CLEVELAND, Ohio – Combat sports are a funny thing. You can witness a dozen boring fights in a row. But all it takes is that one epic battle to hook you. There’s something about two individuals putting their well-being on the line to prove something that inspires and entertains us.
In ranking the 50 greatest MMA fights of all time, I must have rewatched more than 100 epic showdowns. Some aren’t as good as I remember. Others were better. But just about all of them show something inside these men and women you didn’t know was there before the fight began.
From UFC and WEC to Pride and Strikeforce, these are the best MMA battles I’ve ever seen. Your list might be different, but I’d put these classics up against any that barely missed out.
- 1 50. Tony Ferguson vs. Edson Barboza
- 2 49. Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier 2
- 3 48. Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway 2
- 4 47. Abel Trujillo vs. Jamie Varner
- 5 46. Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes 2
- 6 45. Andre Arlovski vs. Travis Browne
- 7 44. Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
- 8 43. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 1
- 9 42. Georges St-Pierre vs. B.J. Penn 1
- 10 41. Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor 1
- 11 40. Roger Huerta vs. Clay Guida
- 12 39. Benson Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone 1
- 13 38. Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar
- 14 37. Dan Henderson vs. Wanderlei Silva 2
- 15 36. Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin
- 16 35. Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann
- 17 34. Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero 2
- 18 33. Matt Brown vs. Erick Silva
- 19 32. Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler 2
- 20 31. Yancy Medeiros vs. Alex Oliveira
- 21 30. Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 1
- 22 29. Mirko Cro Cop vs. Wanderlei Silva 2
- 23 28. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen 1
- 24 27. Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama
- 25 25. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Mirko Cro Cop
- 26 24. Chris Leben vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama
- 27 23. Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit
- 28 22. Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez
- 29 21. Jorge Santiago vs. Kazuo Misaki 2
- 30 20. Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva
- 31 19. Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi
- 32 18. Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo
- 33 17. Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung
- 34 16. Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez 1
- 35 15. Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley
- 36 14. Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida
- 37 13. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 2
- 38 12. Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum
- 39 11. Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson
- 40 10. Zhang Weilli vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
- 41 9. Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi
- 42 8. Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson 2
- 43 7. Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 2
- 44 6. Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua 1
- 45 5. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson 1
- 46 4. Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva 1
- 47 3. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg 2
- 48 2. Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2
- 49 1. Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar
50. Tony Ferguson vs. Edson Barboza
(UFC – TUF 22 Finale, 2015)
There are certain fights you know are going to be great based on the matchup. That was the case when Edson Barboza took on Tony Ferguson in 2015. Ferguson’s relentless pressure would force Barboza to unleash his barrage of powerful strikes at a rapid pace, which Barboza did. But Ferguson kept coming. An illegal kick by Ferguson nearly spoiled things. But Barboza was able to push on and continued to land effective strikes. Still, Ferguson’s pressure, which included several wild Imanari Roll attempts, proved too much. He eventually got his arms around Barboza’s neck and finished him with a D’arce choke. It was a fitting end to a bloody fight that barely allowed either of them (or you) to catch your breath.
49. Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier 2
(UFC 241, 2019)
Comebacks in MMA are always exciting. And when the title of “Baddest Man on the Planet” is on the line, it makes things especially interesting. In their second fight, Daniel Cormier was out to prove his KO wasn’t a fluke and Stipe Miocic was out to prove he was the better fighter. Cormier had his way in the first three rounds as Miocic looked to be in a daze for much of the fight. Whatever Miocic’s corner said to him before the fourth round woke the big man up. A series of body shots visibly slowed Cormier and Miocic knew when to go in for the kill. In just a matter of minutes, the entire heavyweight division flipped back to Miocic, who began his second title reign.
48. Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway 2
(UFC 236, 2019)
Even in defeat, Max Holloway is impressive. His unbelievable pace would make his UFC 236 showdown with Dustin Poirier for the interim UFC Lightweight Championship thrilling. It was clear early on that Holloway’s move up in weight put him at a power disadvantage against Poirier, who was willing to slug away. However, each time Holloway put on a blitz, you were left to wonder if Poirier could keep up. He did. A bloodied Holloway refused to go down. But Poirier won a clear unanimous decision. It was a moving moment for Poirier, who had ridden a rollercoaster ride of wins and losses in the UFC. He finally had a belt wrapped around his waist.
