10 Greatest Rivalries in MMA History

Sean SmithAnalyst IJuly 14, 2014

10 Greatest Rivalries in MMA History

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It seems rematches have become more and more common in MMA.


    Because rivalries sell in combat sports. Had it not been for the bad blood between Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, women's MMA probably wouldn't be where it is today. A recent grudge between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen also helped MMA skyrocket in popularity in Brazil.

    More than animosity is needed to make a great rivalry, though. If an unproven prospect starts throwing verbal jabs at Jon Jones, that alone isn't going to get them a shot at the light heavyweight champion.

    Based on entertainment value, participant competitiveness and lasting impact on MMA, here are the 10 greatest rivalries the sport has ever seen.

Honorable Mentions

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    Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

    Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir

    When Brock Lesnar left professional wrestling to compete in MMA, drama was bound to develop.

    After making quick work of Min-Soo Kim in Japan, Lesnar made his UFC debut against Frank Mir.

    A confident heavyweight with championship experience, Mir was a good antagonist in the Lesnar story. Mir caught Lesnar with a kneebar at UFC 81. That helped create a feud that led to Lesnar and Mir headlining the historic UFC 100 fight card. 

    In their second meeting, Lesnar stopped Mir with ground-and-pound to become the undisputed heavyweight champion. A rubber match was proposed as recently as January, when Mir spoke with FoxSports.com, but a Lesnar return to the Octagon doesn't look like a reality right now.

    Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz

    It was a matchup that took a long time to put together, but Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz turned out to be great rivals once their fights were finally booked.

    Ortiz initially backpedaled from fighting Liddell due to the fact that they were former teammates. However, Liddell insisted that he had no issues with fighting "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" and accused Ortiz of ducking him.

    The disagreement eventually developed some animosity between the two. When they finally met inside the Octagon, Liddell picked up two knockout wins over Ortiz.

    Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber

    Rarely does the bantamweight division have a chance to stand out, but it did when Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber met in a rematch during July 2011.

    Faber and Cruz originally met under the WEC banner, where "The California Kid" submitted a young Cruz to defend his featherweight championship. When the tables were turned at UFC 132, Cruz's outstanding footwork helped him even the score in a decision.

    Not long after, Cruz and Faber were chosen to coach The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) prior to what would have been a rubber match at UFC 148. It was a huge opportunity for the 135-pound class to gain popularity, but Cruz tore his ACL before the bout happened and still hasn't stepped into the Octagon.

    Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate

    The rivalry between Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate began under the Strikeforce banner.

    With only four fights under her belt heading into their first meeting, Rousey was not viewed by Tate as a deserving challenger. However, before the first round came to an end, Rousey had Tate's arm twisted badly and came away with a submission win.

    When Tate lost to Cat Zingano in her UFC debut, it looked as though a rematch would have to wait. However, a Zingano injury opened the door for Tate to coach opposite Rousey on The Ultimate Fighter, which only increased the dislike the female bantamweights had for one another.

    At UFC 168, Rousey locked up another armbar against Tate, which might rid her of "Cupcake" for good.

    Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock

    When talking heated rivalries, Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock would be right up near the top.

    However, against Ortiz, Shamrock was never able to back up his talk inside the Octagon. The MMA pioneer was stopped in all three of his bouts with Ortiz and only made it out of the first round on one occasion.

    Ortiz and Shamrock helped produce one of the more entertaining TUF seasons, but the lack of competitiveness in their bouts keeps them out of the top 10.

10. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen

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    With a win over Nate Marquardt at UFC 109, Chael Sonnen earned a matchup with Anderson Silva that would turn the middleweight division into one of the most entertaining weight classes in MMA.

    Sonnen wasn't seen as a serious threat to Silva, who was already widely regarded as the best in MMA history by then. However, Sonnen's verbal tirades on the champion had folks tuning in, and the American didn't disappoint inside the Octagon.

    Repeatedly taking Silva down, Sonnen was on his way to a massive upset in the fifth round. However, with less than two minutes remaining, Silva locked up a triangle choke that would extend his championship reign. It was a rough loss for Sonnen to swallow, but the performance made his trash talk that much more believable when he was booked to meet Silva again around two years later on. 

    Although Sonnen upped his promotional game leading up to the rematch with Silva, he didn't perform nearly as well inside the cage the second time around. In the second round, Silva landed a knee to Sonnen's body that ended the rivalry for good.

    It seems the only thing keeping this rivalry from sitting further up the list is a Sonnen win and what would have been an enormous rubber match.

9. Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler

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    While their Quinton Jackson and Tito Ortiz signings certainly drew some attention, Bellator MMA's biggest success came by developing Michael Chandler into a legitimate threat to Eddie Alvarez's lightweight crown.

    In beating Patricky Freire in a lightweight tournament final, Chandler earned his shot at Alvarez, which came at Bellator 58. The back-and-forth classic ultimately ended in a fourth-round submission win for Chandler, who became the first Bellator MMA lightweight champion not named Alvarez.

    Alvarez responded with back-to-back knockouts wins, though, establishing himself as Chandler's toughest contender. A nasty contract dispute delayed the rematch, but Alvarez and Chandler eventually met again at Bellator 106.

