Countdown to UFC 100 will take a daily look at the 100 most memorable matches in UFC history. Every day until the landmark UFC 100 on July 11, ESPN.com will feature a new entry highlighting great moments from the past, from pioneers such as Royce Gracie to current superstars such as Georges St. Pierre and everything in between.
As the third and final round was about to begin in what was becoming the most important fight in UFC history, Stephan Bonnar was locked in tunnel vision.
He thought the first round had been close and a toss-up for the judges, but he knew he had won the second round with authority. So with the pivotal third just seconds away, Bonnar stood up from the stool in his corner, focused on only Forrest Griffin.
Griffin, meanwhile, was in his corner, being tended to by top cut man Jacob "Stitch" Duran, who was working hard to close a gash across Griffin's nose. But as the minute of rest neared its end, the blood continued to leak down the future light heavyweight champion's face.
Both men looked exhausted.
As the two approached each other to engage again, the 2,950 fans in attendance at the Cox Pavilion, who already had watched 10 of the most action-packed minutes in MMA history, began a spontaneous show of gratitude for the fighters' efforts, stomping their feet and screaming themselves hoarse.
"It felt like the place was shaking," Bonnar told ESPN.com. "That's when I kind of woke up and said to myself, 'This must be a great fight.'"
For the next five minutes, the two battered each other with punches and kicks, spilled blood and exemplified iron will by refusing to go down. As the horn sounded, the crowd rose to its feet for a standing ovation and broadcast analyst Joe Rogan told viewers, "I say hand out two contracts! How do you call a winner in that fight? That's two winners, period."
Griffin, always the good sportsman, walked over to Bonnar to congratulate him on the effort, but Bonnar pulled away, cognizant of the fact that if the judge's scores tallied to a draw, they would have to fight a fourth round. Seconds later, however, the fighters were told a winner had been declared. With a beaming Dana White along with "Ultimate Fighter" coaches Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell in the Octagon, Griffin was announced as the victor and Season 1 champion. A devastated Bonnar fell to the mat.
Moments later, though, White announced a happy surprise, rewarding Bonnar with a UFC contract as well. As unscripted action goes, the whole thing was brilliant and compelling theater, and more than 3.3 million fans around the country were tuned in to watch what turned out to be the most pivotal match in UFC history.
Like most, Bonnar and Griffin had little idea of the significance of their instant classic. Unbeknownst to them, included in the Cox Pavilion crowd were executives from Spike, the network that broadcasted the first season of the show in a deal that made no promises for a follow-up season. In the previous weeks, White had been flying back and forth to New York in an attempt to lock up a new contract, but because former Spike president Albie Hecht had left the company, the network was in a bit of disarray. The UFC had hoped the show would be its trojan horse, a way to invade homes and increase its audience base. But after one season and despite strong ratings, the situation was looking grim.
That all changed after the Spike executives witnessed the electricity firsthand. It was easy to dismiss the phenomenon from afar, but in person, it was obvious this was more movement than fad. According to White, on the night of the fight, key UFC and Spike executives walked into a back alley behind the Thomas & Mack Center adjacent to Cox Pavilion and hammered out a deal. Less than a month later, Spike and UFC officially announced they had come to terms on a two-year deal during which they would produce two new seasons of TUF, six live fight cards and 26 episodes culling fights from the company's history, which turned out to be "UFC Unleashed."
The deal gave the UFC instant credibility in the sports world. For the first season of TUF, the UFC had paid $10 million of its own money to produce the series, but this contract would generate revenue for the company and showcase it to its widest audience ever in an ongoing fashion. With the added exposure, pay-per-view buyrates quickly began to rise and momentum rocketed forward. Four years later, it's clear that the UFC would be nowhere near its current place without the first season of TUF and the Bonnar-Griffin finale.
And to think, neither man knew it at the time.
"Most guys on the show had questions about whether it could really succeed," Bonnar said. "For me, the whole time, I thought it'd be a big hit. I remember hearing people saying they had doubts. I was like, 'What? Are you kidding me?' It's going to be awesome. I always had a lot of confidence 'The Ultimate Fighter' would be a hit and that the UFC would be a hit, too."
No. 2: Royce Gracie versus Art Jimmerson, Ken Shamrock and Gerard Gordeau
UFC 1, Nov. 12, 1993 -- Denver
You can't celebrate your present without acknowledging your past, and no single fighter in the UFC's history inspired more of today's crop than Royce Gracie, the undersized Brazilian who effectively opened the world's eyes to a new art form called Brazilian jiu-jitsu that would help give birth to a sport.
Funny story about the birth of UFC: According to L. Jon Wertheim's recent book "Blood in the Cage," Sports Illustrated sent a reporter to cover the event, but his account was never published because editors were disgusted by the descriptions of violence it contained. According to Wertheim, during the event, UFC co-founder Rorion Gracie told SI reporter Chris Price, "This is going to be absolutely huge! I have no doubt it will overtake boxing and wrestling!"
Although it's true that today's version of MMA has only a passing resemblance to the fights of UFC 1, we couldn't have gotten here without starting there, and Royce Gracie is the first link in the evolutionary chain.
When Gracie walked out for his quarterfinal match with Art Jimmerson wearing a gi and weighing just 178 pounds, most of the people watching in McNichols Arena and around the country on pay-per-view likely thought he had little chance. Rorion Gracie, however, had selected his brother to represent the family's art specifically because his slight appearance would help prove the superiority of BJJ's technique against brute strength.
In the first fight, Gracie didn't even get to show that, as Jimmerson tapped out soon after being mounted without a submission attempt of any kind. In the semifinals, Gracie would fight a man who would become his rival: Ken Shamrock. Together, they would become the two biggest stars of the UFC's early era. Their first encounter, however, was quick, with Gracie needing just 2 minutes, 18 seconds to win by choke. In the finals against kickboxer Gerard Gordeau, Gracie took him down and sank in a rear naked choke.
"What happens is, when we get in a clinch, if they don't know what to do, it's Gracie jiu-jitsu all the way," Gracie said after the fight.
It was true. What we were watching was fascinating because it was like unleashing an exotic secret. Although there was a Gracie Academy already open in Torrance, Calif., at the time, it was hardly known to the masses who were tuning in for the spectacle that unfolded.
Gracie would go on to win the UFC 2 and 4 tournaments, and he had an 11-1-1 UFC record before parting ways with the UFC in 1995. His impact, however, was immediate and priceless. Before UFC 1, many martial artists simply trained in their own style, most of which used striking as the primary weapon. But Gracie proved something that seemed counterintuitive: You could win a fight without throwing a single punch. Roundhouse kicks and left hooks suddenly seemed worthless when you found yourself on your back. Fighters suddenly began to incorporate jiu-jitsu and add new elements into their training (hence the term: mixed martial arts).
By the time he returned to the UFC in May 2006, Gracie -- who fought sporadically in the intervening years -- was coming back to a sport that had evolved dramatically. He was dominated by welterweight champ Matt Hughes, including on the ground, where Hughes nearly tapped him out with a kimura before scoring a first-round TKO.
In the end, the result barely mattered because the homecoming was more important than the fight itself. The fans had the chance to say "thank you," and Gracie had the opportunity to see just how far it had all come.
In the days leading up to the fight, Gracie observed the UFC's progress and summed up his role in that growth in a few words.
"This is my house. I built it," he said.
No. 3: Chuck Liddell versus Tito Ortiz II
UFC 66, December 30, 2006 -- Las Vegas
Years from now, when history looks back on the rise of the UFC with a perspective that only time allows, it is quite possible that no single fight will have meant more to the early rise of the company than Liddell-Ortiz II.
At the time, the two fighters were unquestionably the biggest drawing cards in MMA pay-per-view. Ortiz was not only very good in the cage but also a one-man promotional machine, building himself into a brand that even casual fans recognized. From the beginning, he realized people would pay to see a fighter whom they liked winning -- or pay for the possibility of seeing a fighter they disliked losing.
Ortiz capitalized by saying outrageous things. Before this fight, one example was, "Chuck has charisma? No. With all the millions Chuck has made, maybe he can buy some." He added spectacle to anything he did (his "Gravedigger" routine following his wins, for example). By the time the bout was announced, Ortiz had become a polarizing figure in the MMA community. But because of that, people were invested in him.
