UFC 200 Primer: Ranking the 200 Biggest Moments in UFC History

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterJune 27, 2016

UFC 200 Primer: Ranking the 200 Biggest Moments in UFC History

0 of 33

    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    UFC 200 on Saturday, July 9, is poised to be a landmark fight card in several different ways.

    With three titles on the line, the return of Brock Lesnar and another monster pay-per-view buyrate expected, the UFC's bicentennial may end up going down in company history right alongside its gala predecessor, UFC 100.

    There's no telling yet where exactly it will fall among the greatest events of all time, but if UFC 200 is meant as a celebration of the 23 years since MMA landed on American shores in 1993, it seems apt. From Royce Gracie's win in UFC 1 to Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier's headlining UFC 200, the evolution has been staggering.

    There have been innumerable memorable moments along the way. Here, seven members of the Bleacher Report MMA staff set out to determine and rank the 200 biggest, best, wildest and wackiest happenings in UFC history.

    It was mission: impossible, but in the end we hope the list is a fun one—and remember it's here for entertainment purposes only.

    Did we include your favorite moment? If not, let us know in the comments.

Nos. 200-191

1 of 33

    No. 191: Daniel Cormier mauls Anthony Johnson at UFC 187.
    No. 191: Daniel Cormier mauls Anthony Johnson at UFC 187.Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    200. Frank Shamrock KOs Igor Zinoviev with a mighty slam [UFC 16, March 13, 1998]

    Shamrock may have been MMA's best technician back in the sport's wild and woolly pioneer days. He made quick work of Zinoviev during his first UFC light heavyweight title defense, scooping the Russian up with a slick double leg and knocking him cold with a slam in just 22 seconds. (Chad Dundas)

    199. Mark Schultz beats Gary Goodridge in the Olympic wrestler's only UFC fight [UFC 9, May 17, 1996]

    Schultz was just four months removed from the murder of his brother Dave when he stepped in for the injured Dave Beneteau to fight Goodridge. Perhaps not surprisingly, the wrestler Schultz wore Goodridge down with takedowns and opened up a series of gashes that eventually forced a cut stoppage TKO. For the Canadian striker, Schultz will probably go down as the toughest same-day replacement opponent ever. (Mike Chiappetta)

    198. Tank Abbott leaves Steve Nelmark slumped against the cage [UFC 11.5, December 7, 1996]

    With his protruding beer belly and menacing scowl, Abbott was more or less a glorified bar-room brawler—he intimidated hapless victims before the caged door slammed shut. Poor Steve Nelmark. Abbott hit him so hard his body went lifeless in one of the most awkward "what has been seen cannot be unseen" moments inside the cage. (Brian Oswald)

    197. Kenichi Yamamoto wins the UFC's last one-night tournament [UFC 23, November 19, 1999]

    With a 5-12-2 overall career record, Yamamoto may not seem like a likely candidate to make UFC history. During the fight company's second trip to Japan, however, he entered the halls of UFC trivia when he defeated Daiju Takase and Katsuhisa Fujii to become the winner of the final one-night tournament the UFC ever held. (Scott Harris)

    196. Chris Leben wins two fights in two weeks [UFC 116, July 3, 2010]

    Leben scored a TKO over Aaron Simpson for his second win of 2010 and earned an unexpected co-main event slot two weeks later when Wanderlei Silva dropped out of a fight against Yoshihiro Akiyama due to injury. Leben was never one to decline a challenge. He took the fight and pulled off a third-round triangle choke for the win. (Nathan McCarter)

    195. Conor McGregor is removed from UFC 200 [April 19, 2016]

    McGregor shocked the world by posting an abrupt retirement announcement to Twitter in April. Was this a joke? Was he really done fighting? Neither, it turned out. McGregor and the company were just squabbling over press obligations. Eventually, the kerfuffle prompted the UFC to pull McGregor's rematch vs. Nate Diaz from the gala UFC 200 card. At present, the two are booked for a rematch at UFC 202. (CD)

    194. Mark Kerr knocks out "Ranger" Greg Stott in 17 seconds [UFC 15, October 17, 1997]

    It would be tough to find a bout featuring two fighters more physically opposite than these two. At UFC 15, the thickly muscled former NCAA Division I wrestler Kerr faced Stott, a former Army Ranger who we might charitably say sported a "man on the street" build. Stott came in touting his "Ranger Intensive Program" (RIP, get it?) fighting style...and the results were what one would expect: Kerr destroyed Stott in a matter of seconds with a brutal knee. (Steven Rondina)

    193. MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba fights Marcus Silveira twice in one night [UFC Japan, December 21, 1997]

    A premature stoppage cut short Sakuraba's first bout in the four-man heavyweight tournament, but an injury to Tank Abbott gave him another shot. The 183-pound Sakuraba, who lied about his weight to qualify as a heavyweight, capitalized by submitting the 243-pound Silveira with an armbar. (Patrick Wyman)

    192. Reporter Ariel Helwani's "lifetime ban" ends after two days [UFC 199, June 4, 2016]

    For spoiling the UFC's unveiling of Brock Lesnar, the UFC walked Helwani and colleagues Esther Lin and E. Casey Leydon out of the arena, putting themselves in the crosshairs of an enraged mainstream media. After Helwani took part in a blitz of TV and radio appearances to explain the trio's treatment, the UFC quickly reversed course and reinstated their credentials. (MC)

    191. Daniel Cormier beats Anthony Johnson to win vacant light heavyweight strap [UFC 187, May 23, 2015]

    Cormier weathered the early storm and choked Johnson out in the third round (pictured above). With Jon Jones gone on indefinite suspension, the victory gave 205 pounds its first new champion since 2011. Cormier will now defend that title against Jones at UFC 200. (CD)

Nos. 190-181

2 of 33

    190. Jeremy Horn shocks hot prospect Chuck Liddell via inverted arm triangle [UFC 19, March 5, 1999]

    Already a veteran of 30 MMA fights when he took on the 2-0 Liddell, Horn emptied his bag of tricks to lock up a funky choke near the end of regulation time. The submission hold fooled even referee John McCarthy, who didn't realize Liddell was unconscious until the bell sounded to end the 12-minute round. (CD)

    189. Vitor Belfort becomes the first man to KO Tank Abbott [UFC 13, May 30, 1997]

    Belfort arrived in the UFC as a fully formed monster, but the thought was that the 20-year-old might have run into his equal in power when he took on Abbott. Instead, the Phenom blitzed Abbott with machine-gun speed and accuracy, putting him away in just 52 seconds. (MC)

    188. Roger Huerta graces the cover of Sports Illustrated [May 28, 2007]

    While Huerta never achieved the stardom he seemed destined to reach, he did become the first MMA fighter to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated—a tangible sign of how far the sport had come since the dark ages. No one would match this feat until Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor did it in 2015 and 2016, respectively. (PW)

    187. Jens Pulver becomes the first (and most unheralded) UFC lightweight champ [UFC 30, February 23, 2001]

    It's easy to forget because of how deep this weight class is now, but at one point, the UFC lightweight division was a mess. The first man to clean things up? Jens Pulver. At UFC 30, he became the first UFC lightweight champion by defeating Caol Uno. Pulver defended the belt twice before leaving the UFC due to a contract dispute. Unfortunately, his contributions as the division's inaugural titlist have largely been lost to history. (SR)

    186. Mark Hunt breaks Stefan Struve's jaw with a thunderous punch [UFC on Fuel TV 8, March 3, 2013]

    After three straight UFC victories to put his career mark over .500, Hunt stepped up to fight a legitimate heavyweight contender in Struve. Hunt's crushing knockout blow in the third round gave us one of the most extraordinary fight photos in the sport's history (video above). It also announced him as an unlikely contender, while Struve had to eat through a straw for months. (NM)

    185. Head-butts and groin strikes go the way of the dinosaur at UFC 15 [October 17, 1997]

    The UFC outlawed some of the sport's most controversial techniques beginning at this event in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Aside from head-butts and low blows, the UFC barred strikes to the back of the head, kicks to a downed opponent and small joint manipulation for good. (CD)

    184. Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier give it all they've got [UFC on Fuel TV 3, May 15, 2012]

    The nation's capital got a show to remember when, in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Fairfax, Virginia, "Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier put on a well-rounded, evenly matched MMA clinic in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 3. Jung choked out Poirier in the fourth round, and it was a favorite of many observers as the 2012 Fight of the Year. (SH)

    183. Keith Hackney goes downstairs on Joe Son [UFC 4, December 16, 1994]

    You'd think Hackney had a personal beef with Son, immediately taking him to the ground and aggressively pummeling him in the groin. Maybe it was Son's red thong? Getting hit downstairs never feels good. But inside a steel cage? And being perfectly legal at the time? That just adds insult to injury. (BO)

    182. Wanderlei Silva goes out a winner with a wild fight against Brian Stann [UFC on Fuel TV 8, March 3, 2013]

    Before he left the UFC largely in disgrace, Silva engaged a former Marine in a firefight and won. Both Silva and Stann threw caution to the wind, bit down on their mouthpieces and let the best punch win. Amid a hail of power punches that triggered multiple knockdowns between them, it was Silva's overhand right/left hook combo that closed the show. (MC)

    181. Wonderboy Thompson carves up Johny Hendricks with karate [UFC Fight Night 82, February 6, 2016]

    Steven "Wonderboy" Thompson was 6-1 in the UFC but still just coming into his own as a contender when he met up with former champ Hendricks in Las Vegas. Call this Wonderboy's coming-out party—and an eye-opening one at that—as he used his stand-up skills to dismantle the former NCAA national champion wrestler to the tune of a first-round TKO. (CD)

Nos. 180-171

3 of 33

    No. 180: Joanna Jedrzejczyk takes the strawweight title at UFC 185.
    No. 180: Joanna Jedrzejczyk takes the strawweight title at UFC 185.Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    180. Joanna Jedrzejczyk pummels Carla Esparza to become strawweight champ [UFC 185, March 14, 2015]

    Esparza was the inaugural 115-pound champ but held the title for just three months before Jedrzejczyk snatched it via lopsided second-round TKO (pictured above). Jedrzejczyk's win gave the fledgling strawweight division some personality and launched Joanna Champion as a potential new star for the UFC. (CD)

    179. Dan Henderson makes UFC debut, wins middleweight tournament [UFC 17, May 15, 1998]

    The legend of Hendo's gunslinging came late in his career. He began instead as "Decision Dan," largely on the strength of a pair of razor-close decision victories he captured over Allan Goes and Carlos Newton. The latter was a split decision even though Newton broke Henderson's jaw with a thunderous right hand. (MC)

    178. Frank Shamrock ends epic fight with Jeremy Horn via sudden kneebar [UFC 17, May 15, 1998]

    Shamrock was the UFC's inaugural light heavyweight champ. He was Jon Jones circa 1998, and Horn, who was making his UFC debut, should have been an easy out. It turned out the debutant was anything but. They battled back and forth for 16 grueling minutes before Shamrock secured one of the most out-of the-blue submissions in UFC history. (BO)

    177. Rousimar Palhares stops fighting to complain to ref, gets knocked out [UFC Fight Night 22, September 15, 2010]

    Rousimar Palhares made the cardinal mistake of pausing mid-fight to try to tell the referee he thought Nate Marquardt was greased up during their main event in Austin, Texas. Marquardt, however, did not stop fighting and took the opportunity to hand Palhares—no stranger to bizarre behavior in the cage—a TKO loss. No evidence of greasing ever surfaced. (CD)

    176. Fueled by lack of nutrition and no sleep, Rampage Jackson goes on a rampage [July 15, 2008]

    Just 10 days after losing his title to Forrest Griffin at UFC 86, the suddenly title-less Jackson was involved in a hit-and-run accident and an infamous police chase—all in a truck with his picture plastered on the side. Rampage said the shocking incident was due to a multitude of factors including a lack of nutrition, no sleep and a "spiritual war" inside his head, according to the Orange County Register. (NM)

    175. Diego Sanchez vs. Gilbert Melendez turns into a wild brawl [UFC 166, October 19, 2013]

    We should have known what we were in for when these two roughnecks got together. Melendez and Sanchez slugged it out for 15 full minutes in the unanimous Fight of the Night. In the end Melendez walked away with the decision victory. (CD)

    174. Anthony Johnson rattles Charlie Brenneman's wig with high-kick KO [UFC on Versus 6, October 1, 2011]

    Ever wonder why fighters put themselves through hell to cut weight? It's for performances like this. Future light heavyweight Anthony Johnson faced future lightweight Charlie Brenneman in a welterweight fight during the fall of 2011 and posted one of the best performances of his career, bullying the man nicknamed "The Spaniard" around the cage before finishing him with a terrifying head kick (warning: NSFW language). (SR)

    173. Anthony Pettis shocks Benson Henderson with first-round armbar [UFC 164, August 31, 2013]

    Pettis won the last WEC lightweight title by jumping off the cage and kicking Henderson in the face, but it was Henderson who won and defended the UFC strap three times in the interim. When they met a second time, Pettis laced Henderson with body kicks and armbarred the champion in just 4:31, reclaiming his rightful throne. (PW)

