For a sport that centres around inflicting damage on other human beings, there sure are a lot of great moments in mixed martial arts' history that have made fans feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.
From a massive underdog shocking the world and pulling off the upset, to a legend returning from hiatus to recapture their former glory, to record-setting performances and wars that will be remembered for decades to come, there's never a shortage of great and memorable moments in the MMA world.
For those in need of a pick-me-up during the current batshit craziness engulfing the world, compiled below are fifteen of the top feel-good moments in UFC history.
As with any list of this nature, the picks are highly subjective, but in essence these are moments (in-cage action only, not including moments involving fighters outside of competition) that even if they featured your favourite fighter losing, you couldn't help but feel happy for the winner or for watching history unfold in front of your eyes.
15. Daniel Cormier's heavyweight coronation
UFC 226 - July 7, 2018
Although fans of Jon Jones will claim otherwise, it's hard for anyone not to agree that Daniel Cormier is a genuinely great human being.
His intelligence and cheerful personality shines through in his colour commentary work for the UFC, his dedication and loyalty to his team is truly inspiring (he still coaches a high school team for pay that he gives to the other coaches while juggling a full training schedule alongside commentary/analyst duties), and he has always presented himself professionally and with class.
His rivalry over the years with Jon Jones is well documented - after coming up short and taking his first career loss in their first meeting at UFC 182, Cormier would capture the vacant title and defend it while Jones' misconduct outside of competition saw him stripped of the light heavyweight championship.
After their epic grudge match at UFC 200 fell through on just two days' notice after Jones failed his pre-fight drug tests and Cormier would take a short-notice non-title bout against Anderson Silva, Cormier once again defended his title in emphatic fashion while awaiting his shot at redemption.
At UFC 214 Jones and Cormier would finally look to settle their rivalry in the Octagon. "DC" looked sharp early and was landing heavy combinations on his rival despite his massive reach disadvantage, but as the third round began Cormier seemed to enter his "mummy guard" autopilot mode (a mode that would rear its ugly head once again in another major rematch down the line) that saw Jones pick up steam and begin picking him apart at range while Cormier did little in return.
A massive head kick from Jones followed that put Cormier on wobbly legs - after chasing his staggered opponent to the mat, an onslaught of ground and pound from Jones left Cormier unconscious and the Olympian was knocked out for the first time in his career at 38 years old.
It was a sad and disappointing loss compounded by the fact that many fans (and Jones himself) claimed that Cormier was never the true light heavyweight champion because he had never defeated Jones inside the cage.
Always wearing his heart on his sleeve, Cormier was overcome with emotion and the sobbing former champ gave props to his rival and admitted his heartbreak for the world to see, showing just how much the fight meant to him personally.
Things would take a dramatic turn weeks later as USADA once again made headlines after finding steroids in Jones' system. "Bones" was subsequently stripped of his newly returned title and Cormier was re-instated as the UFC's light heavyweight champion.
Once again dealing with critics that claimed he was not the rightful champion, Cormier dominated top contender Volkan Oezedemir to defend his crown once again before announcing his return to heavyweight to challenge Stipe Miocic for his heavyweight title.
Cormier had started his career a perfect 13-0 in the heavyweight division, winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament in 2012 after coming in as an alternate before coming into the UFC and asserting himself as a top contender for the title. Due to the fact that his longtime friend and teammate Cain Velasquez held the UFC heavyweight crown at the time, Cormier opted to instead cut down to 205-pounds to avoid having to fight his friend.
Due to his prior success at heavyweight, nobody wrote Cormier off in his bid to capture a second title and become just the second simultaneous two-division champion in UFC history, but most saw his chances coming later in the fight if he could grind Miocic out and take home a decision.
In the early going, Stipe looked to have the advantage on the feet as he landed solid shots on his awkwardly aggressive challenger, though Cormier landed plenty of his own as well. The stage was set for an epic war of attrition as time progressed in the opening round...
And then Cormier took the spotlight.
If anyone was getting finished early in the fight, bets were firmly behind Cormier being the victim, but it was Miocic who collapsed to the mat with less than thirty seconds to go in the first stanza of his fourth title defense.
A beautiful, short right hand from the clinch dropped Miocic to the canvas; a few follow-up shots later bounced his head off the canvas, knocking the most successful heavyweight champion in UFC history out cold.
In the span of a few seconds, Cormier had not only proven doubters wrong and shown that he was worthy of a true championship status in the cage, but he became just the second concurrent double champ in UFC history.
It was a brilliant knockout and Cormier's win was so big that even the most ardent Jones supporters couldn't help but feel happy for the man - Cormier had paid his dues and earned every second of jubilation.
Cormier would go on to be the first fighter to successfully defend titles in two different weight classes in the UFC before being on the receiving end of a massive comeback against Miocic in their rematch in 2019; the two are expected to conclude their trilogy at some point in 2020.
14. Tito Ortiz saving his UFC spot by skewering a young lion
UFC 132 - July 2, 2011
It may be hard for some to really feel sorry for Tito Ortiz's predicament come 2011, with the former champion winless in his last five and hanging onto his roster spot by a thread.
After all, he was far from an endearing figure in the sport and was most well known for his incessant trash talk and bitter feuds with virtually everyone, UFC brass included.
His string of excuses often became grating, but in truth Ortiz was on quite the unlucky streak since getting knocked out by Chuck Liddell to end his otherwise successful 2006.
Six months after losing to his most famous rival, Ortiz would arguably beat talented prospect (and future light heavyweight champion) Rashad Evans, but thanks to a point deduction Ortiz received for grabbing the cage to stop a takedown, the fight was ruled a draw.
He then found himself facing another future champion in Lyoto Machida, who sported an extremely elusive and unique style that bewildered his opponents at the time - Ortiz lost the fight convincingly, but actually did quite well compared to most of Machida's victims, and the Huntington Beach Bad Boy even managed to catch Machida in a tight triangle at one point.
In a rematch with Forrest Griffin, the two engaged in an almost exclusively striking affair and Ortiz handled himself quite well with many scoring the bout in his favour, but ultimately Griffin was awarded the split decision victory to even up the score in what would later become a trilogy.
Ortiz proceeded to find himself pitted against a former teammate of his in Matt Hammill (Ortiz coached Hammill in the third season of The Ultimate Fighter) who was essentially a younger, better version of himself - a better wrestler (Hammill was an Olympian) with a lot more power in his hands. Ortiz came up short once again and found himself winless in his last five outings.
With a cut imminent, the once-dominant champion had to plead for one last opportunity to prove himself worthy of a spot on the UFC's roster.
The UFC obliged with a wink as they opted to feed him to a young lion - Ryan Bader.
A surging prospect who was coming off of the only loss in his career against a fellow rising star in Jon Jones (who was now the UFC's light heavyweight champion), Bader was a massive favourite and for good reason - his Division I all american status far overshadowed Tito's wrestling credentials and on the feet, Bader possessed massive knockout power and surely had the advantage against the aging former champ.
The UFC was clearly getting the most out of Ortiz' "last" fight by feeding his celebrity status to their young prospect, but Ortiz refused to just fade off into obscurity like everyone expected.
At UFC 232, the two wrestlers engaged in a striking match from the opening bell. After nearly two minutes, neither man had landed anything of significance, with the two largely trading leg kicks - and then Tito Ortiz shocked the MMA world.
The "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" charged forward and landed a short right hand that put Bader on his ass. Ortiz swarmed, looking to land follow-up shots, but Bader did a good job of holding on and avoiding further punishment - only to find himself trapped in a guillotine as Ortiz pulled guard and reefed on his exposed neck.
Ortiz squeezed as if his life depended on it and a few seconds later, Bader was forced to tap.
Tito got up and did his patented "gravedigger" celebration before hopping up on the cage and letting out a hearty roar. No matter how much one despised the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, it was impossible not to feel good for the former champ - against all odds, Ortiz managed to beat a fighter that on paper was a far better version of himself and should have run through him like a hot knife through butter.
The win saved his UFC career (for a time) and showed that when a fighter's back is up against the wall, all bets are off.
It even saw the dawn of a more fan-friendly and UFC-friendly Ortiz, who stepped up to help bolster UFC 133 and became an injury replacement (something he had never done in his entire career) to face Rashad Evans in a rematch, only to be finished in the second round. He was then demolished by Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and lost a close decision to Forrest Griffin in their trilogy bout before finally leaving the UFC.
Regardless of what came after, in the moment, Tito Ortiz's underdog victory and brief turning back of the clock was an incredible feel-good moment for a fighter that, regardless of his cringey trash talking and complaining over the years, was a bonafide pioneer of the sport.
13. Dominick Cruz returning from injuries to obliterate Mizugaki
UFC 178 - September 27, 2014
To say that Dominick Cruz went through a rough patch following his second UFC title defense would be an understatement; after running his record up to a stunning 19-1 with his only loss having been avenged, Dominick Cruz was regarded as the best bantamweight to ever compete in the sport and one of the most skilled fighters pound-for-pound in the world.
After defeating Demetrious Johnson in October of 2011, Cruz was picked to coach the fifteenth installment of The Ultimate Fighter (the first and only season featuring live fights each week rather than taped ones) opposite of his career rival Urijah Faber, setting up their trilogy bout in July of 2012.
In the later part of the season however, Cruz was forced to withdraw from his third meeting with Faber after tearing his ACL, an injury that promised to put him on the shelf for the near future.
As time wore on however, the question of when the champ would return shifted to if the champ would ever make it back to the Octagon.
In December of 2012, it was revealed that Cruz had to undergo a second ACL surgery after his body rejected one from a cadaver, restarting his entire recovery process.
Nearly a year later, Cruz was finally slated to return in a title unification bout against interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao at UFC 169, in February of 2014 - some 28 months after Cruz last competed.
A month before his return, disaster struck once more as Cruz tore his groin and was once again sidelined by injury. The UFC was finally forced to strip Cruz of his title and promote Barao to the undisputed bantamweight champion, unceremoniously ending Cruz's title reign with just two defenses in his four years with the strap.
After nearly three years away from the cage, Cruz finally returned to face longtime bantamweight staple Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178. Still an underdog but nonetheless seen as a very tough outing for someone who had been sidelined for as long as Cruz was, nobody expected the always-tough fringe top-five fighter to be slaughtered.
"The Dominator" was especially known (and often criticized) throughout his career for a lack of finishes - branded "The Decisionator" by his rival Faber, Cruz had just a single finish to his name throughout his entire 10-fight WEC/UFC career, and that was an injury TKO due to a broken hand.
