The Greatest Smack Talk Moments in UFC History
Some UFC fans may pretend they hate it, but the numbers don't lie. Smack talk sells fights. This fact isn't lost on the actual competitors either, and while not everyone takes this approach, many of the UFC's top stars have been willing to verbally tear down their opponents in an effort to attract attention towards their next contest.
Naturally, that has made for plenty of memorable moments over the years...both good and bad. With fans creeping closer and closer to the edge of their seats in anticipation of the rowdiness that will come to pass with Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov, it's worth taking a look back over the UFC's long history to pick out some of the best verbal back-and-forths the promotion has hosted.
So which fighters make that cut? And what did they say that warranted this unique brand of immortality? Read on and find out!
(Warning, assume NSFW for all videos and links ahead)
Tito Ortiz Sets the Tone for His Rivalry with Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock didn't just lose his four-year feud with Tito Ortiz. He never even had a single good moment in it.
In the cage, he was dealt three TKO losses, with each being more devastating than the last. Outside the cage? He came out on the bad end of every on-camera spat. Ortiz set that dominant pace right at the beginning, at the UFC 40 pre-fight press conference.
After Shamrock clumsily delivered what was supposed to be an intimidating, pro wrestling-style promo, Ortiz sat there for a few seconds. He reflected on what was said. He thought about how his life was threatened. He turned, looked at Shamrock and then erupted in exaggerated laughter.
Shamrock was visibly flustered by this but had no real response. He tried to salvage it by doubling down on his promise of violence by kicking a chair...but only made the situation more humorous by sending it straight up, into the arms of Dana White.
In reality, this whole sequence was just sort of silly. It didn't further any narrative about the feud between Ortiz and Shamrock's Lion's Den gym or turn heads about the importance of the fight. To an uninitiated fan, it just sort of comes off as campy.
Seeing Ortiz get such a humorous rise out of Shamrock, though, makes this an all-time great UFC moment.
Chael Sonnen Throws Down His Challenge
Chael Sonnen almost single-handedly popularized pro wrestling-style smack talk in the UFC and, quite frankly, nobody has done it better since. Whether it was off-the-cuff interviews, fan Q&As or taped promotional spots, Sonnen wielded the microphone like few others. His best moments, however, came when he was able to write out a script beforehand and just rip into his desired opponent.
He did this plenty of times, of course. Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida, Mirko Cro Cop and many more found themselves on the wrong end of Sonnen's smack talk. The most frequent target of the American Gangster, though, was Anderson Silva. And the most famous promo Sonnen cut on Silva came at UFC 136.
After besting Brian Stann in impressive fashion, Sonnen called out his archrival for a fight in the most grandiose possible way. Proclaiming that Silva "absolutely sucks" before challenging him to a loser-leaves-town match, he added extra attention to what already promised to be one of the biggest fights in promotional history. Not only that, but he grabbed mainstream attention in a way few fighters had to that point.
Granted, Sonnen's terms were never going to be met. There was too much money that would have been left on the table had he retired with a loss and a blockbuster rubber match would have been the play to make had he won.
Still, this was a well-delivered promo that advanced the story between the two men. Smack talk doesn't get better than that!
Dominick Cruz Tells the Truth
Smack talk comes in many shapes and sizes but it's always most effective when it has some truth to it. It makes sense, then, that MMA's most analytical fighter, Dominick Cruz, would be a savage on the microphone.
Though he doesn't have any particularly amazing sound bytes or a bunch of one-liners to his name, the two-time UFC bantamweight champion consistently tears his opponents apart on the microphone. The best example of this came in his 2016 back-and-forth with TJ Dillashaw.
When given a softball question about how he matched up with the champ, Cruz stated that while Dillashaw was good, his own elusiveness trumped Dillashaw's power, which would ultimately prove to be the difference. Dillashaw, naturally, disagreed and fired back that he had holes in his game and would get knocked out as a result.
In any other situation, and against any other opponent, that would have worked out fine. In a face-to-face back-and-forth with Cruz, though, it was a disaster.
Like a high school math teacher Cruz asked Dillashaw to show his work on his answers. What holes were in his game? How would he knock him out? What led him to these conclusions?
Dillashaw had no answers and as Cruz pointed this out, he only became more and more frustrated. With nowhere to go and no real response, he couldn't do much more than squirm in his seat throughout the filming.
Wanderlei Silva Wants to What!?
"Superfight" is one of the most overused terms in MMA. It's been attached to everything from mid-level pay-per-view attractions like Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm to UFC Fight Pass-exclusive contests like Frankie Edgar vs. Urijah Faber. Few of these actually fit that bill and, outside the occasional "reigning champion vs. reigning champion" showdown, most rarely even have a case to deserve it.
One of the few that actually did fit that bill was the 2006 tease of Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva.
The idea of the contest checked every possible box an MMA fan could have. Unstoppable champions in their prime, known for being utter savages? With the kicker of it being a long-awaited, cross-promotional dream match that would bring together the top stars of the UFC and Pride FC? It was, quite simply, a special fight.