47. Abel Trujillo vs. Jamie Varner
(UFC 169, 2014)
Former WEC Lightweight Champion Jamie Varner’s career resurgence when he joined the UFC in 2012 was fun to watch. He scored a win over Edson Barboza, engaged in a fight of the year bout against Joe Lauzon, and earned a victory against Melvin Guillard. Varner’s comeback looked like it was going to continue in the first round and a half against Abel Trujillo at UFC 169. Varner staggered a young Trujillo early, nearly finishing him with a choke. But Trujillo showed that all it takes is one shot to change things. While exchanging haymakers, Varner went for a big left hand. But it was Trujillo who connected first with a picture-perfect right hand that seemingly came out of nowhere. The fight was over just like that.
46. Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes 2
(UFC 179, 2014)
Long considered one of the best title fights in UFC history, Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes’ rematch at UFC 179 is a bit overrated. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still great. Mendes came in much-improved and showed it right away. But it was Aldo who closed out the first round with a combination that staggered Mendes. Only, it should have cost Aldo a point because it came well after the bell. Mendes seemed to recover, catching Aldo with an uppercut in the third. That was as close as Mendes would come to beating the legendary featherweight. Aldo’s composure was a key to victory. Still, Mendes put a few chinks in his armor; something no one had done in nearly a decade.
45. Andre Arlovski vs. Travis Browne
(UFC 187, 2015)
It took Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne less than five minutes to show us why the heavyweight division is so exciting. And to think these guys were good friends. Arlovski dominated the fight on the feet, hitting Browne with shot after shot, including two backhanded blows that turned Browne into a wobbly mess. It was hard to believe Browne was still standing as he stumbled around the Octagon. Arlovski went in for the kill but left himself open for a roundhouse from Browne that dropped the former UFC Heavyweight Champion. Arlovski recovered and went back to work. Browne still refused to go down. Thankfully, the ref stepped in to end one of the best one-round fights in MMA history that went to Arlovski.
44. Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
(UFC on Fox 29, 2018)
For fans of Dustin Poirier’s recent work (which should be everyone), here is the moment he made the move towards legendary status. A Justin Gaethje fight is fun to watch. But it can’t be fun for his opponent. Gaethje just keeps moving forward, which proved a big problem for Poirier in the first three rounds of their 2018 fight. In the third round of a fast-paced fight, Gaethje could smell the blood coming from a cut he opened above Poirier’s eye. An accidental eye poke by Gaethje slowed the fight’s momentum. But it likely gave Poirier the breather he needed. The Louisiana native came out just seconds into the fourth round and caught Gaethje with a left hand that marked the beginning of the end.
43. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 1
(Pride 25, 2003)
This was not a close fight and certainly not the closest contest in the Fedor Emelianenko versus Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira rivalry. But it’s still something to marvel at. Fedor was on a tear, dominating opponents on his way to a title shot. Nogueira knew he was going to have to take a beating to retain his Pride Heavyweight Championship. And he was willing to do so. Fedor sat in Nogueira’s dangerous guard for nearly all three rounds. He shook off submission attempt after submission attempt while delivering, perhaps, the most brutal display of ground and pound the MMA world has ever seen. These were two men willing to go through hell to be the best. And it showed as Emelianenko cemented himself as the best in the world.
42. Georges St-Pierre vs. B.J. Penn 1
(UFC 65, 2006)
If you’re looking for a more dominant Georges St-Pierre performance, check out his rematch against B.J. Penn at UFC 94. GSP dismantled Penn on that night. But St-Pierre did not look like a winner after the duo’s first fight three years earlier. Penn bloodied and battered St-Pierre, who wore the fight on his face. But Penn’s weak cardio would cost him yet another crucial contest. St-Pierre’s face may have been a mess in the final round. But the soon-to-be future UFC Welterweight Champion knew how to win, something that would, arguably, make him the greatest fighter of all time.
41. Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor 1
(UFC 196, 2016)
Conor McGregor’s first fight against Nate Diaz was one of the most hyped in UFC history, given McGregor’s move up to welterweight and the fact that his opponent was the ever-defiant younger Diaz brother. Up until that point, McGregor followed through on everything he said he would do in the UFC. And in the first round against Diaz, it looked like that trend would continue. However, McGregor’s explosive style and Diaz’s inability to be finished tired the Irishman. Diaz quickly closed in with slick boxing and a rear-naked choke. As a complete fight, the second fight between Diaz and McGregor is slightly better. But the dramatic ending of the first fight was a must-see.
40. Roger Huerta vs. Clay Guida
(UFC – TUF 6 Finale, 2007)
Clay Guida is an animal. He never lays down and never gives up especially when facing the hype train that was Roger Huerta back in 2007. Huerta looked the part of a UFC star and he was no slouch in Octagon either. What was most surprising during Huerta-Guida was just how much better Guida was in the standup game early on. He routinely cracked Huerta with a right hand, including one devasting shot that blindsided Huerta who was trying to stand up. The crowd helps make this fight. Seeing Huerta was like watching a boyband perform, as women appear to be screaming their lungs out. Huerta made them happy, catching Guida with a rear-naked choke to end the fight. This felt like a star-is-born moment for Huerta. However, it wasn’t to be.
