When you overhear casual fans of the sport talking about the next big PPV, their discussion usually turns to a kind of recap of past fights they have loved, and from there, they quickly begin to talk about significant strikes and brutal finishes.
Be it the fight with Henderson and Bisping or Goodridge and Herrera, they cannot seem to get enough of those highlight-reel moments, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Just like the casual fan, we appreciate those stunning moments where a significant punch, kick, elbow or knee lands because it could be the moment when the tide turns and the fight goes in a different direction.
Thinking back on all the years that the sport has been alive in North America (and abroad as well, make no mistake about that), we have been treated to some serious moments of noteworthy striking, in all forms, shapes and sizes.
So, in tribute to those moments, I present this list of the top 100 kicks, punches, slams, flurries and finishes, with some nasty elbows thrown in.
Of course, this list will always be incomplete, from the moment I publish and into the foreseeable future, because that which is noteworthy is nearly always relative and there have been far more than 100 moments that have seen some excellent striking.
Still, a line needs to be drawn and appreciation numbered, as that is what lists like this are all about. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to account for my choices, and I stand behind them.
In short, if I could make a list for those casual fans that salivate at such considerations, this is what I would give to them in order to pull them fully into the fold. This is the list I would make to sell the sport on the basis of action and intent.
I hope you enjoy discovering it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
Match Up: Mark Kerr vs. Greg “Ranger” Stott
Result: Kerr via KO (knee strike) at 0:17
When: Oct. 17, 1997
Where: UFC 15 (Bay St. Louis, Miss.)
As with any beginning, sometimes the first steps are the clumsiest, and nothing could be more apropos than Greg “Ranger” Stott’s ill-fated entrance into the world of MMA, back at UFC 15.
Given the man's mindset going into the bout, it would have been bad for him no matter who he faced, but as Lady Luck would have it (cruel woman that she is), Stott brought his…unique fighting style into the cage against Mark Kerr.
The beginnings of the bout saw Kerr somewhat confused (and probably fighting twin urges to burst out laughing on one hand while calling Big John over to confirm that yes, this man was of sound mind and this whole thing wasn’t an attempt to revive the old television show “Candid Camera”) as he circled around Stott, who continued to employ a kind of false jab/false foot stomp, done at the exact same time, with Kerr several feet out of danger.
Perhaps it was Kerr’s sense of compassion that made him charge forward and get Stott out of there—because the man was making a fool out of himself—but whatever the reason, Stott defended himself like a man who had never really been in a fight before.
His arms went up in a parody of defense while his head went straight down, kind of like he was trying to channel the spirits of Larry, Moe and Curly. What he got in return was a massive knee that came up like a mountain and kissed him square on the mug, sending him swooning and then flat on his back, out cold.
Kerr didn’t follow up, the fight was stopped, and then the real job began for Kerr as he was asked his opinion as to what happened. Ever the gentleman, Kerr put together nice things to say about Stott, but even then, you could see the question bouncing behind Kerr’s eyes, like a lightning bug lost in a dark cave.
“What the hell was that all about?”
Match Up: Tom “Big Cat” Erikson vs. Kevin “The Monster” Randleman
Result: Erikson via KO (punches)
When: June 15, 1997
Where: Brazil Open ’97 (Brazil)
When two men of similar skills and styles meet in the ring, it is usually going to be the younger man that wins, or the bigger.
In the case of Tom Erikson vs. Kevin Randleman, size carried the day as Erikson was the much larger man; Randleman has pretty much always been a very strong light heavyweight, while Erikson was a large, natural heavyweight.
So once Randleman failed to get the first few takedowns, you could hear the executioner sharpening the axe on the wheel, somewhere behind the curtains.
Randleman proved he had the full courage of his convictions, but when Erikson landed those blows, Randleman went down a little like Frazier, but he just couldn’t get back up.
Match Up: Takanori Gomi vs. Luiz Azeredo I
Result: Gomi via KO/TKO (punches) at 3:46 of Round 1
When: May 22, 2005
Where: Pride Bushido 7 (Tokyo, Japan)
They say that timing is everything, and in the combative sports, that is truer than “they” could ever know.
Timing makes what might look like a rather pedestrian knock out and changes it so it ends up seeming like the most stunning ending in many years, all because it came at the right time, or the time we never expected.
One need look no further than the first bout between Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales, when the latter defeated the former by TKO, against the ropes, minus any real knock down, yet we knew Corrales was desperate and needed a KO to win, so when he pulled it off late, it seemed like the greatest finish in many years.
When Luiz Azeredo and Takanori Gomi slugged it out in their first bout, it looked like Gomi was not only getting the short end of the stick; he was getting it jammed down his throat.
Azeredo was clearly enjoying a sizable advantage in the fabled style vs. style aspect of the bout, beating Gomi in nearly every area they contested. On the feet, Gomi was getting tagged with punches at range, hammered with knees in close and raked with punches in the clinch.
Basically, Azeredo was beating him to the punch and then beating him with the punch, over and over.
And then Gomi reminded us all why men with nitroglycerin in their fists have always got an ace up their sleeve.
Gomi connected with some heavy hooks that put Azeredo down and out, but Gomi was still in the moment and swarmed his fallen opponent and continued to attack, even though Azeredo was clearly out.
It was an ugly moment but a beautiful finish to the fight before it went foul and Gomi got what all his fans were praying for, right in the nick of time.
Match Up: Spencer Fisher vs. Matt Wiman
Result: Spencer Fisher via KO/TKO (flying knee) at 1:43 of Round 2
When: May 27, 2006
Where: UFC 60 (Los Angeles)
This is one of those knees to the forehead that lands with such authority that you have no question the man is done.
When Spencer Fisher threw that knee, the force of his forward motion carried him over and past Matt Wiman, who fell flat on the Octagon floor, out cold. It was one of those blows that can alter a person for a very long time, and thankfully Wiman was fine in the end.
Up until that moment, Wiman had been the very definition of game, but Fisher brought the game ender, and that was that.
Match Up: Johny Hendricks vs. Jon Fitch
Result: Hendricks via KO (punch) at 0:12 of Round 1
When: Dec. 30, 2011
Where: UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem (Las Vegas, Nev.)
There is nothing like fighting a gritty, known-to-be-damn-tough veteran like Jon Fitch and knocking him out cold with a single blow, solidifying all your claims while leaving him blinking into the overhead lighting like he’s waking up from a week-long bender.
When Johny Hendricks knocked Fitch flat in 12 seconds, he was able to jump several rungs on the ladder of credibility, draw the attention of the hoards of fans that love and live for hard finishes, and he also brought back the power of the beard.
Given that he also did the same thing to Martin Kampmann, no one can say it was a fluke. It was a knockout that was incredibly beautiful in its simplicity, and when the fight game is really boiled down to its most basic elements, it really is simple, at least in premise.
When was the last time the welterweight division had a legitimate power puncher whose touch was like the Sandman?
Match Up: Gary Goodridge vs. Oleg Taktarov
Result: Goodridge via KO (punches) at 4:57 of Round 1
When: Oct. 11, 1997
Where: Pride 1 (Tokyo)
Oleg Taktarov had always been a tough customer, perhaps due to his upbringing in the cold of Russia, or maybe he was just born tough as a coffin nail. He’d taken some serious shots from some of the hardest punchers in the game at that point, and weathered nearly all of them.
When he squared off against “Big Daddy” Gary Goodridge, most thought it was only a matter of time before Taktarov got the fight to the ground and ended the night with a submission.
Sadly for Taktarov, Goodridge had no intention of going to the mat quietly, and then Taktarov decided he was in no rush and lingered too long in the wheelhouse of Goodridge.
The result was a knockout that left Taktarov face first on the canvas, out cold. It was a brutal assault that proved no one could afford to sleep on “Big Daddy.”
You might want to turn down the sound on the video, but this is a KO you can enjoy in silence.
Match Up: Genki Sudo vs. Royler Gracie
Result: Sudo via KO (punches) at 3:40 of Round 1
When: May 22, 2004
Where: K-1 MMA ROMANEX (Saitama, Japan)
The Gracie family has been around a very long time, and no one doubts their submission wizardry.
But their striking has always left something to be desired, and when coupled with the fact that the sport has evolved leaps and bounds since the days when Royce was dominating the UFC tournament circuit and anyone with the last name of Gracie was a huge favorite to win any event he was in, you end up seeing men like Royler having their ground game stifled first, and then punished second.
Such was the case when Genki Sudo fought Royler Gracie.
Sudo landed a knee thanks to a front headlock position, then swarmed, knocking Royler out and separating his mouthpiece from his teeth.
Then, he bowed—like a good Buddhist should—and walked away.
Match Up: Gilbert Yvel vs. Gary Goodridge
Result: Yvel via KO (head kick) at 0:28 of Round 1
When: Aug. 27, 2000
Where: Pride 10 (Saitama, Japan)
This was one of those head kicks that was short, sweet and perfectly timed, ending with Gary Goodridge flat on his back, out cold.
In some ways, it was anti-climatic, as it was really the only significant strike, but that fact also makes it impressive. It was thrown from range, like a bullet shot from a gun, and when Goodridge fell, you knew it was over.
We also knew that Gilbert Yvel not only possessed some serious skills for his time, but power as well; Goodridge was no lettuce-chinned pretender as we had seen him take more than a few flush shots from heavy-handed fighters before.
If more fighters were as confident in their striking abilities as Yvel was back in the day, we’d be seeing many more KOs of this kind.
Match Up: Matt Brown vs. Pete Sell
Result: Brown via TKO (punches) at 1:32 of Round 1
When: March 7, 2009
Where: UFC 96 (Columbus, Ohio)
Sometimes great moments of striking—when one fighter is not only prolific with his strikes but also shocking accurate with nearly all of his heaviest shots—are also disturbing to watch.
When Matt Brown began knocking the head of the rugged Pete Sell back and forth, side-to-side, one thought that Sell would clinch, or circle away and step out of that horrible rhythm; it was still early in the fight, after all, and he was a damn tough customer.
But he just couldn’t seem to get away, or maybe it was just that Brown just couldn’t seem to miss. Whatever the case, the beating continued, dramatically and resoundingly.
We’ve all seen some serious beat-downs in MMA, but few have been so succinct and damaging, especially in such a short period of time.
Most fighters would have been finished before the one-minute mark, but Sell wasn’t, so Brown continued the assault, although you could tell he didn’t want to.
This was one of those fights that we were thankful didn’t end in a very bad way, because Sell was seemingly blown out of the water right from the get go, and the rest of the resulting flurry took place all over the Octagon in perhaps what was the longest coup de grace ever.
Match Up: Chris Leben vs. Wanderlei Silva
Result: Leben via KO (punches) at 0:27 of Round 1
When: July 2, 2011
Where: UFC 132 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
We all knew Chris Leben had heavy hands and we all knew that Wanderlei Silva had been in some serious wars in his career, but what we didn’t know is that thanks to both ingredients, Silva would seem slow and unable to avoid all those uppercuts.
Silva started off strong, rocking Leben, but “The Crippler” didn’t fall, and when Silva rushed in, Leben was able to pull Silva’s head down and right into some hard uppercuts.
“The Axe Murderer” fell, Leben swarmed, and the fight was over before it had really begun.
It was hard watching Silva go down like that, but in truth, there is no other way for a fight like this to end, especially when considering the men involved.
Match Up: Maurice Smith vs. Marcus “Conan” Silveira
Result: Smith via TKO (head kick) at 1:36 of Round 3
When: Oct. 18, 1996
Where: Extreme Fighting 3 (Tulsa, Okla.)
This is a bit of a guilty pleasure.
Back in the day, people were watching MMA basically to see the Gracies (or any Brazilian who practiced BJJ) defeat anyone thrown at them. Given as they had done so fairly easily, no one expected anything from Maurice Smith as he entered into the Extreme Fighting cage to face off against heavyweight champion Marcus “Conan” Silveira, save to see him knocked out or choked out.
As Smith walked to the ring with Frank Shamrock, true fans of the sport began to raise their eyebrows just a bit.
Then, Smith went on to not only defend himself against each onslaught “Conan” threw his way, but to do so with a look of utter calm. He was not in the least bit worried, and that made us take note.
Then, after spending much of the night making sure “Conan” was looking low, Smith threw a high kick that sent Silveira stumbling all over the cage. The finish came moments after, but the real work had been done thanks to a boot to the head.
Striking had taken the first step back into serious consideration as a worthy component to combat, and Smith was the first man to win a fight against the “new wave” of Brazilian fighters who, up until that time, had looked close to unbeatable.
Match Up: Frank Shamrock vs. Enson Inoue
Result: Shamrock via DQ at 7:17 of Round 2
When: Nov. 29, 1997
Where: Vale Tudo Japan 1997 (Tokyo)
This was one of those unknown fights that is a true gem, at least in the second frame of the bout.
