After a mess of political theatre involving media publications and California politicians, fans are no doubt aware that the stacked UFC 249 is no longer going down tonight; not in New York, not in Lemoore California, not on a private island, not anywhere.
If you want more on the cancellation and why it shouldn't have been stopped, there's an article here that has you covered.
With Florida declaring sports and entertainment productions without crowds as essential businesses allowed to operate under the current restrictions, along with rumours that the Nevada State Athletic Commission will similarly allow no-crowd events to proceed early next month, Dana White and co. have now set their sights on May 9 as the new date for the highly anticipated UFC 249 card.
Likely taking place in the UFC's impressive Apex Center (with the superb Performance Institute facilities right next door) or if Nevada doesn't pan out, somewhere in Florida, UFC 249's night of fights is set to boast one of the most stacked lineups in UFC history (you can check out the freshly revamped lineup here, which includes three title fights).
Fans of combat sports know however that a stacked card is a double-edged sword - on the one hand it raises the hype around the event and elevates the potential of the card, but on the other it raises expectations and anything short of greatness can leave an otherwise good event feeling incomplete or disappointing.
One need only look at the last UFC PPV back in the beginning of March to see why expectations can prove harmful - despite a rather good overall night of fights which included one of the greatest fights in MMA history between strawweight champion Weili Zhang and former division queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk in the co-main event, the highly anticipated headliner between Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero was a 5-round stinker that sapped all of the energy out of UFC 248 and left fans feeling disappointed.
Some of the best cards in UFC (and MMA) history have been events that far exceeded expectations and were not necessarily the biggest cards on paper or in terms of buys - take UFC 139 for example, one of the greatest events ever held. The card was solid on paper but wasn't viewed as a "stacked" card before it took place; it featured no title fights and while it did have many recognizable names and great matchups that hardcore fans eagerly anticipated, it was far from a blockbuster event (on paper) for the UFC.
On the other end of the spectrum, most of the worst events in MMA history have been weak cards on paper (as you'd expect), but having a stacked card doesn't mean an event can't be bad - it may make it much less likely, but the difference in expectations can play with fans' reactions to an event.
If an event is supposed to be decent on paper and ends up being good, fans are happy - if an event is supposed to be amazing and ends up just being good but not great, many fans are disappointed even if the overall quality of the two cards in terms of enjoyment are roughly equal.
More often than not, the truly stacked cards the UFC has put on over the years have delivered at least good nights of fights, but not every card turns out as expected. As a result, today we'll take a look at five stacked UFC events - ones including big draws, title fights, plenty of appeal to fight fans everywhere - that turned out to be more than worthy of the hype, and five that failed to live up to expectations.
May 4, 2001
Stacking an event full of big draws and quality matchups is nothing new to the UFC - rather than following boxing's model that focuses almost entirely on a single fight, the UFC and MMA events since the beginning have built many of their cards by showcasing depth and giving customers more bang for their buck.
This partly stemmed from the tournament format that the early events followed, but this tradition continued long after tournaments fell out of favour.
Arguably the earliest example of a truly stacked UFC card in a non-tournament setting, UFC 33 was the second event ever promoted by their then-new owners Zuffa and featured two title fights alongside several other well-known names in the sport.
The preliminary card featured the highly anticipated debut of Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenom and future UFC legend BJ Penn, where his heavy hands and slick boxing earned him a late first-round finish and surprised many who had expected a grappling-focused fighter given his incredible BJJ accolades.
The six-fight main card may have gotten off to an odd start with a rare disqualification handed to Ricardo Almeida for repeated illegal upkicks against Matt Lindland, but it was all action from then on.
One of the most accomplished heavyweight kickboxers of all time, the 6'11 Semmy Schilt (who had an 18-9-1 record in MMA already) made his UFC debut on the card when he stopped Pete Williams with a nasty body kick.
Next up was one of the most famous knockouts in UFC history - Shonie Carter dropped jaws around the world when he knocked out surging prospect Matt Serra with the first spinning back fist KO in UFC history.
It was a strike that nobody (especially Serra) saw coming and following the brilliant finish, it became a technique regularly copied by other fighters (albeit rarely successfully).
In a changing of the guard, rising star and future legend Chuck Liddell scored a brilliant knockout of his own over former heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman in just 78 seconds. The win was the biggest of Chuck's career (at the time) and catapulted the "Iceman" into the upper echelons of the light heavyweight division.
The co-main event saw longtime champion Pat Miletich take on Canadian standout Carlos Newton in a grappling-focused affair that ended with one of the most famous submissions in UFC history.
Newton tapped out Miletich with a bulldog choke in the third round of their entertaining title tilt, an extremely rare submission that made Newton the first Canadian champion in UFC history and one of just two Canadian UFC title holders to date.
The main event saw the first of two famous meetings between heavyweight champion Randy Couture and Brazilian bomber Pedro Rizzo. The fight was a gruelling, back-and-forth war of attrition and toughness that pushed both men to their limits and earned the fighters Fight of the Year for 2001, with Couture taking home the hard-earned decision victory after 25-minutes of action.
From top to bottom UFC 31 was filled with eagerly anticipated matchups and featured a great mix of established draws and top prospects. It exceeded even the most lofty of expectations and featured some of the most memorable finishes and fights from that era, making it one of the best examples of a stacked UFC event fully delivering on its potential.
July 11, 2009
Still regarded today as one of the greatest UFC cards ever assembled, UFC 100 was a massive milestone in the sport and celebrated how far the UFC and its athletes had come in such a short period of time.
