November 30, 2009
The decade is almost finished and there are thousands of fights to choose from. Use any set of standards you want. It can be the best war, biggest impact, best energy or its place in history.
10. Scott Smith vs. Pete Sell, TUF Finale, Nov. 11, 2005 -- Las Vegas
Smith has a penchant for pulling victory from the jaws of defeat. Neither middleweight has ever been a top fighter but they do what fans like, slug it out. Sell and Smith traded shots from the opening bell. Just over a minute into the fight, both guys are so fired up they clap and give each a high five. The crowning moment came with 1:40 left in the second when Sell drilled Smith with a body shot. A doubled over Smith throws a hail mary, last ditch right and down went Sell. Smith repeated the feat five years later at Strikeforce in April. He was getting destroyed by Benji Radach when he pulled out a miracle knockout in the third round.
9. Royce Gracie vs. Kazushi Sakuraba, PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 Finals, May, 1, 2000
It may not have been the most exciting fight but it lasted an incredible 90 minutes. Plus it featured the originator of the sport, Gracie, against Japan’s biggest fighting icon in Sakuraba. They battled through dozens of submissions attempts, kicks, punches and stomps. The Gracies finally threw in the towel when Royce could continue no longer with what turned out to be a broken leg. There had to be some controversy. It looked like Sakuraba tapped from a guillotine choke (1:08 mark).
8. Cristiane Santos vs. Gina Carano at Strikeforce, Aug, 15, 2009 - San Jose
Go ahead and chuckle. This may be the fight that launches female MMA to the mainstream. Even if it doesn’t, it matched the two female fighters recognized by most as the best at the time. The five minutes of non-stop action, mixed with the energy at the HP Pavilion matched any big fight atmosphere this decade, male or female!
7. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp, PRIDE Shockwave, Aug. 28, 2002, Tokyo, Japan
Bob Sapp is a freak show and he shouldn’t have been in the same ring with a legitimate MMA legend like Big Nog. But that’s what made it great. In the opening minute of the fight, the 360-pound Sapp landed a pile driver on Nogueira (0:07 mark). Sapp had top control for much of the first round and took a beating. His left eye was nearly closed and he had a nasty cut under the eye. Nogueira, as always, survived and mentally broke Sapp. The big guy came out for the second and was easy picking as Nogueira submitted him with a nasty armbar.
6. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg, UFC 52, Apr. 16, 2005 -- Las Vegas
There may have been more heat going into this fight than any in MMA history. The loudmouth Trigg just rubbed Hughes the wrong way. The "good guy" won with a dramatic comeback. Trigg, with the aid of a low blow, slapped on a rear-naked choke. Hughes looked like he was seconds away from going out when he was able to turn out of the hold. The fight got to the feet where Hughes picked up Trigg and carried him across the cage before slamming him to the mat. Hughes was able to put on his own rear-naked choke. Trigg fell back dramatically as referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the fight.
5. Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia, UFC 68, March 3, 2007 -- Columbus, Ohio
Couture was forced to retire a year earlier after suffering a second brutal knockout at the hands of Liddell. The 220-pound Couture decided to make an improbable run at the heavyweight title against 6-foot-8, 265 pound Tim Sylvia. Couture knocked Sylvia on his butt in the first 30 seconds of the fight. This may have been best the atmosphere in UFC history. A record crowd of 19,000-plus routed against the giant. Couture confused Sylvia the entire way and cruised to a 50-45 victory. Couture captured the moment when he said, "Not bad for an old man," to UFC color voice Joe Rogan.
4. Quinton Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva, PRIDE Final Conflict 2003, Nov. 9, 2003 -- Tokyo, Japan
Silva was the most dominatant fighter in the world from 2000-2004. He reeled off 14 wins in 15 fights. Two of those wins came against Jackson. But what made those fights special was the fact that Jackson was the only guy who didn’t seem afraid of Silva and that brought a special level of rage out of “The Axe Murderer.” In their first meeting, Silva brutalized Jackson at times but the American seemed to have the fight under control when he slowed the pace with top control. That’s when the Japanese referee decided to stand things up prematurely. It spelled doom for Jackson who finished the fight lying face first on the ring ropes.
3. Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva, UFC 79, Dec, 29, 2007 -- Las Vegas
Fans had waited for this fight for years. Liddell was the longtime UFC champ at 205 pounds while Silva had crushed folks for years in Japan. A potential matchup was ruined by Quinton Jackson in 2003 when he beat Liddell during a tournament. There was still a buzz but there was a feeling maybe it was too late for both and a great fight wouldn’t materialize. Wrong. This one turned out to be an absolute slugfest. Liddell and Silva both had their moments. Both landed big shots. Liddell just landed more.
2. Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar, TUF 1 Finale, Apr. 9, 2005 -- Las Vegas
This was the turning point for mixed martial arts in the United States. The UFC rolled the dice putting a reality show featuring 16 fighters on cable television. Griffin and Bonnar met in what was the most viewed fight in U.S. television history and they didn’t disappoint. The light heavyweights slugged it out with Griffin taking a close decision. Griffin went on to win the UFC 205 title while Bonnar has been a victim of injuries and circumstance since.
1. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, PRIDE Final Conflict 2005, Aug. 28, 2005 -- Saitama, Japan
This was one of the rare times in MMA when the top two fighters in a weight class meet while both at the top of their game. Cro Cop was scaring the hell out of heavyweights with his lethal head kicks and Fedor had torn through 19 straight opponents finishing eight of the last nine. Cro Cop entered on a seven fight win streak finishing six of those opponents. It was three rounds of nail-biting action. If it went to the ground, Cro Cop was in trouble and if he landed one of those kicks, Fedor was dead meat. Fedor backed up Cro Cop for much of the fight and got the decision. Cro Cop was never the same fighter. Fedor went to win eight straight.
Honorable Mention: Fedor over Nogueira, PRIDE 25, Mar. 16, 2003; Couture over Liddell, UFC 43, June 6, 2003; Melvin Manhoef over Evangelista Santos, Cage Rage 15, Feb. 4, 2006; Diego Sanchez over Karo Parisyan, UFN 6, Aug. 17, 2006; Spencer Fisher vs. Sam Stout, UFN 10, June 12, 2007; Jon Koppenhaver over Jared Rollins, TUF 6 Finale, Dec. 8, 2007; Georges St. Pierre over Matt Serra, UFC 83, April 19, 2008; Jorge Gurgel over Conor Huen, Strikeforce Challengers, June 19, 2009.
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