Liddell, meanwhile, was more a no-nonsense fighter -- albeit one who wore a Mohawk, had tattoos on his head and boasted sledgehammers for hands. By the time the fight rolled around, he had reigned as the UFC's light heavyweight champion for 18 months and had notched a KO or TKO in seven straight fights. Success had been the biggest ingredient in building his fan base, and because of his exciting finishes, the hype around "The Iceman" was reaching a fever pitch. In his typical soft-spoken style, he said little to make headlines in the lead-up to the fight, and when he did, it was typically understated. When asked whether he was prepared to go five rounds, Liddell simply said, "I don't think he'll make it that far."
The difference in their personalities manifested itself in the fans who rooted for them, and the polarization brought even more electricity to the matchup.
"No doubt about it: Tito hates Chuck, and Chuck hates Tito," UFC president Dana White said at the time. "Chuck fans hate Tito fans, and Tito fans hate Chuck fans."
Shining a brighter light than they had on any previous MMA fight were the mainstream media, which had their eyes opened after an Ortiz-Shamrock bout two months earlier had proved a ratings monster on cable TV. Suddenly, major outlets like CNN, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times were reporting about the sport's growth and featuring Liddell and Ortiz content. ("… the job of taking the sport from gutter to mainstream largely rests on the muscled shoulders of athletes like Mr. Ortiz," The New York Times wrote in a story published the day before UFC 66.)
Liddell was the odds-on favorite in the fight, which went almost three competitive rounds before Liddell scored a TKO win in front of a frenzied MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd of 13,761.
The aftermath, however, revealed the true importance of the bout. UFC 66 became the first mixed martial arts pay-per-view event to surpass 1 million buys and still holds the record for the largest North American MMA gate with almost $5.4 million in tickets sold. The numbers effectively announced the UFC as big business.
Within months, Liddell would be on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, and the UFC would merit a Sports Illustrated cover story. With that, it became clear that the organization had been stamped as a legitimate sports property that was here to stay.
No. 4: Tito Ortiz versus Ken Shamrock
Ortiz versus Shamrock 3, Oct. 10, 2006 -- Hollywood, Fla.
As with a child, the growth of a company can best be illustrated by passing benchmarks. By October 2006, the UFC had firmly established itself as a rising sports property and managed to create a series of new stars with its "Ultimate Fighter" show.
Still, however, the biggest names in the UFC were those of the early pioneers who'd helped build the sport with blood, guts and the occasional well-timed verbal assault. Chief among that group were Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock, a pair of brash veterans who'd faced off twice before, setting UFC revenue and viewing records in the process. In their second matchup, just four months earlier at UFC 61, their fight had helped the event shatter the company record for pay-per-view buys with 775,000 households plunking down cash. While Ortiz won that fight via first-round TKO, Shamrock protested the stoppage as early, and the UFC decided on a do-over.
Clearly, the UFC could have put the bout on another pay-per-view event and watched more money roll in, but they smartly realized that putting it on free TV could open some eyes, not only among would-be fans but also among television executives.
"The fans got ripped off. They paid to see us fight, and they didn't get to see it," Shamrock said prior to the third fight.
It's easy to forget years later, but the hype leading up to the fight was huge, as both men showed off their gift of gab to rip the other and build a must-see event. By the time the fight rolled around, the UFC and Spike were expecting a huge rating. The two delivered, with 5.7 million viewers tuning in to watch the last fight of the trilogy. At that point in the UFC's history, it was by far its biggest cable TV audience ever. (In the time since, it's only been topped once, by UFC 75's Quinton Jackson-Dan Henderson fight, which drew 5.9 million.)
The match itself was disappointingly one-sided. Ortiz took Shamrock down early and scored when he found openings until a massive flurry finished Shamrock at just 2:23 of Round 1.
Afterward, the two shared a hug and Shamrock retired -- albeit briefly.
The fight is significant not only because of its importance in the growth of UFC, but also because in some ways, it was the last fight of an era. The two had helped carry the promotion for so many years, but it was really the last hurrah for both men.
In the time since, Ortiz has not won a match, going 0-2-1 before undergoing major back surgery in October. He remains sidelined while recovering, but many believe at 34 and coming off such a major injury, his best days are behind him. Shamrock's career, meanwhile, has been checkered, to say the least. The one-time "World's Most Dangerous Man" was TKO'd in his March 2008 comeback fight against Robert Berry. In October 2008, he was scheduled to fight Kimbo Slice but withdrew from the match on the night of the show after sustaining a deep cut during warm-ups. In February 2009, he won a fight with Ross Clifton but tested positive for steroids afterward, resulting in a suspension that knocked him out of a proposed bout with Bobby Lashley. He remains under suspension today.
That said, the importance of Shamrock, Ortiz and their three fights cannot be understated. The fan frenzy and the numbers that surrounded them opened the door and proved to the mainstream media what was to come.
For the first time, the eyes of the entire sporting world were on UFC. ESPN did extensive coverage of the fight, focusing on Liddell's rise to stardom and going as far as to put him on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. He seemed poised to enter an even higher place in the sport's stratosphere, but Jackson had something to say about it. Less than two minutes into the heavily anticipated fight, Liddell threw a lazy hook, and Jackson threw a right hand over the top that landed on Liddell's chin and sent him crashing to the canvas. Jackson then followed up with a few shots on the ground before the fight was stopped at one minute, 53 seconds of the first round. Though at the time it seemed like a disaster for the UFC to have its biggest star beaten so soundly, the organization quickly recovered.
No. 6: Matt Serra versus Georges St. Pierre
UFC 69, April 7, 2007 -- Houston
It will probably always be known as the greatest UFC upset of all time. Serra was given a title fight for winning Season 4 of "The Ultimate Fighter" while reigning champ GSP was promptly installed as a -1000 favorite, an overwhelming number rarely seen in any sport. Serra, however, was extremely confident. Playing up his underdog role and Italian heritage, he walked out to a remix of the "Rocky" theme song. It was believed that Serra's best chance at victory was a submission, but he surprised St. Pierre by engaging him standing. Serra rocked the champ with a punch behind the ear early on and never let up, staggering GSP multiple times before finishing him with ground strikes in just 3:23 as the MMA world looked on in shock.
No. 7: Matt Hughes versus Frank Trigg
UFC 52, April 16, 2005 -- Las Vegas
This fight had everything: history, drama and a title on the line. The two had faced off 17 months earlier, with Hughes winning by submission. Trigg wanted revenge and had engaged Hughes in a war of words leading up to the rematch. Then, just after hearing the referee instructions, Trigg blew Hughes a kiss. When the bell rang, all hell broke loose. Less than a minute into the fight, Trigg inadvertently kneed Hughes in the groin. The referee didn't see it, and Hughes recoiled in pain. Trigg took advantage of the opening and, for the next two minutes, he tried desperately to finish Hughes. Finally, Hughes escaped from a rear-naked choke, picked up Trigg and carried him across the entire Octagon. He then slammed Trigg down, mounted him and rained down punches before finishing with a rear-naked choke.
No. 8: Wanderlei Silva versus Chuck Liddell
UFC 79, Dec. 29, 2007 -- Las Vegas
For years, Dana White dreamed about putting together a battle between two of MMA's fiercest warriors. At UFC 61, he went so far as to announce they'd meet at a November 2006 event, but talks between UFC and Pride soon broke down. Finally, when Zuffa bought Pride in 2007, White was able to host the long-discussed, long-awaited matchup. Suffice it to say, it was worth the wait. For 15 minutes, Silva and Liddell stood toe-to-toe and fired off heat-seeking strikes with bad intentions to the delight of millions watching around the world. Liddell emerged the winner by decision, but a winner and loser were almost inconsequential to the spectacle Silva and Liddell had produced.
No. 9: Randy Couture versus Tim Sylvia
UFC 68, March 3, 2007 -- Columbus, Ohio
After losing to Chuck Liddell at UFC 57, Randy Couture said he was done. For 13 months, he was gone, only making occasional appearances as a broadcaster at UFC events. But as suddenly as he left, he returned. And shockingly, he announced that he would move up a weight class to fight Sylvia for the heavyweight title. Couture had been KO'd in two of his previous three fights, and many were legitimately concerned that he could be hurt against the gigantic Sylvia. Instead, Couture nearly knocked out Sylvia with his first punch of the match, a big overhand right, and rode the momentum to a five-round whipping as the Nationwide Arena crowd wildly celebrated the 25-minute coronation of the once and future king.