Just the number in itself carried an air of greatness and achievement - the one hundredth UFC event inspired hype before anyone even knew who would be competing on the historic card.
Now of course fight fans know there had already been more than one hundred UFC events by the time UFC 100 rolled around, but the UFC has always (and still to this day) signified the significance of their pay-per-view offerings using the event number, unlike their Fight Night and other non-PPV events.
As such, the milestone created a massive opportunity for the UFC to celebrate its flourishing success and look back over the years that preceeded the milestone through a series of specials and promotions that served to further reinforce the historic feeling that resonated with the fans.
With the eyes on the UFC to deliver a mega event, Zuffa outdid themselves by stacking the card with draws like no one had ever seen before.
Not one but two of the biggest draws in the sport's history would defend their titles at UFC 100, along with a highly anticipated coaches fight that had a full season of The Ultimate Fighter leading up to an epic grudge match. An exciting Japanese star would also make his debut in the promotion, and even the prelims were stacked with recognizable names and promising prospects.
The prelims started off with two quick guillotine chokes that left their victims unconscious; other highlights included a fun scrap between Jim Miller and Mac Danzig, a dominant performance from rising prospect and future champion Jon Jones, and a surprisingly fun back-and-forth brawl between MMA legend Mark Coleman (who was 44 at the time) and Stephan Bonnar which saw Coleman pick up his first win inside the Octagon in over 12 years.
The main card began with the UFC debut of Japanese star Yoshihiro Akiyama as he took on well-rounded action fighter Alan Belcher to kick off the massive PPV event.
The back-and-forth scrap had tons of action and even saw Belcher propel himself off the cage to deliver a superman punch - after three rounds most had scored the fight for Belcher, but Akiyama was awarded the victory on the judges' scorecards. Belcher's disappointment was somewhat mitigated however thanks to the Fight of the Night honours the two took home, which scored each a hefty $100,000 bonus, double the regular rate in celebration of UFC 100.
Because of time concerns (especially with two title fights scheduled on the card) a fight between Jon Fitch and Paulo Thiago was delayed until after the main event - it ended up being a blessing as the fight was the lone blemish on the main card and ended up being a typical Fitch snooze-fest, and one that few people saw as virtually everyone had turned off the broadcast or simply ignored it after the chaos that was the main event.
The next fight was no such thing however - a highly anticipated grudge match between beloved MMA legend and former two-division PRIDE champion Dan Henderson and brash TUF 3 winner Michael Bisping would result in one of the most famous finishes in combat sports history.
Despite being a beloved figure in the sport, "Hendo" had withstood months of trash talking from Bisping, an outspoken prospect whose countrymen had largely dominated the American team in the ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter, which pitted fighters from the US and the UK against each other.
After a close first round, the second round saw the Englishman working on the outside and landing slapping shots until just past midway through the fight, where he would be hit with one of the most lethal blows in all of sports - the H-Bomb.
Henderson's legendary right hand found Bisping's chin and sent him crashing to the canvas as stiff as a board in perhaps the biggest deliverance of humble pie in sports history. Henderson would get an extra shot in before the ref had a chance to call the fight off, soaring through the air to drop another massive right hand on Bisping's defenseless face for good measure.
It was the most devastating knockout in UFC history and is still considered one of (if not the) greatest knockouts in MMA history to this day. Henderson even used the silhouette of himself flying through the air to deliver the extra shot on his rival as the logo for his line of apparel.
To his credit, Bisping took it like a champ and showed that for all his trash talk, he is a respectable and nice guy at heart.
The first title fight on the card featured one of the greatest fighters to ever compete, Georges St. Pierre in his fourth welterweight title defense against surging knockout artist Thiago "Pitbull" Alves.
Alves was riding a seven fight win streak (five by knockout) and was considered a live dog against the Canadian great, but once the Octagon door closed it was all GSP.
Peppering Alves on the feet with sharp jabs and slick combinations at range, taking the Brazilian down at will with his signature explosive takedowns, and landing tons of smothering ground and pound, Georges pitched a shutout over the course of 25-minutes and put on an absolute clinic against one of the most dangerous welterweights on the planet in what would have been a great main event on any other card.
But this was UFC 100, and we had an even bigger matchup in store - the long-awaited rematch between WWE superstar and newly crowned UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, and former heavyweight king and current interim titleholder Frank Mir.
The two had met back at UFC 81 in 2008 in what was Lesnar's second-ever pro fight; after grounding the BJJ ace early and landing copious amounts of strikes, Lesnar found himself trapped in a kneebar and tapping out in just 90 seconds. The bout did contain controversy however as a questionable call from Steve Mazzagati to halt the action due to illegal strikes had many crying foul.
After taking out Heath Herring and being granted a dubious title shot against Randy Couture, Lesnar made good on his opportunity and knocked out the legend to secure the title, though many fans and pundits recognized Mir as the rightful champion when he secured the interim title by knocking out PRIDE legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira just a month later.
The stage was set for a title unification match between the heated rivals and the hype for UFC 100's main event was off the charts.
When the cage door closed, it was Lesnar that controlled the action, utilizing a more focused and patient gameplan that used his size and strength advantage to systematically tire out and punish his smaller opponent.
