With a history spanning over 25 years, UFC has brought fight fans hundreds of exciting bouts with beasts of the mixed martial arts game. Some fighters stick out in our minds like that right hook did their eye. Their fighting style, skills, brutal punches, or even keen personality make some fighters the crème da la crème and we remember their fights well after the bout is finished. Like the fights on this list.
1- The Ultimate Fighter: Griffin vs. Bonnar
The Ultimate Fighter was a reality show that pinned UFC hopefuls together in a home to compete and train for a contract with the UFC. The show still airs on ESPN+ and other networks, but it was the first season back in 2005 that fight fans will never forget.
It was a last-ditch effort to save the organization, a move that panned out accordingly after Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin fought the Light Heavyweight finals for a shot at a UFC contract (and other awesome prizes.)
Hailed by UFC President Dana White as the “most important fight in the UFC history,” the season finale would also earn ‘Greatest Fight in UFC History’ and ‘Greatest Fight of 2005’ honors.
Griffin left his job in law enforcement for a shot in the UFC after training for many years. Bonnar almost lost his spot on the show after leaving the house to buy beer. Both men had something to prove as they entered the octagon for what could be the final time.
It wasn’t a pretty fight. It wasn’t a technical fight. But it was an intense fight that rocked emotions in every fight fan who tuned in that evening.
Both men come out swinging hard in round one, each answering punch for punch. In round two, a cut over Griffin’s left eye threatened to call the match, but he was medically cleared moments later. The second round appeared more of a desperate struggle between men.
Both men were noticeably tired, bloodied, and battered, barely to stand on their own two feet. Had the referees not been around, the men would’ve fought to the death to prove themselves worthy.
Standing toe to toe, the men took turns exchanging blows, neither willing to give in to the other’s strikes. They stood tough, they swung hard, even when both were exhausted and pushed beyond their physical limits.
For three rounds, Bonnar and Griffin fought like champions. It made for great TV ratings and gave fight fans what they needed to see in a sport: blood, heart, and compassion. The fight helped make the UFC what it is today.
Griffin won the fight by unanimous decision.
Bonnar collapsed on the mat after the announcement. Griffin helped Bonnar to his feet and embraced him in a hug in a show of respect, to which the crowd stood and cheered.
When the excitement died, Dana White offered Bonnar a contract with the UFC as well. Bonnar retired from the UFC with a professional record of 24-9-0. Griffin retired in 2012 with a 19-7-0 record.
2- UFC 209: Rousey V. Nunes
Dana White told Time magazine in 2007 he would not add a women’s division to the sport, citing that two women beating the crap out of each other just was not exciting. He responded by saying ‘never’ when asked by a reporter when he would add a women’s division in 2006.
Four years later, Ronda Rousey would be the first woman to step foot inside the octagon in the bantamweight division.
Rousey dominated the women’s division for several years. She won her first 12 fights in the first round, seven by way of armbar submission.
Holly Holm delivered the first loss to Rousey, a knockout that surprised even her. On November 15, 2015, at UFC 193, Holly Holm became the new UFC bantamweight champion and the first to knock out Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey.
After a six-month medical discharge, Rhonda Rousey returned to the octagon at UFC 209 on December 30, 2016.
Amanda Nunes held the bantamweight title and Rousey wanted it back. Not only would Nunes retain her title after a devastating first-round knockout, but Rousey also would never fight in the UFC again.
In a short 48 seconds, Nunes threw 47 punches, 27 of which made their mark. Rousey ate several vicious jabs and hooks as she stumbled on her feet. As Rousey fell back into the cage, referee Herb Dean stepped in to save the first-time women’s champ from further harm.
Nunes won the fight at 0:48 in round one by way of KO.
3- UFC 3: Hackney V. Yarborough
In his UFC debut, 5’11”, 200-pound Keith Hackney earned a TKO victory at 1:59 of round one against Emmanuel Yarborough. That’s not a big deal, except Yarborough happened to be a 6’8”, 616-pound Sumo wrestler.
No one gave Hackney a chance of winning the fight. Fighting a man of such gigantic size usually ends badly for the little guy.
Fans in Charlotte on that night in 1994 expected they’d see Hackney get shred to pieces by the ginormous Yarborough. When Hackey rocked Yarborough with a right hook, fans roared in shock and excitement.
