Although Mixed Martial Arts is often seen as a relatively new sport, it has already produced some of the most impressive fights in the history of competitive combat. MMA organisations like the UFC, Strikeforce and Pride have seen their fair share of last minute victories, championship upsets, bloody battles and drawn-out brawls, and there is an insane amount of noteworthy MMA fights to choose from over the years. While some display the sheer technical ability of fighters, others are commendable for the raw energy and unbreakable spirit on show.
10. Don Frye vs Yoshihiro Takayama (Pride)
Admittedly, this isn’t a fight which displays the technique and skill of MMA. However, it does perfectly demonstrate just how ruthless and ridiculous the sport can be. Heavyweights Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama faced off at Pride 21 in one of the most unbelievable fights in the history of the sport. The match almost entirely consisted of the two fighters grabbing each other by the collar and exchanging blows to each other’s face. In a maddening display of endurance and power, the two literally slugged it out until Frye managed to down the swollen-faced Takayama and finish him off with a brutal ground and pound.
9. Carlos Newton vs Kazushi Sakuraba (Pride)
Another classic bout from the earlier days of the sport, this 1998 fight between Charles Newton and Kazushi Sakuraba at Pride 3 was a master class in grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Both Newton and Sakuraba show restraint in their ground strikes and instead concentrate almost entirely on going for a submission (it’s genuinely surprising when either one of them actually goes for a strike). The two spend almost the entire fight transitioning on the ground between offensive and defensive positions and submissions. Although it was far from an explosive fight, it’s a firm favourite with fans who prefer seeing these rare displays of technical skill.
8. Cain Velasquez vs Brock Lesnar (UFC)
Brock Lesnar’s foray into MMA was met with raised eyebrows by fans who thought that the WWE champ had no right being in the Octagon. However, it’s hard to dispute that Lesnar made an impressive impact on the sport. He won the UFC Heavyweight Championship from Randy Coutre in only his second fight and defended the title against Frank Mir and Shane Carwin. However, his title fight at UFC 121 saw him completely outclassed by Cain Velasquez. Lesnar shot out with huge energy and tried to takedown Velasquez as soon as possible, but Velasquez simply wasn’t going down easy. He managed to take Lesnar to the ground by the halfway point of the first round and it was clear that Lesnar was in serious trouble. Lesnar literally stumbled across the ring from Velasquez’s strikes and the exhausted champ was utterly as he was dominated by vicious ground punches. The referee intervened with 45 seconds left on the clock and the sight of a bloodied Lesnar is hard to forget. Lesnar returned to the UFC in 2011 to face Alistair Overeem, but this defeat was the final nail in his UFC career and he announced his retirement shortly afterwards.
7. Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate (UFC)
Female fighters are unfairly overlooked by MMA fans, but this TUF finale between Cat Zingano and Miesha Tate is a perfect demonstration of the energy and skill women fighters bring to the sport. Winning Fight of the Night, the versatile matchup saw Zingano and Tate trade strong striking and grappling skills with neither fighter showing any signs of slowing down. However, the highlight was Zigano’s flurry of devastating knees in the final round which cleanly connected with an already bloodied Tate. It was an amazingly brutal TKO victory for Zingano.
6. Matt Hughes vs Frank Trigg II (UFC)
One of Dana White’s favourite fights in the UFC, this rematch between Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg at UFC 52 was a legendary confrontation between two bitter rivals. Trigg looked like he was going to scoop an early victory when he landed an illegal low knee on Hughes which went completely unnoticed by the ref. This opened up Hughes to a vicious series of strikes and Trigg capitalised on the opportunity and went straight for the rear naked choke. However, in one of the most amazing reversals in the history of the sport, Hughes spun around and effortlessly picked up Trigg before walking him to the middle of the Octagon and explosively slamming him down. Hughes got in some big elbows on the ground before pulling off his own rear naked choke which forced Trigg to tap out.
5. Dan Henderson vs Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua (UFC)
The Shogun Henderson showdown at UFC 139 was an insane fight from start to finish. Within the first minute, it seemed like Henderson was going to easily walk away the victor as he landed strike after strike into Rua. However, each time Rua finally looked as if he was going to hit the canvas for good, he snapped back to life and fought back hard. The two fighters continued this back and forth pattern of abuse and no one could predict how the furious fight would end. Bloodied, battered and exhausted, the two inexplicably took the fight until final bell rang and Henderson won the legendary fight by unanimous decision.
4. BJ Penn vs Joe Stevenson (UFC)
Although the latter half of BJ Penn’s career was frustrating for fans waiting for the fighter to reach his huge potential, there’s no denying that the multi division champ was one of the most influential fighters of the sport. Penn faced Joe Stevenson for the vacant Lightweight Championship at UFC 80 and it proved to be one of the bloodiest bouts in UFC history. Within seconds of the bell ringing, Penn had launched a furious assault on Stevenson and quickly had him on the ground. A serious elbow opened up a huge cut on Stevenson’s head and the blood started pouring out all over the canvas. Penn didn’t let up and he opened up the cut in the second round. Continuing his dominance, Penn secured a tight rear naked choke with a minute left in the second round and Stevenson tapped out. Penn, covered in his opponent’s blood, looked like a true MMA warrior.
3. Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar (UFC)
The TUF finale between Griffin and Bonnar was arguably one of the most important fights for the sport. There’s no denying that this fight helped bring a huge influx of new fans to MMA, and it’s easy to see why. For three five-minute rounds, the two American fighters clinched, grappled and traded blow for blow like the world depended on it. One of the most impressive displays of sheer determination and energy, the fight was a bloody, dramatic battle between two seasoned, expertly matched fighters and it launched the UFC to new levels of popularity.
2. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović vs Fedor Emelianenko (Pride)
Although his reputation has been threatened by the new generation of fighters and the rising popularity of the sport, Fedor Emelianenko was one of the best MMA fighters of his time. Emelianenko was a rounded, disciplined fighter with a huge arsenal of techniques at his disposal. However, it seemed like Emelianenko was going to meet his match when he defended his Pride Heavyweight Championship against the equally-formidable Mark Filipović, who was widely regarded as being one of the best strikers in the sport and had a devastating left kick. The fight had insane levels of hype and in the first round Filipović put the pressure on Emelianenko , breaking his nose with some shocking strikes. However, as the three-round fight progressed, Emelianenko regained his momentum and began to dominate. Playing around his opponent’s strengths, Emelianenko stalked Filipović and avoided his powerful high kicks in this electrifying, tense fight which he finally won by unanimous decision.
1. Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen (UFC)
Anderson Silva is an undisputed legend of MMA and he quickly established himself as a truly dangerous all-round fighter. When he faced off against Chael Sonnen at UFC 117, he was riding high having broken the UFC records for most consecutive title defences and most consecutive wins. However, the bitter pre-match taunts and snipes between the two fighters let fans know that Sonnen meant business. As soon as the fight began he launched into an unstoppable attack on Silva. Sonnen landed some big blows and he took Silva to the ground within the first two minutes. Sonnen didn’t let up and he kept the pressure on Silva by landing strike after strike. Even on the ground, the dependable technical skill of Silva just couldn’t threaten Sonnen’s power and it seemed like the champ wasn’t going last until the end. However, in the final round as Sonnen rained down blows on Silva, the champ pulled out a quick triangle from guard and ended the fight within seconds. It was a true last-minute victory and a shocking end to the fight.