June 13, 2024

In the 30 years since it burst onto the sports scene with fists flying, the UFC has presented several hundred events all around the world. In all, the Octagon has been home to more than 7,000 fights. So, in celebration of the promotion’s three decades, it’s time to name the 30 best UFC fights.

Or maybe not.

What exactly does “best” mean within the context of a prizefight? Must it be a rock-’em-sock-’em slugfest, round after round of wall-to-wall fisticuffs, nonstop until the final horn? Or can a “best” squeeze all the wide-eyed gasps into a one-punch knockout? Does it matter if the fight is an upset, a comeback, or if there’s a shiny gold belt on the line? Can a curtain-jerking thriller qualify for a superlative, or must a fight card save the “best” for last?

Let’s go with “all of the above.” Go ahead and rank this as the “biggest copout in fight ranking history,” if you choose. But here are 30 of the most memorable, remarkable, fantastic fights from the UFC’s 30 years, divvied up into several categories.

Purchase UFC 295 on ESPN+ PPV


5 momentous UFC KOs

Francis Ngannou def. Alistair Overeem

UFC 218, Dec. 2, 2017, in Detroit

Ngannou had some terrifying knockouts during his UFC run, but none showed off his raw power in as visceral a way as this hellacious uppercut, which tested the strength of Overeem’s neck muscles in keeping his head from flying off into the crowd.

How the fight came to be | Watch the fight | Recap


Conor McGregor def. Jose Aldo (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 194, Dec. 12, 2015, in Las Vegas

McGregor had been taking aim at Aldo — verbally — ever since the Irishman arrived in the UFC. This was unthinkable, a newbie challenging the supremacy of the acclaimed featherweight king. Then, when they finally met, Conor needed just 13 walking-the-walk-after-talking-the-talk seconds to seize the throne and rule the entire MMA world.

Recap | Photos


Jorge Masvidal def. Ben Askren (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 239, July 6, 2019, in Las Vegas

A no-time-to-wait flying knee set a record for the fastest KO in UFC history (5 seconds) and the fastest coronation of an unlikely MMA antihero.

Recap | Inside Masvidal’s epic flying knee knockout


Anderson Silva def. Vitor Belfort (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 126, Feb. 5, 2011, in Las Vegas

Silva felt disrespected to be challenged by Belfort, with whom he had shared a tightly-knit training team back home in Brazil. You disrespect the middleweight champ, you get put in your place with a front kick to the face.

Recap


Edson Barboza def. Terry Etim

UFC 142, Jan. 14, 2012, in Rio de Janeiro

The spinning wheel kick that dropped a stiffened Etim will forever live on in every highlight reel of extraordinary UFC KOs.

2012 knockout of the year: Barboza-Etim | Watch the finish


5 unforgettable UFC submissions

Nate Diaz def. Conor McGregor (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 196, March 5, 2016, in Las Vegas

Diaz told the world after his rear-naked choke finish that he was “not surprised,” but considering that he took the fight on 11 days’ notice and McGregor was undefeated in the UFC, a lot of fans were both surprised and blown away.

Recap | Nate on his victory


Ronda Rousey def. Cat Zingano (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 184, Feb. 28, 2015, in Los Angeles

Rousey was the queen of turning each highly anticipated trip inside the Octagon into a short night’s work. She scored finishes in every one of her 12 career victories, all but one in the first round — and nine in the very first minute. What made this “Rowdy Ronda” tapout of Zingano stand out from the rest were two numbers: 14 (seconds it took her to lock up the armbar, making this the fastest submission in UFC history) and 0 (she threw zero strikes … because she didn’t need to).


Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg

UFC 216, Oct. 7, 2017, in Las Vegas

In one (lightning-fast) motion, the flyweight champ sent Borg flying with a suplex, and before his challenger had even hit the canvas, “Mighty Mouse” locked up an armbar for a gotta-watch-it-in-slow-motion-to-appreciate-it finish.

Recap | Watch the finish (in slow motion!)


