Here’s 50 UFC fights to watch while you wait for sports to start back up
Susumu Nagao/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
By: Edward Carbajal
Published May 19, 2020
The UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts have been around for about 26 years. With the UFC putting on events again after being put on hold, now might be a good time to go back down memory and watch some UFC matches that left a mark in the sport.
Some are rivalries that had fighters face each other a few times, some were just stand out finishes, and some were back and forth battles that are, or will likely be in the UFC Hall of Fame.
In no particular order, here are some of the best matches in the UFC.
1. Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jędrzejczyk UFC 248
In what many are calling the fight of the year for the UFC so far for the year2020, both Zhang and Jędrzejczyk went for five rounds to a split decision for the strawweight title. It was Zhang’s first defense but don’t be surprised if these two see each other again in the octagon.
2. Paul Felder vs. Dan Hooker UFC Fight Night: Felder vs. Hooker
Felder “The Irish Dragon” lost this match but displayed great heart in what a lot of fight fans were ready to give “fight of the year” nods to since it was before UFC 248. While he did lose, both men won over a lot of fans.
3. Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor UFC 196
Diaz has a future as a matchmaker as long as he is one of the men in the match. Coming in as an alternate for UFC 196 against McGregor happened because he called him out. The rest is history.
4. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg 52
A rematch that made it into the UFC Hall of Fame was for the welterweight title. This fight has everything that adds to a fight drama, groin shot, bad refereeing, and a come back win. Worth watching and noting this was a rematch.
5. Matt Serra vs. Karo Parisyan UFC 53
Another match where one fighter seemingly had it won, and things turned into an all-out war for three rounds. One of the best judo players versus jiu-jitsu players in UFC history. Fans of high paced grappling should definitely watch.
6. Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz UFC 66
A rivalry that recently got it’s own ESPN 30 for 30 episode, Liddell and Ortiz were friends turned rivals when it came to the UFC light heavyweight title. The director Micah Brown said, “Chuck & Tito’ is about identity, friendship, and the cost of chasing your dream.”
7. Chuck Liddell vs Randy Couture UFC 43
Grappler versus striker comes up a lot in MMA but the best matchup would happen several times. This is the first between these two that would go for best two-out-of-three, with the grappler in Couture winning this one.
8. Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture UFC 52
MMA fighters are always evolving and Liddell showed that he could evolve better than anyone during his reign as the champ in the UFC. He would avenge his loss against couture and win the next one but this one is where he showed his growth in the sport.
9. Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes UFC 50
St-Pierre became a top welterweight fast in the UFC so when he faced Hughes, he was young, hungry, and inexperienced. A counter submission by Hughes would earn him a victory and would only fuel the competitive fire for St-Pierre to get a rematch.
10. Georges St-Pierre vs Matt Hughes UFC 65
Another example of losses being lessons and fighter evolution. St-Pierre not only avenged his loss to Hughes, but did so in dominant fashion showing that he would not only become the welterweight champion but one of the best in the UFC’s history.
11. Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock UFC 1
Fans of MMA and the UFC know Royce Gracie as the original champion before there were rules. The biggest threat he had in that tournament was Shamrock, whose background in shootfighting made him the only other submission artist on the bracket. Gracie won, but a small rivalry came of it.
12. Tito Ortiz vs. Frank Shamrock UFC 22
“Fight of the Year” in 1999 had a young Ortiz face one of the first men considered to be the definition of a well-rounded mixed martial artist in Shamrock. The brother of Ken Shamrock would be the one to beat Ortiz for the light heavyweight title.
13. Bas Rutten vs. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka UFC 18
Rutten made his name in Pancrase as a three-time champion. There he was not allowed to use closed-fist blows to the head. As a striker, he was able to showcase one of his best combo finishes at UFC 18 with no restrictions.
14. Rory Macdonald vs. Robbie Lawler 2 UFC 189
If ever there were a match where both men left a little of themselves in the cage when it was over this fight was it. Both men beat each other to the final round that had the then champion, Lawler wanting to win more and defend his welterweight title.
15. Chan Sung Jung vs. Yair Rodriguez UFC Fight Night 139
Another war that ends in a spectacular finish. Jung, known for his pressure and seemingly unbeatable drive, gets finished in a move that could only be described as something out of a video game. You have to see it to believe it.
