#10: Kaitlin Young @ HOOKnSHOOT 2007 Women’s Grand Prix (11/24/07)
Defeated: Suzi Smith (KO, 0:22 of R1); Miesha Tate (KO, 0:30 of R1, shown above); Patti Lee (KO, 0:53 of R1)
Though HOOKnSHOOT has been putting on high-caliber women’s MMA bouts since 2001, the organization’s most infamous moment was the eight-woman tournament it held last year, where an unknown Minnesotan named Kaitlin axe-murdered her way through three opponents in less than two minutes of combined fight time. Young would go on to face Gina Carano in the first women’s MMA match to be broadcast on network TV, at EliteXC: Primetime in May of this year. Even if she never wraps her wrists again, Young’s MMA legacy is secured.
Unless you caught him in his PRIDE Bushido appearances in 2006, you probably had no idea who Gegard Mousasi was when he entered DREAM’s middleweight tournament earlier this year. But after choking out the highly-regarded Denis Kang in the opening round in April, and beating Dong Sik Yoon to a decision in June, he proved that he had a right to be there. And after the finals in September, he proved that he was one of the most talented middleweights in the world.
The event was almost anti-climactic in the way that it played out. These were not epic battles — this was Gegard Mousasi simply outclassing Melvin Manhoef (who had famously massacred Kazushi Sakuraba in the quarterfinals), then upkicking the daylights out of “Jacare” (who had torn through Zelg Galesic and Jason Miller in the tourney’s previous rounds). When the dust settled, Mousasi had picked up his 10th and 11th straight victories as well as a DREAM championship belt — a perfect ending to a breakout year.
#8: Don Frye @ UFC Ultimate Ultimate 1996 (12/7/96)
Defeated: Gary Goodride (sub. due to fatigue, 11:19); Mark Hall (sub. due to achilles hold, 0:20); Tank Abbott (sub. due to rear-naked choke, 1:23, shown above)
You have to remember — beating Gary Goodridge and Tank Abbott used to mean something. Both men were responsible for some of the most gruesome finishes in the UFC’s early history, from Goodridge’s crucifix/elbow-smashing of Paul Herrera to Tank’s starching/mocking of Jon Matua. The Ultimate Ultimate ’96 was just about the toughest eight-man field that the UFC could throw together in those days — it also included Ken Shamrock, Kimo Leopoldo, and Paul Varelans — and Don Frye notched his second UFC tournament win by cruising through it.
Frye pushed Goodridge past the breaking point in the quarterfinals (back before there were those cushy one-minute breaks between rounds that our spoiled fighters have today). After eleven-and-a-half minutes of back-and-forth brawling, Big Daddy found himself underneath Big Mustache and decided to tap before he suffered permanent damage. Frye’s semi-final match was a breeze — he’d already defeated tournament alternate Mark Hall twice in his career, and the third time was no different — but the Frye/Abbott final was a true superfight. Tank had just finished nelmarking Steve Nelmark in the semis, and his intimidation quotient was at an all-time high. Though the Predator got clocked with some big punches early, he was able to capitalize on a Tank Abbott slip, quickly sinking in a rear-naked choke. Don Frye — the toughest S.O.B. alive — collected his big-ass check and strolled out, never to fight in the UFC again.
#7 (tie): Takanori Gomi/Hayato "Mach" Sakurai @ PRIDE Bushido 9 (9/25/05)
Defeated: Gomi – Tatsuya Kawajiri (sub. due to rear-naked choke, 7:42 of R1); Luiz Azeredo (unan. dec.). Sakurai – Jens Pulver (TKO, 8:56 of R1); Joachim Hansen (unan. dec.)
Both these guys had impressive runs through Pride’s Bushido 9, with Sakurai probably getting the tougher draw. He TKO’d Jens Pulver and then edged out a decision over Joachim Hansen. Gomi choked out Tatsuya Kawajiri and then decisioned Luiz Azeredo. Gomi would go on to knock Sakurai out at Pride Shockwave 2005 on New Year’s Eve (seen above), but both guys had gone through a veritable who’s-who of Bushido lightweights just to get to that point.