Apart from landing a nice elbow and solid knee at the beginning of the second round (which also caused him to end up on his back under Lesnar once again), Mir's game and legendary guard was completely nullified by the NCAA Division I Champion wrestler, who proceeded to smash Mir with heavy ground and pound until Mir was eventually rendered defenseless.
The dominant performance and finish cemented Lesnar as the undisputed champion and the "Baddest Man on the Planet", even if most of the fanbase didn't like him much. Pouring fuel on the fire, Lesnar produced one of the greatest post-fight interviews in MMA history to date, trashing one of the UFC's own sponsors to boot. It was admittedly glorious.
July 11, 2015
Originally UFC 189 was to be an even bigger event featuring the long-awaited showdown between longtime featherweight ruler Jose Aldo and brash Irish star Conor McGregor, but a rib injury forced the champion out of their headline clash just weeks before the event.
The UFC tapped longtime top contender Chad Mendes to fill the void, who had just come off of filming a hunting show, and serve as McGregor's toughest test to date (at the time) on just a few weeks' notice for a newly created interim featherweight title.
Despite the disappointment of losing the massive Aldo-McGregor grudge match, Mendes was a great replacement and the rest of the card was stacked with exciting talent.
While the prelims were a bit lackluster, they did feature a dominant performance from future bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt as well as an entertaining scrap between flyweights Louis Smolka and Neil Seery along with a one-round war between fan-favourite action fighters Matt Brown and Tim Means.
The main card however was all action from the get-go and the stacked five-fight PPV resulted in all five fights being finished long before the final bell.
The pay-per-view kicked off with highly touted prospect Thomas Almeida taking on British vet Brad Pickett in a bantamweight barnburner, with both men landing bombs in the first round and Almeida (as he typically did) surviving getting rocked on multiple occasions only to pour on the aggression shortly after.
Early in the second stanza the Brazilian berserker landed a beautiful flying knee (gif also includes a slick overhand elbow he dropped Pickett with earlier) that knocked Pickett dead and earned him a well-deserved performance bonus.
McGregor stablemate Gunnar Nelson proceeded to made quick work of the (at the time) still highly regarded prospect Brandon Thatch, dropping him with a slick combination before locking in a rear-naked choke for the first round submission.
Next up was an underrated barnburner between Jeremy Stephens (who missed the featherweight limit) and Dennis Bermudez that saw both men engage in a chaotic brawl for two rounds before a beautiful jump knee from Stephens stopped the relentless pace of Bermudez in its tracks.
In the first of the two title fights on the card, legendary brawler Robbie Lawler looked to defend his welterweight title against Canadian contender Rory MacDonald in a rematch of their great back-and-forth scrap from 2013.
In what is still regarded as one of the greatest fights in UFC history, Lawler and MacDonald put their hearts and souls on display for the combat sports world to see over the course of a grueling, bloody war.
Both fighters scored throughout, Rory rocking Lawler on multiple occasions with his powerful kicks and flurries while Lawler continued landing slick boxing combinations, their faces and bodies quickly accumulating visible damage as the rounds progressed; Rory's badly broken nose along with several cuts left his face concealed behind a mask of blood while the champion sported a grotesquely split lip that would later require plastic surgery.
As the horn sounded to signal the end of the fourth round and referee Big John McCarthy stepped in to separate the fighters, an intense staredown between the two blood-soaked warriors was forever etched into the minds of all those who witnessed their epic clash for the welterweight title; a primal, animalistic exchange between two of the toughest men on the planet in the middle of a gruelling battle of attrition and resolve.
In the fifth and final round of a fight that had the champion Lawler down on the judge's scorecards, a straight left hand landed directly on MacDonald's already severely damaged nose and shattered it further, causing the iron-willed warrior to collapse to the canvas in crippling agony. The damage to his nose would go on to plague Rory's career as he required multiple surgeries following repeated breakages in subsequent fights.
The champion meanwhile retained his title with authority and sealed the deal on one of the greatest fights to ever take place in recorded history.
With such an incredible co-main event and the relentless action that preceeded it, Conor McGregor's first legitimate top contender fight had to deliver - and deliver it did.
Chad Mendes came out guns blazing in his short-notice crack at an interim title, landing heavy shots that would have taken out most featherweights and scoring takedowns at will on the Irish contender, handling him on the ground with relative ease.
It wasn't a promising start from McGregor and seemed to be confirming many fans' suspicions about McGregor's ground game, but Conor appeared to be completely unphased by Mendes' much-heralded power and continued pouring pressure on Mendes every chance he had.
After a dominant first round for Mendes, McGregor's game began paying dividends. His repeated front kicks to the body and the constant pace continually forced Mendes to work, and when combined with the fact Mendes had very little training for the fight, it quickly sapped Mendes' gas tank and the Team Alpha Male powerhouse was soon running on empty.
Continuing to walk his prey down and chip away at the longtime contender's will, McGregor dropped Mendes against the fence with a slick one-two following another of his front kicks to the gut. McGregor put the finishing touches on "Money" Mendes and in just under two rounds McGregor solidified himself as the true contender to the featherweight title.
The two delivered a thrilling fight to cap off an electric card, which paved the way to McGregor's epic showdown with Jose Aldo later in the year.
UFC 189 was one of the greatest PPV cards to ever air and to this day not many events can come close to matching the intensity and relentless finishes put on that night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
November 12, 2016
As the last state in the US to finally regulate mixed martial arts despite having a massive fanbase there and one of the most famous venues in the history of combat sports, it was a major deal when New York finally got their shit together (courtesy of a high-profile bribery scandal involving the Speaker of the House) and legalized the sport of MMA in 2016.