16. Joe Lauzon vs. Jim Miller UFC 155
Two of the Northeast's greatest lightweights go at it for three rounds. Boston's Lauzon versus New Jersey's Miller is a three-round war worth watching. Be warned, this one gets bloody but the sigh of relief from both men makes this one a classic.
17. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen UFC 117
This one is great for a few reasons. One, because it featured Sonnen’s best performance against a world-class champion and two because he came very close to winning. Silva isn’t recognized as one of the best middleweights for nothing.
18. Forest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonner The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale
If you ask the average MMA fan, the ones that were around before the Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey title reigns, they will tell you this is the fight that made them MMA fans. Both men fought for UFC contracts, both got them.
19. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson UFC 165
Jon Jones makes fighting look easy, but it is rare that he finds someone that gives as good as they get. Gustaffson did that in their first fight that went to a decision for Jones and some argued it could have gone the other way.
20. Matt Brown vs. Erick Silva UFC Fight Night 40
Brown’s nickname is “The Immortal” and if one asks why this fight with Silva makes for a good example. Nearly finished more than a few times, these two put everything into this fight. Silva and Brown swang for the fences in this one.
21. Randy Couture vs. Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira UFC 102
When a world-class jiu-jitsu player meets a world-class wrestler, the two are forced to see who has the better striking. It is also a great example of how the varied skill set of each fighter changes as the rounds go on.
22. Maurice Smith vs. Mark Coleman UFC 14
Smith, when he competed he came from the world of kickboxing and had to adapt to the ever-changing world of early MMA. Many fighters that won were submission specialists or freestyle wrestlers but Smith versus Coleman is one where the striker shines.
23. Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton UFC 34
Newton was probably one of the most entertaining grapplers of the early days of MMA. But it’s not that he faced a great wrestler in Hughes’ that makes this interesting, it’s the way that it ends. Officially, Hughes won, but did he really?
24. B.J. Penn vs. Sean Sherk UFC 85
At the time, Sherk and Penn were considered the best lightweights in the UFC. Sherk was stripped of the belt for a doping violation and Penn was there to prove he was the true king of the lightweights. Penn wins in the final round, but the fight is a classic.
25. Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey UFC 207
This match is another example of how fast MMA evolves. Rousey’s return to competition was marketed so much it overshadowed how good Nunes’ had gotten to that point, and still is today. If actions speak louder than words, Nunes proved it in this fight.
26. Dan Henderson vs. Hector Lombard UFC 199
Sometimes, when a fighter starts being looked at as “too old”, they do something to show the difference between old and being experienced. While his next match after this would be his last, he still showed that his power was still there.
27. Frankie Edgar vs. B.J. Penn UFC 112
Penn and Edgar would face each other a total of three times in pursuit of lightweight gold. While all three matches are worth a watch, this is the one that started it. Penn is one of the greatest lightweights in UFC history, but this match was definitely a changing of the guard.
28. Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum UFC 236
This fight is one that Adesanya probably took the most damage in his UFC career while making his way to the title. If there is a blueprint to beating the “Stylebender”, Gastelum built in this match.
29. Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje UFC 218
Gaethje and Alvarez have their own resumes of entertaining fights in the sport of MMA. However, this one is significant because Gaethje was undefeated before facing “The Underground King” in Alvarez. It would be a “fight of the night” for the event.
30. Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale
Gaethje’s first fight in the UFC coming from another promotion where he left as champion. Fans unaware of why he is called “The Highlight” found out in this fight. Since, win or lose Gaethje has claimed “fight of the night”, or “performance of the night” bonuses.
31. Israel Adesanya vs. Anderson Silva UFC 234
Silva, the legend and former champ versus Adesanya, an up and coming soon to be champ after this event. Two very good MMA strikers faced off and while Adesanya won by unanimous decision, some argue he did not win every round.
32. Jon Jones vs. Mauricio Rua UFC 128
Jones will likely go down as one of the most dominant light heavyweights of all time. Currently, his only loss is a disqualification from early in his career, but this fight is where he became champion.
