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The UFC's 20 Greatest Moments...So Far

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.

 

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10. Velasquez Ends Lesnar’s Run

Brock Lesnar was a monster with NCAA National Champion credentials, a WWE heavyweight title, and had a ton of pay-per-view power. He jumped into the UFC in his second career bout, and within a year, knocked out hall of famer Randy Couture to become UFC heavyweight champion. He avenged his loss to former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir at UFC 100, the biggest show in the company’s history, in July 2009, which made him undisputed. After battling back from life-threatening diverticulitis, he remained undisputed against Shane Carwin on another million-buy PPV, making him the only fighter to hit that mark three times - and he did it consecutively. It’s one of the most unique stretches in history, but that didn’t deter Cain Velasquez, who halted Lesnar’s domination of the heavyweight scene at UFC 121 in October 2010 via first-round TKO. Inheriting Lesnar’s “baddest man on the planet” moniker, Velasquez reminded everyone that the imposing Minnesotan was an anomaly - a successful one-dimensional phenomenon in a time of complete mixed martial arts fighters like the Mexican-American.  

 

9. The “Bonnar-Griffin Boom” Concludes First TUF, Ushers in UFC to America

April 2005: Light heavyweight reality television tournament finalists Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar went full-steam ahead for 15 sport-defining minutes. The Ultimate Fighter finale bout instantly became the most viewed in UFC history, with nearly two million viewers. The numbers kept increasing throughout the fight, as many frantic, “Please tell me you’re watching this!” calls circulated around the country. The UFC’s brand recognition changed from that point on. The “Bonnar-Griffin Boom” eventually led to Griffin’s unlikely and inspirational title grab, that helped keep the UFC in national sports headlines during the boom years they sparked.

 

8. Matt Serra’s Shattering Upset of GSP

Matt “The Terror” Serra was the definition of a long shot - he’d be the first to admit his diet is more Garfield the cat then world champion. An old-school veteran, Serra won The Ultimate Fighter comeback season with a narrow split decision against Chris Lytle, setting up his improbable fight with Georges St-Pierre. “GSP” had just knocked out future hall of famer Matt Hughes, pegging him in the 10-to-1 favorite range opposite Serra. The New Yorker punched a hole in St-Pierre’s championship reign hopes, causing the titlist to tap to strikes in less than four minutes. “Shock” barely begins to describe the response, especially considering Serra only won one more fight in his career, and St-Pierre went on to become one of the all-time great champions, currently having the second longest reign in UFC history.

 

7. Jon Jones’ Coronation As Youngest Champ in UFC History

A year into his MMA career, Jon Jones was in the UFC. Two years in the UFC and Jon Jones got the gold. “Bones” fell to his knees in emotion when announcer Joe Rogan informed both Jones and the world that Jones would be fighting for the light heavyweight belt in a little more than a month. At UFC 128 in New Jersey, Jones linked his legacy to great boxing figures Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson by becoming the youngest man to wear gold in the UFC, easily cruising past “Shogun Rua” via third round TKO. He then decimated a murderer’s row of champions and surpassed two UFC hall of famers’ title defenses in the division: Chuck Liddell (four) and Tito Ortiz (five). Jones’ success has been so remarkable it received a Nike brand swoosh.

 

6. Liddell-Ortiz II: UFC’s First Million Dollar PPV

Chuck Liddell’s tattooed, Mohawk-sporting head became synonymous with the UFC. He was knocking everyone out in the most historically rich division when the Octagon first really found its way in America. He was on Entourage. Liddell was a champion and a rock star all at once. He’d decisively beaten Tito Ortiz in a bad blood non-title fight, but years later, with Ortiz fresh off high-profile wins against past-his-prime rival Ken Shamrock, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” challenged Liddell in the UFC’s first New Year’s Eve year-end show. It was truly an event, and the two legends broke the million PPV buy barrier for the first time, bringing home a long-anticipated milestone for the UFC.

 

5. Anderson Silva Front Kicks Vitor Belfort

There is no way to sum up Anderson Silva’s brilliance. He’s the finisher of all-finishers. Effortless. In a high-level title fight, Silva’s most masterful finish came against decorated and dangerous Brazilian icon Vitor Belfort. “The Spider” struck Belfort with a basic but never-before-seen front kick to the face, ending the former title holder’s night at UFC 126 in February 2011 in less than four minutes. Silva brought the UFC gold back to his native Brazil - the home of no-holds-barred fighting - for the first time in 13 years.

 

4. Dos Santos KO's Velasquez on FOX

Junior dos Santos won the heavyweight title when the UFC debuted on FOX network TV on the UFC’s 18th birthday on Nov. 12, 2011. He only needed 64 seconds to be the man of the hour: A record 8.5 million American viewers witnessed an overhand right by “Cigano” dethrone Cain Velasquez. An estimated 60 million Brazilians rooted dos Santos on from back home, and although he came up short in the trilogy, dos Santos had his finest moment on that historic night of firsts.

 

3. Gray Maynard-Frankie Edgar II Scored a Draw

It’s the perfect fight to show someone unfamiliar with mixed martial arts. Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard defined what a UFC title fight should look like, battling for 25 grueling minutes in UFC 125’s lightweight title main event on New Year’s Day 2011. That fight had it all. It plays out with the drama of a three-act story: Edgar gets beat pillar to post, works his way back into the fight, and each pushes hard until the end, creating a scoring nightmare. The judges called it a draw, and while both will forever contend they won that night, it’s one of the most accurate decisions in history. High-level talent and heart - Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard left it all in the Octagon in their instant classic.

 

2. GSP Stops Matt Hughes In Rematch

Georges St-Pierre couldn’t lock eyes with Matt Hughes when they first met in the Octagon; he was too green and too respectful, despite his athletic gifts. A dominant and resourceful blue-collar champion, Hughes submitted him in one round. Two years later, at UFC 65 in November 2006, St-Pierre, 25, became the first man in UFC history to knock out Hughes. It was a picture perfect performance from the French-Canadian. He bested Hughes in a trilogy, broke his title defense record, and occupied his spot as the greatest 170-pound fighter of all time. Each was ahead of their time in their own way, but St-Pierre went far ahead of Hughes that night, and never looked back.

 

1. Chris Weidman Hands Anderson Silva His First UFC Loss

Anderson Silva’s seven-year stranglehold over the middleweight division is full of impressive figures - most consecutive wins in the Octagon (16) and the most title defenses (10) to name but two. “The Spider” spun a highlight reel so extensive in the UFC, only two fighters ever went the distance with him. Silva’s such a masterful martial artist he seemed part magician, but the Brazilian’s well-deserved mythical aura didn’t phase Chris Weidman’s unwavering belief in his upset potential. Perspective: Silva had already had four title defenses before the New Yorker ever fought in MMA. At UFC 162 last July, “All-American” did the unthinkable by knocking out Anderson Silva in the second round. It was the left hook heard around the world: Ten bouts into his career, Chris Weidman seized the greatest achievement available in the sport. The audacious victory is arguably the best in the UFC’s 20-year existence: Remarkable, historic, and most importantly, a sign that the best may always still be ahead.

 

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