39. Benson Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone 1
(WEC 43, 2009)
Watching future UFC stars like Benson Henderson and Donald Cerrone in their younger days in WEC is a treat. And what a fight. Their UFC 43 showdown was billed as a tale of two styles – Cerrone’s kickboxing versus Henderson’s grappling. Not surprisingly, Henderson had the advantage, taking Cerrone down at will for the better part of three rounds. His ground and pound, which saw Henderson creating distance to rain down huge shots, was impressive. Cerrone’s submission attempts kept him in the fight. He appeared to have Henderson finished at least a few times only for the Colorado native to find a way out. Frank Mir’s commentary is exceptional, pointing out how calm and collected Henson looks even when he’s seemingly about to be choked out. Something woke Cerrone up in the later rounds, but it wasn’t enough. Henderson got the win via decision. But you knew these two would be seeing each other again.
38. Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar
(UFC on ABC, 2021)
Too soon? Maybe. But Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar’s battle earlier this year feels like a turning point in MMA. For a long time, wrestling proved the most valuable weapon in the sport. But striking has overtaken it. Holloway’s output during the fight (a UFC record 445 significant strikes) is hard to believe if you didn’t witness it. It’s a display that everyone in the featherweight division (and the UFC as a whole) will have to keep in mind as they go into their next training camp. Of course, the UFC on ABC main event would have just been a dominant beatdown had if not for Kattar’s heart. He was never in this fight. But he certainly wasn’t out of it. It was his chance to step up to the big leagues and he was willing to take a beating to get there.
37. Dan Henderson vs. Wanderlei Silva 2
(Pride 33, 2007)
The first time Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva faced off took place in the middle of a run where Silva owned the Pride promotion. The result was a unanimous decision for “The Axe Murderer” that made it look like Henderson might not be in his league. The rematch was much different. Henderson had already been a Pride Welterweight Champion and was moving up in weight to put a second belt on his resume. Silva was coming off a devastating knockout loss to Mirko Crop Cop. Henderson managed to stagger Silva with a spinning back fist in the third round before putting him down with a big left hook and diving shot that followed. The fight marked the end of Silva’s peak, cemented Henderson as a legend while earning him a ticket to the UFC.
36. Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin
(UFC 116, 2010)
Brock Lesnar was a big box office draw for the UFC. Fans either loved his swagger and uncanny athleticism or they wanted to see him get knocked out. If the latter was your desire, Shane Carwin was your man in 2010. His massive hands and knockout ability earned him the interim title, which he looked to make permanent at UFC 116. It looked like Carwin would make quick work of Lesnar in the first round, a clear 10-8 that saw Lesnar rocked several times. But Carwin made the classic mistake of punching himself out. Lesnar was able to take down Carwin with ease in the second and finished things in dramatic fashion with an arm-triangle choke. It was a big moment for Lesnar, who proved he could withstand adversity inside the Octagon.
35. Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann
(UFC on Fuel TV, 2013)
Brian Stann could have fought a smart fight and probably earned a decision against an aging Wanderlei Silva in 2013. But the U.S. Marine veteran had no interest in that. We would find out after the fight that Stann had already planned to retire afterward. He wanted to go out with a bang and he had the perfect opponent to dance with. Stann went right at Silva, which drew a smile from “The Axe Murderer.” The two would proceed to drop each other multiple times in the first two rounds. Silva was eventually able to nail his timing and get the KO. The fight, which took place in Japan, a place Silva was familiar with from his days with Pride, lent itself to a magical crowd. It was likely the last shining moment in Silva’s MMA career and a ballsy way to go out for Stann.
34. Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero 2
(UFC 225, 2018)
Some of the luster on Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero’s rematch at UFC 225 had worn off before the fight due to Romero missing weight. Still, the two were game to put on a show. The first fight between the two at UFC 213 was close. The second was even tighter. Whittaker was smart in the first two rounds, using his strategic striking to keep Romero at bay. But the tension builds as you waited for Romero, whose right eye was swelling up, to explode. The Cuban delivered with less than two minutes left in the fourth round, rocking Whittaker with a big left and right that followed. Romero took it to Whittaker in the final round with another huge left. Whittaker was barely able to hang on but did so valiantly (with a broken hand no less) until the end, earning a tight decision.