No. 10: Frank Shamrock versus Tito Ortiz
UFC 22, Sept. 24, 1999 -- Lake Charles, La.
At the time this matchup took place, Shamrock and Ortiz were two of the biggest names in a sport still struggling to survive. During the six years between UFC 1 and UFC 22, many fighters had begun to incorporate new martial arts into their training. Instead of matches pitting a kickboxer against a wrestler, they now featured more fighters willing and able to utilize multiple disciplines. The Shamrock-Ortiz fight became one of the best early examples of the new approach, with the pair going almost four full rounds at a high level. Ortiz, naturally the larger man, controlled much of the first three rounds, but Shamrock never really found himself in major trouble. By the fourth, Ortiz was tiring and Shamrock, always known for his conditioning, poured on the pressure with ground-and-pound strikes and eventually forced Ortiz to tap. The fight is still considered an early classic of the sport.
No. 11: Chuck Liddell versus Randy Couture
UFC 57, Feb. 4, 2006 -- Las Vegas
In some ways, the two previous encounters between these legends had more at stake than this one, but as the rubber match of UFC's first major trilogy, this one had true electricity surrounding it. Liddell and Couture had become much bigger stars since appearing on "The Ultimate Fighter" and with the increase in UFC coverage that ensued. The first round was evenly contested, but Liddell turned the tables in the second, landing a crushing right hand that dropped Couture and led to the finish. Afterward, Couture announced his retirement. He stayed on the sideline for more than a year, eventually returning to fight Tim Sylvia.
It just didn't seem possible that Rua, who'd been a wrecking machine in Pride and was one of the key acquisitions of the Pride-UFC transaction, could lose to Griffin. In fact, some assumed Rua would get a shot at the 205-pound title after beating Griffin. It never came close to happening. With every passing second, Griffin seemed to grow more confident, outstriking and even outgrappling the Brazilian along the way. Finally, late in the third, Griffin sunk his arm under Rua's chin and choked him out just before time elapsed, leading to a wild celebration from Griffin in the Octagon and the fans in the Honda Center.
No. 13: Quinton Jackson versus Dan Henderson
UFC 75, Sept. 8, 2007 -- London
Before Jackson-Henderson, it was difficult to define any champion as "undisputed" because of the lack of promotional cooperation between the UFC and Pride. But when UFC bought Pride, the question finally could have a legitimate answer. Fighting like true champs, Jackson and Henderson went toe-to-toe for five rounds of action. The 25 minutes of battle made for one of the most competitive title fights in MMA history. In the end, Jackson left with his hand raised as the victor and as undisputed champion.
No. 14: Georges St. Pierre versus B.J. Penn
UFC 94, Jan. 31, 2009 -- Las Vegas
Billed and promoted as the biggest fight in UFC history, St. Pierre-Penn II featured a matchup between two current UFC titleholders for the first time ever. The UFC pulled out all the stops for the promotion, producing a slick three-part series and going on a multi-city tour to hype the fight. The match, however, was nowhere near as competitive as their first encounter, with St. Pierre taking Penn down repeatedly and inflicting damage from the top until Penn's corner mercifully stopped the fight after the fourth round. Of course, the fight also led to "GreaseGate," with Penn's camp accusing St. Pierre of cheating by applying Vaseline to his body. GSP was not penalized or found guilty of any wrongdoing.
No. 15: Maurice Smith versus Mark Coleman
UFC 14, July 27, 1997 -- Dothan, Ala.
Through his first six matches, Coleman looked unbeatable, mowing through six stoppage finishes. A matchup with Smith, best known for his kickboxing background, seemed tailor-made for Coleman stylistically. For the first nine minutes of the fight, it was, as Coleman took Smith down and worked him over from the top. But Smith managed to stay alive and finally got off the ground nine minutes in. For Coleman, exhaustion immediately set in. Smith took over and battered Coleman from the outside, earning a unanimous decision win and the UFC title in the first instance of a top striker beating a top wrestler.
No. 16: Rashad Evans versus Forrest Griffin
UFC 92, Dec. 27, 2008 -- Las Vegas
Critics who'd badmouthed "The Ultimate Fighter" franchise as little more than a UFC infomercial were forced to eat crow when two TUF alumni faced off for a title for the first time. Griffin got off to quick start, but Evans began finding his rhythm in the second round and then decided things for good in the third. He caught a Griffin leg kick and floored him with a right hand, then followed up with effective ground-and-pound from the top, forcing a stoppage to become the light heavyweight champion.
No. 17: Chuck Liddell versus Randy Couture
UFC 52, April 16, 2005 -- Las Vegas
For so long, Liddell had been the UFC's uncrowned champ, unable to win a belt yet willing and able to take on and knock out all comers. His time finally arrived when the audience did. With the recently completed first season of "The Ultimate Fighter" introducing scores of new fans to MMA, Liddell and Couture met in the Octagon and fought a largely stand-up battle, with Liddell landing from his usual counterpunching style. The fight lasted just a few ticks more than two minutes, as Liddell caught Couture with a heavy hook-cross combo, knocking out "The Natural" -- already a legend -- for the first time in his career.
No. 18: Matt Hughes versus B.J. Penn
UFC 63, Sept. 23, 2006 -- Anaheim, Calif.
Penn had ended Hughes' first welterweight title run two years before this fight and had a chance to end his second after replacing No. 1 contender Georges St. Pierre, who dropped out because of injury. But Hughes got Penn the second time around. After narrowly escaping a second-round submission, Hughes took advantage of the second life and battered Penn in the third, securing a crucifix and raining down unanswered punches until referee "Big" John McCarthy stopped the action.
No. 19: Chuck Liddell versus Tito Ortiz
UFC 47, April 2, 2004 -- Las Vegas
It was a bout that was destined to happen; however, many times delays pushed it to the back burner. First, Ortiz said he was unwilling to fight a friend, then he was hurt, then he left the UFC for a stretch. All the while, Liddell kept racking up wins and waiting for his opportunity. Finally, when Ortiz lost his belt to Randy Couture and needed a win to get back into the title picture, he agreed to the match. When they did meet, The Iceman proved too much for Ortiz, stopping Tito's takedown tries and landing clean strikes. The end came 38 seconds into the second round as Liddell moved one step closer to the light heavyweight title.
No. 20: Royce Gracie versus Ken Shamrock
UFC 5, April 7, 1995 -- Charlotte, N.C.
After Gracie won UFC tournaments 1, 2 and 4, and Shamrock emerged as a crowd favorite, the UFC decided to pair them in the first "superfight" instead of hoping they'd advance through tournament brackets and meet in the final. The match was largely a stalemate, with the predetermined 30-minute time limit elapsing without a winner. A five-minute overtime period was ordered, but that, too, passed before a winner emerged. Because of time limitations, the bout was declared a draw. Soon afterward, Gracie would leave the UFC and wouldn't return for more than a decade.
No. 21: Tito Ortiz versus Guy Mezger
UFC 19, March 5, 1999 -- Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Love him or hate him, Ortiz will always deserve a measure of credit for the UFC's rise to popularity. The Huntington Beach Bad Boy's lightning-rod ways truly began at UFC 19. In a rematch with Mezger, who had defeated him at UFC 13, Ortiz won via a first-round ground-and-pound stoppage, then wore a profane T-shirt directed at Mezger and trash-talked Mezger's cornerman, Ken Shamrock. That began a feud that lasted years and drew more eyeballs to the UFC than any other rivalry.
No. 22: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira versus Tim Sylvia
UFC 81, Feb. 2, 2008 -- Las Vegas
For years, Nogueira had been a standout in Japan's Pride organization, even holding the title there for a time. After beating Heath Herring in his UFC debut in July 2007, a win over Sylvia would have made Nogueira the first man to hold both the UFC and Pride heavyweight titles. (The matchup with Sylvia was for an interim UFC title while Randy Couture was in the midst of a contract dispute.) After being battered by Sylvia's boxing attack for the first two rounds, Nogueira managed to take Sylvia to the canvas and pull guard early in the third. Sylvia tried to return to his feet, but Nogueira swept him into side control and then quickly applied a fight-ending guillotine.
Four months earlier, Silva had made his UFC debut with a convincing win over Chris Leben, but many still had no idea just how good he was, as evidenced by the 2-to-1 odds in Franklin's favor come fight time. But the larger MMA world was about to find out how dominant Silva could be, as he brutalized Franklin from the Muay Thai clinch with knees to the body and face, knocking him out in just 2 minutes and 59 seconds in what remains the only first-round loss of Franklin's career.
