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The Top 10 MMA Fights
of All Time

By Robert Rousseau,
First, this is an impossible task. Second, it is only an opinion (and one that changed about twelve times while writing this article).

Picking the ten greatest fights in MMA history is like looking through a bag of your favorite chocolates and picking only ten. A list like this wholly depends on the viewer's vantage, tastes, and the time of day.

Still, picking the ten greatest MMA fights of all time was exactly what had to be done here. Both a fun and challenging task that is guaranteed to bring both praise and disagreement. Regardless, criteria needed to be selected.

The three criteria.

1. The fight itself had to have significant drama (the most important criteria). In other words, each fighter, at one point or another, must have been in a position to win the fight. This is main reason why Chuck Liddell and Fedor Emelianenko's names are not on this list. They both tend to dominate.

For example, in Emelianenko's win over Mirko Cro Cop, Cro Cop never really looked as if he was going to be the victor. Hence, the fight didn't make this list.

2. The bigger the stage the better. In other words, what the fight meant was a major criteria. Non- championship bouts didn't get as much love as those giving out belts. TUF finales were also looked at with high regard due to the stakes involved, as were PRIDE Grand Prix style matches.

In addition, due in part to the mixed martial arts television blackout during the late 1990's and early 2000's, some good fights are absent from this list. The reason? The stage was lacking.

3. Only PRIDE and UFC bouts were considered. To go beyond the two major organizations would be to add even more chaos to a difficult task.

So, without further ado, here we go.

10. Wanderlei Silva vs. Hidehiko Yoshida I

The Stage - PRIDE Final Conflict 2003 on 11/9/03

At this point in his career, PRIDE Middleweight Champion, Wanderlei Silva, had rattled off an impressive 13 straight bouts without a loss. He seemed unstoppable. Further, Judo Gold Medalist, Hidehiko Yoshida, had only three MMA fights under his belt.

Even so, it was a great fight.

Early on, Yoshida proved his takedown prowess, dropping Silva to the ground rather easily. While on the ground, Yoshida nearly won via neck crank; Silva almost pulled off a triangle choke.

Even better, throughout this two round fight, Yoshida proved his worth standing, taking punch after punch from Silva without falter (and returning some of that fire as well). In the end, Silva was the better man via unanimous decision.

But this was a fight that seemed as if it could've gone either way on several occasions.

9. Josh Barnett vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

The Stage - PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute on 9/10/06.

What a ground war. Though there were some decent exchanges on their feet, these two went from submission attempt to submission attempt on one another while on the ground. It could've served as a clinic on flowing submissions and escapes. Further, each combatant took their turn being on top and bottom of the ground exchanges.

As time expired, Barnett had Nogueira in a knee bar. Might that have finished the fight: who knows? What we do know is that final submission attempt probably won him the fight via decision.

8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp

The Stage - PRIDE Shockwave on 8/28/02.

Sapp, a former professional football player weighing in at 350 pounds, had demolished the only two MMA opponents he'd faced coming into this bout. In short, he hit very hard, was inhumanly strong, and, was, well, huge. Nogueira on the other hand, was much smaller and less powerful, but was (and is) the Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu master.

In short, the bout started with Sapp throwing Nogueira around like a rag doll. He even slammed him on his head, making many onlookers, including this writer, grimace. However, despite Sapp's somewhat gruesome domination early on, Nogueira did what he always does.

He persevered.

Toward the end of the first round, evidence surfaced that Sapp was tiring. By the second round, there was no doubt. Soon after, Nogueira's submission game established itself in the form of an armbar. A great two round fight that cemented Nogueira's legendary status.

7. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II

The Stage - UFC 52 on 4/16/05

Short and absolutely sweet. This was a fight where the unthinkable happened. Trigg struck Hughes in the groin; Hughes then turned to referee Mario Yamasaki to complain.

Poor move.

Yamasaki hadn't seen it, and Hughes got pelted with punches he wasn't ready for by Trigg. Next thing you know, Trigg has his back, and the choke is sunk in deep. Hughes begins to turn red, even purple. It seems as if his run as champion is about to end.

But this is Matt Hughes, remember.

First, he escapes the choke. Next, he picks Trigg up in the air and walks him to his own corner.

Then perhaps the greatest slam of all- time occurs. Next thing you know, Hughes has Trigg in a rear naked choke.

