The 10 Best Pay Per View Cards in UFC History
As you have probably noticed by now, we at Bleacher Report love to do power rankings. You love the UFC and its usually-solid Pay Per View cards. So how about we bring those interests together?
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to The UFC's 10 Best Pay Per View Cards. Get ready for a deep look into some of the most stacked events and discussion of some of the promotion's best fights.
While naturally, pruning about 140 different events down to 10 is a difficult task, these events had the best blends of historical relevance, big-name fighters and just plain awesome fights. If your favorite card isn't on the list then, well, suck it up.
UFC 1 (November 12, 1993)
While it may feel like a little bit of a cop-out to have the UFC's first PPV event be the first one on this list, UFC 1 was the best of the old-school, tournament-style events that the promotion was built upon.
The fights were brief, but entertaining. The fighters were a cartoonish mixture of sumo wrestlers, welterweights and everything in between. The event itself was devoid of the rigged brackets, random injuries, frustrating draws and non-competitive fights that marred most of the tournaments, but primarily UFC 3, 7 and 11.
As you probably know, the event largely boiled down to Royce Gracie choking out opponent after opponent after opponent to become the first UFC star, and setting up his entire family to become the hottest commodities in MMA for a long while. It was a solid event with obvious historical ramifications.
UFC 31 (May 4, 2001)
The second event held by the UFC after the Zuffa purchase was one of the best ever. It was also a historically important card, as it was the first ever to use the long-running 155, 170, 185, 205 and 206-265 weight class system.
The fights themselves were very solid. Off the actual PPV card was the promotional debut of the legendary BJ Penn, who would go on to become the only fighter to hold both the welterweight and lightweight belts.
The actual main card featured two titles on the line, with a heavyweight championship bout between Randy Couture and Pedro Rizzo, and a welterweight championship fight between Pat Miletich and Carlos Newton. Both title fights would be excellent individually, with a back-and-forth fight between Couture and Rizzo and a crazy submission victory for Newton, who made Miletich tap with a bully-at-recess-style headlock.
The other fights on the card were no slouches, either. Outside a fight between Ricardo Almeida and Matt Lindland that ended in a disqualification, there were knockouts aplenty.
Semmy Schilt showed his top-notch kickboxing skills, as he landed a pinpoint-accurate barrage of strikes on Pete Williams that ended with him crumbling to the mat. Shonie Carter had the highlight of his career, where he floored Matt Serra with a spinning backfist. Finally, Chuck Liddell ended up having his first ever knockout victory in the UFC.
This was, from start to finish, a downright huge night of fights.
UFC 34 (November 2, 2001)
This was one of the all-time biggest and best UFC events, and it followed one of the UFC's worst cards ever. It is downright ridiculous how much talent there was on this card.
As with many of the events on this list, the centerpiece of the night was two championship bouts, in this case Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo and Carlos Newton vs. Matt Hughes. In addition to that group, it included future champions BJ Penn, Ricco Rodriguez, Evan Tanner, Frank Mir and Josh Barnett. That is a lot of talent.
Only one fight on the entire card went to decision (a preliminary card match between Matt Lindland and Phil Baroni).
Josh Barnett made Bobby Hoffman submit to his merciless ground and pound. BJ Penn scored one of the fastest KOs in UFC history. Ricco Rodriguez became one of the hottest heavyweights of the time with a TKO victory over Pete Williams. Matt Hughes took UFC gold for the first time when he slammed Carlos Newton to the mat in one of the scariest KOs in UFC history. Finally, Randy Couture left no doubt as to who won, when he knocked out Pedro Rizzo after some believed Rizzo had won their first encounter at UFC 31.
It was a huge event that provided career moments for some of the UFC's all-time greatest.
UFC 44 (September 26, 2003)
In this writer's mind, this is one of the cards that marked the point where the UFC started to really feel the benefits of having strong ownership. It was around this time that young, legitimate talent started trickling into the UFC, and stars started getting built up across weight classes.
Everywhere along this card, enduring names pop up. Some like Josh Thomson, Caol Uno, Hermes Franca and Karo Parisyan did not last into today (though they were still, at some point, very relevant fighters). Others persist into the present like Nick Diaz, and Rich Franklin. This card had a huge amount of greatness on it.
Rich Franklin fought Edwin DeWees at light heavyweight in his second UFC bout, and would score a first round knockout to that show the world that he was here to stay. Jorge Rivera, who stayed with the UFC until retiring earlier this year, made his promotional debut against Dave Loiseau. The two biggest Belarusians in MMA would then square off, as Andrei Arlovski punched out Vladimir Matyushenko.
Once again, two title bouts sat atop the card, including Tim Sylvia flooring Gan McGee (then testing positive for steroids), and Randy Couture out-working Tito Ortiz in a light heavyweight title unification bout. In spite of the faux pas with Tim Sylvia, this was still a major accomplishment for the UFC, as it started taking huge steps away from the SEG era and started building its own stars.
UFC 52 (April 16, 2005)
When the first fight on a card has Georges St-Pierre vs. Jason “Mayhem” Miller, it says something about how stacked this card was. UFC 52, easily, is among the best ever.
St-Pierre and Miller would be the only fighters to make the judges earn their checks that night, as Matt Lindland guillotined Travis Lutter and Renato “Babalu” Sobral took Travis Wiuff's arm home with him. Then came the championship bouts.
Matt Hughes rematched Frank Trigg, who landed an accidental nutshot and rocked Hughes with a barrage of punches in the confusion over the referee's refusal to pause the fight. Trigg would slap on a choke that he would hold for two minutes until Hughes broke free, slammed him, grounded and pounded and sunk in his own choke that would get him the win. It remains as one of the greatest comeback victories ever, and it was not even the main event!
