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…
(Check out part one here.)
#5: UFC 1: The Ultimate Fighting Championship
11/12/93; Denver, Colorado
Notable Fights: Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock, Gerard Gordeau vs. Teila Tuli, Royce Gracie vs. Gerard Gordeau
Lowdown: Nearly 3,000 people packed into the McNichols Sports Arena on one fateful night in November to witness the beginning of cultural movement, which is cool even if most of them only showed up because they were already drunk and had reason to believe that they might see a man killed. It was billed as an eight-man tournament with no rules, and although that wasn’t entirely true (biting and eye-gouging were both outlawed) it might as well have been. Referee guidelines consisted mostly of instructions not to stop the fight no matter what, there were no judges, not even the suggestion of weight classes, and the approved attire had no limits whatsoever, as evidence by Royce Gracie’s gi and Art Jimmerson’s one lonely glove.
The obvious storyline that night was Gracie’s unfettered run through the motley crew of fighters to prove the superiority of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, as planned. In three fights that night he spent around five minutes in the newly-unveiled Octagon to win the first UFC. But there were other memorable moments, as well, such as when Gerard Gordeau kicked a downed Teila Tuli in the face so hard his tooth became embedded in Gordeau’s foot. Or when Ken Shamrock introduced America to the heel hook against Patrick Smith, only to go on to lose via gi-choke to Gracie in the next round, though the referee completely missed the tapout. In the end Gracie would win easily in the finals against Gordeau, while football great/announcer Jim Brown mostly blundered his way through the broadcast with no real concept of what he was seeing. Chances are no one knew it at the time, but a monster was born that night in Denver.
#4: UFC 31: Locked and Loaded
5/4/01; Atlantic City, New Jersey
Notable fights: Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo, Carlos Newton vs. Pat Miletich, Chuck Liddell vs. Kevin Randleman, Shonie Carter vs. Matt Serra, BJ Penn vs. Joey Gilbert
Lowdown: The second event promoted by Zuffa, "Locked and Loaded" established the weight classes that are still used in the UFC today: 155, 170, 185, 205 and above. And aside from that bit of MMA history, it was also stacked to the gills with big stars, future legends, and exciting finishes. The event was headlined by Randy Couture in his first heavyweight title defense — a classic 25-minute battle with Pedro Rizzo that was so close (and so entertaining) that the two fighters had an immediate rematch at UFC 34. The event also featured a welterweight title match, in which Carlos Newton stole the belt from five-time champion Pat Miletich via third-round bulldog choke. Meanwhile, Chuck Liddell officially became a fan favorite with his 78-second disposal of the beefed-up and scary-looking Kevin Randleman.
But it was the new faces that stole the show: A young Hawaiian jiu-jitsu prodigy by the name of BJ Penn, who outboxed boxer Joey Gilbert; a gargantuan Dutch kickboxer and Pancrase vet named Semmy Schilt, who tore apart Pete Williams; and a local grappler named Matt Serra, who was nine seconds away from earning a decision victory against Shonie Carter when he fell victim to a Hail Mary spinning backfist, in one of the most shocking knockouts in UFC history.
#3: The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale
4/9/05; Las Vegas, Nevada
Notable fights: Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar, Diego Sanchez vs. Kenny Florian, Rich Franklin vs. Ken Shamrock
Lowdown: Zuffa mythology credits the TUF 1 finale as the night that saved the company and broke the UFC into the mainstream. Though it’s remembered best for the epic three-round slobberknocker between light-heavyweight finalists Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar — as the story goes, ratings climbed steadily through the fight as dumbstruck viewers called their friends and urged them to turn on Spike TV — the card was wild from top to bottom.
Mike Swick, Nate Quarry, Josh Koscheck, and Chris Leben began their veteran runs in the Octagon that night with first-round T/KO victories. Diego Sanchez won the finale’s middleweight contract by beating up an overfed Kenny Florian. (Four years later, they’re eyeing each other once again at the top of the lightweight food chain.) And fading Hall-of-Famer Ken Shamrock was brought in to face rising star Rich Franklin in the headlining bout, which wasn’t exactly one of Shammy’s most graceful performances. The main event actually felt like an unnecessary afterthought following such an incredible display of young talent. The next wave had arrived; not since UFC 1 had MMA felt so revolutionary.
#2: UFC 52: Couture vs. Liddell II
4/16/05; Las Vegas, Nevada
Notable Fights: Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell II, Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II, Georges St. Pierre vs. “Mayhem” Miller
Lowdown: If it seemed like there was more attention paid to this event than to previous pay-per-views, that’s because there was. Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell were both coming off stints as coaches on the original “Ultimate Fighter” and their reward for putting up with all the lame challenges and not ogling the fantastic ta-ta’s of host Willa Ford was a much-hyped rematch on a card that would yield the UFC’s highest-grossing live gate up until that point.
In the main event, Liddell knocked out Couture with the right hand that we’ve since come to regard as his trademark, claiming the UFC light heavyweight title that he’d hold for the next two years. Another exciting finish came in the other rematch on the card between welterweight champ Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg. A groin shot left Hughes open and Trigg wasted no time pouncing on him and nearly finishing him with a rear naked choke. But Hughes rallied back with one of his patented slams and then slapped an RNC on Trigg, just to show him how to properly finish the move while also providing an iconic highlight for the UFC to run over and over and over again.
Also on the card, a fresh-faced young kid name of Georges St. Pierre put a serious hurting on Jason “Mayhem” Miller, winning a decision after three brutal rounds, though Miller would later allude to problems holding on to the slippery French-Canadian…
#1: UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008
12/27/08; Las Vegas, Nevada
Notable fights: Quinton Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva, Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Rashad Evans vs. Forrest Griffin
Lowdown: Storylines make fights, and UFC 92 had some great ones. Quinton Jackson, who had been destroyed by Wanderlei Silva twice in PRIDE, was booked to face the Axe Murderer a third time at "The Ultimate 2008" — and considering Jackson was coming back from a loss to Forrest Griffin and an alarming emotional breakdown, it looked like Silva was about to go 3-0 in their series. But Rampage slayed his personal demons with a cathartic first-round knockout of Wandy, reviving his career yet again.
Still, in terms of upsets, Silva vs. Jackson III wasn’t in the same ballpark as the Frank Mir/Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fight, which everyone — including Mir himself — was giving to Big Nog. Mir wisely stayed off the ground with his TUF 8 rival coach and used his striking to knock Nogueira around the cage, dropping him twice in the first round, and once more in the second before finishing the Brazilian legend off with strikes on the ground. Counted out after his motorcycle accident, Frank Mir had somehow come back to pick up another heavyweight title — even if it was one of those off-brand "interim" belts.
In the main event, Rashad Evans completed his ascension in the light-heavyweight division by scoring a third-round TKO victory over Forrest Griffin in what was deemed the Fight of the Night; it was the first time that two Ultimate Fighter winners had competed for a championship belt. UFC 92 also featured impressive victories by Cheick Kongo, Matt Hamill, CB Dollaway, Antoni Hardonk, and Pat Barry, and set up new storylines that would capture our attention in 2009.
Okay, what’d we miss? You know you’re dying to tell us…