Then Trigg taps. Perhaps the most exciting four minutes and five seconds in an MMA bout ever.

6. Don Frye vs. Ken Shamrock

The Stage - PRIDE 19 Bad Blood on 2/24/02.

There's a reason why this one was called 'Bad Blood'. Before the fight, Shamrock was downright steamed, indicating that Frye had said things about his family. In fact, they nearly had a fight at the press conference.

With both fighters trying to recapture their former glory on the comeback trail (this was Shamrock's fourth fight after taking over three years off and Frye's third fight after nearly five years off), this one could've been ripe for disappointment.

In short, it wasn't.

These two guys fought a war. At one point, Shamrock nearly won the fight via leglock. However, despite the fact that Frye was clearly caught, he showed an immense degree of toughness and refused to tap (eventually Shamrock tired and he escaped).

This fight was great on the ground and standing. After a grueling three round fight, the judges rendered their scorecards.

A split decision victory for Don Frye.

5. Kendall Groves vs. Ed Herman

The stage - TUF 3 finale on 6/24/06.

"It was a close fight," said Herman. "It could've gone either way."

You're darned right, it could've.

What a war! These two that had spent eons in a house together during the TUF 3 show. You'd think that would make them want to take it easy on each other. After all, they were friends.

Not so.

For the most part, this fight took place on the ground, even though there were clearly some nice stand up exchanges (most of which Groves won).

When on the ground, it seemed as if they were putting on a clinic. In short, each fighter went from dangerous position on the mat to dangerous position, proving both their ability to both employ and escape submissions. Probably the thing that gave Groves the unanimous decision was the fact that the fight ended with Herman in a rear naked choke.

And this time it didn't look like he was going to get out of it.

Still, the way this fight was going, you never know.

4. Royce Gracie vs. Dan Severn

The Stage - UFC 4 championship bout on 12/16/94.

This was the match that truly proved Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu's worth once and for all. For the first time, Royce Gracie came face to face with an elite athlete from a popular American sport. In the eyes of many, Dan Severn's Greco- Roman wrestling career put him at a different level than Royce's previous UFC opponents (he was a four time All American wrestler at Arizona State that formerly had held the American record for victories by pin).

Perhaps just as important, Severn outweighed Gracie by 90 pounds.

With no time limits or rounds, the fight pretty much started and ended in the same position. Severn immediately took Royce down, showing his wrestling advantage. From there, Royce got him in the guard. And that's pretty much where they stayed for over 15 minutes. Severn pounded on Gracie through most of the fight, while all Gracie could do was protect himself. In short, things didn't look good for the man from Rio de Janeiro.

That is, until just after the fifteen minute mark when Gracie pulled off a submission that many Americans had never seen. Something called a triangle choke; a submission engineered from the bottom position with one's legs.

At 15:49 of the fight, Severn tapped, and Royce Gracie's legend reached near epic proportions.

3. Royce Gracie vs. Kazushi Sakuraba

The Stage - PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 Finals on 5/1/00.

Today, Pride championship bouts total twenty minutes (one 10 minute round followed by two five minute rounds). Fighters have to be in great shape to make it through such an event.

Now imagine fighting for over an hour and a half. That's exactly what Royce Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba did in this bout.

After Kazushi Sakuraba ( a catch wrestler ) defeated Royler Gracie by submission ( the first loss by a Gracie on the world stage in quite some time ), the stage was set. Royce Gracie came back to set the record straight, joining Sakuraba in PRIDE's first ever Grand Prix tournament. They met in the second round under special rules that included no time limits (though there were rounds).

Early in the fight, Sakuraba nearly finished Gracie by knee bar. Later on, Gracie nearly caught Sakuraba in a guillotine choke. However, as the fight wore on, Gracie became unable to take Sakuraba down. Further, the Japanese fighter continually utilized Royce's gi, a piece of clothing that had done so well by him in the past, against him.

Sakuraba's leg kicks eventually became too much for the Brazilian. Royce's brother threw in the towel after an hour and a half of fighting, through which Gracie had suffered a broken foot.

And with that, some of the mysticism of Gracie Jiu- Jitsu was gone. A Gracie could be defeated, even Royce, and an elite Japanese mixed martial artist named, Kazushi Sakuraba, had proved it.