His extremely unorthodox style relied heavily on deceptive and unique footwork, with defense being the foundation of his entire game. Cruz liked to keep his pace high and pick away at his opponents with slapping strikes and combinations, relying heavily on his predictive abilities and speed to made him nigh-impossible to hit in order to keep his opponents down on the scorecards.
At UFC 178, three years of pent-up frustration came out and Cruz ran right through poor Takeya Mizugaki.
Hitting a beautifully timed takedown less than a minute into the bout, Cruz unloaded on the veteran bantamweight, hammering him with ground and pound as he worked to get back to his feet. As soon as Mizugaki did so, Cruz dropped him with a left hand and continued furiously pounding away at his stunned victim until he was eventually rendered unconscious just 61 seconds into the fight.
The dominant display announced Dominick's return in style and showed a newfound sense of killer instinct he had been criticized for lacking so often in the past.
Even his most bitter rival couldn't help but feel happy for Cruz in his triumphant return - his comeback after suffering what many thought to be career-ending injuries is the stuff of a Disney movie.
The flawless victory saw Cruz matched up with then-champion TJ Dillashaw, the two expected to face off at some point early in 2015 - the high was short-lived however as Cruz would once again tear his ACL in December, sidelining him for yet another year.
Cruz would come back at the beginning of 2016 however, and after an intense five-round technical war with TJ Dillashaw, Cruz reclaimed his title in a close split decision to complete his Cindarella story, which would be worthy of a spot on this list in its own right if it weren't for just how epic his Mizugaki performance was after such a long time off.
12. Conor McGregor's historic double champ crowning in NYC
UFC 205 - November 12, 2016
Following his meteoric rise up the featherweight rankings that turned him into a worldwide sensation, and then his iconic 13-second starching of featherweight king Jose Aldo, McGregor was on top of the MMA world.
Cashing in on his star power, Conor's move up to lightweight to challenge Rafael Dos Anjos for a second title was met with as much enthusiasm as claims of unfairness from long-time fans of the sport.
Many fans and particularly fighters felt the UFC was bending over backward to accommodate the star (which, in fairness, is a given in any business) and allowing McGregor to immediately challenge for a second title without having to vacate nor defend his newly captured championship was a slap in the face of other fighters - Jose Aldo for instance was a long-time featherweight champion that sought a lightweight title fight himself, but was told repeatedly if he wanted to move up he would have to vacate his featherweight belt in order to do so.
For McGregor, no such restrictions were put in place, and many fans saw it as McGregor holding up a division he was unlikely to return to given his arduous weight cuts.
Less than two weeks before the superfight however, Rafael Dos Anjos broke his foot and withdrew from the contest, leaving the UFC scrambling for a replacement to save their headline bout.
In stepped Nate Diaz, a top-ten lightweight and popular action-fighter known for his volume-based boxing and slick Brazilian jiu-jitsu, not to mention his and his brother's penchant for trash talk. The hilarious banter that ensued between the two more than sold the fight, which was contested up at welterweight (Diaz requested a catchweight as he would not be able to make the lightweight limit on such short notice; McGregor therefore called for a bout up at welterweight instead so neither would need to worry about cutting weight).
The fight was all going according to plan in the first round as McGregor landed bomb after bomb on the lanky Stocktonian, dropping him and busting up his face in the process. Known for his incredible toughness and will, Diaz did not succumb to McGregor's early onslaught like so many of McGregor's opponents have, and instead gradually found his range.
By the start of the second, McGregor had already slowed considerably after throwing so many power punches in the opening stanza, while Diaz began landing his "slapping" punches (along with actual slaps) with increasing frequency, shifting the tide in his favour as he taunted the fading Irishman.
Momentum firmly in his corner, Diaz began piecing up the featherweight champion, even staggering him with a crisp 1-2. A panicked McGregor then took an unwise shot on Diaz, quickly finding himself overwhelmed on the mat by the superior grappler and taking heavy shots from mount which led to him giving up his back. Moments later, Diaz sunk in the rear-naked choke and McGregor was forced to tap, ending his 15-fight winning streak in the process.
The upset derailed McGregor's lightweight title hopes and, determined to avenge his loss, saw an immediate rematch take place between the two in the summer, once again at welterweight so as not to change the conditions from their first meeting.
The rematch drew massive PPV numbers and lived up to the hype as the two put on an excellent back-and-forth war, this time going all 25-minutes with McGregor slightly edging Nate on the scorecards for a majority decision win.
In the meantime, Rafael Dos Anjos had lost his title in an upset to Eddie Alvarez, while New York had finally passed a bill to end the ban on mixed martial arts. New York became the last state in the US to do so and paved the way for the UFC to host a show in New York City for the first time.
For their first event in Madison Square Garden at UFC 205, the UFC looked for a massive headliner and found it in a lightweight title bout between Conor McGregor and new lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez.
Many fans and fighters once again cried foul, especially given that McGregor had even less claim to having earned a lightweight title shot now than he had initially at UFC 196 - since then, he had gone 1-1 against Nate Diaz (who was 2-3 in his prior 5 fights and just 5-5 in his last 10) and he still hadn't technically even fought in the 155-pound division.
He had also yet to defend his featherweight title even though it was nearing a year since his championship win, yet the UFC was still allowing him to keep the belt and challenge for another.
Nevertheless, the fight proceeded as planned and was a massive success regardless of the criticism, warranted or not.
When it came time for the two champions to enter the Octagon, Conor looked to be on a completely different level - Alvarez on the other hand looked lost and out of sorts, dwarfed by the moment.
McGregor absolutely skewered the decorated champion on the feet, effortlessly avoiding Alvarez's charges and nailing him with powerful left hands repeatedly, dropping Alvarez on numerous occasions and making it look ridiculously easy in the process.
As minutes went by the result became an inevitability - Alvarez was hopelessly outgunned and seemed to have no idea how to mount any offense against the superstar, repeatedly circling into McGregor's power hand and throwing non-committal, telegraphed shots from the outside against a skilled counter-striker.
In the second round, McGregor continued to piece Eddie up and landed a beautiful combination that put Alvarez down for the final time, earning McGregor his second undisputed world title.
The brilliant performance was made all the more historic by the iconic images of Conor McGregor donning a UFC championship belt over each shoulder - regardless of circumstances leading up to it, Conor had made history in becoming the first concurrent two-division champion in the UFC and certainly put on a show when doing it.
Even the most ardent McGregor detractors couldn't help but feel happy for the Irish star and for what he had accomplished on such a massive and historic night of fights.
Of course that feeling would quickly disipate as McGregor never defended either title, being stripped of his featherweight crown shortly after UFC 205 and later being stripped of his lightweight title due to inactivity following his highly successful (at least commercially) crossover into boxing.
11. Dan Henderson posterizing Michael Bisping at UFC 100
UFC 100 - July 11, 2009
On the biggest night in the sport's history, one of the most anticipated matchups on the card was a bout between MMA legend Dan Henderson and brash British prospect Michael Bisping.
Beginning his professional mixed martial arts career back in 1997 and winning UFC 17's middleweight tournament in 1998, Dan Henderson made a name for himself as one of the best fighters on the planet while fighting for PRIDE FC in Japan.
An Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling for the United States, Henderson's strong wrestling base was supplemented by a thunderous right hand he would later tailor his entire game around, eschewing his "Decision Dan" nickname from his early days in favour of the more appealing "Hendo" and his famous "H-Bomb".
Competing in PRIDE's welterweight and middleweight divisions (equivalent to middleweight and light heavyweight in the US), Henderson worked his way up to becoming a top contender in both weight classes, eventually winning PRIDE's 2005 Welterweight Grand Prix and capturing their welterweight title, before viciously knocking out Wanderlei Silva and taking his middleweight crown, making Henderson the only man to ever capture titles in multiple weight classes in PRIDE.
Following the UFC's acquisition of the Japanese promotion, Henderson would return to the UFC to compete in title unification bouts at both light heavyweight and middleweight; Henderson lost a close decision to UFC champion Quinton Rampage Jackson and was submitted by middleweight king Anderson Silva in those fights.
Hendo would bounce back with wins over Rousimar Palhares and Rich Franklin to earn himself a coaching gig on the ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter, which in a new twist would be the first to pit two countries against one another - rather than getting to pick their team, the teams were picked by the UFC with Henderson leading a squad of fighters from the US, and his opposing coach Michael Bisping leading a group from the UK.
Michael Bisping was no stranger to the show himself - serving as a contestant on the third season of the show, Bisping would go on to win the tournament and make a name for himself in the UFC, running his record up to a perfect 14-0 before losing a decision to Rashad Evans which prompted him to drop down to middleweight.
From there, Bisping would win his next three outings and solidified himself as one of the best fighters in the UFC's middleweight division. To go along with his technical striking game and voluminous punching style, Bisping was as outspoken as they come and loved to rile up his opponents with trash talk.
Over the course of The Ultimate Fighter, Bisping made the most of his opportunities to get under the soft-spoken veteran's skin, regularly taunting Henderson at every turn and rubbing in his team's success throughout the season. His antics made most MMA fans despise Bisping (particularly in the US of course) and it clearly became grating for Hendo, who vowed to do his talking in the cage instead.
At the biggest event in UFC history, the two middleweights finally squared off inside the Octagon as the lead-in to the stacked card's co-main event title fight.
Throughout the first round both men found success, Henderson landing several hard shots while Bisping looked to peck away at his slower opponent from the outside.
With a style aping Rocky Marciano's famously right-hand-heavy tactics, Henderson bided his time and continued looking for his trademark H-Bomb. By force of habit, Bisping continuously circled to his left, putting himself directly into the path of Hendo's most powerful weapon (much to the chagrin of his coaches) - this blunder would prove to be fatal as Henderson shuffled in and launched Bisping's head into orbit.
The right hand from hell landed right across Bisping's chin, instantly putting the Brit to sleep and sending him crashing to the floor as stiff as a board. To make sure his mouth stayed shut, Hendo dove on his unconscious rival in order to get one last, brutal shot in (Henderson later used the iconic silhouette of him flying through the air in order to deliver the blow as the logo for his apparel line).
Bisping was out cold for more than a few moments as the MMA world stood with mouths agape, amazed at the brutality they had just witnessed.
The knockout was easily one of the most vicious and beautiful finishes in MMA history and is still regarded as one of the greatest knockouts of all time.
