There are several fights which throughout the years get lost in the history books. Fights like Stephan Bonnar versus Forrest Griffin I get talked about ad nauseam and rightfully so. There are those fights that represent a paradigm shift for the sport or were so historically significant that they should be spoken of as much as they can. However there are also those fights that are awesome but for some reason or another have been forgotten by the media and/or the fans. These fights could end up being back and forth wars of attrition, one sided beat downs or single round slugfests but for one reason or another they're memorable classics. The problem of course though is that most seem to forget about them.
Some of the reasons for why these fights are forgotten could either be because the UFC doesn't showcase them or they feature fighters who are unknown to the masses. That doesn't matter here today though. The following 15 fights are the ones that are fantastic and cry for your attention even if you don't want to give it to them. The list spans numerous promotions including World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), Strikeforce, UFC and PRIDE so if you have watched any event from any one of those promotions you owe it to yourself to take a look at this list. If anything, you may discover a gem from one of your favourite fighters or a classic that you never had the pleasure of viewing the first time.
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15 Urijah Faber vs Jens Pulver, WEC 34
Before his fight with Jens Pulver, Urijah Faber was seen as one of the most talented yet relatively unknown fighters in the world. The featherweight division had yet to really catch on in the mainstream as it has right now (thanks in large part to Conor McGregor). While Faber was immensely talented, he needed another name who could attract fans in order to become a star. Enter Jens Pulver, former UFC Lightweight champion and veteran of the sport.
Compared to some of the other entries on this list, this fight was not a back and forth war. Rather, this fight was essentially a showcase for "The California Kid" and Faber's dominant performance over a veteran like Pulver opened the eyes of a lot of people to see just how special Faber was.
14 Royce Gracie vs Kimo Leopoldo, UFC 3
Ah, the good old days of the UFC where silly things like weight classes and comprehensive rule sets were anything but mandatory. In arguably the first classic fight in UFC history, the (modern day) heavyweight Kimo Leopoldo took on the stick figure-like Royce Gracie in the opening round of the third UFC tournament.
While Gracie had fought men who heavily outweighed him before, Leopoldo was the first one to toss him around the octagon like a bag of paper and really outmuscle him in the clinch. After a furious four and half minutes of groundwork (and hair pulling) by both men, Gracie submitted Leopoldo with an armbar. The fight was so draining for Gracie that he couldn't continue on in the rest of the tournament.
13 Jens Pulver vs BJ Penn I, UFC 35
Back in the year 2002, the nickname "The Prodigy" seemed to fit BJ Penn more than ever. Not only did he win the World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships just three and a half years after beginning BJJ, but he was also tearing up the MMA scene in record time. It seemed like Penn was going to roll over reigning UFC Lightweight champion Jens Pulver like he did everyone else.
For the first two rounds Penn took Pulver down as he pleased and at the end of the second round Penn locked in a tight armbar which looked like it would end Pulver's night. Instead, Pulver was saved by the bell and in the following rounds Lil Evil's superior conditioning and experience allowed him to rally back and take the next three rounds to retain his title.
12 Vitor Belfort vs Chuck Liddell, UFC 37.5
To help promote their company on FOX's The Best Damn Sports Show Period, the UFC put two of their biggest stars against each other on free television. The result was a highly entertaining scrap between two of the best knockout artists in MMA history: Vitor Belfort and Chuck Liddell.
While the opening round seemed like the fight was going to be a clinch affair, the fight heated up in the next two rounds as the two men exchanged strikes for 10 minutes with Liddell winning most of them. Liddell won the match via unanimous decision in a fight that I'm surprised never got a rematch.
11 Maurice Smith vs Mark Coleman, UFC 14
While wrestling is usually pointed to as the deciding factor in whether or not fighter A would beat fighter B, we can't forget just how much of a part striking and physical conditioning play into MMA. Case in point: Mark Coleman versus Maurice Smith.
