In the UFC’s 20-year history, there have been far over 800
knockouts, so attempting to pick the 20 best was no easy feat.
There were KO’s stemming from slams, back fists, even spin kicks.
In other words, there was no shortage of contenders, but here is a
collection of the most amazing, the most unique and the downright
#20: Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton – UFC
In the fall of 2001, after 32 pro fights and a seven-fight win
streak, Matt Hughes was ready for a UFC welterweight title shot,
which came against Carlos Newton at UFC 34. In a way, the fight was
personal for Hughes, since Newton had just won the belt from his
friend and trainer Pat Miletich.
By that point, Hughes’ style was already well-established.
His goal was to get the fight to the ground and look for strikes or
submissions. Newton, who at that point of his career had eight of
his 10 wins by submission, was more than happy to oblige him on the
mat, but in this fight, it would be how the fight got there that
would become so memorable.
Midway through the second round, as Hughes was working the top
position, Newton trapped him, locking in a triangle. Hughes’
first instinct was to lift Newton, and he picked him up and walked
him over to the cage. Newton hooked his arm around the cage, but
referee John McCarthy quickly made him remove it, and Newton
instead used his hand to pull Hughes’ head in and tighten the
hold. As Hughes later told it, he was feeling the choke, and in a
last resort, slammed Newton down to the mat. Newton was instantly
knocked out, but amazingly, the force of the blow combined with the
choke also left Hughes dazed. While McCarthy checked on Newton
though, Hughes regained his faculties. Surprise came over his face
as he realized he had KO’d Newton and won the title.
#19: Brad Kohler vs. Steve Judson – UFC 22
Both Brad Kohler and Steve Judson had fairly undistinguished UFC
runs during the UFC’s early days. In fact, both men fought
only twice in the Octagon, but it was their Sept. 24, 1999 fight
together that produced a moment that has survived the test of
The two heavyweights were part of a historic card that featured
Frank Shamrock against Tito Ortiz in what would be one of the
sport’s first truly great contests. That fight would last
nearly 20 minutes. Kohler and Judson would only need 30 seconds to
do their business.
Kohler looked like a bodybuilder, short, stocky and muscular.
Early on, he tried to get the fight to the ground, but Judson got
back to his feet. Kohler reset in the center of the cage, bouncing
on his feet, cocking his right hand back and stepping into a
vicious right cross. Unfortunately for Judson, at that exact
second, he decided to step forward and leaned right into the path
of the incoming punch. Judson was unconscious before he hit the
mat, falling forward like a freshly cut tree.
#18: Gary Goodridge vs. Paul Herrera – UFC 8
After winning an arm wrestling championship in 1995, Gary
Goodridge decided to set his sights on something bigger. His
friends talked him into trying No Holds Barred fighting, and so
Goodridge decided to go right to the top. Having no idea how to
participate one day Goodridge simply dialed the UFC’s
merchandise hotline and asked who he needed to speak to in order to
fight. He was soon transferred to matchmaker Art Davie, and by the
end of the phone call, he was entered into UFC 8.
At the time, when it came to the participants’ fighting
histories, Davie took fighters at their word. In order to do some
type of preparation, Goodridge, who had no previous martial arts
knowledge, visited a school that taught the Korean martial art Kuk
Sool Won. After Goodridge easily beat up the school’s best
fighter, they agreed to give him a gi and a fourth-degree black
belt for the competition.
When Goodridge arrived at the event site in Puerto Rico, he and
his team happened to visit the beach and spied his opponent Paul
Herrera practicing the same takedown move repeatedly. They spent
the night practicing a counter. Sure enough, when the action
started, Herrera immediately went low. Goodridge, prepared, quickly
trapped him in a crucifix. Herrera was helpless, and Goodridge
quickly elbowed him into oblivion, landing eight unanswered shots
to the head before ref John McCarthy could pull him Goodridge off
his limp opponent.