Not only was the knockout itself incredible, but it was a genuine feel-good moment for fans the world over - a bonafide MMA legend earned the most iconic win of his career and perhaps in the sport's history, and in the process humbled a cocky young fighter who had bit off more than he could chew.
Bisping would get the last laugh many years later however, when he defended his UFC middleweight title against his old rival, picking up a controversial decision victory after a five round war. He's also now a well-liked commentator - who'd ever have thought that would happen after the devastating loss he suffered back at UFC 100?
10. BJ Penn capturing the welterweight title
UFC 46 - January 31, 2004
BJ Penn has had a number of incredible feel-good moments over the years that could have made this list, and certainly his later capture of the long-illusive lightweight title and his destruction of rival Sean Sherk spring to mind for many fans. But his earlier underdog win up at welterweight truly takes the cake as the best feel-good moment in Penn's storied career.
Heading into 2004, the Prodigy was widely regarded as the best lightweight on the planet - although he had only competed in 8 fights (going 6-1-1 in those bouts), his incredible achievements in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and his success against top competition had already seen him compete twice for the lightweight title - once in a highly controversial majority decision loss to Jens Pulver, then again in a close draw against Caol Uno in a fight for the vacant belt following Pulver's departure from the UFC.
After the UFC's mini lightweight tournament failed to find a conclusive winner for the 155-pound title, the struggling company decided to axe the division entirely, letting their lightweights leave for other organizations or attempt to bulk up and compete at welterweight.
Penn, like many others, left the UFC following their decision. Soon he would take on Takanori Gomi, a top-3 ranked lightweight at the time and future PRIDE champion, in K-1's Rumble on the Rock 4 event in Hawaii. There, Penn would dominate Gomi en route to a third round rear-naked choke victory, cementing his status as one of (if not the) best lightweight fighters on the planet.
In the meantime, Matt Hughes continued his dominant reign over the UFC's welterweight division, having captured the title and defended it a record five times consecutively, finishing all but one of those bouts inside the distance.
Sporting a remarkable 35-3 record and riding a 13-fight winning streak with 11 finishes, the powerful wrestler was the most dominant fighter in UFC history at the time and was in desperate need of fresh contenders after having largely cleaned out the division.
The UFC therefore turned to BJ Penn to further bolster their dominant champion - offering an immediate shot at Hughes' welterweight title should he return to the UFC at welterweight, the UFC scored a recognizable name for their champion to defeat and continue on with his historic title run.
To say that Hughes was expected to run through his undersized opponent would be an understatement - Hughes himself said "it would be embarassing to lose to a lighter guy" in the pre-fight promo shown before the fight, fully believing he would dominate his unfortunate victim. With Hughes' smothering top-game, farmer's strength and a large size advantage, he was looked at as simply being too much for the lightweight to handle.
When it came time for the two to lock horns inside the Octagon, it quickly became clear that Penn was not going to simply roll over and hand Hughes an easy title defense.
Penn quickly landed a heavy left hook and another before Hughes tied up to look for a takedown, which Penn escaped with ease. Shortly after landing another quick left hook, Penn landed a massive right hand which dropped the champion to a knee, from which he would pull guard.
Despite his size advantage, Hughes simply could not keep Penn off of him when the fight hit the floor, getting hit with occasional potshots while being smothered by the BJJ savant. Late in the round, after landing a heavy right hand from a standing position over Hughes, Penn quickly passed Hughes guard and took the champion's back, softening up his victim with a variety of strikes.
Moments later Penn slapped his forearm under the chin and secured a rear-naked choke, forcing the overconfident champion to tap out with 21-seconds remaining in the opening round.
The massive upset shocked the MMA world and immediately put Penn on top of the pound-for-pound rankings, becoming recognized as the best fighter in two different weight classes at the same time.
It was an incredible moment in the sport's history and one which no one really saw coming, turning the scrappy Hawaiian talent into a legend in one fell swoop.
Unfortunately, the UFC would strip Penn of his title shortly after following a contract dispute which saw Penn leave the organization to compete in K-1's MMA promotion until he returned to the UFC in 2006, where he would lose in a rematch to Hughes. Penn later captured the lightweight title and claimed victory in his trilogy with Hughes courtesy of a 21-second knockout in 2010, which remains the last victory of Penn's storied career.
9. Miesha Tate capturing UFC gold
UFC 196 - March 5, 2016
There are very few fighters who have had their title aspirations written off by fans in quite the same way as Miesha Tate.
Once the Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion of the world, Miesha lost her crown in dramatic fashion against brash Olympian judoka Ronda Rousey in the most high-profile women's fight in the sport's history (at the time), having her arm dislocated and bent backwards in gruesome fashion in the process.
The highly entertaining scrap thrilled fans the world over and given her young age there was no doubt in people's minds that the two would meet again at some point in the future.
Fast forward to 2013; women had finally been added to the UFC, with a number one contender bout between Cat Zingano and Miesha Tate poised to determine not only who would face Ronda Rousey for the UFC championship belt later in the year, but also who would coach against Rousey in the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter.
The fight certainly started off well for Tate, her hyper-aggressive striking and relentless wrestling easily securing her the first two rounds on the scorecards. In the third however, Zingano mounted a massive comeback against a fatigued Tate, stopping her midway through the final round with a series of knees and dashing the former champion's hopes for a rematch with her rival.
That is, until a torn ACL forced Cat Zingano to withdraw from her bout with Rousey and took her out of The Ultimate Fighter coaching gig. Naturally, the UFC had Miesha step in to coach against her rival, much to the chagrin of one Mrs. Rousey.
The competition certainly didn't hurt Ronda's increasing stardom with mainstream viewers, but her increasingly petty and childish behaviour highlighted throughout the show turned much of the hardcore MMA fanbase against the undefeated champion.
When the two met for the second time, neither wasted any time in getting their hands on their rival. While Tate appeared to have an edge on the feet, the fight was largely contested on the mat thanks to Rousey's judo and Tate's over aggression, where Ronda showed her superiority.
Tate held her own however, forcing Ronda to see the second round for the first time in her career and even extending her into the third. Eventually, Ronda wore down her rival and secured her signature armbar early in the third frame, seemingly ending her bitter feud with Tate.
Of course Rousey's lack of sportsmanship would once again turn hardcore fans against the champion when she refused Miesha's help up off the canvas, but having the fans on her side was little solace for Tate; she had just lost her second fight against the champion and was looking at a long road back to a title shot as a result.
Undeterred, Miesha quickly got back to work and vowed to force the UFC to give her another shot by clearing out the rest of the division's contenders - four fights and four wins later, including victories over Liz Carmouche, Sara McMann, and Jessica Eye which showcased her improving striking - Tate was once again knocking on the door of a title shot.
The fact that the champion had beaten her twice weighed heavily in the minds of fans and the UFC, who opted to have the undefeated but somewhat green (in MMA) Holly Holm face Rousey instead. Though many questioned the UFC for giving Holm a title shot when her two UFC wins had been so thoroughly unimpressive, Holm was one of the greatest boxers in women's boxing's history and had shown a lot of promise in her fights, even if her overly conservative tactics inside the Octagon hadn't exactly thrilled fans.
Stylistically however, Holm was Rousey's kryptonite - an athlete that could match Rousey's strength and speed, that could execute a gameplan effectively, that had effective footwork to avoid Rousey's bull rushes, and had the technical striking ability to expose Ronda's mediocre striking skills.
Of course the UFC expected Ronda to be able to take the boxer down, but instead, Holm expertly avoided Ronda's rushes and clinches, skewering the champion with slick left hands repeatedly as Ronda foolishly charged at the superior striker. And then Ronda's historic reign came crashing down courtesy of a Holm head kick.
While Tate was disappointed she wouldn't get a chance at revenge, Holm's win cleared the path for her own title shot - there would be no worry about selling the fight to the fans given the two had not met before.
Though the UFC tried to push Rousey for a rematch that she'd never sign, Holm wanted to keep active and instead opted to defend her title against the next top contender, one Miesha Tate.
Though not nearly as big an underdog as Holm was against Rousey, the majority of fans felt that Tate was overmatched heading into her second UFC title bout at UFC 196 - after all, Rousey thoroughly out grappled Miesha during their two encounters, so how would Tate be able to take her down?
Likewise, while Tate's striking had improved and was more technically sound than Rousey's, it was nothing that should trouble a boxer of Holm's caliber.
The fight started off in a manner that many predicted - Holm's superior boxing and kicks at range scoring points against the slower, plodding wrestler, her footwork and athleticism able to keep her standing and out of danger.
The second frame saw Miesha's tenacity in looking for a takedown pay off as she was able to ground the champion with a beautifully timed takedown early in the round, showing off her vastly superior grappling as Holm ate ground and pound and barely managed to avoid a submission defeat in a lopsided five minutes that arguably could have earned Tate a 10-8 score.
That dominance would be short lived for Miesha however - for the next two rounds, Holm managed to avoid all of Miesha's subsequent takedown attempts, picking her challenger apart with lancing straights and snapping kicks as Tate struggled to land anything significant in return on her elusive target.
With just five minutes remaining to keep her dreams of becoming a UFC champion alive, Tate came out for the fifth round knowing she needed to get the fight back on the ground in order to have a chance at victory. Holm once again kept the fight standing and landed shots, mere minutes away from her first successful title defense.
And then Miesha scored a takedown.
Desperate for a finish, Miesha pounded away and looked for any opportunity for a submission that she could get as Holm squirmed her way to her feet against the cage.
But Tate wasn't going to let her chance at UFC gold slip through her fingers - instead, she locked her arm under Holm's chin and secured a rear-naked choke, only one hook in due to their proximity to the cage.
In a desperate bid to get out of the position, Holm attempted to throw Miesha off of her back, ultimately forcing herself onto the canvas where Miesha was able to secure both hooks and seal Holm's fate. Refusing to tap out, Holm instead was put to sleep a moment later.
The comeback win was a real life Cindarella story - the seasoned vet that had been written off, always coming up second to her fiercest rival, losing in her last bid for a title but with her back against the wall and in the eleventh hour somehow managing to pull off the impossible and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
It was an inspiring comeback and one that you couldn't help but feel happy about, regardless of whether you were a fan of Miesha Tate or not.
Unfortunately Tate's time at the top would come to a quick and decisive end as the champion looked lethargic and uninspired in her final two bouts before retiring at just 30 years of age, losing her title via a quick submission to Amanda Nunes before dropping a dull decision to Raquel Pennington.
The drive to reach the top clearly meant much more for Tate than her desire to defend it, but her incredible comeback at UFC 196 and inspiring title win is one that will remain one of MMA's best feel-good stories for decades to come.
