In celebration of the UFC’s 20th anniversary, we’re counting
down the UFC’s greatest moments both inside and outside the Octagon
with a new Top 20 each day leading up to UFC 167. Today, we give
you the 20 most memorable fights in the history of the
After 250 UFC events and thousands of fights, there was much to
sort through and pick from. Yet, 20 wars in particular rose above
the others as shining examples of the excitement and
unpredictability of mixed martial arts.
Whether it was a battle between two larger than life behemoths,
an epic clash for UFC gold or heated rivals whose animosity was
only out-done by the fight itself, every bout that made it into the
Top 20 has something special that sets it apart from the rest.
These are the fights that capitivated us. These are the fights
that made us life-long UFC fans. These are the Top 20 fights in UFC
No. 20: St-Pierre vs. Penn I — UFC 58
After his first career loss to Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre
rebounded with ferocity, slicing his way through four straight
opponents. It became clear that he was already a force to be
reckoned with, as no one seemed likely to match his combination of
speed, athleticism and technique.
As he neared the top of the division and a collision course with
Hughes, a surprise roadblock was thrown into his path.
B.J. Penn had left the UFC for two years starting in 2004,
citing a lack of quality competition. During his break, he competed
above his natural weight class, even fighting Lyoto Machida in open
weight competition. But in early 2006, as the talent ranks began to
swell, he returned, and was immediately thrust into the
welterweight title picture when Dana White announced he’d
fight St-Pierre in a top contenders fight.
The result was one of the most hotly contested decisions in
years. Penn bloodied St-Pierre’s face early by finding it
with long-range striking. As the fight continued on, he continually
found the mark, but with less frequency, and the momentum began to
shift GSP’s way, as he managed takedowns and ground work.
Minute by minute, you could see Penn’s exhaustion set in and
St-Pierre begin to take over.
By the end, St-Pierre’s face was a mess, and Penn looked
mostly unmarked, but on the strength of his late volume, St-Pierre
was declared a split-decision winner in the three-round war. The
controversy helped pave the way for an eventual rematch at UFC
No. 19: Jackson vs. Henderson — UFC 75
When the UFC bought PRIDE’s assets in 2007, one of its
major acquisitions was the contract of Dan Henderson, who wore the
promotion’s 183- and 205-pound belts, making him the only man
ever to simultaneously hold major titles in two weight classes.
When he arrived, the possibilities were endless, but a champion
vs. champion encounter was a no-brainer. He was matched with newly
crowned UFC light-heavyweight champion Quinton
“Rampage” Jackson, who had just earned the belt with a
knockout of company posterboy Chuck Liddell.
The two squared off in London, and aired on free TV in the U.S.,
drawing an audience that reached nearly 6 million at its peak.
The fight itself was a classic, with both men favoring their
traditional power punching styles. But given their durable chins,
it was a chore to get either to give ground. Henderson pushed the
pace early, scoring takedowns in each of the first two rounds, but
Jackson’s conditioning was on point, as the fight wore on, he
continued his volume striking, stuffed most of Henderson’s
takedown tries, and landed the bigger power punches, even knocking
Henderson down in the fourth. The fifth was a war of attrition,
with the result likely hanging in the balance. With the belts on
the line, Jackson out-landed Henderson 31-19 and scored a late
takedown to clinch it.
The win made Rampage the first man to unify the UFC and PRIDE
No. 18: Lesnar vs. Carwin — UFC 116
For those who have never experienced it, there is nothing like a
heavyweight championship prizefight in Las Vegas between two
fighters with the aura of near-invincibility surrounding them. That
was exactly the setting in July 2010, when behemoths Brock Lesnar
and Shane Carwin settled the question of the UFC’s best big
At the time of the meeting, Carwin had been on an absolute
rampage, with 12 pro fights and 12 first-round finishes. In his
most recent fight, he’d destroyed Frank Mir, bludgeoning him
in the corner with thunderous punches that seemed to shake the
cage. Meanwhile, the champion Lesnar was returning from
diverticulitis, a digestive disease that forced him to undergo
emergency surgery to have a piece of his colon removed. While
Lesnar’s career was threatened, he returned within a year and
stepped right into the match with Carwin.
