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 best.
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 time.
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 unofficial championship.
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 over.
#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 against him.
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.
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 2
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 land it.
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 Steve Nelmark.
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 seen.
#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 favorite.
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 clearly affected.
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 4
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.
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.
The bad blood between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Wanderlei Silva had spanned five years, 5500 miles and two organizations.
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 him.
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 Silva’s M.O.
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 Etim.
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 100
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 UFC 100.
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.