No. 24: Georges St. Pierre versus Matt Serra
UFC 83, April 19, 2008 -- Montreal
If someone had tracked audience decibel levels for every fight in UFC history, you'd be hard-pressed to find a fight that scores better than this one, featuring hometown hero GSP trying to win back the UFC welterweight title. The contest was more like a coronation, with St. Pierre taking down Serra at will and roughing him up on the ground as the 21,390 at the Bell Centre cheered wildly. By the time ring announcer Bruce Buffer announced the new champ, you could scarcely hear GSP's name, but the emotion told you everything you needed to know.
No. 25: Scott Smith versus Pete Sell
TUF 4 finale, Nov. 11, 2005 -- Las Vegas
One of the greatest fight endings in UFC history took place on the undercard of "The Ultimate Fighter 4" finale, with two heavy-handed sluggers trading leather until the electrifying end. About three and a half minutes into the second round, Sell doubled Smith over in agony with a perfectly placed liver punch. Smith fell back against the cage and seemed in dire straits, but as Sell moved in to finish the job, Smith threw a desperate overhand right that found its mark for the sudden and shocking KO.
No. 26: Randy Couture versus Chuck Liddell
UFC 43, June 6, 2003 -- Las Vegas
After two straight losses in the UFC, many thought Couture -- at the time pushing 40 -- was finally done. The Natural, however, had other ideas and decided to drop a weight class to challenge for the 205-pound interim title. They matched him with Liddell, who for a long time had been considered a top contender but never received his shot. Most expected The Iceman to add to his 10-fight win streak, but instead, Couture thumped him soundly in a third-round TKO win, making him the first man to win UFC titles in two separate weight classes.
No. 27: Tito Ortiz versus Ken Shamrock
UFC 61, July 8, 2006 -- Las Vegas
The main event of the night might have been the final bout in the Andrei Arlovski-Tim Sylvia trilogy, but it was again Ortiz and Shamrock who brought the sizzle to the night in their second of three encounters. And not surprisingly, it would end in controversy. Ortiz slammed Shamrock down early in the fight and landed a series of elbows from the top that caused referee Herb Dean to stop the action in just 1:18. Shamrock immediately protested the stoppage and boos echoed around the arena. The event, however, would be an enormous success for the UFC, which registered almost 800,000 pay-per-view buys.
No. 28: Anderson Silva versus Dan Henderson
UFC 82, March 1, 2008 -- Columbus, Ohio
The matchup between Silva, the UFC's 185-pound champ, and Henderson, the Pride 183-pound champ, had all the makings of a classic with Silva's pinpoint accuracy and standup excellence against Hendo's power striking and wrestling brilliance. After a close first round, things got away from Henderson in the second. First, he took fire in a rough exchange, then ended up on the ground with Silva in control. As the round came to an end, Silva sunk in a rear-naked choke. With the clock running down, it seemed to be a race to see if Silva could finish Henderson, but with eight seconds left, Henderson tapped out, making Silva the undisputed king of the division.
No. 29 -- Georges St. Pierre versus B.J. Penn
UFC 58, March 4, 2006 -- Las Vegas
While UFC 94's Penn versus St. Pierre rematch led to one of the biggest events in UFC history, this was the one that planted the seeds. It was a razor-close affair, with Penn bloodying GSP badly in the first round before the Canadian superstar rallied in the second and third with takedowns and success from the top. But the final tally -- a split decision -- left many unsatisfied and hoping for a second go-round between two of the sport's most well-rounded fighters.
No. 30: Forrest Griffin versus Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
UFC 86, July 5, 2008 -- Las Vegas
It seemed somewhat improbable that Griffin, just two fights removed from a brutal knockout at the hands of Keith Jardine, could best a surging Jackson for the title. But Griffin -- always the ultimate underdog – pulled it off, frustrating Jackson with waves of leg kicks and a strong defensive effort. When the five-round affair ended, the sellout crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center drowned one of the UFC's most popular fighters in a sea of cheers.
No. 31: B.J. Penn versus Matt Hughes
UFC 46, January 31, 2004, Las Vegas
Penn had failed in two previous chances to capture a UFC title -- both in the lightweight division -- so many wondered how moving up to welterweight to fight Hughes, who had defended his title in five straight fights, would benefit Penn. But he shocked the bruising Hughes, taking him down and controlling him through much of the first round, then capitalized on a mistake to cinch a rear-naked choke for the win and his first UFC title.
No. 32: Royce Gracie versus Dan Severn
UFC 4, Dec. 16, 1994 -- Tulsa, Okla.
Soon after Gracie debuted, fighters began understanding the importance of jiu-jitsu and took steps to rectify their lack of knowledge on the art. Severn, a debuting fighter with a strong amateur wrestling background, gave Gracie his biggest test to that point. At that time, UFC matches still had no time limits, so the two went nearly 16 minutes, largely with Severn on top and trying to stay out of Gracie's spider web. Finally, Gracie pulled off a triangle choke for the win. Interestingly, many fans who had ordered the pay-per-view didn't see the finish, as the event ran over its allotted broadcast window, missing out on what, at the time, was the most dramatic finish in the organization's history.
No. 33: Randy Couture versus Kevin Randleman
UFC 28, Nov. 17, 2000 -- Atlantic City, N.J.
After capturing the UFC heavyweight title in December 2000, Couture left the company before he could defend it. When he returned three years later, he was solely dedicated to MMA after having missed out on the Olympics in his fourth and final try. In his return, he was again fighting for the belt, but for the first time would be facing someone with similar wrestling credentials. Randleman controlled Couture over the first two rounds, but the crafty Couture capitalized in the third, winning the standup battle before taking Randleman down and scoring a TKO. With the win, he became the first two-time champion in UFC history.
No. 34: Tito Ortiz versus Ken Shamrock
UFC 40, Nov. 22, 2002 -- Las Vegas
The UFC's first big-money feud was undoubtedly the one between Ortiz and Shamrock, and after a few years of trash talk, the two finally met in the cage. By that time, Ortiz was already a well-established light heavyweight champion, and the title implications only added to the hype. The match itself, however, was largely one-sided, as the younger, stronger Ortiz took Shamrock down repeatedly and dished out punishment. Finally, after three rounds of watching Shamrock taking a pounding, his corner stopped the fight, giving Ortiz the win.
No. 35: Randy Couture versus Steven Graham
UFC 13, May 30, 1997 -- Augusta, Ga.
Little did the fighting world know how momentous the night would be, as both Tito Ortiz and Couture made their UFC debuts. But it was the 33-year-old Couture who would make the bigger first impression. First, he needed just 57 seconds to tap out the massive Tony Halme. Then, he took on Steven Graham in the final and showed off the ground-and-pound style that would make him a legend, finishing Graham with strikes from the top.
No. 36: Matt Hughes versus Carlos Newton
UFC 34, Nov. 2, 2001 -- Las Vegas
Hughes was already a veteran but hoping to win his first UFC title when he entered the cage against the champion Newton. The riveting finish came in the second round. Newton caught Hughes in a triangle choke, and Hughes used his strength to pick up Newton in hopes of alleviating the pressure, walking him over to the cage. But Newton held tight. As Hughes began fading, he slammed Newton to the mat in a last-ditch effort. When they hit the ground, Newton was unconscious and Hughes was draped over him. Referee "Big" John McCarthy, naturally looking first at Newton, the man who had taken the blow, saw he was out and awarded the win to Hughes, who himself was barely conscious.
This one went down in the record books for all the wrong reasons. The fight was entertaining enough, with Sherk winning a unanimous decision on the strength of his wrestling, though he ate a series of hard knees to the face during takedown tries. But the real drama came a short time after the fight when both Sherk and Franca tested positive for steroids. Sherk fought the charge, hiring well-known sports lawyer Howard Jacobs. He was still suspended for six months. Franca, meanwhile, admitted guilt and threw himself on the mercy of the state athletic commission, but was suspended for a year.