With a sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena buzzing, the two titans
met, and in the opening round, it seemed that Carwin would continue
his run, avoiding Lesnar’s early takedown tries and then
knocking him down with a barrage against the fence. For the next
two minutes, Carwin would unload, looking for the finish. Somehow,
Lesnar held on, defended, and returned to his feet, surviving the
As he waited for the start of the second round, Lesnar winked at
Carwin, then quickly took him down, passed his guard and tapped
Carwin out with an arm triangle.
No. 17: Shamrock vs. Ortiz — UFC 22
To many of the sport’s observers, Frank Shamrock was among
the first fully formed mixed martial artists, an athlete capable of
striking, wrestling or grappling with the best of those respective
His abilities were put to the test at UFC 22, where he took on
the bigger, stronger Tito Ortiz. Shamrock had won the belt in 1997,
and defended it three times when Ortiz was granted the title shot
For the first three rounds, Ortiz did what he did best in his
heyday, taking the fight to the ground, utilizing elbow strikes and
attempting to wear down his opponent. But Shamrock’s
conditioning was impeccable, and he stayed just as busy whether the
fight was standing or on the ground (the final striking stats, for
example, favored Shamrock 193-67).
As the fight wore on, Ortiz’s output began to lessen. In
the fourth, Shamrock took the center of the cage and landed at
will. Ortiz managed a desperation takedown midway through but
towards the end of the round, Shamrock worked his way up, soon
threatened with a guillotine and pounded a downed Ortiz with elbows
and hammerfists until Ortiz tapped, ending one of the sport’s
No. 16: Hughes vs. Penn II — UFC 63
When Matt Hughes and BJ Penn fought the first time at UFC 46,
Penn had won as an underdog, capturing his first title. Over two
years later, Georges St-Pierre was scheduled to fight Hughes when
he was injured, allowing Penn to step in as a replacement.
A rematch between the two had always been anticipated, and the
championship at stake only added to the intrigue. As he did in the
first fight, Penn seized control early, shutting down Hughes’
vaunted wrestling game — he stopped his first seven takedown tries
— and battering him on the feet. But Hughes was never really out
of a fight, and everyone knew it.
During a second-round scramble when Penn was trying to take
Hughes’ back, he hurt a rib, and when he came out for the
third, he wasn’t the same. No one knew of his injury at the
time, but he was almost completely out of gas against a fighter who
seemed to have a limitless tank. Almost immediately, Hughes took
over and eventually got the fight to the ground where he trapped
Penn in a crucifix, raining down blows until the referee had to
save Penn. The win evened the series and eventually led to a
No. 15: Condit vs. MacDonald — UFC 115
Carlos Condit needed to be on this list somewhere, didn’t
he? One of the UFC’s all-time fiercest competitors,
he’s been involved in several excellent matches over the
years, but with apologies to his near knockout of Georges St-Pierre
at UFC 154, perhaps none was more thrilling than his June 2010 bout
with wunderkind Rory MacDonald.
At the time, MacDonald was only in his second UFC bout, but he
took it to Condit early with his wrestling advantage, taking him
down three times in the first round alone. In the second, Condit
seemed to solve the wrestling question, but MacDonald still found
success in the standup with his power, but it was the third when
Condit came alive.
Digging deep, he won a scramble and pounded MacDonald from top
position. While the youngster worked his way up, Condit took him
back down and resumed the beating, hammering him with elbows and
punches. Given the first two rounds, it appeared Condit needed a
finish, and time was running low as the exhausted MacDonald just
tried to survive. Finally, as the 10-second warning sounded, it
seemed he would, but Condit’s relentless assault continued,
until it was too much. Referee Kevin Dornan stopped the action with
seven seconds remaining to end a dramatic comeback.
