The Career-Defining Moment of Every UFC 160 Main Card Fighter
In looking ahead to this weekend's UFC 160 fight card, we revisit that one special moment in the career of each main card fighter that best defines him as a mixed martial artist.
The moments chosen for these combatants all meet certain criteria. One, they represent a time of transition for the fighters, either marking an accomplishment, disappointment or career move. Two, they are memorable. Three, they altered the manner in which fans and media perceived the fighters.
There are several ways to go about choosing a set of criteria, but we are using the one laid out above.
Also note that many fighters have experienced several such moments during their careers, and in those cases, the "defining" moment was chosen at the discretion of the writer.
EliteXC, Renegade (2007): K.J. Noons defeats Nick Diaz via TKO (Round 1, 5:00)
Noons' win over Diaz put him on the MMA map and it remains his most meaningful victory to date. The boxing lesson he gave Diaz back in 2007 was very impressive, battering his face until the cageside doctor halted the action.
After the win, Noons found success four straight times, before losing in a rematch to Diaz.
Though the score between the rivals now sits at 1-1, that first fight legitimized Noons' place in the sport and marks the pinnacle of his mixed martial arts career.
WEC 51, Aldo vs. Gamburyan (2010): Donald Cerrone defeats Jamie Varner via unanimous decision
The match was Cerrone's penultimate outing in the WEC and his second contest opposite Varner. There was some bad blood entering the bout, since their first go at it, a tightly contested title fight, was stopped prematurely when Varner was grazed by an illegal knee and claimed he was unable to continue.
The win in the rematch was monumental for Cerrone, not only because he avenged a loss and won a grudge match, but because he had gone 2-3 over his previous five fights and needed a win desperately. Had he lost, who knows whether he'd even have made the jump to the UFC a year later.
The result totally altered the trajectory of Cerrone's career.
UFC Live 6, Cruz vs. Johnson (2011): T.J. Grant defeats Shane Roller via submission (Round 3, 2:12)
The stoppage was questionable since Roller didn't actually tap, but the result was never in question. Grant, who had been a decent fighter for a long time, put in the performance of his life and dominated the bulk of the action.
The most important element of the match was that it marked Grant's lightweight debut, a move that has set him on a four-fight win streak and placed him in a title eliminator bout.
Transitioning to 155 is actually the defining part of Grant's career. His fight with Roller is just the singular moment that the transition can most easily be pinned to.
UFC 136, Edgar vs. Maynard 3 (2011): Frankie Edgar defeats Gray Maynard via knockout (Round 4, 3:54)
Career-defining moments are not universally positive, and unfortunately for Maynard, his second failed attempt to capture the lightweight title has shaped his image more than anything else.
Maynard began each of his championship affairs with Edgar by nearly stopping the action in Round 1, only to come away with a disappointing draw and an even more disappointing loss.
The only way Maynard redefines his career is by finally capturing the title that has narrowly eluded him twice previously.
James Te Huna
UFC on Fuel TV 7, Barao vs. McDonald (2013): James Te Huna defeats Ryan Jimmo via unanimous decision
Te Huna's resume lacks nothing in the way of highlight-reel knockouts, but the moment that now defines him is the moment he outwrestled an opponent for a somewhat sloppy decision victory.
See, for a long time now, Te Huna has been regarded as a striking powerhouse, but little more. In his fight with Jimmo, Te Huna overcame some early damage to grab a win by doing something new—wrestling and grappling.
The victory could mark the outset of Te Huna's transition from a niche fighter to a serious contender, and if it does, it will forever rank as one of the most important fights of his career.
UFC 146, Dos Santos vs. Mir (2012): Glover Teixeira defeats Kyle Kingsbury via submission (Round 1, 1:53)
Teixeira has not been a household name for long, but he was on the periphery of the mixed martial arts scene years before joining the UFC.
As with most fighters who find success fighting in smaller promotions, the question always was: Could he do it on the big stage?
When Teixeira debuted against Kingsbury in 2012, he answered that question with an emphatic "yes," taking less than two minutes to announce his arrival in the UFC's light heavyweight division.
UFC 144, Edgar vs. Henderson (2012): Mark Hunt defeats Cheick Kongo via TKO (Round 1, 2:11)
You could argue that wins over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop should take precedence, but within the grander scheme, it's Hunt's more recent exploits that have defined, or maybe redefined him as a mixed martial artist.
When Zuffa first acquired Pride, Hunt entered the UFC on a four-fight losing streak. He dropped his first contest with the promotion in just over a minute. "The Super Samoan's" career looked dead and buried.
Then he beat Chris Tuchscherer, but that just seemed like he was delaying the inevitable.
Then he beat Ben Rothwell and it looked like he may be able to hold down a job for a couple of fights.
Then he beat Kongo and people were calling for a title shot. That win resurrected Hunt's career, not only making him relevant once again, but truly thrusting him into contention.
Junior Dos Santos
UFC on Fox 1, Velasquez vs. Dos Santos (2011): Junior Dos Santos defeats Cain Velasquez via knockout (Round 1, 1:04)
It was the main event of the UFC's first Fox show and also the day Dos Santos became the UFC heavyweight champion.
That honor has since returned to the man he took it from, but Dos Santos remains a true star.
The only moment that could really redefine his career would be a victory in the rubber match with Velasquez.
UFC 156, Aldo vs. Edgar (2013): Antonio Silva defeats Alistair Overeem via knockout (Round 3, 0:25)
I was tempted to go with Silva's win over Fedor here, but since beating Fedor got old fast and Silva lost his next two fights—badly—the hype he generated for himself then dispersed rather quickly.
Silva's win over Overeem, on the other hand, not only thrust him into a title fight, but it also came when all hope appeared to be lost.
Entering Round 3 of the bout, Silva needed a finish. That he charged out and took it without hesitation thrilled the crowd, saved the day and ultimately, gave him a true signature win.
UFC 155, Dos Santos vs. Velasquez (2012): Cain Velasquez defeats Junior Dos Santos via unanimous decision
Avenging the sole loss of his career is without a doubt Velasquez's defining moment. Winning the title for the first time is up there too, but victory in the rematch with Dos Santos stands above.
Velasquez and Dos Santos have been the two best heavyweights in the UFC for the past couple years. Had Dos Santos defeated Velasquez for a second straight time, the scene would have been Dos Santos, then Velasquez, then the field. It also would have made garnering another title shot a tough proposition for Velasquez.
The win for Velasquez reaffirmed his position alongside, if not above Dos Santos, as a premiere heavyweight fighter.
And, anytime someone wins a title back from the opponent that took it from him, it is always a special moment in any combat sport.