For their first trip to New York since 1995 (before the ban was put in place) and their first ever visit to New York City and its world famous Madison Square Garden, the UFC put together an absolutely massive card. Featuring three title fights for the first time since UFC 31 way back in 2001, the card was filled with big names and was topped by the biggest star in MMA history, Conor McGregor.
After a forgettable duo of early prelims, the televised prelims got the card started in earnest - Vicente Luque scored a blistering 79-second knockout over Belal Muhammad courtesy of a beautifully timed left hook, Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch mauled Rafael Natal for a first round finish of his own, and undefeated Russian powerhouse Khabib Nurmagomedov absolutely mauled top flight lightweight Michael Johnson en route to a third round kimura submission that led to a heated post-fight interview, during which he called out McGregor for being a "chicken".
The final fight leading into the paid portion of the card saw New Jersey's beloved Frankie Edgar take home an impressive decision victory over Jeremy Stephens, though he had to survive a scary knockdown and follow-up shots in the third round that nearly saw a win slip through his fingers in the eleventh hour.
The main card opened with a rather dull affair as recently unseated champion Miesha Tate showed that her heart was simply no longer in the game, dropping a dull decision to her former The Ultimate Fighter team member Raquel Pennington before announcing her retirement from the sport.
After a rather disappointing start to the pay-per-view, the action ramped up once again and never looked back.
Competing in his native New York, Chris Weidman looked to rebound from his crushing loss of the middleweight title to Luke Rockhold when he faced off against the freakish Olympic silver medalist wrestler Yoel Romero. The first two rounds were a tense affair, both men scoring points at times between lulls of inactivity, a staple in most Romero fights.
Going into the third round, judges and the viewing public had it scored even, with whoever could impose their will in the third inevitably taking home the victory. Just twenty-four seconds later, Weidman was laying in a pool of blood wondering what on earth just happened.
A flying knee out of nowhere smashed into Weidman's face and sent him crumpled to the canvas, his chin crashing against his own knee on the way down. A nasty cut was opened on impact and spouted blood as Chris woozily sat up and tried to figure out what hit him. It was a brutal and devastating knockout that earned the Cuban missile a title shot in his next outing.
The first of three title fights on the card kept the pace high as strawweight queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk picked apart her fellow Polish striker Karolina Kowalkiewicz at range, landing her trademark crisp combinations at will and once again asserting her dominance over the division.
While Karolina remained competitive and made it into a good fight, Joanna was pitching a shutout - until a massive right hand from Kowalkiewicz sent the champion reeling across the Octagon. Fighting tooth and nail to survive and get back into control, Joanna came back and the two ladies exchanged for an epic fifth round, with Joanna able to endure and battle back en route to a victory on the scorecards.
Next up was newly crowned champion Tyron Woodley's first defense of his welterweight title opposite karate-specialist Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson.
Woodley looked to impose his will in the early going by taking the kickboxing ace to the mat and landing heavy ground and pound, picking up a dominant first round on the scorecards and bloodying up Wonderboy in the process. From there however, Wonderboy would stuff Woodley's takedown attempts and outland Woodley at range, securing the next two rounds thanks to his impressive striking ability.
In the fourth however, Woodley's deadly right hand dropped Wonderboy and quickly turned the tide back in the champion's favour. Going in for the kill, Woodley proceeded to smash Thompson repeatedly with damaging shots, dropping him again with another right hand before eventually locking up a tight guillotine that Thompson somehow managed to survive.
After the hellacious beating he took in the fourth, Wonderboy battled back in the fifth and outworked the tired champion, landing shots from the outside and securing his third round of the fight. After some initial confusion that saw Woodley take home a split decision victory, the scorecards were clarified and a rare draw was announced, which in this case was actually the right call - while Wonderboy won three of the five rounds, the fourth was an easy 10-8 which led to their battle being appropriately declared even.
After the epic co-main event, the time for UFC 205's biggest fight was finally here.
Conor McGregor had initially been slated to face UFC lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos to challenge for a belt in a second weight class earlier in the year, until a broken foot forced Dos Anjos off the card - of course McGregor opted to stay active and face Nate Diaz only to be upset in a massive comeback that saw the Stocktonian tap McGregor out in the second round of their fateful meeting at UFC 196.
Following McGregor's stunning loss, Dos Anjos himself would be upset by a shocking first round standing TKO at the hands of longtime vet and former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez. In a rematch with Diaz, McGregor defeated his rival via a close decision and was once again rewarded with his promised shot at the lightweight title, this time against newly crowned king Eddie Alvarez.
After an intense war of words, the massive headliner for UFC 205 saw McGregor given a chance to make history by being the first fighter to capture UFC gold in two separate weight classes concurrently, something that had only ever been attempted once before (by BJ Penn at UFC 94).
McGregor looked poised and sharp from the opening bell, his confidence and timing as finely tuned as ever; Alvarez on the other hand looked to be floundering under the bright lights, fearful of committing to anything and circling repeatedly into McGregor's power side despite pleas from his corner to move in the other direction (the most basic of concepts in striking).
Conor was simply on another level and toyed with his overmatched prey, dropping the tough vet twice in the opening round and ultimately leaving no question as to who the better fighter was. Midway through the second round, McGregor landed a beautiful combination off of a slipped right hand from Alvarez that sent the lightweight champion to the mat for the third and final time.