    Another epic contest ensued, with both men having their moments over five rounds. In the end, Alvarez reclaimed his title in a split decision, which set up a rubber match that was expected to headline Bellator's inaugural pay-per-view.

    Unfortunately, an Alvarez concussion broke that up. Chandler instead met Will Brooks in a bout for an interim championship, and the former was handed a second consecutive split-decision loss. Brooks spoiled the rubber match for now, but it seems likely Alvarez and Chandler will meet again and could earn themselves a spot much higher on this list with another memorable clash.

8. Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson

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    Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    Catching fire under the Pride FC banner, the rivalry between Wanderlei Silva and Quinton Jackson lasted over five years before it was brought to an end inside the Octagon.

    It all started at the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix, where Silva and Jackson met in the finals. Six minutes into the bout, Silva landed multiple knees to "Rampage's" head, resulting in a knockout win for the Brazilian.

    Following his slam knockout against Ricardo Arona, Jackson was granted a rematch with Silva. This time the Pride middleweight title was up for grabs, but "The Axe Murderer" one again stopped Jackson with knees.

    Not long after their rematch, Silva and Jackson began heading in different directions. Rampage went on to become UFC light heavyweight champion, while Silva lost three in a row heading into 2008.

    When Jackson lost his UFC belt to Forrest Griffin and Silva rebounded with a knockout win over Keith Jardine, UFC matchmakers decided it was a good time to rekindle the rivalry.

    At UFC 92, Jackson got his revenge, scoring a brutal knockout with a tight left hook to the chin. While Jackson will probably never get a chance to even his record with Silva now that he is with Bellator MMA, he elevated this rivalry to another level with his third performance against the former Pride FC champion. 

7. BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    BJ Penn was always undersized when he competed at 170 pounds, but that didn't stop him from having rivalries with the two best welterweights in MMA history.

    While Penn's series with Georges St-Pierre was more lopsided, he was more than competitive with Matt Hughes. The Hawaiian took two of three bouts against Hughes over a period of six years.

    The first meeting between Penn and Hughes occurred in January 2004. After drawing with Caol Uno in a lightweight title bout, Penn moved up to 170 pounds for a shot at Hughes. Late in the first round, Penn secured a rear-naked choke and ended Hughes' reign only to vacate the welterweight belt before defending it, as he temporarily left the UFC to compete under the K-1 banner.

    Upon his return to the Octagon, Penn lost to St-Pierre in a title-shot eliminator. However, when the Canadian went down with a groin injury, Penn stepped in for a rematch with Hughes, who evened things up with a third-round stoppage at UFC 63.

    With seven of Penn's next eight fights taking place at 155 pounds, it looked like the rubber match wouldn't happen. However, at UFC 123, Penn and Hughes met with only bragging rights on the line, and Penn starched Hughes in 21 seconds.

6. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard

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    Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    If it weren't for Frankie Edgar, Penn may have never completed his trilogy with Hughes.

    By beating the Hawaiian in back-to-back title fights, Edgar bounced Penn from the lightweight division. Edgar followed that up by picking up a great rivalry of his own against Gray Maynard.

    A couple years earlier, Edgar had lost to Maynard in a decision. Now climbing toward the top of the lightweight class, Maynard set himself up for a rematch with the 155-pound champion.

    Early on, it looked like Maynard was going to improve to 2-0 against Edgar. "The Bully" dropped Edgar multiple times in the first round, but he wasn't able to put the champion away. Instead, Edgar survived and rallied to win enough of the remaining rounds to force a draw, which allowed him to retain the lightweight crown.

    Fighting to a draw with Edgar was enough to earn Maynard an immediate rematch. The rubber match began much like the second meeting did, with Maynard hurting Edgar early on. However, again, Edgar rebounded and came back to win via knockout in the fourth round.

    Still even, with one win each over three fights, Edgar and Maynard would probably both like to meet again some day. However, it's hard to imagine that happening now that Edgar is competing at 145 pounds.

5. Gilbert Melendez vs. Josh Thomson

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    It's the best rivalry to take place entirely outside the Octagon.

    The only Strikeforce lightweight champions other than Clay Guida, Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson engaged in some memorable fights under their former promotion. The pair met three times, and the Strikeforce lightweight title was hanging in the balance on each occasion.

    After losing to Guida in the first-ever 155-pound title bout under the Strikeforce banner, it took Thomson six straight wins to get another crack at the belt. By then, Melendez had dethroned Guida and defended his championship.

    Making the most of a second chance, Thomson defeated Melendez on the scorecards. Unfortunately, a broken leg prevented "The Punk" from defending his championship, and Melendez went on the capture an interim title while he awaited Thomson's return for a rematch.

    When Thomson did return, he lost some ground to Melendez. The rematch went down in December 2009, and "El Nino" was able to respond with a decision that leaned his way.

    It took Thomson more than two years to earn his rubber match with Melendez, but the wait was worth it. In what was the final Strikeforce appearance for both men, Melendez and Thomson battled to the end. Ultimately, Melendez walked away with a split-decision win to take a lead in the series.

