B/R Staff Roundtable: Old MMA Fights to Watch While UFC Is on Hiatus

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2020

B/R Staff Roundtable: Old MMA Fights to Watch While UFC Is on Hiatus

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    Miss UFC action? Here are some old fights to watch while you wait for the company's return.
    Miss UFC action? Here are some old fights to watch while you wait for the company's return.Paul Kane/Getty Images

    As the world continues to reel from the coronavirus pandemic that has changed the sports world as we know it, at least for the immediate future, there's perhaps never been a better time to hole up inside your home and have a look at some of the awesome MMA throwdowns of yesteryear.

    So here's a bunch of old MMA fights to watch while you're stuck inside your COVID-19 social-distancing bubble. This list is curated by Bleacher Report's MMA crew, and we take great pride in our selections.

    In fact, we'll stake our list up against anyone else's.

    You have the time, and we have the fun fights you should watch while you wait for UFC to start up again. 

Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton (2001)

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    Jonathan Snowden: Since its launch in 1993 with Bill "Superfoot" Wallace's belch heard around the world, there have been 513 official UFC events and thousands of individual fights inside the organization's patented Octagon.

    Most of these bouts, frankly, are little more than a blur of nondescript action, whirling appendages and double leg blasts forgotten forever in history.

    What do stand out are moments, snippets of time when an athlete defies the odds and implants themselves forever in our memories—think Georges St-Pierre dropping to his knees to beg Dana White for a title shot, Tank Abbott callously mocking a fallen foe as he convulsed on the mat, or Holly Holm delivering the high kick that ended the first golden era of women's MMA.

    For me, there was a moment like that in a fight that has mostly disappeared from the lexicon of fight enthusiasts, a snapshot now reserved for fans of the UFC of old.

    Personally, it was a bridge between two times in my life. UFC 34 was the first event I'd ever had the privilege to watch live on pay-per-view, with Zuffa's purchase of the franchise opening up a brand-new world for fight fans around the country after years of a shadow ban.

    It was also the last UFC event I'd buy for some time—two days later, I shipped out to Basic Training and a brand new world of my own.

    It's a moment I will never forget: the UFC's first and perhaps final photo finish. The pride of Canada, UFC welterweight champion and one of the sport's most graceful grappling artists had secured a triangle choke on Matt Hughes, the cornfed wrestler from Miletich Fighting Systems by way of Eastern Illinois University. 

    In a normal fight, this would be the beginning of the end. And it was—but not quite the way we all imagined.

    Hughes, with the blood languidly making the long trek from his heart to his brain as Newton squeezed his carotid artery, lifted the champion over his head, triangle still tightly applied, and carried him all the way across the cage. Time then paused for what felt like an eternity. One heartbeat. Two. Nine. 

    And then it happened.

    Hughes' brain stopped talking to his body just as it delivered its final command—to slam the other man right on his head. The resulting powerbomb knocked Newton unconscious, his body prone on the mat.

    As he came to, Hughes' cornerman, Jeremy Horn, had to explain to the groggy wrestler exactly what had transpired. For a moment, both men had been unconscious. Hughes was even caught on camera admitting to his jubilant entourage that he "was out."

    But Hughes recovered first. And if you're not first, it turns out you are indeed last.

Remy Bonjasky vs. Ray Mercer (2005)

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    Mercer gave Evander Holyfield all he could handle but thought better about trying to match up against a kickboxing champ.
    Mercer gave Evander Holyfield all he could handle but thought better about trying to match up against a kickboxing champ.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: OK, the purists can chastise me about it not really being an MMA fight.

    By the time they get good and offended about it, though, it’ll be over. A couple of times, in fact.

    Regardless, the truly memorable elements of a 2005 encounter between former heavyweight boxing title claimant Ray Mercer and then-reigning K-1 World Grand Prix kickboxing champion Remy Bonjasky had little to do with the brief time they spent, er, "fighting."