Frank Shamrock met Enson Inoue to see which of them would earn the right to face Kevin Jackson for the first-ever UFC middleweight title, and while the first round of their bout was more technical and somewhat conservative, the second round saw both men come out blazing, fighting exactly like you would expect of two men who wanted a chance at UFC gold.
It was a very fast-paced and aggressive second round, both standing and on the ground. Inoue has always been an underappreciated fighter, perhaps due to his willingness to fight true monsters of the sport who were bigger than he was. Had he picked a division and stuck to it, especially in the UFC, there is no telling how far he could have gone.
In his fight with Shamrock, he went for broke, as always, and the result was a thrilling one as both men showed why they were clearly two of the best for their time.
And then came the ending, as it must when two men are honestly about the business of drawing the curtain on the show early.
Shamrock, having been well-schooled in the stand-up game by Maurice Smith, was able to find enough room in the shoebox he and Inoue were fighting in, and from there he did the math and came up with the answer: a brutal, high-rising knee that caught Inoue flush on the chin, without the aid of any Thai plum to pull his head down.
Inoue fell like a puppet with his strings cut, and Shamrock followed him down with punches.
Then, Enson’s brother, Eagan Inoue, rushed into the ring and knocked Shamrock aside in order to protect his brother, and thus Shamrock was awarded the victory by the oddest kind of disqualification.
Shamrock has said many times that this was the toughest bout of his career, and what a career it turned out to be. Just 22 days later, Shamrock defeated Kevin Jackson via armbar in just 16 seconds to become the UFC’s first-ever middleweight champion.
Match Up: Dan Henderson vs. Fedor Emelianenko
Result: Henderson via KO (punch)
When: July 30, 2011
Where: Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson (Hoffman Estates, Ill.)
When Dan Henderson knocked out Fedor Emelianenko, it was legitimate. Granted, Fedor recovered quickly, but he was out, face first on the floor.
What is so interesting is the punch that felled him: a single blow—a modified kind of uppercut—that happened during a scramble on the ground, with little to no traditional stance or footing or set up.
Just a powerful blow thrown at an odd angle as both men were trying to rise from a transition on the ground. When watching the bout, it was almost as if Henderson, angled slightly behind Fedor, was trying to sneak the blow in.
It was one of those unique moments in the sport that proves you can never blink.
Match Up: Mike Russow vs. Todd Duffee
Result: Russow via KO (punch) at 2:33 of Round 3
When: May 29, 2010
Where: UFC 114 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
If there is one thing that excites a crowd, it’s a dramatic comeback from seemingly impossible odds. It proves the cautionary adage “Don’t blink or you might miss it!” true and it’s like winning the lottery when it happens, except all the fans get to share the ticket.
When Mike Russow knocked out Todd Duffee, he gave the fans the kind of come-from-behind finish that is like a grand-slam home run in the bottom of the ninth with three balls and two strikes.
For the first two rounds and the first two minutes of the third, Duffee had been in command in every sense of the word, and anytime the two men went at it, Duffee was the clear winner—in nearly every exchange.
Then, when you consider how powerful Duffee had proven to be with his strikes, and the look on Russow’s face every time Duffee landed, you know Russow had to be feeling the pressure along with the pain.
And it all changed with one powerful shot.
The blow itself was very good, but there have been better, more awe-inspiring strikes.
But truth be told, rarely have there been moments when the finish has come so dramatically, or on behalf of such an appealing underdog.
Match Up: Takanori Gomi vs. Ralph Gracie
Result: Gomi via KO (knees) at 0:06 of Round 1
When: May 23, 2004
Where: Pride Bushido 3 (Yokohama, Japan)
Ralph Gracie has always been the most…irritable member of the Gracie family that fought in the early days of MMA as it exploded in America.
He’s had more than his fair share of hot-headed moments, and when you consider his skills and his love of fighting, it’s safe to say he was born into the right family at the right time.
Every time he stepped into the ring or cage, it was with bad intentions. In fact, he seemed to be a Diaz before the real Diaz brothers started fighting.
When he met up with Takanori Gomi, that attitude was clearly still alive and kicking as he failed to touch gloves, just glaring at “The Fireball Kid” as if Gomi had stolen something from him.
Well, if Gomi hadn’t, he was about to.
The bell sounded, both advanced, Gracie shot in for a takedown and ate multiple knees to the noggin until he slumped face-first onto the canvas.
It was short, sweet and devastating: which can be seen at around 2:47 of the video.
Match Up: Wanderlei Silva vs. Mike Van Arsdale
Result: Silva via KO/TKO (punch and soccer kicks) at 4:00 of Round 1
When: Aug. 23, 1998
Where: IVC 6: The Challenge (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
Yes, boys and girls, this was about the time when Wanderlei Silva was set to jump over the chain link fence in Brazil and run rabid over the rest of the MMA world.
Mike Van Arsdale looked to have the kind of style to beat a fighter like Silva, but back in the day, Wanderlei was young, mean, violent and at top physical form, and when it comes down to it, that’s all he needed.
This was violent in every sense of the word. Most violent fighters of today wish they were as violent as this.
It was a story of punches to start the beginning of the end and a soccer kick to the back of the head for the finish.
In short, it was classic “Axe Murderer” in his element: the IVC.
Match Up: Josh Barnett vs. Pedro Rizzo II
Result: Barnett via KO (punch) at 1:44 of Round 2
When: July 19, 2008
Where: Affliction 1 (Anaheim, Calif.)
It’s one of the few truths in the fight game that when one fight ends a specific way, the rematch will not go the same way, especially in favor of the other man.
The first time Josh Barnett scrapped with Pedro Rizzo back in the UFC, he ended up getting knocked out because he was far too willing to play Rizzo’s game.
In the rematch, it looked like the same thing was unfolding, and the same result pending. Rizzo has always been an excellent counter puncher, and Barnett seemed to throw a few strikes with power, but the rest of them were more exploratory in nature, and all the while Rizzo continued to do his own work—establishing a rhythm that was very similar to their first meeting.
And then, out of the blue, Barnett landed with a heavy punch that dropped Rizzo flat on his back, out cold.
It appears that sometimes you really can’t judge a book by its cover.
Match Up: David Terrell vs. Matt Lindland
Result: Terrell via KO (punches) at 0:24 of Round 1
When: Aug. 21, 2004
Where: UFC 49 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
When wrestlers begin to explore the waters in other disciplines of the sport, it can be a great thing or a dangerous thing.
When Matt Lindland began to “polish” the more rudimentary aspects of his striking game with John Hackleman of The Pit, he started talking about wanting to knock people out, as if he had just bought a brand new rifle during turkey season.
Evidently, David Terrell was thinking more or less the same thing, except he had the better eye and the bigger gun.
In short order, Terrell swarmed, looping Liddell-like hooks over the lazy defense of Lindland, and knocked him absolutely flat, out, cold.
Sometimes a little knowledge really is a bad thing.
Match Up: Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Lindland
Result: Lawler via KO (punches) at 0:50 of Round 1
When: Dec. 4, 2010
Where: Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu II (St. Louis, Mo.)
As much as I hate to admit it, if you’ve followed the fight game with any due attention for a few years, you know a bad match up when you hear it.
When I heard that Matt Lindland was going to square off against Robbie Lawler, it just seemed like a match made with an eye toward discovering just how many things could go wrong for the Team Quest member, and when the fight was over, that seemed apt.
Every time Lindland looked to be darting in and out of that danger zone, it seemed as if he was trying to see just how far he could stick his head inside the lion’s mouth before it slammed shut. This isn’t to say Lindland isn’t a good fighter; it is to say he was picking the wrong fight to fight, and the wrong way to go about it.
Two right hands ended the deal: one put Lindland down, only to see him roll over as if he were trying to find the next punch that would finish him…and he did, when a second right hand came crashing down, landing square along his jaw line, knocking him out cold.
I don’t know what was more telling of how this match up was clearly a bad idea: the knockout itself or how Lawler took the time to pull Lindland’s legs out straight in an effort to make sure nothing was twisted from the fall.
Kind of like a man wiping his mouth after an easy meal.
Match Up: Chuck Liddell vs. Renato “Babalu” Sobral
Result: Liddell via KO/TKO (head kick and punches) at 2:55 of Round 1
When: Nov. 22, 2002
Where: UFC 40 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
When Chuck Liddell was in his prime, he was a killer.
Granted, he faltered a few times, but most of the time, he was on point and ready to deliver, and when Renato “Babalu” Sobral decided he could afford to spend some time on the feet with Liddell, it became apparent very quickly that he didn’t have as many coins in his pocket that he thought.
Liddell had him on the defensive, back pedaling, and then landed a left kick to the head that Babalu didn’t expect. He crashed down on the floor and Liddell followed, fists flying.
This is a moment that has been seen on highlight reels for many years, and it still holds up.
Match Up: Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz II
Result: Evans via TKO (knee to the body, punches) at 4:48 of Round 2
When: Aug 6. 2011
Where: UFC 133: Evans vs. Ortiz (Philadelphia)
While the memories of Pride FC can keep many a longtime fan warm in front of the fire that was knees and kicks to the head of a downed opponent, as of late the UFC has seen the other side of the coin turned: knees and kicks to the body of a downed opponent, with scary results.
Even though Tito Ortiz took the fight with Rashad Evans on short notice, he wasn’t getting as thoroughly outclassed as many thought. He was staying in the pockets, and he was throwing with his back against the cage, and landing.
But eventually Rashad Evans shook off the ring rust and found an ideal perch, looming over Ortiz, who was in a downed position with his back against the cage, doing his best to protect himself while looking for any avenue that would allow him to either secure a takedown or get back to his feet.
What he got in return was a brutal knee to the chest by Evans, and that in turn saw Ortiz wilt as if he’d been knifed. The shots that followed may be the official reason the bout was stopped, but the real work was done by that nasty knee.
Match Up: Frank Shamrock vs. Igor Zinoviev
Result: Shamrock via KO (slam) at 0:22 of Round 1
When: March 13, 1998
Where: UFC 16 (New Orleans, La.)
Sometimes shocking endings come from unexpected places, and thus was the case when Frank Shamrock defeated the tough, gritty Igor Zinoviev, via a full body slam in just under 30 seconds.
Shamrock had just claimed the title via a quick submission over Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson, and in his first title defense, nearly everyone thought he was really going to have his hands full with Zinoviev, the former Extreme Fighting champion.
The two circled and then Zinoviev made his move, stepping in with punches. Shamrock saw it coming, ducked under the blows, nearly doing the splits in the process.
With his lead leg well between the legs of Zinoviev, and thus giving Shamrock the real balance to be had between them, Shamrock locked up Zinoviev’s body and lofted him high into the air.
The slam knocked Zinoviev out cold while Shamrock rose and walked around the ring, having never broken a sweat.
This is normally a move associated with fighters who have a great body lock, usually due to double underhooks, but Shamrock surprised us all and pulled it off with utter ease.
It was a startling finish to what everyone had thought would be a long, grueling and bloody fight, and Shamrock was officially the main man in the sport.
Match Up: Wanderlei Silva vs. Kazuyuki Fujita
Result: Silva via TKO (punches and soccer kicks) at 9:21 of Round 1
When: July 1, 2006
Where: Pride Critical Countdown Absolute (Saitama, Japan)
For those of us who love true warriors, we thank god every night before bed for men like Wanderlei Silva.
Sadly, his success against Kazuyuki Fujita in the heavyweight Pride tournament would lull him into a string of KO losses that seem to have been triggered by the then-lethal Mirko Cro-Cop, who would fell Silva in the next round thanks to a brutal head kick and start the dominoes to falling.
But on this night, Silva would not be denied. He was facing one of the toughest men to emerge out of Japan in Fujita, who had been dubbed “Iron Head” due to the brutal shots he had taken while continuing onward.
On this night, he would find himself trying to absorb an ocean of violence that would eventually drown him.
We all know what Silva looks like when he is in full-blown tornado mode: pure violence pouring out of him from every angle, no matter if the fight is standing or on the floor. This is one of the last times we saw just how destructive a force he was, thanks to the rules of Pride.
Silva savaged Fujita; there is really no other term for it. The punches he landed were brutal and the kicks to the head he leveled upon Fujita while the latter was on the floor or struggling to rise were nearly blasphemous.
It was a true portrait of Silva being Silva, alive in his element, much like a great white shark swimming through a pool of blood, nearly satisfied but still never getting enough.
Match Up: Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin
Result: Silva via KO (knee) at 2:59 of Round 1
When: Oct. 14, 2006
Where: UFC 64 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
There are few fighters in the world that can do as much damage as Anderson Silva from the Thai clinch.
As we look back on past fights, when considering Silva’s first fight with Rich Franklin, it is telling how the latter openly said that during his training camp, he thought the Thai clinch would be his “sweet spot.”
Such are the dangers that are ever present within the unassuming figure that is the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the history of the UFC.
This is not one of those situations where two fighters prove they are evenly matched and one of them just gets “caught.” This is one of those rare situations where an excellent fighter is totally and completely taken apart by a once-in-a-lifetime elite monster.