8. Nate Diaz humbling Conor McGregor
UFC 196 - March 5, 2016
Since we just discussed UFC 196's co-main event, why not take a look at that memorable card's headline bout?
Heading into UFC 196, Conor McGregor was on top of the world; the undisputed featherweight champion coming off a 13-second starching of one of the greatest fighters to ever live, riding a 15-fight winning streak with 14 finishes that propelled him to superstardom and made him the biggest star in the sport.
Now moving up to lightweight to challenge Rafael Dos Anjos for the lightweight title in an attempt to become the first simultaneous two division champion in UFC history, McGregor's chance at making history was lost after Dos Anjos suffered a badly broken foot and was forced out of the megafight less than two weeks out from the event.
In a mad scramble to save the card, the UFC turned to fan-favourite and #6 ranked lightweight Nate Diaz to step up on just 11 days' notice to headline the stacked UFC 196 card.
Though always active and in good shape, Diaz stated he would likely be unable to make 155 pounds on such short notice, asking the UFC and McGregor for a catchweight bout - instead, McGregor offered to move the fight up to the next weight class of welterweight (170 pounds), which Diaz happily agreed to.
Fight week was even more intense and hectic than a standard McGregor fight week - unlike many of Conor's foes, Diaz was unphased by McGregor's antics and gave as good as he got, engaging in a war of words with the featherweight champion as the two traded barbs all week and ignited the MMA fanbase with their potential for fireworks in the cage.
Come time for the two to step into the cage the MMA world was abuzz, electrified by the hype surrounding the matchup not to mention the incredible fight they had witnessed moments before in the co-main event.
Early on, McGregor established his dominance thanks to his crisp southpaw straight, enjoying a speed and power advantage against the Stocktonian. As time passed, Diaz began landing his own shots in return and started to avoid the brunt of McGregor's hands, his patented brand of volume punching putting him on the board as McGregor expended energy and began breathing heavy just minutes into a five round fight.
By the end of the first, Diaz had shifted the momentum in his favour, landing shots on the champion as McGregor's speed advantage started to dwindle and he increasingly hit nothing but air. The trash talk continued in the cage, Diaz regularly taunting the Irishman and slapping him repeatedly with an open hand (a la the "Stockton slap").
The second round saw McGregor's "slip and rip" style devolve into that of a brawler, getting heavy shots in of his own but sapping his cardio with every exchange and eating plenty of peppering shots in return - this was exactly the kind of fight in which Nate thrived in.
As McGregor's punches and footwork became laboured and sloppy, Nate's confidence grew, his taunting increasingly flustering the fading champion in between exchanges of slaps and jabs.
McGregor pressed on, only to get staggered by a combination from his lanky foe, the previously unstoppable knockout artist drowning in a sea of Diaz combinations.
A panic takedown from McGregor led to a Diaz reversal, Diaz now on top of his floundering victim and pounding away at his helpless prey. McGregor swiftly gave up his back to escape the onslaught of punishment, Diaz sinking in a rear-naked choke to complete the devastating upset before McGregor tapped for dear life.
The stunning upset and dominant finish from Diaz lit the MMA world on fire - Diaz fans roasted McGregor for tapping out while Conor fans made excuses for the Irishman's performance, from the short notice replacement aspect (which still favoured McGregor given he had a full training camp) to Nate's size (Diaz weighed approximately 176 pounds on fight night, only a few pounds more than McGregor).
The epic victory was made all the more brilliant by Nate's simple reply to Joe Rogan's first round of questioning inside the Octagon - in response to Rogan asking him how he felt about the massive upset, Diaz famously remarked "I'm not surprised, motherfuckers".
Even if you were a diehard McGregor fan, it would be hard not to at least feel happy for Diaz following such a massive win.
Often considered a journeyman and regularly failing to put forth consistency in his career, Diaz was however still one of the most talented lightweights in the world and always came to scrap and put on a show for the fans - to see him finally step out of his brother's shadow and propelled into the limelight was quite the spectacle.
To his credit, McGregor took the loss like a champion (at least in the immediate aftermath) and the two would go on to deliver an epic rematch which McGregor won following a close five round war.
7. Shogun Rua avenging his controversial "loss" to Lyoto Machida
UFC 113 - May 8, 2010
Heading into their light heavyweight title tilt at UFC 104, nobody quite knew what would go down when the two wildly different Brazilian strikers faced off inside the Octagon - undefeated champion Lyoto Machida had picked apart the division en route to his stunning title victory, baffling his opposition and often making them seem completely outclassed courtesy of his elusive karate style; PRIDE legend Mauricio "Shogun" Rua on the other hand was known for being a devastating muay thai knockout artist that after an initial fumble in his UFC debut, was back to his deadly self.
Many viewed Shogun as Machida's stiffest test to date given his striking ability and crippling power, but his aggressive style and tendency to brawl also seemed tailor-made for Machida's patient counter-striking approach. There was also Shogun's recent history of knee troubles that had severely hindered his performances when compared to his days of stomping heads in Japan, which saw his kicking game largely disappear and his cardio suffer as well.
When the two stepped foot in the cage however, Mauricio put on perhaps the best technical performance of his career.
Machida's karate-based style focused heavily on footwork - not the traditional boxing footwork most fighters are used to, but an almost-running method that looked to keep opponents at an exaggerated distance. Quick, sharp kicks coming in from this range would score points for "The Dragon" before he'd quickly bound back out of range.
The extra distance Machida maintained would fluster opponents as they swung at air, leading them to overextend themselves and look to chase after him - when they'd inevitably get reckless in an effort to catch him, Machida would time them coming in and stand his ground, planting his feet and firing off a sharp, classic southpaw left hand straight down the middle. Multiplying the force of the punch by his opponent's own momentum, Machida would hurt and knock out many of his opponents despite not seemingly possessing a lot of "knockout power" that others such as Shogun were known for.
With 15 fighters falling to Machida's style and none showing much in the ways of an effective counter to Machida's perplexing tactics (famously prompting Joe Rogan to welcome fans to the "Machida era" after his title win against Rashad Evans), Shogun's performance was made all the more remarkable by just how well he dissected Machida's peculiar strategy.
Rua took the fight to Machida from the beginning and opted to exchange kicks with the fleet-footed karateka, matching Machida's lower-half's output with heavier kicks of his own.
Known as a heavy and powerful striker, Shogun's classical muay thai stance should have made him easy to evade given Machida's style, but Rua instead opted to attack in bursts and capitalize on Machida's evasion not by looking to catch him with knockout blows, but by kicking Machida's trailing leg when the champion tried to escape.
When circling out, one of the legs will always trail the other - this leaves it completely vulnerable to leg kicks. Mauricio ruthlessly exploited this fact, regularly throwing his hands to prompt a retreat from Machida, only to then chop away at the Dragon's legs as he circled out. Whenever Machida looked to burst forward with an attack of his own, Shogun simply covered up and reset.
The tactic bore fruit as the fight went on, sapping Machida's mobility and making him an easier target as time progressed and damage accumulated on the champion's legs, leading to him eating harder punches in the later rounds and get beat up in the process.
It was far from a one-sided beating however - Machida landed plenty of his own shots throughout the five round battle, particularly as Shogun pressed forward and into harm's way.
At the end of a tense 25-minute striking match, fans and analysts alike all felt very confident that Shogun Rua had won at least three of the rounds and thus would be declared the new UFC light heavyweight champion.
Not ruling out a split decision given how close the fight was however, when the judges' unanimous scores of 48-47, 48-47, and 48-47 were announced, it all but confirmed the PRIDE great was taking home gold.
And then Machida's name was read.
The fans in attendance was none too appreciative and neither were viewers at home, with many claiming an absolute robbery. While it was a close fight, it seemed pretty clear that Shogun had done enough to win on the scorecards, and on rewatch without any commentary that sentiment remains unchanged.
The extremely controversial decision led to an immediate rematch being signed and in May of the following year, the two Brazilians once again entered the Octagon to square off in a tense tactical duel.
Following his narrow "victory", Machida promised to be more aggressive and erase all doubt as to who won the first fight. Both men came out with more aggression in the early going, Shogun rifling off his leg kicks while Machida engaged from the get-go and even scored a nice takedown on Rua.
Returning to the feet, Shogun charged forward and landed a few punches on the retreating Machida, eschewing the more conservative style that had worked so well in their first meeting - when Machida clinched to relieve pressure, a failed toss from Shogun saw him easily taken down without even seeming to attempt to defend it - it would later be revealed that Shogun injured his knee once again during the fight, leading to yet another ACL surgery for Rua.
Regardless, Mauricio worked his way back to his feet, where Machida would land a slick stepping knee just moments later as Shogun looked to push him away.
Returning right back to the exchange and looking to land his straight left hand, it was Machida that ran himself into a devastating counter strike, a heavy right hand from Shogun sending him to the mat with Shogun quickly following him into the mount.
Rua postured up, holding his victim by the throat as Machida tried desperately to hold on and recover, and proceeded to knock the champion unconscious with several concussive hammers. Before the referee had even gotten a chance to step in Rua stopped his assault, standing up and roaring in triumph at his hard-earned win - while it officially took just three minutes and thirty-five seconds, over twenty-eight minutes of fighting and two full training camps had gone into his title-winning efforts alone.
Becoming just the second man to have captured titles in both PRIDE and the UFC, the beautiful finish righted the wrong of their first match-up and finally gave the MMA legend his long-elusive UFC gold. If you didn't enjoy seeing Shogun have UFC gold wrapped around his waist, you can't call yourself an MMA fan.
6. Anderson Silva coming back from the brink of defeat against Chael Sonnen
UFC 117 - August 7, 2010
To say that the hype surrounding UFC 117's main event was massive would be an understatement.
Anderson Silva was one of the most dominant champions the UFC had ever seen, riding an unheard of 11-fight winning streak inside the UFC which included six middleweight title defenses and two awe-inspiring first round knockouts up at light heavyweight.
Silva had decimated his competition, the only real criticisms against his reign being his rather odd performances against Thales Leites and Demian Maia, where he clearly established his superiority as a fighter yet seemed content to play with his food and goof around rather than finish his overmatched victims.
Despite coming off of a rather disappointing "performance" against Maia, Silva's biggest roadblock on the path to becoming a truly top-tier PPV draw for the UFC was his lack of a rival to help sell him to the masses.
Try as they might, none of Silva's opponents presented a real foil to the "Spider"; that is until an American Gangster from West Lynn Oregon showed up.
