The 10 greatest UFC championship fight performances of all time, ranked

The term “rising to the occasion” can often feel like a trite one in combat sports.

However, when looking deeper into the application of that saying, I noticed that many of the examples that come to mind – arguably across all sports – are instances that involve raised stakes and championship titles.

For the UFC, this generally falls under the category of championship titles given that they haven’t been awarding tournament titles since Dan Henderson beat Carlos Newton back at UFC 17 in 1998.

So, with this being such a broad topic to cover, I thought it would be fun to narrow down my favorite championship performances that have taken place in the UFC in the form of a top 10 list.

As usual, these lists reflect my personal tastes and biases and are not meant to serve as some ultimate authority. That said, I feel very strongly about not only my list but also my honorable mentions at the end – which are more than strong enough to serve as their own top ten.

So, without further ado…

Francis Ngannou def. Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 (March 27, 2021)

Georges St-Pierre def. Matt Hughes at UFC 79 (Dec. 29, 2007)

This performance from Georges St-Pierre’s catalog doesn’t get brought up too often.

Although Matt Hughes was originally scheduled to challenge Matt Serra for the welterweight title back at UFC 79, a back injury forced the then-champion out of the fight, allowing St-Pierre to step in.

Unfortunately for Hughes, St-Pierre wasn’t exactly coming off the couch.

Training with the Canadian national wrestling team, “GSP” was in the process of taking his wrestling to the next level – and that skill was on full display here.

From knee taps to hip tosses, this fight features a muscled-up St-Pierre practically doing what he wants to Hughes, who at that time was still considered the greatest do it at 170 pounds.

Not only did St-Pierre return the favor of his first professional loss via armbar, but the French Canadian also earned the interim title (which he famously renounced in his post-fight speech) and a chance to later unify the welterweight championship opposite Serra at UFC 83.

Holly Holm def. Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 (Nov. 14, 2015)

Holly Holm def. Ronda Rousey at UFC 193
Holly Holm def. Ronda Rousey at UFC 193

Securing the number 8 slot is Holly Holm’s historic stoppage over Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.

Closing north of an 8-1 underdog, Holm was able to have a performance of a lifetime opposite an overly aggressive (and emotional) Rousey.

Not only was Holm able to handily outstrike Rousey, but the former pro boxer was also able to out-grapple her.

Say what you will about Holm’s lack of highlights since this hallmark moment, the Jackson-Wink product has been able to get a ton of mileage from it in the form of main events and title opportunities in multiple divisions.

Cody Garbrandt def. Dominick Cruz at UFC 207 (Dec. 30, 2016)

Cody Garbrandt vs. Dominick Cruz, UFC 207
Cody Garbrandt vs. Dominick Cruz, UFC 207

Coming in at No. 7 is Cody Garbrandt’s outclassing of Dominick Cruz to take the bantamweight title back at UFC 207.

Although Cruz had more moments than the highlights would lead you to believe, there was no denying the fact that Garbrandt was in top form that night.

Coming in with a solid game plan that involved utilizing his natural speed and countering prowess, Garbrandt was able to stifle Cruz’s momentum in a theme that was reminiscent of Max Holloway’s rematch with Dustin Poirier.

Garbrandt’s reign didn’t last long, but besting the greatest bantamweight to ever do it means something – especially if you’re able to do it in the fashion that Garbrandt did.

Rafael dos Anjos def. Anthony Pettis at UFC 185 (March 14, 2015)

Max Holloway def. Brian Ortega at UFC 231 (Dec. 8, 2018)

Conor McGregor def. Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 (Nov. 12, 2016)

Conor McGregor became the first UFC fighter to win titles in two divisions at UFC 205. (USA TODAY Sports)
Conor McGregor became the first UFC fighter to win titles in two divisions at UFC 205. (USA TODAY Sports)

Speaking of masterclasses, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Conor McGregor’s historic win over Eddie Alvarez.

Not only was this the first UFC show in Madison Square Garden after New York legalized MMA, but it was also the first time we saw someone simultaneously hold titles in two different divisions in the UFC (Dan Henderson was the first fighter to do it in a major promotion in the modern era back when he beat Wanderlei Silva, but that happened in Pride Fighting Championships).

Although Alvarez is known for rough starts, there was something in the water that night that everyone could see.

McGregor, who is traditionally a fast starter, was locked in from Jump Street. And once they squared up in the octagon, it was clear that McGregor had Alvarez dancing to the beat of his drum.

At one point, McGregor’s pressure and counters were so effective that he started to taunt Alvarez with his hands behind his back – resembling an old-time baseball player trying to hide his pitch on the mound.

Say what you will about McGregor’s post-fight speech and subsequent career turn since this performance, there’s no denying how impressive “The Notorious” was on this night.

B.J. Penn def. Matt Hughes at UFC 46 (Jan. 31, 2004)

Exactly five years before he attempted to become to first UFC fighter to hold two titles simultaneously at UFC 94, B.J. Penn did the unthinkable on his first foray up to 170 pounds when he took Matt Hughes’ title.

For those of you who were still just a glint in your father’s eye back in the early 2000s, Hughes was basically the man at 170 pounds.

Aside from being on the verge of setting a record for 6 title defenses at this time, Hughes – who was strong as an ox – was also hailed as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC. That said, Penn was still crazy enough to move up in weight and challenge him without a single tune-up fight.

Penn was coming off an impressive win over top lightweight Takanori Gomi, which propelled him to number one in the rankings at 155 pounds. And after Penn dethroned a prime Hughes at welterweight, the Hawaiian legend would go on to live and die by the pound-for-pound greatness of his pursuits.

Anderson Silva def. Rich Franklin at UFC 64 (Oct. 14, 2006)

T.J. Dillashaw def. Renan Barao at UFC 173 (May 24, 2014)

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie