Ranking the Most Epic Finishes in UFC History

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2018

Ranking the Most Epic Finishes in UFC History

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    When considering the best finishes in UFC history, one may think about Anderson Silva's front-kick KO of Vitor Belfort or Holly Holm's thunderous head-kick knockout against Ronda Rousey. And while those rank on that list, this compilation is about those epic finishes that make you say "How did that just happen?"

    We saw one this past weekend at the 25th-anniversary event in Denver when Yair Rodriguez pulled out a last-second win with a backward elbow against Chan Sung Jung.

    Unforeseen comebacks, stunning upsets or just jaw-dropping endings to incredible fights: Those are the epic finishes we are looking at here, and the UFC has no shortage of those moments.

    There were thousands of fights under the UFC banner to look at, and hundreds to consider for how they ended. Filtering them down to a final few was difficult.

    There are so many that bizarre endings such as Tito Ortiz's surprise submission over Ryan Bader or Shonie Carter's show-stopping spinning back fist against Matt Serra don't register.

    So, which ones do?

    Without further ado, let's peek at the UFC's 10 most epic finishes in its 25 years of operation.

No. 10: Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald

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    It may be the greatest welterweight title fight in UFC history. UFC 189's rematch between champion Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald will long be remembered for the war of attrition. The picturesque scene of the two bloodied men staring one another down will endure.

    And the epic finish only adds to its glory.

    MacDonald's nose had been busted earlier in the fight, but being a warrior he battled on—onward until he could go no further.

    Lawler pelted him clean on the nose one final time, and the pain was too much. MacDonald crumpled and the fight was stopped shortly after. It wasn't a stunning knockout like some others, but the buildup and climax made it an epic end.

    Lawler, missing part of his lip, stood tall as the reigning champion in one of the sport's most brutal title tilts.

No. 9: Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch

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    How many times have we seen a fighter who is down two rounds to none come out and change nothing in the final round? Too many. And for many others who do have a heightened sense of urgency, they still come out employing a strategy that is light on risk.

    That is what we did not see at UFC 144.

    Yushin Okami was dominating the fight against Tim Boetsch. The American could have gone out for the third and done the same as the previous two frames, but "The Barbarian" wanted to win. He knew he needed to go for a finish and threw caution to the wind.

    It paid off.

    He ended up catching Okami and putting the former title contender on the mat. Heavy shots landed from Boetsch that altered the fight and gave him an unexpected victory. It showed the virtue of going for the win and not fighting to avoid a knockout. It was risky, but he was going to lose if he didn't risk it.

    Boetsch's comeback performance lifted the crowd off its feet, and it remains one of the best ending sequences in the company's history.

No. 8: Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton

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    At UFC 34, Carlos Newton was defending the UFC welterweight championship against Matt Hughes and looked to be on his way to retaining the belt.

    Newton locked up a triangle choke on the challenger, and it was tight. Hughes lifted Newton against the fence. The way out for Hughes did not appear to be presenting itself. And then it happened.

    Newton was slammed to the mat violently. The triangle was broken. Broken because Newton was knocked clean out. The fight was awarded to Hughes and it would begin his reign as one of the greatest welterweights of all time.

    The reason the ending is now even more epic is that Hughes himself was left unconscious from Newton's submission.

    Without fully realizing what had happened, Hughes got the belt. It was a stunning ending that illustrated why we all love the unpredictability of the sport.

No. 7: Mike Russow vs. Todd Duffee

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    Mike Russow was just an unassuming, flabby heavyweight set up to be fodder for the UFC's latest and greatest prospect, a shredded statuesque figure known as Todd Duffee. It was a showcase fight.

    But Russow just never got the memo.

    Duffee poured on the punishment in the first two rounds. It wasn't the most exciting fight, but Duffee landed time and again on Russow. Russow was offering up next to nothing as was expected. Duffee gradually slowed, though, and that gave Russow the opening he needed.

    Too tough to fall earlier under the brutish offense of Duffee, Russow finally responded in the third with a single punch that flattened Duffee.

    Everyone was stunned. Out of nowhere came an ending that shellshocked even UFC commentator Joe Rogan. Even if you were to watch that fight over and over today, your jaw would hit the floor at how ridiculously unexpected Russow's victory was.

No. 6: Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo

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    How did he survive? That is what everyone was asking about Cheick Kongo at UFC on Versus 4. Pat Barry was knocking him from pillar to post inside the Octagon.

    Kongo was on skates.

    Then Barry ended up unconscious on the mat. Kongo connected with an uppercut from the depths of the unknown and Barry was out. All of this happened in just 2:39 of the first round. Showing that it doesn't have to be a ridiculous third-round comeback to register as an epic end.

    The fight was pretty indicative of Barry's UFC career. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, he was a talented kickboxer who just could not break through even when it seemed he would.

    The wild half-round ruckus still stands out when UFC highlights are played.