On the night Silva claimed the title, he devoured Rich Franklin first, and it was shocking.
Match Up: Junior dos Santos vs. Gilbert Yvel
Result: dos Santos via TKO (punches) at 2:07 of Round 1
When: Jan. 2, 2010
Where: UFC 108 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
I am not one to talk about karmic justice in regards to the sport of MMA; it is a contest built upon the notion that two men can agree to a set of rules and compete within those guidelines to decide who is the best.
But when it was announced that Gilbert Yvel was going to end up fighting for the UFC, and he would be fighting Junior dos Santos, it did indeed seem “karmic.”
For a long time, Yvel was despised by much of the MMA world, and for good reason. Be it his blatant eye-gouging of Don Frye or his striking of a referee (and then kicking said referee when he was down), Yvel took those notions of rules and broke them anytime he saw fit, simply because he liked to.
Then, he arrived in the UFC, a little shopworn, and got what he deserved.
Perhaps the greatest instance of his long overdue comeuppance was against Junior dos Santos, who leveled Yvel with a beautiful counter left hook, and followed him down with blows aplenty until the ref stopped it.
Perhaps the only thing that could have been more poetic is if the ref would have given Yvel more time to find a map and stagger his way off Queer Street, but by then dos Santos would have probably put him in the hospital, and dos Santos is not as low as Yvel.
Match Up: BJ Penn vs. Din Thomas
Result: Penn via KO (knee and punches) at 2:42 of Round 1
When: June 29, 2001
Where: UFC 32 (East Rutherford, N.J.)
When BJ Penn burst onto the scene, the sport wasn’t so widespread that he was allowed the luxury of working himself up the ladder slowly.
In only his second fight, he was thrown in with the sharks, fighting Din Thomas, who was among the top four lightweights in the world.
In truth, no one except his training partners thought Penn had a chance of winning, until he brought his knee up and cranked the jaw of Thomas violently to the right, putting him on his back.
Penn followed and the end came via punches, but it was that silky smooth, effortless knee that did 99 percent of the work.
Match Up: Carlos Condit vs. Dan Hardy
Result: Condit via KO (punch) at 4:27 of Round 1
When: Oct. 16, 2010
Where: UFC 120 (London)
As Carlos Condit squared off against Dan Hardy in the brash Brit’s own backyard, there were more than a few people thinking that Hardy just might have the power and the game to put Condit away.
Unlike many of Hardy’s past opponents, Condit is primarily a stand-up fighter, and this looked like it just might play out in favor of Hardy and his heavy hands.
One counter left hook changed all of those notions as Condit blasted Hardy off his feet and flat on his back. The rest of the finish was merely flourish because Hardy was still separated from his senses, which is probably for the best when you consider he might have had to witness Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes star Robert Downey Jr. standing up and cheering his defeat.
At least one of his more popular countrymen, Guy Ritchie, seemed to commiserate with him in silence.
Match Up: BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes III
Result: Penn via KO (punches) at 0:21 of Round 1
When: Nov. 20, 2010
Where: UFC 123 (Auburn Hills, Mich.)
Not much can or really needs to be said about such a fast knockout, aside from the fact that it came in a trilogy between two fighters who started hating each other in the beginning and ended up becoming good friends at the end.
Perhaps it is ironic that the most decisive finish came at the end, shortly after both men were smiling and embracing at the weigh-ins the day before.
You would have thought it would have been more fittingly placed during a time when both Matt Hughes and BJ Penn disliked each other so strongly they could barely stomach being in the same room for media obligations.
But the end came fast at UFC 123, with Hughes seeming to start cold, only to get run down by a brutal overhand right by Penn that dropped him, out cold.
As shocking as such a finish was between friends, perhaps there is no other way it could have gone down.
Match Up: Pedro Rizzo vs. Josh Barnett
Result: Rizzo via KO (punch) at 4:21 of Round 2
When: Feb. 23, 2001
Where: UFC 30 (Atlantic City, N.J.)
While both Pedro Rizzo and Josh Barnett crawl ever so slowly toward retirement, we sometimes forget just how prominent they were near the top of the heavyweight division during their day.
The first time they fought, at UFC 30, it was to get a crack at reigning heavyweight champion, Randy Couture, back when Zuffa first purchased the company.
The fight itself was very good, but it looked as if Barnett was going to play Rizzo’s game in a display of faux bravado. Yet there he was, not only avoiding taking any serious damage, but looking comfortable on his feet in those striking exchanges.
But somewhere along the way, Barnett started making small mistakes that Rizzo began to notice, and the Brazilian was more than happy to allow it to continue.
Eventually, Barnett became entangled in a striking exchange and Rizzo clipped him with a shot that caught him on the way out, sending him backward in a daze.
Rizzo stepped forward calmly and blasted Barnett with a single straight shot that put “The Baby Faced Assassin” flat on his back against the cage, looking like a man in his sickbed.
Back in the day, when Rizzo closed the show, he did it with precision and poise, and it was something to see.
Match Up: Eugene Jackson vs. Royce Alger
Result: Jackson via KO (punch) at 1:17 of Round 2
When: July 16, 1999
Where: UFC 21 (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
There is something climatic about a KO strike that comes when you expect it, especially when one fighter cannot seem to defend himself anymore.
Such was the case when Eugene Jackson leveled Royce Alger in their bout at UFC 21 all those years ago.
Alger had been taking it to Jackson in an exciting fight, but in the process it was evident that he only had one game: takedowns and ground-and-pound.
Outside of that realm, Alger was a walking target, exhausting himself with every effort he put out, holding nothing back in reserve with each attack.
When the end finally came, Alger was basically moving forward like a zombie with no head movement or pretense for defense. His face was there, hovering in range like a balloon, and when Jackson finally popped it, the blow was casual in the delivery but mighty with horsepower.
Alger fell like a man who’d been slammed in the face with a sledgehammer, and none of us were surprised.
Match Up: Yahir Reyes vs. Estevan Payan
Result: Reyes via KO (spinning back fist) at 1:56 of Round 2
When: May 8, 2009
Where: Bellator 6 (Robstown, Texas)
They say timing is everything, and when Yahir Reyes knocked out Estevan Payan with a spinning backfist, “they” couldn’t have known how right they were.
Up until that moment, it seemed as if Reyes didn’t want any part of a stand-up fight with Payan, and then he uncorks that shot that landed so perfectly that Payan ended up being spun by the force of the blow, landing face-first on the mat.
Sometimes words are needless. Watch the video instead.
Match Up: Pablo Garza vs. Fredson Paixao
Result: Garza via KO (flying knee) at 0:51 of Round 1
When: Dec. 4, 2010
Where: The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale (Las Vegas, Nev.)
I have always disliked the saying about the sum of a man being the equivalent of his lesser parts, but in the case of Fredson Paixao, it seemed to be utterly correct, at least when seeing him square off against Pablo Garza.
Paixao looked tiny, almost elf-like compared to Garza, who towered over him like Godzilla. There was no way Paixao was going to enjoy any kind of success at range, since he was always going to be out of range unless he was climbing up Garza’s legs just to get close enough to punch him in the face.
When he tried to get in close, he ate a mean flying knee, and that was that.
This is one of those times when size in a weight division really does matter, but I still hate that damn saying.
Match Up: Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim
Result: Condit via KO/TKO (flying knee and punches) at 2:58 of Round 1
When: July 2, 2011
Where: UFC 132: Cruz vs. Faber II (Las Vegas, Nev.)
There are very few fighters in the game with the kind of high finishing percentage that Carlos Condit possesses, and in his fight with Dong Hyun Kim, we are reminded why.
Condit has a knack for seeing windows of opportunity almost before they come into existence, and then he explodes like a bullet on the rail.
The flying knee that he hit Kim with was brutal and fast, and from there, the finish was nothing more than brushing the crumbs off the table.
This was the kind of display that all trainers dream their fighters provide for them.
Match Up: Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson III
Result: Jackson via KO (punch) at 3:21 of Round 1
When: Dec. 27, 2008
Where: UFC 92 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
The first two times Wanderlei Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson met, Jackson was favored to win each time, only to get savagely mauled and stopped by Silva each time, in highlight-reel fashion.
For their third meeting, the roles were reversed: Silva was favored to win, and this time it was Jackson who scored the highlight-reel finish, via a counter left hook that starched Silva outright, leaving him to fall unconscious through the air.
It was a brilliant counter left, on par with the shot Oscar De La Hoya used to drop Ike Quartey in the final round of their thrilling bout.
It’s one of the few times Jackson actually stuck by a technique from start to finish, and the result was all he wanted, and more.
Match Up: Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic vs. Aleksander Emelianenko
Result: Filipovic via TKO (head kick and punches) at 2:09 of Round 1
When: Aug. 15, 2004
Where: Pride Final Conflict 2004 (Saitama, Japan)
During his time in Pride, Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic was perhaps one of the best heavyweights in the world, second only to Fedor Emelianenko. Some say that it was the elder Nogueira brother that takes the honors for being No. 2, but in the end, no one doubts that Cro-Cop was one scary man.
In his fight with Fedor’s brother, Aleksander Emelianenko. Cro-Cop delivered one of his stunning highlight-reel knockouts, via his trademark left high kick to the head.
Cro-Cop was one of the few fighters in the sport that could use his kicks over and over again, and most just couldn’t find a way to anticipate or stop them. This is a prime example of Cro-Cop at his best.
Match Up: Dan Henderson vs. Wanderlei Silva II
Result: Henderson via KO (punch) at 2:08 of Round 3
When: Feb. 24, 2007
Where: Pride 33 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
The first time these two legends met, Wanderlei Silva won a decision and for most of those who watched, it seemed like Dan Henderson had simply run into a man who was too much of a beast to be contained.
In the rematch, Henderson was a different fighter. He had grown confident with age, and he was fighting with the kind of fire and aggression that only a person like Wanderlei Silva could appreciate.
They fought hard for the first two rounds, and then Henderson found himself one beat ahead of the music, and Silva rushing to jump back in step, got caught with a brutal shot from Henderson and fell flat on his back, out cold.
This was one crushing shot, plain and simple.
Match Up: Chuck Liddell vs. Guy Mezger
Result: Liddell via KO (punch) at 0:21 of Round 2
When: May 27, 2001
Where: Pride 14 (Kanagawa, Japan)
This was one of those fights that saw action on both sides in a give-and-take bout that was both technical and desperate in equal measures.
Mezger was the underdog, but he fought like he didn’t know the odds, and that saw him enjoy much more success than most thought he would, even dropping Liddell with a shot.
But Liddell kept on pressing forward, happy to eat a shot in order to land one of his own, and when he got Mezger against the ropes early in Round 2, he unloaded a pulverizing hook that dropped Mezger like he’d been simply been turned off.
Mezger just collapsed, one leg bent under him, and everyone watching knew that it was over.
Match Up: Paul Daley vs. Scott Smith
Result: Daley via KO (punch) at 2:09 of Round 1
When: Dec. 4, 2010
Where: Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu II (St. Louis, Mo.)
There is a saying in the fight game that no fighter ever really wins a fight while he’s backing up. In the case of Paul Daley vs. Scott Smith, this is perfectly correct.
It had been a spirited bit of warfare for the first two minutes of the bout, but Smith chose the wrong time to backpedal, as Daley absolutely leveled him with a left hook that landed so flush it seemed to fall from the very sky.
Smith fell face-first to the canvas, out colder than a medical cadaver, and that was all she wrote.
Match Up: Johnny Hendricks vs. Martin Kampmann
Result: Hendricks via KO (punch) at 0:46 of Round 1
When: Nov. 17, 2012
Where: UFC 154 (Montreal, Canada)
One can only assume that Johnny Hendricks is putting in a lot of time training, because while he’s in the cage, the nights are very short and seemingly easy for the bearded Southern gentleman with hands of stone.
In his contest with the rugged, come-from-behind blood-and-guts warrior Martin Kampmann, Hendricks simply planted one of those anvils at the ends of his arms squarely in the face of Kampmann and that was it, folks. Please tip your waiter or waitress and be safe driving home.
Such was the force of the blow that Kampmann wasn’t just knocked down, it seemed like he was knocked clear across the ring and into the next state. Yes, that is clearly hyperbole, but when you watch the fight a few times, Kampmann did do some traveling.
What a shot.
Match Up: Cung Le vs. Rich Franklin
Result: Le via KO (punch) at 2:17 of Rd 1
When: Nov. 10, 2012
Where: UFC: Macao (Macao, China)
It really says something for a fighter when he can, with a single well placed blow, render another opponent—who is trained to avoid such blows while being conditioned to withstand them when avoidance cannot be found—unconscious and unmoving on the floor as simply as one might tip over a broom.
When Cung Le starched Rich Franklin with one perfectly timed and expertly placed right hand, he did all of that, and more; he proved that he still has a lot to offer the sport.
Franklin is no can, even at this late stage in his career. He’s taken a lot of punishment, but there is really no quit in the man, and he’s been one of the greatest fighters the UFC has ever employed.
