Rivalries are one of the most pivotal aspects of mixed martial arts (MMA) today. While most of the time these rivalries are a little exaggerated in order to market the fight, once in a blue moon we get a true spectacle that can drag on over the span of three action-packed brawls to end with a trilogy fight.
Some of these martial artists just flat-out don’t like one another, while others fight for the pure competitive nature that dwells within their body along with a grinding urge to better the man that they have split contests with.
So without further ado, lets take a look at the top 10 trilogies that have been fought out throughout UFC history.
- 1 10. Tito Ortiz vs Ken Shamrock
- 2 9. Nate Diaz vs Gray Maynard
- 3 8. Matt Hughes vs BJ Penn
- 4 7. Georges St-Pierre vs Matt Hughes
- 5 6. Rampage Jackson vs Wanderlei Silva
- 6 5. Dan Henderson vs Vitor Belfort
- 7 4. Randy Couture vs Chuck Liddell
- 8 3. Cain Velasquez vs Junior dos Santos
- 9 2. Frankie Edgar vs Gray Maynard
- 10 1. Dominick Cruz vs Urijah Faber
10. Tito Ortiz vs Ken Shamrock
Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock’s lengthy rivalry lasted over a span of four years, and would result in a rather rare result when it comes to trilogies, as Ortiz took home a clean sweep of victories over Shamrock following their final meeting.
The two men first met in the main event of UFC 40 back in 2002 when Ortiz reigned as heavyweight champion, and would defend his title against Shamrock, who was coming off a split decision loss to Don Frye at Pride 19.
Shamrock almost pulled off the upset as he rocked Ortiz in the first round with a huge right hand; however, Ortiz was able to recover and go on to completely dominate the majority of the bout. Shamrock’s corner would throw in the towel just prior to the beginning of round four, making it 1-0 in favor of Ortiz.
The two men were set to square off once more at UFC 61 in 2006, however the bout ended with a bit of controversy. A little over a minute into the first round Ortiz bludgeoned Shamrock with three or four rapid undefended elbows, leading to referee Herb Dean stopping the bout to make it 2-0 Ortiz.
Shamrock and the 11,167 fans in attendance where unhappy with the decision, and security also had to separate the two men following the decision.
The third bout, however, would end all the same as Ortiz finished Shamrock in the first round with a barrage of unanswered punches that forced referee John McCarthy to call it a night.
Following the bout Ortiz gave Shamrock a couple of one finger salutes, but the two men conversed for a bit in the Octagon, embraced, and ended the night on good terms after raising one another’s hand to the crowd.
Result: 3-0 Ortiz
9. Nate Diaz vs Gray Maynard
This trilogy bout also features a rare element, as Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard’s first encounter with one another was in the semifinals of The Ultimate Fighter 5 (TUF 5).
Diaz and Maynard’s bout in TUF 5 may not have counted towards their official MMA record, but it did count count in regards to the men’s total meetings against one another.
The first bout saw Maynard dominate Diaz on the ground, bloodying him early in the first round with some nasty ground-and-pound. Heading into the second round, Maynard had let himself gas out, resulting in Diaz being able to lock in a guillotine choke on the ground that Maynard would immediately tap to. Diaz would go on to the finals of TUF 5, defeating Manvel Gamburyan in the second round to win the tournament.
Maynard and Diaz would meet once again in 2010, headlining UFC Fight Night 20 in Virginia. The bout would end with a controversial split decision victory being handed to Maynard after the conclusion of the three-round war.
The two would meet a final time in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale (TUF 18 Finale), that saw Diaz taking home a first round TKO victory over Maynard, who dropped to the canvas after Herb Dean called a stop to the action.
Result: 2-1 Diaz
8. Matt Hughes vs BJ Penn
Matt Hughes was once the reigning king of the welterweight division after winning the title from Carlos Newton in 2001, and going on to successfully defend the belt five times.
Hughes would eventually run into a surging BJ Penn in the main event of UFC 63, and go on to lose his title to the young Hawaiian after being TKO’d in the third round of the bout.
Penn, however, would be stripped of the title after signing with K-1 Kickboxing, which led to Hughes reclaiming the 170-pound crown over Georges St-Pierre at UFC 50.
Penn would later return to the UFC in 2006 and take on Hughes once again for the welterweight title, with Hughes taking home a third-round TKO victory of his own to now split wins between the two men.