No. 38: Kazushi Sakuraba versus Marcus Silveira
UFC Japan, December 21, 1997 -- Yokohama, Japan
If you were to look only at Sakuraba's stats (24-12-1 with two no-decisions), his importance to MMA history would be lost. But the Japanese warrior was willing to fight anyone, competing with heart and intelligence. He showed his grit simply by entering UFC Japan's heavyweight tourney despite being undersized by at least 15 pounds (he claimed he didn't understand the kilos-to-pounds conversion, and reported himself at a weight that converted to 203 pounds, when he actually weighed closer to 185). In the finals, he faced off against Marcus "Conan" Silveira -- who outweighed him by about 50 pounds -- and won a strategic match, submitting Silveira via arm bar.
No. 39: Georges St. Pierre versus Matt Hughes
UFC 65, Nov. 18, 2006 -- Sacramento, Calif.
The first time around, GSP admitted that nerves led to his undoing against Hughes, a fighter he grew up watching intently. But when St. Pierre earned a second chance against Hughes, he put his lessons into action. The Canadian showed the full complement of skills that have become his trademark and overwhelmed the powerful champion in a second-round TKO.
No. 40: Tim Sylvia versus Andrei Arlovski
UFC 59, April 15, 2006 -- Anaheim, Calif.
One of the few heavyweight rivalries to emerge in the past few years was Sylvia's trilogy with Arlovski. In Part 1, Arlovski won the interim championship via heel hook. Fourteen months later, Sylvia got his crack at sweet revenge and capitalized. The 6-foot-8 banger earned his second UFC title with a first-round TKO over the Belarussian. Just three months later, Sylvia would defeat Arlovski yet again.
No. 41: Evan Tanner versus David Terrell
UFC 51, Feb. 5, 2005 -- Las Vegas
Perhaps no champion in UFC history was more unlikely than Tanner, a lifelong adventurist who refused to even categorize himself as a fighter and who learned the sport from reading books and watching videos. Against the young Terrell, the veteran Tanner entered the match an underdog, but needed to shake off an early guillotine try from the jiu-jitsu specialist before utilizing a blazing ground-and-pound game that earned Tanner the middleweight championship.
No. 42: Randy Couture versus Gabriel Gonzaga
UFC 74, Aug. 25, 2007 -- Las Vegas
Once again, this was supposed to be the end of the line for Couture. Gonzaga, both massive and powerful, had announced himself as a scary contender after a fight-ending kick to the head in a victory over Mirko Cro Cop, and was installed as the prefight favorite. But Couture had a few lessons to teach the youngster, using his dirty boxing to tire Gonzaga out, putting him on the ground with a takedown so violent it broke Gonzaga's nose, and eventually pounding him out for a third-round TKO.
No. 43: B.J. Penn versus Joe Stevenson
UFC 80, Jan. 19, 2008 -- Newcastle, England
Before this fight, Penn had had two chances at earning the UFC lightweight title and failed to emerge with the belt either time. But a faster, leaner and more determined Penn would not be denied the third time. Overwhelming Stevenson with his crisp boxing and slick ground game, Penn bloodied his opponent, then cinched in a rear-naked choke for the win, in the process becoming only the second person to hold titles in two weight classes. (Randy Couture is the other.)
No. 44: Rich Franklin versus Evan Tanner
UFC 53, June 4, 2005 -- Atlantic City, N.J.
Just two years prior, Franklin had beaten Tanner in a first-round TKO. For the rematch, Tanner's newly earned UFC middleweight title was on the line, as was his pride. For almost four rounds, Franklin got the better of the stand-up, hammering from the outside as Tanner continued to move forward, trying to find his range. It never came. Finally, after Tanner had taken a hellacious beating, the ringside doctor stopped the bout. Though his body was beaten, Tanner's heart shined through in a performance that encapsulated his blue-collar fighting spirit. Meanwhile, Franklin's era had begun.
No. 45: Royce Gracie versus Matt Hughes
UFC 60, May 27, 2006 -- Los Angeles
At the time of this fight, Gracie hadn't been seen in a UFC Octagon since UFC 5, a period spanning more than a decade. Hughes, meanwhile, was riding high, in the midst of his second welterweight title reign. Needless to say, the matchup between legend and champ was highly anticipated. The action, however, lacked any of the prefight drama. Hughes imposed his will with a takedown, managed a near-submission, then battered Gracie with ground-and-pound to collect a first-round stoppage.
No. 46: Frank Shamrock versus Kevin Jackson
UFC Japan, Dec. 21, 1997 -- Yokohama, Japan
Jackson, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, had won the UFC 14 tournament a few months earlier in style, while Shamrock, making his UFC debut on this night in a middleweight championship fight, was already well established in the fighting world through his time in Pancrase. Most expected a drawn-out clash. Instead, Shamrock caught Jackson with an armbar in just 16 seconds. Jackson, at one time considered a fighter who could help the struggling sport gain legitimacy, retired just two fights later to take a job with USA Wrestling.
No. 47: Mark Coleman versus Don Frye
UFC 10, July 12, 1996 -- Birmingham, Ala.
"The Hammer" smashed his way into the sport's upper echelon in a single night. A former NCAA champ and Olympian, Coleman showed what an elite-level wrestler could do as he ground-and-pounded through Moti Horenstein, Gary Goodridge (who actually submitted before a fight-finishing choke could be applied) and Don Frye to win the event.
No. 48: Steve Berger versus Robbie Lawler
UFC 37.5, June 22, 2002 -- Las Vegas
Not intrinsically memorable as a technical battle or back-and-forth war, Berger versus Lawler shattered a barrier by becoming the first fight ever aired on U.S. cable television. The event was called "37.5" because it was put together on short notice (UFC 38 had already been scheduled) specifically for Fox Sports Net. Lawler won by second-round TKO. (In a side note, he also fought on the first-ever network TV card for EliteXC in May 2008.)
No. 49: Tito Ortiz versus Guy Mezger
UFC 13, May 13, 1997 -- Augusta, Ga.
From the beginning, it was obvious Ortiz was a big-time prospect, and after winning his alternate bout at UFC 13, he was put in the final when Enson Inoue couldn't continue. Ortiz controlled a good bit of the action against Mezger but got caught with a fight-ending guillotine while moving in for a takedown. The loss would become the impetus for the infamous Ortiz versus Lion's Den rivalry, which helped shape some of the sport's early days.
No. 50: Murilo Bustamante versus Matt Lindland
UFC 37, May 10, 2002 -- Bossier City, La.
These days, Lindland has a reputation as someone who was an uncrowned champ and was pushed aside by the UFC in favor of more marketable fighters. But regardless of opinions, Lindland did have a shot to become a UFC champ under Zuffa when he fought Bustamante. In the first round, Bustamante appeared to lock him in an arm bar, and then released it after what looked like a tapout. After a few moments of confusion, the match was restarted. Then, in the third, Bustamante locked on a guillotine. Lindland submitted, giving Bustamante the win in what has infamously become known as the "Double Tap" fight.
No. 51: Royce Gracie versus Pat Smith
UFC 2, March 11, 1994 -- Denver
After he won the inaugural UFC event, the only question for Gracie was: "Can he do it again?" To add pressure to the feat, organizers added an extra round, meaning the fighter would have to go through four matches to capture the tournament championship. After struggling through his first bout to beat Minoki Ichihara (ironically, Ichihara's only career bout), Gracie warmed up, tapping out Jason DeLucia in 1:07, Remco Pardoel in 1:31 and the tough Smith in 1:17. For the win, Gracie earned $60,000.
No. 52: Tim Sylvia versus Ricco Rodriguez
UFC 41, Feb. 28, 2003 -- Atlantic City, N.J.
For a time, it seemed Ricco Rodriguez was the future of the heavyweight division. Young, big and deadly on the ground, Rodriguez had all the tools. That all changed, however, when he met the giant Sylvia, who was unbeaten at the time and in the midst of a knockout streak. He soon would add Rodriguez to his collection, crushing him with a right cross and following up on the ground for a first-round TKO.
No. 53: Gabriel Gonzaga versus Mirko Cro Cop
UFC 70, April 21, 2007 -- Manchester, England
By 2007, the UFC was growing to the point that it could run international shows again (the organization hadn't run one out of the States since '02) and chose the UK as its target. Filling the card with a slew of foreign fighters, including four Brits, the UFC headlined the event with a heavyweight matchup that would likely decide the No. 1 contender. Cro Cop, for a while considered the No. 2 heavyweight in the world, was a heavy favorite over Gonzaga. But someone forgot to tell the Brazilian, who used Cro Cop's favorite move, the head kick, against him for a vicious KO.