That honor belonged to the light heavyweight title fight between Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. The two were easily the most popular fighters in the UFC at that point, after Liddell's brutal beatdown of Tito Ortiz at UFC 47. UFC 52, in fact, came just days after the legendary TUF1 finale. Zuffa needed these two to deliver and Liddell took it upon himself to do so by punching Couture unconscious.
This is the event where the UFC started to become a major sports organization in earnest. To give you an idea of how huge this card was, the buy-rate for UFC 52 was 280,000. UFC 50 was only 40,000. The fighters knew the importance of this occasion and rose to the challenge.
UFC 79 (December 29, 2007)
This card did not really have fights, it had battles. Rich Clementi started making a legitimate claim for a title shot by choking out Melvin Guillard. Lyoto Machida hit the big-time in earnest by beating Rameau Sokoudjou. A heavyweight battle of no-namers between Eddie Sanchez and Soa Palelei ended with an exciting knockout.
Then came the co-main event. Basically, the original “Superfight," Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva. Both were coming off back-to-back losses, but were still almost unanimously regarded as the two best light heavyweights ever. The two had an absolute brawl that lived up to any expectation fans attached to a fight between two legendary fighters known for savage striking.
Then came the main event, a rubber match between the uncontested top two welterweights of all time, Matt Hughes and Georges St-Pierre. The interim welterweight belt was on the line with a shot at Matt Serra in the cards after that.
At UFC 50, Hughes made St-Pierre tap to an armbar and here at UFC 79, St-Pierre would return the favor. The rest is history, and St-Pierre has not been without UFC gold since.
UFC 92 (December 27, 2008)
Year-end cards are always nice. UFC 92 and UFC 79 are probably the best of this ilk.
For some reason, a fight between TUF7 runner-up CB Dollaway and Mike Massenzio made it to the main card over Yushin Okami vs. Dean Lister, but it had an exciting knockout finish, so it wasn't that bad. Cheick Kongo started to look like a legit title contender in the heavyweight division (albeit briefly) by knocking out Mustapha Al-Turk.
Then came the "threematch" between Quinton Jackson and Wanderlei Silva. As you have probably seen, Jackson got his revenge on Wanderlei by punching his head clean off his body.
After that? Well, after that was the interim championship bout between Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. This would end with Mir demolishing the former Pride great to set up for the epic rematch with Brock Lesnar at UFC 100.
The centerpiece of the card? Just a light heavyweight championship fight between Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans. Evans would cement his spot as the top light heavyweight and became the most likely candidate to beat your favorite fighter (which contributed greatly to his unpopular status).
UFC 100 (July 11, 2009)
100 events was a huge achievement for the promotion and to celebrate, the UFC put together the best talent they had available. The fighters put on performances that did justice to the enormity of the occasion.
From top to bottom, UFC 100 had a huge amount of top fighters. The preliminary card featured fast-rising prospects like Jon Jones, Dong Hyun Kim and Jim Miller, in addition to a fight between a Hall of Famer and a future Hall of Famer in Stephan Bonnar vs. Mark Coleman.
The main card featured two championship bouts involving the UFC's two biggest draws in Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir II and Georges St-Pierre vs. Thiago Alves. In addition, there were the TUF8 Coaches' Fight between Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping, the promotional debut of Yoshihiro Akiyama against Alan Belcher and a fight between top-ten welterweight mainstay Jon Fitch and Paulo Thiago, who was coming off a knockout victory over Josh Koscheck.
Each fight was great in its own way, with huge knockouts, shocking finishes and downright brawls. It was one of the most memorable UFC events ever, and remains the biggest event in the promotion's history, garnering 1.6 million buys.
UFC 136 (October 8, 2011)
If you off-the-cuff asked me what the best UFC event in recent years was, I would instantly point to this one. This, perhaps, was the most top-to-bottom stacked card in UFC history, and is among the top two or three events ever.
An exciting bout between at-the-time top ten lightweights? Check. Lauzon slapped a crazy-slick submission on Melvin Guillard in the opening minute of the card.
A sure-to-be-exciting rematch between Leonard Garcia and Nam Phan? Check. The two had an epic back-and-forth brawl that disappointed nobody.
A supposed-to-be top contender fight with Chael Sonnen and Brian Stann? Check. Sonnen dominated Stann and delivered his legendary “Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck” speech.
Then two championship bouts on top of that! Seriously! How crazy is that!?
Jose Aldo vs. Kenny Florian was a strong bout with back-and-forth action between the dominant champion and the savvy veteran. Then, to top everything off was the insane Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard III, which closed the night out with Edgar delivering an absurd, Rocky III-style knockout.
If you are going to buy a DVD to show a friend why MMA is awesome, this is the one to get.
UFC 144 (February 26, 2012)
While some fans don't fully appreciate it, UFC 144 was one of the best events ever. The hype surrounding the card, largely revolving around the UFC's return to Japan after a twelve year hiatus, was just one small part in this. The UFC had a special deluxe-sized, seven-fight card designed to excite. And the fights? Oh, they were nice.
The event kicked off (ha!) with the electrifying Anthony Pettis knockout of Joe Lauzon and the action did not really stop from there. There were exciting brawls in Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski and Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields. There were crazy knockouts in Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo and Tim Boetsch vs. Yushin Okami.
Finally, the event wrapped up with the exciting championship bout between Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar where Bendo would bust-up the UFC's most Jersey-friendly fighter. Also there was Quinton Jackson vs. Ryan Bader but eh...we won't talk about that.
Ultimately, it was a strong, extra-long card with an absolutely amazing atmosphere. A perfect way to wrap up this list.