The Most Shocking UFC Knockouts of the 2000s
"Anything can happen in MMA" is a cliche, but it wouldn't have survived this long if it weren't accurate. Over the many years of the UFC's existence, fans have seen things so absurd and so spectacular that they pushed the boundaries of what seemed possible in combat sports.
Stunning upsets. Incredible feats of strength. Whiplash-inducing comebacks.
The Octagon has played host to a number of jaw-dropping moments—knockouts in particular. With that in mind, Bleacher Report's Steven Rondina and Nathan McCarter are here to sift through recent UFC history and pick out some of the most shocking UFC knockouts.
Michael Bisping Def. Luke Rockhold
Date: June 4, 2016
Event: UFC 199
If Michael Bisping were in the WWE, he would be looked at as one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time. That may sound like high praise, but wrestling fans know how backhanded a compliment that is.
Over the last 20 years, the Intercontinental Championship has been a belt dedicated to keeping the second tier of superstars busy. It’s for the guys the promotion likes to have around and likes to have on cards, but not the ones that are legitimate top-guy material. It's a belt for the good ones...but not the great ones.
That’s the niche that Bisping fell into. Top billing on a cable TV Fight Night card? Sure. Pay-per-view co-main event? Absolutely. Actual title fight? Haha...no.
The fates and injury bugs eventually conspired to get him a title shot at UFC 199 opposite Luke Rockhold. It was supposed to be a feel-good moment. Not because he would win, of course. There was no way he was going to do that.
But hey, after 10 years in the UFC, he finally got a title shot. That’s something, right? Wrong.
In one of the greatest swerves in UFC history, he landed the hardest punch of his career on the biggest stage he’d ever been on against an opponent who mauled him just 19 months prior. Ten years and more than 20 fights into his UFC career, the brash Brit became one of the UFC’s most unlikely champions in one of the most absurd upsets in the promotion’s history.
Chris Weidman Def. Anderson Silva
Date: July 6, 2013
Event: UFC 162
It was difficult to come to terms with what happened between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva at UFC 162. The Spider, the GOAT, felled in decisive fashion. Out-wrestled, suckered by a backfist and then knocked out cold with a left hook by the younger American.
In a fight involving anyone else, this would have been forgotten. Silva, though, set the standard for MMA dominance. Like a hurricane hitting an island, it wasn't a question of what would happen; it was a discussion of how much damage would be done by the time it was over.
But Weidman beat him. Knocked him out cold and left the rest of the MMA world to figure out what just happened.
It's somewhat odd, in retrospect. Silva wasn't all that far removed from nearly losing to Chael Sonnen. On the flip side, Weidman was already pegged as the rolled-up newspaper that would one day squash The Spider. When they finally stepped into the cage, the betting lines reflected this.
But even for the biggest Weidman believers, the sight of Silva's losing was far more difficult to grasp than the simple thought of it. Silva was unbeatable...until he wasn't.
Dan Henderson Def. Michael Bisping
Date: July 11, 2009
Event: UFC 100
There was little doubt that this KO would make the list. UFC’s biggest event to date was UFC 100. Two magnificent title fights and an undercard to satisfy even the most picky fan. On the main card, right before GSP took on Thiago Alves, The Ultimate Fighter coaches Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping were set to meet to settle their beef.
Everyone knows the story now. Bisping circled right into Henderson’s power and took the H-Bomb clean. Bisping went stiff, and Henderson leaped into the air with one of the most astonishing, egregious yet memorable flying forearms in MMA history. It was the exclamation point of a man who had heard enough of Bisping’s trash talk.
The crowd was stunned. Not because Henderson hadn't knocked anyone out before, because he certainly had, but at the stiffened body of Bisping and the audaciousness of the follow-up shot. No matter how many times you witness it in a replay, it's still a gasp-inducing KO.
Not many would expect that eight years later Bisping would stand atop the division after having defended his title against Henderson in a rematch where Henderson almost stopped him again. All of that was set off from this moment.
