The Top 25 UFC Fights of the Pre-Zuffa Era: Part 3 – 5-1

Originally published August 20, 2009

It’s finally time to unveil the Top 5 fights of the UFC’s Pre-Zuffa era.  However, before that happens, given that this list was created out of my own opinion and my viewings of these fights, there will certainly be individuals who disagree with my placement of these fights.  So I want to hear what you have to say about my list, and what fights you feel are ranked too low, too high, or fights that I’ve missed completely.  Head over to my twitter, @bradtaschuk, and let me know what you think.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m going to recap the 20 fights that have already been mentioned, just as a refresher before getting in to the top 5.  Also, check back to Part 1, which goes over fights 25-16, and Part 2, which counts down from 15-6.

25. Royce Gracie vs. Dan Severn – UFC 4

24. Don Frye vs. Tank Abbott – Ultimate Ultimate 96

23. Jens Pulver vs. David Velasquez – UFC 24

22. Frank Shamrock vs. Jeremy Horn – UFC 17

21. Dan Henderson vs. Carlos Newton – UFC 17

20. Don Frye vs. Amaury Bitetti – UFC 9

19. Shonie Carter vs. Brad Gumm – UFC 24

18. Marco Ruas vs. Larry Cureton – UFC 7

17. Bas Rutten vs. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka – UFC 18

16. Dave Beneteau vs. Carlos Barreto – UFC 15

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

14. Evan Tanner vs. Darrel Gholar – UFC 18

13. Royce Gracie vs. Kimo Leopoldo – UFC 3

12. Royce Gracie vs. Keith Hackney – UFC 4

11. Maurice Smith vs. Tank Abbott – UFC 15

10. Eugene Jackson vs. Royce Alger – UFC 21

9. Pedro Rizzo vs. Tre Telligman – UFC 20

8. Jerry Bohlander vs. Kevin Jackson – UFC 16

7. Oleg Taktarov vs. Tank Abbott – UFC 6

6. Maurice Smith vs. Mark Coleman – UFC 14

Some great fights on the list already, but these next five stood out as having something more, and in my opinion are the greatest UFC fights prior to UFC 30.

5. Frank Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz – UFC 22

Remove the historical aspect from your brain. Frank isn’t proving himself as the greatest champion in UFC history up to that point, and this wasn’t the first legitimate superfight in UFC history. Once you take that away, you’re still left with a fantastic fight. Physically, Tito was far superior to Frank, except in one aspect, cardio. In the early rounds, Frank landed some solid shots on the feet, and Tito took him down and controlled the majority of the fight while trying to dish out some solid ground and pound. Frank would explode towards the end of each round which resulted in some nice exchanges between the two. Come the fourth round, and Tito was gassed while Frank was still fresh as a daisy. Tito once again got a takedown, but Frank managed to get back to his feet, rock Ortiz with some shots which eventually led to a guillotine attempt and submission from strikes to end a classic battle which saw skill winning out over size for one of the final times in the Octagon.

4. Yuki Kondo vs. Alexandre Dantas – UFC 27

This isn’t one of the fights you have in mind when the topic of great UFC fights is broached, which is a shame, because it is one of the best.  This fight showed some beautiful ground work, as Dantas was an immaculate grappler and one who was unafraid to go for submissions, while Kondo was a good enough grappler and experienced enough to avoid getting caught in any of them. The first two rounds were controlled mostly by Dantas and his BJJ, but Kondo was able to turn the tide towards the end of the second and into the third round by finally keeping the fight on the feet.  Early in the third round, Yuki rocked Alexandre, who showed great heart by recovering, only to be rocked again… and recover again. Finally, Kondo connected with a flying knee to drop Dantas and proceeded to finish him off with a few punches to complete the comeback, and emerge victorious in one of the most entertaining early UFC fights.

3. Mark Coleman vs. Don Frye – UFC 10

Unlike Kondo/Dantas, you probably did expect this fight to be somewhere around here, and for good reason.  This fight was so great that it even featured Don Frye attempting a submission (although it was awkward with awful technique). This was a certified, original UFC war, as neither of these fighters has ever had any quit in them. Coleman punished Frye for much of the 11 minutes, but Don would survive and the two would end up back on their feet, exhausted, and ready to butt heads again. This fight only ended when Coleman literally butted heads with Frye, prompting Big John to step in and stop the fight before a big cut on Frye was opened any further. This was the greatest tournament final in UFC history, period.

2. Bob Cook vs. Tiki Ghosn – UFC 24

This fight really could have been number one, and perhaps had it lasted a little bit longer, it very well may have been. For two fighters making their UFC debuts, neither guy showed any jitters, as they went for everything right from the opening bell. Both fighters had been rocked by the end of the first round, and Cook had Tiki in serious trouble with some submission attempts, including an armbar that Tiki had to slam himself out of.  Take into account that this was one of the first fights that was fought at a blistering pace while being technical, and this fight is just great all-around. The first round of this fight was the early UFC equivalent to round one of Sanchez/Guida or Tokoro/Cullum, and if you haven’t seen this fight, you should probably go find a way to watch it right now, as it stands up with just about any modern day fight. Don’t even worry about number one (for now), just go find this fight.

1. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka vs. Kimo Leopoldo – UFC 16

If there’s one thing I love about early UFC events, it has to be the excessive amount of leglock attempts that fighters employ (it’s why I almost put Scott Adams/Ian Freeman in the top 25). In this classic heavyweight tilt, both fighters attempt leglocks galore, even to the point where TK once busts out a leglock from being mounted, which is one of my favorite moments ever, even though he doesn’t finish it. However, at some point in order for a fight to be truly great, there has to be something more than just leglocks (well, no, there really doesn’t… but anyways, try to stay with me). For the last five minutes or so of regulation, these two just stood and traded as best as their tired bodies would let them, much to the delight of guest commentator Tank Abbott. In the end, after three extra minutes of overtime entertainment, Kohsaka emerged victorious in what still holds as a classic UFC battle, and tops my list (by just a hair) of the best 25 fights before Zuffa came into the UFC picture.  This picture taken just after the final bell is about the best description anyone could give of this fight, the level of effort from both participants was incredible, and when that is the case, classic fights often ensue.


So there you have it, one man’s opinion of the top 25 early UFC fights.  Hopefully, this list either introduced you to some fights that you’d never seen before, or simply reminded you of some great fights that you hadn’t thought about in a while.


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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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