It was a sublime performance from the Irish superstar and made McGregor the first concurrent two-division champion in UFC history, though he would never go on to defend either belt and was subsequently stripped of both in the months following.
Nevertheless it was an epic moment in UFC history and capped off an amazing night of fights, making the UFC's first trip to Madison Square Garden one of the grandest events in UFC history.
November 4, 2017
UFC 217 was the UFC's second trip to Madison Square Garden, and boy did they stack the card from top to bottom.
Just the fourth UFC card to feature three title fights (you'll find two others on this page, with UFC 214 being the one missing - its lineup (mostly) lived up to the hype but did have a few duds that kept it from earning a spot on this list), UFC 217 also featured the long-awaited return of the most accomplished mixed martial artist in the sport's history, Georges St. Pierre, in his bid to capture a title in a second weight class.
The first fight of the night on Fight Pass got the party started with aplomb as the undefeated brother of famed Tristar head coach Firas Zahabi, Aiemann Zahabi, battled with Ricardo Ramos to kick off the massive show. While Zahabi seemed to be in control of the fight, in the third round Ramos attempted a spinning back elbow while Zahabi poured on the pressure, landing an ineffective blow with his tricep.
Not one to be discouraged, as Zahabi continued throwing Ramos spun once more, this time landing the strike perfectly across Zahabi's chin and knocking Aiemann out cold. The brutal knockout was as impressive as it was sudden and put the unknown fighter on everyone's radar going forward.
Next up was the first of two bizarre finishes that would take place on the card (it was held in New York after all, which is home to one of the most incompetent athletic commissions you can find).
Heavyweight prospect Curtis Blaydes took on Russian submission artist Aleksei Oleinik and for the first round imposed his will on the aging vet with nothing out of the ordinary occurring. In the second round however, after a break on the ground, Blaydes looked to deliver an illegal soccer kick as Oleinik was on all-fours - the kick just grazed Oleinik's ear, but the bout was halted regardless to check on Oleinik.
Due to the damage Oleinik had already suffered (not from the illegal kick which only grazed) the doctor oddly determined Oleinik unable to continue, leading the ref to call off the bout - after much confusion and repeated looks at the replay, Blaydes was awarded a dubious TKO victory in a fight that shouldn't have been stopped.
Moving on to the televised prelims, Mickey Gall (the man known for shellacking CM Punk in the pro wrestler's ill-advised first attempt at real competition) had his hype train derailed by Randy Brown, who smothered and shut down Gall throughout the three round affair.
A rather sloppy light heavyweight fight between Ovince St. Preux and Corey Anderson ensued. In the third round, OSP closed the show in emphatic fashion however, sending Anderson to the netherrealm courtesy of a beautiful head kick.
What followed was the second bizarre finish of the night - returning to action just a month after being submitted by Fabricio Werdum on a day's notice, Walt Harris found himself beating up on an outgunned Mark Godbeer. Late in the first, Harris accidentally delivered a knee in the clinch that made contact with Godbeer's cup; as the referee was running in to call a break in action, Harris threw a head kick that grazed Godbeer's head as he turned away.
The kick did not hurt Godbeer (though he played it up after the ref stepped in) and was minimized by the ref's contact with Harris knocking him off-balance mid-kick. Rather than giving Godbeer time to recover from the groin strike (neither that or the kick was enough to stop the fight) and continue, the referee inexplicably disqualified Harris for delivering a blow after he had stepped in to stop the action - despite the fact that replays showed he only contacted Harris while Harris was already halfway through throwing the strike.
It was a terrible call and one that handed Godbeer a win in a fight he was getting trounced in.
From then on however, the card continued delivering high-intensity action and the night's controversial calls were left in the rear view mirror.
Lanky lightweight James Vick went to war with highly touted boxer Joseph Duffy, both men trading heavy leather for nearly ten minutes. Late in the second round, Vick surprisingly starched the Irish striker with a beautiful rear uppercut as Duffy stepped in to deliver a strike of his own, stopping Duffy's rise to the upper echelon of the division in its tracks.
To kick off the main card, surging Brazilian slugger Paulo Costa took on former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks in what can only be described as a sanctioned hit job.
While Hendricks once reigned over one of the most competitive divisions in the sport, the years post-USADA had not been kind to the heavy handed wrestler - in addition to losing much of his vaunted knockout power, Hendricks repeatedly struggled to make weight and missed it on two occasions before being forced to move up to middleweight after having lost three straight bouts, where he won a dull decision against the similarly struggling Hector Lombard.
In his second bout at middleweight, Hendricks would come in two pounds overweight and proceeded to be smashed by Tim Boetsch, leading to his fourth loss in his last five outings. Costa on the otherhand was 10-0, sported the body of a Greek god (and somehow passed his drug tests), had finished all 10 of his fights within two rounds and featured one of the most impressive pressure games in the sport.
What resulted was an absolute mauling. Costa walked the disgraced former champion down, blasting him with heavy strikes at will and generally making the once-feared knockout artist look like a frightened squirrel. After repeatedly staggering Hendricks, several beautiful uppercuts sent Hendricks to the mat and the ref mercifully saved ol' Johnny from further punishment early in the second round.
Speaking of welterweight greats, Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson showed that unlike Hendricks, he was still one of the division's best (Thompson was also the first man to finish Hendricks and kicked off Hendricks' losing streak) by beating up Jorge Masvidal for fifteen minutes.