The pair would not meet inside the Octagon again for another four years, when the they squared off in the co-main event of UFC 123 in 2010. Penn would end the six-year rivalry in a mere twenty-one seconds, coming out the gates hard and putting Hughes away with a big left hook.
Result: 2-1 Penn
7. Georges St-Pierre vs Matt Hughes
In the midst of his ongoing feud with BJ Penn, Matt Hughes would also be embroiled in a rivalry with the up-and-coming Canadian phenom that was Georges St-Pierre.
As previously mentioned, the two men would initially meet at UFC 50 for the welterweight title that Penn vacated when he signed with K-1. Hughes would lock in an armbar right at the buzzer for the end of the first round, forcing ‘GSP’ to tap with just one second left in the round.
The two men would cross paths once more at UFC 65, where Hughes would attempt to defend his title against ‘GSP’ once again. ‘GSP’ had other plans, however, as he finished Hughes in the second round of their title bout with a nasty head kick TKO to secure his first career UFC title.
St-Pierre would go on to drop the title in his very first title defense against Matt Sera, and would later go on to meet Hughes a third time for the interim 170-pound strap.
At UFC 79 in 2007, St-Pierre won the trilogy bout by locking in a last-second armbar of his own, tapping Hughes late in the second round with just six seconds to go.
St-Pierre went on to defeat Serra at UFC 83 to unify the two titles, and become the undisputed champion of the welterweight division.
Result: 2-1 St-Pierre
6. Rampage Jackson vs Wanderlei Silva
These two barn-burning knockout artists engaged in an epic trilogy war that never saw any need for judges’ scorecards, as one man hit the canvas for an early nap each time.
‘Rampage’ and Silva first locked horns in the Pride middleweight Grand Prix final at Pride Final Conflict 2003. Silva won the bout in the first round after landing a huge knee to Jackson’s head.
The two clashed once again for the Pride middleweight title at Pride 28 in 2004, where ‘Rampage’ dominated the majority of the first round. In the second round, however, Silva landed yet another crushing knee to Jackson’s skull that sent ‘Rampage’ timbering down unconscious in between the second and third ropes of the ring.
Although Silva already owned two wins over Jackson, the two met once more, this time it under the UFC banner at UFC 92.
‘Rampage’ would finally get his long-awaited revenge on Silva after knocking out the Brazilian in the first round of the contest with a perfectly timed left hand to the chin. Jackson’s knockout of Silva would also grant him ‘Knockout of the Night’ honors, taking home a nice hefty bonus to add to his fight purse.
Result: 2-1 Silva
5. Dan Henderson vs Vitor Belfort
Two of the biggest pioneers of the sport have stood to-to-toe three times in combat over the span of their respective careers, and it all began under the Pride banner in 2006.
Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort met at Pride 32 – The Real Deal, in which Henderson was able to pull out a unanimous decision victory over Belfort. ”Hendo’ would go on to defeat Wanderlei Silva just four months laterat Pride 33 to win the Pride middleweight championship.
Six years later, the two would headline UFC Fight Night 32 in Belfort’s home country of Brazil, and ‘The Phenom’ didn’t disappoint. Belfort sent Henderson back stateside by connecting with a brutal head kick just a minute into the first round.
Almost exactly two years later, the two men headlined UFC Fight Night 77, once again meeting inside the Octagon in front of Belfort’s home country of Brazil.
In an almost mirror image of the men’s second bout, Belfort once again sent Henderson toppling down with a huge head kick and followed it up with a barrage of punches for good measure.
Result: 2-1 Belfort
4. Randy Couture vs Chuck Liddell
Two of the biggest names in light heavyweight history finally met inside the Octagon at UFC 43 in 2003, when Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture threw down for the interim 205-pound title.
Liddell was riding the incredible momentum of his 10-fight win streak, while Couture was coming in off a disappointing two-fight losing skid. Couture used his superior wrestling ability to take Liddell down at will throughout the majority of the fight, and finished Liddell by obliteration from the top-mount position in the third round.
Couture went on to defeat Tito Ortiz to unify the titles at UFC 44 to become the undisputed king of the 205-pound division. Liddell would eventually earn his way back into the title picture, and once again take on Couture for the light heavyweight title.
Liddell knocked out Couture cold in the first round after connecting with a huge right hand to his temple, sending ‘The Natural’ down hard and giving Liddell his first career UFC title.
