Ranking the 10 Greatest MMA Heavyweight Slugfests of All Time
Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos at UFC 155 doesn't qualify as a slugfest. For that to have been possible, dos Santos would have needed to, you know, do some slugging.
The heavyweight title fight is better described as a shellacking, a one-sided beating as bad as any I've ever seen in a high-level MMA fight. For 25 minutes, Velasquez pounded away at dos Santos. Perhaps it was karmic—after all, dos Santos once delivered a similar beating to poor Roy Nelson.
There have, however, been plenty of great heavyweight donnybrooks in MMA history. These are 10 of them. Whether they are the best 10 is open to dispute. Let me know what I missed in the comments.
Don Frye vs. Tank Abbott
Photo by Susumu Nagao
Where else to start but with the acknowledged king of the heavyweight slugfest?
Don Frye is many things. He's a black belt in judo. He's a collegiate-level wrestler. He was a professional boxer.
All of that is often forgotten, however, when he steps into the cage. When the door closes, he becomes a face puncher and a face punchee. Thoughts of strategy and other civilized niceties fly out of the proverbial window.
Frye is the kind of fighter who would have been comfortable in a saloon brawl while Wyatt Earp looked on. A true American classic.
Justin Eilers vs. Wesley Correira
Photo by GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
For a time, MMA fans legitimately thought Wesley "Cabbage" Correira couldn't be hurt. He seemed to absorb punishment like a sponge, soaking up knees and punches like they were simply minor inconveniences.
In his Superbrawl 30 fight with Justin Eilers, Cabbage was tagged over and over again by Eilers big right hand. Over and over again he came back for more. The fight wasn't completely one-sided. In between taking punches right in the face, Correira managed to knock one of Eilers' teeth out with a knee to the grill.
In the end, Cabbage had his hand raised, a decision so egregious even his hometown fans booed. UFC president Dana White, on hand for the bout, suggested they run it back in the big show. That never came to be, but we can dream can't we?
Igor Vovchancyn vs. Paul Varelans
Okay, so most of the slugging was done by Vovchancyn. Go ahead and sue me. I'm a sucker for a good "David vs. Goliath" fight.
Little known fact: The referee in this fight, UFC veteran Andy Anderson, once owned a Totally Nude Steakhouse in Texas so reprehensible that the state allegedly paid him to shut it down. That's irrelevant, but awesome, information to have in your back pocket the next time the Andy Anderson category pops up on Jeopardy.
Josh Barnett vs. Pedro Rizzo
UFC 30 screen capture
As a grappler, Josh Barnett had few peers at the turn of the century. Combining catch wrestling and jiu jitsu in a compelling package, Barnett was a submission machine.
He was also a stubborn, stubborn man.
Pedro Rizzo was considered by most the top striker in all of MMA. So what did Barnett do at UFC 30? Stood toe-to-toe of course. He was eventually knocked out, but his courage and pure insanity did plenty to endear him to MMA hardcores worldwide.
Don Frye vs. James Thompson
There are a lot of amazing sights to behold in the James Thompson vs. Don Frye fight at Pride 34. You'll marvel at Frye's ability to withstand punishment, his outstanding mustache and the moment they reenact the classic slambang action of Frye's great fight with Takayama.
But what really leaps off the screen is the staredown. Head to head, literally, the two look like angry bulls—and then charge each other like they just saw red waving! Incredible.
Cal Worsham vs. Paul Varelans
Paul Varelans screen capture
It was labelled as "Tae Kwon Do versus Trapfighting." But because Tae Kwon Do is pretty much worthless in a real fight and Trapfighting may not even be a real thing, what we really got was an old-fashioned street fight. On paper, Varelans had every advantage—10 inches, 70 pounds and seven fewer years of wear and tear.
In real life, however, he made what was almost a fatal mistake. He wore a black t-shirt into the cage, one Worsham used to hockey-fight the heck out of him. For one glorious minute the two traded a series of wild, bare-fisted blows. And then the real magic happened.
The 6'8" Varelans put an end to the madcap fun by straight dropping a Dusty Rhodes-style bionic elbow right on the top of Worsham's dome. Like that, it was all over, gone but never to be forgotten.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Mirko Cro Cop II
The first time the two men fought, the smaller Wanderlei Silva took a neophyte Mirko "Cro Cop" the distance in a surprisingly competitive bout. This second time around, to the "Axe Murderer's" chagrin, Cro Cop was an MMA veteran with 25 bouts. And that, friends, made all the difference.
Everything about this fight screamed excellence. First was the staredown, a contrast in styles between Silva's fire and Cro Cop's ice-cold gaze. As the two, who clearly did not like each other, looked deep into each other's soul, it was obvious to all something special was about to happen.
Boy did it.
Silva, in classic Chute Boxe fashion, charged forward, winging punches and looking for the knockout. Cro Cop remained calm, landing a straight left that floored the middleweight kingpin, jumping on top of him and practically closing his eye with ground-and-pound.
What happened next had the feeling of inevitability. Eye closing, Silva was desperate to end things quickly. Instead, he got hit with the LEFT HIGH KICK OF DOOM! They say the one you don't see coming is the hardest blow to weather. That was never more true than here, as a blow that seemed to glance off the top of his dome sent the seemingly immortal Silva crashing to the mat.
Igor Vovchancyn vs. Enson Inoue
Enson Inoue is a remarkable man. He's a humanitarian, coming to the aid of the many after his adopted homeland of Japan was wrecked by natural disasters too devastating for most to process. Many of us sent $10 on our cell phone to the American Red Cross. Enson got out among the people and did his best to help.
That's one side of Enson. The other? One of the craziest son of a guns who ever walked the planet.
Watch the monumental exchange of leather above. There are no jabs. Technique is out the window. Instead, Inoue and the Russian great Igor Vovchancyn winged haymakers at each other for 30 solid seconds.
Then watch it again.
How much time do you have?
Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo
(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Pat Barry smelled victory. Tasted it. Knew it was all but inevitable.
How could it be otherwise?
Cheick Kongo was flopping around the Octagon like a fish on land after a Barry blow robbed him of his senses. It seemed merely a matter of time.
And then something truly strange happened. The reeling Kongo landed a punch of his own, a right that rolled Barry's eyes into the back of his head. And, like that, Pat went from the joy of victory to the despair of defeat. I defy you to find a better comeback in any other sport.
Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama
Nothing beats the classic Don Frye versus Yoshihiro Takayama matchup from Pride 21. A thousand years from now, that will still be true. I would drop hyperbole from the heavens praising this fight, but I don't know any words better than epic.
Look, the fun police might jump in and point out that neither fighter shows any discernible technique. That the fight is a glorified bar fight, a hockey brawl if hockey brawls featured Japanese wrestlers with smashed faces taking on cowboys with fantastic mustaches.
That critique is fair, but missing the point. Missing it in a major way.
Was this fight absurd?
Yes, and God, yes. That's the beauty of it, not its failure. This fight is great because of its flaws, not despite them. So sit back, relax and enjoy six minutes of heaven.