Top 10 MMA Rivalries of the Decade

Robert GardnerSenior Analyst IDecember 30, 2009

Whether it’s the Yankees versus the Red Sox or Michigan versus Ohio State, great rivalries, largely, are what makes sporting events so entertaining to us fans.

Perhaps, it’s the seeming hatred and bad blood between competitors or perhaps it’s the respect that both share for one another. Whatever it is, it draws us in and captures our imagination.

Though MMA is still a young and emerging sport it has been able to create some of the most entertaining and intense rivalries in all of professional athletics.

Let’s take a look back at the decade that will soon be coming to a close and revisit the greatest individual rivalries of MMA.   


10. BJ Penn vs. Jens Pulver

This rivalry began when a young and exciting BJ “The Prodigy” Penn locked horns with the first ever UFC lightweight champion, Jens “Little Evil” Pulver at UFC 35.

Coming into their initial meeting, Penn was off to a fast start in his MMA career, winning all three of his previous fights via first round stoppage. Many believed that the fight with Pulver was nothing more than a mere formality before the inevitable.

Pulver, however, would go on to hand Penn the first loss of his professional career, winning the match by majority decision.

Their next meeting would not come until five years later when they would settle the score following their stint as coaches on the hit reality series, The Ultimate Fighter.

This time around Penn dominated Pulver ending the fight in the second round via rear naked choke; a choke that Penn continued to apply even after Pulver tapped.


9. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg

A key component to most good rivalries has to be that feeling of disdain the combatants have for one another. If there was one component that the Matt Hughes-Frank Trigg rivalry was lacking, it wasn’t disdain.

Their rivalry initially began way back when these two meet as junior college wrestlers and nearly got into a physical altercation. Years later they finally granted an opportunity to settle their differences inside the Octagon.

Trigg challenged Hughes twice for his welterweight title and on both occasions was defeated via first round rear naked choke.


8. Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock the only word that can adequately describe the rivalry between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz.

It all started way back at UFC 18 when Ortiz defeated Jerry Bohlander of Shamrock’s Lion’s Den gym. After the victory Ortiz would taunt Bohlander’s corner.

The rivalry would catch fire at UFC 19 when Ortiz took on another Lion’s Den fighter, Guy Mezger. At weigh-ins Ortiz wore a shirt saying “Gay Mezger is My Bitch”, then after defeating Mezger, Ortiz flipped off the Lion’s Den corner.

This display of disrespect caused an enraged Shamrock to leap over the top of the cage where he and Ortiz had a heated verbal exchange.

It would be three-and-a-half years before the two would ever step inside an Octagon together and by that time Shamrock’s best fighting days were behind him.

While Shamrock did catch Ortiz with a good shot in the first round, the fight would be dominated by Ortiz, ending via a corner stoppage at the end of the third round.

Nearly four years later two were chosen as opposing coaches for the third season of The Ultimate Fighter.

It was obvious from the beginning of the season that the animosity between the two was as great as ever. After the season the two would go on to do battle once more at UFC 61, setting a then-record for North American PPV buys.

Ortiz would win their second meeting by TKO but because the stoppage was somewhat controversial the two were immediately signed for a third installment.

Once again, Ortiz would dominate and TKO the overmatched and over-the-hill Shamrock.


7. Matt Hughes vs. BJ Penn

When the UFC’s plan of crowning a new lightweight champion via a tournament format was derailed by a draw in the finals, the UFC scrapped the entire division and BJ Penn went up in weight to seek some new challenges.

At UFC 46 the BJ Penn-Matt Hughes rivalry was born when the much smaller Penn submitted the heavily favored, five-time defending UFC welterweight champion.

Penn would later vacate the title due to a contract dispute with the UFC, and Hughes would regain it by defeating an up-and-coming Georges St. Pierre.

Upon his return to the UFC, Penn would lose a razor thin split decision to Georges St. Pierre to become the No. 1 contender to Hughes’ title. Then when St. Pierre went down with an injury during training Penn was called on the fill in at UFC 63.

After controlling the first two rounds of action Penn suffered a rib injury which would ultimately lead to his demise. Hughes took control of the fight in round three and won via stoppage, marking the first time Penn was ever stopped in his career.

Considering Penn’s domination of the lightweight ranks and his hinting at the possibility of moving up in weight once more there is a strong possibility that fans could see a rubber match in the not too distant future.


6. Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar

To say that there is animosity between Mir and Lesnar would be a gross understatement.  These two simply can’t stand each other.

Mir was given the honor of welcoming Lesnar to the UFC; and welcome him he did. After surviving Lesnar’s initial onslaught, Mir sunk in a kneebar, forcing the behemoth to tap.

Lesnar, being the competitor that he is, used that defeat to fuel his fire for the sport. After that loss Lesnar would go on to dominate the always game Heath Herring and stop Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight title.

After Lesnar, Mir went on to become the first man to ever stop Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria, earning the interim UFC Heavyweight title and setting up the rematch that everyone wanted to see.

Leading up to the re-match Mir was very critical about Lesnar’s pro wrestling past and his skill level.

When the two finally met at UFC 100 to unify the title, Lensar completely mauled and manhandled Mir, taking him down at will and pummeling him on the ground, leading to a TKO stoppage in the second round.

Since his brutal loss Mir has been very vocal about his desire for a rematch and if his recent display against Cheick Kongo is any indication of what’s to come for the new MegaMir, a rubber match between the two is inevitable.   


5. Matt Hughes vs. Georges St. Pierre

This rivalry featured arguably the greatest champion in the history of the UFC and a fighter who was being viewed as the next evolution in MMA.

The two met in the center of the octagon on three occasions, each time with a title up for grabs.

In their first meeting then champion Matt Hughes would prove that St. Pierre was not ready for the big stage by submitting him in the first round via arm bar.