Yarborough quickly recovered, though a flurry of punches stunned him again. Within seconds, Yarborough was face down on the mat. Big John stepped in to call the fight, declaring Hackney the winner.
Hackney earned the moniker “The Giant Killer” after this matchup.
4- UFC 6: David “Tank” Abbott Tournament Fights
At his UFC 6 debut in July 1995, David “Tank” Abbott lived up to the bad boy reputation he taunted as a newcomer in the fight world. His tank-like physique combined with matching strength and a face that told the world he was the wrong one to mess with went well with the “There are no rules” images of early UFC.
When he stepped into the octagon, he was nothing to play with. One look at the mighty 6’, 255-pound Abbott was enough to make you think twice about saying something off the wall. Many UFC fighters say Tank hit them harder than anyone else they ever fought, and well, that’s not arguable after one look at the mixed martial artist.
He started street fighting at around age nine, eventually fighting his way into the professional wrestling scene. Dominating his opponents was easy for a man of Tank’s tank-like stature. He didn’t care about fame but loved to fight and wanted more and more.
Tank hit like a Tank and dominated his opponents throughout many of his tournament-style fights. He is the “F**k Your Feelings” OG, as he proved through rude comments during media interviews, mocking his opponent’s injuries, and sometimes In these days, UFC had no judges. Men fought because they liked to fight and were unafraid. It was not uncommon to see a 7-foot-tall wrestler fight a 5’8” boxer.
In the tournament-style fighting competition of early UFC, the winner of each round would advance to the next round and a new fighter.
Of course, the same can be said of the 6’2”, 400-pound John Matua. His skill, Kuialua, was described by commentators as “the art of bone-breaking.”
Even he was no match for the fierce “I’ll raise your bone-breaking and see you a double bone-breaking” Tank Abbott.
Abbott’s powerful punches quickly sent Matua to his knees on the mat. Abbott pounced, sensing he was hurt.
Matua returned to his feet, only for a right jab to knock him back on the mat. He was out cold as his head hit the mat, but in full-fight fashion, Abbott mounted his opponent, giving him another right jab directly to the face to make sure he was really, really knocked out before Big John McCarthy saved Matua.
It took just 0:18 seconds for Abbott to knock out Matua. The forceful strikes caused Matua to convulse, to which Abbott mocked. He lived up to his bad-boy image from the very second he was introduced to the world.
Abbott went on to the second round to knock out Paul Varelans by ground and pound and knee strikes. He smiled at the crowd as he beat him into unconsciousness. Talking to reporters after the fight, Abbott said, ‘I just wanted to tickle his brain a little bit.’
Tank would lose his final bout of the night against Oleg Taktarov. The Russian was hardheaded and resisted his heavy hands. Taktarov got Abbott on the ground but could not subdue him.
Both men were exhausted and did little to impress fans during the first two rounds. They exchanged a few meaningless punches and were referee separated twice.
After 17 minutes of fighting, Taktarov forced Abbott into a chokehold, causing him to tap out.
5- UFC 168: Silva V. Weidman
Chris Weidman went into the fight with a 9-0 record. Silva shared an undefeated record. “The Spider” was on the longest run as a UFC championship, holding the title for 16 consecutive wins.
Silva loved taunting his opponents and the bout against Weidman was no different. Weidman took Silva to the ground in round one, delivering a few hard punches that did not seem to phase Silva.
At the beginning of round two, Silva, per his usual, came out with his hands down taunting his opponent. That usually works favorably for “The Spider” who gets inside his opponents’ thread with the taunts.
Except, it didn’t work this time. It backfired. Bad.
At 1:16 of round 2, Silva pretended he was hurt by a punch. Seconds later, Weidman landed a punch that sent the champ to the floor, knocking him out cold. This strike ended Silva’s seven-year reign as the Middleweight champ.
Silva grabbed the leg of referee Herb Dean as he came two, slowly realizing what had just happened.
The audience was stunned. Screams of cheer and disbelief filled Madison Square Garden.
The two men faced off again at UFC 168. Weidman again earned a win over Silva, this time breaking his left fibula and tibia.
Amanda Grace is a mother, content curator by profession, and UFC fan by choice. She’s followed MMA since 1995. Amanda is owner and operator of MJEK Marketing.