If you’re not a fan of mixed martial arts, but think you might have the capacity, then Ultimate Fighting Championship 100 would be a great moment to give the sport a try.
For one thing, it is an important milestone in the UFC’s history.
This is an organization that started way back in November of 1993 with UFC 1—an eight-man, open weight-class tournament featuring future stars Royce Gracie (who would win the event at 170 pounds), Ken Shamrock, and fighters specializing in everything from sumo wrestling to boxing. The more traditional weight classes would eventually replace the grand prix-style tournament and a slew of other rule-changes would also emerge.
Regardless of how you feel about the many tweaks the sport and organization has seen, 15 years and 100 events is no small achievement.
But more importantly, UFC 100 promises to feature some epic battles and profound results.
The two behemoths each hold a Heavyweight Championship belt—Lesnar has the “real” one courtesy of his victory over Randy Couture while Mir’s comes with “Interim” attached due to the Natural’s brief detour from the UFC. During Couture's exodus, his belt was vacated and eventually worn by Mir.
As if a unification bout needed extra seasoning, the former pro-wrestler’s short MMA resume already features a loss at the hands of the arm-breaking monstrosity whom he’ll face in the main event.
Of course, Lesnar’s fans will tell you he was overwhelming Mir until the submission-specialist caught the larger man in a knee bar. And, honestly, they'd be right.
A win is a win is a win.
Or maybe Georges St. Pierre versus Thiago Alves will light your fire—a win by GSP almost assures us a fight for the ages against another perennial contender for best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Anderson Silva.
Rush against the Spider would be many aficionados' MMA version of Kobe playing LeBron in one-on-one.
Fans of The Ultimate Fighter reality series (I, being one of them) will point towards the match-up of this season's coaches, Dan Henderson versus Michael Bisping.
A contrast in characters—Dangerous Dan's stoic persona squaring off against the brash and sometimes-mouthy Count—if not in fighting styles.
When Mark Coleman takes on Stephan Bonnar, the Hammer will represent the UFC's early glory days while the American Psycho represents the losing side of its revival.
And if you want to pretend you're one of the faithful, tell all your friends about the next big thing because he's on the card as well—Jon Jones. Bones spent 15 minutes tossing Bonnar every which way but loose and Stephan's no slouch.
Yep, the dream-weavers over at the UFC really packed this one to the gills—they went all out. So, with that in mind and to whip the pseudo-masses into a frenzy, I set about finding the 100 best fights from MMA's storied annals.
The task was too large for a single article, so I'm breaking it down into five parts.
Three groups of 25, then 25-11, and finally the top 10. Along the way, I'll break down what each groups represents so the intelligent reader can see where I'm coming from and blast me for failing in that regard rather than for not adhering to his or her preferences.
Man, can't wait for the trolling as I'm sure I'll make some blunders.
On with it.
These first 25 are easy to explain—not necessarily great fights, start to finish, but fantastic spectacles. The better the spectacle, based on the combatants and the confrontation, the higher up it goes (NOTE: all links were working when posted):
No. 100—Antoni Hardonk vs. three, knife-wielding muggers
Depending on who you're asking, this one could be either No. 1 or No. 100 if it's on the list at all. Since this is in honor of a UFC event, I'll play it straight.
But I had to include it because it represents the best of mixed martial arts and humanity.
Many of us will tell you we'd risk our lives to save complete strangers. Maybe some of the brutally honest and self-deprecating will tell you they'd be too scared, but the reality is that being able to do something and actually doing it are two complete strangers.
Hardonk knows the answer to a hypothetical we've all pondered because he rescued a random person from a dicey scenario (excellent work by Josh Hall, who wrote the story and Irish Mike D, who hipped me to it).
No. 99—David Abbott vs. John Matua at UFC 6 Clash of the Titans
Tank was one of the UFC's earliest and biggest stars. Many sitcoms starers and Jon Favreau devotees will recognize him as the toothless cage-fighter who stomped out a doughy Rudy alum on Friends.
Sadly, I'm one of those.
Fans of the UFC since its earliest days will remember this fight because the two were supposedly mortal enemies—an element Abbott testified to when mocking the specialist in the Hawaiian art of bone-breaking as he was seized up on the canvas.
You can see there wasn't much artistry, grace, or nobility in Tank's approach—which is why he never amounted to anything more than a spectacle. On that night, though, brawling beat Kapu Kuialua.