The UFC knew it, too, and took the rare step of having Dana White personally step into the cage at UFC 61 to make the bout official. What should have been an epic moment, however, ended up getting ruined by a hilarious smack talk flub.
After being introduced by White, Silva entered the cage and took the microphone. He acknowledged the promoters, thanked the fans and stated he's here to fight the best. Then came the challenge.
"I want to f--k...I want to fight with Chuck," he said. "F--k Chuck!"
That wouldn't have been all that big a deal as the segment itself was redeemed by a fiery staredown between the two. Unfortunately for all involved, negotiations fell through and that one stumble on the stick ended up being the lasting memory of one of MMA's most hotly anticipated fights.
GSP Is Not Impressed by Matt Hughes
Georges St-Pierre is largely remembered as an amazing competitor and all-around class act, but lost in that is an incredible promotional savvy. The man knows how to sell a fight and while they're few and far between, that has resulted in some memorable smack talk moments. First and foremost among that lot is his legendary call-out of Matt Hughes at UFC 63.
Originally scheduled to face Hughes at the event, St-Pierre was forced off the card due to a groin injury and replaced by BJ Penn. Despite that, the Canadian was cemented as the welterweight contender and sat in attendance for the bout, ready to step into the cage for a staredown with the winner. Hughes won convincingly, and St-Pierre was beckoned into the cage.
UFC commentator Joe Rogan handed him the microphone and St-Pierre then somehow managed to politely run him down. "I'm very glad you won that fight, Matt," he said. "But I'm not impressed by your performance and I look forward to fighting you in the near future."
Obviously, these words aren't particularly biting. Heck, St-Pierre twice shook hands with Hughes after dissing him and basically apologized during the build to their eventual fight at UFC 65.
Still, this moment lives on in a way that few others do and stands as one of the greatest smack-talking moments in history as a result.
Michael Bisping's Greatest Hit
Conor McGregor might have garnered the most attention and Chael Sonnen may have had the best one-liners, but the most versatile smack talker in UFC history is Michael Bisping. From the very beginning of his MMA career to the very end, Bisping had an amazing ability to manufacture intrigue for his fights.
While a lot of his face-to-face showdowns boiled down to standard-issue accusations of PED use and rapid-fire gendered insults, he was capable of blending over-the-top theatrics with biting subtlety in a way that few fighters have matched. Every time he appeared in front of a camera, he made a strong case for a big fight or made his next match feel like a big fight.
There are literally dozens of examples of this, ranging from Fox Sports interviews to quick asides on UFC Tonight but the best example of this came during his bitter feud with veteran Jorge Rivera.
Despite being a relatively unimportant fight—with an at-the-time middling Bisping facing a past-his-prime veteran in Rivera—the future middleweight champion transformed it into a memorable grudge match with one brutal press conference.
When asked about Rivera's own efforts to sell the fight with a strange YouTube video, Bisping proceeded to tear into his American rival as deeply and personally as possible. "This is a press conference by the way, Jorge. This is what you do. I know this is your first time involved in something like this," he said. "Welcome to the big leagues."
All this, by the way, was said to a 10-year veteran of the sport.
It was a harsh dig at a seasoned opponent that failed to really break through to bigger things. That kind of quick, deep cut was Bisping's specialty on the microphone, and what made him one of the UFC's most enduring personalities.
Conor McGregor Buries Jeremy Stephens
One can imagine Jeremy Stephens—poor, poor, Jeremy Stephens—strategizing his call-out of Conor McGregor in 2016.
He figured out the place—the UFC 205 pre-fight press conference.
He figured out his challenge—determining who the harder puncher is.
He figured out his entry—the inevitable question about who's next for McGregor.
He got in front of the mirror the night before that fateful media event. "I'm the real hardest-hitting 145 pounder," he said to himself. "Conor McGregor? He TKOs people. When I hit people, they don't move." He rehearsed it, again and again, and replayed the scenario in his head the entire ride from his hotel.
The time came. The softball question was pitched to McGregor. "Who would give you the hardest fight of anyone on the stage?"
Stephens' eyes light up. This is his moment. He says his lines almost perfectly. "Nailed it," he thinks to himself.
And then, McGregor invalidates all that planning, all that effort, with just six words. "Who the f--k is that guy?" he asks, resulting in an explosion of laughter both in the crowd and on the stage. "Who the f--k is that?"
Stephens was floored. He made the shot cleanly but there he was, getting laughed at like the third-grader that accidentally called his teacher mom. "How can I salvage this," he asked himself before blurting out "you're a leprechaun," a comeback so lame that McGregor didn't even bother turning around to brush him off.
And with that, Stephens sunk into his seat and tried his hardest to become invisible.
Luckily, "who the f--k is that guy" quickly achieved meme status, getting thrown around by so many times that few even remember its origin at this point. Stephens remembers, though...