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Top 10: UFC fights

Considering how stacked the card was, it was no surprise to see several memorable fights at UFC 300, and on the back of the landmark event, we've looked at the Top 10 fights in UFC history.

From five-round epics to one-round slugfests, here are our Top 10 fights in UFC history.

10 – Gilbert Melendez v Diego Sanchez – UFC 166

Back in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Diego Sanchez was perhaps the UFC’s go-to fighter when it came to guaranteeing an all-action event and is the only fighter to appear on this list twice.

The first two rounds saw both fighters land their share of shots, but Gilbert Melendez was coming out on top, with a gash opening up above the eye of Sanchez in the first.

The first two rounds were entertaining, but the third round is what saw it named Fight of the Year.

Sanchez knew he was two rounds down, but both men took their stance in the middle of the Octagon and threw everything they had at each other. Melendez would’ve been well within his rights not to play Sanchez’s game, but not one to back down from a gunfight, fired away at Sanchez.

Sanchez was beating his chest, asking for more from Melendez, and just when it looked like neither man could be stopped, Sanchez turned the fight on its head, dropping Melendez with an uppercut.

Sanchez was unable to find the finish, but with 15 seconds left, both men threw the kitchen sink at each other, and but for the final horn, you left with the feeling they’d have stood there swinging away all night.

9 – Diego Sanchez v Clay Guida – The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale

There may have never been a fight quite like Diego Sanchez v Clay Guida, and there may never be another one.

Four years before Sanchez v Melendez ended with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots, Sanchez v Guida started with them, taking less than 10 seconds for both men to go hell for leather. While most fights often start with a feeling-out process, and might on occasion end with both men searching for a finish, this one was flipped, with both fighters looking for a finish in the opening seconds.

With no time to catch breath, Guida was considerably outstruck in the early exchanges, eventually getting a reprieve with a takedown.

Sanchez eventually found his way back to his feet, putting Guida on his back with a stunning head kick.

While the second round was largely spent on the mat, the third was back to the feet with both men exchanging heavy shots. So close was the fight, it was settled by a split decision, 29-29, 28-29, 29-27, in favour of Sanchez. 

8 – Cub Swanson v Choi Doo-ho – UFC 206

Cub Swanson v Choi Doo-ho saw another striking match that left onlookers open-mouthed as to how they’d not seen a knockdown for so much of the fight.

The first round between Swanson and Choi saw the South Korean looking really sharp, getting the better of most of the exchanges, but Swanson provided constant reminders of the power in his hands, power Choi would really feel in the second.

Choi was rocked and pushed up against the fence before catching Swanson with a huge right, rocking Swanson himself soon after. Both men had stood up to shots that would knock lesser men out. Yet more exchanges produced a standing ovation before the end of the second round.

Swanson would tee off on the granite-chinned Choi, who was backed up against the fence in the third, eventually yielding when a half-blocked spinning elbow sent him down, though at that point he could’ve been knocked over by a light breeze.

Swanson would take the decision, and the fight would go on to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

7 – Jon Jones v Alexander Gustafsson – UFC 165

By September 2013, Jon Jones was the undisputed pound-for-pound number one, and with six straight light heavyweight title fight wins, the division had been effectively cleared out.

Jones was almost a 1/10 favourite, and nobody gave Alexander Gustaffson a chance of dethroning the world’s best fighter.

From the off, Gustafsson showed he had the range to match Jones, and despite operating as a striker, Gustafsson became the first man to take Jones to the canvas in his UFC career as well as opening up a serious cut above the champion’s right eye.

The second and third rounds were much closer, with Jones’s early tactic of attacking the Swede’s legs beginning to pay dividends, and going into the championship rounds, it was anyone’s fight, with Gustafsson ahead on two scorecards.

Both men stepped things up in the fourth, but Jones’s class was beginning to tell with a series of damaging strikes, and it would all come down to the fifth and final round.

The challenger was out on his feet in the last round having left it all in the Octagon in the first. Jones had never experienced a fight quite like it, but narrowly came through to get the decision in an all-time classic.