    172. Brian Johnston uses his head against Reza Nasri [UFC 11, September 20, 1996]

    Johnston and Nasri had words before the fight and stormed at each other as quickly as ref Big John McCarthy let them. After a takedown, Johnston immediately passed to full mount and exploited the lax rules of early MMA with a series of six consecutive head-butts, leading to a ground-and-pound stoppage that could not be seen today. (MC)

    171. Lyoto Machida knocks out Rashad Evans to begin Machida Era [UFC 98, May 23, 2009]

    Machida rolled into UFC 98 at 14-0 and fresh off a first-round KO of Thiago Silva. It was no wonder Joe Rogan proclaimed the beginning of the Machida Era when the Dragon took the light heavyweight title from Evans via a flurry of punches. The face Evans made while splayed on the canvas? That will live in infamy forever. (CD)

Nos. 170-161

4 of 33

    170. Shogun Rua brings the Machida Era to a screeching halt [UFC 113, May 8, 2010]

    The Machida Era lasted all of one year. The Dragon's only win during that stretch was a controversial decision over Mauricio Rua at UFC 104. In the immediate rematch at UFC 113, Rua knocked him out cold. Bye-bye, Machida Era. (CD)

    169. T.J. Dillashaw upsets Renan Barao to win bantamweight crown [UFC 173, May 24, 2014]

    Dillashaw got the title opportunity on something of a fluke after the UFC needed a new headline fight for the card. As such, he was immediately installed as a sizable underdog against Barao, who was riding a 32-fight unbeaten streak. No matter. Dillashaw won in lopsided fashion, knocking down the champ twice and surgically slicing him up en route to a fifth-round TKO. (MC)

    168. Demetrious Johnson wins mini-tournament and becomes inaugural flyweight champ [UFC 152, September 22, 2012]

    Future champ Johnson had to fight Ian McCall twice to make it through the semifinals of this tournament after a judging error made their first matchup a majority draw. Meanwhile, Joseph Benavidez crushed Yasuhiro Urushitani in the tourney's other semifinal. The final fight for the gold was a tight, back-and-forth affair, but Johnson defeated Benavidez to become the UFC's first 125-pound champion. He hasn't relinquished the crown since. (PW)

    167. UFC 14 requires all fighters to wear gloves for the first time [UFC 14, July 27, 1997]

    Part of the charm (and horror) of old UFC events was that they came close to the company's tagline: "There Are No Rules." Included in that? Absolutely no specifications in regard to gloves. The majority of fighters in the UFC's golden age wore nothing on their hands. That changed at UFC 14. (SR)

    166. Travis Browne delivers a devastating front kick to Alistair Overeem's face [UFC Fight Night 26, August 17, 2013]

    Browne was suffering a beating at the hands of Overeem for the better part of this fight, but by hanging tough he gave himself time to acclimate. The opening presented itself in the final minute of the first round, and with the end of his foot he connected with Overeem's chin (video above). Timber! (NM)

    165. Harold Howard invites us to "come on" if we're coming on [UFC 3, September 9, 1994]

    Canadian karate master Howard ended up going 1-3 during his MMA career, but not before he blessed us with one of the greatest pre-fight promos and training montages in UFC history. With his white undershirt, flowing blond mullet and game attitude, there was an awful lot to like. (CD)

    164. Vitor Belfort opens legendary cut on Marvin Eastman's forehead [UFC 43, June 6, 2003]

    Belfort used knee strikes and punches to open a nasty gash on Marvin Eastman's forehead en route to a TKO victory. The official time of the stoppage was just 67 seconds, but the aftermath lived on in the annals of UFC history, as the cut on Eastman's dome was regarded as the worst the Octagon had ever seen. (SH)

    163. Georges St-Pierre drops to his knees and begs for a title shot [UFC 56, November 19, 2005]

    Many consider GSP the greatest champ in MMA history. In his first title shot, he came up short versus longtime champ Matt Hughes. After finishing Sean Sherk at UFC 56 some 13 months later, St-Pierre wasn't too proud to beg. He dropped to his knees with a plea to the UFC brass for another crack at Hughes. (BO)

    162. Carlos Newton lands a bulldog choke on champion Pat Miletich [UFC 31, May 4, 2001]

    Miletich was the long-reigning middleweight champ, having defended the belt four times over almost three years when he faced Newton, who was coming off a loss. During a third-round scramble, Newton could have taken Miletich's back but instead locked up a bulldog choke—essentially a glorified headlock—and didn't stop squeezing until Miletich tapped out. (MC)

    161. Anderson Silva destroys Chris Leben in jaw-dropping Octagon debut [UFC Fight Night 5, June 28, 2006]

    In retrospect, matchmakers must have known what they were doing when they signed Leben to face the debuting Silva. The American vowed to send Silva "back to Japan, where the competition is easier," but after 49 seconds of fight time, the Spider handed Leben his first career KO loss. (CD)

Nos. 160-151

5 of 33

    160. Randy Couture and Big Nog prove these old dogs can still hunt [UFC 102, August 29, 2009]

    With a combined age of 79 and 63 fights between them, Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira were already first-ballot Hall of Famers by the time they met up in this main event. It turned out they could both still scrap too, as they turned in 2009's Fight of the Year. (CD)

    159. Diego Sanchez makes his amazing "Yes!" walk to the cage [UFC 95, February 21, 2009]

    Sanchez arrived in the UFC as "The Nightmare," but somewhere along the line, he put positivity first. That manifested itself to the utmost when Sanchez walked into London's O2 Arena repeatedly pumping his fist and shouting, "Yes!" It worked (at least that time), as he defeated Joe Stevenson via unanimous decision in the evening's Fight of the Night. (MC)

    158. Rampage Jackson gets revenge on Wanderlei Silva via KO punch [UFC 92, December 27, 2008]

    Silva savaged Jackson not once but twice in Pride. Both fighters made their way to the UFC after Zuffa bought the competing organization. If Jackson was nervous about dropping three straight to the Axe Murderer, he showed no signs. He clobbered Silva with a thunderous left hook to the head. (BO)

    157. Ronda Rousey rejects Miesha Tate's post-fight handshake offer [UFC 168, December 28, 2013]

    The two archrivals bickered all the way to the cage for this rematch in the winter of 2013. Even after Rousey defeated Tate via third-round armbar, the then-champion refused to shake Tate's outstretched hand. Many remember it as a gesture of poor sportsmanship, but it was without question another classic "Rowdy" moment. (SH)

    156. Yves Edwards KOs Josh Thomson with a kick from behind [UFC 49, August 21, 2004]

    Thomson was the hot, undefeated prospect who was taking on the veteran in this bout, as both lightweights were closing in at a shot at UFC gold. When Edwards slipped behind Thomson late in the first, Thomson broke his grip and spun around—directly into an oncoming head kick that finished the fight. (NM)

    155. James Irvin wows the crowd with flying-knee KO of Terry Martin [UFC 54, August 20, 2005]

    Irvin lived up to his nickname as "The Sandman" at UFC 54. Nine seconds into the second round of his light heavyweight debut, he caught Martin ducking into a takedown with a perfectly placed flying knee. The results were breathtaking and a little bit scary. (CD)

    154. UFC gets a video game from EA Sports [June 17, 2014]

    There have been plenty of UFC games over the years, from the classic PlayStation title to the defunct Undisputed series. When it comes to (non-baseball) sports games, though, there's a certain degree of prestige to Electronic Arts—and the UFC finally hit the video game mainstream in 2014 with the launch of EA Sports UFC. (SR)

    153. Chuck Liddell avenges his loss to Randy Couture...twice [UFC 52, April 16, 2005; UFC 57, February 4, 2006]

    While Couture defeated Liddell in their first meeting in 2003, it was Liddell's victories in the rematch and rubber match that really put the UFC on the map. The two served as coaches on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, and their fight at UFC 52 shattered the UFC record for pay-per-view buys. Their third fight broke the record yet again. (PW)

    152. Uriah Hall's hype train gets rolling with spin-kick KO on Adam Cella [TUF 17, February 5, 2013]

    Hall's much-hyped spinning back kick had Cella unconscious before he hit the mat in a finish so brutal that the mood quickly went from jubilant to fearful as Cella lay motionless seemingly for an eternity (video above). In the awkwardness of the moment, Hall apologized, showcasing his humanity while gaining an undeserved reputation as soft. (MC)

    151. Frank Shamrock armbars Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson [UFC 15.5, December 21, 1997]

    High-level wrestlers may have been MMA's wave of the future, but it was future champion Shamrock who gave us a preview of what was to come in his UFC debut. He submitted Jackson in just 16 seconds with a picture-perfect armbar. (CD)

Nos. 150-141

6 of 33

    150. Rampage Jackson beats Dan Henderson to unify UFC/Pride titles [UFC 75, September 8, 2007]

    Henderson remains the only MMA fighter ever to hold two major championships in two separate weight classes simultaneously. Unfortunately, in his Octagon return after a seven-year stint in Pride FC, he lost to the UFC 205-pound champ, Jackson. Rampage's victory unified the UFC and Pride belts and made his title truly undisputed. (CD)

    149. The "Just Bleed Guy" makes his own kind of history [UFC 15, October 17, 1997]

    The king of UFC crowd shots took place just prior to one of the night's main bouts, when the camera panned the fans to find a flexing, screaming, shaking, aggro-bro with "Just Bleed" painted across his chest. For better or worse, the clip came to symbolize UFC fans for years. (MC)

    148. Keith Hackney becomes "giant killer" with win over Emmanuel Yarborough [UFC 3, September 9, 1994]

    Few bouts epitomized the sheer wildness of the early UFC events better than the 400-pound weight difference between Hackney and Yarborough. It didn't help the much larger Yarborough, however, as Hackney knocked him down with a devastating palm strike and finished him in less than two minutes. (PW)

    147. Rampage Jackson rips a door down on TUF [October 27, 2009]

    The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 was memorable for a number of reasons, but the best part was Quinton "Rampage" Jackson's descent into madness (video above). Rival coach Rashad Evans regularly jeered Jackson, and after his team suffered seven consecutive losses, Rampage had an all-time freak-out, snapping a door in half before tearing it off its hinges. (SR)

    146. Ronda Rousey submits Cat Zingano in just 14 seconds [UFC 184, February 28, 2015]

    Zingano, on paper, posed the biggest threat to Rousey's reign of dominance—and then the bell rang. The challenger looked to start fast, darting at Rousey, only to get tossed and armbarred in just a tick fewer than 15 seconds. Zingano left the cage confused and upset. Meanwhile, Rousey walked out with the title and her aura of invincibility still firmly intact. (NM)

    145. Tito Ortiz snaps long losing streak against Ryan Bader [UFC 132, July 2, 2011]

    The once-great Ortiz hadn't won a fight in nearly five years when he rolled into this bout against Bader (12-1). On this night, however, we all learned never to underestimate the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, as Ortiz caught Bader in a first-round guillotine choke to snap a five-fight winless streak. (CD)

    144. Duane "Bang" Ludwig scores UFC's fastest KO over Jonathan Goulet [UFC Fight Night 3, January 16, 2006]

    Duane Ludwig never quite found his footing in the UFC cage, but his six-second knockout of Jonathan Goulet should keep him in the record books for a long time (although it took some time for him to be recognized, due to controversy over the official time of the KO). (SH)

    143. Cung Le ends Rich Franklin's storied career with one-punch KO [UFC on Fuel TV 6, November 10, 2012]

    Former middleweight champ "Ace" Franklin had a storybook MMA career (outside of the two beatings from Anderson Silva), but his retirement party was the pits. Le blasted him with a looping hard right hook to his head. Franklin crashed to the canvas and looked, for a moment, like he might be dead. (BO)

    142. A 175-pound Royce Gracie chokes out 260-pound Dan Severn [UFC 4, December 16, 1994]

    Gracie kept winning and winning and seemed like he would go unbeaten forever until he met the massive beast, Dan Severn. After spending minute after minute with Severn in his guard, Gracie finally found his opening, locking up a triangle for the win. (MC)

    141. Chael Sonnen retires after multiple drug-test failures [June 11, 2014]

    Sonnen was roughly one month out from fighting Wanderlei Silva at UFC 175 when news broke he'd failed a Nevada State Athletic Commission drug test. Facing a suspension, Sonnen announced his retirement the next day. Later, we learned he had also failed a second NSAC test. That was all she wrote for the Bad Guy. (CD)

Nos. 140-131

7 of 33

    140. Kimo drags a giant wooden cross to the cage [UFC 3, September 9, 1994]

    Kimo Leopoldo really knew how to make a first impression in his Octagon debut, walking the aisle clad in a black cloak and carrying a 12-foot wooden cross on his shoulders. He put up a good fight before losing to Royce Gracie via armbar, but most people still remember the entrance, not the result. (CD)