Built like a superhero, Mark Coleman was the baddest man in the UFC as the reigning heavyweight champion and was expected to outwrestle and dominate former kickboxing world champion Maurice Smith at UFC 14. However, Smith's training with Frank Shamrock paid off big time as he took The Hammer's best shots on the ground, (while giving some off his back) made it up to his feet and battered him with strikes enough to steal the victory and take Coleman's heavyweight championship. It was the first time a striker beat a grappler in the UFC, and showed that one dimensional fighters were going to be phased out for well-rounded athletes.
10 Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs Mauricio Rua, PRIDE Critical Countdown 2005
PRIDE's Grand Prix tournaments were known for producing some excellent wars and this quarter final match up from the 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix was no exception.
Going into the fight it was thought Rua would have the advantage in the stand up due to his training at the killer Chute Boxe training camp helmed by Rafael Cordeiro and Nogueira because of his family's BJJ pedigree. It was Rua however who took the fight to the ground numerous times and Nogueira was the one who tagged and dropped his opponent with sharp punches throughout the match. Rua won the razor-thin decision on the back of his solid ground and pound and a knockdown of Nogueira in the final round. There's no better time than now to watch this hidden gem as the two Brazilians will meet each other again at UFC 190 on August 1st.
9 Diego Sanchez vs Nick Diaz, TUF 2 Finale
As the winner of inaugural Ultimate Fighter reality show, Diego Sanchez was one of the UFC's rising stars back when the company was beginning to rise out its financial hell. Nick Diaz however felt that Sanchez didn't belong in the same cage due to Sanchez being in the UFC because of a reality show. It would take a hell of a fight to convince Diaz that Sanchez was on his level. Luckily for the fans, a hell of a fight is exactly what we got.
For any MMA fan who finds grappling to be boring, I implore them to find a problem with this fight. The back and forth grappling exchanges between Sanchez and Diaz looked as if two dogs were fighting each other over the last piece of meat as they rolled, swept and reversed each other countless times over the course of three rounds. While both men had their moments, it was Sanchez's trademark aggression which won him the decision, a seemingly running theme in Sanchez's career.
8 Carlos Condit vs Hiromitsu Miura, WEC 35
Despite what Nick Diaz fanboys may have told you, Carlos Condit is not a boring fighter. Ever since he first started MMA back in 2002, Condit has made a habit of going to war in nearly all of his fights and this is one that gets forgotten.
In what would end up being the final Welterweight fight in the promotion's history, Condit engaged in a tremendous scrap with current boxer Hiromitsu Miura for Condit's WEC Championship. Miura surprised the champ in the early going with Judo throws but Condit recovered nicely with superb ground control. Miura rallied back in the 3rd and 4th rounds with powerful punches but Condit's size and conditioning proved too much for the Japanese fighter and Condit prevailed via TKO. A great final act for the WEC career of Condit as he entered the UFC right after this fight.
7 Nick Diaz vs Paul Daley, Strikeforce: Diaz vs Daley
In one of the best one round fights in MMA history, Nick Diaz and Paul Daley absolutely tore each other apart for nearly five minutes to cement their claim for the Strikeforce Welterweight Championship. For Diaz, it was his toughest test as a world champion and it was Daley's best chance at a world title after being blacklisted by the UFC for the UFC 113 Josh Koscheck incident.
Thirty seconds in Daley dropped Diaz with a left hook but Diaz bounced back with clinch strikes along the fence. Later in the round Daley, with his own back on the fence, dropped Diaz again. Displaying great resiliency, Diaz got up, pinned Daley to the fence and pounded the Brit until he dropped. One of the best performances of Diaz's career and a scrap for the ages.
6 Randy Couture vs Pedro Rizzo, UFC 31
Much like his mentor Marco Ruas, Pedro "The Rock" Rizzo was known for crushing his foes with soul-sucking leg kicks and at UFC 31, heavyweight champion Randy Couture found that out first hand.