#17: Yves Edwards vs. Josh Thomson – UFC 49
Back in August 2004, Yves Edwards and Josh Thomson were the two
best lightweights in the UFC. However, at the time they were
matched up, they were fighting for nothing other than pride. The
UFC’s 155-pound belt was in storage, and in fact, the
Edwards-Thomson fight would be the last UFC lightweight fight for
nearly two years. Still, many people considered the fight the
In the early going, Thomson flashed his wrestling skills by
taking Edwards down, and looked to take Edwards’ striking
away by crowding him. He was effective in that tactic until they
restarted with about one minute left in the first. Soon after,
Edwards took Thomson’s back standing and slammed him down.
Thomson got back to his feet and simultaneously worked to break
Edwards’ grip while running away. Edwards still had control
for a few steps but as his grip broke, two things happened
simultaneously: Thomson threw a back fist, and Edwards threw a head
kick. Only the latter of the two landed, and Thomson went down in a
heap. Edwards landed a few cursory ground punches but it was
#16: Pete Williams vs. Mark Coleman – UFC 17
In May 1998, Mark Coleman, fresh off his UFC heavyweight title
loss, was scheduled to face Randy Couture, until a Couture injury
derailed the matchup. Instead, Lion’s Den fighter Pete
Williams stepped up on short notice. As always for a Coleman
opponent, it was incumbent on Williams to stop the takedown and
avoid any significant ground damage. Since Williams had never
beaten an opponent of any real renown, the odds seemed stacked
Early on, Coleman was able to take Williams down but Williams
was largely able to avoid significant damage. The same dynamic
continued as time wore on, and soon, the 12-minute regulation ended
with no winner.
That set up a three-minute overtime round. From the outset of
it, it was clear Coleman was exhausted, as he stayed in his corner
as Williams marched him down to start the round. Coleman tried a
desperation takedown but was stuffed. As Coleman got up, Williams
fired off a knee that just missed. Coleman immediately shook his
head as if to say there was no contact. A beat later, Williams
pointed to his own head, as if to say something upstairs was
coming. Then, he did it again. And a moment later, Williams fired
off a kick that knocked Coleman silly. It was as if he called his
shot, sealing his upset. The headkick KO was the first of its kind
in UFC history.
#15: Rashad Evans vs. Sean Salmon – UFC Fight Night
When Rashad Evans came to the UFC as a cast member on season 2
of The Ultimate Fighter, he did so as a pure
wrestler who showed little in the way of other skills. That,
however, quickly began to change as he began to show the promise
that would later make him a UFC light-heavyweight champion.
In short order, his hand became dangerous and then his feet did
as well. The first taste we got of Evans as a fully formed fighter
came at UFC Fight Night: Evans vs. Salmon.
At the time, Salmon, a former collegiate wrestler, was 9-1, and
making his UFC debut. It was believed that wrestling experience
could challenge Evans, and in the first, he took Evans down twice
and out-landed him. But in the second, it all came crashing down.
In a clip that has been played thousands of times since, Evans
measured him and crushed him with a head kick that sent Salmon
crashing backwards, unconscious. The impact was so powerful that
Salmon lay on the mat for three minutes before eventually being
stretchered to the hospital.
With the knockout, a star was born.
#14: Tank Abbott vs. Steve Nelmark – UFC Ultimate Ultimate
David “Tank” Abbott was no technical master, but
what he lacked in finesse, he made up in power. Abbott, who had no
formal fight training at the time he entered the UFC, was dubbed a
“pit fighter,” a term made up by SEG management that
was made to sound cool but in reality meant nothing. In short
order, Abbott became one of the UFC’s first stars, a brawler
with the power to knock out anyone with one punch, if only he could
Coupled with his aggressive demeanor and grating personality, he
was a must-see. In Dec. 1996, Abbott participated in a one-night
tournament, and after winning his first-round match, it was his
semifinal which would be remembered for its savage finish. Abbott
was originally supposed to fight Ken Shamrock, but Shamrock injured
his hand in his own first-round match, so in stepped alternate
The ensuing match would last just 63 seconds. Abbott mauled
Nelmark against the fence, finally landing a right hand behind the
ear. Nelmark crumbled, crashing down backwards, folding up like a
pretzel with his feet up against his back and his head lying
sideways against the fence. To this day, it is one of the most
devastating and scariest looking knockouts the UFC has ever
#13: Matt Serra vs. Georges St-Pierre – UFC 69
In time, it’s almost been forgotten that Matt Serra earned
a welterweight title shot by winning a reality show. It was season
four of The Ultimate Fighter which pooled together a
group of fighters who were UFC journeymen who’d never
experienced the upper rungs of MMA.