Edson Barboza Def. Terry Etim
Date: Jan. 14, 2012
Event: UFC 142
A knockout can be scary, a knockout can be beautiful and, every once in a while, a knockout can be both. Edson Barboza’s wheel-kick victory over Terry Etim is one of the few that makes that cut.
There’s a distinct smoothness to the Brazilian’s kicking game. He moves around the cage in a slick manner, snapping his leg at opponents with a confidence that few others have while giving ringside photographers the easiest night of their careers as he hammers opponents in the most picturesque ways possible.
And when an opponent gives him as much room as Etim did back in 2012, the Octagon is his canvas.
The reality of the situation comes back when he lands, though. No matter how pretty those strikes look, they’re thrown with hurtful intent. His beautiful spinning kick was no exception. The shot landed clean to Etim’s face, leaving him so stiff that his arms didn’t even touch the mat when he fell.
It’s easy to look back on this knockout and marvel at Barboza’s pure technical prowess. But it’s even easier to recoil a bit at how devastating the finishing blow was.
Conor McGregor Def. Jose Aldo
Date: Dec. 12, 2015
Event: UFC 194
Thirteen seconds. No one predicted that.
Being there live from press row was surreal. The hype and anticipation of the week for Conor McGregor to finally meet Jose Aldo, who would surely be his biggest test, was off the charts. The fight began, and just a few ticks into it, shielded from the punch itself, I saw Aldo fall to the canvas in what seemed like slow motion. The hammerfists were the cherry on McGregor’s sundae.
The predominantly Irish crowd erupted while everyone else sat in stunned silence.
The highlight showed what most missed in real time: a perfect left turning off Aldo’s lights. McGregor’s post-fight quote brilliantly summed up the fight: "He’s powerful and he’s fast. But precision beats power and timing beats speed, and that’s what you saw there."
Anderson Silva Def. Vitor Belfort
Date: Feb. 5, 2011
Event: UFC 126
The long-awaited title tilt between Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort was set. For all the different matchups that Silva had faced in his run as middleweight champion, he had yet to take on a fierce striker with such quick, powerful hands. How would he handle the challenge?
Silva's respect was evident by his cautious approach in the opening moments of the fight. Belfort came forward and Silva dodged the initial approach. Belfort took Silva down off a right high kick for just a moment before The Spider popped back to his feet. It was Belfort's doom shortly after.
“He front-kicked him in the face,” Joe Rogan shouted in a now-famous call. A couple of follow-up punches on the ground, and Silva had defended his throne once again. Silva's aura only grew because of the knockout, especially after telling media during the UFC 126 post-fight that Steven Seagal had taught him the technique.
The photo of the kick landing is now iconic in the sport. And the tale of Seagal's teaching Silva the kick is an additional story that captivated the minds of the MMA community. All of it circles the front kick making it one of the most special, and electrifying, knockouts in history.
Matt Serra Def. Georges St-Pierre
Date: April 7, 2007
Event: UFC 69
Georges St-Pierre is one of the single greatest fighters of all time. His boxing? Crisp, clean and difficult to advance on. His wrestling? Immaculate, both offensively and defensively.
He’s impossible to beat, right? Well, Matt Serra managed to pull off the greatest upset in UFC history at UFC 69 when he somehow, some way, beat the welterweight champion.
After a slow courting period, Serra caught GSP with a haymaker square behind the ear. The Canadian, for a couple of seconds, seemed to shrug it off, but a stumble as he backed away was all Serra needed to hit the gas. A ferocious flurry ensued, and the champ never had the opportunity to recover. He ate massive right hand after massive right hand before he finally tapped to strikes.
This fight has slipped into the annals of history. Serra went 1-3 afterward and quietly retired in 2013 while St-Pierre reclaimed the title a year later to begin one of the most dominant reigns in UFC history. Those who witnessed the plucky lightweight work his way through The Ultimate Fighter and pull off one of MMA’s greatest heists, though, won’t ever forget this one.