33. Matt Brown vs. Erick Silva
(UFC Fight Night 40, 2014)
There’s no question Erick Silva came into his UFC Fight Night main event wanting to finish Matt Brown early. He just underestimated how difficult of a task that would be. Silva got off to a good start in the first round, hitting Brown with a body shot that staggered the Ohio native. But Brown was able to recover and brutalized Silva with elbows. It would be much of the same for the next two rounds. What kept things interesting was Silva’s ability to occasionally catch Brown with more body shots, making it appear as if the fight could turn at any point. Yet, Brown was finally able to break a bloodied Silva in round three.
32. Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler 2
(Bellator 106, 2013)
There weren’t too many people who thought Bellator Lightweight World Champion Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez could match the quality of their first fight. But the two came extremely close at Bellator 106. Chandler surprised Alvarez with his explosive power in the first fight, which led to a submission victory. Alvarez was more measured in the second fight. Chandler was able to make adjustments with solid wrestling. This all led to an epic final round that saw both fighters nearly fall victim to a rear-naked choke. Alvarez had a little more in his gas tank, but couldn’t finish Chandler. The judges giving the fight and title to Alvarez was highly questionable. Maybe they, like all of us, wanted to ensure a third fight. But it hasn’t happened yet.
31. Yancy Medeiros vs. Alex Oliveira
(UFC 218, 2017)
The way Yancy Medeiros finished Erick Silva at UFC 212, you knew he’d be ready for Alex Oliveira. Though, the latter was still a heavy favorite. The two’s UFC 218 showdown may have gone as expected had Medeiros not landed the perfect shot on Oliveira in the first round. The Brazilian’s nose was shattered with blood pouring out of it all over both fighters. Somehow, Oliveira fought through it to hang with Medeiros as the two took turns rocking each other for two in a half rounds. In the third, Oliveira finally collapsed to the ground from the nose pain leading the referee to step in. UFC 218 had a “Fight of the Night” and we weren’t even done with the preliminary card yet.
30. Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 1
(UFC 47, 2004)
When it came to the hype, nothing in MMA was bigger than Liddell-Ortiz in 2004. The two were essential to the UFC gaining steam as a promotion at a time when MMA was still seen by detractors as human cockfighting. Their story wasn’t hard to sell. Dana White helped bring both Ortiz and Liddell into the UFC. Ortiz climbed to the top of the mountain first but dodged his friend Liddell, who had become the No. 1 contender for the light heavyweight title. At UFC 47, we learned why Ortiz was so hesitant to fight Liddell. Few clips are as essential to UFC history as one of Chuck Liddell’s rapid-fire bombs on a covered up Ortiz until the latter fell into the fetal position.
29. Mirko Cro Cop vs. Wanderlei Silva 2
(Pride Final Conflict, 2006)
The much-anticipated September 2006 fight between Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop marked the end of an era. Silva was Pride’s most unstoppable force. Fans were beginning to wonder if anyone could beat him. Cro Cop ended all that talk with one kick. The beauty of the fight isn’t just the finish. It’s that Cro Cop seems disgusted with the fact that he even has to face Silva. Five and a half minutes into the first round, Cro Cop smashes Silva with his signature left kick. Silva falls to the mat, his head looking like it may be split in half. Cro Cop walks out the ring like it’s business as usual. Just another vicious day at the office.
28. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen 1
(UFC 117, 2010)
For four and a half rounds, the UFC Middleweight Championship fight between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen seems to exist in an alternate reality. At the time, Silva was unquestionably the most dominant force MMA had ever seen. And yet, Sonnen controlled him, taking Silva down with ease. The champ looked like a shell of himself (we would later find out he wasn’t 100%). As the fifth round began, so did Sonnen’s coronation. He was about to do the impossible and beat Anderson Silva. Then reality struck. With just two minutes remaining in the final round, Silva stunning slapped a triangle armbar on Sonnen. Was Sonnen going to tap after dominating the entire fight? Yes, indeed. The legend of Anderson Silva would continue.
27. Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama
(Pride 21, 2002)
Frye versus Takayama is the opposite of a technical showcase. It’s what you might see outside a bar on a Saturday night or in the middle of the WWE Royal Rumble. These two go at each other from the start of the fight, hands clenching each other’s heads and just wailing away. How either of them were still standing after the first 30 seconds is beyond comprehension. They kept at this for six minutes until Takayama made the mistake of trying to take Frye down only to end up on the bottom. Frye finished Takayama, which felt like a show of mercy for both tired fighters.
26. Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje
(UFC 218, 2017)
This is Eddie Alvarez’s Rocky Balboa moment. His battle against Justin Gaethje didn’t move as fast as some of the other fights we’ve seen from the two of them. But at any second, things could explode. A big part of that is Gaethje’s leg kicks, which quickly take a toll on Alvarez. The man known as “The Underground King” could barely stand. But Alvarez kept himself in the fight by hitting Gaethje with brutal body shots. By the third round, they had taken their toll. As Gaethje moved in, Alvarez, swollen face and all, hit his foe with a massive knee. Gaethje went down for good. Alvarez’s climbed up the cage and said something to the crowd through his swollen cheek. It almost sounded like “Adrian!”
25. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Mirko Cro Cop
(Pride Final Conflict 2003)
This is the fight where MMA fans finally learned to never count Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira out. No one gave Big Nog much of a chance when he faced off with the dangerous Mirko Cro Cop at Pride Final Conflict. The first round only confirmed those thoughts. Cro Cop beat Nogueira like the Brazilian wasn’t on his level. It seemed like just a matter of time until Cro Cop finished Big Nog. However, as the second round started, Nogueira scored a lightning-quick takedown. Nogueira quickly worked to an armbar, forcing Cro Cop to tap out. The crowd erupted at the sight of the underdog getting the win. Even Cro Cop looked shocked.
24. Chris Leben vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama
(UFC 116, 2010)
If you wanted to prove to the world that zombies exist, simply show them footage of Chris Leben during the second round of his fight against Yoshihiro Akiyama in 2010. The first round belonged to Akiyama who scored a judo throw on Leben and was able to control “The Crippler” on the ground. But Akiyama had gassed himself out by the start of the second. That led to an absolute brawl – two men standing flat-footed and throwing bombs. No matter how hard Akiyama hit Leben, he just kept coming. Akiyama had nothing left in the third even as he got in top position. “The Crippler” was able to score impressive strikes from the bottom. And, with 20 seconds left, Leben (a brawler his entire career) was able to slap a triangle choke causing Akiyama to tap.
23. Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit
(UFC 195, 2016)
Robbie Lawler’s second run in the UFC is one of the best stretches for any fighter in the promotion’s history. A lot of attention is paid to his rematches with Johny Hendriks and Rory MacDonald. But his fight with Carlos Condit was just as good. Condit rocked Lawler in the first round only for the UFC Welterweight Champion to return the favor in the second round. The extremely close fight builds to a conclusion that finds both fighters giving it everything they have on the feet. The image of Lawler and Condit leaning on the top of the cage in exhaustion as the fight concludes is emblematic of what the fight game was all about. Lawler would take a split decision that could have gone either way.
22. Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez
(UFC 166, 2013)
Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez’s fight at UFC 166 came close to being a simple beatdown. But even when Sanchez is getting worked, he puts on a show. Melendez thoroughly out strikes Sanchez throughout the first two rounds. But Sanchez, who commentator Joe Rogan correctly labels as a “savage,” continues to move forward. The sight of Sanchez with a bloodied face, pounding his chest and telling Melendez to come forward is something to behold. Of course, the final round makes this fight. Sanchez finally catches Melendez with a hard right and takes his back. Melendez gets up only to have Sanchez nearly sink in another submission moments later. The fight ends with both fighters standing toe-to-toe throwing roundhouses. It’s said that UFC president Dana White was running around the Octagon in excitement at the fight’s conclusion. Who could blame him?
21. Jorge Santiago vs. Kazuo Misaki 2
(Sengoku Raiden Championships 14, 2010)
What is a fight at a relatively unknown Japanese promotion doing on this list? It’s Santiago- vs. Misaki 2! This rematch had everything: Two men spending four rounds taking turns pummeling each other. There are too many momentum shifts to count. Just when one fighter looks like he’s about to go to sleep, he reverses things. It’s insane to watch. Santiago finally gets the advantage in the fifth round, dominating Misaki on the ground. You could make the case Misaki was winning the fight. But the beating he was taking was so bad, his corner had no choice but to throw in the towel with just 30 seconds left.
20. Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva
(UFC 79, 2008)
MMA fans waited years to see Pride’s top star Wanderlei Silva versus UFC top dog Chuck Liddell. The fight never happened with both in their primes. Instead, it took place when both fighters needed it most. Both Liddell and Silva were on the downswing of their careers. And they came into their dream fight hungry. You could cut the tension with a knife. And when both finally let the hands go, it’s thrilling – Liddell looking for precise power shots and Silva swinging wildly. Rarely do fights with this much anticipation live up to the hype. But this was an exception. Both fighters had their moments. Liddell got the upper hand and looked to finish Silva multiple times. But Silva wouldn’t relent. As much as any three-rounder in MMA history, this one deserved to go five.
19. Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi
(Pride 33, 2007)
Nick Diaz fought just one time in Pride. But it gave us this instant classic. Takanori Gomi came into the fight overconfident, thinking he would dominate Diaz on the feet and quickly finish things. Gomi lands his shots. However, in the process, he tires himself out and routinely leaves his hands down. Diaz’s swift boxing would take over, stunning the crowd. Gomi manages to put Diaz on his back in the second round. But that’s where Diaz was at his most dangerous. What follows is probably the fasted Gogoplata submission you’ll ever see.
18. Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo
(UFC Live, 2011)
The peak drama between Pat Barry and Cheick Kongo lasts about 30 seconds. But it’s arguably the greatest 30 seconds in MMA history. Barry drops Kongo twice. And after each instance, Joe Rogan declares the fight over. He had reason to? Kongo looked close to death. His brain appears to check out while his body refuses to quit. Barry correctly moves in for the kill only to eat two right hands that send him to the mat. Barry’s eyes roll back into his head, while Kongo walks around the ring victorious. What…just…happened!?
17. Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung
(WEC 48, 2010)
Leonard Garcia had never been in a boring fight and he wasn’t about to start at WEC 48. His fight with Chan Sung Jung is a wild mess in the best way imaginable. For many, it was their first look at Jung, a man known as “The Korean Zombie” for his ability to keep moving forward in the face of heavy punches. He lived up to his name against Garcia, who was winging punches from his hip. Both men are rocked multiple times. Yet, even in a final round that sees both of them exhausted, they continue to throw. Garcia would win a controversial split decision. But both fighters earned respect as the battle would be named Fight of the Year in 2010.
16. Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez 1
(Bellator 58, 2011)
There are times in the first round of Bellator Lightweight World Champion Eddie Alvarez’s first fight with Michael Chandler that both men look like they’re moving in fast-forward. They’re both so lightning quick, it’s hard to comprehend what you’re seeing. Underdog Chandler shockingly takes it to Alvarez, who, at that point, may have been the best lightweight in the world. Chandler’s explosive power is too much for Alvarez to handle as the champ is rocked three times. By the third round, Alvarez seems to have figured things out. Both competitors’ faces are swelling. This all builds to a stunning fourth-round where Alvarez looks like the fresher fighter. But multiple right hands from Chandler change everything, allowing him to jump on a dazed Alvarez and snatch the title via rear-naked choke.
15. Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley
(Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley, 2011)
Given the bad blood heading into Nick Diaz and Paul Daley’s fight in 2011, it wasn’t hard to imagine neither man coming out alive. They hated each other that much. Diaz comes out talking trash, looking in control of the fight from the very beginning even when Daley is throwing bombs at him. But everything changes with a monster left hand from Daley that drops Diaz. It’s clear the fight isn’t going to make it two rounds, let alone five. Daley made the mistake of letting Diaz stand up. The Strikeforce Welterweight Champion was then able to pepper Daley with body shots and head blows. Daley finally collapses, either out of hit or pure exhausted (maybe both).
14. Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida
(UFC – TUF: United States vs. United Kingdom Finale, 2009)
There are two things I’m still not sure about – if the first round between Diego Sanchez and Clay Guida was real and, if so, how Guida managed to remain standing (or alive). Sanchez wastes no time going at Guida in round one, devastating him with punches from every angle. Guida does everything he can to withstand the attack. But Sanchez finds a home for his massive uppercut time and time again. Just when you think Guida has recovered towards the round’s end, he eats a head kick that briefly puts him on his back. It’s astonishing that we even got two more rounds and even more stunning that Guida was able to control both of them on the ground. It should have been a draw. But Sanchez managed to earn a split decision. Still, both fighters earned a trip into the Hall of Fame with this fight.
13. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 2
(UFC 125, 2011)
If you’ve ever wondered how styles make fights, watch Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 2 again. Edgar was the ultimate underdog, an undersized lightweight with great boxing and crafty movement. Maynard, true to his nickname, played the part of the bully who had already defeated Edgar once. By the time UFC 125 rolled around, the two fighters looked like they belonged in different weight classes. So, it was no surprise that Maynard absolutely destroyed Edgar in the first round. It was, perhaps the most dominating round in UFC history that didn’t lead to a finish. Somehow, Edgar withstood it. Not only did he come out for round two, but he was fully recovered. From that point on you marvel at the fact that Edgar is taking control of this fight, even picking up the larger Maynard for a massive slam. Judges were torn after five rounds, leading to a draw. No one likes ties, but this was a fight you had to see to believe just for how it started and how it ended.
12. Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum
(UFC 236, 2019)
When you’re fighting a guy like Israel Adesanya, the most precise striker the UFC has seen since Anderson Silva, you have to shake him early. That’s exactly what Kelvin Gastelum did in the first round at UFC 236. With one punch, Gastelum changed the way we all viewed the fight. Adesanya would return the favor in the proceeding rounds. Heading into the fifth and final round, things were even. That’s when Adesanya shows the heart of a champion, summoning everything he has left in the gas tank to pick Gastelum apart. Credit to Gastelum for remaining conscience. But when Adesanya is inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, the final round of his fight at UFC 236 should be what they show.
11. Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson
(The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale, 2017)
Justin Gaethje’s first fight in the UFC marked the greatest debut the promotion had seen since Anderson Silva destroyed Chris Leben in 2006. Fans unfamiliar with Gaethje’s track record in the World Series of Fighting were in for a treat. Gaethje just keeps coming. It doesn’t matter how much damage he takes or how great the other guy looks. And Michael Johnson looked good in the first two rounds at The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale in 2017. But Gaethje just wouldn’t stop. Johnson matched him blow for blow, rocking Gaethje multiple times. But such a pace is only meant for a few. An exhausted Johnson finally fell victim to Gaethje’s game plan, taking a series of punches and knees until he couldn’t stand anymore. It was a thrilling back and forth fight that never let up. What a debut. What a fight.
10. Zhang Weilli vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
(UFC 248, 2020)
It was tough to only include one women’s fight on this list. Thus, we must acknowledge that several were considered, including Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche at UFC 157, Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate at the TUF 17 Finale, and Tate vs. Holly Holm at UFC 196. But make no mistake, naming the greatest women’s MMA fight of all time is easy. It happened just last year. Zhang Weilli vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk is a slugfest that most men’s fights can’t live up to. Jedrzejczyk’s technical striking stands out early. But Weilli’s power is staggering. By the time she creates a massive (and I mean massive) hematoma on Jedrzejczyk’s head, you’re left wondering how these two women are still standing, let alone still throwing bombs. It was a close fight. But Jedrzejczyk was wearing the losing result on her face. She’s nearly unrecognizable.
9. Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi
(UFC 206, 2016)
Cub Swanson and Doo Ho Choi’s fight at UFC 206 should be viewed as this brutal affair that’s hard to watch. But even with both men getting cracked with punches repeatedly, it’s a lot of fun. Much of that is owed to Swanson, who seems like he’s having the time of his life while engaging in the toughest fight of his career. He even throws a cartwheel kick at one point. Choi, in his mid-20s at the time, could have been a young kid out of his league. He most certainly was not, presenting a smooth boxing style that proved the perfect antithesis to Swanson’s wild creativity. By the end of the fight, both men are wearing the scars of an epic battle. But Swanson still has a smile on his face, knowing he’s won a decision and just put himself in the history books.
8. Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson 2
(Pride 28, 2004)
To understand Wanderlei Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s rematch at Pride 28, you have to understand what happened the first time around. A year earlier, Silva finished Jackson with brutal knees in the first round to win the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. Jackson was going to do everything he could to make sure that didn’t happen again. He got off to a good start, controlling much of the fight with his wrestling while landing a straight right that drops the seemingly invincible Silva. But Jackson’s momentary struggles in the clinch foreshadow how the rematch would end. And what an ending! In the middle of an exchange, Silva grabs the back of Jackson’s head and delivers a series of knees. In the blink of an eye, it’s over and Jackson has collapsed onto the ropes unconscious with blood dripping from his face. Silva runs over to the opposite corner and makes a face into the camera that would frighten the boogie man. This was the scariest man you’d ever seen.
7. Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 2
(UFC 202, 2016)
Talk about drama. Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor’s first fight gave us one of the most shocking endings in UFC history. The Irishman came out in the second fight with a more measured pace, dominating in the same way he did early in the first fight. But as round three approached, the heavy breathing started. McGregor’s cardio was seemingly failing him again. Diaz sees it, pointing to McGregor as a form of trash talk. Ultimately, McGregor would prove why he was a champion. Despite Diaz’s amazing boxing spurts, McGregor would land enough powerful shots to win by decision. The back and forth exchanges between the two would deliver the goods on perhaps the biggest fight in UFC history.
6. Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua 1
(UFC 139, 2011)
There less than a handful of fights in the history of the UFC that I consider true draws. Shogun vs. Henderson 1 is one of them. That’s not to say I blame the judges for giving “Hendo” the decision. This is as hard a fight to score as you will ever see. I can’t easily recall another major fight where there were multiple 10-8 rounds that belonged to each competitor. Henderson dominated Shogun in the first round, at one point unleashing a barrage of punches reminiscent of Chuck Liddell’s destruction of Tito Ortiz. Watching the first two rounds, it’s almost unfathomable to think how dominant Rua becomes later in the fight. This was Henderson’s first fight after beating Fedor Emelianenko, while Shogun was coming off avenging his loss against Forrest Griffin. Both men fought like they needed the win. What they would get was a fight to cement their already impressive legacies.
5. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson 1
(UFC 165, 2013)
Some people have watched the first fight between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson multiple times and still don’t know who truly one. Surely Gustafsson thinks he did enough to win the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. For me, it’s a clear decision for Jones. But the way he got there is what makes the main event at UFC 165 so enthralling. For the better part of three rounds, Gustafsson is a puzzle the great Jon Jones can’t figure out. The champ can’t get a takedown or do much of anything with his punches. But a spinning elbow towards the end of the fourth round changes everything. Had the round lasted a minute longer, Jones would likely have finished Gustafsson. Jones pours it on in the fifth, but Gustafsson’s heart keeps him in it. This was no robbery. Jones deserved to win by decision. But Gustafsson brought arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history to the brink.
4. Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva 1
(UFC Fight Night, 2013)
Both these men should have been dead after this war. That’s what I remember thinking as the first fight between Mark Hunt and Antonio “Big Foot” Silva came to an end on Dec. 7, 2013. It’s the most brutal MMA battle I’ve ever seen. There have been fights with more blood (well, maybe). But I’ve never seen two men this size leave everything in the Octagon. Hunt was the fan favorite, but Silva took the first two rounds with more precise punches and leg kicks. But all that did was awaken the beast. A bruised leg gave Hunt a sense of urgency. From the moment Hunt dropped Silva with a gigantic right, the fight turns into the MMA equivalent of Godzilla versus King Kong. Every blow is massive. At any second it looks like it could be over. Somehow, Silva turned things around in the fourth, leading to one final five-minute round where both men look like they’re on the verge of collapsing. The momentum swings are insane. As is the blood spraying everywhere. Hunt versus Silva 1 isn’t for those with weak stomachs. But it is for diehard MMA fans.
3. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg 2
(UFC 52, 2005)
If you were making a movie and writing a climactic fight scene to close it out, you could do no better than what really happened between Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg in their rematch. Everything about this fight is perfect storytelling. You have the All-American hero in Hughes up against a villain nicknamed “Twinkle Toes.” Trigg gets in Hughes’ face during their faceoff, even blowing the UFC Welterweight Champion a kiss. The bad blood is there, as is the perfect start. The villain Trigg gets the advantage via a low blow the referee doesn’t see. Hughes looks like he’s about to be choked out. Yet, not only does Hughes escape, he picks up Trigg and carries him across the Octagon for a slam before finishing him with a choke of his own. Watching it live, it was hard to believe this wasn’t scripted WWE style.
2. Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2
(UFC 189, 2015)
Everything about Robbie Lawler versus Rory MacDonald 2 feels like an epic fight. It’s the tale of two halves as Lawler takes over in round two, punishing MacDonald with his powerful straight left. Lawler is feeling himself and rightfully so. But everything changes towards the end of the third when MacDonald catches Lawler with a right kick to the head. A shaken Lawler withstands a barrage of punches, elbows, knees and more kicks. The back and forth continues into the fourth round which ends with a bloody stare down between the two. MacDonald’s nose is shattered. Lawler’s lip is split in half. Somehow, Lawler comes out in the fifth on fire, knowing he’s on the verge of losing his title. MacDonald collapses after another left to the nose. He just can’t take the pain anymore. “That was the accumulation of a beatdown,” Lawler said after the fight. “It wasn’t one punch, it was years of fighting right there coming to fruition.” That’s a bad man.
1. Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar
(UFC – TUF 1 Finale, 2005)
For me, it always comes back to this fight. There are times when I think the legend of Forrest Griffin versus Stephan Bonnar is about historical significance rather than the quality of the fight. But then I watch it again (and again). Imagine you’re in the running for your dream job and just one guy is standing in front of you. All you have to do is prove you’re better at the job than he is as everyone looks on. The first season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series was the perfect platform to take MMA mainstream. But it was the fight between Griffin and Bonnar to see who would get a six-figure contract that cemented it all. Watching this fight, it’s truly a three-round masterpiece. These men go to war. They’re fighting for their future and it shows in the nonstop action between two men who leave it all in the Octagon. It’s the most important fight in UFC history and it holds up in every way imaginable. Griffin won. But both he and Bonnar would rightfully receive six-figure UFC contracts. We were all committed to the UFC at that point.