Serra was no different. Nearing 32 years old, he’d fought
eight times in the Octagon, winning four and losing four. During
TUF, Serra came across as a star, funny and bold and unwilling to
back down, and he eventually won the season, beating Chris Lytle in
the final. That set up a title match with Georges St-Pierre, who as
many had predicted, had ascended to the top of the division after
vanquishing Matt Hughes. It was believed that a long title run was
in the offing for St-Pierre, who was installed as a massive 10-to-1
At that point of his career, Serra had never knocked anyone out,
and it was believed his only chance to win was by submission, but
since GSP was so well schooled on the ground, the odds seemed
almost nil. Still, Serra told anyone who’d listen he was
going to shock the world. He did. Three minutes in, he drilled
St-Pierre behind the ear, and the champ’s equilibrium was
Sensing history, Serra went in for the kill, dropping the champ
after two right crosses. St-Pierre wobbled back to his feet but
Serra patiently stepped back and found his jaw again, this time
sending St-Pierre falling backwards. Serra then stepped over him
and battered GSP with ground strikes, finishing him and becoming
the unlikeliest champion in UFC history.
#12: Cheick Kongo vs. Pat Barry – UFC on Versus
It took only 2:39 for Cheick Kongo and Pat Barry to craft both a
classic comeback and knockout in the same
fight. The UFC heavyweights were thrust into the night’s main
event after scheduled headliner Nate Marquardt was pulled from the
show at the last minute.
Just less than halfway through the first round, Barry drilled
Kongo with a right hook, knocking the Frenchman to his back. Barry
swarmed with strikes, even dropping him again with another right
hook, but ref Dan Miragliotta saw enough from Kongo to allow him
more time. Against the offensive, Kongo got back to his feet and
wobbled back towards the fence. Barry stalked him there, and as
Kongo ran out of space, he planted his back foot and landed a
thudding overhand right. The punch rocked Barry, and Kongo
instantly followed with an uppercut that folded Barry backwards for
a shocking and shockingly fast knockout.
#11: Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin – UFC
By August 2009, fight fans had a pretty good idea of just how
great Anderson Silva was. He was already 10 fights into his
historic tear, had steamrolled Rich Franklin, finished Dan
Henderson and even gone up to light-heavyweight and won there.
But Silva needed a challenge, UFC president Dana White had
decided after Silva cruised his way through a title defense against
Thales Leites, and so he offered up Forrest Griffin, a former
light-heavyweight champion and action fighter who would come
forward while refusing to let Silva rest.
The result was nothing short of shocking. Not because Silva won;
he was favored after all, but how he did it. He clowned Griffin,
avoiding nearly everything he threw. According to FightMetric,
Griffin landed only 4 of 43 strikes. Meanwhile, Silva threw with
his typical precision and power. He landed 13 of 25. Despite that
minimal output, he knocked Griffin down three times, finally
finishing him on a step-back right cross that left his opponent
splayed across the canvas.
#10: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Wanderlei
Silva – UFC 92
The bad blood between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and
Wanderlei Silva had spanned five years, 5500 miles and two
In Pride, Jackson and Silva had fought twice, with the matches
ending the same way, with Silva knockouts. The second bout, which
took place in Oct. 2004, ended with one of the most famous
KO’s in MMA history, with Silva grabbing a clinch and kneeing
Jackson into unconsciousness, and Jackson falling face-first onto
the second rope.