The proof of this is clear: he never backs down from a fight, steps up on short notice, is ever the consummate professional, he’s erudite, and above all else, a fierce gentleman, especially during his time as UFC middleweight champion.
I say those things because it is hard to reconcile all of that with the image of Franklin laying face down on the mat, arms splayed, the blackboard of his mind wiped clean after a single right hand.
Sometimes a single punch can make you remember why nothing should be taken for granted in a sport like this, and why everyone who steps into the cage should be appreciated.
When Rich Franklin finally calls it a day, I will be one who will feel his absence, greatly.
Match Up: Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin
Result: Silva via KO (punch) at 3:23 of Round 1
When: Aug. 8, 2009
Where: UFC 101 (Philadelphia)
This is a bit of an oddity when you think about this list.
Many view this fight as perhaps one of the greatest displays of striking in the career of Anderson Silva, and god bless them for that and for appreciating what was on display that night: Anderson Silva in top form.
But for me, this was more a showcase of Silva’s defensive skills, poise, and counter-punching ability—all things he has in great abundance.
Forrest Griffin was tailor-made for Silva. He was going to come forward and swing for the fences, and that’s exactly what he did. If he possessed faster hands, then this would be all the more impressive, but Griffin is more along the lines of Arturo Gatti, and Silva was more than available to play the role of Floyd Mayweather Jr. on this night.
It was a great display, and that is why it is on this list, but much of the bout and how it played out was based on how much Griffin loves to perform and how quickly he came apart when he realized he was playing the role of court jester, and no one can blame him for that.
Silva looked great and Griffin imploded, and that is what this fight was really all about: a harsh taskmaster pointing out the flaws in the pottery presented by a proud craftsman who was more on display than any of us could have guessed.
Match Up: Tito Ortiz vs. Evan Tanner
Result: Ortiz via KO (slam) at 0:30 of Round 1
When: Feb. 23, 2001
Where: UFC 30 (Atlantic City, N.J.)
When Tito Ortiz was the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion, he was in prime form, possessed true physical power and had a deep desire to be the greatest fighter in the history of the sport.
To that end, he devoured his competition, and his victory over Evan Tanner was clear proof of this.
The fight was short: they both exchanged sharp leg kicks, then Ortiz rushed in, they worked for body locks, and Ortiz secured his first.
Ortiz hoisted Tanner off his feet and slammed him to the mat, knocking him out cold.
In the end, many say that the reign of Ortiz was nothing more than a very big man feasting on smaller fighters who really belonged at middleweight, but none of that changes the fact that Tanner knew his own body and skills better than anyone and chose to contend in the light heavyweight division.
And on this night, he learned just how much the title meant to Ortiz.
Match Up: Vitor Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva
Result: Belfort via TKO (punches) at 0:44 of Round 1
When: Oct. 16, 1998
Where: UFC Brazil (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
There’s more to striking in the sport of MMA than just measuring the distance, timing and getting off first, but in the case of Vitor Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva, those three principals formed a kind of Holy Trinity for Belfort that blessed him with a quick, dramatic and violent win that is still a benchmark for fighters who want to be known for having fast hands and a killer intuition.
No one really knew who Silva was back then, mainly because he had been toiling in the IVC, far from America. But when he mauled Mike Van Arsdale, many thought his star was on the rise, and he was quickly invited to participate in the UFC Brazil card.
Those people were right about “The Axe Murderer,” but wrong about the timing of his ascent to stardom.
Both men started off poised, like serpents coiled and ready to strike. You could tell simply by watching them that the first person to make a mistake was going to be the recipient of some serious, violent attention, and that is exactly what happened.
Silva, never one to want to be thought of as passive, extended himself a bit too much, and Belfort countered with a brutal assault of punches that came like machine gun fire, knocking his head back and side-to-side while driving him all the way across the Octagon until he fell against the cage, his cannon ball-like head being bounced up and down until Big John McCarthy had seen enough and called the bout in just 44 seconds.
Silva would go on to become one of the greatest fighters the sport of MMA has ever known, but on this night, Belfort was the candle that burned twice as bright, and needed only half as long to do so in claiming the victory.
Match Up: Lee Murray vs. Jose Pele Landi-Jons
Result: Murray via KO (punches) at 0:32 of Round 2
When: July 13, 2003
Where: EF 1: Genesis (London)
When I first got the results of this fight, I thought it was some kind of error.
Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons was no walk in the park for anyone; he fought out of the famed Chute-Boxe camp, and other fighters like Wanderlei Silva thought he was one mean, capable son-of-a-gun.
If that wasn’t enough, the man had fought and beaten some great fighters, and to think that some guy named Lee Murray had starched him…well, I was skeptical.
And I was also wrong as hell.
After eating a brutal leg kick from Pele, Murray found himself in a kind of tie-up with his Brazilian opponent, and from there he landed a brutal right hand that knocked all the fight and vigor out of Pele, like pigeons loosed from their cage.
Pele fell down, Murray swarmed, but by that time all he was doing was taking the kettle off the stove and blowing out the candles. Pele was done by the time he hit the floor, and to see him lying there like that, totally vulnerable, was shocking.
And it was clearly exciting for the crowd as well, as you can see at the 1:12 mark of the video.
Match Up: Joachim Hansen vs. Masakazu Imanari
Result: Hansen via KO (knee) at 2:34 of Round 1
When: July 17, 2005
Where: Pride Bushido 8 (Nagoya, Japan)
It’s not often in the fight game when a strike lands so cleanly that even amid the crowds attention and the spotlights and the adrenaline, the fighter landing the shot just knows the fight is over and walks away instantly, in total control of his emotions and utterly sure that the job is done.
Such was the case when Joachim Hansen landed a brutal knee to the head of Masakazu Imanari in their bout at Pride Bushido 8.
Imanari was shooting in for a takedown, and Hansen scored with a perfectly placed and timed knee to the face. The delivery of said blow was so perfect that Hansen had begun to turn and walk away before Imanari had even hit the mat, out cold.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what is known as “delivering the goods.”
Match Up: Renato “Babalu” Sobral vs. Brad Kohler
Result: Sobral via KO (soccer kick) at 0:50 of Round 2
When: Jan. 15, 2000
Where: WEF 8 – Goin’ Platinum (Rome, Ga.)
There has been a great deal of talk about knees and kicks to the head of a downed opponent, and if the inclusion of such avenues of attack should be incorporated in the unified rules of mixed martial arts competition.
Many people from both sides of the lane talk about this fight, and sometimes it makes me wonder.
For sure, the strike—a soccer kick to the head—ended the night for Brad Kohler and handed Renato “Babalu” Sobral the victory. But it seems unclear as to why people would point to this bout as proof positive, be it for or against such attacks.
In truth, this fight (and this strike) are almost anticlimactic on one hand and a clear testimony to the need of rules on the other.
When Kohler is dealt this finishing blow, he is simply exhausted; he is lying on the floor thanks to a failed takedown attempt and nothing more. Sobral does what is in his nature to do (finish violently), and that makes it a kind of timepiece moment.
But not for its savagery—there have been far worse cases of this strike, as you will come to see.
Now, none need wonder about the strange (yet clear) case of Sobral vs. Kohler, yet every man and woman must judge for themselves, and thus I give you the video.
Are you for the case of inclusion of such strikes, based on the evidence, or against?
Match Up: BJ Penn vs. Caol Uno
Result: Penn via KO (punches) at 0:11 of Round 1
When: Nov. 2, 2001
Where: UFC 34 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
I am hard pressed to think of anything that is wise or profound when it comes to discussing this fight, simply because of how pure of motive and clear in intent it is. It speaks for itself, which is honestly what every fan should hope for.
This fight is what professional “Bad intentions” are all about; nothing manufactured, no imagined slight needed: just total and utter aggression aimed in the direction of the man across the cage.
BJ Penn never really did need a reason to hate the man he was fighting; he just wanted to win so bad that he let it all hang out, and when he was young, he didn’t need much to blow away the competition.
Much is said about fighters like Jose Aldo, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, and so on, but when Penn came onto the scene, he was taking the top four of his division and making them look like rank amateurs, in only his third pro fight.
Case in point: his 11-second bout with Japanese superstar, Caol Uno, who had recently lost a close decision to Jens Pulver for the first-ever UFC lightweight championship.
After a failed jumping side-kick by Uno to open the bout, both men circled. Then, Penn began to move forward, almost unsure as to what kind of punching attack he was going to unleash, but the body language was clear: punches were coming.
Uno ducked his head while throwing his arms up, but at the same time began to backpedal, and was instantly overrun by Penn. The result was Uno on his butt, stuck against the cage, while Penn crouched over him, unloading blow after needless blow.
The term “ass kicking” is overused and under appreciated in the sport these days, and to be honest, most times it simply does not apply.
This time it did.
Match Up: Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic vs. Wanderlei Silva II
Result: Filipovic via KO (head kick) at 5:26 of Round 1
When: Sept. 10, 2006
Where: Pride Final Conflict Absolute (Saitama, Japan)
Many fans who have followed the career of Wanderlei Silva believe that the night he fought Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic, a natural heavyweight, was perhaps the beginning of the end of “The Axe Murderer.”
Up until this point, Silva had only suffered two losses, both via decision, amid a string of victories that had seen him reign supreme as the Pride middleweight boss.
Whatever the case, Filipovic brought Silva’s hopes of winning this tournament to a crashing halt via a beautiful and brutal head kick that utterly leveled Silva, leaving him out cold on the floor and perhaps forever changed as a fighter.
Match Up: Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes
Result: Aldo via KO (knee strike) at 4:59 of Round 1
When: Jan. 14, 2012
Where: UFC 142 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Almost everyone who follows the pound-for-pound rankings in MMA knows that Jose Aldo is in the top five, and for good reason.
He possesses speed, considerable KO power in his strikes, a high level of skill, and a ferocity that speaks to a young man who knows the value of a finish and will go for it at any time.
He proved the latter by finishing the always tough Chad Mendes with one second to go in the first frame of their title fight at UFC 142, via a brutal knee to the face.
Most of the fight had seen Aldo defending a relentless attack of takedown attempts, and with time winding down, most were wondering what would happen in Round 2.
Aldo rendered those considerations moot by slamming his knee into the face of Mendes, knocking him out. Aldo swarmed, landing heavy punches, but it was already over.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a fighter so dangerous, and in the case of Aldo, everyone knows they must be wary at all times, even with but seconds to go in a round.
Match Up: Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon
Result: Pettis via KO (head kick) at 1:21 of Round 1
When: Feb. 26, 2012
Where: UFC 144 (Saitama, Japan)
If we’ve learned one thing about Anthony Pettis, it’s that this young man is incredibly explosive, and if you want to beat him, you have to put the pressure on and crowd him.
If you give him time to move and establish some space to work, he can run all over you, as was the case when he fought the dangerous Joe Lauzon in Japan at UFC 144.
The fight hadn’t been going on for very long before the end; Pettis had scored with a kick and some punches, leaving Lauzon to move forward, looking for his own chance to score with the hands.
Pettis was allowed time to circle, and then he let loose with a brutal high kick that caught Lauzon flush and dropped him to the canvas.
Pettis followed him down and flurried for the finish, racking up another impressive victory and leaving the rest of us wondering as to when he’s finally going to get a title shot against Benson Henderson, a man he defeated while showcasing perhaps the greatest kick in MMA history.
Match Up: Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Paulo Thiago
Result: Bahadurzada via KO (punch) at 0:42 of Round 1
When: April 14, 2012
Where: UFC on Fuel TV: Gustafsson vs. Silva (Stockholm, Sweden)
Short, sweet and devastating are the words that can be used to describe how Siyar Bahadurzada finished Paulo Thiago in April of this year.
Thiago has always been one tough customer and he’s notched up wins against TUF Season 1 stand outs Mike Swick (via D’Arce choke) and Josh Koscheck (via KO thanks to a nasty uppercut), and it looked like he held all the advantages going into the bout, at least on paper.
Then the fight started, and then it ended, brutally illustrating the place where theory ends and reality begins.
Thiago threw a bit of a sloppy right hand and Bahadurzada countered with a right hand of his own that crashed against Thiago’s jaw like a cannon ball, knocking him out cold and dropping him face first to the floor.
There are times when an ending announces a new beginning, and if this is what we can expect of Bahadurzada in the future, he’s going to be someone to watch out for.
Match Up: Jose Aldo vs. Cub Swanson
Result: Aldo via KO/TKO (double flying knee & punches) at 0:08 of Round 1
When: June 7, 2009
Where: WEC 41 (Sacramento, Calif.)
When a fight only lasts eight seconds, some things are self evident: both men met in a hurry, and it is how they met that tells the tale.
Jose Aldo landed what looked to be a single jumping knee to the face of Cub Swanson, dropping him, and then swarmed all over him as he turtled up on the mat, prompting the referee to rightly call the fight.
On closer examination, we all saw that Aldo didn’t just land one knee, but two; the first was the left knee, and second a right knee, both landing flush in Swanson’s face.