    Then 29 and nearing, if not in, his competitive prime, Bonjasky strolled to the ring accompanied by eye-catching pyrotechnics, a Clint Eastwood-inspired musical vibe and a nearly apoplectic announcer who would give a caffeinated Bruce Buffer a run for his buzz-enhancing money.

    Meanwhile, Mercer, nearing 43 and already carrying both a middle-ager's hairline and paunch, was the treated to the type of lower-key intro befitting a guy looking as ready for a prostate exam as a fight.

    Right about the time they came together for instructions, the older man seemed to grasp the up-close reality of just what a fit 227-pound guy—standing half a head taller at 6'4"—might be capable of.

    And it was probably right about then that he decided, "Mmm, yeah...no."

    It took all of nine seconds—no really, it was nine seconds—for Bonjasky to land the fight's only blow, a jarring high kick in which the junction of his right leg and foot landed a smidge behind Mercer's left ear, causing the veteran to immediately rethink his options for a Saturday night in Seoul, South Korea.

    He took a few steps toward his corner, made the requisite wincing faces during the ref's standing-eight count and looked anything but crestfallen when matters were officially waved off at 22 seconds.

    It was his last kickboxing endeavor, but not the last blip he would make on the MMA radar.

    And hey, if quarantine 2020 lasts long enough, it may not be the last time we mention him, either.

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mirko 'Cro Cop' Filipovic (2005)

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    McCarson went with Fedor vs Cro Cop.
    McCarson went with Fedor vs Cro Cop.Tomokazu Tazawa/Getty Images

    Kelsey McCarson: One of my favorite things to do when I have any kind of downtime is to check out great fighters from the past at the peak of their powers. I recently circled back to this huge heavyweight title fight from Pride FC: Final Conflict 2005, and I wasn't disappointed. 

    The career of Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko fascinates me. His decade-long dominance at heavyweight, pious disposition, explosive power and stoic personality combine together into a larger-than-life persona that won't ever be duplicated in the sport. He's truly one of a kind. 

    A former K-1 star, Filipovic entered his title challenge against Emelianenko for the Pride heavyweight championship on a seven-fight win streak. Moreover, he had scored a vicious head-kick knockout against Aleksander Emelianenko, Fedor's younger brother, the prior year, so there was some bad blood heading into the event. 

    Filipovic did some real damage to Emelianenko's face in the first round, which was 10 minutes long then under that promotion, but arguably the greatest heavyweight MMA fighter rallied over the rest of the bout to prove his dominance. 

    Even Cro Cop landing his patented body kicks to Emelianenko wasn't enough. The champion scored with his own heavy blows and dominated the action down on the ground whenever he corralled the kickboxer to the canvas. 

    Emelianenko never fought in the UFC, so his legendary career doesn't get the benefit of that company's excellent promotional pushes being pointed toward him in celebration.

    But he is definitely one of the greatest and most important athletes the sport has seen. His victory over Filipovic in 2005 is a fine example of the fighter at the peak of his impressive powers against a rugged and notable opponent gunning for gold. 

Choi Hong-Man vs. Jose Canseco (2009)

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    Taylor went outside the box for his pick.
    Taylor went outside the box for his pick.Itsuo Inouye/Associated Press

    Tom Taylor: When Kelsey asked me to contribute to this article, my first instinct was to write a few paragraphs about Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit's 2016 war. The more I thought about it, though, the more inclined I became to get creative.

    If you're reading this article, you're probably a fairly dedicated fight fan, which means you've probably seen Lawler vs. Condit and recognize it as a fight that warrants multiple viewings. You don't need me to tell you.

    So let me draw your attention to an entirely different fight: the lone MMA foray of six-time MLB All-Star Jose Canseco.  

    Canseco competed in his only MMA fight back in 2009, as part of an event from defunct Japanese promotion DREAM. The 6'4" power hitter was matched up with an altogether more giant man named Choi Hong-Man, who towered over him at 7'2".