The feud between them never really calmed down, and in the
leadup to their third fight, which was scheduled for Dec. 2008,
Jackson’s camp insinuated that Silva might have used steroids
while fighting in Pride.
By the time they fought, the tension was palpable. The two
nearly got into it at the weigh-ins, and the fight itself
wouldn’t last much longer. Showing the improvements
he’d made since Pride, Jackson showed off a tighter, sharper
striking game. That fact was punctuated during the fight-finishing
sequence, when both fighters threw left hooks but Jackson’s
slammed off Silva’s chin first, knocking him out. For good
measure, he landed a crushing right hand before ref Yves Lavigne
could step in.
#9: Lyoto Machida vs. Rashad Evans – UFC 98
Quickly moving from one-dimensional striker to dangerous
knockout artist, Rashad Evans had captured the UFC
light-heavyweight championship after finishing Forrest Griffin. In
his first title defense, he faced a man who at the time was
considered the UFC’s most unique and puzzling fighter.
Lyoto Machida combined patience, technique and accuracy in
romping towards a title shot. It is often forgotten that at the
time Machida and Evans met, both were still unbeaten, with Machida
a perfect 14-0 and Evans 15-0-1. No one quite knew how the match
would play out, but Machida went off as a slight favorite.
Predictably, the duo played a patient game early, neither too
willing to commit. But the tide changed towards the end of the
first when Machida landed a left that dropped Evans.
That first knockdown was just a taste of what was to come. In
the second round, during an exchange, Machida got off a straight
left that dropped Evans to a knee. Evans lunged for a takedown, but
a Machida left hook sent him to his back. Machida swarmed with
ground strikes, but Evans valiantly rose to his feet once, then
twice, looking for space and safety. But Machida was not about to
let him recover. He followed him into the corner with a barrage. A
right hook landed flush, and while Evans managed to stay on his
feet, he was quickly becoming target practice.
Out of either desperation or instinct, Evans again tried to
initiate a clinch. But as he came forward, Machida deftly side
stepped him and fired off a left hand that landed under
Evans’ chin. It was as if he hit a power-down button, because
Evans’ body shut off. His head followed gravity straight
down, but since his feet were a bit in front of his torso, as he
collapsed downward, his backside landed first and his head snapped
back and to the ground.
In a most terrifying way, the Machida era had begun.
#8: Rich Franklin vs. Nate Quarry – UFC 56
During the UFC’s buildup in the mid-2000s, booking was
often done with smoke and mirrors. Often, contenders came out of
nowhere, rising up to a title fight after just one or two wins. In
other instances, a contender was just not ready for the opportunity
he was given.
That was probably the case in the instance of UFC 56, which saw
Quarry fast-tracked to a title shot despite only three wins,
including one in the TUF 1 Finale. Quarry, however, had excellent
knockout power, and so there was interest going into the fight even
though Franklin was considered the prohibitive favorite.
Quarry upped the ante before the fight by saying, “Rich
Franklin has a weak chin and I have heavy hands.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, Franklin
floored Quarry early on, and while Quarry managed to survive it and
muscle his way back to his feet, right around the mid-point of the
first round, Franklin stepped over a lazy jab with a heat-seeking
left that put Quarry’s lights out.
Quarry’s fall to the mat was almost cinematic. His hands
were a bit outstretched by his sides and his stiff body rocked
backwards before he fell to his back, knocked out.
#7: Scott Smith vs. Pete Sell – TUF 4 Finale
Scott Smith and Pete Sell were two fighters just hoping for a
second chance when they competed on season four of The Ultimate Fighter, which was dedicated to
UFC fighters who’d had a previous opportunity but never
really caught on.
Neither did particularly well in the tournament. Smith was
submitted in the quarterfinal round while Sell won once but then
lost his next matchup. Still, they were given an opportunity to
participate on the show’s finale, which took place on Nov.
11, 2006. What followed was one of the great single-punch comebacks
in MMA history.