Though Masvidal would take a year off following the loss and return to absolutely dominate 2019 as its Fighter of the Year, at UFC 217 Wonderboy's slick striking and superb distancing was too much for Gamebred, though Masvidal did show off his remarkable toughness and durability in surviving to see the final bell.
Then came the highly anticipated trio of title fights - first up, reigning strawweight queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk sought to defend her title for the sixth time against top contender "Thug" Rose Namajunas.
Utilizing great distancing and feints, Rose had the champion missing early and tagged her with a heavy shot that momentarily dropped Joanna. Quickly returning to her feet and firing back, Joanna appeared to shake off the cobwebs but was still unable to land anything of significance against her lanky opponent.
Rose was looking great in the early going, but given Joanna's tendency to grow stronger as time went on and her impressive technical defense, no one was prepared for what happened next.
A devilish left hook cracked Joanna near the fence and sent her crashing to the canvas around three minutes into the fight, Rose following her to the floor and smashing her with follow-up shots until the ref stepped in to save her. The shocking upset ignited the crowd and began an historic night of title changes.
Following the women's clash, undefeated phenom and newly crowned bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt looked to defend his belt for the first time opposite former teammate TJ Dillashaw in a heated grudge match that had been brewing since Dillashaw left the famed Team Alpha Male gym.
The rivals showcased their superb technique and striking skills, both utilizing impeccable footwork and ridiculous reaction times in their firefight; early on however it appeared that Garbrandt's speed advantage, particularly with his lightning-fast hands, would prove too much for Dillashaw.
Near the end of the opening stanza Garbrandt dropped Dillashaw with a massive right hand during an exchange - after the round concluded, Garbrandt was firmly in the driver's seat and looked to be dominating the former champion just as he had with all-time great Dominick Cruz in his last outing to claim the title.
As he proceeded to get more and more cocky however, Dillashaw's attention to detail and work to create setups in the second frame would prove to be the young champion's kyptonite.
After evading Dillashaw's patented left high kick, Cody took the time to mock Dillashaw as he had been doing repeatedly during the fight - little did he know the same kick would spell the beginning of the end of his title reign shortly after.
About a minute after the missed attempt, TJ threw the same kick with less wind-up, catching Garbrandt off-guard and dropping him.
Another of Garbrandt's tendencies was then ruthlessly exploited - while Garbrandt has superb head movement when he's focused on defense, when he is lured into exchanges he tends to keep his head a stationary target as he looks to land his right hand repeatedly.
Trying to stand his ground after the knockdown, Garbrandt was drawn into a brawl and Dillashaw expertly exploited Garbrandt's lack of head movement during the exchange, planting Garbrandt with a massive right hand and sealing the deal with a few follow-up shots. An out-of-sorts former champion wobbled to his feet in protest while Dillashaw roared triumphantly in his face in what's now one of the most famous photos in UFC history.
The epic rivalry resulted in a fantastic firefight and stunning comeback that saw the second champion of the night dethroned.
In the massive headliner, Georges St. Pierre looked to make history of his own by becoming just the fourth multi-divisional champion in UFC history, behind Randy Couture, BJ Penn, and Conor McGregor.
Moving up to middleweight for the first time in his career, GSP was returning from a four year hiatus from the sport after having gone unbeaten in his last twelve bouts and having defended his welterweight title a record nine times.
The reigning middleweight champion Michael Bisping on the other hand looked to send him back to his old division empty handed. The longtime contender had toiled away in the UFC for some ten years, fighting a who's who list of names in the division and winning far more often than not, but always stumbled at the cusp of a title shot.
After a series of injuries and circumstances led Bisping to get a call to challenge Luke Rockhold (a man who had submitted Bisping just a year prior) for the middleweight crown on just three week's notice, Bisping made the most of his long-awaited title shot, starching Rockhold in the first round and shocking the world in the process.
Bisping went on to defend his hard-earned belt against old rival Dan Henderson with a very close decision win, avenging his famous UFC 100 knockout loss.
For the next stop in his unlikely championship world tour, Bisping looked to hand Georges St. Pierre his first loss in ten years.
When the cage door closed, a considerably more...bloated (later, we'd learn that the diet he was following in order to put on weight caused severe intestinal issues that compromised him and saw him abandon the weight class immediately following the fight) St. Pierre immediately showed off a much more fluid striking arsenal.
While Georges has always been a good striker with great technique, he often looked "robotic" and stiff when throwing strikes - after his lengthy time away from the sport, his work with famed boxing coach Freddie Roach was truly put on display. His combinations were fluid and crisp, his movement loose and relaxed; he was even sitting down on his right hand, something he was criticized for not doing in the past.
He looked to be piecing up Bisping throughout the opening round and firmly in control, but as the second round began, it appeared that the bloated welterweight was already slowing down. His pace fell as Bisping ramped up his output, scoring shots from the outside while St. Pierre fell behind and appeared to have lost much of the energy he had in the early going.
Fans speculated it could have been an adrenaline dump given his time away from the cage (and his well-documented nerves surrounding fight nights) and later when Georges' stomach issues were detailed that was looked to as the culprit for his abnormally lethargic second round, but St. Pierre to his credit made no excuses and instead stated that a punch from Bisping hurt him and slowed him down.
Near the end of the round Georges would score another takedown, but this time Bisping's slicing elbows from the bottom would open up multiple cuts on the Canadian's face.