The rubber match would go down in the main event of UFC 57, where Liddell would defend his light heavyweight title for the second time. Couture showed the heart of a champion in the first round, eating some huge shots and securing a late takedown on ‘The Iceman.’
In the second round, however, Liddell connected with a huge right hand that dropped Couture and finished it off with an onslaught of punches to win the series.
Result: 2-1 Liddell
3. Cain Velasquez vs Junior dos Santos
Former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez was undefeated and riding high after defeating Brock Lesnar at UFC 121 to secure his first career UFC title.
Velasquez was scheduled to make his first title defense against Brazilian powerhouse striker Junior dos Santos in the main event of UFC on FOX 1.
Dos Santos landed a bomb of an overhand right to Velasquez’s temple that sent the Mexican star down, taking the title and handing Velasquez his first career loss in the process.
Velasquez would earn a rematch against Dos Santos at UFC 155 a year later in hopes of regaining his title and avenging his first career loss in the process. Velasquez completely dominated ‘JDS’ for five rounds, regaining his title with a unanimous decision victory over the Brazilian.
‘Cigano’ would get his own shot at redemption at UFC 166 in Houston for the highly-anticipated rubber match. Velasquez would pick up right where he left off by completely dominating Dos Santos for another five rounds before finishing ‘JDS’ halfway through the fifth round.
Result: 2-1 Velasquez
2. Frankie Edgar vs Gray Maynard
One of the greatest rivalries of all time took place in this trilogy bout between highly-skilled lightweights Frankie ‘The Answer’ Edgar and ‘The Bully’ Gray Maynard.
The pair initially met at UFC Fight Night 13 when they were both undefeated, where Maynard out-wrestled Edgar in route to a unanimous decision victory.
They would meet once again at UFC 125 three years later, this time for Edgar’s 155-pound title he had won from BJ Penn the year before at UFC 112.
Edgar and Maynard put on one of the greatest title bouts of all-time that would go on to earn ‘Fight of the Night.’
Maynard came close to finishing the bout after he momentarily had Edgar rocked in the first round, but ‘The Answer’ would fight on and push Maynard to the judge’s scorecards that ruled the contest a draw.
The pair would immediately rematch one another at UFC 136 just nine months later. Maynard again came within a fingertip’s touch away from the title after rocking Edgar again in the first round, however, ‘The Answer’ would recover and go on to catch Maynard with a devastating right hand followed by a barrage of lefts to finish ‘The Bully’ in the fourth round.
Although Edgar successfully defeated Maynard in 2011, the men still hold a tie on the trilogy’s scorecard, as both men own a victory over one another to go along with the draw.
Result: Draw 1-1-1
1. Dominick Cruz vs Urijah Faber
Was this really a surprise to anyone?
Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber are two men who certainly do not like one another, and the rivalry extends as far back as the days of the WEC in 2007.
‘The California Kid’ held the WEC’s featherweight championship and was set to defend it against the debuting Cruz in the co-main event of WEC 26 in March of 2007. Faber would secure a first round guillotine submission victory just a minute into the bout, handing ‘The Dominator’ the first loss of his fighting career.
Cruz would go on to be one of the most dominant bantamweights in the sport’s history, winning the inaugural UFC 135-pound title while building an eight-fight winning streak since losing to Faber.
Cruz would make his first title defense against Faber at UFC 132. In an excellent five-round contest between the two bantamweight stars, Cruz took home the victory to successfully retain his bantamweight crown and avenge the only loss on his record as well.
The pair would go on to coach opposite one another on The Ultimate Fighter15 with a rubber match planned at UFC 148, but Cruz tore his ACL in training and was forced to pull out of the bout. This would mark a long string of injuries keeping ‘The Dominator’ out of competition for the majority of the next four years.
Cruz would eventually return at UFC Fight Night 81 to reclaim the title he never lost against then-champion TJ Dillashaw, and the long-awaited rubber match with Urijah Faber was finally for UFC 199 in June of 2016.
Cruz and Faber finally put an end to the near decade rivalry in Inglewood, California, when Cruz dominated the five-round title bout to take home a lopsided unanimous decision victory.
Although the rivalry came to an end inside the cage against one another that night, the two men still exchanged words at each other during the post-fight press conference, leaving us all wondering if these two men will ever be able to get on the same page.
Result: 2-1 Cruz