    139. Tito Ortiz dons his notorious "Dana Is My Bitch" T-shirt [UFC 84, May 23, 2008]

    Nearing the end of his contract, Ortiz was locked into another chapter of his feud with White and unafraid to show his displeasure. At this event's official weigh-in, he wore a T-shirt that let the world in on his feelings. (MC)

    138. Cain Velasquez brings Brock Lesnar's title reign to a violent end [UFC 121, October 23, 2010]

    Lesnar was by far the biggest thing to hit the UFC at the time. The bigger they are, the harder they fall—and boy did he fall hard. Velasquez, who was smaller but more agile, torpedoed Lesnar with his combination of wrestling and striking. Lesnar looked lost, coughing up his belt in rather dramatic fashion. (BO)

    137. Nick Diaz becomes the only man to knock out Robbie Lawler [UFC 47, April 2, 2004]

    Both these future superstars were just young pups in the spring of 2004 when they met up on the undercard of Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz I. Diaz gave fans something to remember besides the highly anticipated main event when one minute and 30 seconds into the second round he caught the charging Lawler on the chin with a stiff jab. It seemed to take Lawler a moment to realize he'd been knocked out. Maybe because it had never happened before. Or since. (SH)

    136. Brock Lesnar announces his comeback for UFC 200 [UFC 199, June 4, 2016]

    Many on social media were treated to a scoop from Ariel Helwani that Lesnar was close to signing for a return date, but the majority of fans were unaware of what would come in a special UFC 200 trailer during the UFC 199 broadcast. At the tail end of the production, Lesnar appeared on screen with a smirk and fired an overhand right to signal his return to action. (NM)

    135. Blood-soaked Mark Hunt and Bigfoot Silva embrace after their brawl [UFC Fight Night 33, December 7, 2013]

    Hunt and Silva went to war in their main event in Brisbane, Australia. They traded bombs for 25 minutes, exchanging knockdowns and spattering each other with gore. When it was over, they practically collapsed into each other's arms in one of the most memorable displays of pure sportsmanship ever to grace the Octagon. (CD)

    134. Karo Parisyan rolls into a kimura to beat Dave Strasser [UFC 44, September 26, 2003]

    There are pretty submissions, and then there's this. In his promotional debut at UFC 44, Parisyan pulled off what remains the greatest highlight in his career by grabbing hold of Strasser's arm, pulling guard and rolling him over into a slick kimura (video above). (SR)

    133. Shonie Carter gets a wicked spinning backfist KO on Matt Serra [UFC 31, May 4, 2001]

    Serra would go on to be the author of one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history when he knocked out Georges St-Pierre in 2007. Prior to that he was known mostly for being on the receiving end of one of the coolest, wildest knockouts the UFC had ever seen, a spinning backfist from "Mr. International" Shonie Carter. (PW)

    132. GSP walks out in front of 55,000 fans in his home country [UFC 129, April 30, 2011]

    MMA finally arrived as an undeniable sports phenomenon after selling out the massive Rogers Centre in Toronto. It came largely on the back of Canada's all-time great, who was swarmed by a ravenous crowd that understood the significance of the moment. (MC)

    131. Matt Hughes destroys Royce Gracie in painful passing-of-the-torch moment [UFC 60, May 27, 2006]

    Gracie hadn't fought in the Octagon for 11 years when matchmakers booked him into a fight with Hughes, who had amassed a 17-1 record dating back to 2001. The bout between the two legends turned out to be an utter mismatch, as Hughes battered Gracie en route to a first-round TKO victory. (CD)

Nos. 130-121

8 of 33

    130. Kimbo Slice is the "mystery competitor" on Season 10 of TUF [September 16, 2009]

    The first season to feature heavyweights also brought a supersized surprise, as Dana White unveiled the street fighter as the show's final contestant during Episode 1. Slice did not fare well in the competition, losing to Roy Nelson in his only TUF bout. He would eventually finish his UFC career at 1-1. (CD)

    129. Carlos Condit storms back to beat Rory MacDonald with seven seconds left [UFC 115, June 12, 2010]

    Two savages put each other through hell for over 14 minutes, and with MacDonald on the brink of a likely decision victory, Condit summoned a last-ditch effort worthy of a war novel, pummeling MacDonald with a hellacious series of ground strikes as the final seconds ticked away. (MC)

    128. Nick Diaz and Joe Riggs throw down at the hospital after UFC 57 [February 4, 2006]

    Diaz owns a hard-won reputation as the realest fighter in the sport and one of MMA's truly unique characters. More than anything, his legend began with a bloody brawl at the hospital following his decision loss to Joe Riggs in 2006. (PW)

    127. Chan Sung Jung pulls off a rare twister submission vs. Leonard Garcia [UFC Fight Night 24, March 26, 2011]

    The Korean Zombie built up a reputation as one of the most exciting fighters in MMA history, and it was because of bouts like this. In a rematch of the 2010 Fight of the Year opposite Garcia, Jung locked up the white buffalo of submissions—the terrifying twister, a seldom-seen move that turns the spinal column into a corkscrew, to force a tapout (video above). (SR)

    126. Dan Severn beats Oleg Taktarov to win Ultimate Ultimate 95 [December 16, 1995]

    Severn and Taktarov met earlier in the year at UFC 5, where Severn nabbed victory in four minutes, 21 seconds due to a nasty cut to Taktarov. The rematch would last more than 25 minutes longer, going the full 30. Severn became just the second man to win two UFC tournaments after the grueling victory. (NM)

    125. Frank Mir becomes the first man to submit Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira [UFC 140, December 10, 2011]

    This rematch pit arguably MMA's two most accomplished heavyweight submission specialists against each other in UFC 140's co-main event. Big Nog had never lost via submission in an MMA fight, but Mir made history by busting the Brazilian's arm with a kimura in the first round. (CD)

    124. UFC misses out on signing the biggest free agent of all time, Fedor Emelianenko [2009]

    The UFC had a chance to sign for Pride FC star Fedor Emelianenko when the heavyweight GOAT was still reasonably close to his peak as a fighter. After protracted and sometimes testy negotiations, it did not come to fruition. Chatter that Emelianenko might show up in the Octagon continues to this day, though at this point nobody is holding his or her breath. (SH)

    123. Murilo Bustamante beats Matt Lindland in controversial "double tap" fight [UFC 37, May 10, 2002]

    Traditionally, it takes a rematch to have the occasion to beat an opponent twice. Not this time. Lindland clearly tapped to a Bustamante armbar, but when the referee tried to stop the fight, Lindland yelled out he didn't tap. The ref fell for Lindland's ruse and restarted the fight. Bustamante went on force a second tap. (BO)

    122. Andrei Arlovski vs. Travis Browne gives us one of the great rounds in history [UFC 187, May 23, 2015]

    After a one-minute minute feeling-out process between former training partners, all hell broke loose, with each fighter throwing and landing thunder. During a series of wild momentum swings, each was repeatedly wobbled, and the fight seemed ready to end any way, at any moment. Arlovski landed a knee and then an uppercut and a cross to finally end the round of fury. (MC)

    121. UFC newcomer Joe Lauzon stuns Jens Pulver [UFC 63, September 23, 2006]

    Perspective is everything here. Back in the fall of 2006, Lauzon was an unknown fighter who was making his Octagon debut with a 13-3 record. Pulver was the former champ and 8-2 in his last 10 fights against top competition. To see Lauzon score a 48-second KO win? Pretty shocking. (CD)

Nos. 120-111

9 of 33

    120. Rousimar Palhares gets fired for bad behavior in the cage [October 10, 2013]

    Palhares holds the dubious distinction of being the first and only man cut from the UFC for repeated incidences of unsportsmanlike conduct. After a 31-second heel-hook victory over Mike Pierce where Palhares refused to promptly release the hold, Dana White appeared on ESPN to announce the Brazilian's firing. (CD)

    119. Chael Sonnen botches a spinning elbow in rematch with Anderson Silva [UFC 148, July 7, 2012]

    Sonnen was this close to gold the first time around, but in the rematch, everything went bad after a misguided spinning strike led him directly into The Matrix. Silva went full Neo with a hellacious knee to the body that put a close to their rivalry. (MC)

    118. Rich Franklin drops Nate Quarry like a rock [UFC 56, November 19, 2005]

    Whenever one fighter floors another with a devastating, single punch, it's a highlight. Especially in a high-profile title fight. Franklin perfectly timed a left shot straight down the pipe (video above). Quarry hit the canvas with a thud and stiffened up like a board; he didn't fight again for two years. (BO)

    117. Chis Leben has epic meltdown on first season of TUF [February 14, 2005]

    After consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, Leben's personal demons got away from him. He grew combative and ultimately slept outside during the fifth episode of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Love him or hate him, Leben brought a boatload of personality to a season of TV that was vitally important to the UFC's brand at the time. (SH)

    116. New York legalizes MMA after intense lobbying effort [March 22, 2016]

    It was a long, hard battle, but MMA finally became legal in the Empire State in 2016. The final assembly meeting wasn't without its theatrics. Outspoken members from both sides argued their case, but with a vote of 113-25, the bill was sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo's desk to be signed into law. (NM)

    115. Carlos Condit and Robbie Lawler have an epic final round [UFC 195, January 2, 2016]

    Lawler and Condit had already given us 20 fantastic minutes in their welterweight title scrap. Somehow, they saved the best for last, making their final round together one of the best in UFC history. Lawler survived Condit's constant motion to secure a split decision, but the real winners were the fans. (CD)

    114. Vitor Belfort strings together three straight head-kick knockouts during 2013 [UFC Fight Night 32, November 9, 2013]

    Belfort's gains from testosterone replacement therapy were impossible to ignore in 2013. In addition to his ballooning physique, he posted back-to-back-to-back head-kick knockouts of Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson. While that run is tainted by all the performance-enhancing drug-related issues that followed...boy, those fights were fun to watch. (SR)

    113. Dana White bets big after sending Chuck Liddell to Japan for Pride tourney [Pride Final Conflict 2003, November 9, 2003]

    White sent Liddell to Japan to compete in the epic Pride middleweight tournament and even placed a $250,000 side bet with Pride President Nobuyuki Sakakibara that Liddell would defeat Wanderlei Silva when they met. Quinton Jackson put a stop to that, brutalizing Liddell and leaving White muttering about his fighter "not following the game plan" in the commentary booth. (PW)

    112. Kevin Randleman falls backstage and has bout with Pedro Rizzo postponed [UFC 24, March 10, 2000]

    Randleman won the belt at UFC 23 and was set to defend it a few months later at UFC 24. He was warming up in the locker room at the Lake Charles (La.) Civic Center when he slipped on a pipe and fell backward, smashing his head on the concrete floor and knocking himself unconscious. (MC)

    111. Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn have the worst fight in UFC history in Detroit [UFC 9, May 17, 1996]

    This hotly anticipated rematch went bust after Michigan officials agreed to let the UFC go on only under "special rules." Fighters were told they could be arrested if they threw a closed-fisted strike, which led to a lot of circling and staring during the 30-minute superfight. Severn won the stinkfest via split decision. (CD)

Nos. 110-101

10 of 33

    110. Jon Jones beats Chael Sonnen despite a disgusting broken toe [UFC 159, April 27, 2013].

    Jones scored a ho-hum first-round TKO win over Sonnen—a natural middleweight—in this mismatch of a light heavyweight title contest. In the cage after the fight, however, Jones displayed his gruesome broken big toe. Had Sonnen survived the first stanza, he might well have won by doctor stoppage. (CD)

    109. BJ Penn ends Sean Sherk with last-second flying knee [UFC 84, May 24, 2008].

    Penn was the lightweight champ, but Sherk still claimed a stake after having been stripped. Penn smashed that dubious case to smithereens when he crushed Sherk with a flying knee near the end of Round 3 that left Sherk unable to answer the bell for the fourth. (MC)

    108. Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz both fail drug tests after UFC 183 [January 31, 2015].

