Mixed martial arts is often touted as the fastest growing sport in the world by many of its exponents. As such, it is constantly acquiring new fans and piquing the curiosity of those who are attuned to MMA but just don't know it yet.
When attempting to convert a non-MMA fan, there are several key fights that aid the fan-in-training in learning crucial lessons of mixed martial arts as well as the history of the sport itself.
What are these fights? Read and find out, but please keep in mind that these fights are not in any particular order, as every person new to MMA has different taste and may like some fights on the list more than others; there isn't an easy way (or any way really) to quantify what will be considered the "best" to people unfamiliar with MMA.
When UFC 10 champion Don Frye was slated to face Japanese professional wrestler Yoshihiro Takayama at Pride 21, few could have imagined that it would have become perhaps the most legendary brawls in MMA history.
Frye and Takayama battered each other for the better part of six minutes before Takayama finally succumbed to Frye's onslaught.
This fight is a great one to show a prospective fan for the simple reason that it will have their eyes glued to the screen and asking for more when it's all over.
Perhaps a clichéd choice (as some of the others on this list may be), but with good reason. Gracie-Jimmerson was a fight in which the striking-oriented facade of the martial arts world collapsed. A boxer couldn't even land one punch on a skilled grappler.
The fans were mystified by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—branded Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in the early UFCs (in one UFC, a commentator called a rear naked choke a "classic Gracie choke")—and its power to render strikers helpless.
This fight will help new fans understand the power of grappling and that it's not just men rolling around on the floor; it is an effective fighting system that needs to be learned if one is to adequately defend themselves or do well in MMA.
Pride 28's Aleksander Emelianenko vs. James Thompson is a fight that has likely been forgotten by many MMA fans but is still worth showing to newcomers for the simple reason that it demonstrates one simple maxim: Don't judge a fighter by his looks.
If one was choosing a winner just on appearance (as ignorant observers of the sport often do), James Thompson would clearly be victorious. He was far more muscular and appeared to be extremely hyped up and ready to go. Aleksander Emelianenko, on the other hand, was a bit flabby and seemed like he didn't even care.
This fight is a fun one to show to new fans who will almost always pick Thompson to win and be shocked when he gets rocked and sent to the canvas for good only 11 seconds in.
While many of the fights from the Pre-Zuffa, no holds barred, era of the UFC aren't really fit to show new fans because they taint the sports image and reinforce the rampant negative notions about the sport, Keith Hackney vs. Joe Son is worth showing for two reasons.
First, it can garner younger fans (and older fans with immature senses of humor) since the fight likely has the worst crushing of any mans genitalia on Youtube. Certain kinds of people will be sure to laugh at this one and remember it.
Second, it can serve as a reminder to the new fan as to what he is not. The sport may have evolved from that, but Hackney's actions undertaken in today's UFC would garner him a disqualification, and in all likelihood, his walking papers and a hefty fine.
Chuck Liddell was a legend in the UFC, and Wanderlei Silva was a legend in Pride. Even though both men were past their primes when they met at UFC 79, the fight was just as epic as everyone had hoped.
The two men poured their hearts and souls into the fight, which, due to its significance to fans and MMA history as a whole, was one of the most meaningful bouts in the sports history.
The fight is worth showing new fans since it helps to mark the end of an era and shows the last truly great fight that two legends in the sport had—and it's very exciting to boot!
Yes, the significance of this fight has been trumpeted and touted from the rooftops since it took place at the finale of the first season of the Ultimate Fighter. It is the most passé example of a great, significant fight in the history of the UFC and of MMA.
People who are already MMA fans know all about this fight, but keep in mind that new fans don't. Showing them this fight will provide them with a riveting 15 minutes and will also give them a history lesson they won't soon forget.
When the main event of UFC 72 was announced as Rich Franklin versus Yushin Okami, fans were underwhelmed and many thought that the UFC was trying to sell the card on the UFC name alone rather than the quality or relevance of the fights.
While many practically spat at the card, those loyal to the UFC (or rich enough) purchased the card and were treated with one of the most exciting fights in MMA's history: Tyson Griffin versus Clay Guida.
The fight is worth showing to a new fan not only for its exciting moves and frantic pace, but also because the fight demonstrates that a more grappling-centric fight can still be a thrilling contest.
If you are seeking to show a fan new to mixed martial arts how dominant wrestling can be, look no further than Dan Severn vs. Anthony Macias.
Severn-Macias showcases the ability of a wrestler to brutalize their opponents via control of the opponent's body. Severn performs several neck-crushing German suplexes on Macias and eventually earns a tapout victory with a rear naked choke.