This fight really marked a turning point in St. Pierre’s career as he openly admitted that fighting his idol Hughes was an intimidating situation.

The two would fight twice more this time, though, the young gun would prevail winning both meetings; one by TKO stoppage and the other by armbar submission.

It was this rivalry that forged Georges St. Pierre into the champion that he is today.


4. Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell

Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell and “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz are two of the best champions that the UFC light-heavyweight division has ever seen.

Their rivalry began when then champion Ortiz was perceived to be ducking his former training partner and No. 1 contender Liddell.

The two would finally meet in the Octagon at UFC 47. After a less than stellar opening round Liddell would overwhelm Ortiz with a flurry of punches leading to a TKO victory.

Even after a second TKO loss to Liddell at UFC 66 Ortiz still believes that he is the better fighter and can defeat Liddell.

Their ongoing rivalry has lead to them being named as opposing coaches for the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter.

While both are obviously past their prime it should make for good TV and perhaps this time around Tito Ortiz will prove that the third time really is a charm.


3. Wanderlei Silva vs. Rampage Jackson

Possibly the most violent rivalry in the history of MMA is the one between Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

The rivalry began while both were members of the now defunct Pride FC organization, when Rampage became very vocal about wanting a crack at the then Pride Middleweight champion Silva.

Rampage being the trash talker that he is not only attacked Silva but his entire Chute Boxe camp. Following a victory at Pride 25, Jackson was given a microphone and he proceeded to taunt and call out Silva who was sitting ringside.

It took Silva little time before he was in the ring face to face with Rampage. Rampage continued to talk and Silva, who was now very agitated, shoved Rampage. The two had to be separated by numerous Pride officials.

The two’s first meeting would come at Pride Final Conflict 2003 in the finals of the Middleweight Grand Prix.

After a takedown by Jackson and some solid activity on the ground the fight was stood back up. Soon after the controversial stand-up, Silva would secure the Thai Clinch and violently kneed and soccer kicked his way to a TKO stoppage.

The rematch would come nearly a year later, again in Pride.

The fight was a strong back and forth battle with both fighters landing some powerful shots but it would be Silva, once again, that would be victorious.

The KO was so brutal and impressive that the image of Jackson’s limp body lying in the ropes resonates with fans to this day.

Nearly four years would pass before Jackson would finally exact his revenge on “The Axe Murderer.”

At UFC 92, Jackson and Silva crossed paths once more this time in the center of the Octagon.

The beginning of the fight saw both men being very cautious, but as soon as Silva missed with a big right Jackson countered with a vicious left hook and dropped Silva to the mat.

As Silva fell Jackson went in for the kill landing some addition shots, a couple of which were landed after the referee stepped in to call the action.

While both maintain that the bad blood between them is now gone Silva has stated on many occasions that he would still be interested in fighting Rampage and has hopes that the UFC will afford him that opportunity.


2. BJ Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre

BJ Penn and Georges St. Pierre are two of most gifted and talented fighters to ever compete in MMA, and their rivalry will go down as one of the best this young sport as ever seen.

Penn and St. Pierre first crossed paths at UFC 58 to determine the No. 1 contender for the welterweight title.

Penn controlled with early action with his superior boxing ability but it would be St. Pierre’s wrestling and impressive conditioning that would earn him a split decision victory. A decision that many fans felt should have been awarded to Penn.

This match marked a turning point in both men’s careers; Penn would eventually drop down to lightweight and become champion and St. Pierre would go on to capture welterweight gold.

Penn was so dominate in his short time as LW champion that the UFC gave him a chance to challenge St. Pierre for the WW title.

At UFC 94 the two fought once more, this time however the vastly improved St. Pierre simply outclassed Penn en route to his corner stopping the action after the fourth round.

This is where things get interesting, after the fight Penn and his camp complained to the NSAC that St. Pierre’s corner men were applying Vaseline to his body giving him an unfair advantage.

These allegations and complaints were made to no avail as the NSAC has taken no action.

To make matters worse, Penn as been cited on numerous occasions hinting at the possibility that St. Pierre uses steroids.

Considering how vocal Penn has been about getting another crack at St. Pierre and his new and improved strength and conditioning routine it is likely that this rivalry is far from over.


1. Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell

The greatest rivalry of this past decade has to be between Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. Not only are these two men two of the greatest champions in UFC history but it is their rivalry that played a key role in MMA’s emergence into the mainstream.

Couture and Liddell first fought at UFC 43 for the interim light-heavyweight title.

Couture made the drop down to LHW on a two-fight losing streak and came into the match as a heavy underdog. Couture was able to out box the unorthodox Liddell opening up his takedowns.

Soon, Couture was taking Liddell down at will, eventually gaining the mount and stopping Liddell via strikes.

Liddell would eventually fight his way back to another title shot setting up a rematch with then champion Couture.

This time though, the UFC would use their two most marketable stars as coaches on the first season of their reality show, The Ultimate Fighter.

A week after the first season’s finale show Liddell and Couture had their rematch.

At UFC 52 Liddell would defeat Couture via first round TKO but more importantly their fight grossed the highest gate and had most PPV buys to date in UFC history.

The two would meet for the final time at UFC 57, again setting company records for PPV buys and live gate revenue.

The first round would be an entertaining back and forth battle with Couture stealing the round with two last takedowns.

The second round was much of the same until Couture telegraphed a big right which Liddell successfully avoided and countered send Couture crashing to the mat. After several unanswered punches on the ground the referee stepped in and declared Liddell the winner via TKO.

What the Couture and Liddell rivalry lacked in bad blood and hate it more than made up for in importance to the sport.

It was the Couture and Liddell rivalry that brought the UFC and MMA as a whole to where it stands today.


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