No. 54: Chuck Liddell versus Renato "Babalu" Sobral
UFC 40, Nov. 22, 2002 -- Las Vegas
Liddell, who was riding a nine-fight win streak, was at the time considered to be the most deserving of a title shot in the 205-pound division, but because Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock were thought to be bigger draws, those two fought for the belt while The Iceman bided his time with a co-main event match with Babalu. Despite the pressure of possibly losing his place in line, Liddell scored one of the most memorable knockouts in UFC history with a left kick to the head.
No. 55: Matt Hughes versus Georges St. Pierre
UFC 50, Oct. 22, 2004 -- Atlantic City, N.J.
GSP was undefeated and declared by most to be MMA's fighter 2.0, the next generation model, while Hughes was the prototype. But the veteran still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Taking advantage of St. Pierre's nerves, Hughes took the fight to him with a pair of takedowns. As the first round wore down, Hughes passed to side control and peppered GSP with shots. As GSP worked for a kimura, Hughes pivoted off it and locked in an armbar, forcing St. Pierre to tap with just one second left in the round.
No. 55 -- Anderson Silva versus Chris Leben
UFN 5, June 28, 2006 -- Las Vegas
Silva was already a 31-year-old international MMA star when he made his Octagon debut, yet few American fans knew they were witnessing the beginnings of a reign of terror when he stepped into the cage with the seemingly iron-chinned Leben. Silva quickly and convincingly showed his striking was on another level when he dispatched Leben in just 49 seconds with pinpoint accuracy, prompting Dana White to give him an immediate title match.
No. 57: B.J. Penn versus Caol Uno
UFC 41, Feb. 28, 2003 -- Atlantic City, N.J.
After Jens Pulver was stripped of the lightweight title in 2002, the UFC put together this rematch of a 2001 bout in which Penn crushed Uno. Most expected the same outcome the second time around. Instead, the two fought a closely contested battle that went all five rounds before the judges ruled it a draw. With Pulver gone and Penn's restless eyes looking elsewhere, the UFC eventually put the lightweight title on ice until 2006.
No. 58: Tito Ortiz versus Evan Tanner
UFC 30, Feb. 23, 2001 -- Atlantic City, N.J.
After winning 17 of 18 fights heading into a middleweight title match (at the time the middleweight division included all fighters below 200 pounds), Tanner brought credibility as a title-worthy opponent for Ortiz. Tanner, however, would have to wait a few more years for another crack at a title after a brutal Ortiz takedown slam knocked him unconscious in just 30 seconds.
No. 59: Frank Mir versus Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
UFC 92, Dec. 27, 2008 -- Las Vegas
Despite being a former heavyweight champion, Mir entered the fight as an underdog. The reasoning made sense: Nogueira had a better jiu-jitsu pedigree than Mir and had never been knocked out. Few could have predicted what happened, however, as Mir battered Nogueira from the outside and nearly finished him in the first round before becoming the first man to TKO Minotauro.
No. 60: Dan Severn versus Dave Beneteau
UFC 5, April 7, 1995 -- Charlotte, N.C.
Back in MMA's early days, fighters had to win three fights to capture a tournament. Because of a superfight between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock that night, this was the first time the tourney's fights had time limits. Severn, however, was the model of efficiency in earning his first tournament win, beating Joe Charles by rear-naked choke, Oleg Taktarov via TKO and then Beneteau with a keylock. Now 50 years old, Severn is still active as a fighter.
No. 61: Sean Sherk versus Kenny Florian
UFC 64, Oct. 14, 2006 -- Las Vegas
The UFC lightweight title had been completely out of circulation since 2003, when the UFC tried to crown a champ, only to have B.J. Penn and Caol Uno fight to a draw. With a renewed emphasis on the UFC's lightest weight class, Sherk and Florian fought a bloody war that left the Octagon looking like a crime scene but did at least crown a champ. Sherk won decisively, earning a unanimous decision.
No. 62: Brock Lesnar versus Frank Mir
UFC 81, Feb. 2, 2008 -- Las Vegas
Either the rookie was going to make a huge impact, or the ex-champ was going to prove he was back with a vengeance. In reality, both happened. The imposing Lesnar seemingly dominated Mir for the first few moments of the fight with a takedown and strikes from the top, but Mir showed his veteran composure, calmly working for submissions until finally catching the monstrous Lesnar with a knee bar for the victory.
No. 63: Randy Couture versus Vitor Belfort
UFC 49, Aug. 21, 2004 -- Las Vegas
The pair had fought twice and each had won once when the UFC put them together for the rubber match. This one was decisive. Couture dictated the action from bell to bell, punishing Belfort in the clinch and on the mat. In the second round, he opened a cut on Belfort's face, and for the rest of the bout, the cut became his target. At the end of the third round, throughout which Couture brutalized Belfort, the doctor ruled that Belfort could not continue, giving Couture his second light heavyweight title reign. Ironically, these days Belfort often trains with Couture in Las Vegas.
No. 64: Rich Franklin versus Nate Quarry
UFC 56, Nov. 19, 2005 -- Las Vegas
Years later, Quarry can say he wasn't quite ready to meet Franklin, who was then the UFC middleweight champ. But at the time, he couldn't say "no" to a title opportunity. Unfortunately for Quarry, his title hopes went crashing down with his body after taking a straight left from Franklin that has made every "Best Knockouts" highlight reel imaginable in the time since.
No. 65: Mark Kerr versus Daniel Bobish
UFC 14, July 27, 1997 -- Birmingham, Ala.
The birth of "The Smashing Machine" happened on this night, with Kerr winning the UFC 14 tournament. He best illustrated the technique that would become his calling card in his semifinal win over Moti Horenstein in a ground-and-pound TKO stoppage. In the final against the enormous Bobish, Kerr took him down, smashed him from the top a few times and then tried a modified head-and-arm choke. Bobish, however, tapped due to another reason perhaps missed on first viewing, leading to one of the strangest official decisions in MMA history: Submission -- Chin to the eye.
No. 66: Josh Barnett versus Randy Couture
UFC 36, March 22, 2002 -- Uncasville, Conn.
It was at this time that people first started whispering that Couture was too small for the heavyweight division and too old for fighting. After a competitive first round, the 38-year-old controlled the early part of the second round until making a single mistake: Barnett went for a heel hook, Couture tripped while escaping and Barnett ended up on top. The "Babyfaced Assassin" rained down elbows and punches from the top until referee John McCarthy stopped the action. In a postscript, Barnett failed a postfight drug test for steroids and was stripped of the belt.
No. 67: B.J. Penn versus Caol Uno
UFC 34, Nov. 2, 2001 -- Las Vegas
Penn had already earned his nickname -- "The Prodigy" -- by the time his third pro fight rolled around. The buzz was that he could earn a title shot with a victory over established veteran Uno, who came in with a strong 15-4-2 record. What Penn proceeded to do was nothing short of stunning: Uno opened the match with a jumping switch kick, but Penn calmly stepped aside, landed a thunderous uppercut and decimated Uno with a barrage against the cage in just 11 seconds.
No. 68: Mark Coleman versus Dan Severn
UFC 12, Feb. 7, 1997 -- Dothan, Ala.
After winning the UFC 10 and 11 tournaments in dominant fashion, Coleman looked poised to become a star, and UFC chose to pair him with Don Frye in the first-ever heavyweight championship bout. But an injury forced Frye off the card and Severn got the call. Wasting little time, Coleman quickly took Severn down, got full mount, and then applied a combination choke/neck crank that forced Severn to tap, making him the answer to a trivia question as the UFC's first heavyweight champ.
No. 69 : Marco Ruas versus Paul Varelans
UFC 7, Sept. 8, 1995 -- Buffalo, N.Y.
Today, Ruas is mostly thought of as a coach, but in his day, he was one of the first truly well-rounded fighters in a sport that was not yet referred to as "mixed martial arts." Ruas illustrated his versatility by capturing the UFC 7 tournament title with varied techniques. He won his first-round fight by heel hook, his second by tapout after Remco Pardoel was mounted and surrendered, and then captured the tourney title with a TKO over the monstrous 6-foot-8, 300-pound Varelans.
No. 70: Carlos Newton versus Pat Miletich
UFC 31, May 4, 2001 -- Atlantic City, N.J.
Miletich had won the welterweight championship in 1998 and successfully defended it four times when he met the always-game Newton, who was coming off a loss to Dave Menne. After Miletich controlled much of the first two rounds, Newton capitalized on a third-round scramble and caught Miletich by the neck with a bulldog choke, giving Newton the only title of his career.