An NCAA Division I All-American that became known for his relentless takedowns and non-stop ground and pound, Chael Sonnen had a very respectable 23-9-1 record coming into the UFC in 2009, having just beaten one of the top-ranked middleweights in the world in Paulo Filho in what was supposed to be a WEC title fight (the champion Filho missed weight).
Despite Sonnen's affinity for wrestling and his dominant top game, his rather poor submission defense (six of his nine losses at the time were via submission) saw him face his stylistic nightmare in his UFC debut against BJJ legend Demian Maia. Maia quickly derailed Sonnen's momentum at UFC 95 with one of the slickest triangle chokes you'll ever see in MMA.
Undeterred, Sonnen quickly righted the ship with a dominant performance against Dan Miller, after which he used his post-fight interview as a means to draw attention to himself by calling out the champion Anderson Silva.
Chael began trashing the Brazilian legend every chance he had, entertaining some with his colourful trash talk and excellent mic skills while drawing the ire of many fans for his blatant disrespect and litany of controversial comments.
Chael's media opportunities and fanbase only grew as he put his money where his mouth was and grinded out fellow contenders in Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt, his victory over the latter making him the number one contender to Silva's throne.
Sonnen's theatrics borrowed heavily from pro wrestling gimmicks and he played the role of the "heel" to a tee, effectively turning himself into a villain to Anderson Silva's hero and inspiring the masses to tune in to UFC 117 - whether they were cheering for "The Bad Guy" or wanted to see him eat his words, fans were foaming at the mouth to see the massive middleweight showdown.
Competitively, Chael Sonnen also seemed the perfect foil for the soft-spoken Brazilian champion - though a well-rounded fighter with unreal striking skills and excellent Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Silva had dropped rounds against strong wrestlers in the past who were able to take him down and hold top position, something that Sonnen was renowned for and more than capable of doing over rounds should he be able to avoid being submitted.
Sonnen immediately proved he wasn't just talk as he took the fight to Silva and managed to stagger Anderson with a left hand in the opening minute. The one-dimensional wrestler proceeded to land many strikes on the feet (to everyone's surprise) before taking down the champion, where he proceeded to pummel Silva relentlessly.
Silva seemed to have no answer for Chael on the ground, completely unable to find his way back to his feet and instead eating a torrential downpour of hammer fists, punches and elbows from the American.
Rounds passed and a pattern formed - intense striking exchanges on the feet which saw Sonnen's rushes surprisingly effective against the feared striker, who would land some of his own, more powerful shots but would ultimately fail to stop Sonnen from dragging him back to the mat.
Once his back was on the canvas, Silva was rendered completely defensive, a punching bag taking unanswered shots by the dozen.
By the end of the fourth round, Sonnen's utter domination of Silva had all but ensured a lopsided victory for the brash wrestler. Sonnen had landed an incredible 278 strikes after twenty minutes, more than five times what Silva had landed with 54. The judges scorecards read 40-34, 40-35, and 40-36 all in favour of the challenger - in other words, Silva would need an absolute miracle to retain his title.
That hail-mary comeback seemed to fly out the window as just seconds into the fifth round Silva once again found himself underneath his foe, knocked off balance after missing a right hand and trying to avoid Sonnen's return.
Chael continued to chip away at the battered champion, Silva's historic reign slipping away as the seconds ticked away in the final round.
And then Chael got complacent.
Allowing his wrist to be controlled, Chael was caught off guard when Silva locked up his arm and threw his leg over Sonnen's shoulder to set up a triangle, quickly cinching up the choke and pulling Sonnen's head down, cutting off the wrestler's blood supply to his brain.
Sonnen tried to defend by laying back and putting his leg over Anderson's body, only for Anderson to then crank on Sonnen's arm in a combination triangle/armbar. And then came the tap.
With less than two minutes to go, Chael Sonnen cried mercy and saw his dream of a UFC world title slip through his fingers. Thirteen years of fighting, a lifetime of wrestling, countless hours of blood sweat and tears, all came together for an almost-perfect performance, nearly twenty-three minutes of domination over the greatest fighter on the planet - only for it to fall apart in the eleventh hour.
As sad as it was for Chael's masterful performance to come crashing down, it was pure elation for the middleweight champion of the world.
Silva had been battered for over four rounds, dominated for every minute of the fight, his entire body no doubt aching from the lopsided beating he endured. Yet even when all hope appeared to be lost, Anderson refused to give up and waited for his chance to strike back and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Anderson showcased the heart of a true champion to the world that night, refusing to give up even when everything pointed to his demise. No matter how battered and bruised he was, Silva refused to quit and instead made his opponent cry uncle.
To top it off, Silva showed nothing but respect to his rival despite all of the remarks Chael had made, proving his respect for the sport and all of its competitors was far from an act as Sonnen once declared.
Anderson's victory at UFC 117 was arguably the greatest comeback in sport's history and it was nothing short of inspiring.
5. Michael Bisping knocking out Luke Rockhold to claim UFC gold
UFC 199 - June 4, 2016
If Miesha Tate was written off by fans as a potential UFC champion leading up to her title clash in 2016, we might need a new expression to describe how most fans viewed Michael Bisping's chances of capturing a UFC title that same year.
Manchester's Michael Bisping had carved out a reputation for himself as one of the best middleweights in the UFC during his long career with the promotion, but was known as a fighter that always fell short at the final hurdle on the path to a title shot.
Every time The Ultimate Fighter season three's winner found himself in contendership fights, he saw himself knocked down the ladder, often in dramatic fashion - Dan Henderson sent his hype train to a screeching halt at UFC 100, Chael Sonnen took his title shot years later in a close decision, Vitor Belfort then crushed him (and wrecked his eye in the process), Tim Kennedy handed him a disappointing loss, and most recently, Luke Rockhold dropped him with a head kick before submitting him via a one-arm guillotine.
The brash Brit simply refused to take the hint however, and like always, got back to his winning ways, beating up CB Dolloway before edging out a resurgent Thales Leites in a close decision. Nobody expected that his tenth year in the UFC would be the one that finally saw him get a crack at the long-elusive middleweight title, but 2016 proved to be the best year of Bisping's lengthy career.
Taking on the former middleweight king Anderson Silva, the man Bisping had been chasing for years, "The Count" surprised MMA fans everywhere by outstriking Silva for the majority of their five-round fight, regularly stifling Silva's defense through his educated feints and fakes and slick combinations, even dropping Silva in the second round with a left hook.
Silva did well in the third and late in that round, controversy came into play - after losing his mouthpiece, Bisping made a rookie mistake in asking for a timeout and took his eye off of his opponent, leading Anderson Silva to nail him with a brutal flying knee with just seconds to go in the round.
Bisping was essentially knocked out, but rather than put in the finishing touches, Silva ran off and celebrated as the bell sounded to end the round, only returning to the cage after referee Herb Dean informed him that the fight was not actually over.
Despite getting essentially KO'd a minute earlier, Bisping immediately got back to work when the confusion was cleared up and the next round began, handily taking the fourth round and showing doubters that not ending the fight in the third was the correct call to make. Silva rebounded with a big final round, but it was too little too late - Bisping had earned himself three of the rounds and thus won the close fight on the judges' scorecards.
Though the three-fight winning streak and a win over the former champion put him in a great position, he was still ranked fourth in the division and the current middleweight champion Luke Rockhold was set to square off against Chris Weidman for the second time at UFC 199, meaning Bisping would need to wait and likely win another fight before getting his shot at UFC gold...
And then the MMA gods shone on the longtime UFC staple.
Just three weeks out from his rematch with Rockhold, Chris Weidman pulled out of UFC 199 due to a neck injury. The next in line, Jacare Souza, was coming off of a dominant win over Vitor Belfort just days before the news broke and was expected to step in, but due to a meniscus injury suffered in his fight with Belfort, Jacare was unable to answer the call.
Vitor Belfort was next in line after Jacare and had actually beaten Bisping in the past, however Vitor was just soundly beaten in the afforementioned bout with Souza and wouldn't be medically cleared to return to the cage so soon regardless.
And thus the UFC arrived at Michael Bisping.
Despite being on a movie set at the time, Bisping was more than happy for a shot at the long-elusive middleweight title, even if it wasn't in the most favourable circumstances. A chance to avenge his last loss at the same time? That was just icing on the cake for the Count.
The two men certainly weren't fond of each other and immediately got into a war of words, with Rockhold rubbing in his 2014 victory over Bisping and even stating that he currently had a minor knee injury and would still handily beat Bisping again - Bisping blasted his rival's smug attitude and drew attention to a bad eye poke that immediately preceeded Rockhold's finish of him, and stated that even heading into the rematch "right off the couch" he would still knock Rockhold out cold.
To the masses, Bisping was a heavy underdog and completely overlooked heading into UFC 199 - with Rockhold's prior decisive finish less than two years earlier, combined with the fact he was coming off of a dominant title win over Chris Weidman, Bisping's chances of capturing gold were determined to be next to nil.
Some of the more savvy fight fans however viewed the fight as much more interesting than the odds would suggest - with Bisping's boxing improvements (particularly in developing a powerful left hook) and Rockhold's flawed defensive habits, a Rockhold win was far from guaranteed.
It didn't take long for the fight to show that Bisping would be no walk in the park for Rockhold - the champion looked to press the action against his mobile opponent, lunging in with straight shots and largely missing his rival. Bisping did a great job of staying out of range and avoiding Rockhold's shots, landing some jabs of his own to annoy his foe.
Late in the opening round, one of Rockhold's worst habits provided Bisping the opportunity of a lifetime.
Lunging in with a jab that put him squarely inside of his opponent's range, Rockhold looked to simply back straight out of the engagement with his chin high and his hands low, a consistent flaw found in Rockhold's boxing.
Bisping followed with a right hook that fell short of the target, but the lunging left hook that immediately followed sure didn't.
The massive left hook which would persuade Bisping into calling himself "Left Hook Larry" found Rockhold's chin and put him on his ass; Rockhold quickly got back to his feet and looked to clinch up with his aggressor, only for Bisping to frame off of his face and nail him with another massive left hand, sending him right back to the canvas. Several follow-up shots shut the lights out for good on Luke Rockhold's title reign as he lay slumped against the fence - the UFC had itself a new middleweight king.
The finish was as shocking and sudden as it was spectacular. Bisping's journey to becoming the UFC middleweight champion took him over ten years in the world's biggest MMA promotion, a path filled with bumps in the road that had many writing off the Englishman's chances of ever capturing a title - yet here he was, a volume puncher often criticized for his lack of knockout power, standing over an unconscious champion who had defeated him in dominant fashion less than two years prior.