33. Michael Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold UFC 199
What makes this fight special is the fact that it was one Bisping took on short notice against someone who beat him before. He was not supposed to win with only 17 days' notice and seemingly at the end of his career but he did.
34. Brian Stann vs. Wanderlei Silva UFC on Fuel TV: Stann vs. Silva
Wanderlei Silva fighting in Japan is a throwback to the days of Pride Fighting Championships (Pride FC). The UFC purchased Pride FC so this event in Japan was symbolic of the change, but Silva’s win echoed a phrase only the hardcore fans know, “Pride never die.”
35. Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic 1 UFC 226
Cormier will likely go down as one of the greatest heavyweights and light-heavyweight champions in the UFC. This is the fight where he picked up his first UFC heavyweight title from one of the longest-running heavyweight champs in Miocic.
36. Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic 2 UFC 241
A great example of never settling, Miocic refused any other fights until he would get his rematch against Cormier. The second time seemed to almost go the way the first did, but Miocic would turn it around in the rematch.
37. Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou UFC 220
Ngannou was being pushed as the next big thing. So much so, marketing would have fans think he was going to beat Miocic for the title. However, they would be wrong as Miocic somehow avoided the power of Ngannou to get the decisive victory.
38. Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar UFC 121
Lesnar was not the first pro-wrestler to come into MMA, but he was the first to come in and win the title in a short time. Velasquez put an end to that when he faced him and won the heavyweight title.
39. Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos 2 UFC 155
Velasquez and Dos Santos would face each other a total of three times. However, the second bout is the best example of how heavyweight MMA differs from the weight class in other combat sports. Velasquez won two, out of the three matches.
40. Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia UFC 68
In this fight, Couture showed that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Couture was the older man in the match up but somehow, the wrestler brought some new boxing technique into this fight against Sylvia. He won by decision.
41. Phil Davis vs. Tim Boetsch UFC 123
Both men were touted as UFC prospects at the time and coming off of their own respective win streaks in MMA. Both men had strong wrestling backgrounds but Davis’ athleticism is put on display in this match.
42. Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture UFC 129
Machida is one of a few karate based fighters in the sport of MMA. That is significant in this fight because of the move he uses to finish the former champ. Only seen in the 1984 film, The Karate Kid Machida scores the knock out with a “crane kick.”
43. Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva UFC 162
Weidman tore his way up to the UFC and an eventual title fight with Silva. After the long reign in the middleweight division for Silva, Weidman would end it and become champion. He would defend it in the rematch as well.
44. Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington UFC 245
The fight is rewarding in more ways than one if you look at the build-up to it and the eventual result. However, outside of the trash talk and political antics that lead up to the fight, the fight itself is great. The outcome just makes it greater.
45. Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo UFC 227
The flyweight division in the UFC is where the little guys get their time to shine. Johnson shined as the champ for almost seven years. He lost the title to Cejudo in this fight via split decision, which means not everyone thought he lost.
46. Henry Cejudo vs. Marlon Moraes UFC 238
Cejudo showed in this match the reason Olympic gold medalists are different from other athletes. He went in against a very tough bantamweight in Moraes and won. Later, fans would find out Cejudo injured himself days before and was still able to win.
47. Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barbosa UFC on ESPN 2
Gaethje was already back in the win column in this fight against another fighter known for devastating leg kicks in Barbosa. As predicted, there was a point where both men just fired away at each other's legs, but it would be Gaethje that won that battle and the fight.
48. Rafael dos Anjos vs. Anthony Pettis UFC 185
It is the first fight that dos Anjos would go five rounds in and what makes it significant is that he won the title from Pettis, who had been enjoying his time as the lightweight champion. It’s a methodical fight worth a look.
49. Nate Diaz vs. Kurt Pellegrino UFC Fight Night 13
This is a fight that has a particular highlight that runs in any marketing for a Nate Diaz fight. The fight itself was a true test for a young Diaz still making his way in the UFC. Pellegrino was the aggressor, but Diaz pulled off a very famous win.
50. Roger Huerta vs. Clay Guida The Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale
In 2007 it was absolutely the fight of the year. Constant attacking from both men with a finish nearly coming for Guida. Somehow, in the third round, Huerta was able to reverse a position and score a submission victory but nearly lost before that.
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