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By Adam Martin
“That might be the greatest title fight in the history of the light heavyweight division — and I don’t even know who won! What an incredible fight!”
Those are the words UFC color-commentator Joe Rogan uttered last weekend at the end of the five-round epic at UFC 165 between UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and challenger Alexander Gustafsson, a fight Jones won via razor-thin unanimous decision.
Although Rogan is often known for his hyperbole, he might have been dead-on that night. Was “Bones” vs. “The Mauler” really the greatest 205-pound title fight in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship? To determine the veracity of that statement, I went back and watched the best light heavyweight fights ever held inside the Octagon, and after countless hours of tape study, I feel as though I’ve come up with a very fair list.
Below I’ve listed what in my opinion are the top 10 light heavyweight fights in UFC history based on a mixed criteria of competitiveness, excitement level, hype, how the fight played out in comparison to its expectations, and how it ended. So without any further ado, let’s get started…
10. Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua 1, UFC 104
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Kicking off the list is the controversial first fight between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, a fight that still ranks up there with the worst-all time judging decisions in MMA history.
Machida had just knocked out Rashad Evans at UFC 98 and, in the fateful words of Joe Rogan, the “Machida Era” had commenced. However, “Shogun” had a thing or two to say about that as the former PRIDE star was coming off of two TKO wins over Hall of Famers Chuck Liddell and Mark Coleman, and he wanted to prove to everyone it was he, not Machida, who was the best light heavyweight in the world at the time.
For five rounds, Machida and “Shogun” went toe-to-toe in the Octagon and although Machida definitely had his moments in the match, it appeared to most observers that there would be a new light heavyweight champion crowned, as Rua landed a ton of brutal leg kicks to Machida that left the champ’s torso and thighs looking like a bruised peach.
But while “Shogun” arguably won every round of the fight, the judges somehow saw the fight in favor of Machida, with all three scoring the bout 48-47 in favor of “The Dragon” despite the volume of leg kicks thrown by Rua, leading judge Cecil People to idiotically declare that leg kicks don’t finish fights. UFC president Dana White saw things differently, however, and set up an immediate rematch at UFC 113 where Rua KO’d Machida into oblivion — a happy ending to an infamous screwjob.