Ronda Rousey Def. Alexis Davis
Date: July 5, 2014
Event: UFC 175
The fourth title defense for Ronda Rousey was something special in an already-spectacular career. Rousey was coming off a TKO over Sara McMann—her first non-armbar victory.
The storyline going in was how Alexis Davis’ jiu-jitsu would help her stop Rousey’s grappling attack. But we never got the chance to find out.
Rousey knocked Davis out on the feet, but almost nobody knew because Davis slumped over and Rousey tossed her like a bag of laundry. Davis hit with a thud and Rousey nailed her with punch after punch on the canvas, where it quickly became evident Davis had gone into her REM cycle. The referee stopped the fight, and Davis tried hitting a single on him thinking he was Rousey.
No one expected the result. Until this moment, the anticipation of a Rousey fight was all about how long it would take her to get an armbar. The McMann fight was an aberration. The former Olympian now had KO power to stop a fight in under 30 seconds? No one could have called that.
Sixteen seconds was the official time, and the fight went viral on Instagram. During the height of her run, Rousey could do no wrong, and this was another example of that.
Robbie Lawler Def. Rory MacDonald
Date: July 11, 2015
Event: UFC 189
UFC 189 will likely go down as the night Conor McGregor won his first UFC championship. But for hardcore fans of the sport, it will always be the night Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald put on one of the best welterweight title fights.
It was the unanimous pick for 2015 Fight of the Year, and it makes this list for the gnarly and gruesome finish.
After the war had been waged for 20 minutes, the horn sounded to end the fourth. Lawler and MacDonald, battered and bloodied, stood in the center of the Octagon staring each other down in a special moment that only heightened the stakes.
The fifth lasted 60 seconds. Lawler, having already damaged MacDonald’s nose, crushed it one last time. MacDonald fell to the canvas. Every man has his limit. The pain was too much to bare. A broken nose eating one more power punch...shattered.
The two combatants met at the local hospital for a post-fight picture together. The war they shared created a special bond that few will understand. Lawler retained his championship by pushing MacDonald to the limit and finally pushing him over.
Shonie Carter Def. Matt Serra
Date: May 4, 2001
Event: UFC 31
If you watched the sport of MMA in 2001, there was almost nothing more shocking than the first spinning backfist KO in UFC history.
Matt Serra made his UFC debut as an undefeated 4-0 fighter. His grappling background made him an interesting prospect with a high ceiling. He was well on his way to winning his debut over Shonie Carter at UFC 31. Carter would not have won if the fight went to the scorecards.
As the final horn neared, Carter unleashed a spinning backfist that connected cleanly. Serra fell and the fight was stopped. Nine seconds before certain defeat, Mr. International stunned Serra and the audience with a knockout from nowhere.
Serra got his payback during The Ultimate Fighter: The Comebacks in 2006. He got the decision nod in the semifinals over Carter, but once again, Serra got nailed with the spinning backfist. Serra went on to win the season before capturing the welterweight championship with his own shocking upset KO over GSP.
Many spinning techniques have since thrived in the UFC, but few stunned the sport like Carter’s backfist.
Matt Hughes Def. Carlos Newton
Date: Nov. 2, 2001
Event: UFC 34
The tale of Arrhichion of Phigalia is one of the oldest legends of combat sports. In the final round of the 564 BC Olympic Pankration Games, Arrhichion was choked unconscious by an opponent...then choked dead not long after. As the life left his body, though, his corpse flopped down on his opponent's leg, injuring the other man's ankle and forcing a concession. That resulted in a posthumous win for Arrhichion and allowed him to ultimately be laid to rest as an undefeated, three-time Olympic champion.
Of course, it's easy to wonder whether this is true or just a tall tale that happened to withstand two-and-a-half millennia. Matt Hughes' improbable title victory over Carlos Newton, however, suggests there's at least a possibility.
