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.