No. 14: Couture vs. Sylvia — UFC 68
In February 2006, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell fought for the
third and final time. Liddell, in the midst of his
light-heavyweight title run, knocked out Couture in the second
round, and afterward, the 42-year-old Couture called it quits.
After doing some acting and fight commentating, Couture got the
itch to compete, and in a surprise, announced he’d return.
Just as surprisingly, he said he would move up in weight to face
the heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia in March, a little over a year
after he’d hung up his gloves. At the time, Sylvia had a 23-2
record and had won six straight fights, leading oddsmakers to paint
him as a 3-to-1 favorite.
Instead, it was Couture from bell to bell. The fight is most
remembered for its opening sequence, which saw the legend drop the
giant with his very first punch of the fight, an overhand right.
For a moment, it seemed as though Couture would finish him in
seconds, but Sylvia was able to hang on, though just barely. The
rest of the fight was a mauling. Couture took Sylvia down seven
times, out-landed him by nearly 100 strikes, and swept the
At the age of 43, Couture had shockingly become the UFC’s
No. 13: Silva vs. Stann — UFC on FUEL TV 8
Every great warrior seems to have one last stand, a moment where
he turns back time and bucks the odds to win.
For Wanderlei Silva, that moment might have come against Brian
Stann at UFC on FUEL 8. Silva had come into the fight losing two of
his last three, with his lone win coming against Cung Le, who was
39 years old and coming off a one-year layoff.
Against the younger, stronger, faster Stann, Silva was deemed
the underdog. After all, there was some question about whether
Silva could take punches the same we he used to, and Stann was best
known for his heavy hands. Silva had also been injury prone.
With that as the backdrop, the first round went almost exactly
as expected. Stann was willing to play SIlva’s berserker
game, but at a faster speed. The played out during a sequence where
Silva dropped him, but Stann immediately jumped back to his feet,
wobbling Silva a few strikes later, then beating him up on the
The pace and style though, was making Silva feel right at home,
and during a frantic second-round exchange, Silva clipped Stann
with a left hook behind the ear, dropping him. In an instant, he
was atop his opponent, dropping right hands to the finish.
The fight turned out to be the swan song for Stann, who retired
No. 12: Leben vs. Akiyama — UFC 116
Chris Leben has always been at his most dangerous when he is
hurt or he is trailing. Basically, whenever the odds seemed most
stacked against him, it never seemed too wise to bet him against
him. And so it was that in July 2010, just two weeks after
defeating Aaron Simpson, Leben found himself back in a UFC Octagon
against Yoshihiro Akiyama. Never before had any UFC fighter
attempted to turn around so quickly, let alone in a high-profile
As the fight began, it seemed that Leben had bit off more than
he could chew, as Akiyama scored three takedowns and won the round.
But as both men began to tire, “Zombie” Leben took
over, the one who won’t seem to die, even when he seems to be
running on nothing. As the fight went on, he began landing the
In the third, with the fight likely tied one round apiece and
hanging in the balance, Akiyama caught a Leben kick and put him on
his back. As Akiyama worked him over with strikes and minded his
position, It seemed like the nail in Leben’s coffin. But
suddenly, he transitioned into a triangle, and with 20 seconds
left, got Akiyama to tap. Against the odds, in a span of two weeks,
Leben had won twice.
No. 11: Sanchez vs. Guida — TUF 9 Finale
Diego Sanchez has had so many wars that they tend to blend
together, but the June 2009 fight with Clay Guida sticks out among
his early days. This was during a time when Guida fought more
recklessly than he does now, leading to a barnburner that lit up
The Pearl at the Palms venue in Las Vegas.
At first, it seemed as though the fight wouldn’t last
long. Sanchez came out in a rush, bloodying Sanchez in the opening
seconds with a hellacious barrage. He continued pouring it on,
dropping Guida with a head kick. Incredibly, Guida survived and of
course, he turned the tables in the second, scoring a takedown and
then ground strikes from the top. After two, they were tied, and it
all hung on the third.