At UFC 34 in 2001, Newton locked up a tight triangle choke on Hughes. While there are a number of different ways to defend this, Hughes dead-lifted the champion and worked himself back into a standing position with Newton against the cage.
It was an impressive display of strength, but the choke was still sunk in deep and, ultimately, was in tight enough that Hughes passed out. The challenger fell, but in a strange twist, Newton fell further and was left unconscious on impact. The referee declared the contest over, with Hughes being the victor via knockout.
Dubious outcome? Maybe. Still, it was one of the most iconic moments of the era and was the beginning of Hughes' lengthy reign as UFC welterweight champion.
Anderson Silva Def. Rich Franklin
Dates: Oct. 14, 2006, Oct. 20, 2007
Events: UFC 64, UFC 77
We have to include both of Anderson Silva’s beatings of Rich Franklin.
The first happened in Las Vegas. After making his untouched debut against Chris Leben, Silva would get a crack at the UFC champion in one of the first true top contender matches in UFC history.
Silva got the Thai clinch and brutalized Franklin. Absolutely brutalized the man. A knee up Main Street broke Franklin’s nose and sent Silva, and the UFC, into a new era. The anticipation behind the fight was going to be a battle of wills, but it was barely even a contest.
Just over a year later, Franklin earned his rematch, this time in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. It only went marginally better for the former champion. Silva dodged his strikes as if in an instructional video and then nearly finished with a late first-round KO. The horn saved Franklin, but he was out of it between rounds.
Silva finished off Ace in the second without much issue, which put an end to Franklin as a title contender. Silva showed the wide gap between the two, and no one ever wanted to see a third fight. These two fights show why the ballet of violence tag fits so well with one of the sport's most fascinating and enduring champions.
The first result was startling because of the discrepancy in talent and an unexpected quick finish due to it. The second result wasn't as shocking but began Silva's allure in the UFC as a flamboyant personality inside the cage.
Holly Holm Def. Ronda Rousey
Date: Nov. 14, 2015
Event: UFC 193
There is no denying how dominant Ronda Rousey was as UFC bantamweight champion. She beat Sara McMann in 66 seconds. Then Alexis Davis in 16 seconds. Then Cat Zingano in 14 seconds. Then Bethe Correia in 34 seconds. No matter the skeptics, it was right to expect her to maul anyone who went toe-to-toe with her.
That’s what made her loss to Holly Holm so jarring.
Rousey had always been a hittable fighter. Even in her most impressive victories, she was always willing to absorb punches in order to get an opponent in the clinch. None of Rousey’s foes had the tools to avoid that, and few had the athleticism to escape her black hole of offensive weapons for long. Holm did, though, and as Rousey waded forward, she never got a return on her investment.
After being repeatedly wounded, Rousey slipped during an exchange, turned her back in an attempt to disengage but rotated around right in time to meet Holm’s foot. She collapsed on the spot and, in that instant, the MMA scene changed.
Granted, Holm had the perfect skill set and coaches to dissect Rousey, who was walking a tightrope as she balanced careers in both Hollywood and the Octagon.
But few saw her losing like that.
Scott Smith Def. Pete Sell
Date: Nov. 11, 2006
Event: The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale
One of the most shocking knockouts happened in a knockdown-dragout affair between Scott Smith and Pete Sell.
Neither man would fool you with quick footwork and deceptive head movement. No, they would just stand and trade. Which is what they did on the undercard of The Ultimate Fighter 4 finale, in which both men had been participants.
In the second round, Sell hit Smith with a beautiful left hook to the liver. Smith grabbed his side in agony. Seeing that, Sell went in for the finish and made a critical error: He dropped his hands and darted over to Smith without protecting himself. Smith uncorked one vicious right hand that landed on the button and put Sell out.
Smith was in so much pain from the shot he couldn’t celebrate. He lay on the canvas writhing. Sell had the victory had he just protected himself as he entered. The excitement got the better of him, and Smith took full advantage with the one shot he had left in the tank.
