Power Ranking the Top 25 Greatest "Changing of the Guard" Fights in MMA History
The first "Guard" that was introduced into mixed martial arts (or "no holds barred fighting", or "vale tudo," or "cage fighting") was the Gracie family from Brazil. Specifically, Royce Gracie, winner of the first UFC events.
Since then there has been countless "changes of the guard," some obviously more significant than others.
The "Changing of the Guard" is a mostly symbolic act.
Not simply when one champion passes the torch to the next, a "guard" represents the fighters that came before them.
The Guard changes when a newer fighter comes to take their place on the mantle.
These are the 25 greatest fights that illustrate and represent a changing of the guard.
25. Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal vs Gegard Mousasi (2010)
Outside of the UFC, and before the acquisition of Strikeforce, Gegard Mousasi was holding down the fort for elite well-rounded fighters. Especially international fighters.
Heading into his title defense against Muhammad Lawal, Mousasi was a considerable favorite.
Despite his obvious caliber, Mousasi succumbed to the precise execution and explosive athleticism of American Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal.
24. Gray Maynard vs Kenny Florian (2010)
Kenny Florian was the most consistent staple in the UFC lightweight division since they reinstituted the championship back in 2006.
Before running into Maynard, Florian was 9-2 in the UFC lightweight division with eight finishes and his only two losses coming to legends Sean Sherk and BJ Penn in title fights.
Florian was also coming off of a victory over fellow legend Takanori Gomi. It seemed that no one could beat Florian at lightweight unless they were a UFC champion destined for greatness.
In a No. 1 contender bout, Gray Maynard convincingly beat Florian and consequently removed him from the lightweight title picture.
23. Frankie Edgar vs Sean Sherk (2009)
Before meeting Frankie Edgar, Sean Sherk had only lost to three men in his career: Matt Hughes, Georges St. Pierre, and BJ Penn. All of them UFC legends and champions.
Edgar added his name to that list when he out-worked Sherk to a unanimous decision and thus must have sealed his fate as an eventual UFC champion.
22. Phil Baroni vs Dave Menne (2002)
Dave Menne was a respected veteran, journeyman, and former UFC champion when he met Phil Baroni in 2002.
Baroni blitzed Menne with a barrage of punches and showed to the world that MMA was not just a forum for tough guys, but also for committed, explosive athletes.
21. Anderson Silva vs. Hayato Sakurai (2001)
Heading into this bout, Sakurai was undefeated and the No. 1-ranked welterweight in the world. He had a wealth of experience against international competition considering the young state of MMA.
Anderson Silva (4-1) defeated Sakurai, took his place as a top world ranked fighter, and proved to the world that there is more to fear from Brazilians than just Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
20. Mirko Filipovic vs Igor Vovchanchyn (2003)
When Igor Vovchanchyn faced Mirko Filipovic he had already suffered a few defeats in the Pride organization, but he was still revered by many as the scariest striker in the heavyweight division.
Originally a kickboxer by trade, Filipovic completed his transformation as an MMA fighter and the scariest striker in the world when he knocked Igor Vovchanchyn out cold early in the first round.
19. Junior Dos Santos vs Mirko Filipovic (2009)
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic had lost his place as the scariest man in the sport, but his skills were still top of the line.
Even though he fought well and with heart, a resurgent Mirko Filipovic could not stave off the new guard of heavyweight strikers like Junior Dos Santos.
18. Nick Diaz vs Frank Shamrock (2009)
The two bad boy rebels who loved notoriety and also to compete outside of the UFC.
Frank Shamrock was one of the first truly well-rounded fighters and dominant champions of the sport.
Nick Diaz moved up in weight to challenge Shamrock, kick his ass, and take his place as the rebel who could beat you at any aspect of the game.
17. Brian Bowles vs Miguel Torres (2009)
Dominant champion Miguel Torres was 37-1 and riding an incredible 17-fight win streak.
Then Brian Bowles came along and announced that the new wave of next-generation athlete-fighter hybrids also included Bantamweight fighters.
16. Rich Franklin vs. Ken Shamrock (2005)
Pioneer Ken Shamrock exploded back onto the MMA scene with a terrific KO of Kimo Leopoldo in 2004.
His next opponent was rising star Rich Franklin who appeared that that he might be being groomed for championship glory.
Franklin did his part as he put Shamrock away in the first round at the Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Finale.
15. Tito Ortiz vs Ken Shamrock (2002...and 2006 X 2)
Tito Ortiz may have been champion, but Ken Shamrock was a pissed-off legend with something to prove.
Shamrock came into the fight with a vengeance to show these young punks that it takes more than some training and a bad attitude to win cage fights.
Ortiz showed Shamrock that his training and his attitude was more than enough to win cage fights, and then would have to go on to prove that point twice more.
14. Cain Velasquez vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (2010)
No doubt that undefeated Velasquez had a lot of promise heading into his bout with Rodrigo Nogueira.
