Happy 19th Birthday UFC, two more years and we can drink to your success legally. November 12th, 1993 the world had their eyes open to an event in Denver where two future hall-of-famers, Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock battle and Royce tapped Ken to win the tournament and usher in the era of Jiu Jitsu. “The gentle art” has evolved and adapted over the past 19 years to be a founding art of what we know to be mixed martial arts.
It is hard to look over the scope of 19 years and pick out your favorite or most iconic fights but it seems fitting that we give that a shot as we celebrate the subtle at times and brutal at others, impact the UFC has had on the sport of mixed martial arts.
Here are some of my favorites, what are yours?
Edgar vs Maynard 3 – while most of us on the show HATE rematches this one not only lived up to the hype it nearly made me want to see a fourth bout.
Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva I – Chael took it to the champ for 24:30 taking the MMA Jedi to the brink of defeat when Anderson once again called upon the Gracie gods and the gentle art cements another legend in the sport.
Royce Gracie vs. everyone – In UFC 1-5 Royce literally did more for the sport than anyone before him and you could make the argument after him. That depends on how much stock you put into Griffin vs. Bonnar I.
BJ Penn vs GSP II – BJ lost the first bout via split decision but was a rare fighter who could compete at any weight class so this rare opportunity to see two champs go at it was a treat for the fans and a brilliant performance by GSP to win via BJ’s corner throwing in the towel in the 4th round.
Chuck Liddell vs Tito Ortiz I – This was the most anticipated fight between these two as the early exchange got the fans on their feet and then the iceman stalked Tito to the cage dropped him and began his regin of terror at light heavyweight. He would wait a year to fight Randy to actually win the belt but this was the beginning of that legend.
Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar – What happened that night was incredible on every level. Watching the ratings climb by minute and by round is something that the UFC should be very proud of. As for the fans they got to watch two guys build UFC 2.0 in front of their eyes with the blood and sweat they spilled in that 15 min war. Make no mistake what Royce was to UFC 1.0, these two were as important in the modern era.
Frank Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz – These two hated each other and while Ken never really stood a chance the build up each time sucked every single one of us in. This trilogy was as important to the sport as it was to the mythos at the time of Tito Ortiz.
Rich Franklin vs. Evan Tanner – Being at this fight live and being a HUGE fan of Evan and an acquaintance of Rich’s at the time it was amazing to be there and one of Rich’s biggest wins as a champ in my opinion.
BJ Penn Vs. Matt Hughes II – When BJ came back and we got to see this rematch, one we ALL wanted to see the outcome was surprising based on the first fight and we got a legendary meme out of it when GSP walked to the Octagon for the famous “I am not impressed” moment.
Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia - Couture had a successful campaign at light heavyweight, defeating both Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz in iconic bouts. He had retired the first time in 2006 and came back at heavyweight to take on and beat then champ and giant in that division, Tim Sylvia
Matt Serra vs. GSP – I LOVE this fight because it captures what is brilliant about the sport – anything can happen. Serra had won the comeback season of the Ultimate Fighter and got a title shot as reward, he took full advantage. Caught GSP flush and just like that became one of only two men to ever beat GSP.
Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva - UFC 79 was the night the long-awaited Pride vs. UFC co-main event between Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva finally took place. Though it was a few years late, the fight didn’t disappoint as “The Iceman” and “The Axe Murderer” went toe-to-toe for three exciting rounds. Liddell got the better of Silva, but couldn’t put the Brazilian away and had to settle for a decision.
BJ Penn vs Caol Uno – BJ’s KO of Caol really put him on the mat as a vicious fighter in the UFC and at High Voltage, UFC 34, BJ was one of the stand out bouts.
Frank Mir vs Tim Syliva – When Frank breaks Tim’s arm it is to this day one of the grossest things I have seen in the sport and the sound is just hard to listen to. If it weren’t for Frank’s love of that motorcycle who knows where he would be in the linage of the heavyweight division
Frankie Edgar vs. Tyson Griffin- Griffin was the HUGE favorite in this fight and if you wanted to see what was to come from the former lightweight champ Frankie showed everyone what you could expect when you fight him. Never count him out and you better put him to sleep if you want to win.
Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin – It is hard to believe that there was a point in time that Anderson was the underdog, but this was it. However, when the bell rung that night the spider unleashed his inner Fight Club fan and destroyed something beautiful, Franklin’s title run – which never got back on track.