into a title shot. Griffin was a sacrificial lamb being tossed to a wolf that would devour him quickly and remorselessly.
Instead, Griffin would choke out Rua after three rounds of breaking him down. Immediately after the choke, Griffin would run across the ring with a big, dumb smile on his face with his hands held wide.
I did the same thing. I’m not kidding: I had the same dumb smile as I ran up and down my house with my hands in the air. Like in the case of Lyoto Machida, it was one of the most vindicating moments I have ever experienced as an MMA fan. And it’s something I’ll never, ever forget.
To just pick one moment out of Fedor Emelianenko’s career almost feels like a disservice to the man, but this is my moment. As both a Fedor fan and an Arlovski fan, I was eagerly anticipating this match-up. Arlovski was right in the middle of a big comeback back then, remember.
Maybe I bought into the hype a little too much, but back in the day I thought that Andrei Arlovski was one of the last big challenges remaining for Fedor Emelianenko.
Emelianenko’s KO of Arlovski was one of the most cringe-inducing knockouts I’ve ever seen. To put things into perspective: I may not be the infamous “Just Bleed” guy, but I love when a fight ends epically and most of the time (at least in the heat of the moment) I don’t really mind if an arm gets broken or a guy gets pummeled or somebody bleeds like a faucet so long as I get my can’t-miss moment.
I say all that to say this: this was one of only a handful of times when I immediately wondered about the safety of the fighter that just got knocked out instead of enjoying the fact that I had just seen an epic knockout.
And believe me, I still remember how I felt: shaking my head in awe at Fedor’s talent while hoping that Arlovski wasn’t as dead as he looked.
You can hate on this all you want, but here it is: the second-strongest reaction I have ever had to the outcome of an MMA fight. I’ve been a fan of Brock Lesnar since the first time I saw him in the WWE, back when I was a hardcore wrestling fan. As a quick tangent to help better paint a picture of how big of a fan of pro wrestling I used to be, consider this: I used to get paid to review wrestling DVD’s… in the form of more wrestling DVD’s.
Brock Lesnar didn’t bring me into the sport of MMA, but when Brock Lesnar entered the sport of MMA he immediately became one of the fighters I absolutely had to pay attention to. Throughout all the ups and downs, I remained a hardcore Lesnar fan.
When Lesnar returned from his long layoff due to injury and was nearly pounded into jelly by Shane Carwin, I felt incredibly dejected. I had no hope that Lesnar would somehow rally. In my mind, how could he? Carwin dominated Lesnar like no one had ever dominated Lesnar before, and I felt sure that the end was near heading into the second round.
Then Lesnar snuck in a takedown, turned it into a submission attempt, and actually submitted Shane Carwin.
My memory of this moment is as crystal-clear as anything: I remember hope coming back into my head as Lesnar took Carwin down. I remember how shocked I was when Lesnar achieved mount so easily. I remember how bewildered I was at the notion of Brock Lesnar, Brock freaking Lesnar, submitting somebody. I remember my jaw hitting the floor as Shane Carwin’s head started turning purple.
And I definitely remember my reaction when Carwin tapped out: I literally jumped out of my chair, started cheering, and started tossing things around my room. I didn’t know what else to do.
Don’t take this the wrong way: it’s not like I was breaking things or putting holes in my walls or attempting to break the sound barrier every time I tossed something. But I distinctly remember a stack of papers I sent flying because… well, because it felt like the right thing to do at the time. My remote, mouse, and keyboard may have been thrown in the air and left to plummet as well. It was one of those moments where I literally couldn’t contain myself.
In hindsight, I know how crazy this makes me sound, and I know that it’s probably not something I should share with anybody if I want them to take me seriously. But this is my love for the sport: it makes me do some pretty crazy things. This was definitely me at my craziest, but the number-one spot has got to go to…
If there was ever an occasion where the phrase “loud enough to wake the dead” could describe me, it would be my reaction when Anderson Silva submitted Chael Sonnen in the fifth and final round of their fight.
Many people rightfully call it one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport, but to me, this was the greatest comeback I had ever seen.
I don’t really think anything I write down here could do justice to what I felt at that moment. This was my favorite fighter ever. Anderson Silva is one of the reasons I got into the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The first piece of MMA memorabilia I ever bought in my entire life was an Anderson Silva shirt.
To put it plainly: before I was anything in MMA, before I knew anything about MMA, I was an Anderson Silva fan.
So when Silva pulled off that miracle against Sonnen, I did what I felt was right to do: I ran up and down my house screaming “YES!” to the point where I nearly lost my voice and had a sore throat for almost a week.
It was the most amazing moment I’ve ever experienced as an MMA fan, and above all else, this is the moment I point to and try to describe when anybody, whether they be a newbie or a nay-sayer or anything, asks me why I love this sport so much.
And that’s it! Those are the moments I’ll never forget. Feel free to leave your own, because regardless of how embarrassing they might be, I think I’ve got you beat. But who knows? And remember: despite all the crap that constantly tries to bring this sport down, Mixed Martial Arts is amazing. Never forget that, and never forget that as fans, we owe it to ourselves to remember the good times any time a scandal or story threatens to bring us down.