With the momentum swaying firmly in Bisping's favour, Georges needed a big round in order to get himself back in the fight. Biting down on his mouth piece and embracing a war, St. Pierre battled back in the third and the two champions exchanged heavy leather.
Late in the round, GSP threw a beautiful left hook off of a dip down that floored the famously tough Brit.
Looking to silence the longtime critics of his that had claimed he lacked killer instinct, Georges mauled Bisping with a slew of nasty elbows but somehow Bisping managed to remain conscious through the hellacious assault and worked his way back onto his knees...only for Georges to snatch up a lightning-fast rear-naked choke.
Bisping did his best to fight off the submission and showing his incredible heart, refused to tap and instead was put to sleep by the Canadian great.
It was an incredible and historic moment - a longtime champion who had never lost his belt came back after four years away from the sport to win a title in a weight class he had never competed in before.
After three title fights, three new champions were crowned and to say that the event was something special would be an understatement. UFC 217 was one of the greatest MMA events ever held and is the perfect example of a stacked card blowing the doors off of even the loftiest of expectations.
Honourable Mentions: UFC 92 (2008), UFC 129 (2011)
September 28, 2001
Just months after the great UFC 31 event that is found in the first section of this article, the UFC's next attempt at a stacked card ended up being its polar opposite.
The event was big from its inception given that it was the first mixed martial arts event ever sanctioned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, a major milestone for the developing sport. As such, Zuffa looked to make a great first impression by booking an unheard-of three title fights on the PPV, including the inaugural championship fight for the fledgling middleweight division.
The prelims started off fine enough (though of course at the time they were untelevised and only available later with the home video release); Din Thomas picked up a decision victory, BJJ ace Ricardo Almeida scored a first round triangle, and journeyman Jutaro Nakao scored a nice knockout in the second round of his fight.
Then the pay-per-view started.
Future welterweight champion Matt Serra outmuscled the vastly undersized (for welterweight) Yves Edwards en route to an extremely dull decision victory to kick off the stacked card.
Next up in what was easily the best fight of the night, Chuck Liddell handed Murilo Bustamante the first loss of his career via decision. Now that isn't saying it was a great fight, though it did have its moments, but compared to the rest of the card it might as well have been Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar.
The first of the title fights saw Dave Menne take on Gil Castillo for the inaugural UFC middleweight championship. In a largely one-sided affair, Menne beat Castillo by a lopsided decision to capture gold in what was a rather dull and uneventful affair.
As the number of decisions mounted and chipped away at viewers' patience, the UFC needed a nice finish or exciting scrap to breathe new life into the flailing card.
Instead, fans got to see lightweight champion Jens Pulver narrowly beat Dennis Hallman (a man most known for later wearing a speedo in the Octagon) in a fight that had its most exciting moment come from a bizarre attempt at a double flying kick from Hallman that saw him fall on his ass as a result.
It was an energy draining slog that really saw nothing significant happen over five rounds of inaction.
In the last fight of the dreadful night that was UFC 33, Tito Ortiz took on heavy-hitting Russian Vladimir Matyushenko in his fourth defense of the light heavyweight title. Surely the exciting young champion who had finished all but one of his prior fights (with the lone decision being an excellent fight) would deliver the goods?
Seemingly borrowing tactics from the last two competitors, neither man did a whole lot of anything for twenty-five minutes. Ortiz did enough to clearly win each round, but seemed content not to go for a finish or attempt anything exciting, while Matyushenko just didn't seem to care at all.
To make matters even worse, the agonizingly long night of decisions caused the card to run over the allotted PPV time slot, with most viewers losing their feeds in the middle of the main event (not that they actually missed anything, but still).
It was a clusterfuck all around and is still regarded by many (including Dana White) as the worst event in UFC history.
As a result of the time issue, the UFC would become a lot more concerned about timing and would later purchase extra time for their PPV slots to ensure even if the card ran over, they wouldn't be cut off (those that have purchased a PPV on cable will no doubt have noticed the time shown in the guide is far longer than the 2.5-3 hours a card typically takes).
The UFC would also avoid booking three title fights on a single card like the plague - in fact, following UFC 33, the UFC wouldn't put three title fights on one pay-per-view for over 15 years, long after several more weight classes were added as well.
UFC 33 lives on in infamy as one of the worst cards ever held by the UFC despite their best efforts to deliver a massive card.
July 8, 2006
UFC 61 was a major event for the UFC back in 2006. Featuring the highly anticipated rubber match between heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia and former champion Andrei Arlovski, a massive rematch between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock, former heavyweight champion Frank Mir back in action, and an exciting welterweight prospect matchup to boot.
The prelims got off to a good start with all four fights ending via a finish; Drew Fickett defeated Kurt Pelegrino in a solid scrap via third round rear-naked choke, heavyweights Cheick Kongo and Jeff Monson both scored first round knockouts, and now-disgraced rapist Hermes Franca defeated a late notice replacement via a triangle choke.
The main card also got off to a great start with an exciting scrap between The Ultimate Fighter season 2 winner Joe "Daddy" Stevenson and savvy vet Yves Edwards. The lightweight scrap earned Fight of the Night honours with Stevenson taking home the victory via a somewhat anticlimactic doctor's stoppage following the second round of action.
After that, the card fell apart.
Former heavyweight champion Frank Mir, who had been stripped of his title after a motorcycle accident broke his femur and destroyed the ligaments in his leg and left him out of action for some 18 months, had returned to the cage earlier in the year only to be smashed by an unknown fighter named Marcio Cruz.
