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20 Years, 20 Head Kicks: A UFC Anniversary Tribute

(Gerard Gordeau delivers the first head-kick TKO in UFC history against Teila Tuli back at UFC 1, which took place exactly 20 years today on November 12th, 1993.)

By Adam Martin

There are literally thousands of ways a mixed martial arts match can end, but one of the most thrilling methods is the head kick knockout.

Over the course of two decades of fights in the UFC Octagon, there have been a number of memorable knockout blows delivered via head kick, and in honor of the UFC’s 20th anniversary, I’ve put together a list of what I believe are the top 20 head kick knockouts in UFC history.

20 years, 20 head kicks. Here we go.

20. Uriah Hall vs. Adam Cella, TUF 17 episode 3 (aired 2/5/13)

I wanted to keep the list strictly to knockouts that happened during live UFC events, but I’m going to bend the rules a bit and kick off the list with one that happened on TUF.

Of course I’m talking about Uriah Hall’s spinning hook kick KO of Adam Cella, which took place earlier this year during TUF 17. It was a devastating knockout that made UFC president Dana White’s hyperbole raise to a whole new level as he declared Hall the nastiest fighter to ever step into the TUF house (the same house that produced Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin – you know, former UFC champs), and thus the UFC embarked on a social media campaign to play the clip non-stop on every medium in existence.

It was a brutal knockout, and I literally felt sick watching it. Even though Hall never lived up to the massive expectations that were placed on him, his most well-known career highlight deserves a place at #20.

19. Pat Miletich vs. Shonie Carter, UFC 32 (6/29/01)

I couldn’t do a best-of MMA list without sneaking Pat Miletich and Shonie Carter in it, and thankfully they were both involved in the same fight so I get to kill two birds with one stone here.

At UFC 32 in 2001, Miletich fought Carter in a matchup between two of my personal old-school fan favorites. Miletich was coming off a defeat to Carlos Newton where he lost the UFC welterweight championship, while Carter was coming off an amazing spinning backfist KO of Matt Serra, meaning this fight had serious title implications at the time.

But while many predicted a close matchup on paper, the outcome belonged to “The Croatian Sensation” as he hit  “Mr. International” with a head kick so hard it knocked Carter out cold, one of the very rare head kick KOs that took place in the first decade of the Octagon’s existence.

I saw this one on a tape I borrowed from a friend a long time ago and I’ve always wanted to see it again but haven’t had the opportunity to. Fortunately I’ve found a GIF for all of us to enjoy, but if you can track down the entire fight I highly recommend it.

18. Paul Taylor vs. Gabe Ruediger, UFC 126 (2/5/11)

One of the most awesome head kick knockouts in UFC history took place at UFC 126, and no, I’m not talking about the one you’re already thinking of (that will come later). I’m actually talking about the head kick KO that Brit Paul Taylor delivered on Gabe Ruediger, one of the most underrated finishes in UFC history in my opinion and one that I don’t think enough people have seen.

On any other night, Taylor would have claimed a nice $50,000 bonus check for KOTN, but as we all know there was another very good head kick KO that same night. Still, we can give him some props for scoring a classic knockout in what turned out to be his final appearance in the Octagon; Taylor recently announced his retirement from the sport due to a variety of nagging injuries. At least we have this sweet finish to remember him by. (Watch the GIF here.)

17. Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes, UFC 65 (11/18/06)

Back in 2006, Georges St-Pierre was seen as the future of the UFC welterweight division and at UFC 65 he was able to get his revenge on Matt Hughes (who had earlier submitted St-Pierre with an armbar at UFC 50) when he kicked the Miletich Fighting Systems product in the head and then followed it up with a series of punches on the ground to capture the UFC welterweight title for the fist time in his career.

This head kick is the only part of the fight I really remembered, and I was going to place it higher on the list originally, but since St-Pierre needed the follow-up punches to finish off the job I decided to stick it at #17. Either way, a job well-done by St-Pierre in this fight, and arguably the best finish of his storied career to date. (Watch the GIF here.)