Much attention has been given on the nasty cut that Swanson had above his left eye after the right, and it was a dandy gash, to be sure.
But the real point of consideration is just how fast Aldo is if we needed instant replay to see that two knees landed instead of just one.
Match Up: Takanori Gomi vs. Tyson Griffin
Result: Gomi via KO (punch) at 1:04 of Round 1
When: Aug. 1, 2010
Where: UFC Live: Jones vs. Matyushenko (San Diego, Calif.)
I have been a long standing drummer for the truism that styles make fights, and when I heard Takanori Gomi was going to be fighting Tyson Griffin, I honestly felt that Gomi was going to lose, probably via decision or submission, simply because Griffin could take him to the ground often, and sooner or later would latch onto Gomi’s neck and that would be all she wrote.
As my friends laughed at the screen at the bout's ending, then continued to laugh as they pointed at me, I was reminded that professional fights are not about styles alone.
Griffin, perhaps overly confident, decided to linger far too long in the one area of the fight where Gomi had the advantage, and paid a steep price; Gomi managed to land one of his cinder-block right hands to the jaw of Griffin, and he landed it flush.
The result was Griffin, cleanly and honestly KO’d, spun by the force of the blow and landing on his belly in such a way that it almost looked like he was diving face-first into the canvas.
As my friends continued their jovial mockery of my bold predictions, we were treated to the sad sight of Griffin being a total cry-baby—refusing any kind of gentlemanly conduct offered by the humble and gracious Gomi (and it was offered more than once)—which somehow seemed to make my prediction all the worse for wear.
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a critic.
Match Up: Junior dos Santos vs. Fabricio Werdum
Result: dos Santos via KO (punches) at 1:21 of Round 1
When: Oct. 25, 2008
Where: UFC 90 (Rosemont, Ill.)
Easily one of the most undervalued and unappreciated strikes in MMA, the uppercut far too often goes unemployed, which is shocking when you consider just how many situations it is perfectly suited for, especially in MMA.
But when it is used, and used well, it leaves an impression, and one of the things I will always remember about this fight is how it left Fabricio Werdum to simply drop, knees spread, as if he’d been cleanly cut in two from the floor up to his chin.
It is by design a brutal shot, and when delivered by someone with natural knock out ability upon an open and inviting chin, there really is no doubt as to what is going to happen.
And when Junior dos Santos threw that shot, it seems clear he had no doubt as well.
Match Up: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brett Rogers
Result: Fedor via TKO (punches) at 1:48 of Round 2
When: Nov. 7, 2009
Where: Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers (Hoffman Estates, Ill.)
Even as he neared the end of his career, Fedor Emelianenko still had the horsepower necessary to put away just about anyone, if his fists found their mark.
Granted, the timing was beginning to go, as was the speed, but the power was there, and when he knocked out Brett Rogers, it was the kind of impact that spoke directly to the term “Blunt force trauma.”
After a difficult first round, Fedor found his sense of timing and the space needed to utilize it and from there he blasted Rogers with a brutal right hand that saw him fall to the floor like a felled giant.
This is one of the best KO finishes of Emelianenko’s career, and that is saying something.
Match Up: Donald Cerrone vs. Melvin Guillard
Result: Cerrone via KO (head kick & punch) at 1:16 of Round 1
When: Aug. 11, 2012
Where: UFC 150 (Denver, Colo.)
Once again, timing makes an impact in the thrilling but short fight between Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard.
Guillard had Cerrone in a great deal of trouble in the first minute of the fight. He had dropped Cerrone with left hook and then blasted him with a heavy knee when Cerrone got back to his feet.
As they traded jabs, Guillard attacked, not wanting to let Cerrone gather his wits.
Then, Cerrone pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory as he caught Guillard with a nasty high kick to the head, followed by a strong right hand that ended the night for Guillard at 1:16 of the first frame.
There was nothing really prophetic or ironic in the bout; just pure aggression, grit and resolve, and that is the stuff that thrills us all.
Match Up: Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture
Result: Machida via KO (head kick) at 1:02 of Round 2
When: April 30, 2011
Where: UFC 129 (Toronto)
Long taunted by many fighters and fans in the MMA world for his insistence that Karate wasn’t dead as a legitimate martial art, Lyoto Machida was able to strengthen his argument with his victory over Randy Couture at UFC 129.
Machida has always been a bit of an enigma when it comes to figuring out the best way to fight him. What worked in previous fights rarely works a second time, as he is always improving and tightening his game.
When Randy Couture stalked him around the cage for much of the first round, it was clear that even such a great mind as his was having problems figuring out how to nail Machida down and take him out of his rhythm.
Then, early in the second round, Machida did his best “Karate Kid” impersonation, landing a kind of switch kick (or crane kick) that caught Couture right in the face, and as Matt Bull (of Buddhasport.com) described it to me: “Sent his teeth and consciousness flying.”
Rarely do strikes look poetic, but this one did.
Match Up: Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi
Result: No Contest (previously a Diaz victory via submission)
When: Feb. 24, 2007
Where: Pride 33 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Many people who follow the sport will be scratching their heads as to why this fight is included on this list, for understandable reasons.
The fight was originally won by Diaz via submission, but that was later overturned due to Diaz failing his post-fight drug test thanks to his steady and passionate relationship with his favorite gal, Mary Jane.
But once we sweep those facts off the table, we are left with a fight that was really an incredible display of striking by both men, and that is why it is sitting here at No. 43.
Diaz was rocked more than once by the heavy-fisted Takanori Gomi, and even knocked down with a shot so hard that many thought the fight was over.
But Nick Diaz, being Nick Diaz, was just getting warmed up, and from there both men put on a slugfest worthy of consideration for Fight of the Year in any year, period.
This fight was mainly a boxing hammer party that saw both men take some brutal shots and keep coming forward, but by the end Diaz had settled into his groove and was letting his hands go, battering Gomi from pillar to post.
Still, for all 11 minutes and 46 seconds that the bout lasted, it was full of fantastic punches and flurries, and it’s “must watch” material for any fan of MMA.
Had the bout ended with any kind of significant strike, it would be sitting in the top 20, or even the top 10.
Match Up: Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson I
Result: Silva via TKO (knees to the head) at 6:28 of Round 1
When: Nov. 9, 2003
Where: Pride Final Conflict 2003 (Tokyo)
When Wanderlei Silva was the reigning king of the Pride middleweight division, he was rightly feared and treated like a fire of unknown origin: with respect and distance.
Still, there were some who thought he had built his career and reign by feasting on “cans” and fighters who brought a style that was custom made for him. When Quinton “Rampage” Jackson defeated Kevin Randleman and earned the spot as the No. 1 contender for Silva’s title, many were thinking that a changing of the guard was at hand.
Jackson was a monster of a middleweight with true KO power, awesome physical strength and superior wrestling, and his supporters believed he would either KO Silva or pound him out on the ground.
They fought and Jackson enjoyed some success early on, holding onto a slight lead rather than running over Silva as most people expected.
Then, past the midway point of the first round (Pride first rounds were always 10 minutes, then each following round was five) and a restart by the referee, Silva found a cozy pocket—up close and personal with Jackson—and attacked with punches that stunned the challenger long enough for Silva to get the Thai clinch.
Silva unloaded a non-stop barrage of knees—how many I am not sure, but it seemed like a thousand—to Jackson's forearms and head that knocked him senseless.
Jackson managed to pull out of the clinch, staggering back to the ropes and smiling cockily at Silva, who was wrapped up with him, following him all the way. Silva smiled back, as if to say: “Yes, my friend, you are one tough son-of-a-gun,” then he attacked Jackson again with punches and then more knees to the arms and head until the referee swarmed in and separated the two, leaving Jackson to fall.
It was a brutal display of aggression and fury, all of it typical Wanderlei Silva.
Match Up: Lyoto Machida vs. Rashad Evans
Result: Machida via KO (punches) at 3:57 of Round 2
When: May 23, 2009
Where: UFC 98: Evans vs. Machida (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Yes, everyone knew this fight would be on such a list, and by now, no doubt, we have all seen the knock out in question.
When Lyoto Machida got Rashad Evans up against the cage in the final moments, he unleashed a brutal flurry of punches that knocked the head of the champion side to side, and then the final blow came and Evans collapsed like a deflated accordion, leg bent under him, compact and crushed almost like a beer can.
None of this is to diminish the skills possessed by Rashad Evans, nor is it to slight him; it is simply a retelling of a brutal series of seconds that passed that saw him lose his title to a man who was really seen as the future of the light heavyweight division.
In the end, fights are fights and finishes are finishes; nothing more and nothing less.
Match Up: Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama
Result: Frye via TKO (punches) at 6:10 of Rd 1
When: June 23, 2002
Where: Pride 21 (Saitama, Japan)
Every once in a great while, a moment in a fight comes where both men lock horns and just batter each other with everything they have, going toe-to-toe in a way that shows us what the true meaning of the term is, and by contrast shows us just how grossly misused it really is.
Usually, these moments last 15 to 20 seconds if we are lucky; after all, a lot of damage is being done, so even five seconds can be like an eternity for those who are knee deep in the brawl.
Then, you have a fight like the brawl between Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama, where both men locked up in dual collar ties (that was really a kind of mutually assisted suicide pact) and then proceeded, with no flourish or fancy footwork, to pummel each other square in the face, over and over and over again…
…for god knows how long.
This was not a great technical fight, nor does it display any significant striking, but it does display a significant amount of one kind of strike, and does so in such breath- taking abundance that it really needs to be seen to be believed.
Match Up: Shonie Carter vs. Matt Serra
Result: Carter via KO (spinning back fist) at 4:51 of Round 3
When: May 4, 2001
Where: UFC 31 (Atlantic City, N.J.)
Another by-now-famous highlight-reel moment finds its way onto this list, and nearly everyone who has ever seen a UFC PPV event would recognize it even if they didn’t know who the fighters were: Shonie Carter and Matt Serra.
Not everyone can pull off a spinning back fist for a knock out; hell, Chael Sonnen tried it against Anderson Silva and missed and ended up falling on his ass.
But to pull it off when a fighter has their back against the wall and is looking at the losing end of a unanimous decision, well, that is something special.
An oldie but a goodie.
Match Up: Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic vs. Igor Vovchanchyn
Result: Filipovic via KO (head kick) at 1:29 of Rd 1
When: Aug. 10, 2003
Where: Pride Total Elimination 2003 (Saitama, Japan)
Yet another crushing head kick by perhaps the greatest high kicker in MMA history, Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic.
Most don’t know who Igor Vovchanchyn was or why he was considered on of the best of his time, but I’ll put it out there as simply as possible: he was to MMA back in his day what Fedor became to MMA after.
And Mirko Filipovic turned off his lights with his patented left high kick to the head that dropped him so cold it he looked like a statue that had been tipped over.
And that is no small thing indeed.
Match Up: Wanderlei Silva vs. Kazushi Sakuraba I
Result: Silva via TKO (strikes) at 1:38 of Round 1
When: March 25, 2001
Where: Pride 13 (Saitama, Japan)
Believe it or not, but when Wanderlei Silva was walking into the ring for his first bout with Kazushi Sakuraba, he was doing so as the underdog.
Up to this point, no Brazilian fighter had been able to deal with Sakuraba and his style of fighting, be it on the feet or on the floor. Sakuraba had just been too much for them, laughing as he defeated Gracie after Gracie, or any other Brazilian of note who wanted to test their ground skills against his.
Everyone simply thought Wanderlei Silva was about to be the next name on his list of victims, simple as that. Then Silva mauled Sakuraba in such a shocking display of violence that it left everyone stunned by what they had seen.
This is one of the key fights that illustrates the devastating possibilities of allowing kicks and knees to the head of a downed opponent, because that was what Silva was doing for most of this bout: kneeing Sakuraba in the face or giving him multiple soccer boots to the head.
This is one for the time capsule of MMA.
Match Up: BJ Penn vs. Sean Sherk
Result: Penn via TKO (flying knee & punches) at 5:00 of Round 3
When: May 24, 2008
Where: UFC 84 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Sometimes fighters don’t play to their strengths like they should, and when Sean Sherk tried to reclaim his title in his bout with reigning champion BJ Penn, he opted to trade strikes with the champion for nearly the entire fight, and he paid a heavy price for it.
Penn was able to utilize his jab in the bout, constantly keeping Sherk at the end of his punches, and at the close of the third frame, Penn launched a flying knee that caught Sherk square in the face, knocking him down against the cage.
Penn then stood over his fallen and stunned opponent, driving several right hands into Sherk’s face until the fight was called.
Sometimes the ending of a bout speaks to the folly of how it was fought, and as great as Sherk has been in his career, on this night, he fought the wrong kind of fight against the wrong kind of opponent.
Match Up: David “Tank” Abbott vs. John Matua
Result: Abbott via KO (punches) at 0:18
When: July 14, 1995
Where: UFC 6 (Casper, Wyo.)