In the first it looked like Couture's smothering offence was enough to put Rizzo away as he pounded the Brazilian with lethal ground and pound for the better part of the round. As the fight progressed though, Rizzo took it to Couture with kicks to all parts of his body but specifically to the legs. Rizzo dropped Couture because of leg kicks a few times throughout the bout but Couture did enough with his takedowns and control to steal the unanimous decision. However the damage was so severe to his legs that Couture mentioned in his autobiography Becoming The Natural that it took him three weeks to walk normally.
5 Fedor Emelianenko vs Mirko Cro Cop, PRIDE Final Conflict 2005
Although Fedor Emelianenko is considered (and rightfully so) the greatest heavyweight to ever compete in MMA, there were quite a few opponents that Emelianenko beat up who didn't belong in the same ring. Mirko Cro Cop was not one of those men.
Cro Cop was the single most feared knockout artist in 2005 and his match with Emelianenko was one of of the most anticipated in history. While Cro Cop did catch Emelianenko with some body kicks, The Last Emperor's hand traps and body blows wore down the Croatian and scored enough points to take the unanimous decision. Along with his two victories over Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera, this is one of the best performances of Emelianenko's career.
4 Dennis Bermudez vs Matt Grice, UFC 157
The year 2013 is regarded by many to be one of the best years in UFC history and this fight shows the year's depth because in any other year, this probably would have been fight of the year.
TUF 14 finalist Dennis Bermudez got dropped in the opening round by Grice from a cracking left hook that should have put him away but didn't. The second began with Grice controlling the action but Bermudez fired back with strikes and a guillotine attempt at the end of the round.
The third was all Bermudez as it seemed the only thing holding Grice up was the fence. Bermudez pounded Grice for the entire round and with he secured himself a very hotly fought split decision.
3 Diego Sanchez vs Karo Parisyan, Ultimate Fight Night 6
Before Ronda Rousey flew the Judo banner in MMA, Karo Parisyan was the UFC's Judo poster child. Though he didn't possess much of a striking game, Parisyan's takedowns and matwork was some of the best in the welterweight division. At UFN 6 "The Heat" met "The Nightmare".
This fight had everything you could want in an MMA fight. Frentic pace? Come on it's a Diego Sanchez fight of course it'll be fast paced. Flashy takedowns? Check out Parisyan's harai goshi (sweeping hip throw) at about three minutes of the first round. Strikes? I'm sure everyone remembers the part where Sanchez kneed one of Parisyan's teeth out of his mouth. Sanchez won the unanimous decision but both men proved their mettle that night.
2 Randy Couture vs Tim Sylvia, UFC 68
I'm not entirely sure that this is a forgotten fight, but since both fighters are seemingly black listed by the UFC I have a feeling that this won't be talked about by the company for a while. That doesn't make it any less of a fantastic fight and a landmark moment in MMA history.
Facing an 11 year age difference and a huge size disadvantage, Couture took on the gargantuan Tim Sylvia for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Even with every possible advantage Sylvia couldn't touch the UFC Hall of Famer as Couture beat the brakes off the younger champ from the opening seconds of the fight. With sound striking and his trademark grappling control, "The Natural" won an easy unanimous decision and his final UFC championship.
1 Frank Shamrock vs Tito Ortiz, UFC 22
In another case of blacklisted UFC fighters, this fight is likely not talked about in the UFC for a couple of reasons. One, Frank Shamrock and Tito Ortiz have long standing beefs with Dana White. Secondly, this fight happened in the dark age of MMA, the period of time when the sport was under the most legal scrutiny.
This was the young gun versus the experienced (yet still young) veteran as the much larger Ortiz bullied Shamrock around the octagon with takedowns and ground and pound. As the fight wore on though, Ortiz began to slow down from fatigue. Shamrock didn't.
By the end of the fourth round Ortiz was exhausted and when a final takedown attempt failed to keep Shamrock down, Shamrock rocked Ortiz with ground strikes until the brash challenger tapped out. Shamrock would vacate his Middleweight (199 pounds) title after the match but his final UFC match is certainly one to remember.
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