Neither would surrender. While Guida was more active, it was
Sanchez landing the more impactful strikes, and by the time the
final bell rang, it wasn’t quite clear who had won. In the
end, the judges gave a split decision to Sanchez.
No. 10: Jung vs. Poirier — UFC on FUEL TV 3
Nearly every time Chan Sung Jung marches to the Octagon,
something remarkable happens. He’s had two consensus Fights
of the Year. He once authored a seven-second knockout. He has the
only Twister submission in UFC history.
Against Dustin Poirier in May 2012, there was no single feat
that stood out, just a brilliant match between two gutsy
contenders. At the outset, Jung was a lopsided underdog, with the
prevailing thought being that Poirier was too technical for the
usually wild Jung.
It didn’t turn out that way. The fights was equal parts
blood-and-guts and technical brilliance, with striking and
wrestling, submission attempts and escapes. While Jung always
seemed on step ahead, Poirier always managed to escape. At one
point, realizing what he’d gotten himself into, Poirier
winked at the “Zombie,” acknowledging the instant
classic they were creating.
Finally, after catching Poirier with a flying knee against
the cage, Jung caught his opponent with a D’arce choke, which
to that date, had been Poirier’s signature submission. As
befitting of such a regal match, Poirier refused to surrender,
choosing to go out.
No. 9: Melendez vs. Sanchez — UFC 166
Every once in a while, a pairing is announced that just feels
like a natural, whether their styles match, or their is some
pre-existing rivalry, or some other reason. When Gilbert Melendez
and Diego Sanchez were paired off at UFC 166, the immediate
reaction was excitement. The two are both action fighters,
forward-movers who as a rule, bite down on their mouthpiece and
exchange in times of trouble.
Prior to the match, they promised just the same thing, and when
they finally competed, no one left disappointed. The match was
marked by some of the wildest exchanges in recent history, where
each would stand his ground and fire off his best weapon.
After two rounds, Melendez seemed to have the lead, showing the
superior accuracy and bloodying Sanchez. Given Sanchez’s
history, there would be no cruising to a decision.
Showing the heart that’s made him a fan favorite, Sanchez
gritted his teeth, kept moving forward and eventually dropped
Melendez with a right uppercut. Sanchez couldn’t finish, and
Melendez went on to take the decision, but it was just another
pulse-pounding moment in a fight that had many of them.
No. 8: Hughes vs. Trigg II — UFC 52
Rarely is a short story so compelling and so complete as it was
on the night of April 16, 2005 when Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg met
for the second time.
By that point, the two were bitter rivals, having already fought
in 2003. The result of that match was a Hughes’ submission,
but conventional wisdom suggested that Trigg had improved greatly
in the interim and that his wrestling pedigree would offer Hughes
fits this time around. Trigged upped the ante by publicly
insinuating that Hughes was scared to fight him a second time.
When they met inside the Octagon, the fireworks started even
before the fight, as the two went nose-to-nose at the rules
instructions and Trigg feigned a kiss, leading Hughes to shove him.
When the action started, Hughes was hit with a low blow, but the
referee didn’t see it, allowing the fight to continue.
Sensing opportunity, Trigg pounced, hurting Hughes with strikes and
looking to lock in a rear naked choke. From there, you probably
know what happened. In a highlight that has been played infinite
times on UFC reels, Hughes escaped, hoisted Trigg over his
shoulder, ran him halfway across the cage, slammed him to the mat
before turning the tables with a rear naked choke of his own. He,
however, was able to get Trigg to tap, ending it.
The whole thing lasted just 4:05, but the storyline, rivalry and
comeback had observers charged for weeks afterward.
No. 7: Nogueira vs. Couture — UFC 102
When this fight was announced in mid-2009, it just felt right.
For years, Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira were two of
the best heavyweights in the world, and fans hoped to see them
meet. At the time they finally did, Couture was coming off his
title loss to Brock Lesnar, while Nogueira had lost the interim
belt to Frank Mir.
Finally matched, the bout produced the technical masterpiece
that most expected. The fight was filled with twists and turns.