    The highly anticipated fight between Silva and Diaz lived up to expectations, featuring a resurgent Silva and Diaz being Diaz in all the best ways. In the aftermath, however, Silva was popped for steroids, while the Nevada State Athletic Commission's incompetent, vengeful handling of Diaz's alleged marijuana use became one of 2015's biggest stories. (PW)

    107. After years of drama, Cris Cyborg debuts in the UFC [UFC 198, May 14, 2016].

    When Ronda Rousey was still an Olympic judoka, Cyborg was the most dangerous woman on earth. For years, she smashed any and all comers in Strikeforce and Invicta FC, and for years, it felt wrong that she was excluded from the UFC. At UFC 198, however, she made her long-awaited Octagon debut, and the result, unsurprisingly, was a vicious first-round knockout of Leslie Smith. (SR)

    106. Anderson Silva's rematch with Chris Weidman ends in a nasty broken leg [UFC 168, December 28, 2013].

    Silva was caught playing in their first fight, and there was a notion that the second bout would decisively answer who was the best middleweight on the planet. The finish was decisive but not fulfilling, as Silva's leg snapped on a checked kick. The injury was gruesome and would ultimately signal the end of an era. (NM)

    105. Matt Hughes taps GSP in the final second of Round 1 [UFC 50, October 22, 2004].

    Georges St-Pierre was just 23 years old when he got his first shot at UFC gold, and he said later he was in awe of fighting Hughes, one of his idols. The youth and inexperience showed, as St-Pierre tapped out to an armbar just as time expired in the first round. (CD)

    104. Nate Diaz flexes and flips off the crowd while submitting Kurt Pellegrino [UFC Fight Night 13, April 2, 2008].

    Looking for a reason why the Diaz brothers became UFC fan favorites? Here is one memorable moment among many. At this event that served as a lead-in to the premiere of TUF 7 on Spike TV, Nate Diaz locked up a flying triangle choke on Kurt Pellegrino and then showed his biceps and shot the bird to the crowd (video above). Classy? Nah, but personality to the max. (SH)

    103. UFC appears on an episode of Friends [NBC, May 8, 1997].

    Friends was the hottest show of the '90s and early 2000s and a cultural phenomenon. The UFC was a fringe sport that was fighting for some mainstream love. So when main character Monica (Courteney Cox) got a boyfriend named Pete (Jon Favreau) who decided to pursue a career as an "Ultimate Fighting champion," not only did it make for must-see TV, but it provided the fledgling sports organization with a little prime-time shine. (BO)

    102. Tank Abbott's in-cage slip lets Don Frye win [Ultimate Ultimate 96, December 7, 1996].

    Abbott had already smashed two foes during the event's one-night tournament, and he drew Frye in the finals. Things started off well for him when he pulled Frye into his style of brawl, but as he retreated from a Frye rush, he fell backward, which allowed the former Division I wrestler to gain back mount and eventually sink in a rear-naked choke. (MC)

    101. Mark Coleman submits Dan Severn to become first UFC heavyweight champ [UFC 12, February 7, 1997].

    Coleman had looked unstoppable while running roughshod over his competition at UFC 10 and 11. Meanwhile, Severn returned to the Octagon on a nine-fight win streak. This fight to determine the first UFC heavyweight champion turned out to be another cakewalk for Coleman, who won via neck crank in 2:57. (CD)

Nos. 100-91

11 of 33

    100. Jose Aldo runs into the Rio crowd after stopping Chad Mendes [UFC 142, January 14, 2012].

    Mendes couldn't get much offense going before Aldo suddenly knocked him out with a knee as time expired in the first round. Then, in an iconic moment for the UFC in Brazil, Aldo sprinted into the stands at HSBC Arena to celebrate with his fans in Rio de Janeiro. (CD)

    99. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira KOs Brendan Schaub in Brazilian homecoming [UFC 134, August 27, 2011].

    In his long and storied career, Nogueira had never professionally competed in his home country of Brazil until he stepped in against Schaub. In the early going, it did not go well for him, but everything changed when the wily veteran backed Schaub to the cage and blasted a left/right combo that put the lights out. As Schaub fell to the mat, the Brazilian faithful went crazy for their hero. (MC)

    98. Gerard Gordeau kicks Teila Tuli's teeth into the front row [UFC 1, November 12, 1993].

    The first televised fight in UFC history sure set the tone for the early days of the promotion. Tuli, an accomplished, 450-pound sumo wrestler, got three of his teeth knocked out by a vicious kick from French savate expert Gordeau. Afterward, Tuli decided his MMA career would be one-and-done. Wonder why? (BO)

    97. Former fighters file a class-action lawsuit against UFC [December 16, 2014].

    Just before Christmas 2014, a handful of former UFC fighters filed suit against the company in court, alleging anti-competitive and anti-fighter practices. The suit is ongoing, so it's tough to say exactly how big a deal it will turn out to be. If a judge sides with the fighters, however, it could have a major impact on MMA and its athletes. If that's the case, this item could end up much higher on any future top-200 list. (SH)

    96. Jacked-up Alistair Overeem knees and kicks Brock Lesnar into semi-retirement [UFC 141, December 30, 2011].

    Overeem stopped an early takedown attempt by Lesnar, and that turned out to be all the defense he would need. The Dutch striker landed several brutal knees to Lesnar's damaged midsection and finished him with a kick to the liver. Soon after, Lesnar retired (for the moment) and returned to WWE. Four months later, Overeem failed a drug test, which scuttled his planned shot at the UFC title. (NM)

    95. BJ Penn blitzes Caol Uno in 11 seconds [UFC 34, November 2, 2001].

    Uno tried to start fast in this fight, sprinting across the cage for a wild flying knee at the opening bell. Unfortunately, it only gave Penn the chance to launch his own flurry of punches and craft one of the quickest stoppages in UFC history. (CD)

    94. Bas Rutten caps legendary career with win over Kevin Randleman [UFC 20, May 7, 1999].

    Few people leave MMA on top; Rutten is one of the exceptions. After five years and 30 fights in Pancrase, Rutten joined the UFC in early 1999, knocking out Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and earning a shot at then-champion Randleman. He took the title from The Monster in a hard-fought decision at UFC 20 and rode (more or less) off into the sunset. (SR)

    93. Frank Mir kneebars Brock Lesnar in WWE champ's Octagon debut [UFC 81, February 2, 2008].

    Lesnar's winding road through the UFC began with a matchup against Mir, the former heavyweight champ. The inexperienced Lesnar had only 69 seconds of professional MMA experience, but he blasted Mir with ground strikes in the early going before tapping to a leglock. Lesnar would go on to hold the UFC championship and avenge this loss in crushing fashion at UFC 100. (PW)

    92. Reebok debuts as UFC's uniform provider...and totally flops [June 30, 2015].

    Name misspellings, incorrect countries and an uninspired line that lacked the promised customization led to an immediate backlash for a deal that wasn't welcome in the first place. #Giblert. (MC)

    91. Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock fight to a draw in UFC's first "superfight" [UFC 5, April 7, 1995].

    Shamrock and Gracie met for the second time in the UFC's first non-tournament bout. Billed as for the "UFC superfight championship," it ended in a draw after 36 minutes and would be Gracie's final appearance in the Octagon for more than a decade. It still stands as the longest fight in UFC history. (CD)

Nos. 90-81

12 of 33

    90. Frank Mir snaps Tim Sylvia's arm to win heavyweight title for the first time [UFC 48, June 19, 2004].

    Mir's armbar on Sylvia is still one of the greatest subs in UFC history, though it was easy to miss it as it happened live. Referee Herb Dean stepping in to stop the fight initially caused confusion, but the slow-motion replay revealed Sylvia's arm buckling in grotesque fashion. (CD)

    89. Nick Diaz takes a rest during his fight with Anderson Silva [UFC 183, January 31, 2015].

    After a minute of inactivity to start the fight, MMA's favorite nonconformist had enough, showing up one of the sport's greatest by defiantly lying down mid-canvas and propping his neck up with a hand behind the head as if he was about to pose for a painting. (MC)

    88. Robbie Lawler vs. Steve Berger is the first UFC bout to air on U.S. cable TV [UFC 37.5, June 22, 2002].

    Long before he became the UFC welterweight champion, Lawler was the hot-shot prospect with life-altering power. His devastating knockout win over Steve Berger became an advertisement for everything the emerging sport of MMA had to offer when it aired as part of The Best Damn Sports Show Period as the first fight to appear on cable TV. (PW)

    87. Rashad Evans levels Sean Salmon with vicious head kick [UFC Fight Night 8, January 25, 2007].

    Right from the get-go, it was clear Evans had the personality to be a star. What wasn't clear initially was whether he had the tools to be a champion. That changed on this night. After an unremarkable first round, Evans landed one of the scariest head kicks in UFC history (video above), stopping Salmon and establishing himself as one of the best at 205 pounds. (SR)

    86. Chuck Liddell's signature "Iceman Celebration" becomes iconic after KOing Renato "Babalu" Sobral [UFC 40, November 22, 2002].

    This head-kick knockout gave Liddell a highlight-reel finish, but the celebration would grant him immortality. His exuberant post-fight celebration—arms outstretched, head tipped back in a mighty howl—would become the beacon of the promotion for several years. (NM)

    85. Art Jimmerson's one glove gets no love [UFC 1, November 12, 1993].

    In what would become one of the most iconic images of the early UFC, former pro boxer Jimmerson went into his UFC 1 fight vs. Royce Gracie wearing just a single boxing glove. Yeah, that did not work out. (CD)

    84. Georges St-Pierre takes title back from underdog Matt Serra [UFC 83, April 19, 2008].

    Matt Serra's shocking win over Georges St-Pierre in 2007 was one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. A year later, St-Pierre got his revenge. After beating foes Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes, St-Pierre got a rematch with Serra and won via easy second-round TKO. (SH)

    83. Nevada and then UFC ban testosterone replacement therapy [February 27, 2014].

    Ponce de Leon had his Fountain of Youth. MMA Fighters had their testosterone replacement therapy. But too much of a good thing couldn't last forever. Fueled at least in part by the controversy surrounding Vitor Belfort's unwieldy use of TRT, the Nevada State Athletic Commission and then the UFC both put the kibosh on the therapy. (BO)

    82. Randy Couture shatters the myth of Vitor Belfort [UFC 15, October 17, 1997].

    Belfort had started his UFC career with three straight TKO victories and was thought to be rampaging toward the title when the UFC placed 34-year-old Couture in his way. The Brazilian was considered such a favorite in this fight that the UFC event included "no known weaknesses" among Belfort's physical attributes on a pre-fight graphic. Unfortunately, Couture turned out to be more than just a speed bump. The old man spent much of the fight atop Belfort and wore him down en route to a TKO that ended any talk of Belfort being invincible. (MC)

    81. Jon Jones beats five former champs in a row on his way to GOAT contention [2011 to 2012].

    During the 18 months between UFC 128 and 154, Jones launched his career as light heavyweight champion into the stratosphere, defeating five consecutive former titleholders one after another. He capped the run with a win over Vitor Belfort that left little doubt about the identity of the greatest 205-pound fighter ever. (CD)

Nos. 80-71

13 of 33

    80. Frank Mir wins interim heavyweight belt four years after near-fatal accident [UFC 92, December 27, 2008].

    Mir's first title run ended when he was almost killed in a motorcycle accident in 2004. The fact that he not only returned to the Octagon but defeated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to recapture the (interim) title must be considered one of the greatest comeback stories the Octagon has ever seen. (CD)

    79. Ronda Rousey destroys Alexis Davis [UFC 175, July 5, 2014].

    There had been rumblings that Rousey had shown knockout power in camp, but she didn't really flash it until she crushed Davis with a right hook, tossed her to the ground with a harai goshi and pounded her until unconscious. Total time: 16 seconds. (MC)

    78. UFC folds WEC and absorbs featherweight and bantamweight divisions [2010].

    For a few golden years after purchasing the California-based World Extreme Cagefighting promotion, the UFC used WEC to showcase fighters at 155 pounds and under. The little guy promotion was a hit among hardcore fans and was credited with putting on some of the most exciting events in the sport. In early 2010, however, the UFC shuttered the WEC's doors and took the lighter-weight spoils for itself. (BO)

    77. BJ Penn licks blood off his gloves after beating Joe Stevenson [UFC 80, January 19, 2008].

    Penn defeated Stevenson by TKO at the beginning of 2008 to defend his UFC lightweight title. After the fight, Penn licked Stevenson's blood off his gloves in an iconic display that not only showed the savagery the 155-pound champ was capable of but perhaps also reminded everyone exactly what sort of sport they were watching. (SH)

    76. Tank Abbott debuts by literally knocking John Matua stiff [UFC 6, July 14, 1995].

    "Can anyone stop this man?" UFC play-by-play announcer Bruce Beck asked of the hulking Hawaiian Matua in his pre-fight hype video. Abbott could—and did—in just 18 seconds with a barrage of huge punches. After the final blows landed, Matua dropped to the canvas as stiff as a board as Tank mocked his rigid prey. It was a proper introduction for the UFC's first real bad guy. (NM)

    75. Modern weight classes come to the Octagon [UFC 31, May 4, 2001].

    When the UFC began in 1993, there were no weight classes and precious few rules. However, MMA evolved quickly during the next eight years, and by UFC 31 the original five "modern" weight classes were adopted. Consider it a huge step in the sport's march toward mainstream acceptance. (CD)

    74. Kalib Starnes runs away from Nate Quarry for most of their fight [UFC 83, April 19, 2008].

    There have been plenty of bad fights in the UFC, but few of them compare to this. At UFC 83, Quarry moved forward, throwing leg kicks, while Starnes moved backward, looking to avoid them. This equation was repeated for three agonizing rounds, and this fight went down as one of the worst contests in MMA history. (SR)

    73. Round 1 of Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida is the wildest thing ever [The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale, June 20, 2009].