It also didn't hurt that Rockhold's smug demeanor and cockiness didn't exactly endear him to most fans.
The shocking finish was truly a sight to see and for longtime UFC fans, it was remarkable to witness the longtime also-ran have UFC gold strapped around his waist after such a tumultuous journey.
4. Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva finally meeting inside the Octagon
UFC 79 - December 29, 2007
For fans of the sport in the early 2000s, a fight between UFC superstar Chuck Liddell and PRIDE's murderous monster Wanderlei Silva was the dream fight.
The "Axe Murderer" smashed through the light heavyweight (or middleweight according to PRIDE) division to capture their inaugural championship belt in 2001, after which he proceeded to instill fear into light heavyweights around the globe with his dominant performances and savage knockouts.
Chuck Liddell meanwhile was the UFC's budding star, an exciting knockout artist with an iron chin that would quickly become the biggest face in the sport. He would go on his own impressive stretch before being upset in his first crack at the UFC light heavyweight crown at the hands of former heavyweight champ Randy Couture.
Still believing Liddell to be one of the best fighters in the world and more than a match for Wanderlei Silva, UFC president Dana White called for a superfight between Chuck Liddell and PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva to prove which organization had the better fighters. White even publically put a six-figure bet on the line that Liddell would beat their champion - rather than taking him up directly on his offer, PRIDE instead offered a spot in the 2003 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix to Liddell on the opposite side of the bracket to Silva.
The goal was of course to have Liddell and Silva meet up in the finale of the Grand Prix tournament, but in true PRIDE fashion, they opted to stack the deck in their favour.
Silva's side of the bracket wasn't exactly filled with killers - his path to the finals included a declining Kazushi Sakuraba (who had lost three of his last four and had already been finished by Wanderlei twice) and Hidehiko Yoshida, who had just two professional bouts before entering the tournament.
On the other side of the bracket, Chuck Liddell made quick work of the surging prospect Alistair Overeem in the opening round before being upset by Quinton Rampage Jackson in the semi-finals, putting the kibosh on the highly anticipated super fight.
From there, Silva would smash Rampage in the finals and continue his reign over the division; returning to the UFC, Liddell would put together the best run of his career, demolishing Tito Ortiz in a grudge match before claiming UFC gold in a rematch with Couture. Both men would continue to dominate, increasing calls for the UFC and PRIDE to put together the now champion-versus-champion superfight once and for all.
In August of 2006, it was announced that should Chuck Liddell defeat Renato Babalu Sobral in his scheduled UFC 61 title defense, Wanderlei Silva would finally square off against the "Iceman" that November on a UFC card (despite Silva still competing in PRIDE's 2006 Heavyweight Grand Prix, where he moved up in weight to fill in for Fedor Emilianenko). Liddell knocked out Sobral in just 95 seconds, clearing the way for their massive showdown...or so everyone thought.
Negotiations with PRIDE stalled and in September in the semi-finals of the heavyweight Grand Prix, Wanderlei Silva was brutally knocked out by Mirko Cro Cop's legendary left high kick.
Talks would fizzle out as Liddell demolished Tito Ortiz for a second time, though rumours continued to swirl. Wanderlei would then put his middleweight crown on the line against Dan Henderson in PRIDE's second-ever event outside of Japan. Wanderlei was subsequently knocked out once again in vicious fashion in Las Vegas, marking an emphatic end to his title reign.
Not long after, PRIDE would be acquired by the UFC - had it been sold just a few months earlier, fans likely would have seen Wanderlei come over to the UFC to fight Liddell for the UFC title in a true champion vs. champion superfight .
Just months later in May, Chuck Liddell would lose his UFC title with a brutal knockout loss of his own, once again at the hands of Rampage Jackson in a rematch of their 2003 Grand Prix meeting.
That July, Dana White announced a planned fight between Wanderlei and Chuck at UFC 76 in September was scrapped after failed contract negotiations, with Liddell facing off with Keith Jardine instead. Just a month later the UFC would finally sign Wanderlei Silva to compete in the UFC, announcing his debut for UFC 79 that December.
Chuck Liddell would be upset once again, looking rather lethargic against his awkward opponent and dropping a close decision in what many had considered a tune-up fight (he later admitted to not taking Jardine seriously at the time).
While it certainly lost the implications that were once associated with a pairing of the two now former champions, fans were still excited to see the legends finally square off, and ironically they were still on an equal footing to boot - both men had now suffered back-to-back losses and although they had clearly lost a step, they were still two of the most dangerous men on the face of the planet.
At UFC 79, the two light heavyweight legends finally met inside the Octagon on December 29, 2007.
A fight with well over four years' worth of build-up is facing an almost impossible task of living up to that amount of hype, but in the case of Liddell-Silva, it more than lived up to its lofty expectations.
The two knockout artists slugged it out from the start, Wanderlei backing himself into the fence after a big shot early from Liddell, drawing him into the kind of firefight the Axe Murderer lives for.
The two threw bombs at each other for the full fifteen minutes, both proving that despite their recent losses, they were still more than capable of taking a shot and landing their own bombs in return. Both men were rocked at multiple points (sometimes even at the same time) over the course of the three round war, the appreciative crowd giving a standing ovation at the end of their epic fifteen minute slugfest - if only five round non-title fights were a thing back in 2007.
Having landed more overall and scoring the more significant strikes throughout the fight, Liddell was awarded the decision victory on the scorecards in what would be the "last hurrah" of the Iceman's legendary career. Both men truly put everything they had into their long-awaited scrap at UFC 79, and it couldn't have turned out any better.
Of course seeing the two fight during their primes would have been massive, but despite their declines and the odds being against them, the two warriors put on an absolute show and fully rewarded the MMA community for their patience.
The fight was later named the Fight of the Year and is still regarded as one of the best fights in UFC history, and seeing two legends turn back the clock the way they did at UFC 79 is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
3. Georges St. Pierre returning to claim middleweight gold
UFC 217 - November 4, 2017
After his unexpected and controversial (semi) retirement from the sport back in 2013, rumours of Georges St. Pierre's return to the Octagon continued to pop up over the years only to inevitably fall through.
His dominant reign had come to an unceremonious end - his twelfth straight win and ninth consecutive title defense was shrouded in controversy from its inception, with Georges St. Pierre pushing for more stringent drug testing in the sport and undergoing random USADA testing paid for out of his own pocket, while his opponent Johny Hendricks initially accepted enhanced testing protocols only to renege on the deal and outright refuse.
The fight ended up going Georges St. Pierre's way on the judges' scorecards despite the majority of fans and pundits scoring it in favour of Hendricks, though on a rewatch without commentary it's far less controversial and a case can be made for both fighters - immediately after the fight, GSP would announce that he would be taking a break from the sport, which drew the ire of everyone that wanted to see an immediate rematch.
Later Georges would cite frustrations with the sport's lack of adequate drug testing as a major part of his decision to step away from the sport. Although he never attacked Hendricks specifically for it, one can't help but think Hendricks' actions and the MMA community's (largely the media and the UFC itself) complete lack of caring about it certainly influenced his thoughts on the matter.
For those that don't know, Hendricks' initially agreed to enhanced (random and "out of competition") USADA testing only to back out and claim VADA was a superior testing agency, to which GSP then offered to pay for VADA testing instead. Then Hendricks refused to take part in the VADA testing as well, and given it wasn't made mandatory by the commissions at the time, no one could force "Big Rig" to actually enter the program.
St. Pierre meanwhile subjected himself to both USADA and VADA testing for his entire camp and released each test's results publically despite his opponent not being subject to any of those enhanced testing protocols.
He also opened up about his struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and the mental toll being a champion for so long had put on him; it soon became clear the Canadian great's break from the sport wasn't just a publicity stunt or a contract negotiation tactic.
Still loving martial arts and especially training, St. Pierre continued to regularly train and improve his skills even without a fight on the horizon.
In 2014, GSP would tear his ACL training, an injury that had previously kept him out of action for over a year and had seen his performances noticeably deteriorate in his return - while he was still dominant in his two outings prior to Hendricks, against Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz respectively, his famed explosiveness had seemingly taken a hit from the injury and the welterweight champion simply didn't look quite up to par with his previous outings.
Years passed and it was becoming increasingly unlikely that fans would ever see the welterweight GOAT ever compete inside the Octagon again, but St. Pierre still refused to officially retire or write off a comeback.
In early 2017 after many months of negotiating for a new contract that would see the worldwide star paid his worth, the UFC announced that St. Pierre had signed a new deal with the company and would be moving up to middleweight to face the current champion, Michael Bisping. The announcement surprised many given St. Pierre's earlier reluctance to move up in weight given his frame, not to mention the fact that he'd be coming off of an over three year hiatus only to compete for a title in his first fight back.
Regardless, fans were excited to see the legend step foot once again inside the Octagon and attempt to capture a title in a second weight class. The news quickly soured however when Dana White announced the fight was off due to Bisping wanting to fight as early as July, while Georges had apparently suffered an eye injury and due to the weight he'd have to put on, wouldn't be ready to fight until November.
In July, after intending to book St. Pierre against welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and Bisping against top contender Robert Whittaker, Dana White opted to return to the original plan after Whittaker was medically suspended until early 2018 and Woodley's last two performances ended up being less than thrilling.
The massive middleweight showdown was thus booked for UFC 217, headlining one of the most stacked cards in UFC history that included two other highly anticipated title fights at the famed Madison Square Garden Arena.
Certainly no one was counting St. Pierre out (the betting odds were essentially even), but there were certainly a lot of questions regarding St. Pierre's return - how would the 36 year old look after four years out of competition? How would the added size affect the former welterweight, who was competing at a weight class 15 pounds heavier than his usual? Would his legendary takedown ability hold up against a larger opponent, especially after another ACL surgery?
Those questions only loomed larger when St. Pierre's physique on fight week was shown off - while certainly muscular, St. Pierre looked what can only be decsribed as "bloated". Concerns over whether he would have the cardio he used to, or the speed, became the topic of much debate in MMA circles.
When he stepped into the cage at UFC 217 however, Georges quickly looked to answer those questions.
Despite his bloated figure, St. Pierre immediately showed off his improved hands after years of tutelage under legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach. While St. Pierre was always a great and technical striker, he often looked "stiff" and robotic in his striking, which also contributed to criticisms over his lack of knockout power (particularly with his power hand given that he never seemed to "sit down" to throw his right hand).