No. 98—Keith Hackney vs. Joe Son at UFC 4 Revenge of the Warriors
You'll see the Giant Killer again on this list and that's a good thing because his fight against Son was probably not his finest moment (in retrospect, Son's been accused of participating in a graphic gang rape so Hackney was actually trying to do the world a favor). It's a pretty nondescript battle with the Korean getting the better of Hackney in the opening stages, but be sure to catch from 3:50 onward.
If you ever want proof the only true rules in the UFC's infancy were no eye-gouging and no biting, there it is.
Everything else was legal with some techniques being frowned upon. Like groin strikes. Repeated groin strikes.
Too bad the fight didn't happen before 1990. And too bad Hackney didn't have brass knuckles.
No. 97—Gerard Gordeau vs. Teila Tuli at UFC 1 The Beginning
This may be a sentimental pick for me because it's the fight that sparked my love affair with the sport. I saw the Dutch Savate champion take on the Hawaiian sumo wrestler and there was no turning back.
Specifically, it was at about the 52 second mark.
More specifically, it was the nanosecond where Gordeau launched Tuli's tooth into the crowd and the big fella into Hollywood—Tuli next surfaced on my radar as the guy who offered Jason Segel a beer and a hug on the beach in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Frankly, I think Tuli might've come out on top since acting's gotta be easier than absorbing kicks to the face.
No. 96—B.J. Penn vs. Caol Uno at UFC 34 High Voltage
This really wasn't a fight.
Uno comes flying across the ring with a haphazard jump kick and the Prodigy is having none of it. It's not often a man known for his jiu-jitsu black belt gets noticed for a fight where he displays nary a ground ware, but his lightning quick mauling of the Japanese fighter makes this list.
Particularly because it was Penn's third fight and the first knock-out of his Hall of Fame career. Making it even more interesting is the fact the current Lightweight Champion of the UFC would later roll to a five-round draw with Uno.
No. 95—Anthony Johnson vs. Tommy Speer at UFC Fight Night 13
It's funny, usually TUF alumni get to play paddy-cake with powderpuffs for a while after they get off the show. Perhaps that's what the powers-that-be thought they were giving Speer when they tossed Rumble to him.
There is a little back and forth here, but the Minnesota farm boy is no equal for Johnson's striking prowess. For those squeamish viewers out there, this one ends is a pretty gruesome KO.
No. 94—Pete Sell vs. Scott Smith at TUF 4 Finale
Pretty much your standard modern tete-a-tete when two vanilla strikers are going at it. It wasn't a bad fight, but it wasn't a great one based on the exchanges. Both Sell and Smith got their licks in over the course of the first two rounds, and Drago looked to be the victor when he crumpled Smith with a body shot.
Not so fast.
One of the most amazing finishes you'll see gets this baby a spot.
No. 93—Keith Hackney vs. Emmanuel Yarborough at UFC 3 American Dream
This is a more honorable moment for Hackney, although he comes suspiciously close to kicking the sumo wrestler in the tenders. In his defense, the Giant Killer really was facing a giant this time with Yarborough tipping the scales at 6'8" and over 600 pounds.
Plus, the 5'11" and 200-pound Hackney probably wasn't intending or succeeding in gettin' the goodies.
Yarborough actually gets his big paws on the smaller man a couple times, but Hackney's speed and quickness saves him until fatigue and cumulative damage lend him the upper hand.
No. 92—Royce Gracie vs. Chad Rowan at K-1 Premium 2004 Dynamite!!
First, gotta love Japanese production—you must have those double exclamation points.
This bout is kind of like Hackney-Yarborough in that it features a gross size disparity. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master came in at his customary 6'1" and 175 pounds. Across the ring awaited Akebono, all 6'8" and 500 pounds of him.
What earns it higher marks than No. 93 is the fact that (A) Akebono was a legitimate sumo wrestler, the first foreign-born such athlete to rise to the rank of Yokozuna; and (B) Gracie went to the ground and still beat the roughly 300-pound advantage.
No. 91—Mirko Filopovic vs. Igor Vovchanchyn at PRIDE Total Elimination 2003
Cro Cop will be a familiar name once all 100 fights are on the board despite his recent struggles.
On this night in Japan, he squared off against a decent facsimile of himself in the Ukrainian. Ice Cold possesses stumps that can rival even Filopovic's mighty legs and his neck-breaking kicks can deliver more than adequate damage even if they aren't as powerful as those of the Croat.
