CagePotato Roundtable #4: What Was the Greatest Rivalry in MMA History?

Anderson and Chael

We have a very, very special guest on this week’s installment of the CagePotato Roundtable: UFC light-heavyweight legend Stephan Bonnar, who has agreed to join the CP gang for a spirited debate on the most epic rivalries in MMA history — something he knows a thing or two about first-hand. Follow Stephan on Twitter @stephanbonnar, buy some of his t-shirts at, and if you have a suggestion for a future Roundtable topic, please send it to [email protected]. Now then…

Stephan Bonnar

I’m here to talk about MMA’s most intense rivalries. Catering to the casual fight fan first, I’ll start with the most obvious one. (I know it’s not fair to you hardcore fans, but no one cares about you. We know that you will tune in no matter what. I still appreciate you, you obsessed lunatics, so just stay tuned.)

Chael Sonnen vs Anderson Silva. Chael recently received his PHD in the art of trash talking (TT), and was also the valedictorian of his class. He took TT to new heights. His words ripped not only through his adversaries intestines, but the intestines of his counterpart’s entire country. Trust me though, this brilliant TT’er has an outrageous yet adept plan to convert the hate of some of those countrymen to love and acceptance. Yes, I have inside info…but no, I won’t spoil Chael’s next scheme. Take it from me, “You’ll see what’s up Chael’s sleeve!”

If Chael was valedictorian of his class, then Anderson was the class buffoon. Anderson’s knowledge of the English language quickly evaporates when it’s his turn to retort to some of Chael’s verbal onslaught. This rivalry has had the most one-sided trashtalking in the history of the sport. When it comes to slanging rhetoric, is Anderson worse than Joe Frazier was against the great Ali? I’d enthusiastically say so. I’d also have to say that Chael would be able to hang with “The Greatest” when it came to sparring with verbs. Even in his native tongue, Anderson fails to even so much as hold Chael’s jock strap. Landslide victory for Chael in this event. And for those of you that say talking trash doesn’t do shit, I beg to differ. It has increased my anxiousness ten fold in anticipation of seeing this “rivalry” settled with extreme violence.

Ok, you hardcore fans. Your time has come. The next rivalry? Tom Atencio vs Dana White. Even though the “Affliction” fight league sunk, the animosity between Affliction CEO Tom Atencio and Dana White managed to stay afloat. To fill you in, Tom Atencio lobbied for an MMA fight with UFC pres Dana White, and some decent TT’ing between the two had been exchanged as well. To be honest with you, I WOULD PAY fifty bucks easily to see this scrap. It is a very interesting match-up. For those of you that don’t know, Atencio has MMA experience. Style wise, I see this fight being a carbon copy of Cung Le vs Wanderlei Silva. With his Muay Thai background, Atencio would be launching a kick-heavy attack to Dana’s legs and body to slow him down and set him up for the kill. In Wanderlei-like ferocity, Dana would be plunging forward with his heavy hands and crisp boxing, relentlessly trying to find the chin of Atencio. Just like with Le vs Silva, Dana would eventually land and land big, sending Atencio into stage 4 R.E.M. sleep with his favorite hook-straight, hook-straight combo. Tito sitting cage side will have just exhaled a big sigh of relief, knowing that he made the right choice in pulling out of his fight with Dana. After all, it is no secret that when it came to boxing, Dana used to give Tito a working over in the gym.

The co-main-event on this card, would feature a relatively new & exciting rivalry: Me vs Donald Jr. and Eric Trump. The interesting handicap in this fight, is that even though I am fighting both of these pussies at the same time, I am only allowed to use one weapon in the entire arsenal of techniques in mixed martial arts….my jab! For a look at how this beef got started, click here on the link under Trump proudly holding up a dead elephants tail.

Jared Jones

Before the rest of you chime in with your opinions, let me just tell you that they’re all wrong. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this: Has any other rivalry in MMA ever been waged against an entire family? Has any other rivalry been the basis for the fighter’s nickname? Has any other rivalry ever included a war of attrition so grandiose in scope, so insane in nature, that it rivaled, no, surpassed the Battle of Thermopylae?