This was nothing but straight-up violence; a legalized assault between two consenting adults at a time when the UFC was all about bringing us the “most pure” form of combat on the planet.
The only thing pure about this fight was David “Tank” Abbott’s intent: to annihilate John Matua utterly and totally, and he accomplished this in just 18 seconds.
Matua didn’t belong in a competition like this, as he was easily knocked off balance, and he never could get his feet back under him, thanks in part due to his lack of athleticism and Abbott knocking the holy hell out of him with some of the most powerful punches we had seen in the octagon up to that point.
When Abbott knocked Matua down the final time, he sealed the deal by dropping a brutal forearm strike across Matua’s face, with all his weight behind it. The result was Matua knocked into a kind of seizure, legs stiff and off the canvas, arms equally stiff and out in front of him, as if still trying to fend off an attack that had already exploded all over his face.
Abbott went on to mock his fallen foe, forever entrenching him in the minds of MMA fans as a willing villain who was happy to throw his black hat into the ring anytime, anyplace.
Match Up: Pat Smith vs. Scott Morris
Result: Smith via TKO (elbows) at 0:30
When: March 11, 1994
Where: UFC 2 (Denver, Colo.)
Never was the term “Styles make fights” more appropriate than in the early days of MMA, when fighters only really had one style.
When Scott Smith rushed across the cage and locked up Pat Smith, he fell flat to his back and inadvertently pulled his opponent down on top of him, in the mount position.
Of course, disaster ensued.
Smith maintained the mounted position with ease, mainly because of the incredibly fast flurry of punches and then elbows that he laid all over the face of Morris.
Big John McCarthy was quick to pull Smith off Morris, but the damage had already been done. Morris staggered around the octagon with McCarthy really the only thing keeping up upright, his face a road map of blood.
I am still not sure what style Morris had—he claimed it was ninjitsu—but it seemed like whatever he intended to use, he went about it in all the wrong ways.
Match Up: Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo
Result: Kongo via KO (punches) at 2:39 of Round 1
When: June 26, 2011
Where: UFC Live: Kongo vs. Barry (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Although the saying “A good big man beats a good little man” is normally true in the sport of MMA, when Pat Barry fought Cheick Kongo on June 26, 2011, it looked like the little man was serving the big man a serious beating.
Barry managed to nullify the reach advantage of Kongo, working inside and ripping hard shots to Kongo’s head that left him falling and stumbling every which way. So hard and flush were the punches that everyone watching just knew the referee was but seconds from stopping it.
But the ref didn’t stop it, and out of the blue, Kongo landed a brutal two-punch salvo that dropped Barry flat on his back.
It was a thrilling ending to one of the most exciting heavyweight fights of 2011, proving that you can never call a fight finished until it’s finished.
Match Up: Nate Quarry vs. Pete Sell
Result: Quarry via KO/TKO (punches) at 0:42 of Round 1
When: Aug. 6, 2005
Where: UFC Ultimate Fight Night (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Most people who follow MMA to any degree remember Nate Quarry being brutally KO’d by Rich Franklin and many new fans only know him by that one highlight-reel loss.
But Quarry was a hard-nosed fighter, and in his first fight with Pete Sell, he ate a good deal of hard leather and was getting beaten to the punch more often than not.
Pete Sell has always been a rugged, durable fighter with a damn good chin, but when Quarry finally got his feet under him and stepped in with a hard right hand, Sell was knocked silly and recoiled without the benefit of having his feet under him, landing flat on his back like he’d just fallen out of a closet.
When Quarry stepped in to throw, he did so will the full courage of his convictions, and when he threw, he threw hard.
Match Up: Robbie Lawler vs. Melvin Manhoef
Result: Lawler via KO (punch) at 3:33 of Round 1
When: Jan. 30, 2010
Where: Strikeforce: Miami (Sunrise, Fla.)
This is one of those fights that brings a smile across your face when you hear that it’s been signed.
Both Robbie Lawler and Melvin Manhoef are fighters who love to brawl, and you knew it was going to be a very painful clash for as long as it lasted.
When you consider the amount of damage Manhoef was doing to Lawler’s legs, not to mention the punches he was landing to the head and body (just one of such punches KO’d the cement-chinned Mark Hunt), Lawler was in trouble, and he knew it.
Some people run from trouble, and others run at it and look to destroy it, and Lawler is clearly one of the latter, as the video will show.
It was a clean, brutal punch landed at just the right time, and it should serve as a reminder to everyone to never, never, ever count Robbie Lawler out.
Match Up: Jens Pulver vs. John Lewis
Result: Pulver via KO (punch) at 0:15 of Round 1
When: Nov. 17, 2000
Where: UFC 28 (Atlantic City, N.J.)
When lists like this get compiled and published (and let’s face it, a lot of these kinds of lists get put out there for public consumption), I am often shocked at how often people overlook the brutal, shocking KO that Jens Pulver scored over John Lewis.
Lewis may have been at even odds with the bookies for this fight, I can’t recall, but I know he was being looked at as a top 10 fighter for the division at the time. He was tall and rangy, incredibly fast in all his movements, never standing still for very long, was a very good grappler and he loved to fight.
All of those things were rendered moot when Pulver landed his first left hand, which shocked Lewis so much that he sort of didn’t seem to know what to do or how to circle. It’s almost as if he’d never fought a southpaw before, and getting hit with that first lead left threw his game right out the window.
Then, Pulver kept throwing, and his left found a home: right upside the head of Lewis, who fell like he’d been struck by Shane Carwin, and proceed to flounder like a gutted fish, unable to make his limbs work in any way that resembled a man still in the fight.
That final left hand was a monster.
Match Up: Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Francisco Bueno
Result: Vovchanchyn via KO (punches) at 1:23 of Round 1
When: Nov. 21, 1999
Where: Pride 8 (Tokyo)
This is a fight that could have been much better than it turned out to be, were it not for the sledgehammers at the end of Igor Vovchanchyn’s wrists that the rest of the world called fists.
Vovchanchyn spent what little of the fight there was stalking Francisco Bueno around the ring, and then caught him along the ropes. From there, he simply unloaded, catching Bueno flush.
The Brazilian fell, almost in slow motion, catching two more hard punches along the way, and ended up face first on the canvas, out cold as a block of ice.
Just watch the video. Highlight-reel stuff.
Match Up: Matt Hamill vs. Mark Munoz
Result: Hamill via KO (head kick) at 3:53 of Round 1
When: March 7, 2009
Where: UFC 96 (Columbus, Ohio)
This is a unique case of a fan-pleasing finish that ended up being almost forgotten due to the celebration of Matt Hamill after the fight.
Hamill walked Mark Munoz down, and with his opponent against the cage, he unleashed a monster of a right high kick that landed right upside the head of Munoz, toppling him to the ground, all the lights on the front porch blown out.
Then, Hamill celebrated, alive in the thrill of victory, perhaps a bit too long or too passionately for fans, which seems a bit odd considering how harsh most fans themselves can be.
But it was one dandy head kick, to be sure.
Match Up: Phil Baroni vs. Yuki Kondo
Result: Baroni via KO (punches) at 0:25 of Round 1
When: April 2, 2006
Where: Pride Bushido 10 (Tokyo)
When two men are fighting this hard, right from the get-go, you know someone is going to sleep in a hurry.
Phil Baroni has always been at his best when he gets on his Harley in a hurry and begins riding all over his opponent, and that’s exactly what happened when he faced Yuki Kondo at Pride Bushido 10.
Both men were swinging hard, but Kondo was forced into the role of counter-puncher, diving for takedowns in desperation, and Baroni was able to stuff them then unload, which suited him to a “T” in this fight.
Near the end, Kondo stood his ground for a moment too long, eating a huge right hand that sent him crashing to the floor. Baroni swarmed, landing more right hands, and it is the final right hand of the fight that really put a frame on this violent picture and hung it on the wall.
Kondo was out cold, head hanging against the ropes, and Baroni had another vintage finish in his portfolio.
Match Up: James Irvin vs. Terry Martin
Result: Irvin via KO (flying knee) at 0:09 of Round 2
When: Aug. 20, 2005
Where: UFC 54 (Paradise, Nev.)
This is perhaps the single greatest flying knee I have seen in MMA.
Yes, that is quite a declaration, but there is something about the way it was launched, how perfectly it connected, and how Terry Martin fell after that makes me feel as if James Irvin delivered the perfect flying knee.
After being stifled for nearly all of the first round, Irvin came out swinging, so to speak. He charged toward Martin and launched himself into the air, knee first, just as Martin began to try and duck under.
The result was Irvin’s knee slamming directly into Martin’s head, knocking him out cold at the moment of impact.
Irvin landed on his feet and began walking away as Martin fell through the air, stiff as a board, and landed like the same.
There was no question that the fight was over, just as there is no question for me that when you’re talking about flying knee strikes, this one sits at No. 1.
Match Up: Scott Smith vs. Pete Sell
Result: Smith via KO (punch) at 3:25 of Round 2
When: Nov. 11, 2006
Where: The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale (Las Vegas, Nev.)
It’s an odd thing when fighters become friends and then end up fighting each other. It brings up a single question: what would you do in order to gain victory over a friend?
Would you lull your friend into thinking you were more hurt by a shot to the body than you really were, just to get him to rush in for the finish, all offense and no defense?
And what kind of friend was he in the first place to buy into such a ruse, if indeed a ruse it was?
Do any of those questions even matter in a profession such as theirs, where friends will be made, one way or another, and bonds will be formed?
Either way, it was one heck of a great fight that ended greatly as well.
Both men were trading heavy leather, and Sell landed a brutal shot to the body of Smith, seeming to make him wilt against the cage. Sell charged in for the finish and Smith exploded out of his shell of pain, leveling Sell with a brutal punch to the jaw that ended the bout.
The result may have left people wondering, but the friendship between both men remained, just as strong as it was before.
Match Up: Matt Serra vs. GSP
Result: Serra via KO (punches) at 3:25 of Round 1
When: April 7, 2007
Where: UFC 69 (Houston)
Never mind for a moment that this was probably one of the biggest upsets in UFC history and never mind that far too many people called this a fluke when it was actually a fight; this was also one serious display of poise, power and accuracy under pressure, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher.
Everyone has seen the flurry by now that ushered in the end: the shot behind the ear that knocked GSP’s equilibrium into the river, Serra hopping and skipping from one pitcher’s mound to the next, drilling GSP from every angle and blasting him from one drunken dance to the next, and then the finish that saw Serra standing over the soon-to-be former champion, dropping bombs until the fight was called.
Many dismiss this flurry as nothing more than one man recognizing that another is hurt, but it is far more than that. For an example, look to Round 8 of Roberto Duran vs. Iran "The Blade" Barkley.
Barkley catches Duran with a brutal counter left, and while Duran is stumbling about like a blind man in the trenches, Barkley forgets all sense of set up or timing or observation and begins winging wild "finishing" punches that just don't get the job done.
Serra didn't have that problem, and he deserves credit for that.
Still, amid all that, people seem to forget just how hard it is to finish a man who is hurt so bad that he himself doesn’t even know what his next step will be. Many an excellent fighter has had his man seriously hurt and been unable to finish, but Serra, on the biggest night of his life, did it like he’d done it 100 times, and that is what makes it so incredible.
This was no fluke, but a fine performance by a veteran of the game who earned the title the old-fashioned way: by knocking out the champ.
Match Up: Rashad Evans vs. Sean Salmon
Result: Evans via KO (head kick) at 1:06 of Round 2
When: Jan. 25, 2007
Where: UFC Fight Night: Evans vs. Salmon (Hollywood, Fla.)
There is nothing quite like that moment when a very good fighter realizes he is honestly losing a fight that he should be winning, and that he must take control of a situation that is normally hard to handle based solely by design.
That is exactly what happened to Rashad Evans as he returned to his corner after a very uninspiring first round that saw him outworked and outmaneuvered by Sean Salmon.
He knew he was on the verge of seeing that which should belong to him taken by another, and he decided to do something about it.
Early in the second frame, he maneuvered Salmon against the cage, and then let loose with a stunning high kick that landed full across Salmon’s face and blew him off his feet, flat onto his back.
When Rashad Evans takes control of a situation, he takes control of a situation, by god!
Match Up: Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort
Result: Silva via KO (front kick to the head & punches) at 3:25 of Round 1
When: Feb. 5, 2011
Where: UFC 126 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
It’s hard to find a fight in Anderson Silva’s career over the past years that doesn’t seem brilliant in some way, shape or form, and his bout with Vitor Belfort is no exception.
Belfort spent most of his time trying to find the right range to unleash his fast hands, but in the search he found the foot of Silva coming right at him like a freight train and he just couldn’t get off the tracks in time.
The kick caught him square in the face, knocking his head back and sending him to the floor, badly hurt.
Silva calmly stepped forward and delivered a few precise punches that finished the job and in turn added yet another noteworthy clip to his staggering resume as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet today.
