Frank Shamrock-Tito Ortiz (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
One of the most memorable fights from the early UFC days, and in the eyes of many the best of the pre-Zuffa era, Tito Ortiz and Frank Shamrock went to war for three rounds where it was safe to say that either man had a good chance of eventually pulling the fight out. By the fourth round though, Ortiz was losing steam and his conditioning betrayed him, as Shamrock pounced and stopped him, successfully defending his title for the fourth time in his final UFC bout. Ortiz learned a valuable lesson that day though, and never again would conditioning be an issue for “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” who instead adopted a Spartan philosophy when it came to preparing for a fight.
Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock I (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Though Tito Ortiz was already firmly entrenched as UFC champion, Ken Shamrock’s return to the UFC brought a whole new legion of fight fans into the fold in what was to that point the biggest event in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. And what those new fans saw was a one-sided thrashing of Shamrock by Ortiz, who became, without question, the undisputed poster boy for the UFC that night. Two more fights would follow with Shamrock, with even more decisive results, as Ortiz would score back-to-back first round stoppages.
Randy Couture-Chuck Liddell I (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
After taking back-to-back losses at heavyweight to the much bigger Ricco Rodriguez and Josh Barnett, Randy Couture’s drop to the 205-pound weight class was seen as a move of desperation to save a career on the downswing. Facing the feared Chuck Liddell in his first light heavyweight bout was just going to hasten Couture’s demise. But the one person not counting Couture out was the man himself, and he not only beat Liddell, he stopped him in the third round and began the second act of one of the fight game’s most amazing careers.
Chuck Liddell-Randy Couture II (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
For nearly two years, Chuck Liddell patiently waited for a shot at redemption for his upset 2003 loss against Randy Couture. In April of 2005, he got it, and with his trademark right hand, he exorcised his demons with a spectacular finish of “The Natural” to win the UFC light heavyweight championship
Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz II (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Despite the one-sided nature of bout number one between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, by the time the rematch was signed, the entire MMA world was eager to see if Ortiz could reverse the result the second time around. He couldn’t, but in defeat Ortiz showed a ton of heart and he even made it to the third round. But Liddell’s ability to keep his rival on the end of his punches made it impossible for Ortiz to implement his game plan.
Quinton Jackson-Dan Henderson (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Sure, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson was funny, a charismatic representative of the sport, and he had the explosive style to give anyone fits. But if he got put on his back by a world-class wrestler like Dan Henderson, had to eat Hendo’s concussive right hand, or was forced into a five-round dogfight, how would the new 205-pound boss fare? Answer – he would pass every test with flying colors, as he showed new wrinkles to his ground game in a 25-minute battle with Henderson (the last PRIDE 205-pound champ) that saw him become the first fighter in history to unify the two belts by way of a hard-fought unanimous decision.
Forrest Griffin-Quinton Jackson (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
This was everything you hope a championship fight is, and for five rounds, Forrest Griffin and Quinton Jackson fought as if more than just the UFC light heavyweight belt was on the line. Filled with knockdowns, tactical stalemates, bone-rattling power shots, submission attempts, and drama, this fight had it all. And though there were rumblings in certain sectors about the decision, the point is that this was a close fight that could have gone either way, and Griffin didn’t have to explain himself for winning, and Jackson didn’t have to hang his head for losing. Both men did the sport proud on this night.
Lyoto Machida-Rashad Evans (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
“Karate’s back,” said Lyoto Machida seconds after taking the UFC light heavyweight title from Rashad Evans, and no one was arguing with him after a technically flawless performance that was capped off by a final sequence that was certainly – to use the Joe Rogan phrase – a ballet of violence. In 19 previous pro bouts, no one had ever seen Evans hurt and taken out like this, but Machida, MMA’s most complex puzzle, did it with his usual cool and precision. It was a master class from the new champion.
Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
On the verge of setting a new light heavyweight record for successful title defenses, Jon “Bones” Jones’ performances in the Octagon made him appear to be unbeatable. But in Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson, he found a worthy rival. For five rounds at UFC 165 on September 21, 2013, the two battled it out on nearly even terms, with Jones in danger of losing his crown until a late surge allowed him to escape with a decision and his title.