    The DREAM card this Canseco-Choi bout landed on included legit talents such as Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Gegard Mousasi, Mark Hunt, and the late, great Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, but the fight itself was by all accounts what some might call a "freak show," a not-so-distant ancestor of modern aberrations like CM Punk vs. Mickey Gall and Logan Paul vs. KSI.

    However, it was also a widely entertaining spectacle from beginning to end.

    Canseco walked out to the ring with a baseball bat, wearing what looked like a pair of black sweatpants. The fight was waved on, and the MLB legend let loose a punch that looked more like somebody trying to throw a tennis ball onto a roof. Shockingly, the punch landed—and with enough force to generate a modicum of praise from ringside commentator Michael Schiavello.

    Unfortunately, though, that's where Canseco's success ended.

    Choi, an experienced if inconsistent kickboxer, sent him spiraling out of control with a crackling jab. In an instant, the baseball star seemed to realize he didn't like being clobbered by giants and started darting fearfully away from his foe.

    He hung in there for another minute or so, throwing a few bizarre, side-on kicks, but ultimately tumbled to the canvas where Choi buried him under an avalanche of ground-and-pound.

    A little over 10 years later, in an interview with The Schmo, Canseco admitted with a chuckle and a big smile that he got his "butt killed" in this fight. If he can laugh at the experience in hindsight, I think we're safe to do so as well.

    We could probably all use a few laughs these days. 

Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin (2009)

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    Harris went with this UFC 101 gem.
    Harris went with this UFC 101 gem.H. RUMPH JR/Associated Press

    Scott Harris: While figuring out which fight to pick, I asked myself a few questions, one of which emerged as the most important: If I could watch one fight and one fight only right now, what would I want that fight to do for me before I had to wade back into the news cycle?

    My response was swift: jump around in excitement. Simple as that. I want to revel for a few minutes. That's why I had no choice, no alternative whatsoever, but to pick the co-main event of UFC 101 back in 2009. Anderson Silva had a lesson for Forrest Griffin—and for all of us—that night in Philadelphia.

    The reigning middleweight champ was moonlighting at light heavyweight (a far rarer occurrence back then) when he collided with Griffin, who was one fight removed from the 205-pound title.

    Silva, then considered the best fighter in the world, was a favorite but not by a runaway. Griffin was an accomplished brawler, but he was also a bit lumbering. That's a pretty fitting description; as always he brought his wood-chopping ax to the party. It's just that Silva brought liquid swords. 

    Not to get too bogged down in the Xs and Os of the fight I'm trying to convince you to watch, but the slow-starting Silva came on to mesmerize Griffin with his mind-bending evasion, then snipe him down with surgical strikes.

    It was the most impressive performance of his brilliant career. The KO finished with a perfect short right hand. It was Silva's third knockdown of the round, and it was punctuated by Griffin waving his hands in surrender as he hit the canvas.

    According to UFC stats, Silva threw a grand total of 25 strikes, landing 13 for a 52 percent accuracy rate. So the natural middleweight needed to land only 13 strikes to knock down the former light heavyweight champion three times in one round. By comparison, the average UFC striking accuracy rate is 32 percent. For his part, Griffin landed three of 42 strikes, for a seven-percent connection rate.

    It was so bad Griffin ran out of the cage after. You feel for the guy. But you tip your cap at the same time, because someone had to make that sacrifice for all us unworthy masses to witness that brilliance.

    There's a familiar saying in MMA after a big, one-sided finish: The winning fighter stole the other one's soul. The reaving at UFC 101 was so blatant that the incident has become a formal synonym for the concept: The Night Anderson Silva Stole Forrest Griffin's Soul. It almost sounds like a movie.

    Do yourself a favor and catch it at a theater near you. Or, rather at your home, which is nearer. You can't be seen in public jumping around like that anyway.