Frank Mir def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

UFC 140, Dec. 10, 2011, in Toronto

When a heavyweight submission ace secures a kimura lock on another heavyweight submission ace — one too proud to tap out — the finish is going to be gruesome. Avert your eyes. Or …

Watch the finish


Jon Jones def. Lyoto Machida (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 140, Dec. 10, 2011, in Toronto

The headline bout on the same card as Mir-Nogueira produced an even more haunting finish, when Jones choked Machida unconscious while they were standing, then let him collapse limply to the canvas. Ruthless.

Recap


5 shocking UFC upsets

Holly Holm def. Ronda Rousey (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 193, Nov. 15, 2015, in Melbourne, Australia

Maybe it shouldn’t have been a shock that a former three-division world champion boxer would box up the onetime Olympic judo medalist, but when a head kick by 12-1 underdog Holm ended Rousey’s run of dominance, it was one of MMA’s most stunning upsets.

Recap | KO of the year: Holly Holm finishes Ronda Rousey | Holm-Rousey among most shocking upsets in sports history


Matt Serra def. Georges St-Pierre

UFC 69, April 7, 2007, in Houston

Serra had won a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” designed for veteran fighters making comebacks, and his prize was a date in the cage with the greatest welterweight in the sport’s history. An undaunted Serra made the most of the second-chance title challenge, knocking out GSP, a 13-1 favorite, midway through Round 1.

Watch the fight


Chris Weidman def. Anderson Silva (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 162, July 6, 2013, in Las Vegas

Silva had won 17 fights in a row and had been toying with his opponents. When he tried that funny stuff with the no-nonsense Weidman, he ended up flat on his back, his middleweight title reign stunningly ended.

Recap


Julianna Peña def. Amanda Nunes (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 269, Dec. 11, 2021, in Las Vegas

Nunes came into the fight as a two-division champion and winner of 12 straight, her conquests including Cris Cyborg, Valentina Shevchenko, Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm. Then along came Peña to shock the women’s MMA world.

Recap | World reacts to Peña toppling Nunes | Inside Peña’s historic upset

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1:16

Julianna Pena shocks the MMA world, upsets Amanda Nunes at UFC 269

Julianna Pena defeats Amanda Nunes to win the UFC women’s bantamweight title, one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.


Frankie Edgar def. BJ Penn

UFC 112, April 10, 2010, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Penn was a nearly 8-1 betting favorite to continue his run as lightweight champion, but Edgar showed off his Little Engine That Could grit to begin his own unlikely reign.

Watch highlights from the fight


5 amazing UFC comebacks

Matt Hughes def. Frank Trigg

UFC 52, April 16, 2005, in Las Vegas

A low blow unnoticed by the referee led to a Trigg takedown, followed by a flurry of punches and a choke hold that appeared to be the beginning of the end of Hughes’ welterweight reign. But next thing you knew, Hughes had somehow escaped and was carrying Trigg across the cage before slamming him to the canvas and choking him out.

Watch the fight


Anderson Silva def. Chael Sonnen

UFC 117, Aug. 7, 2010, in Oakland, California

After being shockingly dominated on the canvas the whole fight, Silva was two minutes from losing his middleweight title until, voila, he pulled a rabbit (actually a triangle armbar) out of a hat.

Watch the fight


Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung

UFC Fight Night, Nov. 10, 2018, in Denver

“What just happened?” was a common reaction to the last-second upward elbow that finished “The Korean Zombie” with just one second left (!) in a fight Rodriguez was about to lose by decision.

Inside Yair Rodriguez’s all-time great knockout of ‘Korean Zombie’


Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard fight to split draw (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 125, Jan. 1, 2011, in Las Vegas

At the end of a brutally one-sided Round 1, Edgar was bloody and wobbly after absorbing 47 punches and three knockdowns. He was trailing 10-8 on all three scorecards. Then he mustered up the will of an everlasting legend, battling his way back into the fight.


Brock Lesnar def. Shane Carwin (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 116, July 3, 2010, in Las Vegas

Lesnar was outstruck 40-3 in the first round and appeared to be on the verge of being grounded-and-pounded into oblivion. But the heavyweight champ turned the tables on an exhausted Carwin early in Round 2, taking him down and choking him out. Lesnar then proclaimed himself “still the toughest S.O.B. around, baby.”


