We are just hours away from being blessed with a third fight between, quite possibly, the two greatest heavyweight fighters in mixed martial arts history. With two exciting bouts already to their credit, it is quite possible that their trilogy will rank among the greatest of all time.
What historic rivalries, though, are they competing with? What three-chapter stories have the the right blend of historical relevance and sheer excitement to make such a list?
Find out right here!
Picking the five greatest trilogies in MMA history is no easy task, and there will always be some other sagas that could easily be slipped in among this lot. Here are some that could have easily made this list:
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
If you talk to a fan of Pride, you will undoubtedly hear two things; it's totally way better than the UFC for some reason that you just don't understand, and Fedor Emelianenko was 240 pounds of pudgy Russian magic. His fights with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, where he successfully out-grappled one of the greatest submission wizards of all time, are commonly pointed to as the point where Emelianenko went from great to greatest of his time. The only knock on this trilogy is that their second bout ended with a No Contest due to an accidental headbutt.
BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes
The rivalry between BJ Penn and Matt Hughes truly elevated both fighters' popularity in a way rarely seen. Penn beat Hughes at UFC 46 in one of the greatest upsets of MMA history, leveraging his overnight superstardom to get a fat contract offer from K-1. Hughes would return the favor two years later, punching out Penn at UFC 63. The trilogy would be made complete in 2010 when Penn scored a shocking 21-second knockout at UFC 123.
Shinya Aoki vs. Joachim Hansen
Only the hardest of hardcore MMA fans know about this trilogy, but submission wizard Shinya Aoki and savvy veteran Joachim Hansen had possibly the greatest trilogy that played out entirely on Japanese soil. Aoki would take the first bout with a slick gogoplata at Pride Shockwave 2006, but Hansen would win the inaugural Dream lightweight belt by knocking Aoki out in the finals of the Dream Lightweight Grand Prix. The trilogy would come to its conclusion at Dream 11 with Aoki forcing Hansen to tap to a sweet armbar.
Strikeforce President Scott Coker credited Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez with being the backbone of his mixed martial arts promotion. The three contests between them definitely rank among the finest moments of the now-defunct promotion.
While almost all the other trilogies in this article are at least in part defined by the finishes that took place, Melendez and Thomson never finished each other. Each fight, in the truest possible way, was an epic struggle.
The first two fights went in very different directions. In the first, Thomson would dominate Melendez in a way that was never seen, and hasn't been seen since, earning a unanimous 50-45 scoring from the judges. The second was equally lopsided, with Melendez handily earning the decision, and taking back his undisputed champion status.
The third fight, though, was anything but convincing. Both fighters threw kitchen sinks at each other for 25 minutes. Every technique in either fighter's arsenal, standing and grappling alike, was displayed. Each time, like a never-ending game of poker, the move was checked and raised.
In the end, Melendez would take home the belt in a razor-thin decision, but Thomson's effort was one for the ages.
Melendez would go on to fight for the UFC belt. Thomson will do the same this December.
When discussing the greatest of all time by division, no other weight class has as clear a one-two punch as Matt Hughes and Georges St-Pierre.
From 2001 until 2006, Matt Hughes reigned over the welterweight division with an iron fist, save the brief hiccup with BJ Penn. From 2006 onward, Georges St-Pierre has had the division in his pocket, save his loss to Matt Serra. Those losses, however, are what allowed this trilogy to take place.
After Hughes lost the welterweight belt to Penn, Penn left the UFC for K-1. With the vacant title on the line, Hughes and St-Pierre would meet for the first time, with the older, more experienced Hughes taking advantage of the Canadian's jitters, slapping on a buzzer-beating armbar at 4:59 of the first round.
St-Pierre would work his way back into title contention by beating Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk and BJ Penn, and would finally take hold of the UFC welterweight strap by knocking the champ out with a headkick in the second round, then finishing him off with punches. St-Pierre, like Hughes, would suffer a massive upset to lose the belt.
This opened the door for the rubber match. St-Pierre would utterly dominate Hughes, and took a page from the former champ's book, taking the win with just a few ticks left via submission to an armbar.