2. Stephan Bonnar vs. Forrest Griffin

The Stage - TUF 1 finale on 4/9/05.

These two guys will forever be stars because of this fight. They set the precedent for great TUF finale fights, for sure.

Was it pretty? No. Was it a display of elite kickboxing techniques? Not in total, though there were some moments (such as Bonnar's spinning back kick). However, this fight was a display of heart, courage, and determination.

In other words, it was a brawl; perhaps unlike any that had ever graced an MMA stage.

Afterward, via split decision, Griffin got the edge. Did he deserve it? Who knows? All we do know is that many people, including UFC commentator, Joe Rogan, thought it was one of the best, if not the best MMA fights they'd ever seen.

1. Matt Hughes vs. B.J. Penn II

The Stage - UFC 63 on 9/23/06.

Last time these two met, Penn had submitted Hughes via rear naked choke in the first round. Coming in, both fighters had a lot on the line. A win for Hughes would cement him as perhaps the greatest pound for pound mixed martial artist in history (in the eyes of many), while a loss might actually do the same for Penn.

In short, legacies were on the line.

Penn dominated early on, doing something that no other fighter had ever been able to accomplish against Hughes; he stopped his takedowns. Somehow, Penn had managed stay balanced, often on one leg, as Hughes attempted a host of single leg takedowns against him.

Due to the UFC Welterweight Champion's inability to take the fight to the ground, Penn got his chance to throw punches. He immediately proved he was the better man on his feet. The man from Hawaii won the first round rather easily.

In the second, Hughes finally got Penn to the ground. Good thing, right? Well, not initially, anyway. Penn caught Hughes in a triangle choke that nearly did him in. But somehow, through sheer guts and determination, Hughes persevered and got through that round without tapping or passing out.

During that round, unbeknownst to spectators, Penn injured a rib. In addition, he apparently spent all his energy trying to submit Hughes.

A bad thing against a man that trains with Miletich Fighting Systems. They never gas.

In the third, Penn was a different fighter; a tired fighter. Hughes, on the other hand, wasn't. He beat Penn to the punch on several occasions and then took him down. He got him in the crucifix position.

And then he pounded his way to a John McCarthy stoppage.

Afterwards, Matt Hughes answered Joe Rogan's questions with a sense of pride. "I knew I had all my guys in my corner; they weren't with me, but they were in my heart. Just like the Lord Jesus Christ was with me, so I had no doubt."

That sense of supreme confidence, that ability to handle adversity, is why Matt Hughes is who he is.

Why this one was number one.

First, the drama. Both Penn and Hughes had each other in terrible positions. Penn did not escape, while Hughes did.

Though this fight did not mean as much to the sport as the two Gracie encounters that made this list, it was a far more exciting fight than both of those.

Perhaps just as important was the stage. This one went beyond a championship bout; as was said earlier, legacies were at stake. Hughes needed to defeat the only person in recent memory to defeat him in order to perhaps solidify his spot as the most dominant fighter of his generation (he and Fedor seem to be the two vying for this quasi title).

And that's what he did.

Beyond all of this, Penn represented, perhaps, the most perfectly constructed opponent to Hughes's skills. Great on his feet, near flawless takedown defense, and unbelievable submission from the guard, all of which would seemingly contrast well with Hughes's style.

Last, MMA has never been bigger than it is now. Thus, the stage today is larger by sheer demand than any previous. Thus, the fact that this fight recently happened held some weight.

This one should go to a trilogy.

Some Honorable Mentions (there were many others)

Royce Gracie vs. Kimo Leopoldo (on 9/9/94)

Tito Ortiz vs. Frank Shamrock (on 9/24/99)

Randy Couture vs. Kevin Randleman (on 11/17/00)

Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (on 6/23/02)

Phil Baroni vs. Matt Lindland II (on 2/28/03)

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira I (on 3/16/03)

Quinton Jackson vs. Ricardo Arona (on 6/20/04)

Luiz Azeredo vs. Takanori Gomi I (5/22/05)

Phil Baroni vs. Ikuhiso Minowa (5/22/05)

Takanori Gomi vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri (on 9/25/05)

Mirko Cro Cop vs. Mark Hunt (on 12/31/05)

Diego Sanchez vs. Karo Parisyan (on 8/17/06)

So and so vs. So and so (on pick a date)

You get the picture.

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