Ranking the Top Fights of the UFC on Fox Era

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2018

Ranking the Top Fights of the UFC on Fox Era

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    For seven years the, UFC and Fox have been a fantastic partnership. It brought a slew of UFC events across the varied networks in the Fox portfolio and delivered a treasure trove of amazing action for fans.

    It started with a heavyweight title fight, with Hollywood stars taking in the action, and finished with a lightweight brawl that may have set up interesting big-time matches in 2019.

    Between those two events were sensational fights and performances all across the globe. From Boston to Brisbane to Tokyo to Stockholm. The UFC and Fox partnership allowed for the sport to grow and access more mainstream coverage. It helped legitimize MMA alongside its peers. Now results can be seen on tickers and websites with every other major sports result.

    As we look back fondly on these seven years, we have to ask the question of what were the standout fights. Which wars will last on in our memories and go down as the classics? What will the next generation of fans go back to watch?

    This is the answer.

    Here are the 10 best fights from the seven-year partnership between the UFC and Fox.

Honorable Mention

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    • Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall fought to a majority draw (UFC on FX 2)
    • Cat Zingano def. Miesha Tate by TKO at 2:55 of the third round (The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale)
    • Benson Henderson def. Gilbert Melendez by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47) (UFC on Fox 7)
    • Tony Ferguson def. Edson Barboza via submission (D'Arce choke) at 2:54 of the second round (The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale)
    • T.J. Dillashaw def. Renan Barao by TKO at 0:35 of the fourth round (UFC on Fox 16)

No. 10: Michael Johnson vs. Nate Diaz

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    Nate Diaz def. Michael Johnson by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) (UFC on Fox 17)

         

    A mid-December 2015 meeting between Michael Johnson and Nate Diaz was just supposed to be a pair of lightweight contenders working their way through the division. Little did we know what the ramifications would be.

    The fight itself also delivered in a big way. It was the Fight of the Night in Orlando, Florida, as Johnson and Diaz exchanged on the feet for the full 15 minutes.

    Johnson had a grappling advantage, but the threat of Diaz's ground game, along with pure hubris, led to the fight playing out how it did. Johnson had success of his own on the feet. His speed and power tested Diaz just as Diaz's steady onslaught pushed Johnson.

    It was made even more entertaining by the jawing back-and-forth.

    Diaz picked up the decision across all three cards, and his post-fight interview, directed toward Conor McGregor, laid the groundwork for the biggest year in UFC history.

No. 9: Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos

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    Junior dos Santos def. Cain Velasquez by KO at 1:04 of the first round (UFC on Fox 1)

         

    If this were purely based upon the action inside the cage, there were definitely better fights on a competitive basis. However, the context of this fight matters.

    It was the first-ever UFC on Fox event. The anticipation was high. The UFC and Fox brought out the red carpet, quite literally, for a parade of top fighters and celebrities. Fans were ready to see what the new, mainstream era would entail. And to kick it all off would be the two best heavyweights in the world.

    Seeing a true heavyweight title fight on free network television? A true rarity in this age. But that is what we got.

    And it lasted 64 seconds.

    Junior dos Santos showed a broad audience just what the UFC, and MMA, is all about. Shock and awe. Fans never know how things are going to play out in any given fight, and this was a great example of just that. One punch altered everything and put a stop to the fight. It wasn't the Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar war, but it was nearly as good in being a complete opposite. It's just that middle you never want. The drawn-out boring affair.

    A new champion was crowned the night a new era began.

No. 8: Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier

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    Dustin Poirier def. Justin Gaethje by TKO at 0:33 of the fourth round (UFC on Fox 29)

         

    When Justin Gaethje's name appears on a fight card, fans can expect a war. Toss in Dustin Poirier opposite him, and you can expect sheer glee in what is to come.

    They delivered and exceeded all the hype with a blood-and-guts battle for just over three rounds.

    More spectacularly, this is not just two guys meeting in the center and swinging away. Gaethje and Poirier are high-level fighters who bring in the warrior mentality but also showcase incredible technique. Combinations, feints, head movement and so many more small details are on display when they fight.