Hence, you can see a lot of tense feints and tentative flurries before the explosion the crowd eagerly anticipated.
No. 90—Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir at UFC 81 Breaking Point
This might be the first one that gets me in trouble if I'm not already hip-deep in hot water.
The precursor to UFC 100's main event had some profound meaning—it was Lesnar's second fight since jumping from pro wrestling and his first against a sincerely dangerous opponent. It was also his first UFC fight and announced the reemergence of Mir as a serious player in the Heavyweight Division.
However, the actual action wasn't that scintillating—the tattooed behemoth used his size and quickness to take Mir down with surprising ease, but then just became Lenny with some cute little puppies. While trying to club the submission-specialist into oblivion, Lesnar blundered into a leg lock and that's all she wrote.
Plus, there was the odd restart by referee Steve Mazagatti.
No. 89—Fedor Emelianenko vs. Kevin Randleman at PRIDE Critical Countdown 2004
The Last Emperor is the baddest dude on the planet and one of, if not, my favorite mixed martial artist. You can be sure this is merely the first of many entries.
Against the Monster, Emelianenko demonstrated his unique ability to withstand punishment that might maim or kill us trivial mortals. The up-and-over Randleman gives Fedor at the 50 second mark is all you need to see, but it was actually the second ride the American gave to the Russian.
He needed a third.
No. 88—David Abbott vs. Don Frye at the Ultimate Ultimate 1996
If it's spectacle you're after, Tank could usually deliver—such was his allure in mixed martial arts' fledgling days. This brutal war of fists with the Predator was no different.
Johnny Cash wrote "many a good man I saw fall" in "Drive On," his tribute to Vietnam veterans. Well, Abbott isn't deserving of the same sort of respect, but the statement is no less true about some very tough men who tried to stand and bang with him.
On the ground, it was a totally different story.
No. 87—Frank Mir vs. Tim Sylvia at UFC 48 Payback
I know, I know—this was a Heavyweight Championship Title fight and the last time we saw Frank Mir with the femur God gave him. But, c'mon.
The Maine-iac wasn't your typical title-holder, kind of champ by default at that point in the UFC's development. And, again, the actual fight wasn't so impressive. After Sylvia unwisely dove to the ground with Mir, the much taller fighter had surrendered his advantage.
An observation echoed by his fractured arm—this one's ugly, folks.
No. 86—Kevin Burns vs. Anthony Johnson at TUF 8 Finale
Now, we're getting into the real "fight" fights. What follows aren't one-sided baptisms of fists, knees, and feet or stretches of calm ended by thunderous blows—these pairings feature two gladiators each landing and taking shots.
This bad rider was actually a rematch of a fight ended by when the Fire accidentally poked Rumble in the eye and was awarded a technical knockout when Johnson couldn't continue.
The second go-around didn't end as well for Burns, though he held his own for two rounds against a fiercesome opponent hell-bent on revenge.
No. 85—David Abbott vs. Oleg Taktarov at UFC 6 Clash of the Titans
His final appearance on the list may be Tank's most impressive. Yet another loss, this confrontation wasn't his typical swing-for-the-fences and gas in a couple minutes. Don't get me wrong—Abbott definitely was looking for the home run as it's the only way he fought.
And he did gas.
But the Russian Bear had to persevere through 17:45 of mayhem from the guy who claimed to train by getting drunk and picking fights. Persevere Taktarov did, however, securing a rear naked choke and the 'W.'
Not too bad for an hombre destined for Hollywood.
No. 84—Toby Imada vs. Jorge Masvidal at Bellator Fighting Championships 4
Many of you are thinking, "who, who, and what?"
That's understandable because it was my exact reaction as well. But any doubt should be erased by this excerpted footage from the fight, especially because it includes a finish every bit as loco as that in Sell-Smith (for different reasons).
If I'd ever heard of these guys or thought either was fated for wider glory, the battle would be higher. But I hadn't and I don't so what looks like a pretty substantial massacre by Masvidal that suddenly and strangely goes awry lands here.
Again, I must thank Irish Mike D for this one—never would've known it existed, but for one of our resident experts on mixed martial arts.