It almost seems unfair that someone could put in that that kind of performance against Jones and get so close to victory, whilst recording the same defeat as everyone else. But as long as Jones maintains his undefeated MMA record, Gustafsson will go down as the man who came closest to beating him.

6 – Andrei Arlovski v Travis Browne – UFC 187

Some fights on this list lasted 15 minutes, others 25. But Travis Browne v Andrei Arlovski packed as much action into four-and-a-half minutes as any fight likely ever will.

Inside the very first minute, Browne stepped in and got rocked with a stiff right before managing to just about regain his composure… for all of 60 seconds. Arlovski caught Browne with a backfist, following up with a flurry of punches which threatened to stop the fight, with Browne again battling to regain his senses.

Arlovski rocked Browne for the third time in as many minutes with an incredible backfist-hook combination which put Browne to the canvas.

And then came the moment that sealed this fight’s place in the history books. With Browne back on his feet, looking like he was on another planet, he inexplicably put Arlovski down with a one-in-a-million punch.

Because of the punishment Browne had already taken, he wasn’t able to capitalise and finish the fight, and with Arlovski allowed back to his feet, he did what Browne couldn’t.

5 – Nate Diaz v Conor McGregor 2 – UFC 202

There are other fights on this list which may have had more action, but none had the drama and can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it tension of Diaz v McGregor 2.

After Nate Diaz had shocked the world, stripping away Conor McGregor’s aura of invincibility, the whole world waited to see if he could do it again.

After leaping past lightweight to fight at welterweight, McGregor insisted on the fight staying at 170lbs, despite the quickly emptying gas tank being the source of his trouble in their first fight, and it was nearly his undoing the second time around.

McGregor’s change of strategy saw him attack Diaz with relentless leg kicks throughout the first round, pacing himself much better than in their first fight, but once again, towards the end of the second, McGregor slowed and Diaz sensed it. Having weathered the storm to get off the canvas twice, Diaz began to pressure McGregor.

Diaz had lost 10 fights in his career up to this point, but only one had been by KO/TKO. On top of that, McGregor had hit Diaz with his best the first time they met and that wasn’t enough to put him away. Already tired by the end of the second round, McGregor knew he’d have another three rounds to go if he was to win.

The third round saw an exhausted McGregor literally running away from Diaz, but somehow he found enough to bounce back to win the fourth. Diaz would take the fifth, but having already lost the first two, it wasn’t enough, and McGregor got his redemption.

4 – Forrest Griffin v Stephan Bonnar – The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale

It’s no exaggeration to say that Forrest Griffin v Stephan Bonnar changed the face of not just the UFC, but MMA in general.

All the way back in 2005, the maiden finale of The Ultimate Fighter raised the bar, as the two light heavyweights squared off in front of UFC president Dana White for a life-changing six-figure contract.

The first round alone saw all the things that make the UFC what it is; ferocious striking, a frantic pace and immeasurable heart, prompting a standing ovation, with even White joining in.

After a brief pause in the second round to check on a cut to Griffin the pair went toe to toe again, finishing it battered, bloodied and bruised – not to mention exhausted with another round still to fight.

Prior to the announcement of the decision, Bruce Buffer took the unusual step calling on the crowd to appreciate ‘the greatest action seen inside the Octagon’, and after the announcement, declared them as ‘the reason why the UFC has the greatest fighting athletes in the world’. But such a fight deserved such a statement.

White then delivered the news that every fan wanted to hear – that both men would be awarded UFC contracts.

There has to be a loser in any fight, but on 9th April 2005, both men were winners.

3 – Justin Gaethje v Michael Chandler – UFC 268

You simply cannot have a list of the UFC’s top 10 fights without including one from at least one of Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler, so why not have two in one?

No fighter in UFC history has had a more appropriate nickname than Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje, a man who’s never taken a backwards step, and his fights almost blend into one. Putting him in the Octagon with a fighter who’s every bit as aggressive guaranteed fireworks.