    While Melendez got his hand raised in a rubber match, not many fans would be disappointed to see a fourth meeting with Thomson. That's how good this rivalry has been.

4. Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski

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    JANE KALINOWSKY/Associated Press

    When Tim Sylvia had his arm broken by Frank Mir at UFC 48, it looked like he'd have to earn his way back to a heavyweight title fight.

    Instead, Mir wound up in an unfortunate motorcycle accident, and Sylvia was named as one of two heavyweights who would compete for an interim championship. Standing opposite "The Maine-iac" was Andrei Arlovski, who had scored three straight knockouts.

    Only 47 seconds in, Sylvia was caught in an Achilles lock, and Arlovski picked up a submission to become a UFC heavyweight champion.

    In a shallow heavyweight class, Sylvia needed only two UFC wins to earn a rematch with Arlovski. Although Arlovski had looked dominant as champion, Sylvia exacted revenge by scoring a knockout in the first round.

    Even through two meetings, Sylvia and Arlovski were set up for an immediate rubber match. The third confrontation was not as entertaining as the first two, with Sylvia picking up a decision win, but the matchup drew a lot of attention.

    It was a strong enough rivalry to headline a Fourth of July weekend event in 2006, and One FC thought enough of the matchup to book Sylvia and Arlovski again in August 2012. Arlovski looked to be the much better fighter in that meeting, but the bout was ruled a no-contest because the Belarusian broke a strange rule regarding soccer kicks. 

3. Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    While it wasn't the first great UFC heavyweight rivalry, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos have had the best heavyweight rivalry in MMA history.

    After dethroning Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez was forced to defend his championship against Junior dos Santos at UFC on Fox 1, the promotion's first event on network television. Not looking 100 percent after 12 months away from competition, Velasquez was knocked out by Dos Santos.

    Still considered the second-best heavyweight on the UFC roster, Velasquez needed only a win over Antonio Silva to earn a rematch with Dos Santos. With proper preparation, Velasquez proved to be the better fighter, as he cruised to a decision win over the Brazilian the second time around.

    Dos Santos didn't waste much time setting up the rubber match. A spinning heel kick against Mark Hunt did the job. However, Dos Santos wasn't able to make up much ground in 10 months, as he was once again dominated by Velasquez, who finished the third bout late in the final round.

    The only problem with this great trilogy was how quickly it flew by. Velasquez and Dos Santos met three times in 23 months, which didn't allow much time for the rivalry to build up.

    At the same time, Velasquez and Dos Santos are both still in the prime of their careers. A fourth meeting is hardly out of the question.

2. Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture

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    Branimir Kvartuc/Associated Press

    It might not have been the most heated rivalry, but Liddell and Randy Couture engaged in a trilogy that has cemented its place in MMA history books.

    The rivalry began with a Ortiz contract dispute, as The Huntington Beach Bad Boy was not interested in a fight with former teammate Liddell. So, the UFC decided to book a fight between Liddell and Couture for an interim championship while it negotiated with Ortiz.

    Couture gave Ortiz his wish by stopping Liddell in the third round. "The Natural" then went on to become the undisputed 205-pound champion by beating Ortiz on the scorecards.

    After an unsuccessful run in the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix, Liddell returned to the Octagon to begin his march toward a rematch with Couture. Knockouts against Ortiz and Vernon White were enough to earn "The Iceman" a second meeting.

    With a knockout in the first round, Liddell's time finally came at UFC 52, where one of the best light heavyweight title reigns in MMA history began. At that point, Couture already had a strong place in MMA history, but he was far from done at 205 pounds.

    A win over Mike Van Arsdale earned Couture a rubber match with Liddell. While Couture went on to suffer another knockout loss to Liddell, he made sure he was a big part of one of MMA's great rivalries, and that's something a different kind of rivalry with UFC President Dana White can never take away.

1. Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    It doesn't happen often that two of the best in a division's history have their primes overlap, so it's hard to argue against St-Pierre and Matt Hughes having the best rivalry the sport has seen.

    Neither was the best at trash talking, but they did trade words on occasion. It was their fighting that made this trilogy great, though.

    With wins over Karo Parisyan and Jay Hieron in his first two UFC appearances, St-Pierre looked to be the future of the 170-pound division. The problem was he had to get through one of the best ever before he could sit atop the welterweight class.

    At UFC 50, Hughes showed that the Canadian wasn't quite ready. In the closing seconds of the first round, St-Pierre was trapped in an armbar and had to tap.

    In order to get a second crack at Hughes, St-Pierre needed to pick up four more UFC wins, including a decision victory over Penn. By the time St-Pierre met Hughes for a second time, he had developed into the best in the division, as he stopped Hughes with a head kick in the second round.

    St-Pierre then suffered a shocking loss to Matt Serra. With Serra unable to defend his belt, though, St-Pierre and Hughes clashed for a third time with an interim championship on the line at UFC 79. In a finish that nearly mirrored their first meeting, St-Pierre locked up an armbar on Hughes in the closing moments of the second stanza.

    It was a result that marked a passing of the welterweight torch. St-Pierre went on to regain his undisputed title and hasn't suffered a defeat since his surprising loss to Serra.

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