    Sanchez rose to prominence as the winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter and gained a reputation for prevailing in wild, back-and-forth fights. The first round of his bout with the veteran Guida was no different, featuring a smorgasbord of flying knees, uppercuts and a head-kick knockdown. Epic doesn't begin to describe it. (PW)

    72. Pete Williams kicks Mark Coleman right in the face [UFC 17, May 15, 1998].

    MMA had largely been a sport of grapplers in the early years, but that began to shift as kickboxing picked up steam. The striking art earned a permanent seat at the table when Williams withstood Coleman's relentless wrestling attack and smashed the exhausted "Hammer" with one of MMA's most memorable high kicks in overtime (video above). (MC)

    71. Pete Sell nearly KOs Scott Smith and then loses by KO [TUF 4 Finale, November 11, 2006].

    For a few fleeting moments after stunning Smith with a body shot, it appeared Sell was about to win this bout between two contestants on The Ultimate Fighter's "comeback" season. But as Sell rushed forward to finish, Smith suddenly reared up and blasted him into dreamland with a straight right. It was one of the wackiest finishes in UFC history. (CD)

Nos. 70-61

14 of 33

    70. Cheick Kongo makes an epic comeback against Pat Barry [UFC on Versus 4, June 26, 2011].

    Barry dropped Kongo twice during a flurry of heavy punches midway through the first round of their main event. Somehow, Kongo weathered the storm, battled to his feet and knocked out a charging Barry with a counter right hook and an uppercut. Five years later, Kongo's comeback still doesn't make sense. (CD)

    69. Randy Couture chokes out former boxing champ James Toney [UFC 118, August 28, 2010].

    A largely unnecessary bout between two aging masters of their respective crafts ended just as everyone expected, with Toney flat on his back and with no prayer of escape. (MC)

    68. Gary Goodridge obliterates Paul Herrera with elbows [UFC 8, February 16, 1996].

    Former boxer and arm-wrestling champion Goodridge made his debut in the UFC in the most devastating fashion. When Herrera attempted a fireman's carry, Goodridge trapped him in a crucifix and delivered a stream of the most violent elbows imaginable to the side of Herrera's head. The 13 seconds of the fight encapsulate the insanity of the early UFC events. (PW)

    67. GSP makes BJ Penn quit on his stool in highly anticipated rematch [UFC 94, January 31, 2009].

    The launchpad for St-Pierre's run as the UFC's top draw and, arguably, top pound-for-pound fighter started at UFC 94. Opposite then-lightweight champ Penn, St-Pierre showed off radically improved wrestling and grappling skills, taking Penn down four times, battering him on the ground and drawing the rare corner stoppage before the fifth round. (SR)

    66. Conor McGregor takes over UFC's "Go Big" press conference [September 4, 2015].

    McGregor continued his ascent as the UFC's top star at the company's "Go Big" press conference. The Irish phenom took verbal shots at Jose Aldo and remarked that lightweights Donald Cerrone and Rafael dos Anjos were "stuck in the mud" (link contains NSFW language). It was both an impressive display of McGregor's vaunted mic skills and a prelude to his 2016 plans of moving up in weight. (NM)

    65. Edson Barboza KOs Terry Etim with spinning kick [UFC 142, January 14, 2012].

    Barboza's third-round spinning wheel kick turned Etim's lights out before he even hit the canvas. Nearly five years later it is still regarded as one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history. (CD)

    64. UFC 151 is the first UFC pay-per-view to get canceled [September 1, 2012].

    After Dan Henderson's late-stage injury revelation, Jon Jones refused to face Chael Sonnen on short notice. This led to the full cancellation of UFC 151 and one of the most awkward conference calls in the history of the sport. Dana White railed against Jones and his fight cap, saying people would remember UFC 151 as "the event Jones and coach Greg Jackson murdered." (SH)

    63. Royce Gracie armbars Kimo but takes a beating [UFC 3, September 9, 1994].

    In his eighth UFC bout, Gracie finally met his match. The much larger Leopoldo got the better of the jiu-jitsu master in the grappling department early on but eventually ran out of gas. Gracie was able to secure the armbar, but not before nearly five minutes of tough fighting (video above). Injured and depleted, Gracie withdrew from that night's tournament. For the first time, he wouldn't win a UFC tournament. (BO)

    62. Dana White-Tito Ortiz feud turns to lunacy when they agree to box each other [March 2007].

    A feud straight from the pro-wrestling playbook went next level when Ortiz demanded that White box him as part of his contract. Instead of a gym war, however, White went all-in with a full production, and after the UFC balked at Ortiz's demand for a cut of the action, he no-showed the weigh-in, forcing the bout's cancellation. (MC)

    61. UFC 100 is a milestone PPV for all involved [July 11, 2009].

    With a lineup featuring Brock Lesnar, Georges St-Pierre and Dan Henderson, this heavily hyped pay-per-view set sales records that reportedly stood for years. Estimated buys topped out at 1.6 million. (CD)

Nos. 60-51

15 of 33

    60. Conor McGregor comes home to Dublin and scores big for UFC: Fight Pass [UFC Fight Night 46, July 19, 2014].

    McGregor defeated replacement opponent Diego Brandao via first-round TKO in his wild Irish homecoming, which was hailed as the biggest event ever on the UFC's digital streaming service. If you didn't know already, it announced McGregor as a star. (CD)

    59. Diego Sanchez becomes first "Ultimate Fighter" with win over Kenny Florian [TUF 1 Finale, April 9, 2005].

    Everyone remembers the night's history-changing main event, but it was actually Sanchez who became the first TUF winner, overwhelming Florian with ground-and-pound in a first-round TKO. (MC)

    58. Jose Aldo gives Mark Hominick the worst hematoma ever [UFC 129, April 30, 2011].

    Aldo was a special type of violent as WEC featherweight champ. An eight-second "flying knee and punches" TKO? No problem! In his UFC debut, though, he couldn't finish Hominick. So he simply beat on him for the majority of the fight, producing one of the most grotesque sights in MMA history. (BO)

    57. Jon Jones chokes Lyoto Machida unconscious and drops him in a heap [UFC 140, December 10, 2011].

    Jones struggled early with Machida's awkward style in the second defense of his light heavyweight title, but the champ came back in the second round to nab victory via standing guillotine. The image of Jones dropping an unconscious Machida to the canvas after applying the choke is one that will remain with fans for a long time. (SH)

    56. Randy Couture upsets Chuck Liddell in first fight of their trilogy [UFC 43, June 6, 2003].

    It was supposed to be Liddell's time to shine and set up The Iceman's long-awaited fight against Tito Ortiz. But the aging Couture had other ideas, putting together a classic "Natural" performance to finish Liddell with strikes midway through the third round. The win made Couture the first UFC fighter to have held gold in two separate divisions. (NM)

    55. UFC is banned in 36 states after John McCain calls it "human cockfighting" [1997].

    The senator from Arizona led the charge to outlaw MMA during the late 1990s, getting the sport banned in most places and authoring the above pejorative description that is still sometimes heard today. McCain came close to killing the UFC, but today—after nearly two decades of evolution and regulation—he is one of the company's supporters. (CD)

    54. Jon Jones is stripped of UFC belt after hit-and-run accident [April 30, 2015].

    Jones has done some amazing things in the cage, but his actions out of competition have defined much of his career to this point. On a Sunday morning in the spring of 2015, he was involved in a hit-and-run, running a red light and broadsiding another vehicle before fleeing on foot. He turned himself into police the next day and, shortly thereafter, was stripped of the UFC light heavyweight title and suspended. (SR)

    53. Vitor Belfort goes HAM on Wanderlei Silva [UFC Brazil, October 16, 1998].

    The 21-year-old Belfort was already a veteran when he dropped to light heavyweight to face the up-and-coming Silva at the UFC's first card in Brazil. Belfort opened up with a lightning-fast blitz, delivering a stunning 15 punches in only four seconds that left Silva slumped unconscious against the fence (video above). The whole fight lasted 44 seconds. (PW)

    52. The Ultimate Fighter debuts on Spike TV [January 17, 2005].

    Who knew a reality show could rescue a sport? With its mix of quirky characters, dramatic storylines and real-life high stakes for aspiring pro athletes, TUF immediately grabbed the coveted young male demographic and launched a sports revolution. (MC)

    51. Anderson Silva destroys Rich Franklin with knees not once but twice [UFC 64, October 14, 2006, and UFC 77, October 20, 2007].

    It's hard to believe, but middleweight was considered Franklin's playground before Silva's arrival. All that changed when the future GOAT took the title at UFC 64 and then defeated Franklin again at UFC 77. Both bouts ended with Silva's signature knees from the clinch. (CD)

Nos. 50-46

16 of 33

    50. Lyoto Machida crane-kicks Randy Couture into retirement [UFC 129, April 30, 2011]. 

    Leading up to his meeting with the 47-year-old Couture, Machida had suffered a tough 2010 that saw him lose back-to-back fights, including dropping his light heavyweight title to Mauricio Rua. Meanwhile, Couture rolled in on the heels of three straight victories, capped by a second-round tapout of former heavyweight boxer James Toney at UFC 118.

    If there was any notion that Machida was damaged goods, however, he put those concerns to rest at the beginning of the second round, when he cracked off one of the most spectacular knockouts in UFC history. The flying kick The Dragon used to separate Couture from his senses was a thing of beauty (video above). Couture announced his retirement in the cage following the bout, and we never saw him in the Octagon again. (CD)

    49. Forrest Griffin ruins Shogun Rua's UFC debut with upset victory [UFC 76, September 22, 2007]. 

    There was supposed to be a difference between TUF fighters and the best in the world. That was the storyline heading into Griffin vs. Rua. After all, one had split his last four fights, while the other had won 12 out of 13; one was a TUF champ, while many considered the other to be the best light heavyweight in the world.

    So much for conventional wisdom.

    Showing the resolve that would become his trademark in a career of overachievement, Griffin turned the match into one of attrition and took over when Rua tired, locking in a rear-naked choke to win a shocker that still ranks as one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. (MC)

    48. Dana White gives TUF's most memorable speech [TUF 1, 2005]. 

    UFC President Dana White, lover of the F-bomb, became famous in his own way during the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. The bombastic fight promoter was just as big a part of the reality show's inaugural season as the fighters or coaches Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. The crescendo of White's star turn came early in the season when, sensing a lack of commitment from some cast members, he gathered the group to give a speech that was half-pep talk, half-challenge to their manhood.

    White's gist was this: The fighters on TUF had been given a unique challenge, and he wanted to know how many would seize the brass ring—or whether they would just let the chance of a lifetime slip through their fingers. The rant reached its zenith when White let fly perhaps the most unforgettable quote of his entire tenure as UFC boss: "Do you wanna be a f--kin' fighter?!?" (BO)

    47. Robbie Lawler completes Cinderella story and wins welterweight title [UFC 181, December 6, 2014]. 

    Lawler exited the UFC in 2004 after back-to-back losses and spent the next eight years finding mixed results as a middleweight in promotions such as Strikeforce, the IFL and EliteXC. In February 2013 he made his return to the Octagon—this time as a welterweight—with an emphatic first-round TKO over Josh Koscheck at UFC 157.

    Little did anyone realize he was just finding his form as a mature fighter. During the next 18 months, Lawler put up a record of 5-1 and fought twice for the UFC 170-pound title. He lost that first championship opportunity to Johny Hendricks at UFC 171 but fared much better in a rematch with the Oklahoman at UFC 181.

    Once again the two men put on five rounds of back-and-forth action, but this time it was Lawler who squeaked by with the split-decision win. Chalk it up as a feel-good moment for one of the sport's longtime fan favorites. (NM)

    46. Frank Shamrock stops Tito Ortiz to establish himself as first great light heavyweight [UFC 22, September 24, 1999].

    When these two all-time greats met up during the fall of 1999, their fight was for what was then known as the UFC "middleweight" title—though once modern weight classes were introduced, it would come to be called the light heavyweight strap. The bout was also widely seen as one that would determine the best MMA fighter on the planet.

    It did not disappoint. For nearly four complete rounds—another fairly newfangled invention at the time—Ortiz and Shamrock engaged in a back-and-forth brawl. Ortiz scored with his trademark takedowns, but Shamrock's advanced ground skills allowed him to survive the exchanges on the mat. On the feet, Shamrock scored with his kickboxing arsenal, eventually forcing Ortiz to tap out to strikes late in the bout.

    At the time, it was considered one of the greatest MMA fights of all time. After the victory, Shamrock was also regarded as the UFC's first great 200-pound fighter, though he soon left the promotion, citing a lack of competition. (CD)

Nos. 45-41

17 of 33

    45. Rampage Jackson ends Chuck Liddell's title reign with a knockout [UFC 71, May 26, 2007]

    The Iceman was considered the most dominant 205-pounder on the planet as he approached this light heavyweight title defense against Jackson in the spring of 2007. But Rampage put Liddell, his reputation and any notion of him as the best around on ice, snapping the champ's seven-fight win streak with a TKO stoppage just one minute, 57 seconds into the fight.