Match Up: Rich Franklin vs. Nate Quarry
Result: Franklin via KO (punch) at 2:34 of Round 1
When: Nov. 19, 2005
Where: UFC 56 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
This was one of the more brutal KO’s I’ve seen, especially since it comes from nothing more than a straight punch, right down the pipe.
Rich Franklin spent most of his fight with Nate Quarry a step ahead, showing superior footwork while blasting the challenger with hard punches as he tried to readjust.
As the fight wore on, it was becoming terribly clear that Quarry was not only a beat behind the music, but that Franklin was conducting it all, and he ended the ballad of destruction with a beautiful straight shot that knocked Quarry flat on his back, out cold.
Many people thought that such a fight was coming far too soon for Quarry, and when looking at the lopsided nature of the bout, perhaps they were right.
Match Up: Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton I
Result: Hughes via KO (slam) at 1:27 of Round 2
When: Nov. 2, 2001
Where: UFC 34 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Now this is the kind of ending that deserves to make the top 20 if for no other reason than it resembles some kind of freakish video-game ending.
This had been a pretty competitive fight up until the end; Matt Hughes had been displaying his incredible might, executing some powerful throws that had seen Carlos Newton slammed hard to the ground, and the latter had been showing the former some slick reversals of his own, thanks to his high level of athleticism and honest belief that he was the superior fighter, and confidence does indeed bring about results.
But at the end, things got interesting. Newton locked up a very tight triangle leg choke on Hughes; it wasn’t just tight, but damn tight.
Hughes, seemingly unable to do anything about it, decided to think outside of the box, lifting Newton high into the air (above Hughes' own head), and then marched him to the top of the cage barrier.
Newton suddenly found himself in the middle of some serious decision making: does he hold on to the choke and let himself fall hard to the canvas, or does he let go and hope he can secure such a game-ending choke later on in the match?
Of course, the champion was pondering this as he hung with one arm over the top of the cage, for some kind of “balance.” When Big John McCarthy smacked his arm away, the stakes got raised a great deal; now, the only thing holding him up was the incredible strength of Hughes, and that was only viable for as long as Hughes was conscious.
Newton quickly made a decision: he had the eagle in his hand and would not go for the falcon in the bush. He held on to the choke, probably crossing his proverbial fingers as he did so.
Hughes, quickly slipping into unconsciousness, decided he’d held Newton up long enough, and went the other direction, slamming the champion down hard to the mat.
This wasn’t just a fall, it was a true slam, and when you watch it, you know Newton had to be suffering from severe headaches for days to come.
Both men were unconscious: Hughes from the choke and Newton from the slam, but it was Hughes who recovered first, and was declared the winner.
This was one of the more epic finishes in UFC championship history, and it still holds up to this day as a testimony to just how diversified the game of MMA is.
Match Up: Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson II
Result: Silva via KO (knees) at 3:26 of Round 2
When: Oct. 31, 2004
Where: Pride 28 (Saitama, Japan)
Once again, Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva shows his face on this list and in doing so proves that he is, in the words of Dana White, a “gun slinger” who is there to either get knocked out, or knock you out.
While there may be more of the former than the latter in this last quarter of Silva’s Hall of Fame career (not to be recognized by the UFC HOF, as he’s never held a title, or…well, who knows: the UFC HOF is really up to Dana White and has no real criteria that can withstand any kind of scrutiny, and thus avoids scrutiny all together since induction it is solely based upon the whims of a single man), at the time when Silva fought Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in their rematch, he was at the top of his game, and this version of “The Axe Murderer” would have mauled any version of Nick Diaz, Rich Franklin, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Michael Bisping, Chael Sonnen and just about anyone else not named Anderson Silva or Jon Jones.
Prime Wanderlei Silva was a freaking wrecking machine, and he proved it when he faced Jackson for the second time.
After his first loss to the Pride middleweight champion, Jackson was champing at the bit for a rematch, convinced that his first loss was due to a lack of energy and focus that comes with having to contest against more than one opponent on a single night.
Granted, his thinking was a bit flawed, as Silva suffered the same handicaps and in fact had spent more of himself in the ring that night than Jackson had before they faced each other, but you could understand his passion and drive; even though he lost to Silva the first time, many was the pundit and fan that thought come a second chance at the throne, Jackson would not be denied.
And once again, in the early goings, it looked like Jackson was a better version of himself, and possibly well positioned to dethrone the reigning champion.
Then, once again, Silva got just the time and space he needed to find his rhythm, and once again, exploded all over Jackson, and it was brutal.
They ended up exchanging heavy punches, but it was Silva that landed the telling blow, and as Jackson was recoiling, trying to recover, “The Axe Murderer” ran all over him.
Silva attacked with knees from the Thai clinch yet again and all though they were fewer in number, they seemed much more accurate and violent: the last of which landed square in Jackson's face, breaking his nose and knocking him completely unconscious.
Silva let go of the Thai clinch after that final knee, tossing Jackson aside as just another spent and defeated opponent and Jackson fell face first through the ropes, coming to a final rest half-in and half-out of the ring, blood pouring out of his face in one long, continuous stream that made it look as if he’d not been knocked out but shot by a gun.
It was another violent ending to a great fight; one that saw Silva tested like never before, but once again, when the going got violent and dangerous, the champion proved why no one could match his storm.
Match Up: Anderson Silva vs. Chris Leben
Result: Silva via KO (knee) at 0:49 of Round 1
When: June 28, 2006
Where: UFC Ultimate Fight Night 5 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
If there has ever been a more vibrant, dramatic affirmation of the adage “Styles make fights,” then I have never seen it, at least when it comes to the striking aspect of the sport that is MMA.
This is the kind of striking performance that sets the tone for an incredible career, and that is just what it did for Anderson “The Spider” Silva.
Chris Leben may be one of the toughest fighters to ever fight in the octagon, and if you are any kind of fan, then you have followed his career with a kind of wide-eyed awe that comes anytime a fan watches a fighter take the kind of punishment that threatens, by proxy, to put the observers of said punishment into a coma.
But that is exactly what Leben does, and that is why so many love to watch him war; because he takes five shots to land one, and when he lands, the earth shakes.
That is why this was such a shocking debut.
Many think that when this fight was set up, it was done so to make Silva look good. That is mainly because those who think this are looking at things from the high and cozy vantage point of the past.
At the time, it was utterly different. Leben had won five straight, and Silva was an established vet, so it simply looked like it had all the makings for a great striker vs. striker brawl.
And what we ended up with was the kind of showcase that announced the birth of a pound-for-pound monster.
As soon as the bell sounded, it became crystal clear, second-by-second, that what we were seeing is not what we expected; Silva blasting Leben at will, up close or at range, with straight, brutally hard shots that sent him careening to-and–fro like a pinball bouncing off the bumpers as the bells and whistles grew louder and louder.
Chris Leben got lit up like a Christmas tree, and he could do nothing to protect himself, aside from eventually falling down thanks to a god-awful hard knee strike, and when he fell, everyone felt a weight lifted off their shoulders.
While this fight probably looked good on paper, sometimes paper is only good for making airplanes.
Match Up: Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard III
Result: Edgar via KO (punches) at 3:54 of Round 4
When: Oct. 8, 2011
Where: UFC 136 (Houston)
It figures that what MMA is to combative sport, the Edgar / Maynard trilogy is to combative sport trilogies.
Most trilogies are fairly close contests between two evenly matched opponents with styles that mesh up to the extent that no one is exactly sure who really won the first fight, or the second, etc.; simply put, questions remain as to who is really the better man, or woman.
Then, there are those times when trilogies are born simply because the first two meetings were so damn exciting and dramatic that there had to be a third chapter, much like Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales did for boxing.
When it comes to the three meetings between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, there are some different components that came into play, and perhaps one of the most drastic was the difference between the first fight and the second.
But the third fight saw a continuation of a theme, and restored some of the balance that fight fans seek when they follow a trilogy.
Fans like to know they are standing on firm footing, and when Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard began their third fight, those fans got more of the familiar than anyone thought possible as Maynard blasted Edgar around the ring, dropping him with hard shots that sent him tumbling and fighting simply to survive.
Although not as one-sided or brutal as the first round of their second bout, it was still the kind of first-round beating that was close enough to make Edgar think he was fighting Maynard in a haunted house.
Maynard landed the kind of shots that would have finished just about any other lightweight in the world, and that means Edgar was in bad shape and during that first frame, he was really fighting to simply stay alive as the champion, hoping to make it to the stool after the round.
But just as before in their second bout, Edgar managed to channel his inner Arturo Gatti and made it out of the round alive, and then began to rack up the points in Rounds 2 and 3, although it was still a very close fight.
Then, in the fourth frame, the tide turned in a direction few expected.
Edgar caught Maynard with one punch, Maynard recoiled, stunned, and Edgar unloaded on him with precise, fluid power shots that drove him to the ground alongside the cage and ended Maynard’s second attempt at UFC gold.
It was a stunning turn of events, much like when Sugar Ray Leonard turned slugger against Tommy Hearns; Edgar survived two brutal first rounds and managed to finish Maynard.
This one ends up on the list not only for the first round, but for the finish and how it showed that punches are punches, and what matters is who is on the receiving end.
Match Up: Pete Williams vs. Mark Coleman
Result: Williams via KO (head kick) at 12:38
When: May 15, 1998
Where: UFC 17 (Mobile, Ala.)
Yet another moment in the sport that has seen heavy circulation in highlight-reel form, the head kick that Pete Williams delivered to the face of Mark Coleman is one of the first times a high kick to the head actually landed, and up to that time, it was the very first time it scored such a clean knockout.
Williams was making his debut in the UFC, and Mark Coleman looked to be hungry after losing his title to Maurice Smith at UFC 14; so hungry in fact that most believed he would run right over Williams en route to getting another title shot.
Nothing could have prepared us for the sight of Williams not only surviving minute after minute in the cage with the monster that was Coleman, and when Williams landed that kick, full to the face of Coleman, everyone was in shock.
Coleman didn’t just get struck with a heavy blow; he ate the entire thing, eyes shooting open as he fell back against the cage, out cold and looking just as stunned as everyone else.
This was the moment that everyone learned that nothing is as real as a shin across the chin.
Match Up: Rashad Evans vs. Chuck Liddell
Result: Evans via KO (punch) at 1:51 of Round 2
When: Sept. 6, 2008
Where: UFC 88 (Atlanta)
Even though most MMA fans know that this was around the time that Chuck Liddell was officially entering that final part of every great fighters career that sees them decline, at the time, he was still favored to beat Rashad Evans, probably by knockout.
Conventional wisdom said that Liddell would stalk Evans for as long as he needed to, eventually cornering him and then the end would come as soon as Liddell unleashed his hands.
What we got was nearly that exact same thing, but with a different ending.
Liddell did indeed stalk Evans, and in Round 2, seemed to have him in prime position to topple him over. Then, Evans exploded with a brutal punch that caught Liddell stepping in and leveled the former four-time light heavyweight champ.
It was as clean and decisive a knockout as anyone could want, and it officially announced Rashad Evans as one of the top 10 in the division.
Match Up: Yves Edwards vs. Josh Thompson
Result: Edwards via KO (flying head kick & punches) at 4:32 of Round 1
When: Aug. 21, 2004
Where: UFC 49 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
On a night full of beautiful knock outs, Yves Edwards stole the show with his leaping kick to the head of Josh Thompson.
It had been a closely contested affair, both men grinding against each other while maintaining their technical base, working hard to make sure any foundation from which they would mount an attack would be sound.
And, as when usually happens when there is a drastic change in style and tempo, the bout ended quickly; the beginning of said end coming as Edwards and Thompson rose to their feet, with Edwards having Thompson’s back.
Thompson got just a little bit of room and unleashed a spinning back fist that fell just inches short as his body turned.
Sadly for Thompson, Edwards seemed to have anticipated the break and was already launching his own strike: a high kick that Edwards leaped into the air to launch, his body almost totally horizontal when he landed on his side, and that blow did not fall short.
Edwards' kick landed full across the neck/chin of Thompson, and thanks to his body already turning after the failed spinning backfist attempt, the kick seemed to launch him through the air, and when he landed on the ground, for a split second he seemed out cold.
But he wasn’t, and Edwards pounced and flurried with punches to end the exchange and position himself as the No. 1 lightweight in the UFC at the time, even though the belt was nowhere to be seen.
Match Up: Kevin Randleman vs. Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic
Result: Randleman via KO (punches) at 1:57 of Round 1
When: April 25, 2004
Where: Pride Total Elimination 2004 (Saitama, Japan)
If you are totally honest, and if you were a serious fan of the sport at the time this fight was announced, you could honestly say you didn’t think Kevin Randleman had a chance on this earth of winning, period.
And if you were this honest, you could say that you were blow out of your socks if you saw or heard of the result, and I would be right alongside you, just as blow away and feeling just as foolish as you.
But on the night that Kevin Randleman fought Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic for the first time, all eyes were on the legs of Cro-Cop, and all time pieces were tuned to the idealistic future, and thus predictions of when the end would come, most probably via head kick, after Filipovic stuffed a few takedown attempts and got some room to move and do that ever-basic fight math.
