1 CONOR MCGREGOR V NATE DIAZ UFC 196, MARCH 5, 2016
This was the fight that took McGregor into mainstream consciousness. The Irishman’s verbal attacks in the build-up to the fight with Diaz – a late replacement for the injured Rafael dos Anjos – confirmed his status as a marquee attraction. His provocative style helped UFC 196 rack up over 1.3 million pay-per-view buys, still the third highest in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) 25-year history.
Diaz won with a rear-naked choke but McGregor somehow emerged with even more fans. They admired his fearlessness in taking on a bigger opponent at short notice – and his focus and desire as he worked towards the rematch five months later, which he won.
Equally entertaining was a split-screen interview the two did a day before the fight, which has over four million views on YouTube – a colourful, manic, hyper-aggressive and, at times hilarious, exchange which the interviewers barely had any control of.
2 ANDERSON SILVA V CHAEL SONNEN UFC 117, AUG 7, 2010
Before McGregor, there was Sonnen. The UFC’s original trash talker took inspiration from larger-than-life professional wrestling characters to hype up his matches – and sometimes psyche out his rivals – with one-liners often delivered with a deadpan expression.
He was able to back his talk up in the octagon too, and dominated Silva in their fight for the Brazilian’s middleweight title.
Silva, who went into their bout with 11 UFC wins, including eight title defences, had no answer as he was out-hit and out-grappled for four rounds.
Then, one moment changed everything.
While pummelling Silva in the fifth and final round, Sonnen had a split-second mental lapse and was caught in a triangle armbar from which he tapped out to, just two minutes before the end. He would have won with a unanimous decision had he lasted the bout, which was later named the 2010 Fight of the Year at the World Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Awards.
3 JON JONES V ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON UFC 165, SEPT 21, 2013
Jones is the enfant terrible of MMA, talented but troubled, with failed drug tests and a hit-and-run accident among his indiscretions.
He still holds the record as the youngest UFC champion, aged 23 years 243 days when he defeated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the light heavyweight title in March 2011.
His innovative offence made him both entertaining and highly effective; he was dominant in subsequent title defences against storied names like Rashad Evans, Sonnen, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort.
But, in UFC 165, he was taken down for the first time in his career by an unheralded Swede. He eventually rallied and won via unanimous decision that some observers say should have gone Gustafsson’s way.
Watch it and judge for yourself.
4 ROBBIE LAWLER V RORY MACDONALD II UFC 189, JULY 11, 2015
This one is not for the faint-hearted. Encapsulating the visceral nature of MMA which appeals to so many, this fight had everything – aggression, great striking, drama and a display of heart by both. After a cagey start, welterweight champion Lawler drew first blood – literally – late in the second round, when he connected with a punch that broke MacDonald’s nose.
Despite this, MacDonald showed no signs of weakness, turning the tables late in a third round with a kick to Lawler’s head. The ding-dong battle continued in the fourth round, which ended with the iconic moment when Lawler spat out a mist of blood onto the mat, before the fighters engaged in an intense staredown.
Both men kept up the pace at the start of the fifth and final round, before MacDonald could not take any more punishment and lost via technical knockout. The fight was later named the 2015 Fight of the Year.
5 ZHANG WEILI V JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK UFC 248, MARCH 8, 2020
Arguably the greatest women’s MMA fight – and one of the greatest in the sport – took place just this month, when Chinese fighter Zhang retained her strawweight title against Jedrzejczyk.
While there had been several milestone moments by women exponents – Ronda Rousey’s win over Miesha Tate, Holly Holm’s knockout of Rousey, Amanda Nunes becoming a double champion – this was by far the most absorbing contest.
Both threw bombs at each other – punches, elbows, knees, kicks – for five rounds, with the Polish fighter ending up worse for wear with a severely disfigured forehead as a result of some serious bruising.
Zhang won by split decision.
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