No. 5: Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping 2

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    Michael Bisping's chance to become UFC middleweight champion was said to have passed. He was said not to have knockout power. He proved both of those to be false at UFC 199 in a fight he wasn't even supposed to be in.

    Chris Weidman suffered an injury and opened the door for Bisping as a late-notice replacement. Ever the gamer, he stepped up.

    Rockhold had not only beaten Bisping before, but he also finished him with ease. The same result was expected in the rematch.

    Rockhold was perhaps too cocky. He left his chin up high and Bisping caught him flush. In the blink of an eye, Rockhold went from a position of power to fending off Bisping's relentless attacks as he followed up on his big strike.

    Bisping clocked him a couple more times before a finishing blow against the fence. He was pulled off and became world champion in the most unexpected fashion.

    It was an end fitting of Bisping's journey—coming in on late notice and defying all expectations, proving everyone wrong.

No. 4: Scott Smith vs. Pete Sell

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    Neither Scott Smith nor Pete Sell will go down in the storybooks as the MMA elite, but their fight at The Ultimate Fighter season 4 finale will go down as one of the most stunning endings ever.

    Sell crushed Smith to the body. Smith doubled over and it looked like Sell had landed the winning blow. And perhaps, had he just waited, he would have had his hand raised off of it. But his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree by seeing the hurt foe.

    He rushed in. He went to sleep.

    Smith unloaded a last-ditch effort punch to an oncoming Sell and knocked him out.

    Smith immediately hit the canvas himself as he was still suffering from the body shot. It was an incredible moment and ending.

No. 3: Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg

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    Matt Hughes was giving Frank Trigg another crack at the welterweight strap, and this time it was on one of the most important UFC events of all time, UFC 52.

    The first-ever The Ultimate Fighter led into UFC 52. The fresh eyes on the sport were about to see two title tilts. Hughes-Trigg was first up.

    What an impression it left.

    Trigg scored with an inadvertent low blow. The referee didn't see it and Trigg went for the finish. He got in great position and even tried to choke Hughes out. Hughes turned purple but never tapped.

    Eventually, Hughes rolled into his guard and managed to work his way up to his feet. He then took Trigg on a one-way trip. A massive slam made the crowd leap to their feet. It was payback time.

    Hughes doled out some punches, but then he went for the choke. Trigg tapped. The sudden reversal of fortunes gave new fans a glimpse into the wild nature of MMA and one of the greatest finishes in the sport's young history.

No. 2: Yair Rodriguez vs. the Korean Zombie

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    For the No. 2 spot you have to go all the way back in time to last Saturday at UFC Fight Night 139. The main event was a can't-miss bout between Yair Rodriguez and Chan Sung Jung, The Korean Zombie. The fight lived up to the hype.

    The Korean Zombie was getting the better of Rodriguez but not by much. It was a highly competitive fight.

    Both men bloody. Both men bruised. Both men standing and giving the fans every bit of what they had left.

    In the final 10 seconds, they raised their hands, and it appeared they would hit the scorecards, but this sport rarely gives you what you think. Instead, they re-engaged. Rodriguez dodged a strike and threw a backward elbow. Some may argue it was precision, but it was truthfully just luck.

    One lucky back elbow landed on the button. The Korean Zombie went face-first into the mat.

    It was already a Fight of the Year contender, but it ended with potentially the Knockout of the Year.

    Even in 2018, after hundreds of events and thousands of fights, the sport gives fans something they have never seen before in a moment they would never expect. Truly stunning.

No. 1: Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen

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    UFC 117. Oakland, California. The most stunning and epic ending in UFC history. It really can't be debated. The entire fight was truly shocking and epic in almost every way.

    Anderson Silva was the dominant champion. The GOAT. Standing opposite the cage was the brash Chael Sonnen. He talked a big game, but his style was tailormade to get tuned up by Silva. But Silva was battling a rib injury that few knew about at the time.

    Sonnen stunned everyone by rocking Silva on the feet early in the first. From there it was all Sonnen. Winning every exchange and taking the fight to the ground. It was Sonnen's moment.

    After the third round, the mood changed in the arena. It was a foregone conclusion that Sonnen would be the new middleweight champion.

    Even into the fifth, Sonnen was dominant.

    In Silva's guard, landing punches, Sonnen was moments away from the final horn. Then Silva locked up a triangle. The MMA universe's collective breath was held tightly. Sonnen defended like he was supposed to, but in his haze as Silva added an armbar to the attempt he tapped. The exhale and jubilation rang out.

    Sonnen could be heard telling referee Josh Rosenthal, "I believe you," when informed that he tapped. He didn't even recall tapping out.

    Silva dominated everyone—until UFC 117. But he managed to win in the most dramatic way possible to add to his legend. It wasn't a swift knockout, which he still had in his tool belt, but a submission to honor the Nogueira brothers.

    Epic may be underselling the UFC 117 finish. It is the UFC's, and MMA's, most epic conclusion to date.