Nogueira knocked Couture down in both the first and third and
locked in an arm triangle in the second, but Couture always managed
to stay in the fight.
The setting was made even more remarkable by the fact that it
took place in Couture’s hometown of Portland, as the locals
attempted to will Couture back into the match. Time and again, they
did, as Couture would never quite fade away.
Some of the match’s best moments took place on the ground
as they jockeyed for position, worked to pass guard, set up and
defended submissions, and reversed each other. In short, it was
exactly what was expected all along, and was considered by many the
best match of 2009.
No. 6: Griffin vs. Bonnar — TUF 1 Finale
At this point, there’s little new to add about the
importance of the TUF Finale 1 fight between Forrest Griffin and
Stephan Bonnar. The UFC’s future on television was uncertain
at the time, and the action and drama of the event, which was the
first live broadcast Spike had done, sealed the sport’s
The fight itself has been debated over time as to its merits as
a great. On one hand, it was no technical masterpiece, but on the
other, MMA was in a different time, and both of them had basically
been part-time fighters until that point.
What the fight did showcase was the will of two men willing to
take themselves to the extreme edges. Pushing through exhaustion
and running on courage, the two went the distance, competing at a
frantic pace. Every time one would score a well-placed strike, it
seemed that the other would quickly answer. They could never catch
their breath, but neither could the audience.
Over three million people tuned in to watch, seeing Griffin win
the TUF title before UFC president Dana White made the surprise of
offering Bonnar a contract as well.
No. 5: Liddell vs. Silva — UFC 79
This fight just needed to happen. Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei
Silva was something fans had been demanding it for years. After
all, for a long time, Liddell was the man in the UFC and Silva was
ruling PRIDE. Along with that, both were seen as throwback
warriors, born fighters with no hesitation of putting themselves in
harm’s way. Conventional thinking was that matching them
together would result in a classic.
Everyone wanted it to happen. At one point during 2006, the UFC
announced that if Silva won an upcoming defense against Renato
“Babalu” Sobral, he would fight Silva, who was still in
PRIDE. The prospect had fans giddy with anticipation, but it never
happened. Even though Liddell won, Silva lost by knockout weeks
later, changing the fight’s trajectory.
It was only after Zuffa purchased PRIDE that it came. By 2007,
Liddell had lost the belt and dropped two straight. In a moment of
synchronicity, it was the same rough stretch suffered Silva,
finally making it the right time. The duo met at UFC 79 and offered
three rounds of exactly what was expected: thrills, chills and
excitement. The old warriors turned back the clock and engaged in
several back-and-forth barrages. In the end, Liddell won a
decision, but the result was almost secondary to the match
No. 4: Edgar vs. Maynard II — UFC 125
Taken as a series, Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard was
MMA’s version of Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward, a matchup of
two well-matched opponents long on skill and guts.
It was fight two that began the legend. Taking place at UFC 125,
an event UFC subtitled “Resolution” to correspond with
the Jan. 1, 2011 date, the bout was the exact opposite, only
leaving the division in disarray.
The bout itself was an unbelievable testament to Edgar’s
heart, playing out like a movie script. For a while, it seemed like
it would be a Maynard rout. He knocked Edgar down three times in
the first, and on each occasion, looked to be a strike or two from
ending. But Edgar wouldn’t stay down.
Then, after that round, which was one of the most one-sided in
UFC history, something crazy happened. Edgar recovered. Nearly
immediately. It was as if Maynard punched himself out and Edgar got
a shot of adrenaline, because Edgar kept coming forward while
Maynard became sluggish and slower.
By the time they finished the fifth, Edgar had somehow come all
the way back to take the lead in overall strikes landed 97-93, but
the first-round 10-8s were too much to overcome. The fight was
ruled a draw, and nine months later, the two would finish the
trilogy in another heart-pounder which saw Edgar win by
No. 3: Silva vs. Sonnen I — UFC 117
Anderson Silva mostly seemed unbeatable. That we knew from his
history, which included wins over strikers, wrestlers, grapplers,
every style, really. So when Chael Sonnen started picking a fight
with him in 2008, no one gave him much of a chance. Sonnen had
failed in title fights in other organizations, but put together a
strong UFC run and ripped Silva at every turn.