The fight itself was highly competitive, with the two big
punchers trading leather. Smith dropped Sell in the first with an
overhand right but wasn’t able to close him out. In the
second, things were trending Smith’s way when Sell drilled
him with a left hook to the ribs. Backed up by the force of the
punch, Smith immediately doubled over in pain, clutching his
mid-section. Seeing this, Sell ran in for the finish. As he wound
up for the fight-finisher, Smith fired off a short, straight right
that landed right on the chin and put Sell out.
In one punch, Smith had gone from vanquished to victor. The win,
however, did not make his ribs feel any better. Even in victory, he
crumbled to the mat in pain.
#6: Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture – UFC 129
Some knockouts are made bigger by the setting. In April 2011,
after years of campaigning to sanction MMA in Ontario, the province
had finally acquiesced. The market was bubbling over with
anticipation for an event, and the UFC attempted to satisfy the
demand, booking the cavernous Rogers Center.
On fight night, 55,724 fans showed up to a mega-card that
included two title fights as well as the last fight of legend Randy
Couture, who announced he would retire after his match with Lyoto
Machida. At the time, Couture was just two months shy of his 48th
birthday, but he’d gone so far past the normal limits of
athletic performance that it seemed imposssible to believed
He could not have gone out with a more difficult opponent.
Always a cerebral fighter, fighting the innovative Machida seemed
the perfect foil.
Early on though, the trend began in Machida’s direction,
and it never really moved back Couture’s way. As so many
others had experienced against Machida, Couture couldn’t
score a takedown and had trouble closing the distance. Finally,
just one minute into the second, Machida seemed to have Couture set
up for anything.
What came next was nearly improbable. Machida used a crane kick.
Yes, the same technique used in “Karate Kid,” the one
that it was believed to be impossible to land against a real MMA
fighter in a real fight. He faked with his left leg, then threw his
right leg straight down the middle. The blow landed clean, and
Couture’s night and career were both over.
#5: Rashad Evans vs. Chuck Liddell – UFC 88
If there was ever a single moment in time where everyone
realized that Rashad Evans was a championship caliber fighter, it
came on Sept. 8, 2008, when he faced Chuck Liddell in Atlanta.
At the time, Liddell was coming off his 2007 Fight of the Year
with Wanderlei Silva, and despite losing twice in the calendar
year, the turn-back-the-clock effort against “the Axe
Murderer” gave observers reason to believe that Liddell could
still be a factor in the division.
Evans, meanwhile, was coming off back-to-back controversies. In
his first real step up, he’d fought to a draw with Tito
Ortiz. Then, months later, he’d narrowly defeated Michael
Bisping in a split-decision.
Evans entered as a moderate underdog, with most believing his
best route to victory being wrestling and ground work. But Liddell
had flashed such strong impressive takedown defense in his career
— 81% — that it seemed a long shot.
Early on, Evans seemed tentative with his standup, but
curiously, he never attempted a takedown, content to match
firepower with “the Iceman.” Liddell kept coming
forward, stalking Evans, until finally, with his back near the
fence, Evans pumped out two left jabs and then a tracer, an
overhand right that landed just before a Liddell uppercut.
Liddell crashed down on his right side, ref Herb Dean rescuing
him from any further assault as Evans celebrated the win that would
make him the division’s top contender.
#4: Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort – UFC 126
When Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort met in Feb. 2011, it was
quickly dubbed “The Fight of the Century” in Brazil.
For a long time in the country, it was Belfort who was the bigger
star, an early UFC fixture who married a famous model. But as the
sport began its resurgence in the nation, it was Silva on top as
the middleweight champion and torchbearer. In the eyes of the
country, though, he still needed to defeat Belfort.
It had been a long time since Silva fought a dangerous striker
who was anywhere close to his level. Sure he’d fought
heavy-handed punchers like Patrick Cote and James Irvin, but
neither had the hand speed to keep up. Only Dan Henderson could
rival his power and danger. But Belfort had both speed and the
ability to finish a fight with one strike.