The whole fight is over in only 1:45, and in that amount of time, a new fan can see the positive side of wrestling.
For many misinformed people, a gi-wearing, board-breaking Karate practitioner is what they think of when fighting comes to mind.
This notion has been ingrained into people practically since birth because of flashy techniques, such as the "crane kick" from The Karate Kid, that only work in Hollywood...or usually only work in Hollywood until Karate exponent Lyoto Machida met Randy Couture at UFC 129.
Machida landed the closest thing to what can be called a crane kick in mixed martial arts, and in doing so, provided one of the most jaw-dropping finishes to a match of all time.
This fight is a perfect way to get new people into the sport. Just say "Remember the crane kick from Karate Kid? There's a (UFC) fight where a guy actually does that to someone." This is likely all that needs to be said to pique the said person's curiosity who will soon be a newly anointed MMA fan thanks to Machida's amazing maneuver.
The first fight between Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung (nicknamed the "Korean Zombie" for his ability to withstand punishment) is widely considered one of the best all-out brawls in mixed martial arts history.
Both men give it 110 percent for the entire 15 minutes. The fight truly epitomizes what it means to "stand and bang" in mixed martial arts, and because of this, it is a great fight to get a new fan hooked onto the sport.
Fedor Emelianenko has one of the greatest and most storied highlight reels in mixed martial arts. Because of this, it is very difficult to pick just one fight to show a new fan.
However, Emelianenko's fight with former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman is one of the best due to the excitement value of "The Last Emperor" getting slammed on his head by Randleman, but then winning by submission only moments later.
Emelianenko may have had more classic fights, but with a length of only 1:33, Emelianenko-Randleman is far better than the Russian's other fights for quickly kindling the dormant MMA flame within someone who is new to the whole sport.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson's fight against Ricardo Arona produces one of the most widely known and recognized highlight reel image in MMA history: Rampage's powerbomb-like slam of Arona.
While some may be rolling their eyes at this selection and by muttering "This again!?", this is still a fight that no fan of MMA, new or old, should go without seeing. Seeing the slam is almost a right of passage for MMA fans, that's how ingrained into MMA fandom it has become, for better or for worse.
Like Fedor Emelianenko, Wanderlei Silva has so many great fights that you can show practically any of his fights to a new MMA fan and get the same positive reaction.
Despite this, there seems to be one fight that stand out just slightly above the rest. This fight is Silva's second fight with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Why this fight?
First, it is a logical fight to show after the Rampage-Arona fight. One can simply ask "Oh wanna see that guy (Rampage) get knocked out by this crazed Brazilian guy through the ropes?" and will likely get a positive response.
And second, the devastating finish is sure to burn brightly in the memory of any who watch this fight.
While many extol the virtues of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and tout the art's abilities to enable a smaller opponent to defeat a larger one, these people often forget that Marco Ruas' striking abilities—not his grappling—earned him his victory over the much larger Paul Varelans at UFC 7.
Ruas managed to use leg kicks to their fullest potential, chopping the larger man down over the course of a grueling 13-minute affair until the big man could no longer stand.
While the fight may not be the most exciting, it showcases that the true strength of a skilled martial artist can manage to beat the raw power of a large/strong yet unskilled opponent. It also serves to showcase the effectiveness of techniques that new fans may not be aware of, such as the aforementioned leg kicks but also foot-stomps, which made their UFC debut in this fight.
Cheick Kongo vs. Pat Barry is considered to be one of the greatest comebacks in MMA history.
The two kickboxers engage in a slugfest in which Barry nearly finishes Kongo twice (and the referee nearly stops it), but Kongo manages to regain his legs and hit Barry with two solid punches, the last of which flattens Barry and puts him out cold.
This fight may well be a must to show new MMA fans for the dramatic come-from-behind victory—more so than Anderson Silva-Chael Sonnen because it doesn't involve sitting through a wrestling-heavy 23 minutes, which new fans might not appreciate.
So these are 15 of the best fights to show new MMA fans or people who aren't fans and you want to try and convert to MMA. Are there more than 15 of these fights? Of course! However, great fights in MMA are happening all the time, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make a list of all the great fights since there are hundreds.
Hopefully, you've enjoyed this list. Whatever your opinion, make it known in the comments below.
Matt Saccaro is a Bleacher Report featured columnist and an avid MMA fan. For articles like the one above and for brilliant 140-character insights into MMA, follow him on twitter @mattsaccaro