    The talk leading up to the fight was about how explosive it would be, but fans have heard that many times before. When they backed up the talk, it took everything not to overstate how amazing it was.

    Poirier was able to find the mark and hurt Gaethje to the point of no return. It was Gaethje's second loss inside the Octagon, and it propelled Poirier into another level in spite of being the senior lightweight in the cage. While the Fox events were not as bright and shiny as they were when the partnership started, this April 2018 fight drew in that same fervor thanks to the style and spirit of these two men.

No. 7: Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier

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    Chan Sung Jung def. Dustin Poirier via technical submission (D'Arce choke) at 1:07 of the fourth round (UFC on Fuel TV 3)

         

    Remember Fuel TV? Way back before Fox rebranded it as Fox Sports 2, Fuel TV played host to a few UFC events. The third installment featured a featherweight battle between Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier.

    The first 10 minutes was a frenetic blitz of action. The Korean Zombie seemingly got the better of the early action and led on the scorecards. Poirier was far from out of the fight. He responded with a strong third frame.

    The fourth round continued the same high-paced action with both men landing and hurting the other. Poirier went for a single-leg takedown, but he was met with a D'Arce choke. He refused to tap. Poirier went to sleep instead.

    Both up-and-coming prospects, this fight was set to send the winner into title contention. And it did. A little over a year later, Jung fought Jose Aldo for the crown but ultimately fell short.

    These early fireworks helped to build the lighter weight classes and show that they were not the inferior of anyone. They could lead a card and deliver wild action. With the WEC in the rearview, featherweight and bantamweights needed to show out under the bright lights, and this was one fight that showcased the depth of the sport.

No. 6: Jeremy Stephens vs. Dooho Choi

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    Jeremy Stephens def. Dooho Choi by TKO at 2:36 of the second round (UFC Fight Night 124)

         

    "The Korean Superboy" and "Lil' Heathen" both lived up to their monikers during their UFC Fight Night 124 main event.

    The featherweights were known for their striking and finishing ability, and in a fight that went just 7:36 in total, they went for broke. They were cracking.

    A right hand from Stephens landed cleanly on the side of Choi's dome and put him in dire straits. Stephens didn't relent, and the referee had to step in to save Choi.

    Choi's rise through the ranks was stopped in brutal fashion. Stephens made sure he was not just a stepping stone for the next generation of featherweights. The two heavy hitters lit the crowd on fire with the kind of fight they signed up to watch. It delivered in every sort of way.

    This entry also shows that it doesn't have to be a five-round war to be one of the lasting fights of an era. It was just barely over half of what a three-round fight would be, but it doesn't matter. It gave us everything we wanted and more in that short span.

No. 5: T.J. Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz

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    Dominick Cruz def. T.J. Dillashaw by split decision (48-47, 46-49, 49-46) (UFC Fight Night 81)

         

    Dominick Cruz was the dominant force of the bantamweight division, but injuries forced him out of action. While he was out, Renan Barao took control and became a fighter who was discussed as the pound-for-pound best. That was until T.J. Dillashaw stunned everyone by dethroning him.

    Dillashaw was an unexpected surprise. He transformed his striking and seemingly stole the movement of Cruz to make himself "The Man" at 135. Naturally, when Cruz was ready to return, it made for an intriguing and incredible fight.

    Add in the heat between Team Alpha Male and Cruz, and you had the makings of something special.

    The fight did not disappoint. The two elite talents went back and forth over the course of 25 minutes. It was a razor-thin fight. Awaiting the decision was nearly as stressful for fans as it was for the fighters. Who would get the upper hand in this budding rivalry?

    It turned out to be the former champ.

    Cruz was away for nearly three years before returning with a swift victory over Takeya Mizugaki, and then another year before the fight with Dillashaw. He should have been a shell of his former self after the injuries. He should not have beaten such a dominant and young Dillashaw. But he did.

    Cruz proved all doubters wrong and showed incredible resiliency. He showed himself to be the ideal of what a champion is supposed to be in the sport.