At UFC 217, no such problems remained - his strikes were, like always, technically sound, but now loose and fluid with a "snap" to them that he so often had lacked in the past, and he was even sitting down on his right hand to great effect.
Of course there was plenty of classic GSP as well - his trademark superman jab staggered Bisping in the opening round, he landed several turning side kicks throughout the fight, his takedowns were on point, and his beautiful jab-into-lowkick combo looked better than ever.
After an impressive first round, St. Pierre's output fell off a cliff - indications that it was the result of his bloated middleweight physique (reinforced by St. Pierre's need to vacate the middleweight belt immediately after given his severe health issues brought on by his diet and inability to retain the weight, though Georges stated his second round sluggishness was due to him being hurt by a Bisping punch that round) had his fans worried as he lethargically stayed on the end of Bisping's jab and appeared to suffer from an adrenaline dump.
The momentum had clearly shifted and heading into the third the two were now even at a round a piece.
An early takedown for St. Pierre looked like it could swing the momentum into his favour, only for Bisping to repeatedly slice away at St. Pierre's notoriously cuttable face with nasty elbows from off of his back, opening multiple gashes on the challenger before Bisping managed to work his way back to his feet.
Now covered in his own blood, St. Pierre refused to take a backward step, keeping the pressure on Bisping as he looked to land his right hand and stiff jabs, waking up from his sluggish second round. With less than 90 seconds remaining in the round, GSP dipped to throw a left to the body and avoid Bisping's right hand, only to pop back up and land a massive left hook which floored the champion.
Following his victim to the mat, Georges rained down a series of hellacious elbows as Bisping tried frantically to defend himself, the Brit renowned for his toughness barely able to hang on as the man previously criticized for a lack of power and finishing instinct was mercilessly smashing his face in.
Kicking St. Pierre off of him momentarily as St. Pierre stood up to rain down punches on his wounded prey, Bisping tried to turn to his knees to get up, only for Georges to hop on his back and quickly lock up a rear-naked choke and put Bisping to sleep in a span of a few seconds.
The entire finishing sequence was as brutal and savage as one gets and one can't help but think St. Pierre loved being able to silence his longtime critics by putting together such a beautiful finish.
It wasn't without its hiccups, but St. Pierre had managed to return from four years out of competition to capture a belt at a new weight class, showcasing an improved striking arsenal in the process and showing that he did indeed have the killer instinct so many thought he lacked.
It was an historic moment to top off a massive night of fights and marked the return of the greatest fighter in MMA history - if that doesn't make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, I don't know what will.
2. Holly Holm giving Ronda Rousey her "come to Jesus" moment
UFC 193 - November 15, 2015
Ronda Rousey was at the height of her popularity in 2015 - she had armbarred top contender Cat Zingano in just 14 seconds, then faceplanted dubious title challenger Bethe Correia in 34 seconds; she was featured in high-profile roles in The Entourage movie and the blockbuster hit Furious 7; she even became the first female athlete to guest host ESPN's Sportscenter.
While the mainstream media continued to fawn over Rousey and her legion of fans adored her, the more serious MMA fanbase's views on Ronda had soured.
Her petty and immature attitude, highlighted in interviews and throughout her stint on The Ultimate Fighter, combined with her narcissistic, bullying behaviour and the vastly exagerrated claims of her skills (particularly when the media and even longtime MMA commentators like Joe Rogan stated that she could beat most male fighters and even Floyd Mayweather) became grating.
With her quick rise to the top and sustained dominance as the fledgling women's division tried to catch up to her, many had already turned their attention to a crossover into boxing given her recent success with her hands - some of the most asinine statements you could possibly imagine came as a result.
"Experts" claimed she could immediately challenge for a title in boxing, her coach regularly stated she was knocking out "world champion boxers" (both male and female) in sparring, even the esteemed boxing mag Ring Magazine featured Ronda on one of their covers - the media's hype surrounding Rousey was unreal.
In reality, her boxing form was atrocious and always had been. Ronda was certainly a top-tier athlete that had explosiveness and speed, which enabled her to generate a lot of power (as seen in her KOs of Correia and Alexis Davis) and show off impressive hand speed while hitting mitts that seemingly mesmerized even some long time combat sports analysts, UFC commentator Joe Rogan included (though at least he's admitted his mistakes).
The problem? Her technique was terrible, her footwork was below amateurish, and her defense comically non-existent. Though much of this would become clear soon, even with the limited amount of actual fight time fans saw Rousey on her feet in MMA, the flaws in her striking were quite evident to those who bothered to look.
Her entire style centred around bull-rushing her opponent with a flurry of punches and crashing into the clinch, from which her judo skills would take over - inside the clinch she was highly effective whether it be from her high-velocity throws and trips or her knees to the midsection, but at range she was extremely sloppy and sported little in the way of technique.
You can see her eating punches during her charges in virtually all of her fights, but not a single one of her opponents had the boxing knowledge (or at least the fight IQ to use it) of circling out to avoid her rushes. Given this, Ronda's style was quite brilliant given her opposition at the time.
And then came Holly Holm.
Regarded as one of the top three best female boxers to ever compete in the ring, Holly Holm had been opening the door for a transition into MMA since 2011. Competing twice in a cage that year and surprising many with her impressive kicking game (which led to both of her TKO victories) before getting violently knocked out fighting for a title above her normal weight class in boxing.
After avenging her loss, she would dabble in MMA once more with a third TKO in MMA before defending her boxing titles for the last time and announcing a full transition into the sport of mixed martial arts in 2013.
Just two months later the move would bear fruit as Holm would kick her opponent Allanna Jones' head into another dimension. Holm would continue to tear through the ranks in the highly respected Legacy FC promotion, running her record up to 7-0 with 6 knockouts (all but one stemming from kicks) before signing with the UFC.
From there, a lot of the early hype surrounding Holly would die off - though she won both of her UFC outings by decision, she hardly looked to be a world beater and barely scraped by Raquel Pennington in a tepid, dull affair. Her overly conservative approach in both her UFC performances lacked the finishing ability she had previously shown and her game seemed entirely built on narrowly outpointing her opponents while engaging as little as possible.
Her coaches would later claim following the Rousey fight that she was "sandbagging" in her prior UFC fights, ie. purposely limiting her performance to throw off future opponents or possibly entice a big name to accept a fight with them after seeing them as "easier" competition. If true the plan would have been a bit silly considering she barely won a split decision in her UFC debut meaning that tactic nearly backfired spectacularly, but the risk appeared to pay off as the UFC opted to give Holm a title fight opposite Rousey, with many fans believing the UFC was trying to protect Rousey by rushing Holm into a title fight before she was ready.
Her recent performances played a big part in making Rousey a massive favourite heading into their clash at UFC 193, but the hardcore fans were excited for a reason - Ronda was finally facing someone that could not only match her athletically (Holm is an excellent and strong athlete herself, a rarity at the time in the division) but was more than capable of exposing Ronda's "world-class boxing" and horrid footwork.
Evidence that Holm's quiet confidence was unnerving the dominant champion became clear when Rousey aggressively got in Holm's face during their staredown at the weigh-ins, but rather than backing down, Holm squared up and put her fist on Ronda's face and pushed her away in the ensuing scuffle.
Ronda was irate, yelling who knows what as Dana White held her back while Holm stood staring her down, completely unphased by the immature display. She then proceeded to say she "saw right through" Holm's act, which was ironic considering she had been displaying her trademark scowl since she had stepped onto the scale (the same facial expression she uses when she's trying to "act").
The style matchup had many savvy bettors putting money down on Holm, but the legion of Rousey supporters still skewed the lines heavily in favour of Rousey - by the time sports books closed, odds on Rousey winning were anywhere between -750 and -1650, with returns on Holm as high as +700.
Once the fight started, it became immediately clear that Holm was not going to follow the usual playbook of Rousey's opponents.
In the past, Rousey's opposition tended to do one of two things when Ronda came at them - either they'd attempt to stand their ground and land shots as Ronda came in, which often did see them land punches but invariably end up in the clinch in doing so, or they'd back straight up and be trapped by the cage or grabbed before they even got there.
A truly elite boxer, Holm showcased just how much footwork can influence a fight and how it can completely derail a fighter that had previously appeared so dominant.
Keeping an exaggerrated range far outside of Rousey's reach, Holm circled the Octagon religiously - when Rousey tried to clinch up early, she fought off her hands and circled out; when Rousey tried to punch the challenger, Holm was nowhere to be found. Less than thirty seconds in, not only was Ronda already looking out of place, but Holm uncorked the first of many stiff straight lefts that landed clean as Ronda charged forward with no regard for defense.
Rousey quickly began to look more and more desperate as she charged forward and winged punches at the air where Holly once stood, chasing after her opponent with a pace that would only hasten her demise.
Just past the minute mark, Holm came forward to throw a combination, which Rousey smartly used as an opportunity to grab hold of her elusive target. With a hold of her head against the cage, Ronda looked to try and establish a dominant clinch position, landing a nice knee to the gut in the process while Holm looked to gain control of her wrists. Holm pushed off and landed a short combo when Rousey sloppily looked to get back into the clinch, ducking out and returning to the centre of the Octagon.
Already red in the face and mouth wide open, Ronda returned to her relentless aggression, her flailing limbs looking more and more desperate and her entries sloppier as frustration quickly mounted.
Holm soon landed a massive elbow during a Rousey charge, but Ronda was able to grab hold and execute one of her throws as a result, momentarily taking Holm's back while looking for an armbar in the process. Holm stayed composed before yanking her arm out and returning to her feet - Holm had showed she could get away from the grappling entirely and knew enough to avoid Ronda's normal tricks.
Proving to be her physical equal and savvy enough in the clinch positions to avoid any lengthy stays, Holm was negating the one area of Ronda's game where she actually had the advantage in technique and skill. And that meant Ronda was forced to stay on her feet against a striker on a completely different level than her own. Another brief clinch once again proved this point and Ronda continued to unravel as a result.
Holm continued to land harder and harder straight left hands during Rousey's increasingly laboured rushes, but to her credit, Rousey held firm in pursuing her opponent, regardless of how well it was actually working.
She showed off the advantages that having speed and power have with around a minute left in the opening round, catching Holm with a looping left hook that staggered "The Preacher's Daughter", leading to Holm surprisingly ducking down, barreling into Ronda and clasping her hands behind Rousey's back, and actually taking Ronda down.
