Modern mixed martial arts is less than 30 years old. This short history creates a hyperbole, where all great fights are the greatest and all bad moments are the worst.
And in a world of "what have you done for me lately," this hyperbole has once again clouded judgement, prompting fans to call Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson not only the greatest light heavyweight fight of all time but greatest fight ever. Surely the fight was an impressive display of true MMA, but in our ever-evolving technological world, we tend to lose sight of our past, forget our predecessors and ignore history.
In the following slides, we will explore the greatest light heavyweight fights of all time.
Wanderlei Silva promised a show when he returned to Japan for a fight against Brian Stann on March 3, 2013. And he did not disappoint. The bout, which was deemed a throwback to Pride FC, was a wild back-and-forth brawl with five knockdowns. But only one knockout.
When Mauricio "Shogun" Rua entered the ring at Pride: "Critical Countdown 2005," he was coming off a violent finish of fan favorite "Rampage" Jackson. In a similar vein, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira had just defeated Dan Henderson by armbar.
A clash between these two fighters seemed as if it could not have come at a better time. And, as it tuned out, we were right. Shogun and Nogueira put on a back-and-forth battle for the ages.
Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva was called the fight between the "two greatest light heavyweight fighters of all time." Sure, journalists and fans criticized how late the fight was taking place in both fighters' careers. But after a three-round war, no one was complaining, as both men seemingly left everything in the cage.
When Lyoto Machida walked out to the Octagon at UFC 104, most believed his opponent Mauricio "Shogun" Rua would be the first victim of the "Machida Era." However, after five rounds filled with creative kicks and wild exchanges, the decision seemed much more difficult than anticipated.
While Machida won, the decision, like Jones over Gustafsson, was shrouded in controversy.
Dan Henderson, Pride middleweight (205-pound) champion, and Quinton Jackson, UFC light heavyweight champion, were already legends of MMA before they met at UFC 75. But their bout, which was deemed at the time the greatest UFC light heavyweight title fight of all time, solidified their legendary status.
The first fight Jackson and Silva lived up to the chaotic wars both men were consistent for in their previous bouts. But it was not until their second fight when Jackson and Silva both shined. Although Jackson arguably performed better in the second bout, Silva left the indelible image of the fight.
Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar is arguably the most important fight in MMA history. UFC had lost over $40 million and, in a last-ditch effort, created a reality television show called The Ultimate Fighter to draw the younger generation. While the plan appeared to work, with consistent ratings throughout the series, all hopes of a UFC future seemed to hinge on a proper finale.
And Griffin and Bonnar did not disappoint. Their three-round battle, which actually prompted a rise in television ratings throughout the fight, is one of the most notorious fights in MMA lore and a proverbial savior of UFC.
Randy Couture, as a fighter, was the preeminent underdog. There were few fights in Couture's UFC career where the general MMA community selected "The Natural" as a favorite. And this was no different when he faced Chuck Liddell at UFC 43.
However, as Couture did countless times in his career, he overcame the odds, ignored the doubters and defied logic.
When Jones and Gustafsson stepped off their stools for Round 5 at UFC 165, journalists and fans were already calling their bout the greatest fight not only in light heavyweight history but ever. And after watching both men leave everything in the cage, through wild exchanges and vicious kicks, it is hard to argue.
The bout had all of the makings for a perfect fight: history (Jones attempting to win a consecutive sixth title defense), title implications and, most importantly, a career-changing presentation of warrior spirit.
When Dan Henderson met Mauricio Rua at UFC 139, there was no title on the line or history to made. The main event at UFC 139 was merely about two MMA legends entering a cage for battle. And each round was nothing short of war. Both men displayed awe-inspiring heart and spirit through rounds of takedowns, knockdowns, punches, kicks, elbows and knees.
The fight nearly ended several times, but neither man was willing to give up. And in the end, this is why most watch the sport; not for the titles or history, but to witness two men supersede our perceptions of reality.