The Top 25 UFC Fights of the Pre-Zuffa Era: Part 2 – 15-6

Originally published August 18, 2009

We’re back today with the second installment in the top 25 list of Pre-Zuffa fights.

If you read the first part (which conveniently, you can check out here) then you’ll know that my inspiration to create a list of what I felt were the greatest 100 fights in UFC history came directly from the UFC’s idea to do the same.  I felt that even before voting took place, the selection process overlooked a great deal of UFC history, and that newer fans may have missed out on some great fights that they’d never seen or heard of.
The exclusion of almost anything prior to Zuffa’s purchase of the UFC was especially apparent, and was the impetus for me to create a list exclusively focusing on that time period, prior to unveiling my list of the 100 Greatest Fights in UFC history.  So without further ado, fights 15-6:

15. Don Frye vs. Gary Goodridge 2 – Ultimate Ultimate 96

When I hear a fight described as a ‘clinch war’ I don’t think of anything other than Don Frye.  The man was a beast from close quarters, and this fight is one of the best examples of that.  For about 5 or 6 minutes of this fight, Frye and Goodridge stood in the clinch and traded hooks and uppercuts with no regard for defense.  Eventually, the Predator wore Big Daddy down through sheer force of will, and won when Goodridge submitted due to exhaustion.

14. Evan Tanner vs. Darrel Gholar – UFC 18

Darrel Gholar never made much of his MMA career, but at least he gave us this entertaining fight.  Gholar controlled the early part of this fight, with a beautiful leg sweep takedown and a huge slam to escape a triangle.  Tanner survived on the bottom, and eventually worked his way back to the feet, where he unleashed knees and leg kicks galore on Gholar before taking his back and tapping him out.  Fun fight that encompasses the full range of MMA more than most early bouts.

13. Royce Gracie vs. Kimo Leopoldo – UFC 3

Yes, this fight is outside of the top 10.  Get over it.  Gracie/Kimo while entertaining, really didn’t show a lot in terms of skillful MMA.  Even though Kimo wore Royce out, during the fight he was never really able to offer enough in terms of offense to endanger Gracie, unless the power smother is beyond my realm of comprehension.  Eventually, Gracie overcame yet another opponent who knew nothing about Jiu-Jitsu, this guy just happened to be big and strong enough to make it interesting before it ended.

12. Royce Gracie vs. Keith Hackney – UFC 4

Another Rodney Dangerfield candidate here.  Of  all the Gracie fights that are thought of as great, this one never gets a mention, but it was the best of them all.  Hackney actually had a gameplan that threatened Gracie, so much so that Royce actually resorted to using knees in the clinch in this one.  On the ground, Hackney wasn’t as inept as the rest of Gracie’s opponents, and as a result Royce had to actually attempt more than a single submission to catch him.  Overall, of all Royce Gracie’s fights, this one was the most dangerous to him, and displayed the widest range of his skills in all his MMA fights.  Granted, that’s still not a very wide array of skills, but in relative terms Royce looked like a prototypical complete fighter.

11. Maurice Smith vs. Tank Abbott – UFC 15

The last fight we’ll cover in this section of the countdown, Smith/Abbott was put together on short notice when both Mark Coleman and Dan Severn weren’t available.  This was probably for the best, as this fight turned out to be incredibly entertaining.  Abbott managed to rock the much more refined Smith on the feet, and proceeded to lay as much ground and pound on him as possible.  In classic Big Mo style though, Smith got back to his feet and then dismantled and exhausted Tank on the feet, leading Abbott to signal to the referee to stop the fight.  Great show of heart and a great comeback from a trailblazer in the sport.

10. Eugene Jackson vs. Royce Alger – UFC 21

The first fight in the top 10 is this often overlooked matchup.  This was pretty much as true to the striker vs. grappler stereotype as you could get, as Alger wanted nothing more than to get Jackson down, and Eugene wanted nothing more than to knock Royce’s head off his shoulders.  Alger found the early success, eventually getting mount on Jackson and raining down some big shots, but the Wolf persevered and Royce gassed himself in the process.  Towards the end of the first round Jackson took over, landing some hard shots that took whatever Alger had left out of him, and setting the stage for a huge knockout in the second round.

9. Pedro Rizzo vs. Tre Telligman – UFC 20

A lot of people might think this fight deserves to be higher on this list, and they can probably come up with a decent argument as well.  However, despite a fantastic start, this fight quickly tailed off when it was clear that Telligman emptied the tank early on.  Nevertheless, a fantastic fight which was one of the first brawls between two guys who actually knew how to effectively punch.

8. Jerry Bohlander vs. Kevin Jackson – UFC 16

Sadly, Jerry Bohlander is one of the forgotten men from the early days of MMA.  Had he come along a few years later, he would’ve been much more successful because he would have been able to fight in his natural weight class more often.  This fight is one of his most entertaining, and probably his best win.  Bohlander made for a very entertaining fight mostly off of his back (while taking some serious punishment from Jackson), which was unusual for the formative years of MMA, and sets this fight apart from its peers.

7. Oleg Taktarov vs. Tank Abbott – UFC 6

One of the undisputed early classics in the UFC.  Unlike Dan Severn in his fight against Royce Gracie, Tank knew how to dish out punishment from top position, and did so liberally against Oleg.  On the feet, even though Oleg attempted to effectively trade with the bigger striker, it was even more one-sided.  However, the Russian Bear showed uncanny heart in this fight, and eventually gained Tank’s back out of a painfully slow and gassed scramble, and forced the tap, only to collapse from exhaustion.  Epic.

6. Maurice Smith vs. Mark Coleman – UFC 14

Another fight that turned out to be a watershed moment in MMA.  Coleman was undefeated and essentially seen as unstoppable at this point in his career.  Enter the then 4-7 Smith, an over-the-hill kickboxer who matched up terribly with the Hammer.  However, Maurice had a trick up his sleeve in that he had learned an excellent defensive guard.  Coleman got the takedown as expected and unleashed fury on the ground as expected.  However, Mo’s defense allowed him to take minimal damage while constantly working to tire Coleman out.  Eventually this strategy paid off and by late in regulation Coleman was gassed and unable to defend himself from Smith’s strikes on the feet which earned Smith a shocking victory.

Be sure to check out the third and final installment of the list, which will bring the top 5 Pre-Zuffa UFC fights to you.

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About bradtaschuk

An MMA enthusiast who also fancies himself a writer, I've been following the sport in depth since moving off to University in the fall of 2004 allowed me more free time than I knew what to do with. Quickly, an obsession with watching as much MMA as possible developed, which has continued to this day in the form of writing and editing articles for various MMA sites, and now to my own blog about my views on the sport.
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