There’s something about an elbow in an MMA fight that just shakes you to the core.
It’s like nothing you’ll see in sports, and even within MMA itself, that sharp motion followed by the dull thud of contact.
Some of them end in an instant KO.
Others, remarkably, are shaken off only for the fight to continue on to its natural conclusion.
Others still, regardless of outcomes immediate or otherwise, are remembered in MMA lore from the minute they land onward.
That’s why we’re here today: To recap the six biggest hellbows in the history of the game, a hellbow, of course, being the label generally reserved for the best of the best to connect and be immediately memorialized.
Let’s take a look.
Jon Jones vs. Stephan Bonnar, UFC 100
Might as well start with the king: Jon Jones.
The best light heavyweight to ever do the job might well be the best purveyor of hellbows as well. It’s almost a certainty in a Jones fight that’ll you’ll see a wild elbow strike some out of nowhere, usually thrown so as to flatten his opponent for some period of time.
That’s what happened at UFC 94 against Stephan Bonnar, when a young and unheard-of Jones threw a spinning elbow on a random prelim that became iconic. Jones went on to win that fight—not by way of the elbow, a shocker that speaks more to Bonnar’s legendary durability than to much else—and was a world champion inside of two years.
Jon Jones vs. Brandon Vera, UFC Live: Jones vs. Vera
A double shot from Jones? Why not.
After choking out Jake O’Brien in his next fight following the Bonnar win, Jones suffered his first and only career loss in his next fight for, of all things, elbowing a guy too viciously. He smashed Matt Hamill’s face into a pulp with a series of elbows that were deemed illegal and got disqualified, but it did little to derail his ascendance to greatness.
He was immediately granted a headlining fight against Brandon Vera following the Hamill debacle, and rewarded the UFC’s faith in him by savagely finishing his man inside of a round.
Mode of victory? Elbows, of course.
From inside Vera’s guard, Jones rained down hellbows until Vera’s face essentially collapsed under the pressure and he rolled into a ball clutching his cheekbone.
Jones continued his rise, Vera won only one more UFC fight in his career before being released.
Gaston Bolanos vs. Rick Gutierrez, Bellator 189
Bolanos has made something of a name for himself in the kickboxing world by scoring a whole pile of spinning elbow knockouts, and despite a modest 2-1 record in MMA he’s made it clear he’s keen to transfer his top technique to his new profession.
Buried on the prelims of the Bellator 189 card, Bolanos rocked the sport to its core in his second career win with a gifable, shareable elbow that made people take notice.
Countering a jab of all things, Bolanos slipped his opponent’s offense without greatly altering his footwork, setting himself up to torque his hips and spin a back elbow flush on the jaw of his man.
It was the type of violent poetry only seen in MMA, tailor made for a list like this.
Anderson Silva vs. Tony Fryklund, Cage Rage 16
It feels like almost any list of remarkable happenings in MMA history would be incomplete without the great Anderson Silva on the list, and he certainly belongs on one talking hellbows. Though, interestingly, his best elbow ever happened before he was a UFC legend and deemed by most to be the greatest middleweight ever.
Fighting for Cage Rage in the UK, Silva was defending a middleweight title against UFC veteran Tony Fryklund. In typical Silva fashion, the Brazilian measured Frylund for the first couple of minutes of the bout before lining him up with an unholy reverse elbow that still finds its way to highlight reels today.
Finding his range with a hand on Frylund’s high, tight guard, Silva drew his right arm across his body to line the elbow up with the gap in his opponent’s arms. From there he swiftly jolted the elbow straight up, catching Frylund on the button and laying him out cold.
It was his last fight outside the UFC. A legend was born.
Gary Goodridge vs. Paul Herrera, UFC 8
The ultimate display of volume in hellbows unquestionably came back in the old days, when a UFC event was far more of a spectacle than a sport and was rich with chaos and carnage.
Look no further than MMA pioneer Gary Goodridge and his destruction of a badly outsized Paul Herrera for an example of that. Dispatching with the “Canadians as friendly and affable” myth, the Ontario native spent a total of 13 seconds announcing his bombastic UFC debut to the world.
Stuffing a Herrera double leg and ending up in a crucifix position, Goodridge threw an astonishing eight uninterrupted elbows before “Big” John McCarthy stepped in and stopped the show.
Goodridge jumped to his feet victorious and, though he’d go on to lose the UFC 8: David vs. Goliath tournament title to fellow legend Don Frye, it was one of the most iconic finishes the promotion has ever seen.
Matt Brown vs. Diego Sanchez, UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Pettis
Probably the single greatest example of a hellbow MMA has ever seen right here.
Brown had flirted with retirement going into his bout with Sanchez, and it admittedly seemed like a perfect conclusion to one the of UFC's more workmanlike careers to be pitted against someone so known for action.
And there was action alright, albeit not the type Sanchez might have preferred.
Backing against the cage and trying to find a hole in Brown's game, Sanchez threw a leg kick that was caught. When it was, Brown backed him up against the cage the rest of the way and held the position as he measured his man and pondered his next move.
That move, once decided upon, was a swooping elbow thrown with such force that it would have seemingly gone straight through the octagon floor if it hadn't had Sanchez's dome to take some of the heat off on the way.
Sanchez crumpled, unconscious. Brown walked away the victor and no longer so keen to retire--he'll fight Carlos Condit in April.