Gomi would continue to be Pride’s lil’ poster boy before ending his tenure with the organization by getting gogo’d by a very stoned Nick Diaz in a fight that was later ruled a no contest. Sakurai would knock out Mac Danzig and eventually land in Dream. At least they’ll always have that one night in Tokyo.
#6: Ricardo Morais @ Absolute Fighting Championship 1 (9/25/95)
Defeated: Alex Andrade (sub. due to punches, 1:48 of R1); Onassis Parungao (sub. due to knees, 1:16 of R1); Maxim Tarasov (sub. due to punches, 1:49 of R1); Victor Yerohin (sub. due to punches, 1:33 of R1), Mikhail Illoukhine (sub. due to rear-naked choke, 9:44 of R1)
Yes, we’ve already featured this video on CagePotato. More than once, in fact. Doesn’t matter — it’s still insane no matter how many times you see it. After making four fighters cry uncle all before the two-minute mark at AFC 1’s 32-man bare-knuckle tournament, Ricardo “The Mutant” Morais faced off against Mikhail Illoukhine, a Sambo expert who had won the Absolute Fighting Eurasian Championship, another 32-man bracket held the previous July. Though Illoukhine was able to put Morais on his back, a sick reversal by the Mutant (check the vid’s 5:26 mark) led to a choke-out victory. Not only was Morais’s five-stoppage run one of the all-time greatest tournament performances, but it was also one of the most impressive MMA debuts ever. (So expect to see this highlight reel for a fourth time when we get around to putting that list together…)
#5: Mark Coleman @ PRIDE 2000 Grand Prix Finals
Defeated: Akira Shoji (decision), Kazuyuki Fujita (immediate corner stoppage), Igor Vovchanchyn (sub. due to knee strikes, 3:09 of R2)
You youngsters out there might not know this, but before he got old and headbutts got outlawed, Mark Coleman was a straight-up beast. He proved this in his UFC days, but continued to do so over in Japan when he won the first ever Pride Grand Prix in 2000. The finals of this open-weight tournament saw Coleman win a decision over Akira Shoji, take a bye over Kazuyuki Fujita (who was in no shape to fight after his quarterfinal victory over Mark Kerr), then claim immortality by kneeing Igor Vovchanchyn in the head until he submitted.
The tournament heralded the coming age of crazy Pride Grand Prix events, which included no small amount of mismatches, conveniently gerrymandered tournament brackets, and lots of awesome fights. Here, as in his UFC days, Coleman was a pioneer.
Before Forrest Griffin became a star in the UFC, before Mauricio Rua became a star in PRIDE, and before Chael Sonnen became that dude who fought a batshit-loony Paulo Filho in the WEC, they were just three light-heavyweight up-and-comers in an eight-man International Fighting Championship tournament, which also included the always-game Trevor Prangley and Jeremy Horn. The last man standing turned out to be Renato “Babalu” Sobral, who turned in one of the gutsiest performances in MMA history, going almost nine full rounds in one night.
By the time the future UFC fighter/Strikeforce champion wore down Rua and sunk in a guillotine choke at the end of their semi-final match, he was exhausted, and blood leaked from multiple cuts around his right eye. Then he had to face MMA ironman Jeremy Horn, who had already subbed Mikhail Avetisyan via armbar and knocked out Forrest Griffin that night — and in three rounds total, compared to Sobral’s six. The final match saw Sobral throw everything he had left at Horn from top position, slipping out of some scary submission attempts along the way. An illegal knee from Horn almost ended the action in the third round, but Babalu soldiered on to the final bell and scored the judges’ decision. An unforgettable display of massive balls and endless heart.