No. 71: Bas Rutten versus Kevin Randleman
UFC 20, May 7, 1999 -- Birmingham, Ala.
At the time, it was one of the most controversial decisions in the short history of MMA. For most of the duration of the 15-minute regulation and six minutes of overtime, Randleman took Rutten down, scored with an occasional punch or elbow and tried to improve his position with no success. Meanwhile, Rutten worked off his back, throwing elbows and looking for submissions. The judges gave Rutten the nod in a split decision, making him the UFC heavyweight champion. Ironically, Rutten was never able to defend the belt after an injury, and Randleman succeeded him as the champ.
No. 72: Randy Couture versus Tito Ortiz
UFC 44, Sept. 26, 2003 -- Las Vegas
After losing two straight as a heavyweight, Couture dropped down to 205 pounds and beat Chuck Liddell, setting up a match with Ortiz, who was coming off a nearly year-long layoff. Couture, already 40 at the time, was a huge underdog. Of course, he proceeded to spank Ortiz, literally doing so during a failed Ortiz leglock attempt during the fifth and final round. With the win, Couture became undisputed light heavyweight champion.
No. 73: Brock Lesnar versus Randy Couture
UFC 91, Nov. 15, 2008 -- Las Vegas
It was the heavyweight title fight no one saw coming: the MMA newcomer with just three previous bouts under his belt against the veteran champion in the midst of a contract holdout. But UFC president Dana White could hear the cash registers ringing, and he found a way to put the duo in the Octagon. Despite Couture's vast experience advantage, Lesnar's overwhelming size proved to be too much, and after stunning Couture with a right cross, he used the legend's patented ground-and-pound against him, finishing Couture with a second-round TKO.
No. 74: Kalib Starnes versus Nate Quarry
UFC 83, April 19, 2008 -- Montreal
For those who believe UFC 97's Anderson Silva-Thales Leites title match has no peer as a textbook case of avoiding confrontation, might we remind you of a match that took place almost one year to the day prior -- and in the exact same arena.
It was one of the most puzzling and bizarre scenarios in the short history of UFC: Nate Quarry chasing Kalib Starnes around the Octagon in Montreal, intent on fighting but unable to catch Starnes to engage. For 15 minutes, the chase was on: Quarry coming forward, Starnes backpedaling, sidestepping, doing anything to avoid confrontation. They ran and ran, like a thief fleeing the police. The only thing missing was carnival music playing over the Bell Centre sound system.
In an unofficial fight stat, ESPN.com counted Starnes throwing 57 punches in three rounds. Not landing 57 punches. Throwing. That's fewer than four punches per minute over a three-round fight. And things got worse the longer the bout lasted. Starnes' punches dwindled from 24 in the first, to 19 in the second, to 14 in the third. Now, keep in mind that most of those strikes were jabs, and some of them were thrown from far enough away that they no chance of actually landing.
By comparison, ESPN.com had Quarry surpassing Starnes' entire three-round punch output in the first round alone, when Quarry threw over 60 punches. He was also very active with low leg kicks.
As the fight went on, Quarry grew noticeably frustrated, even booing along with the crowd, which, coincidentally, was the largest audience to watch an MMA fight in North America at that point. The 21,390 eventually decided to entertain themselves by chanting "GSP" during the frequent, extended lulls in the action.
"It's funny," Quarry said. "We thought that we'd come up with a way to answer any possibly scenario. But we've never seen a fight like that. It was one thing we couldn't prepare for."
Late in the third round, the fight devolved from drama to comedy. First, Quarry, clearly exasperated, moved toward Starnes in an exaggerated running motion. Starnes responded with his most effective offensive maneuver of the night, a middle finger. Seconds later, Quarry covered his eyes and threw what he termed "rock-hammer" punches, hoping to draw Starnes in. No dice.
The ringside judges scored the bout 30-27, 30-26 and 30-24 for Quarry, likely the most lopsided scores ever recorded in a fight that never came close to being finished. Quarry then delivered the coup de grace: Having entered the fight as the enemy in front a partisan Canadian crowd cheering on Starnes, he perfectly delivered the famous "If I can change and you can change, everybody can change" line from "Rocky IV." The crowd, of course, went wild.
The abuse heaped on Starnes, though, wasn't over. The media hammered him. Yahoo! characterized his performance "disgraceful." Newsday wrote that Starnes was "backpedaling like a free safety covering a post pattern." Sherdog.com called it a "track meet."
Not surprisingly, UFC President Dana White was furious. Within two days, White released Starnes from his contract -- Starnes says he asked to be released -- and told the media he should "consider a new line of work."
Since then, Starnes has fought only once, for a Hawaiian promotion called Destiny MMA, and won. Quarry, meanwhile, returned to the scene of the crime at UFC 97 and knocked out Jason MacDonald in the first round.
After being let go, Starnes suggested his lackluster performance was due to injuries. He offered to show the media copies of his medical report, saying, "I can barely walk." Of course, that wasn't the case during the fight. Starnes moved extremely well in the Octagon -- so well, in fact, that he ran himself right out of the UFC.
No. 75 -- Andrei Arlovski versus Tim Sylvia
UFC 51, Feb. 5, 2005 -- Las Vegas
Eight months earlier, Frank Mir had won the heavyweight belt from Sylvia, but he never got a chance to defend it after a horrific motorcycle crash nearly killed him. Arlovski and Sylvia were matched up in an interim title match expected to be a slugfest. Instead, Arlovski showed off his sambo background, catching Sylvia in an ankle lock to capture the crown in a blistering 47 seconds.
No. 76: Randy Couture versus Vitor Belfort
UFC 15, Oct. 17, 1997 -- Bay St. Louis, Miss.
The legend of "The Natural" started taking shape on this night, an evening when Belfort, christened "The Phenom" for his striking prowess, was supposed to become the superstar and Couture was supposed to be his sacrificial lamb. Over the course of their eight-minute, 17-second bout, however, it was Couture who looked like the chosen one, punishing Belfort in the standup and on the ground until referee John McCarthy took mercy on Belfort and called an end to the action, giving Couture his first signature win.
No. 77 -- Bobby Southworth versus Lodune Sincaid
TUF 1, Oct. 1, 2004 (aired February 1, 2005) -- Las Vegas
Not memorable for the action but for the significance, Southworth-Sincaid was the first fight aired on the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter." With around two million people watching on Spike, it immediately became the most viewed MMA fight in US history, a mark that would be shattered by the finale. After a methodical first round, Southworth used a combination to TKO Sincaid 12 seconds into Round 2.
No. 78: Steve Jennum versus Harold Howard
UFC 3, Sept. 9, 1994 -- Charlotte, N.C.
The problems with one-night tournaments became apparent for the first time on this night, when two-time defending champion and crowd favorite Royce Gracie won his first-round bout against Kimo Leopoldo but had to withdraw from the tourney because of exhaustion and dehydration. Then Ken Shamrock also had to pull out because of injury after winning his semifinal. That put Jennum, an alternate making his UFC debut, into the final against Howard, who had a walkover into the final after Shamrock withdrew. Jennum would escape an early guillotine before finishing Harold via TKO. Jennum, now a Nebraska police officer, would go on to win only one other match, but can forever call himself the man who ended Royce Gracie's streak.
No. 79: Vitor Belfort versus Scott Ferrozzo
UFC 12, Feb. 7, 1997, Dothan, Ala.
The real drama took place behind the scenes, as the show, originally scheduled to take place in New York, had to be moved at the last minute because of political pressure and rules changes. But the action was supplied by Belfort, who debuted in the UFC and smashed through Tra Telligman and Ferrozzo in a combined time of two minutes, quickly establishing himself as one of the most exciting newcomers in the sport.
No. 80: Roger Huerta versus Leonard Garcia
UFC 69, April 7, 2007, Houston
Neither man had a big name in the MMA world at the time, but together, Huerta and Garcia made a huge impression by putting on one of the most action-packed MMA fights of 2007. Huerta averaged 100 strikes thrown per round, and one of them, shot by a Sports Illustrated photographer, became the first MMA cover image used by the magazine.
No. 81: Murilo Bustamante versus Dave Menne
UFC 35, Jan. 11, 2002, Uncasville, Conn.