    Alas, Jackson would reign for just over a year before losing the belt to Forrest Griffin. Liddell's shocking defeat—his second career loss to Jackson—began a slide that saw him drop five of his last six fights before the UFC nudged him into retirement with a cushy office job. (CD)

    44. Brock Lesnar bounces Randy Couture's head off the canvas to become heavyweight champ [UFC 91, November 15, 2008]

    Brock Lesnar's celebrity vaulted him into the UFC heavyweight title picture. After just a single UFC win, he found himself standing across the cage from the legendary Randy Couture, where only ability (and size) could save him. At the time, Couture was coming off a bitter contract dispute that included a lawsuit and had been inactive for more than a year. Still, many thought his veteran wiles would stop the freight train.

    No dice. Lesnar was just too big and too strong, shutting down Couture's clinch game and hurting him with a shot behind the ear before finishing him with ground strikes in Round 2. (MC)

    43. Frankie Edgar battles back from epic beating to KO Gray Maynard [UFC 136, October 8, 2011]

    If MMA has a Rocky, it has to be New Jersey's Edgar, and that must make Maynardwhose nickname is "The Bully"—his Ivan Drago. Not once but twice (at UFC 125 and UFC 136, respectively), Maynard threw the kitchen sink at Edgar in the first round, dropping him multiple times and rendering Edgar all sorts of punch drunk. But Edgar, in both fights, somehow, inexplicably, survived.

    At UFC 125, Edgar would go on to force a controversial draw on the scorecards. At UFC 136, he was able to slay his Drago once and for all, knocking Maynard out emphatically in the fourth round. Words alone cannot do the combined nine rounds justice; it was perhaps the greatest extended David and Goliath sequence between two guys in the same division (Edgar was the smallest 155-pounder; Maynard was one of the biggest). (BO)

    42. Georges St-Pierre utters MMA's most quoted quotable [UFC 63, September 23, 2006]

    On this night, Matt Hughes avenged an earlier loss to BJ Penn and retained his welterweight title via third-round TKO. Not bad, right? Well, at least one person wasn't exactly falling all over himself to give Hughes his props.

    Moments after Penn was finished, St-Pierre—who had been Hughes's original opponent before dropping out with an injury—entered the cage to challenge the champ. GSP gave his thoughts in one of the most memorable post-fight lines in UFC history. He hugged Hughes, grabbed the mic and said, "I'm very glad you won that fight, Matt, but I am not impressed by your performance." The crux of that line made its way into memes for years to come. (NM)

    41. Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua turns into a war for the ages [UFC 139, November 19, 2011]

    By November 2011, both Henderson and Rua were former champions in multiple organizations; Henderson held the Strikeforce light heavyweight strap and had defeated the legendary Fedor Emelianenko in his last outing, while Rua had lost the UFC's 205-pound title to Jon Jones the previous March.

    At UFC 139, the two legends met in what many consider to be the greatest fight of all time. Henderson brutalized Rua with a series of right hands in the first round and knocked him down in the third, but the Brazilian hung tough, roaring back in the fourth round and then spending almost the entire fifth driving punches into Henderson's face from mount.

    It was pure back-and-forth madness—a brawl for the ages between a pair of once and future legends (video above). (PW)

Nos. 40-36

18 of 33

    40. Matt Hughes slams Carlos Newton, maybe while also being unconscious [UFC 34, November 2, 2001]

    Hughes was regarded as one of the most dominant welterweight fighters in the world when he took on Newton for the 170-pound title. Newton had been champion for all of five months but had some veteran wiles of his own. Case in point: He was locking Hughes in a triangle choke at the beginning of the second round when Hughes lifted him and carried him across the cage to the Octagon fence.

    A few seconds later, Hughes KO'd Newton with a hard slam (see the 12:22 mark). Immediately following the referee stoppage, however, Hughes also seemed out of it. Controversy followed, as some observers wondered if Hughes himself had been choked out at the time of the slam. The pair fought again at UFC 38, and this time Hughes won by fourth-round TKO. Controversy over. (CD)

    39. Forrest Griffin validates TUF experiment by taking title from Quinton Jackson [UFC 86, July 5, 2008]

    After a stunning upset of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Griffin took a UFC championship bout. On its face, it seemed ridiculous. Griffin had heart and conditioning, but his physical tools were average.

    As such, he entered the bout (once again) as a sizable underdog. Using an offense that relied heavily on movement and leg kicks, Griffin chipped away at Rampage Jackson one round at a time, avoiding the return fire.

    By the time the fight was over, Griffin had easily landed more strikes, but Jackson had connected on the more impactful ones, even knocking Griffin down once. Still, no one was sure how the judges would rule until announcer Bruce Buffer read the scores, which produced a unanimous decision for Griffin. A tough TUF champ had become UFC champion. (MC)

    38. Conor McGregor steals Jose Aldo’s belt at madcap Dublin press conference [March 31, 2015]

    McGregor's always hunting for the right words (or actions) to put his signature on things. Against Aldo, he found the right action during the world tour promoting the pair’s UFC 189's title fight.

    The final press event of the tour was in Dublin, McGregor's stomping grounds. The crowd was raucous, foaming at the mouth. McGregor had to do something to make it a moment his countrymen would not soon forget. So he rose from his seat, darted across the dais past Dana White and snatched Aldo's title belt from underneath him (video above).

    McGregor raised it victoriously as the crowd went ballistic. Aldo was forced to stand there and accept defeat. At UFC 189, McGregor won the interim belt from replacement Chad Mendes. He later defeated Aldo in his next fight at UFC 194 to take the title outright. (BO)

    37. Rashad Evans destroys Chuck Liddell with KO punch [UFC 88, September 6, 2008]

    Evans’ KO of Liddell is one of the most memorable, meaningful and downright beautiful finishes in the sport’s history. The TUF Season 2 winner punched his ticket to a title fight with this cataclysmic KO over a legend. More than that, even though the light heavyweight title had already moved from Liddell to Jackson to Griffin, it was Evans’ punch that announced the dawning of a new era.

    MMA was rapidly evolving, moving beyond the guys who ushered the UFC brand into the modern era. Evans' vicious overhand right was quick and devastating. The sound it made was horrifying. A lifeless Liddell then crumbled to the canvas as Evans whiffed with perhaps an even more violent left hook. (NM)

    36. Brock Lesnar smashes Frank Mir in rematch and unifies heavyweight belts [UFC 100, July 11, 2009]

    Lesnar had to wait nearly 18 months to get his revenge on Mir for spoiling his Octagon debut via kneebar at UFC 81. Maybe it was for the best, however, since a knee injury to Mir postponed the rematch. The pair finally got together again on the biggest stage in the fight company’s history to that point—UFC 100.

    It also meant Lesnar was far from the inexperienced pup who fell into Mir’s submission hold. In the interim, the former WWE star had gotten back-to-back wins over Heath Herring and Randy Couture and won the UFC heavyweight title.

    Mir rolled into this second meeting as interim champ, but Lesnar didn’t let that moniker last long. He took Mir down and pounded him to a pulp before scoring the TKO win with a little less than two minutes left in the second round. (CD)

Nos. 35-31

19 of 33

    No. 35: Michael Bisping wins the world title at UFC 199. Wait, what?
    No. 35: Michael Bisping wins the world title at UFC 199. Wait, what?Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    35. Michael Bisping shocks lackadaisical Luke Rockhold to win middleweight title [UFC 199, June 4, 2016]

    Few gave Bisping much of a chance of taking Rockhold’s 185-pound title when he entered as an injury replacement for Chris Weidman just weeks before this event. It was regarded as a feel-good but ceremonial gesture to give the longtime UFC veteran his shot at a major championship.

    Conventional wisdom said Bisping would have his moment, Rockhold would school him just like he did in their first fight in November 2014, and the middleweight division would get back to normal business.

    Not so fast. The new champ didn’t seem to take Bisping seriously, and the results were disastrous. The Englishman knocked him out with a combination of punches 3:36 into the first round and then mercilessly taunted him about it at the post-fight press conference. It will live in history as one of the greatest championship upsets in UFC history. (CD)

    34. Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler give each other the evil eye [UFC 189, July 11, 2015]

    MacDonald and Lawler had already given the fight world four rounds of savagery when the defining moment of their bout happened unexpectedly. Painted in their own blood, faces gnarled from pain and fatigue, the two heard the horn blow for Round 4.

    As referee John McCarthy walked between them to ensure a minute’s peace, the two locked eyes. And stared. And stared some more. Finally, cut man Jacob “Stitch” Duran raced in and pulled Lawler away to begin working on his many fresh wounds, and the two disengaged. Without saying anything—without doing much except staring at each otherthe two created an iconic moment that gave the chills to everyone watching. (MC)

    33. Frankie Edgar shocks BJ Penn in Abu Dhabi [UFC 112, April 10, 2010]

    Back in 2009, lightweight titlist Penn looked as unstoppable as any champion in MMA. He boasted a 10-1-1 record in his weight class and was coming off a beatdown of Diego Sanchez at UFC 107 when he stepped into the cage against Edgar. But the New Jersey native, who has made a career off taking out bigger, arguably more talented fighters, wasn't fazed.

    Despite it being a disputed decision, The Answer successfully ended Penn’s eight-year undefeated run at 155 pounds. In the rematch just four months later, Edgar erased any doubts who the better man was, making easy work of The Prodigy. (BO)

    32. Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva face off in MMA’s first real superfight [UFC 79, December 29, 2007]

    For years as the debate between the UFC and Pride waged on, one defining fight was supposed to happen but never did—Liddell vs. Silva. Finally, after the UFC's purchase of Pride, the fight came to fruition. As with all dream fights, there were high expectations, and the hope that it wouldn’t disappoint.

    It did not.

    Liddell and Silva went toe-to-toe for 15 minutes. Liddell did enough to win on the scorecards, but that was almost secondary to the show they put on for the fans after years of waiting. It was almost everything that was hoped for, except an extra two rounds and a title on the line. (NM)

    31. Georges St-Pierre walks away with belt in hand [UFC 167, November 16, 2013]

    St-Pierre, the UFC’s first crossover star, was heavily favored going into his November 2013 matchup with national champion wrestler Johny Hendricks, per BestFightOdds.com. But the fight quickly turned into a back-and-forth war. The Quebec native had to dig deep into his bag of tricks and show real heart to pull out a contentious decision victory.

    After the fight, St-Pierre told Joe Rogan he planned to hang up his gloves for a while. Dana White wasn’t happy about that at the post-fight press conference, ripping the judges for siding with St-Pierre and categorically stating there would be no hiatus: Either GSP would fight Hendricks again, or he could retire permanently.

    St-Pierre took the high road, walking away with his belt in hand. His is the rare career to end on a high note...although a return may be imminent. (PW)

Nos. 30-26

20 of 33

    30. The unified rules debut at UFC 28 [November 17, 2000]

    Perhaps the most significant regulatory step on the UFC’s march toward mainstream acceptance was the adoption of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Developed in part by the California State Athletic Commission but first implemented by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, the unified rules sought to standardize the disparate rules and regulations by used by various MMA promotions across the country.

    The unified rules called for, among other things, five-minute rounds, use of the 10-point must system by judges, standardized ring attire, strict weight classes and the sport’s now commonly known list of fouls.

    UFC 28 became the first event in the Octagon contested under these rules and—because of the new weight class guidelines—featured the only super heavyweight fight in company history between Josh Barnett and Gan McGee. With the adoption of the unified rules, the UFC took another leap toward sport and away from spectacle. (CD)

    29. Randy Couture literally spanks Tito Ortiz in the Octagon [UFC 44, September 26, 2003]

    For his first fight as a 40-something, Couture faced Ortiz in a bout to unify the interim and official UFC belts. Couture was in his regular casting as an underdog expected to lose to a younger, better version of himself.

    As usual, the pundits were wrong. Couture dominated from start to finish, out-striking Ortiz 194-34 en route to a lopsided unanimous decision. However, a moment as time wound down in the fifth round is what fans most remember.

    Ortiz, desperate for a miracle, rolled to his back for a kneebar. But Couture denied it and sat on Ortiz’s thighs. With both men trapped against the cage in an awkward position, Couture added some levity (and symbolism) to the moment by spanking his younger, brash opponent. (MC)

    28. Nate Diaz spoils Conor McGregor’s undefeated UFC record [UFC 196, March 5, 2016]

    As the newly minted featherweight champion, McGregor was originally scheduled for a bona fide superfight against lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC 196. Unfortunately, after Dos Anjos pulled out with an injury, matchmakers were forced to book McGregor a hastily organized welterweight bout against Diaz.

    That did not go well.

    McGregor started fast, bloodying Diaz with strikes. But he appeared to tire as the fight wore on. By the second round Diaz took control, lighting up McGregor with strikes until the Irishman tried for a desperation takedown. McGregor didn’t fare much better on the ground, as Diaz locked up a rear-naked choke and forced McGregor to tap.

    It was McGregor’s first loss in the Octagon and a shocking turn of events for the man who had rapidly become one of the UFC’s biggest stars. As of publication time, a rematch between Diaz and McGregor is scheduled for August 20 at UFC 202. (SH)

    27. UFC partners with USADA and intensifies drug-testing efforts [June 3, 2015]

    The sport’s performance-enhancing drug bubble seemed to burst in early 2015, when Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz and Hector Lombard all failed various drug tests in the aftermath of UFC 182 and 183.