#3: Mauricio Rua @ Pride Final Conflict 2005 (8/28/05)
Perhaps best captured in Genghis Con’s epic “Grand Theft Title – Saitama City,” (above) Rua’s run in the Pride 2005 Middleweight (205 lbs.) Grand Prix featured a cascading series of beatdowns. Just to get to the finals “Shogun” tore through “Rampage” Jackson with knees and soccer kicks, then won a decision over Little Nog. He was an underdog in the finals, but after TKO’ing Alistair Overeem he got revenge for his Chute Boxe brother-in-arms, Wanderlei Silva, by knocking Ricardo Arona out cold to claim the tournament title and the oversized check. (BTW, thank you for that little tradition, giggling Pride ring girls, but shouldn’t you be home in bed this late on a school night?)
The win seemed to signal great things for Rua, but his next bout saw him suffer a freakish arm injury against Mark Coleman, then endure an even more painful backstage apology attempt from Coleman. He still hasn’t lived up to the promise of 2005, but there’s time yet to rectify the situation.
#2 (tie): Royce Gracie @ UFC 1 (11/12/93), Royce Gracie @ UFC 2 (3/11/94)
Defeated: Art Jimmerson (sub. due to position, 2:11); Ken Shamrock (sub. due to rear-naked choke, 0:57); Gerard Gordeau (sub. due to rear-naked choke, 1:44) at UFC 1. Minoki Ichihara (sub. due to lapel choke, 5:08); Jason Delucia (sub. due to armlock, 1:07); Remco Pardoel (sub. due to lapel choke, 1:31); Patrick Smith (sub. due to strikes, 1:17) at UFC 2.
Without Royce Gracie’s sweep through the first UFC tournaments, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. As American audiences were exposed to the mysterious Gracie clan and the brutal tradition of vale tudo fighting, enduring legends were created — as well as a new sport that would become a worldwide phenomenon. And in the beginning, Royce was the shining symbol of all of it.
Anybody could have made a one-gloved boxer quit on the ground, but by the time Gracie sliced through jacked Pancrase vet (and future UFC star) Ken Shamrock, as well as Savate practitioner Gerard Gordeau — who had kicked some teeth out of Teila Tuli’s mouth earlier that evening — everyone watching knew that the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace was something special. He didn’t look like a stereotypical big scary fighter, and yet nobody knew how to deal with him.
At UFC 2’s 16-man tourney, Royce cemented his rep by making short work out of hulking jiu-jitsu player Remco Pardoel in the semis, then beating down Patrick Smith, the fearsome striker who had made it to the finals after scoring three lightning-quick stoppages of his own. Gracie would go on to win a third tournament at UFC 4 in December ’94, but the message had already been sent: If you don’t know BJJ, you have no business fighting in a cage.
#1: Mirko Filipovic @ Pride Final Conflict Absolute (9/10/06)
EMBED-Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic vs. Wanderlei Silva – Watch more free videos
Defeated: Wanderlei Silva (KO, 5:26 of R1, shown above); Josh Barnett (sub. due to eye injury, 5:32 of R1)
The 16-man bracket in PRIDE’s 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix was possibly the greatest crop of MMA talent ever assembled in one place. Over the first two rounds (held at Total Elimination and Critical Countdown), fighters such as Aleksander Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, and Kazuyuki Fujita fell by the wayside. At Final Conflict Absolute, there were four men left: Mirko Filipovic, Wanderlei Silva, Josh Barnett, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Let that sink in for a moment.
Cro Cop proceeded to give Wanderlei Silva the worst thrashing of his life in a complete pwnage that ended with a trademark head-kick KO. He then dominated Josh Barnett for the third time in his career, whaling on him from the top until a punch to Barnett’s eye caused the Babyface Assassin to tap in agony. Beating either of those men is an achievement. Stopping them both in the first round, back-to-back, is fucking insane. Mirko Cro Cop was the best fighter in the world that night. Then, he left for the UFC and his career sort of fell apart. But that’s a story for another time…