This was a rare trilogy between clear-cut top-two fighters, the MMA equivalent of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather actually fighting. Three times.
One of my first articles here on Bleacher Report was picking out fighters that embodied different aspects of MMA. Some of it was cheesy, like Dominick Cruz showing the surrogate family that training gives and Ryan Couture representing the hereditary nature of martial arts.
Wanderlei Silva, though? He was the avatar of the true, unpolished violence at the core of mixed martial arts. A person capable of looking down at another human being choking on his own blood and stomping his face with an utter lack of mercy or empathy. A 25 year-old Quinton Jackson had the cojones to look him in the eyes and say he was going to rough him up.
Sure, that call-out at Pride 25 was initially staged. The anger that both fighters would eventually enter the ring with, though, was very, very real.
Silva would take the first fight, surviving an early storm of Jackson ground and pound and finishing the fight in the second round with knees from the Muay Thai clinch that left Jackson in a heap. The second fight gave fans one of the most iconic knockouts in the history of Pride, where he landed an absolutely fearsome right hand to set up for another swarm of knees that would send Jackson through the ropes, and face-first into the corner of the ring.
Jackson, of course, would leave Pride, join the World Fighting Alliance, then the UFC. Four years after their second fight, "Rampage" would have his revenge. At UFC 92, neither fighter was ready to bury their grudge, and the bad blood was shown to be at a steady boil at the weigh-ins when Silva shoved Jackson. The last laugh, though, would be had by Jackson, as he ended their third fight with a right hand that held all the frustration from his previous losses.
While it lacks the historical relevance of some of the other rivalries on this list, Silva vs. Jackson is one of the most iconic, intense trilogies in combat sports. It more than deserves to open up this list.
Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell are probably the two most iconic mixed martial artists of all time. The fights the two put on are also among the greatest of all time.
The first bout between the two was a taste of what was to come for, essentially, Randy Couture's entire career. At age 39 (just two weeks removed from the big four-zero) and coming off back-to-back losses to hotshot youngsters by the names of Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez, Couture was something of an afterthought. A mere stepping stone to force a long-awaited bout between Chuck Liddell, an up-and-coming knockout artist, and at-the-time champion Tito Ortiz.
Then Couture won, tiring Liddell out in their interim title fight for ten minutes before scoring a takedown, climbing to mount and hammerfisting his way to his third UFC belt.
Liddell would leave for a brief stint with Pride, and Couture would go on to dominate Tito Ortiz and become the undisputed light heavyweight champion.
The second bout was the headlining event in, perhaps, the single greatest UFC card of all time, UFC 52. Held immediately after the finale to the The Ultimate Fighter's inaugural season, the event took the lightning that was captured in a bottle by Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar, shook it up, and made it even bigger. After an impressive win by Georges St-Pierre, the coming out party of Renato Sobral and possibly the single greatest welterweight title fight of all time. Chuck Liddell finally had UFC gold strapped around his waist after scoring an emphatic first-round knockout with what would become his signature backpedaling right cross.
Liddell vs. Couture 2 set records in both live gate and buyrate, which made promotional brass as hungry for a rubber match as the fans. The two were matched up for the final time at UFC 57.
Couture and Liddell would exchange big punches, with both fighters showing wear entering the second. Shortly after the bell, Liddell landed a strong right hook that toppled Couture, earning him the knockout victory.
It was an exciting conclusion to the trilogy that brought the UFC into the post-TUF era.
Words simply can't describe the two championship fights between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Never before, and never again, will we see fights like that.
Twice, Maynard had Edgar in a position where almost nobody else would survive. Twice, he couldn't seal the deal. Twice, Edgar would battle back. Twice, Maynard would match him punch for punch until the very end.
Their second fight ended in one of the most inconvenient, and most accurate, judgments in UFC history. The third fight, though, ended when Edgar slipped a big uppercut into a takedown attempt, followed by several haymakers.
This is the standard for all future trilogies in MMA.