The UFC’s light heavyweight division is arguably the most prestigious outfit in the history of mixed martial arts.
All-time legends Jon Jones, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Dan Henderson, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort have all paved their way in the 205-pound class, which lends to the division’s growing aura.
But like any weight class from strawweight to heavyweight, the light heavyweight faction has produced Octagon wonders that rise above the rest. Whether unexpected upset or come-from-behind championship wins, some of the best action ever has happened within these borders.
With much respect to the countless title scraps and the well-fought affairs not able to make the cut, here are the top 10 best light heavyweight bouts in UFC history.
- 1 10.) Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin
- 2 9.) Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture II
- 3 8) Frank Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz
- 4 7) Lyoto Machida vs. Rashad Evans
- 5 6) Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell I
- 6 5) Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson
- 7 4) Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva
- 8 3) Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
- 9 2) Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar I
- 10 1) Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua I
10.) Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin
When Anderson Silva left his comfy throne at 185 pounds to test light heavyweight waters, there were few pundits who argued that “The Spider” would struggle.
But even though Silva had already dismembered divisional veteran James Irvin before meeting Forrest Griffin at UFC 101, many believed that The Ultimate Fighter 1 winner and former divisional champion could provide some worthy action for the Brazilian. Instead, Silva made Griffin look like an overzealous amateur by dodging his punches, dipping under exchanges and finishing him via first-round knockout.
Silva would later go on to defeat Griffin’s TUF partner Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153 with a knee to the sternum.
9.) Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture II
After tasting defeat at the hands of Randy Couture in their initial meeting, Chuck Liddell was out for championship blood at UFC 52.
It was Liddell’s second attempt at light heavyweight gold and “The Iceman” did not disappoint, securing a quick first-round knockout in just over two minutes. The victory was monumental in cementing Liddell into MMA history as one of the best to ever do it.
Not to mention it marked the meeting between rival coaches for the first season of The Ultimate Fighter.
8) Frank Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz
At the time of UFC 22, Tito Ortiz and Frank Shamrock were widely considered the best light heavyweights in the world. Shamrock was the defending UFC light heavyweight champion and Ortiz was the most exciting young talent in the game.
When the two finally met, it was Shamrock’s crisp striking that pushed through Ortiz’s wrestling to earn the champion a fourth-round submission victory by way of strikes.
It marked the first time Ortiz had ever been finished with strikes in his career and a contest that captured Fight of the Year honors for 1999.
7) Lyoto Machida vs. Rashad Evans
Certainly nobody was overlooking Lyoto Machida entering his title bid against champion Rashad Evans back at UFC 98. The Brazilian had amassed a 14-0 professional record with victories over Tito Ortiz and an undefeated Thiago Silva.
But when Machida took it to Evans in the second round and knocked him out cold on the heels of relentless striking, the MMA world was undoubtedly thrown for a loop.
It marked the arrival of “The Dragon” and offered one of the more blood curdling cageside screams we’ve ever heard by the wife of “Suga.”
6) Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell I
Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell’s first meeting underneath the Octagon lights was ultra-important in more than one way.
The third-round TKO not only left Liddell empty handed with his first career loss via strikes, but more importantly gifted Couture his second UFC title in as many divisions (albeit it was an interim belt).
Not to mention the fact that Couture’s win sparked one of the best trilogies in the history of the sport, especially considering all three of their fights ended by knockout.
5) Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Their hasn’t been a contender quite like Alexander Gustafsson in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.
Burdened with one of the more unlucky championship go-rounds in recent memory, “The Mauler” has found himself on the wrong end of two disappointing title defeats. In this instance, it came against Daniel Cormier back at UFC 192, losing via split decision on the end of a five-round war.
It is easily a top three championship fight in divisional history, which happened to produce a staggering combined total of 260 significant strikes landed, and really only the first time we’ve seen Cormier close to being finished.
4) Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva
When Chuck Liddell welcomed Wanderlei Silva back to the promotion at UFC 79, it was a meeting between two of the most vicious knockout artists in the history of the sport, let alone the light heavyweight division.
In typical epic fashion, “The Iceman” and “The Axe Murderer” went toe-to-toe for three spectacular rounds. While their efforts did not summon a finish, they at least offered fans a glimpse into the life of two blood-thirsty brawlers.
Liddell would capture a unanimous decision win in this 2007 Fight of the Year, and it marked the former champion’s last victory inside of the Octagon.
3) Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Undoubtedly the best title fight in the history of the light heavyweight faction, champion Jon Jones and top contender Alexander Gustafsson waged war at UFC 165.
For five-straight rounds, “The Mauler” pressured Jones with his reach, crisp boxing, and surprisingly efficient ground game. But it was Jones who would rise through adversity to eke out a unanimous decision victory in easily his toughest fight to date.
After re-watching the chaos on multiple accounts, it’s plausible for some to argue that Gustafsson actually won. In any case, the towering light heavyweights need to lock horns once again before it’s all said and done.
2) Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar I
If not for Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar at The Ultimate Fighter finale, MMA and the UFC would have never exploded the way it did.
For as good as Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes were, it took a bloody contest between two unknown fighters on national television to finally capture the minds of Americans.
Griffin would go on to earn the unanimous decision victory and forever transform himself into a MMA icon.
1) Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua I
Based on sheer competition, unwavering will, indestructible chins and unfiltered punching power, Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is the best fight in light heavyweight history.
While their five-round horror film did not incorporate a shiny gold belt, it did offer countless exchanges in the pocket, ferocious flash knockdowns, bloody faces and an eerie attraction of fighting styles.
However, Henderson and Rua’s legendary affair has seemingly come as a great cost. Since their tussle at UFC 139, the veterans have combined for a promotional record of 5-10.