After beating Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt back-to-back,
there was nothing from stopping Sonnen of the opportunity to fight
the man he’d tormented for so long, and they met in Aug.
2010, with Sonnen as a huge underdog.
As is his custom, Sonnen charged out and immediately went for a
takedown. He was stopped, but moments later, he surprised Silva
with a big right hand, wobbling the champion. Like that, the fight
turned. For nearly all of the first four rounds, Sonnen was in
complete control, taking the champ down and overwhelming with
strikes. By the end of the fourth, Sonnen had out-landed him 278-54
and was ahead by a lopsided margin on the judges’ scorecards,
40-36, 40-35, 40-34.
The fifth round was do-or-die for the champion, but it seemed
his chances were dashed when the action again went to the ground
with Sonnen on top. But after a quick setup, he trapped Sonnen in a
triangle armbar, earning a dramatic submission win. After the
fight, the legend of his win grew even greater when it was learned
that he’d fought with a broken rib.
No. 2: Henderson vs. Rua — UFC 139
Legendary opponents? Check. High stakes? Check. War for the
ages? Check. All of the ingredients for a classic came together in
November 2011, in an explosion of violence and heart that thrilled
the fight world and led to immediate declarations as the best fight
of all time.
When Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua met at
UFC 139, it was Henderson’s return to the UFC after a brief,
successful run in Strikeforce, whe he had H-bombed three
consecutive opponents, including the great Fedor Emelianenko.
Before the fight, UFC president Dana White said a win was likely
to get the victor a title shot. What followed was five rounds of
action that had jaws dropping in amazement of the will both
combatants displayed. With both throwing steady diets of power
punches, it seemed a matter of time before one would go down. As
the first rounds continued, it seemed that Henderson would seize
control. A massive right hand in the third nearly finished Rua, but
“Shogun” withstood the onslaught and survived. Somehow,
that seemed to energize him, and he took over. Despite his face
being badly bloodied and his eye swelling shut, Rua continued
moving forward, throwing kicks and punches, wearing down Henderson.
In the fifth, Henderson was exhausted, and Rua took him down.
Likely needing a finish to win after Henderson had built up a lead,
Rua emptied his arsenal. He took mount twice, landed punch after
punch, landing 79 strikes in a frantic attempt to finish. Henderson
took everything he could dish out and survived. While most figured
the dominant show would give Rua a 10-8 fifth round and force a
draw, all of the judges scored it 10-9, giving Henderson a slim
Still, the stunning dual display of heart is regarded as
peerless in the UFC canon.
No. 1: Jones vs. Gustafsson — UFC 165
Jon Jones may be on the way to authoring the most dominant
championship run in UFC history, along with one of the outstanding
records the sport has seen. Maybe. In 19 pro fights, Jones had
shown almost no real weaknesses or susceptibility to losing.
He’d only lost a handful of rounds, he’d never been
rocked, never even been taken down.
So when he was matched up against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC
165, he was expected to find the same kind of success. The only
question, it seemed, was whether Gustafsson’s similar height
and reach would offer any real resistance in the striking
department. What a surprise we all were in for, as Gustafsson
established early on that he would be no pushover. The biggest
shock came early on, when he became the first man to take Jones
down, pulling the trick in the first.
Each round from there on was closely contested, with highly
technical striking and both men showing excellent conditioning.
After three rounds, Jones was down on the scorecards, and
Gustafsson seemed on his way to a major upset. But in the fourth,
Jones rallied behind the strength of a spinning back elbow that
wobbled Gustafsson, and he carried the momentum into the final five
minutes, finally scoring his first takedown and emerging with the
The decision has been and probably will continue to be
questioned, but with both fighters still in their respective
primes, an eventual rematch seems a certainty.