    With a PR disaster looming, the UFC needed to make a change, so it wrote the United States Anti-Doping Agency a blank check with a memo line that read “fix this.” The system isn't perfect, flagging fighters for non-performance-enhancing drugs and giving the UFC authority to waive rules when it's financially convenient...but it feels like a step in the right direction. (SR)

    26. Anderson Silva enters the Matrix against Forrest Griffin [UFC 101, August 8, 2009]

    On the heels of lackluster title defenses over Patrick Cote and Thales Leites at UFC 90 and 97, respectively, Silva made his second career foray up to light heavyweight in search of a bigger, more motivating challenge. His first appearance at 205 pounds against James Irvin a year earlier had been impressive, after Silva ended Irvin’s night with KO after just about one minute.

    Surely, however, going up in weight against former champion Griffin would be a much more difficult task, right?

    Wrong. Versus the TUF 1 winner, Silva turned in arguably the most stupefying performance of his career, making Griffin look silly en route to another first-round KO win (video above). Watching Silva slip and dodge Griffin’s punches before flooring him with a casual, fadeaway right hand looked like something out of a Hollywood special effects department. (CD)

Nos. 25-21

21 of 33

    25. GSP becomes welterweight champ with head-kick KO of Matt Hughes [UFC 65, November 18, 2006]

    Already regarded as the future 170-pound champion, St-Pierre had let his initial shot at Hughes’ belt slip through his fingers at UFC 50. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. After stacking up five straight wins between January 2005 and March 2006, GSP got his second shot at the champion. This time he took full advantage.

    St-Pierre scored the stoppage victory, and in spectacular fashion. With 1:25 left in the second round, GSP landed a left high kick across Hughes’ face and followed him to the ground with a series of punches that forced referee John McCarthy to stop the action. The man who would go on to be the greatest welterweight champion in UFC history had his first taste of gold. (CD)

    24. UFC buys out the competition [2007 to 2011]

    The closest things the UFC ever had to legitimate competition are Pride and Strikeforce. One was part sport, part Japanese game show, and the other an American-built shoestring operation that went big-time. Both had heydays that saw them sign some of the best fighters in the world.

    Unfortunately for both, while the product was strong, unexpected developments changed their futures as well as the sport's. For Pride, it was the exposure of a tie to organized crime that shocked the public and damaged its credibility; for Strikeforce, it was an ownership team with other interests that decided to cash in on its investment.

    For the UFC, acquiring the opposition was a win on multiple fronts. It could acquire fighter contracts, put a competitor out of business and add to Dana White’s promotional graveyard. (MC)

    23. Gabriel Gonzaga “Cro Cops” Mirko Cro Cop with devastating head kick [UFC 70, April 21, 2007]

    Before coming to the UFC from Pride in 2007, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic had earned a reputation as the most dangerous striker in the heavyweight division. Because of that lofty status, most people expected him to rack up victories in the Octagon by way of his signature high kick, which he could seemingly land at any time on the head of any opponent.

    When matchmakers positioned Cro Cop opposite Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylist Gonzaga for his second UFC fight in the spring of 2007, it appeared to be a classic striker vs. grappler contest. Observers figured if Gonzaga couldn’t get Filipovic down, the feared kickboxer would knock him out.

    However, the opposite turned out to be true. Gonzaga shocked the world by scoring his own high-kick KO with 10 seconds left in the first round. It is still regarded as one of the most memorable—and surprising—KOs in UFC history. (SH)

    22. Jon Jones saves his title with spinning elbow on Alexander Gustafsson [UFC 165, September 21, 2013]

    Jones proved he was one tough customer at UFC 165.

    After three-and-a-half rounds, Jones was decisively losing to Gustafsson. The unheralded Swede had avoided taking damage with constant lateral movement and tagged Jones repeatedly with his long jab. It felt, for a time, like the Jones era was set to end before it fully began. But in the waning seconds of the fourth round, Jones unleashed a hard spinning elbow that swung the momentum and, eventually, the scorecards in his favor. (SR)

    21. Dominick Cruz caps unprecedented comeback by winning title he never lost [UFC Fight Night 81, January 17, 2016]

    No fighter has ever experienced a worse run of injuries than once and current UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Four major injuries between 2012 and 2014 kept him out of action for nearly three years. The UFC stripped Cruz of his title to make way for new blood, and the division moved on without him.

    When Cruz was healthy enough to face champion T.J. Dillashaw in January 2016, he was the underdog to the less experienced fighter. Despite Cruz’s years on the shelf, he had made substantial improvements in his already dominant game.

    While the fight was close, Cruz came out on top over the new-school champion. His reclamation of the belt capped off one of the most unlikely comeback stories in any sport, not just in MMA. (PW)

Nos. 20-16

22 of 33

    20. Chris Weidman ends Anderson Silva’s time on the throne [UFC 162, July 6, 2013]

    Close observers may have noticed that the 38-year-old Silva had begun to show his age leading up to this fight—his 11th middleweight title defense—against Weidman during the summer of 2013.

    Still, many onlookers were content to ignore any notion that the greatest MMA fighter of all time might be on the decline. They’d grown so used to Silva being worlds better than his best competition that perhaps they never stopped to wonder how long it could go on.

    As such, quite a few people were shocked when Weidman—who was undefeated and the most dangerous threat to Silva’s reign to come along in years—dominated nearly every moment of their fight and knocked the legend cold in the second round.

    Even in the aftermath, some refused to give the American his due. A rematch came about near the end of the year, and this one went even worse for Silva, who suffered a career-threatening leg injury in the second stanza. (CD)

    19. Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier staredown sparks wild on-stage brawl [August 4, 2014]

    The last time Conor McGregor was upstaged anywhere was during the UFC 178 press tour. After the obligatory standard questions were asked and answered, the fighters squared off two by two until the main event.

    Light heavyweight champ Jon Jones and challenger Daniel Cormier had exchanged words before, but no one expected what followed. As the two met at the middle of the stage, Jones dipped his head low enough to make contact, and Cormier reacted by pushing Jones back. Enraged, Jones dropped his belt, pushed past UFC public relations man Dave Sholler and fired a punch at Cormier, leading to a wild melee that spilled into the crowd and included Cormier firing a shoe at Jones.

    It was madness, but it was also great promotion. And even though the fight was postponed three months, it became the largest Jones-headlined pay-per-view to date, drawing about 800,000 buys. (MC)

    18. UFC 30 marks beginning of Zuffa era [UFC 30, February 23, 2001]

    UFC 30 was not an overly memorable night of fights. Tito Ortiz defended his light heavyweight title with a slam KO of Evan Tanner, while fighters such as Phil Baroni and Elvis Sinosic made their Octagon debuts. But this event was memorable because it was the first UFC to take place under the parent company banner of Zuffa, LLC and the ownership of brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta and their high school chum, Dana White.

    In retrospect, the $2 million Zuffa paid Semaphore Entertainment for the UFC was a low number—as a FloCombat report indicates the current value of the company might be over $4 billion. Regardless, this purchase in 2001 put the UFC on a path toward larger popularity and legitimacy. The UFC’s growth is not entirely attributable to Zuffa, but it does play a prominent part in the history of not only the UFC but the entire sport of MMA. (SH)

    17. Matt Hughes rebounds from certain defeat to choke out Frank Trigg [UFC 52, April 16, 2005]

    Taking a shot in the groin is bad. Having an oblivious ref allow a brutal series of punches right afterward is worse. Having an opponent do all that, knock out your mouthpiece and jump into mount? That's pretty much a worst-case scenario—and it's the situation Hughes found himself in when he defended his welterweight title against Trigg at UFC 52.

    Hughes seemed to be done but, somehow, someway, escaped the position. He worked back to his feet and scooped Trigg up with a double leg, ran him across the cage and slammed him down. Hughes landed in mount and pounded Trigg with brutal elbows, forcing the challenger to tap to a rear-naked choke in what went down as one of the most ridiculous comebacks in UFC history. (SR)

    16. Dan Henderson detonates the H-Bomb on Michael Bisping [UFC 100, July 11, 2009]

    On a UFC 100 card full of all-time highlights, Henderson’s epic knockout of Bisping is perhaps the most played and replayed. Few one-punch KOs can equal it for sheer ferocity—and that’s before Henderson followed his crushing overhand right with a forearm smash to the face of an already prone, unconscious Bisping (video above).

    For fans stateside, this knockout also triggered widespread feelings of catharsis. The brash Brit rolled into the contest with a single blemish on his 18-fight professional record, and that was a split-decision loss to Rashad Evans in a light heavyweight fight that many thought should have gone to Bisping. Once Hendo got through with him, any idea of Bisping as undefeated had been bashed to bits, along with his face. (CD)

Nos. 15-11

23 of 33

    No. 12: Brock Lesnar triumphs over diverticulitis and Shane Carwin.
    No. 12: Brock Lesnar triumphs over diverticulitis and Shane Carwin.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    15. Ken Shamrock-Tito Ortiz rivalry grosses $31 million [UFC 61, July 8, 2006]

    Shamrock and Ortiz had already fought at UFC 40, but the bad blood between them carried into the spring of 2006. Stints as opposing coaches on Season 3 of TUF fueled their UFC 61 clash at the box office. A heavyweight title rubber match between Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia shared the card, adding to the excitement.

    The event sold more pay-per-views than any other UFC event to that point (an estimated 775,000) and produced approximately $30.96 million in revenue, per Wrestling Observer Newsletter figures calculated by MMAWeekly.com. Ortiz TKO'd him with elbows 1:18 into the first, but Shamrock claimed there was an early referee stoppage.

    The pair fought again three months later and Ortiz won again. It would be the former light heavyweight champion’s last victory until 2011. (CD)

    14. BJ Penn shocks Matt Hughes to win welterweight title [UFC 46, January 31, 2004]

    For years, the welterweight division had been Hughes’ personal stomping ground. He’d won the UFC championship, defended it five times and ran through all the best available competition with few problems. It seemed to make zero sense when it was announced that his next challenger would be Penn, who at the time was a career-long lightweight who had failed in two opportunities to win the 155-pound belt.

    If the Penn couldn’t capture the championship in his own division, what chance did he have against the bigger, stronger Hughes?

    Plenty, it turned out. Penn took advantage of an early Hughes slip, keeping him on the mat for most of the first until taking his back in the last minute. As Hughes tried to untangle Penn’s feet, the Hawaiian locked in a rear-naked choke (see the 10:28 mark). Suddenly, a new king reigned, and for Penn, anything—and any weight class—seemed possible. (MC)

    13. Randy Couture floors Tim Sylvia to recapture heavyweight title [UFC 68, March 3, 2007]

    Sylvia was knee-deep in his second reign as UFC heavyweight champion in the spring of 2007 when the recently retired Couture returned to active duty with the intention of taking back the heavyweight crown. Given that Couture was 43 years old, he was considered an underdog to the 6'8" Sylvia.

    Once the opening bell rang, however, Couture walked out of his corner and dropped Sylvia with an overhand right in less than 10 seconds. From there, the 6'2" Couture used his trademark solid game-planning to foil the bigger fighter over the course of 25 minutes, winning the title by unanimous decision. If Couture’s legacy as an all-time great wasn’t already secure, he cemented it with this performance. (SH)

    12. Brock Lesnar overcomes diverticulitis and first-round beating to submit Shane Carwin [UFC 116, July 3, 2010]

    Lesnar's full-time MMA career was brief but full of unforgettable moments. The most memorable of all might have come at UFC 116, when he posted an epic comeback over Carwin, the interim heavyweight champion.

    Carwin was never a technically brilliant fighter, but he was one of the hardest hitters to set foot inside the cage. He gave Lesnar a taste of that power early in the first round, when he staggered the former WWE star with an uppercut.

    What followed was 90 seconds of pure, undiscriminating punishment that could have resulted in a stoppage a few times over. After weathering the storm, though, Lesnar took advantage of Carwin's weak cardio, taking him down and locking in an arm-triangle choke to force the tap early in the second round. (SR)

    11. UFC’s Fox deal debuts with anticlimax as Junior Dos Santos KOs Cain Velasquez in 64 seconds [UFC on Fox 1, November 12, 2011]

    When the UFC signed a seven-year broadcast deal with Fox in August 2011, it heralded a new age for a sport that had been all but dead in the United States a decade before. To inaugurate this new marriage, the promotion staged a teaser, placing a single heavyweight title fight on Fox.

    The stage was set for the birth of a star, as new heavyweight champion Velasquez looked to establish himself as the next big thing in front of a partisan crowd.