Cheick Kongo Def. Pat Barry
Date: June 26, 2011
Event: UFC Live 4
A competitor being knocked out multiple times within one bout is unfortunately normal in MMA. Referees are slow to stop fights. Cornermen refuse to do so under any circumstances. Fighters have far too much fight in them.
Fighters and coaches are willing to hold onto any sliver of hope for victory. No matter how many strikes they’ve absorbed, how hyperextended their joints are or how unsteady they are on their feet, they close their eyes and tell themselves, "Maybe, just maybe, something like Cheick Kongo vs. Pat Barry will happen."
Indeed, Kongo vs. Barry stands tall as the most ridiculous comeback in the history of the sport.
At 2:47 of Round 1, Kongo was dropped hard by an overhand right that landed behind his ear. Barry stayed on him and landed a dozen punches while Kongo tried to scramble back to his feet. He made it upright once more but was sent crashing to the canvas by another huge punch.
Referee Dan Miragliotta, for reasons known only to him, let the action continue well past the point where others would end the bout. Ultimately, that decision was vindicated when a wobbly Kongo reared back, cracked Barry with a right hook and knocked him out cold on the spot, giving the French striker one of the most shocking and memorable knockouts in UFC history.
This wasn't a high-stakes fight or an especially technical affair, but it sticks out in a way few others do. It is the greatest example of the phrase "anything can happen in MMA."
Rashad Evans Def. Chuck Liddell
Date: Sept. 6, 2008
Event: UFC 88
Anderson Silva's "ballet of violence" also applies to what Rashad Evans did to Chuck Liddell.
Liddell was still in the title picture in 2008, and Evans was seeking his breakthrough moment. Liddell was coming off his spectacular war with Wanderlei Silva, which rejuvenated his career following back-to-back losses to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Keith Jardine.
Evans was the underdog, per BestFightOdds.com, and if he were to win it would be another classic, boring Rashad Evans wrestling performance. There's no way he could out-strike the legendary "Iceman". Evans simply wasn't championship material. Few picked him to win as this was stylistically favorable to what Liddell did best throughout his career.
Evans ended Liddell's redemption run with one right hand, proving he was, in fact, one of the elite. Evans silenced the crowd and his doubters with one punch.
A picture-perfect overhand obliterated Liddell. Perhaps thankfully, Liddell dropped quickly as a left hook was coming behind it. Liddell was shown on the mat completely out of it while Evans did his best Fred Sanford around the Octagon. Replays showed the impact the right had on Liddell’s neck as he shut off the lights.
The sound alone was sickening. Pound-for-pound, it may still be the most violent and brutal knockout in UFC history.
Gabriel Gonzaga Def. Mirko Filipovic
Date: April 21, 2007
Event: UFC 70
It's hard to overstate how much of a shock Mirko Filopovic vs. Gabriel Gonzaga was.
Cro Cop was one of the most vicious men in Japan’s Pride FC. He was a kickboxer-turned-fighter who routinely left the most terrifying competitors in all of combat sports in twisted heaps. He was the single best striker in the sport at the time and probably ever. He was the deadliest finisher on earth, with an almost-too-accurate catchphrase for his kicking game: right leg hospital, left leg cemetery.
When he made the long-awaited jump from the Japanese circuit to the UFC, American fans were eager to see him roar his way to a shot at heavyweight champion Randy Couture. Gonzaga was a layover on that trip...or he was supposed to be.
After scoring an early takedown and working Cro Cop over on the canvas, it was obvious that Gonzaga wasn’t the tomato can many were expecting.
"Just one kick," said every Cro Cop fan on earth. "Just one kick, and the fight’s over." And they were right, only it was Cro Cop on the receiving end of a big boot.
Seeing one of the best, most popular heavyweights of the era crumble after being hit with his own technique probably would have been enough to get this fight on the list. But the memory of Cro Cop’s leg being coiled underneath him as he fell seals up its place as the most shocking knockout in UFC history.