The Best (and Worst) Stacked Cards in UFC History

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.


The Best


UFC 31

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.


UFC 100

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.


UFC 189

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.


UFC 205

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.


UFC 217

November 4, 2017