    That didn’t happen. Dos Santos planted a monstrous overhand right behind Velasquez’s ear only one minute into the fight, stalling both Velasquez’s sure-thing development into a star and cutting short the UFC’s advertisement of its product in its Fox debut. It took years to recover the momentum the UFC-Fox pairing lost that day. (PW)

10. Conor McGregor KOs Jose Aldo in 13 Seconds [UFC 194, Dec. 12, 2015]

24 of 33

    No. 10: Irish dynamite.
    No. 10: Irish dynamite.Associated Press

    The circus Conor McGregor created during the lead-up to this bout must be considered one of the greatest individual marketing efforts in sports history. The Irish phenom mocked longtime champ Aldo relentlessly during their promotional world tour and flayed him for postponing the bout once due to injury. As noted in moment No. 38, he even stole Aldo’s featherweight title off the dais and shook it in his face.

    But actually winning the fight? That was McGregor’s biggest trick of all.

    As a champion unbeaten for more than a decade and a consensus pick as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Aldo represented an enormous test for McGregor. But once this pair got in the cage, Aldo dove directly into McGregor’s left hand, which rendered the Brazilian unconscious in 13 seconds.

    McGregor had done it. He had backed up all the talk. And the rest of the world just sat there in silence and watched Aldo’s body fall like a stack of bricks.


9. Anderson Silva Front-Kicks Vitor Belfort [UFC 126, Feb. 5, 2011]

25 of 33

    Years before they fought each other, Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort had a friendship so close that when Belfort moved hundreds of miles away while trying to cope with the kidnapping and murder of his sister, Silva dropped everything to join him.

    Their friendship remained strong through the years, but everything changed when Belfort accepted an offer to face Silva for the middleweight championship. Not only was Silva offended that Belfort put business first to face him, but he had also tired of seeing Belfort revered as Brazil’s biggest star.

    Intent on proving his superiority to his nation in a bout his country’s media labeled "Brazil’s Fight of the Century," Silva wasted little time in creating an electric moment. He knocked out Belfort with a thunderous front kick, a rarely seen strike that most had dismissed as useless in MMA.

    Just as important as the buzz-worthy win and its place in Silva’s personal canon was the bout’s impact on Brazil. It fueled the sport’s rise in the country and immediately propelled Brazil to become the UFC’s key foreign market.


8. Holly Holm Shatters Ronda Rousey’s Mystique [UFC 193, Nov. 14, 2015]

26 of 33

    No. 8: Ronda Rousey falls down and goes boom, courtesy of Holly Holm.
    No. 8: Ronda Rousey falls down and goes boom, courtesy of Holly Holm.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    There are upsets, and then there are “Holy Mother of God” upsets.

    The night Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey with a second-round high kick and took her bantamweight crown qualifies as the latter. Coming into the fight, many knew Holm would be the most difficult test of Rousey’s title defenses, but few expected her to pull off the impossible.

    Most of us believed Rousey was unbeatable. To see her not only take the loss but get dominated from start to finish? Wow.

    As Bleacher Report's Mike Chiappetta wrote in his post-fight column, "Holm ran the show from beginning to end,” using her superior footwork and takedown defense to freeze Rousey out of her trademark grappling attack and make her look amateurish in the stand-up phase.

    Two-and-a-half minutes into the fight, Rousey had her moment. She got Holm down, took her back and attempted to snatch an arm. But Holm powered out and stood up, and the fight returned to the striker’s world until its violent ending.

    Few of us will forget where we were as time slowed down and Holm's foot connected with Rousey's jaw. Rousey, the face of and the force behind the rise of women's MMA, dropped to the canvas like she had been shot.

    The queen was dead.

    As of this writing, it has been more than seven months, and we still don't know if she'll rise again.


7. Liddell-Ortiz 2 Is 1st UFC PPV to Top 1 Million Buys [UFC 66, Dec. 30, 2006]

27 of 33

    No. 7: Tito + Chuck = Forever.
    No. 7: Tito + Chuck = Forever.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    The rivalry between Liddell and Ortiz was a special and important one for the UFC. Both men were great champions who had made many contributions to the sport. They had also once been friends who turned into mortal enemies over the course of their careers inside the Octagon.

    Along with his trilogy against Randy Couture, Liddell’s beef with Ortiz is considered one of the great feuds in UFC history. Together, those three men helped usher the UFC into the modern era and establish the 205-pound weight class as the sport’s marquee division.

    In their first hotly anticipated matchup at UFC 47 in 2004, Liddell scored a knockout victory just 37 seconds into the second round. It would be more than two years before the two competitors locked horns again.

    And the second time around, the biggest winner was the UFC.

    A record number of people tuned in on pay-per-view to watch Liddell once again reign supreme via knockout. UFC 66 was the first UFC event to top 1 million PPV buys, according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (via MMAPayout.com). To date, only eight other events have ever hit that milestone.

    — SH

6. Jon Jones Becomes Youngest Champ in History [UFC 128, March 19, 2011]

28 of 33

    Jones exploded onto the scene in 2008, and in this fight less than three years later, he made history and altered the light heavyweight division forever.

    Bones had already breezed past Ryan Bader at UFC 126 with a second-round guillotine choke. During the post-fight interview to that fight, color commentator Joe Rogan informed Jones he would get the chance to usurp injured teammate Rashad Evans and take on Rua for the 205-pound championship in just six weeks time.

    It was a tall order for anyone, let alone a 23-year-old phenom—but Jones passed with flying colors.

    Jones destroyed Shogun from pillar to post, showcasing his raw ability and physical prowess while torturing the champion with knees and elbows. In all, he made Rua look like burnt toast before the end of the opening round.

    The beating continued in the second, and this time it was perhaps even more decisive. The finish came midway through the third, after a knee to the body forced Shogun against the cage. Jones dug in with a left hook to the midsection and added one final knee before Herb Dean could step between the two combatants.

    The fight wasn’t competitive. It wasn’t an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. It was the triumphant opening to a story that is still being written today by the greatest fighter in light heavyweight history.

    — NM

5. Matt Serra Shocks the World, Clobbers GSP, Wins Title [UFC 69, April 7, 2007]

29 of 33

    No. 5: "Matt Serra, UFC champion," now that's something they can never take away from you.
    No. 5: "Matt Serra, UFC champion," now that's something they can never take away from you.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    It is one of this sport’s most tired and well-worn cliches that “anything can happen” in an MMA fight. Even that dog-eared adage, however, can’t begin to explain the short-lived but wondrous existence of Matt Serra, UFC welterweight champion.

    Fresh off his victorious appearance on the “comeback” season of The Ultimate Fighter—the first to feature UFC veterans vying for a title shot—Serra was granted a fight with the indomitable St-Pierre in the spring of 2007. To say that he was a significant long shot would be an understatement.

    He was an astronomical one.

    The fight world seemed to catch its collective breath when Serra stunned St-Pierre with an overhand right and dropped the champ with a flurry of punches midway through the first. A few seconds later, when Serra dropped GSP again with a right hand to the chin and pounded away until the referee stopped the fight, it was as if everything had gone upside down.

    Serra’s reign over the welterweight division lasted a bit more than a year before St-Pierre whipped him in a rematch at UFC 83. Still, Serra’s win is considered one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, and his title reign is perhaps the most improbable.

    — CD

4. Anderson Silva Saves His Belt as Chael Sonnen Chokes [UFC 117, Aug. 7, 2010]

30 of 33

    No. 4: Anderson Silva beats Chael Sonnen, asks "WTF, bro?!?"
    No. 4: Anderson Silva beats Chael Sonnen, asks "WTF, bro?!?"Associated Press

    Anderson Silva's career was at a crossroads entering UFC 117. Competitively, everything was fine. He was the UFC middleweight champion and riding the longest winning streak in promotional history. Out of the cage, however, he was a drag on pay-per-view and at the box office, and he had angered fans and company executives with lethargic performances against Demian Maia and Thales Leites.

    His next fight against Chael Sonnen seemed doomed to be another flop.

    Obviously, things didn't pan out that way.

    Sonnen got the combat sports world buzzing with his ruthless, nonstop, pro wrestling-style smack talk. He brought the combat sports world to the edge of its seat, however, by backing up every word. For more than 20 minutes, Sonnen had Silva completely out of his element, taking him down at will and flustering him with strikes on the ground.

    Silva was in dire straits. He had absorbed an incredible amount of punishment and was far behind on the scorecards. The only chance he had to win was a stoppage in the final frame—and he managed to pull it off.

    Working off his back, Silva turned wrist control into a triangle choke and tied up Sonnen's limbs. The soon-to-be American Gangster was forced to tap out at 3:10 of the fifth round, and with that, Silva's standing in MMA had changed.

    He was no longer regarded as a boring fighter. He was no longer seen as non-entity at the ticket booth. He was no longer an enemy of the UFC brass.

    He was just the best fighter in the UFC.

    — SR

3. Ronda Rousey Becomes UFC’s 1st Female Champ [UFC 157, Feb. 23, 2013]

31 of 33

    No. 3: Ronda Rousey becomes champion, makes this face for pretty much three years straight.
    No. 3: Ronda Rousey becomes champion, makes this face for pretty much three years straight.Associated Press

    For the first 19 years of its existence, the UFC was an organization solely for male fighters, and Dana White famously proclaimed that women would never fight in the UFC.

    Ronda Rousey’s success in Strikeforce as its women’s bantamweight champion changed his mind. The UFC has always followed the money, and Rousey—attractive, charismatic and dangerous—was promotional gold. That much was obvious from her earliest days in the spotlight, as only one of her first six opponents lasted longer than 54 seconds.

    2012 had been a bad year for the UFC. Brock Lesnar, its biggest draw, left MMA for a return to professional wrestling; Georges St-Pierre spent almost the entire year on the shelf hurt; and a rash of injuries took apart fight after fight after fight.

    The promotion had to do something to turn the tide, and Rousey was it.

    A fight between Rousey and Liz Carmouche, a relative unknown who had once fought for the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight belt, was set to headline UFC 157. The lead-up was appropriately historic, and the fight didn’t disappoint.

    The champion found herself in trouble for a brief moment as Carmouche got her back, but for the most part, the fight was the exciting coronation of a new star the UFC had been hoping for. Rousey took off from there, turning into the biggest draw in the UFC and a crossover star with mainstream appeal in the next two years.

    More importantly, her win over Carmouche inaugurated a new era in the UFC. A second women’s division, strawweight, joined bantamweight within the next year.

    The UFC had become the premier venue for the best fighters in the world regardless of gender, and it would never be the same. 

    — PW

2. Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar Go to War [TUF 1 Finale, April 9, 2005]

32 of 33

    No. 2: Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin give the UFC an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.
    No. 2: Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin give the UFC an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    If Royce Gracie was responsible for kick-starting a new sport, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar get the credit for saving it.

    Twelve years after the Gracie train first chugged into the Octagon, the UFC was hemorrhaging cash. The company made a last-ditch effort to save the franchise with the production of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality competition that would reward the winners with contracts. While the personalities and fights showcased quickly won fans, the show was no lock for a second season when Griffin and Bonnar taped up their gloves to compete for the grand prize.

    They were easy to identify with as two guys who were just trying to live out a dream. Griffin was a police officer who reluctantly resigned to give fighting one last try, while Bonnar was in the midst of attending graduate school when he decided to focus on MMA.

    Dismissing any rational plan in their bout, both fighters decided to plant themselves in the center of the cage and trade their best strikes until someone fell. No one did. Instead, the rock ‘em, sock ‘em affair went on for 15 minutes straight, and as it did, the buzz began to grow among spectators. When the scores were read, Griffin got the decision, but in a master stroke of promotion, UFC brass announced both men would get contracts.

    The emotional tug of the night was so clear that it became a eureka moment, and the business world followed. Suddenly, the cage curiosity was an intriguing TV property, and a Spike extension would follow, cementing the UFC’s place in the sports landscape.

    — MC

1. Royce Gracie Wins UFC 1, Changes Martial Arts Forever [UFC 1, Nov. 12, 1993]

33 of 33

    No. 1: Well, this changes everything.
    No. 1: Well, this changes everything.Markus Boesch/Getty Images

    Perhaps at first blush, it seems odd that the single greatest moment in UFC history remains Gracie’s victory in the UFC 1 open-weight tournament. It's hard to believe, after all, that after nearly 200 numbered PPV events inside the Octagon—and many more on free TV and internet streams—no single happening has come along to unseat Gracie from this perch.

    Then again, once you consider exactly what it meant for Gracie to emerge victorious over three men to secure victory in the UFC’s first one-night tourney, it makes perfect sense.

    Granted, the “fight director” back in those days was Royce’s brother Rorion Gracie, and these early UFC events were set up as glorified infomercials for the family’s brand of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Still, martial arts had existed for thousands of years, and prior to UFC 1, it was still mostly thought of as a striker’s game. As soon as Gracie submitted Art Jimmerson, Ken Shamrock and Gerard Gordeau on this night, he had smashed that beyond all recognition.

    There was simply no going back. Our entire concept of the martial arts pivoted in a single night.

    Amid the full-blown sport that has sprung up during the 23 years since Gracie’s initial victory, there has always been one constant: If you want to survive, you better be willing to adapt.

    — CD