MMA: The 12 Greatest Individual Rounds in MMA History
It’s been theorized that the most dangerous round in any fight is the first round. So new is the moment, so unfamiliar, that a lapse in judgment (based on assumption) can see a fighter finished quickly. It doesn’t matter how much footage has been watched; each fight is something new and violent.
In doing research for this, it seemed like all rounds should be thought of the same way. Logic would suggest that the more familiar a fighter gets with his opponent, the more openings he can see and take advantage of.
And while all of this may or may not be true on a fight-by-fight basis, what becomes clear is that both men are in danger and risk of defeat. When two fighters are willing to risk all in any given round, their clash can be breathtaking.
Be it the first, second, third or any other round, when two fighters suddenly come to the realization that the time is now, they start something totally new; as if everything that came before was simply a prequel to the real fight; a fight that in many ways hadn’t started until that very moment.
Here are 12 such rounds, where the moment was realized by both, and seized.
No. 12: Ken Shamrock vs. Don Frye
Event: Pride 19
Every once in a great while, a “Bad blood” fight actually lives up to the billing; such was the case of Ken Shamrock vs. Don Frye.
After both men spent 15 minutes battering each other to the rib cage, the third round saw both men really up the ante and try to honestly injure each other.
In a punching exchange, Frye leveled Shamrock, who hit the ground hard. Frye went down to try and finish the fight but ended up being reversed. On the edge of exhaustion, Ken transitioned into a heel hook on Frye. Tensions went through the roof at this point, given that he had already attacked the legs of Frye earlier, causing him to limp back to the corner after the end of Round 1.
Frye decided what was good for the goose was good for the gander and locked up his own heel hook on Shamrock. From there, both men attacked, twisting each others' legs at brutal angles, all the way until the end of the round.
Frye won the bout via split-decision and neither man was really ever the same again.
No. 11: Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Chris Leben
Event: UFC 116
Anyone who has ever seen Chris Leben fight knows he’s a heavy-fisted slugging machine, and against Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 116, he stayed true to form, much to our delight.
It was an excellent time in Leben’s career as he was flying by the seat of his pants, taking fights on short notice and letting it all hang out. Akiyama, for his part, attacked Leben with both head and heart, using his takedown skills when appropriate and simply swinging away when the time was right.
And the time was right for both men in Round 2.
After Leben slipped on a failed high kick at the start of the round, both men seemed to settle in, get their feet planted under them and look for the chance to land heavy leather.
The action is staccato; both men taking turns being the aggressor (and both men landing hard shots) in a back-and-forth tempo that was shockingly engaging to witness.
Then, just around the 3:29 mark, Leben landed a straight punch that hurt Akiyama. As Leben tried to press the advantage, he in turn ate a counter left that caused his knees to sag.
Then, both men just stood on that roller-skate and began to trade hard punches. Hooks and uppercuts were bouncing off both men, and finally a wild left from Leben dropped Akiyama again.
Akiyama quickly stood and they exchanged more shots before Akiyama got a takedown, maintained the position through a scramble, looking to close the show. Leben managed to get the fight standing, trying to work a front choke.
After that ship sailed away, both men went back to throwing hard punches, and it was sublime.
No. 10: Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier
Event: UFC on Fuel 3
As one of the greatest fights of 2012, the third round between Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier was nothing short of magical.
There was a great deal of action in Rounds 1 and 2, but Round 2 saw both men slugging it out on their feet even though they must have been exhausted.
Poirier won the round thanks to landing the more damaging shots and by keeping the bout upright, where he could score with left hand, which landed often.
But there was nothing about this round that was easy for Poirier, as Jung was going after him. Jung seemed to be landing the heavier kicks while Poirier was finding a home for his punches when he threw them in bunches—and both men were throwing a lot.
Jung would come out quickly in Round 4 and end the bout via D’Arce choke, bringing to an end one of the very best fights of 2012.
No. 9: Mark Hominick vs. Yves Jabouin
Event: WEC 49
Another great bout from the WEC was Mark Hominick vs. Yves Jabouin, and the second round was exactly what fans wanted to see.
After taking moments off during the first round, Hominick came out willing to spend the energy necessary to make sure that Jabouin didn’t outpoint him by being the busier fighter.
After eating a hard spinning elbow (which Hominick took incredibly well), Hominick continued to work and dropped Jabouin with a hard body shot. As the fight finally found its way back up to the feet, Jabouin looked like he was starting to think much more about defense than offense.
Then, Jabouin fired off a hard punch that put Hominick down. Jabouin followed him down, fell into a triangle leg choke that turned into a sweep that saw Hominick mounted, firing off punches until the fight was stopped.