Sadly, Randleman turned all such basic considerations on their heads when he landed a savage left hook to the jaw of Filipovic, flattening the monster at the exact moment he opened up his hips to let loose one of his fight-ending kicks.
The hook of Randleman landed flush, Filipovic went down like a lawn chair, and Randleman pounced, landing hammer-fists to his dome until the bout was called, and that was that.
Simple poetry has been often found on shorter reels of tape.
Match Up: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Andrei Arlovski
Result: Emelianenko via KO (punch) at 3:14 of Round 1
When: Jan. 24, 2009
Where: Affliction: Day of Reckoning (Anaheim, Calif.)
When Fedor Emelianenko began to slow down, it seemed as if the wolves were champing at the bit to take a piece of his legacy home with them, and such a case was never more clear than when Andrei Arlovski stepped into the ring with “The Last Emperor.”
Arlovski seemed tailor-made for the man simply known as Fedor, but through most of the bout, it looked as if Father Time had finally caught up with Fedor and from there the forgone conclusion seemed nothing more than a natural passing of the torch.
Turns out Fedor had other plans, and took that torch and burned down the house of his enemies, so to speak.
Who says Shakespeare is dead?
Working Fedor into the corner of the ring, Arlovski got too bold too quickly, and like his only bout with Pedro Rizzo, he moved in too fast to anticipate the counter punch, and that is exactly what he got.
Fedor blasted him with a massive right hand, and “The Pit Bull” was turned with the full force of the blow, in mid air, and landed face-first on the canvas, almost like he was painted in place.
This was one of those come-from-behind victories that you don’t see coming until the end, and in retrospect, given the power presented, it seems almost foolhardy that such an end wasn’t accounted for.
Match Up: Nate Marquardt vs. Demian Maia
Result: Marquardt via KO (punch) at 0:21 of Round 1
When: Aug. 29, 2009
Where: UFC 102 (Portland, Ore.)
Sometimes fights end quickly, and when they do, we are left to ponder not the how or the when, but the “why?”
Such is the case between Nate Marquardt and Demian Maia.
Maia should have never felt any real pressure to prove he was a strong striker; it was known that his ace in the hole was on the ground, yet in his fight with Marquardt, he somehow submitted to the subjective needs of the crowd and tried to exchange heavy leather with the better glovesman.
The result was Maia, getting knocked silly, turned by the force of a blow that he ran right into, face-first, and thus landing face-first on the floor, out cold.
Folly has many guises and in this bout, Maia wore them all, for no real reason worth his time. Instead of submitting to the whims of the crowd, he should have been focusing on submitting Marquardt on the ground.
Match Up: Phil Baroni vs. Dave Menne
Result: Baroni via KO (punches) at 0:18 of Round 1
When: Sept. 27, 2002
Where: UFC 39 (Uncasville, Conn.)
This is perhaps the most vulgar display of speed, accuracy and punching power in a single flurry that has ever been seen in the UFC.
Dave Menne, at the time, was just recently removed from the perch of UFC middleweight champion, and many were thinking that if he could avoid the early storm of Phil Baroni, then he’d be cruising to a victory.
Instead, Menne got clipped, crowded against the cage and then blasted out of the water with a shocking combination of rights and lefts that were machine gunned right into his face, and that was it; over and done in 18 seconds.
There is usually some kind of significant question behind every fight, but sometimes it is just a matter of getting caught, and Baroni caught Menne flush, several times.
Match Up: Gary Goodridge vs. Paul Herrera
Result: Goodridge via KO (elbows) at 0:13
When: Feb. 16, 1996
Where: UFC 8 (Bayamon, Puerto Rico)
Take any fan of the sport that’s been following it for a while and ask them to list some of the more brutal moments they remember watching inside the octagon and odds are Gary Goodridge elbowing the left side of Paul Herrera’s head into oblivion is in the top three.
There was a period when viewing the fight that it seemed to spill out onto the floor rather than flow there, and the next moment, Herrera had his arms pinned into the body of Goodridge, stretched wide.
And utterly defenseless.
After the first elbow landed, it seemed to set into everyone like a sickness just how bad a position Herrera was in.
After the next seven or so elbows that slammed into Herrera’s head like jackhammers, it went from a sickness to a heart attack, then relief as the fight was called and Herrera lay there, out cold.
Whenever I think about this fight, one of the main things I remember is just how fast those elbows were coming.
Brutal stuff, folks; just brutal.
Match Up: Houston Alexander vs. Keith Jardine
Result: Alexander via KO (punches) at 0:48 of Round 1
When: May 26, 2007
Where: UFC 71 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
There may be nothing worse in the fight game than the punch you don’t see coming, but a close second is the monster you don’t see coming, and when Keith Jardine squared off against relative unknown Houston Alexander, he was indeed facing a monster, at least in terms of power.
And that is what this fight was all about: raw horsepower and the blunt force trauma it can inflict.
Alexander didn’t just hurt Jardine when he hit him; he mauled him with damn near each strike. In some ways Jardine’s body was jostled to-and-fro in much the same way as a person body being attacked by a shark, and that’s what it looked like almost every time Alexander hit Jardine.
The sheer amount of punishment Jardine took in such a short period of time was honestly breathtaking to witness.
Match Up: David “Tank” Abbott vs. Steve Nelmark
Result: Abbott via KO (punch) at 1:03
When: Dec. 7, 1996
Where: UFC Ultimate Ultimate 96 (Birmingham, Ala.)
In the early days of the UFC, the degree of training and athleticism was secondary to having courage; if you had the guts to simply step into the cage, you had a somewhat decent chance of being granted your wish.
When Steve Nelmark stepped in for the injured Ken Shamrock, he ended up facing David “Tank” Abbott, and while he was instantly slipping into the semifinals, he didn’t have the experience needed to contend with Abbott, who had been throwing down in said cage numerous times against some of the best in the world.
Simply put, Nelmark really shouldn’t have been in there against a monster like Abbott, and we found out why when “Tank” got him against the cage.
Abbott unleashed a devastating right hand that caught Nelmark on the side of the head and he fell like a curtain, simple as that.
Thankfully, Big John McCarthy was there to step in quickly before Abbott could renew the attack, but for all who saw it, Nelmark looked to be in bad shape, and some thought he might even be dead.
Of course, he ended up being just fine, but god, it was a scary sight.
Match Up: Brad Kohler vs. Steve Judson
Result: Kohler via KO (punch) at 0:30 of Round 1
When: Sept. 14, 1999
Where: UFC 22 (Lake Charles, La.)
This may be one of the cleanest, most devastating one-punch knockout blows I’ve ever seen in the sport of MMA, and it holds up just as well today as it did in 1999.
Kohler had always been one of those fighters who started very strong and would fade later on, in his own way like Earnie Shavers, who is widely considered the heaviest puncher in the history of the heavyweight division in the sport of boxing.
But in the early going, he was a serious handful for anyone who was standing across from him.
When he fought the muscular Steve Judson, many thought that, based on looks alone, it could be a good fight.
They circled and Kohler got an excellent takedown, then transitioned to a front headlock while Judson made his way back up. After releasing the headlock, Kohler bounced on his feet and Judson began to come forward with his left hand down far too low to be of any use defensively, and Kohler stepped in and launched a missile of a right hand that dropped Judson flat on his face, unconscious.
Easily one of the top three one-punch KO’s I’ve ever seen in the sport.
Match Up: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Ricardo Arona
Result: Jackson via KO (slam) at 7:32 of Round 1
When: June 20, 2004
Where: Pride Critical Countdown 2004 (Saitama, Japan)
This is one of those moments in the fight game that not only needs to be seen to be believed, but also holds a huge replay value simply because of what it is and what it promises—and when Quinton “Rampage” Jackson lifts Ricardo Arona high into the air, you know what that promise is: the greatest slam in MMA history, bar none.
The long and the short of it is simple: Arona, working from his back, locked up a triangle leg choke on Jackson, and it was tight. Jackson then made a decision befitting the kind of fighter he is, and stood up, lofting Arona high into the air as he did.
Arona had a choice at one moment to release the choke and save himself from the slam, but being a diehard Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace from the Brazilian Top Team, he decided to keep the choke locked on.
Then, “Rampage” slammed Arona down and knocked him violently unconscious as the back of his head hit the canvas.
This is the single greatest slam in the history of the sport, and every time you watch it, the cringe factor remains intact.
Match Up: Anderson Silva vs. Tony Fryklund
Result: Silva via KO (elbow) at 2:02 of Round 1
When: April 22, 2006
Where: Cage Rage 16 (London)
Once again, Anderson Silva makes an appearance on the list, and this time it is because of his unique ability to take a humble weapon, the elbow, and do something with it that you don’t normally see, while ending the fight in the process.
After doing a lot of math in the cage, Silva has a firm grasp of his opponents' defensive tendencies and the range at which he can enjoy success with his strikes.
As Fryklund covers up, expecting some kind of strike, Silva lands a sharp, painful elbow that was in many ways like a backhand. It was simple, subtle and unconventional, and the result was Fryklund, a tough fighter, flopping all over the floor like a fish out of water.
They say one of the true abilities of an artist is to take what is simple and create beautiful things with it, and Anderson Silva is indeed an artist.
Match Up: Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim
Result: Barboza via KO (spinning wheel kick) at 2:02 of Round 3
When: Jan. 14, 2012
Where: UFC 142: Aldo vs. Mendes (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
There are a lot of flashy attacks in the striking game, and it usually takes a really gifted professional to not only recognize when the time is right for such attacks, but also when the time is wrong, and that is where most striking techniques of all kinds fail.
Far too often we see fighters trying to use specific techniques or combinations of said techniques at all the wrong times and distances, and it’s like trying to shove a square peg in a round hole.
When Edson Barboza unleashed an utterly beautiful spinning wheel kick that swept across the face of Terry Etim, taking with it all sense of consciousness Etim had up until that very moment, you knew that the timing had been simply perfect, and when coupled with beautiful technique, the result was nothing less than the true imagined result of any strike when it is unleashed; a picture-perfect knockout.
Even now, I can’t decide if it was simply beautiful or beautifully simple, but either way, it was unforgettable.
Match Up: Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping
Result: Henderson via KO (punch) at 3:20 of Round 2
When: July 11, 2009
Where: UFC 100 (Paradise, Nev.)
Often, it’s hard to draw the line between policy and prejudice (for lack of a better term) when two men fight, and in the bout between Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping, perhaps it’s a bit of both.
Granted, Henderson always fights hard, and when he throws punches, he throws them hard, with the clear intent being to see his fist wipe out his opponent much like sweeping chess pieces off a board. He’s had this attitude his entire career, so when he floored Bisping with a textbook perfect right hand, Bisping was clearly done and the fight was over.
This has always been policy for Henderson.
Then, we saw Henderson jumping into the air over Bisping—lying still and unaware—his right arm cocked back, and it was then that we knew there might be some “additional” motivation involved.
Henderson lent the coup de grace all the additional weight of his body as he came falling around Bisping, channeling it into his fist and dropping it square into Bisping’s face; an act that has been seen by many as nothing more than gross intent to do bodily harm to a defenseless and defeated man, and they may be right.
But the referee had not broken them up, a point that goes to Henderson even though the simple fact is that it happened so fast the ref probably didn’t have the chance, because he was already heading to intervene.
Thankfully, Bisping was fine, his pride wounded far more than his body, but this was such a shocking display of power and yes, perhaps some prejudice, that as the years have passed, insult has been added to past injury, as Bisping told Jon Anik on Fuel TV’s UFC Ultimate Insider (h/t mmamania.com).
“That’s the one that haunts me, that’s the one that still, I go to my Twitter every day and there’s people, ‘hey Bisping, check this out’ and I click on it and it’s a picture of me getting knocked out.”
Some punches are so strong and some finishes so total that they have a lasting impact, not only in the highlight reels, but on the fighters as well, and nothing has illustrated this point in the sport of MMA greater than Dan Henderson knocking out Michael Bisping.
Match Up: Anthony Pettis vs. Benson Henderson
Result: Pettis via unanimous decision
When: Dec. 16, 2010
Where: WEC 53 (Glendale, Ariz.)
It was easily the greatest head kick in the history of MMA, and even though it didn’t provide a clean knock out, it was still delivered late in the final frame, and it was awesome.
Landing head kicks is not an easy thing, and landing them against Benson Henderson, in a title fight, is even harder, especially when you’re deep into Round 5 and probably exhausted.
But running up the cage, jumping off and landing a kick square to the face of your opponent (which catches him right across the mug and blows him off his feet and flat onto his back) while you’re still in the air?
That’s nothing short of incredible, and that’s why this moment sits at the top of this list; it trumps all the different aspects of improbability and it does so in such dramatic fashion that it is the kind of move that has really only been seen in movies, up until the time Pettis made reality out of fiction.
It’s the kind of finish that if you were to speak of it to someone who had not heard of it or seen it, they would simply not believe it.