16. Andrew Craig vs. Rafael Natal, UFC on FUEL TV 4 (7/11/12)

One of my favorite fights of all time took place at UFC FUEL TV 4, an unheralded middleweight bout between Andrew Craig and Rafael Natal. I was actually the reporter who first broke news of this fight back when I worked for, and so it always holds a special place in my heart for that. But I’ve broken other fight announcements before, and rarely do the final products turn out to be as good as Craig vs. Natal ended up being.

In the fight, Natal was absolutely beating the crap out of Craig and looking like he was going to cruise to a stoppage win, but at the end of the second round, Craig – who was down big on points – threw a booming head kick out of desperation and caught Natal square on the chin, knocking him out cold.

An absolutely insane fight, and an even crazier knockout. Wow. (Watch the GIF here.)

15. Chuck Liddell vs. Renato “Babalu” Sobral, UFC 40 (11/22/02)

Back in his prime, Chuck Liddell was an absolute killer, and at UFC 40 he showed that he wasn’t just a power puncher as he head-kicked Renato “Babalu” Sobral into oblivion to earn a shot at the light heavyweight title.

Despite coming from a karate background, this remains one of only two head kick knockouts in Liddell’s storied MMA career (and his only one in the UFC), so let’s savor it since we’ll never get another one of these from “The Iceman” now that he’s happily retired. (Watch the GIF here.)

14. Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt, UFC 160 (5/25/13)

Mark Hunt is considered by many to have one of the best chins in the history of combat sports, but at UFC 160 Junior dos Santos showed that Hunt is a human being like the rest of us when Cigano spinning wheel kicked Hunt in the temple to knock him to the ground, and then followed it up with a massive punch to put “The Super Samoan” completely out cold.

It was a beautiful, dominant performance by Dos Santos up until the KO, and the finish was just a cherry on top. I still can’t believe that Hunt was finished in this fashion, but then again dos Santos is one of the most powerful punchers the Octagon has ever seen – and, one of the hardest kickers as well, clearly. (Watch the GIF here.)

13. Rory Markham vs. Brodie Farber, UFC Fight Night 14 (7/19/08)

Another knockout that doesn’t get as much love as it should was Rory Markham’s massive head kick KO of Brodie Farber at UFC Fight Night 14. Just watch the GIF and tell me how awesome this is.

It’s too bad that Markham has had so many issues out side of the cage, because when he was in the Octagon he was an absolute killer. But at least he was able to give us this beauty before he rode off into the sunset, and for that we have to give him props.

12. Tim Sylvia vs. Tra Telligman, UFC 54 (8/20/05)

I know Tim Sylvia gets a bad rap from fans these days, but don’t forget that he gave us one of the best head kick knockouts ever witnessed inside the Octagon.

It took place at UFC 54, when Sylvia took on Tracy “Tra” Telligman. Sylvia was coming off a loss to Andrei Arlovski at UFC 51 that cost him a chance to capture the UFC heavyweight title, but after taking Telligman’s head off, Sylvia gained the confidence to make a run up the ladder and eventually capture the belt.

Sylvia has had an underappreciated career and this finish of Telligman is my favorite moment from it. It’s also one of the very few knockouts in UFC history that’s occurred at the 4:59 mark of round one, making it extra special.

11. Alan Belcher vs. Jorge Santiago, UFC Fight Night 7 (12/13/06)

One of my favorite all-time knockouts of any kind took place at UFC Fight Night 7, when a young Alan Belcher took on Jorge Santiago and delivered one of the most damaging head kick finishes in the history of the sport.

I don’t think Santiago was ever the same after this KO, which is a shame because he is a skilled fighter — although he was never able to prove that in the Octagon. As for Belcher, he has had a solid career but there’s no doubt in my mind this is his ultimate career highlight, and it’s for good reason. (Watch the GIF here.)

Ready for the Top 10? Hit that “next page” link and read on…

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