5 memorable UFC debuts

Anderson Silva def. Chris Leben (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC Fight Night, June 28, 2006, in Las Vegas

It took Silva just 49 seconds to make Leben the first of his 16 conquests to start a Hall of Fame run in the UFC. The newcomer’s dominance was impressive enough that the UFC immediately granted Silva a middleweight title shot.


Royce Gracie def. Art Jimmerson (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 1, Nov. 12, 1993, in Denver

Everyone at UFC 1 was making their UFC debuts, obviously, but no one did it better than Gracie, who in the first of his three wins at the one-night tournament tapped out Jimmerson, a pro boxer who made the curious choice of wearing just one glove.

The legend of Art ‘One Glove’ Jimmerson


Frank Shamrock def. Kevin Jackson

UFC Japan, Dec. 21, 1997, in Yokohama, Japan

Shamrock became the inaugural light heavyweight champion by tapping out the heavily favored Olympic gold medalist wrestler by armbar in 16 seconds.

Watch the fight


Justin Gaethje def. Michael Johnson (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale, July 7, 2017, in Las Vegas

Would Gaethje’s all-action approach still be a recipe for success now that the former World Series of Fighting champion was entering the Octagon for the first time? This classic back-and-forth with Johnson answered that question with a big splash that propelled Gaethje to stardom.


Ronda Rousey def. Liz Carmouche (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 157, Feb. 23, 2013, in Anaheim, California

The first women’s fight in UFC history began perilously for Rousey, as she nearly was submitted in the opening minute, but “Rowdy Ronda” eventually got the job done the way she usually did — with a first-round armbar.


5 all-time great UFC scraps, the best of the best

Robbie Lawler def. Rory MacDonald (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 189, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas

The bloody-faced staredown at center cage at the end of Round 4 was enough by itself to make this a legendary encounter. The welterweight title fight that surrounded that moment only enhanced that status.

Lawler-Macdonald inducted into UFC HOF | Recap


Forrest Griffin def. Stephan Bonnar (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale, April 9, 2005, in Las Vegas

The young UFC was in survival mode, hemorrhaging money and struggling to get noticed in the mainstream sports world. Could the new reality TV series, “The Ultimate Fighter,” pull off the magic trick of keeping the company alive? Well, abracadabra. The heart-thumping finale between Griffin and Bonnar made the troubles disappear. Their must-see donnybrook earned both men UFC contracts and earned the UFC a future.

The inside story of how TUF saved the UFC


Zhang Weili def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 248, March 7, 2020, in Las Vegas

The UFC 248 headliner was one of the sport’s biggest names, Israel Adesanya, and the evening’s star power reached down into the prelims, where “Suga” Sean O’Malley put on a show. But both were upstaged by this slugfest for the strawweight title, in which the champ toughed out a split decision over the ex-champ. The greatest fight in the history of women’s MMA was among the greatest in all of MMA history — and among the most brutal.

How brutal was it? Jedrzejczyk wore the answer on her face.

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0:39

Weili, Joanna scrap in fight for the ages

Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk trade blows throughout their championship bout at UFC 248.


Jon Jones def. Alexander Gustafsson (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 165, Sept. 21, 2013, in Toronto

Gustafsson put Jones in trouble early, the first opponent to do so. But Jones gutted it out and took over, and Gustafsson ended up like all the others who challenged the GOAT for the light heavyweight title: at a loss.

Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson 1 picked for UFC Hall of Fame | Recap


Dan Henderson def. Mauricio Rua (Watch the fight on ESPN+)

UFC 139, Nov. 19, 2011, in San Jose, California

That “Hendo” and “Shogun” made it through five relentless rounds of slugging it out was a testament to toughness and each man’s ability to take it and dish it out.


That was fun, so let’s add a bonus 5: eloquent on-the-mic moments

Nate Diaz is “not surprised, my fine people” (paraphrased)

Derrick Lewis is “hot” in a particular southern region

Renato Moicano is “here to take over” the microphone

Chael Sonnen and Ben Askren review the trash talk of Chael Sonnen and Ben Askren (and others)

And then there’s the notorious talk of the sport, Conor McGregor


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