No. 4: Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann

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    Wanderlei Silva def. Brian Stann by KO at 4:08 of the second round (UFC on Fuel TV 8)

         

    By the time this fight rolled around on Fuel TV, Wanderlei Silva was thought to have been shopworn. He wasn't supposed to be in epic wars anymore, nor was he supposed to win them.

    Perhaps it was the magic of the Saitama Super Arena. A legendary sports venue that holds many of the special moments in MMA history thanks to Silva and Pride. Whatever it was, we owe it thanks, just as we owe thanks to Silva and Stann themselves.

    Bad intentions were behind each strike. Each man landing and landing hard.

    Silva was able to get the better end of it all toward the end of the second round to put Stann out. A wild nine minutes provided us with a lasting memory. And it was the final one for Stann, as he would retire following the bout before embarking on a successful career outside of the cage.

No. 3: Michael Johnson vs. Justin Gaethje

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    Justin Gaethje def. Michael Johnson by TKO at 4:48 of the second round (The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale)

         

    Those who had seen Justin Gaethje in World Series of Fighting were amped for his UFC debut. There was a substantial buzz around it, and the UFC did not give him an easy start. A main event against a ranked foe in Michael Johnson.

    The first round was filled with quality offense from both men. Johnson got the nod after the first, but fans were being treated to some fun.

    The second round picked up where the first left off and then got even better. It looked to be Johnson teaching Gaethje a lesson with a less-than-warm welcome to the Octagon after rocking the new roster addition. But that is a Gaethje staple. Survive, respond and attack.

    Failing to finish of Gaethje, Johnson was then met with Gaethje's responding combinations. Both men were tired after the fast pace that had been set, but Gaethje was the one who knew how to overcome and finish. He lambasted Johnson and took home the TKO victory.

    Gaethje's style is little more than wild, but it is so fun to watch.

No. 2: Yair Rodriguez vs. Chan Sung Jung

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    Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung by KO at 4:59 of the fifth round (UFC Fight Night 139)

         

    Checkin in at No. 2 is one of the final main events of the Fox era. A sensational featherweight brawl between Chan Sung Jung and Yair Rodriguez.

    Little more needs said about this fight because it is so fresh in our minds. The Korean Zombie and Rodriguez gave everything they had and more throughout this fight that only missed heading to the scorecards by a single second.

    Jung led on the cards heading into the final round, and if not for a miracle one-shot back-elbow from Rodriguez, we could be talking about Jung getting another title shot in 2019. Instead, we are marveling about one of the most spectacular finishes in UFC history.

    And while that is simply astonishing, we must not forget about the evenly matched fight we saw before that elbow landed on the button.

    This was the high-level fight MMA fans dream about. And it got the Hollywood ending to cap it off.

No. 1: Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva

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    Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva fought to a majority draw (UFC Fight Night 33)

         

    The No. 1 entry in the best fights of the Fox era was paid for in blood. A December 2013 meeting between heavyweight contenders Mark Hunt and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in Brisbane, Australia, was supposed to deliver an early knockout. It did not supply that KO but somehow exceeded all expectations in a 25-minute war.

    When heavyweight fights get out of the first round, there is almost a deflation among fans. The expectation is they will gas out and meander through the fight the rest of the way. That is not what happened Down Under.

    Hunt vs. Bigfoot was the everyman's fight. It may have lacked the technical brilliance of a Demetrious Johnson, but sometimes a simple fistfight is all fans need. Two men throwing heavy leather and trying to get the other to fall.

    It was a fight so special that UFC President Dana White had a custom shirt made that he wore at the next weigh-ins for UFC on Fox 9. White also gave both men their win bonus and a performance bonus. That is how excited he got about this fight.

    MMA Fighting's Shaun Al-Shatti encapsulated the fight very well with these words, "Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva had to go and put on the most staggering, how-are-these-guys-still-alive, oh-my-god-somehow-this-lasted-five-rounds war of attrition and turn us all into children again, if only for a few preposterous minutes."

    Hunt vs. Bigfoot will go down as one of the classics and the absolute best fight during the Fox era.