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. The Gracies did.

Simply put, no rivalry will ever be greater than Sakuraba vs. the Gracie family because no one will ever mean as much to MMA as Sakuraba and the Gracie family. Try and argue this point. I dare you. Though their war has been only existed on paper a mere 12 years, every true fan of MMA, or ancient world history for that matter, knows that it dates back much further than that. To feudal times…725 B.C. to be exact. But that story is for another time; the point is that the Gracies created the fucking game, and Sakuraba managed to beat them at it. All of them.*

When Saku defeated Royler Gracie at PRIDE 8, by technical submission nonetheless, the MMA world nearly lost its damn mind. The Gracies were the Gods of the sport, and watching one of them go down was equivalent to watching God die before our very eyes. No, I’m not being dramatic, it was truly that disorienting. And since the Gracie family is closer than your average human centipede, they understood that from that day forth they would have to regain their family’s honor or die trying. And who understands the trappings of honor better than a descendant of the noble Sakuraba Dynasty? His fight at the PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 Finals, against perhaps the most famous Gracie of all in Royce, is one of those moments in life that words fall short of describing. It was a 90-minute war. That’s an hour and a half for you dyscalculiacs out there. Sakuraba made Royce quit on the stool after the sixth 15-minute round, and earned the nickname “The Gracie Hunter.” Not only was God dead, but the Devil had raped his corpse and stolen his identity.

Sakuraba then squared off against Renzo Gracie at PRIDE 10, and not only did he win that fight as well, he won in in the exact same fashion as he had the Royler Gracie fight, by snapping his arm like a chicken’s neck. After the fight, Renzo declared that Sakuraba was like, “the Japanese version of the Gracie family.” Not only was God dead, and not only had the Devil raped his corpse, but the Devil had then brought God back to life for just long enough to watch his family beg for their lives. Defeating Ryan Gracie was just the blood icing on the brimstone cake. Sakuraba had nothing left to prove; he had already claimed his place in the MMA world as the man who killed God.

And that’s why I worship the Devil.

I do not consider Sakuaraba’s losses to Royce and Ralek legitimate losses. The loss to Royce in their 2007 rematch does not count for obvious reasons, and the man fighting against Ralek was not Kazushi Sakuraba. We all know the real Kazushi Sakuraba died fighting Hedorah back in 2006 after Godzilla had failed.

Ben Goldstein

Once upon a time, there was a big silverback gorilla who ruled over a patch of land deep in the forest. He came from far away, and had taken power by bullying the natives. After a while, it became accepted that this silverback would be the Alpha until he grew old or left the forest. Challenging him was considered a suicidal act.

One day, a new male gorilla arrived. He had also come from far away, and didn’t respect the order of things. He huffed and puffed near the silverback’s patch of land. He groped the silverback’s females. And one day, he walked straight into the silverback’s territory and loudly jabbered a challenge in front of everybody. The silverback puffed his chest in alpha-like fashion, and destroyed his beta-male challenger via first-round TKO; such is the way of the forest.

Except this rival was different from the others that came before him. Instead of cowering away and humbly accepting his second-class status, he licked his wounds and waited. He waited an entire year, and when he felt strong enough he challenged the silverback again. The silverback, offended at the young challenger’s brazenness, dished out the worst beating that the forest had ever seen. “Did he died?“, wondered a nearby gazelle.

The beta-male challenger, who we’ll call “Q” from now on, survived the beating and left the silverback’s territory, but vowed to have his revenge, someday, one way or the other. Q traveled the jungles and savannahs until he came upon an eight-sided field ruled by an aging alpha named Chuck, who Q had dominated in the past. The timing was perfect. Q deposed him, but the field was a shark tank, full of contenders who could be champ on any given day, and Q’s reign didn’t last long. Still, it wasn’t a bad place to live if you were a gorilla, and Q decided to remain there.