It was with that backdrop that they met in Las Vegas, with a
huge Brazilian media and fan contingent turning the show into a
party. As the fight began, the buzz was surpassed only by the
tension in the arena. For the first few minutes, both men seemed
tentative to throw anything. But then, that was always
And then, it was as if he suddenly had all the information he
needed. With no windup, he fired off a front kick that drilled
Belfort under the jaw, collapsing his body underneath him. A few
ground strikes later, and the “Fight of the Century”
was over after less than four minutes.
#3: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Mirko Cro Cop – UFC 70
Even before UFC parent company Zuffa bought Pride, there were
hints the Japanese promotion was in trouble. One of them was when
the UFC signed Mirko Cro Cop away. At the time, Cro Cop was coming
off back-to-back finishes of Josh Barnett and Wanderlei Silva, and
had turned down an offer to rematch Fedor Emelianenko in favor of
signing with the UFC.
In his first fight he won a first-round TKO over Eddie Sanchez,
and it seemed he’d need only one more win to fight for the
belt. Next, he was matched with Gabriel Gonzaga, a brutish
Brazilian who was mostly known for his ground game.
Early on, Gonzaga caught a Cro Cop kick, took him down and was
able to control him on the mat and land solid strikes from the top.
As the round neared an end, referee Herb Dean stood the two back
up, but Cro Cop seemed tentative. Suddenly, just as the 10-second
warning was about to sound, Gonzaga unleashed Cro Cop’s
signature strike against him, using a high kick that caught Cro Cop
flush and dropped him awkwardly but decidedly.
#2: Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim – UFC 142
Up until January 2012, it was believed that spin kicks were
mostly for show, mostly useless in a real fight. The danger was
that as you spun, you left your back unguarded for a sneak attack
by opponent, and that you lost your line of vision. The kicks were
also considered fairly low percentage, and not worth the risk.
And then came the night of UFC 142.
Edson Barboza had always been a flashy standup fighter with
fast, precise strikes and a style that was heavy on kicks. In fact,
at one point of his career, he’d knocked out two consecutive
opponents just with leg kicks. Barboza had won three fights in a
row when he took a fight in his home city, Rio, against Terry
Most of the first two plus rounds mostly went Barboza’s
way, as he chopped down Etim’s lead leg. The low attacks
likely reset opponent’s vision, because Etim never saw what
was coming. As he walked forward, Barboza pivoted his left hip
inward and wheeled around with right leg high. His heel caught Etim
flush on the right temple. The crushing kick sent him crashing
backwards, still rigid and in the same stance he’d held while
standing. Thankfully ref Dan Miragliotta was already running in to
save him by the time Etim hit the ground, and all that was left was
a Rio celebration for the victor.
#1: Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping – UFC
There may have more spectacular knockouts, more significant ones
or even more unique ones than the one that lit up Las Vegas on July
11, 2009, but there’s none that combined rivalry, setting and
result like Dan Henderson’s vaporizing of Michael Bisping at
The two had been paired off as coaches on season nine of The Ultimate Fighter, which featured Henderson
coaching a U.S. team and Bisping at the helm of a U.K. team. During
the season, Henderson constantly found himself annoyed by things
Bisping said or did, and he constantly noted how much he disliked
him. A few weeks before the fight, Bisping noted Henderson had
never been KO’d and that he’d like to be the first to
do it. Because this was a period in time where most fans hated
Bisping, most of the MMA world was rooting for Henderson.
At various points of the fight, it was noted that Bising was
circling to his left, right into Henderson’s power hand, and
that he playing with fire. Eventually, he got burned. Henderson
kept forcing him in that direction by throwing a left jab, and
finally, he stepped into a tracer of a fight hand that had all of
his weight, all of his power, all of his pent-up anger in it. It
landed flush, and Bisping dropped for a mat nap. Still hopped up on
the moment, Henderson went airborne to land the postscript on an
already downed Bisping. It was brutal and final.