He was far from in-shape for his return, but with another six months of training fans hoped to see the submission ace return to his former glory at UFC 61. Instead, once again Mir came in looking out of shape and a shell of his former self, though it was still enough to eeke out a decision over his opponent Dan Christison. It was the first decision Mir had seen since his pro debut back in 2001 and it was far from exciting.
A welterweight fight between TUF season two contestant Josh Burkman and "The Dentist" Josh Neer was supposed to be a highly entertaining scrap; unfortunately it ended up being a forgettable three round slog.
In arguably the most anticipated fight of the night, Tito Ortiz looked to defeat his aging rival Ken Shamrock once again in a rematch of their first encounter back at UFC 40 nearly four years earlier.
Serving as coaches on the third installment of The Ultimate Fighter, their heated rivalry was once again the talk of the MMA world and helped propel the card to a (then) record 775,000 PPV buys with a gate of over $3.3 million.
The fight itself wasn't exactly a shocker - Ortiz quickly took down his much older rival and proceeded to smash him with elbows, causing Shamrock to momentarily go limp which prompted referee Herb Dean to call the action just 78 seconds into the grudge match.
Although it was far from the worst stoppage in UFC history, Shamrock and the fans in attendance protested and the anticlimactic result left the crowd utterly disappointed, so much so that Dana White would promise an immediate rematch (which would later be shown to a record-breaking audience on Spike TV rather than on pay-per-view).
The main event saw Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski look to settle the score in the finale of what was set to be an epic trilogy.
After being stripped of his heavyweight title for failing a drug test and then having his arm broken by Frank Mir in his return bout for the vacant belt, Sylvia would earn a shot at the interim title in 2005 created following Mir's motorcycle accident; Arlovski would upset the former champion in spectacular fashion, dropping the 6'8 giant with a right hand before tapping him out in just 48 seconds with an achilles lock.
Arlovski went on to defend the interim title and be promoted to undisputed champion, earning a 15-second knockout in his first defense of the undisputed title. On the other side of the bracket Sylvia would earn himself a rematch with three straight victories including a slick head kick KO.
In their highly anticipated rematch at UFC 59, Arlovski looked to recreate his earlier victory by knocking down Sylvia with his patented right hand; this time however, Sylvia found his way back to his feet and traded with Arlovski, finding the Belarussian's chin with an uppercut and finishing him with strikes midway through the first round.
Just three months later, the two would meet in a rubber match to determine who the true king of the division was - considering their first two fights, nobody expected the 25-minute slog that was to come.
For five full rounds the two finishers circled each other, slapping each other with insignificant strikes and essentially refusing to engage in anything resembling a fight. It was a horrid contest that ranks amongst the worst in UFC history and put the finishing touches on a card with more than its fair share of disappointment.
While overall the card did have some exciting moments earlier on, it utterly failed to live up to the hype and its most anticipated fights ended up being massive disappointments.
July 7, 2007
Unlike many of the events on this portion of the list, UFC 73 was essentially saved by a good main event after a series of dismal fights rather than having the card end on a bad note.
Regardless, this event earns its spot on the list thanks largely to the number of big names in its lineup and the fact that it was billed as UFC 73: Stacked. It's not just me saying this card was stacked - the UFC branded it as such.
Future champion Frankie Edgar kickstarted the prelims with a first round TKO over Mark Bocek. Following that, a fun scrap between Jorge Gurgel and Diego Saraiva which earned Fight of the Night honours was sandwiched between first round submissions from Chris Lytle (an inverted triangle/americana to boot) and Stephan Bonnar - so far, so good.
The PPV portion of the card started off with an odd trilogy bout between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Heath Herring, which was odd for the fact that Nogueira had won both prior bouts (albeit both were highly exciting and Herring did his fair share of hurting the Brazilian legend) and Herring had done little to deserve a second shot at redemption. Nevertheless, the UFC matched them up again anyway, likely to drum up nostalgia for fans of PRIDE.
The first round was decent enough until late in the frame Herring scored a devastating head kick that dropped Nogueira and had him in all sorts of trouble - and then all the card's momentum fell off a cliff.
Rather than following the BJJ legend to the ground and attempting to finish him, Herring instead backed off and let the tough-as-nails Nogueira brother back to his feet and off the hook despite the little amount of time remaining in the round.
The following two rounds saw Nogueira take over and once again claim victory over the "Texas Crazy Horse" after surviving the early scare, proving what everyone already knew - that he belonged above Herring in the heavyweight pecking order.
The first of two title bouts proceeded with Sean Sherk facing now-disgraced rapist Hermes Franca in a 25-minute slog. It started off well enough with Franca landing a solid knee on the champion and attempting a guillotine choke, but from there the pace slowed and Sherk took over with his superior grappling and strength.
Not much of note happened for the rest of the fight and Sherk took home a clear cut decision victory which excited...just about nobody.
Adding insult to injury, following the card both fighters would test positive for steroids, leading to both men being suspended and Sherk having his lightweight title stripped and left vacant.
In the co-main event Tito Ortiz took on Rashad Evans in a gruelling war of attrition. The fight wasn't overly bad and had some good exchanges, but it wasn't good either and ended in controversy - thanks to a point-deduction to Ortiz stemming from a fence grab, the fight was controversially declared a draw after fifteen minutes of fighting.
Anderson Silva was looked upon to save the dull pay-per-view, and thankfully the Brazilian great did just that.