Would "promise" be enough to overcome such a seasoned fighter like Nogueira, though?
Velasquez made an emphatic statement by putting the legend out in the first round and staking his claim to championship fights.
13. Jose Aldo vs. Urijah Faber (2010)
Faber had already lost his title in 2008, but was still the brightest torch bearer for the featherweight division "pre-Aldo."
While Faber fought valiantly for five rounds, Aldo proved his status as a young phenom and the marquee fighter for divisions below lightweight.
12. Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio Rua (2007)
As the first Ultimate Fighter winner, Forrest Griffin has constantly raised the bar for "reality show" fighters.
More so than a full changing of the guard, Griffin is the forefather for Ultimate Fighter participants "sharing" the guard with other MMA elite.
Griffin also had significant performances against Tito Ortiz and Quinton Jackson, but against Mauricio Rua, Griffin made his most emphatic statement by submitting the No. 1-ranked fighter in the third round.
11. Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Couture (2008)
Randy Couture exemplifies the grizzled savvy veteran in MMA.
He would not go down without a fight, but Couture could not survive the onslaught from a much larger and more athletic man in Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar sent Couture on his way and ushered in a new era of UFC heavyweights.
10. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (2003)
Pride heavyweight champion Nogueira looked to be unbeatable before running into Fedor Emelianenko.
Emelianenko would wrest the championship away from Nogueira's grip and establish himself as the greatest heavyweight to compete in the sport.
Nogueira would also continue down a path of greatness, but never able to reclaim the No.1 position from Emelianenko.
9. Frankie Edgar vs BJ Penn II (2010)
Defeating Sean Sherk was fantastic, but defeating BJ Penn twice in a row? That was truly incredible.
Penn was the most dominant lightweight the sport had ever seen and Edgar defeated him for a second time, with gusto.
There may never again be a fighter like Penn, but there is a new "guard."
8. Jon Jones vs Mauricio Rua (2011)
Jon Jones climbed many rungs on the light heavyweight ladder before eventually reaching the pinnacle.
At the top he found legendary warrior and UFC champion, Mauricio Rua.
Still in his prime, Rua fought hard but could not stop Jones from claiming his spot atop the sport.
Jones now carries the flag for American athletes hoping to achieve greatness in mixed martial arts.
7. Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie (2006)
With only one loss on his record, the legendary forefather of MMA still had plenty of fight left in him as he met Matt Hughes in a super-fight in 2006.
He may still have been a great fighter, but fighters like Matt Hughes could not be denied as the true champions of MMA.
An American wrestler cross-trained in multiple combat disciplines, Matt Hughes officially ended the era of MMA's pioneers.
6. Keith Jardine vs Chuck Liddell (2007)
Chuck Liddell went from losing his championship to a fellow legend to getting out-kickboxed for three rounds against an Ultimate Fighter alumni. And not even a finalist.
Sorry Chuck, you cannot chalk this loss up to "getting caught."
These new guys are for real.
5. Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin (2006)
As an established UFC champion, Rich Franklin's title defense against journeyman Anderson Silva should not have been much more than a formality.
Anderson Silva decided he had a new script.
Not just showy or a flash in the pan, Anderson Silva laid a beatdown on Rich Franklin that would represent his domination over the rest of the sport for the next five years.
4. Georges St. Pierre vs Matt Hughes II (2006)
Matt Hughes miraculously found a way to win in their first matchup but had nothing to offer GSP in their rematch.
Hughes went from being the most dominant champion the sport had ever seen to almost a random face in the crowd.
St. Pierre was the new face of the welterweight division and not even a subsequent upset of monumental proportions could derail that.
3. Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture II (2005)
Chuck Liddell had been flirting with championship glory for a long time before he took it from Randy Couture.
Couture was the perfect catapult as he was a multiple time, two division champion and had already defeated Liddell.
In conquering Couture, Liddell launched a new era of commercial success in MMA.
2. Wanderlei Silva vs. Kazushi Sakuraba (2001)
Sakuraba had already defeated four members of the esteemed Gracie family, thus earning the nickname "The Gracie Hunter."
Other Sakuraba victims included Guy Mezger, Carlos Newton and Vitor Belfort.
Then Sakuraba ran into freight train by the name of Wanderlei Silva.
Wanderlei would go on to defeat Sakuraba a total of three times, emphatically posturing himself and his legendary aggression to the top of the MMA world.
1. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie (2000)
Royce Gracie had never lost an MMA fight.
Realizing that emerging rules and boundaries within MMA could hinder his approach to fighting, Royce fought under the condition that there were no doctor stoppages and that there would be an indefinite amount of 15-minute rounds.
The modified rules could not prevent the most significant changing of the guard in MMA history.
Gracie and Sakuraba ("The Gracie Hunter") fought for over an hour and a half before Gracie's corner was forced to concede defeat.
The Gracie name would remain synonymous with MMA's origins but no longer with the sport's dominance.
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