Bustamante is often forgotten as one of mixed martial arts' early stars, but almost a decade ago he etched his name in the history books by scoring a second-round TKO over Dave Menne to become the UFC middleweight champion. After a first-round grappling battle, Bustamante showed off the skills that made him one of MMA's initial most complete fighters, landing a thudding right that floored Menne for the win.
No. 82: Renato Sobral versus David Heath
UFC 74, Aug. 25, 2007, Las Vegas
The two got into it before the match started, exchanging words at the Friday weigh-ins. The myth goes that Heath wore a T-shirt bearing Sobral's recent mug shot on stage, upsetting "Babalu." That is not true, however, as Heath had on a different T-shirt when he weighed in. Whatever the reason, their bad blood carried over into the cage. In the second round, Sobral bloodied Heath with elbows on the ground, then sunk in an anaconda choke for the finish. Even after referee Steve Mazzagatti called a stop to the action, Babalu continued the hold for a few seconds until Mazzagatti pulled him off. For his transgression, Sobral was fined by the Nevada state athletic commission and eventually released by the UFC.
No. 83: B.J. Penn versus Jens Pulver
TUF 5 Finale, June 23, 2007, Las Vegas
The two had fought once before, as Pulver denied Penn the lightweight title with a tight majority decision in 2002. This time around, Penn vowed revenge, and the tension between the two built up during the course of the taping of "The Ultimate Fighter," with both men constantly firing verbal jabs. It was Penn, however, who delivered on his promised victory, earning a second-round submission win and setting himself up for another lightweight title opportunity. He later beat Joe Stevenson to earn his much-desired title.
No. 84: Joe Lauzon versus Jens Pulver
UFC 63, Sept. 23, 2006, Anaheim, Calif.
Very few fighters get asked to take on an ex-champion in their first UFC bout. But Joe Lauzon was asked and accepted. Just 22 years old at the time, Lauzon was immediately installed as a huge underdog against Pulver, who was returning to the UFC after a four-year absence. Given Pulver's thunderous left hand and excellent takedown defense, it seemed a terrible matchup for Lauzon. So what happened? He knocked out Pulver in 47 seconds in one of MMA's biggest all-time upsets.
No. 85: Tito Ortiz versus Wanderlei Silva
UFC 25, April 14, 2000, Tokyo
Following champion Frank Shamrock's surprising retirement, the UFC matched Ortiz, who already was a big name, against the surging Silva, who had won six straight. Ortiz won a unanimous decision. Afterward, Silva, so devastated by the loss that he feared his career was over, refocused his training and began the legendary stretch that transformed him into the "Axe Murderer" we know today.
No. 86: Pat Miletich versus Chris Brennan
UFC 16, March 13, 1998, New Orleans
Though the specific fight was not a classic in and of itself, it introduced one of MMA's pioneer personalities, Miletich, into the UFC after he had spent the early part of his career in regional promotions. Miletich beat Townsend Saunders in the semis before choking out Brennan in the finals of the lightweight tournament. Three fights later, he would become the UFC's first welterweight champion.
No. 87: Frank Mir versus Tim Sylvia
UFC 48, June 19, 2004, Las Vegas
At the time, Sylvia seemed like an unbeatable monster, as the 6-foot-8 heavyweight came in at 16-0 with eight straight TKO or KO wins. Just 50 seconds after the opening bell, however, Mir removed that layer of invincibility, catching Sylvia in an arm bar. Sylvia refused to tap, but referee Herb Dean saw Sylvia's radius bone break and waved off the fight, making Mir the UFC heavyweight champion.
No. 88: Sam Stout versus Spencer Fisher
UFC 58, March 4, 2006, Las Vegas
It was a fight that those only inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center saw live at the time but since has become a classic for its momentum swings and display of grit put on by the combatants. The bout, eventually won by Stout via split decision, was also significant as the first lightweight match fought after the division was suspended in 2004, and it was a foreshadowing of the action that was to come in following years from UFC lightweights.
No. 89: Lyoto Machida versus Tito Ortiz
UFC 84, May 24, 2008, Las Vegas
In (probably) his last fight in the Octagon, Ortiz faced the unbeaten Machida, who gave him fits throughout the duration of the bout with his patient but pinpoint striking. However, in typical Ortiz fashion, he didn't leave without getting one last word in. With just a few seconds left on the clock, Ortiz caught Machida in a triangle choke. The crowd exploded in shock, but Machida eventually wriggled free and lasted the round, earning a unanimous decision.
No. 90: David Terrell versus Matt Lindland
UFC 49, Aug. 21, 2004, Las Vegas
Terrell was a jiu-jitsu wizard making his UFC debut against Lindland, a former Olympic wrestling silver medalist who was hoping to make a run at the UFC middleweight title. So with two decorated grapplers going at it, guess what happened? Terrell caught Lindland with a crushing left hand and followed up on the ground for a stunning 24-second upset knockout.
No. 91: Dan Severn versus Ken Shamrock
UFC 9, May 17, 1996, Detroit
Memorable for all the wrong reasons, Severn versus Shamrock is considered one of the worst fights ever. In large part, it wasn't their fault; because of political pressure, the rules were changed on fight night to allow only open-fist striking. As a result, Severn and Shamrock spent the better part of their 30-minute "superfight" dancing around each other. Severn ultimately won a split decision.
No. 92: Pete Williams versus Mark Coleman
UFC 17, May 15, 1998, Mobile, Ala.
After fighting through an exhausting 12-minute round, Williams, who had taken the fight on short notice, took over in the overtime period. After blasting Coleman with a series of punches, he scored MMA's equivalent of a walk-off home run, becoming the first man to KO Coleman with a hellacious head kick that is still remembered by those who witnessed it.
No. 93: Kendall Grove versus Ed Herman
"The Ultimate Fighter 3" finale, June 24, 2006, Las Vegas
Because its participants have yet to become champions, the TUF 3 finale is often forgotten in the annals of great matchups, but it had drama, passion and action as both men fought hard for their chance at a UFC contract. In the end, Grove scraped out a decision, but a thrilled Dana White offered Herman a contract as well.
No. 94: Oleg Taktarov versus Tank Abbott
UFC 6, July 14, 1995, Casper, Wyo.
To win UFC 6's eight-man tournament, Taktarov had to get through Tank Abbott, a brawling crowd-pleaser who had decimated his first two opponents en route to the final. It took almost 18 epic minutes (back then there were no rounds), but the Russian outlasted Abbott and choked him out.
No. 95: Rashad Evans versus Chuck Liddell
UFC 88, Sept. 6, 2008, Atlanta
Essentially promised a title match should he beat Liddell, Evans did it in style, scoring one of the most decisive knockouts ever with an overhand right that iced the Iceman.
No. 96: Chris Leben versus Terry Martin
Fight Night 11, Sept. 19, 2007, Las Vegas
One of the most brutal fights in UFC history also had one of its best endings. Late in the third round, Martin seemed to be scoring at will and had Leben in trouble when Leben dug down and unleashed a left hook that knocked Martin cold.
No. 97: James Irvin versus Houston Alexander
UFC Fight Night 13, April 2, 2008, Broomfield, Colo.
With two of the UFC's biggest hitters in the Octagon, everyone expected one of them to go down, but it was the swiftness of the knockout that was shocking. Irvin tied the UFC record by finishing Alexander off in only eight seconds.
No. 98: Keith Jardine versus Chuck Liddell
UFC 76, Sept. 22, 2007, Anaheim, Calif.
Liddell was coming off his stunning championship knockout loss to Quinton Jackson, and many were expecting him to take his frustrations out on Jardine. It never happened. Jardine controlled the pace and earned a decision, giving Liddell the first two-fight losing streak of his career.
No. 99: Nick Diaz versus Robbie Lawler
UFC 47, April 2, 2004, Las Vegas
Diaz came into the fight as a significant underdog, as it was believed Lawler was the far superior stand-up fighter. But Diaz brought the fight to Lawler, earning his fearless reputation with a second-round KO.
No. 100: Roger Huerta versus Clay Guida
"The Ultimate Fighter 6" finale, Dec. 8, 2007, Las Vegas
For the first time in his UFC career, Huerta seemed to be on his way to a loss. After getting outworked during the first two rounds, Huerta landed a knee that rocked Guida and eventually secured a rear naked choke, earning one of the top comeback wins in UFC history.
Mike Chiappetta is a freelance writer who has written for NBCSports.com and FIGHT! Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.