No. 8: Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida
Event: The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom Finale
You imagined this fight would be great the day you heard it was set up, and when Diego Sanchez charged into the grinning mug of Clay Guida at the start of Round 1, you found out why.
This was easily one of the most violent rounds the lightweight division has ever seen.
It’s rare to see two men throw the exact same kind of strikes, over and over, and have any success at all in landing them. Sanchez landed uppercuts and hooks with ease, and Guida just kept on firing back as if nothing was happening.
It was a special kind of madness to watch, but the sickness also happened to be the cure for fans that were longing to see a fight actually live up to the hype.
No. 7: Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva
Event: UFC 79
Although it’s a fight that would have been perfect in 2003, Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva was a classic case of “Better late than never.”
After losing the first round to Liddell, Silva seemed to realize that he wasn’t going to win the one-two game against the long reach and straight punches of “The Ice Man,” and so “The Axe Murderer” came out strong in the second and Liddell was happy to rise to the occasion.
Silva landed hard punches, one of which clipped Liddell just enough to put him on his butt. Never one to shy away from a brawl, Liddell went right back at it and we got one hell of a round in what was an excellent fight.
It’s rare when fighters as honestly dangerous as Liddell and Silva were are happy to fight to win instead of fighting not to lose, and both men wanted to win badly.
Liddell would go on to take the decision, but it’s also notable that he actually shot in to take Silva down on two different occasions in Round 3; a rarity for someone who loves to fight standing up as much as Liddell.
A great round in a great fight.
No. 6: Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II
Event: UFC 52
When Matt Hughes fought Frank Trigg for the second time, it was really the same song, second verse, but this time, there was much more action.
After catching Hughes with a low blow, Trigg began to land serious punches and Hughes was on the floor quickly. Trigg continued his attack, eventually getting the position for a rear-naked choke.
It looked like it was going to be sweet revenge for Trigg, but he never quite got the choke in deep enough, and all the while, Hughes was getting the cobwebs cleared.
Hughes got out of the bad position, picked up Trigg, carried him all the way across the Octagon and slammed him down. Then he got on top and began to pound on Trigg.
Trigg suddenly found himself in the same position as before, with Hughes sinking in a rear-naked choke, and once again, Trigg was forced to tap out.
One of the greatest rounds in MMA history if you are looking for high drama, swings in action and the irony of a familiar finish.
No. 5: Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama
Event: Pride 21
Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama was really more like a hockey fight than an MMA bout. These two men locked up in a kind of mutual collar-tie, then proceeded to slug each other in the face, over and over again.
It wasn’t technical and it wasn’t pretty, but god it was glorious.
Just watch for yourself.
No. 4: Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley
Event: Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley
In a bout that readily defined the difference between power versus volume, Paul Daley and Nick Diaz went after each other with all they had.
Daley proved to be as heavy handed as we all thought, putting Diaz on the deck with a single shot. Diaz defended himself, got back to the feet and rallied back in typical Diaz fashion, unloading with both hands.
Eventually, Daley was overcome by the sheer volume of accurate punches and succumbed to the TKO in a wild first round that was everything we hoped it would be.
No. 3: Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar I
Event: The Ultimate Fighter Finale
If anyone is a fan of MMA and doesn’t know how great (and important) the fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar was, they need to watch it.
It was simple, really, but at its core, so is the fight game; this time it was nothing more than two men slugging it out for a UFC contract and it was glorious.
The second round of their bout saw both men, properly “warmed up” by the first round, really go after each other. They were throwing knees, jabs, hooks and kicks like it was their last day on earth.
Both men fought like the prize meant more to them than anything else, and in doing so, they served the sport in the best way possible by spending themselves utterly toward that end.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is what a fight is really all about.
No. 2: Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung I
Event: WEC 48
If there is anything the first bout between Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung proved, it’s that sometimes heart is more important than art.
This entire fight was incredible, but for my eyes, Round 2 was the best of the bunch.
It was chaos for order; wild shots thrown and landed, both men wobbled, both men coming back and throwing hard, for all five minutes.
In the early moments, Garcia managed to wobble Jung with one of his wild hooks, yet Jung pressed forward. Throughout the rest of the round, both men where throwing hard: Garcia with his punches and low kicks, Jung with everything except the kitchen sink. At the end of the round, it was hard to believe both men could still stand.
It was damn near everything you could want out of a single round.
No. 1: Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi
Event: Pride 33
Words really fail to do justice to the action found in the first round of Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi.
This fight typifies the reasons why both men have attracted so many fans.
Just watch the fight and see if it doesn’t blow your socks off.