On the UFC's 20th anniversary, here are the best, toughest, and funniest moments from two decades of Ultimate Fighting.
20. Dan Severn’s Riddle For “Big John” McCarthy
Dan Severn is a UFC hall of famer best known for suplexing hapless souls around the Octagon. “The Beast” had the first legitimate wrestling credentials in the UFC, not to mention an everlasting mustache to bolster his credibility. Facing the terrifying prospect of fellow UFC hall of famer Mark Coleman’s ground and pound - head butts included! - at the height of Coleman’s run, Severn posed a word problem to referee “Big John” McCarthy seconds before the fight started back at UFC 12 in February 1997. It was hilarious timing from the Michigan native, made even better by McCarthy’s refusal to answer the question.
19. “Bang” Ludwig Scores Fastest KO in UFC History
Getting the fastest knockout in history is definitely easier when the opponent runs straight into you fist. Such was the case for Duane “Bang” Ludwig, an experienced, world-class striker who cut down Jonathan Goulet in just four seconds in January 2006. That’s one second for each finger on Ludwig’s knockout right hand.
18. Nate Quarry Fights Kalib Starnes With Humor
Fighting’s kinda impossible when one combatant is bolting in the opposite direction. Former title challenger Nate “Rock” Quarry resorted to cheeky schoolyard fight taunts when Kalib Starnes sprinted away from their fight - later claiming it was due to a foot injury - at UFC 83 in April 2008. After the debacle, The Ultimate Fighter alumni turned a penny into a stack of crisp hundreds by delivering the post-fight Rocky IV speech. He didn’t defeat communism like Rocky, but Quarry sure got the best of the boredom.
17. Phil Baroni Is The “Best Evah!”
“The New York Bad Ass” bounced Dave Menne’s head off the cage with an 18-second blitzkrieg for the ages, drilling Menne’s head like a speed bag during an infomercial. Menne was out on his feet, dead to rights, suffering unnecessary bricks lobbed at his head. The true genius of the knockout is Baroni yelling, “I’m the best EVAH!” repeatedly afterwards. It’s evidence you can yell whatever you want after violating another man’s relationship with consciousness.
16. Gonzaga Head-Kicks Crocop
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was known for his, “right leg hospital, left leg cemetery” strike-the-fear-of-God-into-you quote. The Croatian kickboxer finished champions Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett prior to a fever-pitch arrival in the UFC. Following a quick softball fight debut, he squared off against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 70 in April 2007. “Napao” was the kind of grapple-first fighter Cro Cop feasted on, but Gonzaga flipped the script, landing a head kick of his own, crumbling Cro Cop in perhaps the most unforgettable and uncomfortable knockout in history. How Cro Cop’s ankle folded under him and wasn’t obliterated remains unknown.
15. Gilbert Melendez And Diego Sanchez’s Mexican-American Gunfight In Texas
Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez is a former Strikeforce lightweight champion. Diego “The Dream” Sanchez is the first-ever The Ultimate Fighter winner. These fighters grew up on the world stage in the last ten years, and each entered their UFC 166 showdown in Houston this October with their own library of wildly exciting contests – classics, even - leading up to their sure-fire, all-time great scrap. Never have two men been so willing to engage in the pocket in an MMA fight. Sanchez dug up his old “The Nightmare” moniker, enduring an incredible amount of punishment long enough to nearly steal the fight in the final stanza via knockdown. Melendez decisively won the 15 minutes, but not without having to battle through Sanchez’s notable grit, heart, and pace. They both emerged as greater warriors than before by exhibiting the best of the sport’s can’t-miss nature.
14. Rousey Arrives In The UFC Via Armbar
Maxim cover model Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey is an alliterative Olympian known for her signature armbar move. Normally, signature finishes just don’t happen in a sport that’s so unpredictable, yet she ended every fight in Strikeforce with a first round armbar. Rousey headlined the historic debut of women in the Octagon at UFC 157 in February this year, becoming the UFC’s biggest star after submitting the UFC’s first openly gay fighter, former Marine Liz Carmouche, once again in the very first round. For a sport constantly denounced by moralists, the equality progress of just this one fight beat out boxing by roughly a century.
13. Frank Shamrock Plays Tito Ortiz for Title Victory
Frank Shamrock retired from the UFC an undefeated champion after a master class display of strategy against young hot shot - and future hall of famer - Tito Ortiz at UFC 22 in September 1999. Arguably the biggest fight of the 1990s, Shamrock waited for Ortiz’s conditioning to falter, stood up, then hammer-fisted a defeated, much larger fighter in a walk-off KO fashion. It’s an excellent victory against a pivotal figure of the sport from a fighter ahead of the times.
12. Randy Couture Returns To Topple Tim Sylvia
Nearly 20,000 people counted down the final ten seconds of Randy Couture’s return from a yearlong retirement at UFC 68 in March 2007, cheering for five rounds, beginning to end. “The Natural” neatly dethroned Tim Sylvia, a titleholder generally detested for dull back-to-back 25-minute performances. Once the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH, finished their count, Couture was again UFC heavyweight champ - one of two two-division titleholders in history - and the headliner for the most attended event in American MMA history. Couture did all this at 43-years-old, making him the oldest champion in company history.
11. Royce Gracie Taps Ken Shamrock At UFC 1, Wins Inaugural Tournament
An unassuming Brazilian named Royce Gracie - not even 180-pounds in a soaking wet gi - ascended to fighting supremacy at UFC 1 on November 12th, 1993, in Denver, Colo., winning an eight-man, one-night tournament. Although Shamrock was Gracie’s semi-finals opponent, his chiseled physique and “King of Pancrase” credentials rendered him a standout parallel to the unlikely, show-stealing Gracie. Each still carried their star power more than a decade later to help further the UFC’s boom period. Their rivalry was the UFC’s first, and it still resonates today.