One day, he saw his old friend the silverback lumbering into the eight-sided field. The scars near the silverback’s eyes suggested he had been forced out of his old land. He was past his prime, no longer worth fearing. Q approached him. “Remember me, motherfucker?” Q said. The silverback squinted. It took a minute for him to make the connection — there had been so many rivals over the years — but then he remembered the young up-and-comer who wouldn’t bow down, and shoved him backwards. It was on, son.

The silverback carried many legends with him, and all the males gathered around to see what would happen. “Guaranteed fight-of-the-night,” said a toucan who nobody liked. But it actually started kind of slow, with both enemies circling around each other, tentative. Finally the silverback rushed in, throwing those nasty hooks that made him famous. Q ducked and slipped, letting the punches bounce off his fists, then came back with a left hook of his own, loaded with five years of pent-up hostility, all the pain and disappointment of being subjugated by his rival.

Quinton Jackson knocked out Wanderlei Silva at 3:21 of round 1 at UFC 92, December 27th, 2008. Standing over his fallen foe, Q howled, howled, howled, and the animals of the eight-sided field shrieked into the night in savage approval.

Chris Colemon

The battle is nothing new, but the guns are getting bigger.

It seems like only yesteryear that Dana White‘s struggles with the information super-highway were limited to news leaks and damage control. Whenever those pesky bloggers scooped his big news, Dana stuck to a rigid formula: deny the reports, then deny them some more, and continue to do so until he was left with no choice but to confirm the story.

Unable to control what news journalists ran with, D-Dub tried to limit their access to all news, cutting some reporters off from access to the UFC at large. Veteran members of the MMA media were blacklisted, with even the most responsible reporters in the business getting caught in the crossfire.

Before laughing at our misfortune, take note that some of you are in the crosshairs as well. Zuffa’s most recent battle has been with the pirates who steal its pay-per-views and the fans that stream them. Though they’ve had mixed results in the courtroom, Zuffa’s aggressive litigation may be enough to scare fans away from the Internet’s countless illegal streams.

One man who isn’t fucking scared of the Internet is Dana White. After publicly supporting the SOPA bill, Zuffa drew the ire of hacktivist organization Anonymous. The group first targeted the UFC by taking over its website. Following taunts and challenges from Dana, the group then attacked the man himself, posting some of his sensitive personal and financial information online. SOPA may not live on, but Dana’s war with the Internet has only just begun.

Jason Moles

In an illustrious fifteen-year career, Tito Ortiz managed to steal the limelight long before his star rose and well after it burned out. For nearly two decades, the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” has drawn the ire of fans and fighters alike. When you think about what makes a great rivalry, you immediately think passion, competitiveness, and entertainment. Like no other, Ortiz has done that and much, much more as he created some of the most memorable feuds in MMA history and his list of adversaries include, but is not limited to, Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, Dana White, and Jenna Jameson.

The Ortiz/Shamrock trilogy helped the UFC avoid bankruptcy, putting $50-60 million (by the estimation of unbiased financial reporter Ken Shamrock) into the UFC’s coffers. The former light-heavyweight champion bested “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” on all three occasions and rubbed salt in Ken’s wounds with his explicit insults to him and his Lion’s Den comrades.

Like all rivalries, The People vs. Tito Ortiz is not without each side facing difficulties, and Ortiz took his share of beatings at the hands of Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. If there were ever a time to borrow a line from WWE, before the whole Rashad Evans/Jon Jones thing went down, this is what we mean when we say fighters are “Good Friends, Better Enemies.” This beef was so epic it even got its own DVD so we can relive the highlights for years to come.

Just like the Yankees/Red Sox hatred has spilled into the streets and isn’t limited to just the actual players of a given team, UFC President Dana White has been an integral part of the Tito Ortiz story. The back and forth between White and Ortiz was enough to keep the media abuzz in between droughts of live action. The verbal sparring was just short of amazing; make of that what you will. Not many fighters have the brass balls to set their crosshairs on the boss, but he did…and then ducked out of a boxing match to settle the score like a man. Speaking of being a man, real men don’t hit women — or do they, then say it was all just a big misunderstanding? No one is safe in the prolific rivalry of Tito Ortiz and The People, not even camera phones.