No. 83—James Edson Berto vs. Yves Edwards at EliteXC Street Certified
This KO is the most profound thing produced by EliteXC's affair with Kimbo Slice. While the bush league outfit was trying to shove Kevin Ferguson down the fight world's throat, Berto and Edwards locked up for almost one round of Major League exhibition.
Both fighters showed an active guard, competent submission technique (both attacking and defending), and a willingness to trade leather.
Berto even looked like he might pull off an upset against the more decorated American. Until the beautiful, unorthodox Knee of God from Edwards closed his eyes.
No. 82—Phil Baroni vs. Amar Suloev at UFC 37 High Impact
The New York Badass is a tad like the modern-day version of Tank Abbott. He's not as dirty, not quite as disrespectful, but he's an outright brawler in an artist's sport.
During his stand-off with Suloev, Baroni proves he's got the chin for the comparison as well.
I might not like the dude, you might not like him, but anyone who takes an illegal knee to the face while downed and still manages to put together a furious rally warrants mention. As do his nuclear hands.
No. 81—Phil Baroni vs. Ikuhisa Minowa at PRIDE Bushido 7
The reader is gonna see a flurry from the New York Badass, and then he'll disappear—kind of like his typical performances.
This is NOT one of those.
Against the Punk, Baroni endured an entire PRIDE first round (10 minutes) as well as two minutes of the second stanza and Minowa is no gate-keeper. The colorful Japanese character is a fearless competitor with a dangerous array of talents.
The abrasive American got a close look at that arsenal and left the ring with a victory.
No. 80—Jose Landi-Jons vs. Carlos Newton at PRIDE 19 Bad Blood
We're getting to the end of the first grouping and, down here, you'll see a handful of vicious efforts hampered by one thing or another. In this bout, it's just that neither guy ever amounted to much so this is simply an exciting fight between to equally matched adversaries.
Sure, the Ronin was once Welterweight Champion of the UFC, but his reign almost seems flukish in retrospect. And Landi-Jons can't even say that.
Regardless, Newton takes a knee straight to the chin from Pele and resurfaces through the cobwebs to submit the menacing Brazilian. So welcome to the list.
No. 79—Phil Baroni vs. Evan Tanner at UFC 45 Revolution
In retrospect, Evan Tanner's tenure with the belt atop the Middleweight Division looks a bit right-time-right-place, but that doesn't meant the fight world didn't lose a special competitor when Mr. All Heart tragically perished in the Californian desert.
If you were ever skeptical of Tanner's toughness and will to survive, take a look at the first fight in this montage (incidentally, the whole thing is gnarly and was insanely helpful in putting together this list).
You've already seen the power in Baroni's hands and Tanner enjoys their full brunt. Several times and while the NYBA is feelin' fresh in the opening seconds of the first round.
Proving even the toughest humans need to respect Mother Nature in all Her merciless forms.
No. 78—Mark Coleman vs. Pete Williams at UFC 17 Redemption
This is one of the best offerings from the UFC's weird limbo phase—its popularity was dying even as the sport in general was expanding. You can't pin that on the participants, though.
At least not the Hammer and El Duro on this night.
As luck would have it, I couldn't find the entire 12:38 contest so a clip of the finish will have to convince you. As you can see, both warriors were dog-tired for the climax due to a bruising crescendo.
And, if you look closely, you can actually see Coleman's eyes roll back into bed after Williams delivers the coup-de-grace.
No. 77—Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp at PRIDE Shockwave
You read that correctly: Bob Sapp.
It doesn't seem right for one of MMA's first novelty acts to materialize at such a lofty perch, but his video-gamish scrap with Minotauro merits the attention.
From the opening pile-driver to the ending arm bar by the Brazilian, this skirmish has something for everyone. Casual fans will like the cartoonish quality of Sapp while staid fans of the 'art' side of MMA can appreciate the technician at work.
And ultimately successful.
No. 76—Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama at PRIDE 21 Demolition
I can't imagine how pleased the promoters over at PRIDE were when this fracas broke out on a night dubbed "Demolition." There is no better word to describe what the Predator and Takayama intended for his counterpart.
Both big men realized their intentions to a degree, but Frye easily came out the prettier man.
By easily, I don't mean the altercation. I mean the American clearly won...if such a battle ever has a winner in the true sense.
Hey, it might've lacked subtlety. No, it did lack subtlety, but the two standing toe-to-toe certainly compensated with relentless brutality and total abandon.
Next up: Nos. 75-51