Having had a second to clear her head, Holm then immediately got back to her feet and continued executing her gameplan. At this point, Rousey was out of ideas and simply flailing away in embarassing fashion, watching in bewilderment as Holm ran circles around her.
A fatigued Rousey took out her frustrations by landing a left hook after the bell to end the opening round - it would be the last significant strike she'd land in her MMA career.
The second round would continue Holm's dominance with a stiff left straight to start, followed by two more such exchanges as Rousey continued to hit nothing but air. On one of Ronda's rushes where she attempted to land another left hook, the only strike in her arsenal that had seen any success, Holm completely ducked under it, sending Rousey to her knee momentarily as she threw herself off balance and embarassingly ran right past her opponent.
Shortly after, Ronda would get cracked by another straight left, flailing in an attempt to tie up and throwing herself off balance and away from Holm - as she turned to face her foe, she was met by a savage Holm head kick heard around the world.
A few extra shots for good measure left Ronda stiff as a board as Herb Dean rushed in to save her - Ronda Rousey's title reign and air of invincibility was shattered in the most devastating fashion imaginable.
As the world reeled in collective astonishment, Holm was overwhelmed by emotion, yet still went over to check on her fallen foe and make sure she was okay (she was not) before she continued to celebrate with her team.
The brutal knockout would go viral and Rousey would continue to be the butt end of countless memes thanks not only to the unwarranted media hype that surrounded her striking skills going into the fight, but to the pathetic way in which she handled the loss even months (and years) later.
For the hardcore fans, it was sweet vindication that the media darling was not what she was said to be, and finally gave a narcissistic bully her just desserts.
One might even have felt bad for Rousey given the embarassment she endured in front of the world and how the media that helped make her would so quickly turn on her, but her reaction and handling of the loss (and subsequently her loss to Nunes) not to mention her continued delusional statements and her willingness to use her profile to bully others in the past, make it virtually impossible for an intelligent individual to feel sorry for her.
It remains one of the most satisfying and brilliant knockouts in MMA history and one in which all fans of mixed martial arts remember fondly.
1. Forrest Grifffin and Stephan Bonnar's TUF Finale War
The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale - April 9, 2005
Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar's historic clash back in 2005 may not be the "best" fight in UFC history - it's no longer even ranked in the top five by most fans thanks to the abundance of awesome fights in recent years - but it remains to this day a fight that brings joy to any MMA fan that knows its story and significance.
One must understand the position that the UFC and the sport as a whole was in back in 2005 to be able to truly appreciate the greatness that was Griffin vs. Bonnar.
After purchasing the UFC back in 2001, Zuffa LLC. continued their predecessors' advances in getting the sport regulated across the United States and their efforts in improving the image of the sport that had been in tatters following PPV bans and legal battles across various states.
Though they were successful in getting the product back on the airwaves and forged ahead with entering new markets, the early 2000's were largely a money burning exercise for Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, the UFC's owners since 2001.
They had some pockets of success (such as Tito Ortiz's grudge matches with Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell) but by the end of 2004 they had lost somewhere between $40-50 million on their mixed martial arts endeavour - it didn't help that Japanese promotion PRIDE FC was paying their fighters in duffel bags of cash that lured a good chunk of the top talent overseas at the time.
Nearing the end of their rope, the Fertittas considered pulling the plug and selling the company just to stop the bleeding - after some thought however, Lorenzo opted to keep going and along with Dana White, they devised a hail mary play of sorts; The Ultimate Fighter.
With reality television having blown up at the time, Zuffa had a brilliant idea - what if they created a reality TV show that would promote a different side of the athletes that compete in the sport, yet would also have those fighters actually fight on TV?
It seemed like a home run idea to them, but they soon found themselves losing hope when pitching the concept to various networks - not a single one expressed interest in the project, not even Spike TV, the channel that was then advertised as the "network for men".
Rather than throwing in the towel, the Fertittas believed in the project so much that they decided to fund the entire production of the show themselves, putting them even further in the hole. Now handed an offer they couldn't refuse, Spike TV agreed to broadcast the show with Zuffa footing the bill for the entire series, something that would cost them somewhere around $10 million.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The UFC's version of a reality show was rather simple - sixteen of the top fighters the UFC could find outside of its roster (eight middleweights and eight light heavyweights) were chosen to compete in The Ultimate Fighter.
The cast would be forced to live with one another in a house in Las Vegas for six weeks, where they would be entirely isolated from the outside world (no phone calls, television, internet, etc.) and got the opportunity to train with two UFC legends and their seasoned coaches on two seperate teams.
Each team would compete in challenges for the right to pick the next matchup of fighters, with cast members competing in real MMA fights and the losers being eliminated from the competition and sent home.
After the contestants were whittled down to two in each weight class, the UFC would hold a live finale on Spike TV which would include the finals for both of The Ultimate Fighter's weight classes; the winner in each division would receive a six-figure contract with the UFC (as well as a car and other sponsor gifts).
Smartly, the UFC featured two of their biggest names in Chuck Liddell and light heavyweight champion Randy Couture as the coaches for their respective teams, essentially using the show as an opportunity to promote the two fighters in the lead up to their rematch at UFC 52, which would take place on PPV just one week after the finale of the show.
When The Ultimate Fighter first graced Spike TV back in January of 2005, it immediately saw solid ratings and showcased the human side of mixed martial artists that most people had never seen before. The colourful cast (which included many talented fighters that would go on to fight for years in the UFC) was a hit and offered a ton of laughs and hijinks, especially when the allure of free booze was combined with young men being cooped up in a mansion away from the rest of civilization for weeks on end.
The thing that really separated The Ultimate Fighter however was, of course, the fights. Though not all of the contestants were high caliber, many were and as such the matches showcased throughout the tournament included exciting finishes and great scraps, all aired for free on cable, which was unheard of for mixed martial arts at the time.
Come the end of the season, the show had put up very respectable numbers with roughly 2 million viewers tuning in each week - but in order for it to really be a success for the UFC, they needed to draw eyes to their live finale and subsequently, the big PPV fight between the season's coaches.
The historic live card would kick off with the middleweight tournament finale as the season's beloved weirdo Diego Sanchez faced off against the razor-elbowed Kenny Florian, followed by a bout between former Georgia cop Forrest Griffin and Carlson Gracie trained purple belt in BJJ Stephan Bonnar.
Throughout the season, Forrest Griffin made himself a fan favourite thanks to his sense of humour and "every-man" appeal, while Stephan Bonnar was seen as more of an oddball (though nowhere near the level of weird as say, Diego Sanchez).
A hard-nosed brawler with an impressive work ethic, Griffin beat both of his opponents on the show by TKO to earn his spot in the light heavyweight finals; Bonnar, known more for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu expertise, took a very controversial decision win in his opening bout before securing his finale berth with a conclusive submission victory.
In another stroke of genius, for the live TUF finale on Spike TV, the UFC didn't just broadcast the two tournament finales however - instead, they added a main event between MMA legend Ken Shamrock and surging prospect Rich Franklin to not only draw in more eyes, but also to bolster their profiles for newcomers.
The live broadcast started out with the rather lackluster middleweight finale as Kenny Florian oddly decided to hop around the cage like a bunny before being taken down and mauled on the ground en route to an early first round TKO victory for Diego Sanhcez, earning Sanchez a six-figure UFC contract and the honours of being crowned the first ever Ultimate Fighter.
Many who tuned in were of course most excited for card's headliner and most saw the Griffin-Bonnar light heavyweight final as filler before the main attraction - it was a standard striker vs. grappler matchup after all.
What nobody bargained for was an epic three round war that would keep every fan in the arena out of their seats for its duration and everyone watching at home calling their buddies to turn on Spike TV.
To put it simply, Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin decided to beat the living shit out of each other for as long as it took to earn themselves that contract.
The two men took part in a back-and-forth, bloody brawl for the ages, both refusing to back down or stop throwing back even after nearly fifteen minutes of action. The broadcast soared in ratings as the crowd gave the two warriors a well-deserved standing ovation through to the final bell, the entire arena and everyone watching at home buzzing at the fact they just witnessed the greatest fight they had ever seen.
The fight truly encapsulated what it means to be a fighter - the unrelenting desire to win at all costs, the raw toughness and iron will required to endure not only a beating but pure exhaustion as well and yet keep on fighting no matter what the cost. If you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to watch it in its entirety.
At the end of the epic battle, the judges awarded the razor-thin victory to Forrest Griffin, but as UFC president Dana White would put it just moments later, there was no loser in that fight. Much to the crowd's (and Bonnar's) delight, the UFC opted to give both men six-figure contracts with the promotion as a result of their historic brawl.
As the legend goes, Spike TV was so enthralled by the fight that they immediately struck a deal for the second season of The Ultimate Fighter with the UFC in an alley behind the venue (this time with Spike paying for the production costs). Everyone in the arena knew the UFC had just struck gold, and it didn't take long for the UFC to go from a struggling company millions in the hole to the fastest growing sport's league in history.
The main event that followed saw Rich Franklin knock out Ken Shamrock and as a result turned the former math teacher into one of the new stars in the UFC, but all everyone really remembers from that night was a good old fashioned slobberknocker between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
From that night on, the UFC took off and soon turned MMA into a massive, lucrative sport enjoyed by millions around the globe. Chuck Liddell would capture the light heavyweight title in the coaches' fight a week later which dwarfed their previous PPV numbers, propelling him into superstardom the likes of which had never been seen in the sport.
Forrest Griffin would even go on to win the light heavyweight title himself just a few years later, becoming a massive star in his own right.
If it wasn't for their epic fight back in 2005, who knows what the UFC would look like today - while the show was arguably a success before their amazing finale, their fight and the word-of-mouth the UFC enjoyed as a result were instrumental in turning the niche sport into a sustainable business and showing the world how much fun mixed martial arts can be.
If watching those two throw down and ignite the spark that became the unstoppable explosion of the UFC into mainstream consciousness doesn't make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, you need to find a different sport to watch.
Chuck Liddell finally getting his hands on Tito Ortiz (UFC 47, 2004)
Matt Hughes' legendary comeback over Frank Trigg (UFC 52, 2005)
Forrest Griffin's stunning upset over Shogun Rua (UFC 76, 2007)
Mirko Cro Cop getting revenge on Gabriel Gonzaga (UFC Fight Night 64, 2015)
Justin Gaethje's ridiculous UFC debut brawl with Michael Johnson (TUF 25 Finale, 2017)
Jorge Masvidal's murder of Ben Askren (UFC 239, 2019)