Anthony Gannon

Mixed martial arts is a grappling-centric sport, with wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu reigning as the dominant forces. So it’s only natural that a rivalry would arise as to which style is the premiere base for MMA. As with all rivalries, the goal is to establish dominion. It doesn’t matter if it’s the two trashiest girls in school battling over who’s queen slut, the two toughest kids on the block fighting over who’s king shit, or more public feuds – such as McDonald’s vs. Burger King slugging it out over whose disgusting food can cause more cases of diabetes and heart disease. In a rivalry, someone’s got to lose.

The wrestling vs. BJJ rivalry is no different.

BJJ was without question the first dominant martial art in MMA. Royce Gracie opened up a can of chute burro on the martial arts world. He tapped out eleven dudes in a row to win the tournaments at UFCs 1, 2, and 4. He didn’t even have the decency to offer his conquests the choice between jelly and syrup. He just came in and established himself as the Triple OG. It took a few years for guys to catch on, but eventually it got to the point where a fighter could play the ground game with a BJJ pimp and not head home that night minus a limb. It wasn’t advisable — still isn’t, but it’s doable. Look to UFC 5, where Ken Shamrock took Royce Gracie down and laid on top of him for 36 agonizing minutes. He did less in the prone position than the girl who’s aptly known around my neighborhood as “Stump,” and the UFC’s first “superfight” was a horrifying spectacle, but it showed that a wrestler could survive a BJJ guy’s guard with a little knowledge of how to defend submissions.

What started as an opportunistic endeavor to introduce Gracie Jiu Jitsu to America spiraled into the evolutionary beast we know as modern MMA. Enter wrestlus dominus onto the scene — a particularly gruesome species with a nasty disposition and real fucked up ears. Gnarled appearance notwithstanding, the ability to dictate where a fight takes place is the wrestler’s greatest gift. It’s that ability that makes wrestling a dominant base. And the benefits for the sport have been amazing. Both styles have brought out the best in one another. Would Jose Aldo be the dominant champion he is had he never developed his stellar takedown defense? Would Ben Henderson still have a head to grow his gigantic hairdo on if he didn’t learn how to escape from a sickeningly deep choke? Just as homo erectus was forced by necessity to construct more advanced tools and weapons to have a fighting chance against the ungodly creatures that existed back then, fighters too were forced to evolve, and wrestling and BJJ were at the forefront of that expansion.

But what makes wrestling the dominant base is how the fights are judged. With few exceptions the guy in top position wins the fight, even if he’s not doing much. That may suck to those of us who love an active guard, but the scoring system is what it is. So in my most humble opinion, and with tremendous regard and respect for BJJ, wrestling must be given the edge in this rivalry. And if you don’t like it, I cordially invite you to suckle on my bountiful gluteus.

Seth Falvo

It’s fitting that Stephan Bonnar is our guest this week. Odds are pretty high that if you’re reading this article, you became an MMA fan after watching the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. And while Bonnar’s classic battle against Forrest Griffin may have sparked your interest in the sport, Chuck Liddell’s rivalry with Randy Couture is what made you stay.

Not only were the two UFC Hall of Famers in the primes of their careers for this rivalry, but they were two of the most popular, charismatic fighters in the sport. When UFC 52 shattered live gate and PPV buy records, it wasn’t exactly because of Lindland vs. Lutter. It was entirely because of all the new fans who wanted to see Chuck Liddell fight Randy Couture. And just in case you don’t believe it, their third and final bout at UFC 57 — which featured Brandon Vera vs. Justin Eilers as the co-main event, mind you — shattered those records yet again.

This is the rivalry that made it cool to tell your friends that you liked MMA. These are the athletes that virtually every fan since has listed among their favorite fighters. This is what brought MMA into the mainstream and kept it there — what more is there to say?