Just moments after eating a left hook which would put most men down, Chandler fired back with huge shots of his own. Sure enough, Gaethje replied in kind, Chandler then landed a flying knee. Relentless back-and-forth toe-to-toe action had both men rocked at the same time.

Both fighters showed reckless disregard for their own safety, launching – and connecting with – haymaker after haymaker.

Only the iron chins and iron wills of both men saw the fight go past the first round, and after another electric 90 seconds to start the second, Gaethje landed an uppercut that sent Chandler to another dimension. He went down, barely retaining his senses as he hit the mat, before eventually getting back to his feet.

The third round inexplicably followed the first two. It was an exhibition – and experiment, even – seeing what happens when you leave two iron-chinned, wild, aggressive brawlers in the Octagon together. Despite taking a battering, Chandler stood against the fence with his hands down, literally inviting Gaethje forward. Gaethje duly obliged but for love nor money couldn’t stop Chandler.

The 2021 Fight of the Year, and one of the greatest of all time.

2 – Zhang Weili v Joanna Jedrzejczyk – UFC 248

The opening round of Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk saw both fighters exchanging punches and kicks and lightning speed. There was no feeling-out process and little concern for defence, with both fighters standing in the pocket, swinging wildly – and connecting.

Both women picked up where they left off in the second, fighting at a ferocious pace, both landing massive shots, and by the end of the third, a punch to the forehead of Jedrzejczyk brought about a disfiguring lump, leaving her looking like Ken Griffey Jr in his Simpsons cameo appearance.

It wasn’t a fight with loads of standout highlights; the fight itself was a 25-minute highlight reel, showcasing the very best of mixed martial arts. There was no slowing of the pace, no holding back, no backwards steps taken.

Combined, the pair landed 351 significant strikes. Jedrzejczyk landed an average of 7.44 per minute – enough to rank sixth on the UFC’s all-time strikes per minute – and that was across a full five-minute fight, and it still wasn’t enough to win. The six fighters to have averaged more in their UFC careers had fought a total of zero 25-minute fights.

So close were the rounds that all three judges didn’t unanimously give one to either Zhang or Jedrzejczyk, with the champion coming out on top on the tightest of split decisions.

1 – Robbie Lawler v Rory MacDonald 2 – UFC 189

UFC 189 may have been the night Conor McGregor was introduced to a wider audience in beating Chad Mendes, but the highlight of the night was most certainly the co-main event.

Having amassed a record of 18-2, Rory MacDonald stepped up to fight welterweight champion Robbie Lawler in Las Vegas at MGM Grand.

While the first round was little more than a feeling-out process, the second round saw both men open up. MacDonald was opting for body kicks, while Lawler was going straight down the barrel, busting the challenger’s nose wide open. It was revealed after the fight that MacDonald’s nose was actually broken in the first round, preventing him from breathing properly throughout the contest, with a broken foot coming later.

Towards the end of the third, MacDonald’s face was a bloody mess, but he still managed to land a head kick on Lawler which rocked the champion. The challenger poured it on with a finish simply looking like a matter of time, which MacDonald ultimately ran out of.

But after a 60-second break, MacDonald picked up where he left off with another head kick to a still-wobbly Lawler, and would go 3-1 up on the scorecards with just five minutes left. Both men were running on fumes at this point, starting each other down at the end of the round, but Lawler needed a finish.

MacDonald’s corner told him ‘five more minutes and you win’, but one was as much as he could handle. The challenger had swelling around both eyes, a broken nose, cuts to the forehead, nose and mouth, and when Lawler started the final round strongly, MacDonald simply couldn’t take any more. It wasn’t a traditional knockout punch, but merely a jab to the nose that had already been broken for 20 minutes.

Make no mistake, this wasn’t a lack of heart on MacDonald’s part; it was the sheer amount of damage he’d taken that meant he couldn’t take any more.

After the fight, MacDonald literally didn’t even know what year it was; his face a dismantled wreck.

It was a war that changed the course of both men’s careers. Lawler would make one more title defence before losing five of his next six fights, while MacDonald lost his next UFC fight before joining Bellator and later PFL, winning just five of his 13 fights after the Lawler war.

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