The UFC’s first 132 events have given us over 15 years worth of legendary battles, shocking finishes, and historic debuts. With UFC 100 coming up on July 11th, we decided to do some digging and pick out the 10 most monumental events of all time. So join us as we step into the way-back machine…
Notable fights: Tito Ortiz vs. Wes Albritton, Randy Couture vs. Tony Halme, Randy Couture vs. Steven Graham, Vitor Belfort vs. Tank Abbott
Lowdown: It may have seemed like just another night of cage-fighting at the time, but we now look back on “Ultimate Force” as the event that gave us the debuts of three enduring legends: Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, and Joe Rogan. In addition to the main-event slugfest between Vitor Belfort and Tank Abbott (which the Phenom won by TKO in 53 seconds), Lucky #13 featured a four-man “lightweight” tournament for fighters below 200 pounds, and a heavyweight bracket for 200+ pounders
Just 22 years old at the time, Tito Ortiz made it to the lightweight finals after crushing Wes Albritton with ground-and-pound in a show-opening alternate bout; unfortunately, he later succumbed to a guillotine choke by tournament winner Guy Mezger. Randy Couture was more successful. The former collegiate wrestling standout and U.S. Olympic team alternate swept the heavyweight tourney by choking out Tony Halme and stopping Steven Graham via strikes. And yes, the dude from NewsRadio was handling backstage interview duty — who knew he’d turn out to be the most insightful and entertaining commentator in the sport?
#9: UFC 79: Nemesis
12/29/07; Las Vegas, Nevada
Notable Fights: Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva, Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes III, Lyoto Machida vs. Sokoudjou
Lowdown: The UFC has never believed in the Japanese philosophy of holding freak show matches on New Year’s Eve, but they do believe in putting on a monster card as close to the New Year as they can get while still keeping the event on a Saturday night. UFC 79 was the night the long-awaited Pride vs. UFC co-main event between Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva finally took place. Though it was a few years late, the fight didn’t disappoint as “The Iceman” and “The Axe Murderer” went toe-to-toe for three exciting rounds. Liddell got the better of Silva, but couldn’t put the Brazilian away and had to settle for a decision victory.
The other main event that night featured the rubber match between GSP and Matt Hughes, which would prove that the welterweight rivalry was only getting more and more one-sided with every outing. St. Pierre combined a slick judo throw with a good transition to an armbar to force Hughes to shout out his submission and, with it, an end to the Hughes era. Elsewhere on the card, Pride standout Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou made his UFC debut against Lyoto Machida, who submitted him in the second round. Rich Clementi also submitted Melvin Guillard with a rear naked choke and then put his nuts on Guillard’s neck, which didn’t go over well at all.
#8: UFC 84: Ill Will
5/24/08; Las Vegas, Nevada
Notable Fights: B.J. Penn vs. Sean Sherk, Wanderlei Silva vs. Keith Jardine, Tito Ortiz vs. Lyoto Machida, Goran Reljic vs. Wilson Gouveia, Shane Carwin vs. Christian Wellisch
Lowdown: UFC 84 marked the beginning of BJ Penn’s ongoing quest to expose the “cheaters” in MMA, as he merciless berated Sean Sherk for his alleged steroid use in the weeks leading up to this bout. Sherk continued to refute the positive test that resulted in him being stripped of the UFC lightweight title, but he probably could have used a little help in the Octagon that night. A bone-headed plan to stand and box with Penn resulted in the short-armed Sherk getting picked apart from the outside before eventually succumbing to a big knee and a torrent of punches at the end of the third round. Afterwards Penn would admit all the trash talk was just to hype the fight, proving that there’s nothing left to believe in.
Elsewhere on the card, Wanderlei Silva looked like the “Axe Murderer” of old when he trounced Keith Jardine in the first round, and Tito Ortiz got decision’d right out of the UFC by future champ Lyoto Machida, despite nearly pulling off a last-minute triangle choke. The undercard saw Goran Reljic surprise Wilson Gouveia with a come-from-behind knockout, and rising star Shane Carwin announced his presence with authority thanks to a brutal one-punch KO of Christian Wellisch that sent his mouthpiece into orbit. A fighter called “War Machine” also got choked unconscious by Yoshiyuki Yoshida in what would be his last UFC bout before being fired for insubordination/stupidity.
#7: UFC 47: It’s On!
4/2/04; Las Vegas, Nevada
Even five years later, the first meeting between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz might still be considered the biggest, most anticipated MMA fight of all time. The months of shuckin’ and duckin’ were over, and the UFC’s two biggest stars — polar opposites in every way — finally got to throw down. The match did not disappoint. After some tense striking exchanges in the first round, Liddell stalked Ortiz down early in the second and assaulted him with punches against the cage until the Huntington Beach Bad Boy sunk to the mat and Big John stopped it. Liddell wouldn’t officially be light-heavyweight champion until he beat Randy Couture a year later, but in the eyes of the fans, his reign began that night.
The Iceman’s TKO wasn’t the only great stoppage at UFC 47. Nick Diaz stunned the crowd by outstriking Robbie Lawler in an action-packed brawl, knocking Ruthless out with a right hook in round two; the match gave us our first taste of the mid-fight taunting that would become Diaz’s trademark. Also, Andrei Arlovski earned his third-straight T/KO victory with his mauling of Wesley “Cabbage” Correira, and Genki Sudo made his final UFC appearance by submitting a newcomer named Mike Brown — who would go on to become the baddest 145-pounder in the world.
#6: UFC 34: High Voltage
11/2/01; Las Vegas, Nevada
Notable Fights: Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo, Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton, BJ Penn vs. Caol Uno, Josh Barnett vs. Bobby Hoffman, Matt Lindland vs. Phil Baroni
Lowdown: This fight card featured so many future legends of the sport the event program alone ought to get its own spot in the UFC Hall of Fame. In the main event, heavyweight champ Randy Couture, then with slightly more hair, pounded out a second straight victory over Pedro Rizzo to retain his belt, while further down on the card the man who would dethrone him in his very next fight, Josh Barnett, beat on Bobby Hoffman until he submitted due to strikes in the second round.
The greatest highlight to come out of the event featured country boy Matt Hughes slamming his way out of a Carlos Newton triangle choke, or maybe just collapsing, depending on your point of view. Future lightweight champ B.J. Penn also made a name for himself by knocking out Caol Uno in eleven seconds, while the late great Evan Tanner submitted Homer Moore and Matt Lindland won a decision over a certain New York Bad Ass named Phil Baroni, who was still in the early days of his quest to become the best eva. On the very bottom of the card, heavyweight Frank Mir made his UFC debut, submitting Roberto Traven with an armbar in the first round.
Truly it was a night to remember, and we like to think that afterwards they all gathered at the hotel bar, Lindland with his arm around Dana White and Hughes with his arm around Penn, and vowed to be best buds forever, no matter what. For how could they have known what the future held?
Coming up in part 2: The night that started it all, the event that saved the company, Rampage’s redemption and more.