The Top 25 UFC Fights of the Pre-TUF Era: Part 2 – 15-6
Working our way up the list, it’s now time to break into the top 10 of my ‘Top 25 Pre-TUF Fights’. If you’re looking for some background on this list, the time period it involves, or numbers 25-16 on the list, check out Part 1.
Sometimes MMA fans like to think that their sport is immune to politics. Not really the case. Matt Hughes even being in this fight against Carlos Newton was an effort by Zuffa to attempt to keep Pat Miletich away from the belt, as Miletich’s style wasn’t seen as entertaining enough to help carry the organization. In retrospect, the decision couldn’t have turned out any better for the UFC, as Hughes went on to become one of the greatest champions the organization has ever seen. His run started with a huge slam knockout over Carlos Newton after an entertaining round. There was a slight bit of controversy surrounding the fight, as Hughes appeared to be choked out by the triangle that Newton had him in as the fight-ending slam occurred. The record was set straight 8 months later, as Hughes dominated Newton en route to a fourth round TKO in the rematch.
14. Chris Lytle vs. Tiki Ghosn – UFC 47
It didn’t take long in Chris Lytle’s UFC career for him to develop the reputation he has cultivated ever since of being a brawler with a very solid submission game. Tiki, on the other hand is a brawler with no submission game, who really isn’t a great brawler either. However, if there is one thing to say about Tiki, it’s that his fights are usually very fun. His bout with Bob Cook at UFC 24 came in at #2 on my Top 25 Pre-Zuffa UFC Fights. So it came as no surprise that these two came out swinging, and eventually Lytle’s submission game carried him to victory with the good old bulldog choke.
13. B.J. Penn vs. Caol Uno 2 – UFC 41
In their first meeting, Penn knocked Uno out in 11 seconds, and turned his eyes in separate directions. Both fighters displayed that they have excellent offensive wrestling games, and all-around grappling games. As in seemingly every Penn fight during his first UFC tenure, he threatened Uno early, taking his opponent’s back twice, but Caol persevered. The two fighters traded top position, as well as success with their contrasting styles on the feet for 25 minutes strong. Penn found success getting in close with his hands, while Uno used movement and leg kicks to keep the Hawaiian at bay during stretches. Many expected Penn to get the decision (myself included), and unfortunately the ramification of the fight being declared a draw was that it was the last Lightweight title bout for more than three and a half years in the UFC.
12. Josh Barnett vs. Randy Couture – UFC 36
I have a theory about Randy Couture that I’ve been championing for a while now. The idea is that Couture is only a fun fighter to watch when things aren’t going his way in the cage. There are a couple exceptions to this, most notably his fights against Tim Sylvia (but that was more about the atmosphere of the fight), and Pedro Rizzo (which was about as close to 50/50 as a fight can get). This fight is an example of an exciting fight Randy loses. An entertaining first round saw Couture on top, landing some strikes and even going for a keylock at one point while Barnett was working for armbars and leglocks from the bottom. The second started out the same, with Couture pushing his opponent up against the cage and looking for the takedown, as always. Surprisingly, Randy even mounted Barnett. However Barnett worked back to guard and started striking nicely from the bottom and working submissions again. In a quick scramble off of a leglock, Barnett got on top and was relentless with his strikes, forcing the stoppage. There are few Heavyweights as entertaining as Josh Barnett (when his opponents are able to push him), however you’ve also got to take those steroid issues into account. You’ve got to take the good with the bad when it comes to Josh Barnett.
11. Ricco Rodriguez vs. Randy Couture – UFC 39
On the topic of fighters that you have to take the good with the bad, we’ve got Couture’s bout with Ricco Rodriguez in the #11 spot. Ricco is one of those guys who was extremely entertaining when he was successful, and then hit some hard times and seemingly saw both his technical and physical skills depreciate immensely. However from 2000 through 2002, there are few Heavyweights I would rather watch. This fight is just a case of five round bouts being better than their three round counterparts. They simply allow more ebb and flow in the action. The early rounds saw Randy being Randy (see: “not exciting when successful theory” above), but at the mid-point of the fight Rodriguez turned things around. He started establishing the top position, working his strikes and advancing position. The third and fourth rounds were the best of the fight (five round fights, folks), and although the stoppage seemed a bit lame at the time, once you learn that Randy broke his orbital bone, it puts things in perspective.
Sidenote: Along with B.J. Penn/Diego Sanchez and Anderson Silva/Chael Sonnen, this is one of only three fights in UFC history to be stopped in the fifth round.
You’re going to have to ignore the multiple fouls by Ian Freeman in this bout in order to see what I see. Sure, he grabbed the cage about 34 times in this one, yeah he threw an illegal kick to a grounded Mir at one point, and he hit Frank in the back of the head many a time, but this fight still never fails to entertain. First, you’ve got Ian Freeman, something of an MMA journeyman matched up against Frank Mir, the Heavyweight prodigy. Second, the fight took place in England, Freeman’s home. Then the action in the fight was pretty damn good itself. Mir was characteristically going for whatever submissions he could find, and Freeman did what he knows, punching Mir in the head until the fight was stopped to check a cut, at which point Frank stumbled around the cage like a drunk until the fight was called. The English crowd loved it, I loved it, and if you’ve seen it, you probably loved it too.
9. Yves Edwards vs. Hermes Franca – UFC 47
I want to say this is just a great technical fight, but it has Hermes Franca in it, so that’s a difficult claim to make. We’ll suffice to say that on the ground this fight was excellent and technical. Both guys traded takedowns, sweeps and submission attempts. On the feet Hermes brought his wild, swinging fun and tried to combat Yves’ technicality. The best part about this fight, is like the Caol Uno/Yves Edwards from from earlier on the list, this one gets better with each passing round, it’s just filled with far more action than that fight.
8. Duane Ludwig vs. Genki Sudo – UFC 42
I had a whole diatribe about Genki Sudo being awesome, when Genki Sudo/Leigh Remedios was bringing up the tail end of the top 25 (the list got revised and it just missed the final cut). Suffice to say that Genki Sudo may be the coolest MMA fighter ever. Throughout the fight, Sudo was up to his normal antics, dancing around, just generally being crazy, throwing axe kicks and rolling for kneebars. The third round ended up being the best and the most controversial of the fight. Sudo started by lacing Ludwig with strikes from the top. Bang had a cut opened up on his eye, and his nose busted up as well. However, when the fight was stopped to tend to those wounds, it got restarted on the feet rather than in the same position on the ground. Ludwig ended up on top after a botched throw by Sudo, and landed some solid silos of his own for the last minute and a half. The judges determined it was enough for Ludwig to get the decision. This fight actually resulted in a rule change, where fights would be restarted wherever they were stopped from, rather than being restarted on the feet. Had it been in place for that fight, Sudo likely would have won (I thought he should have anyways), but the fight wouldn’t have turned out nearly as awesome as it ended up being.
7. Matt Lindland vs. Phil Baroni 2 – UFC 41
Lindland was supposed to be next. Baroni said so, he shouted it from the mountain tops (or at least the top of the cage). Also, in uncharacteristic fashion, it actually seemed like he meant it, and not just for the first five minutes of the fight. Lindland/Baroni 2 is the quintessential fight where a couple of guys don’t like each other AND they genuinely fight like it. Baroni usually brings a certain level of violence to his fights, but even the normally tepid Lindland seemed to genuinely want to do some damage in this one (after he cleared the cobwebs out from being rocked early). Both fighters went bell-to-bell in this tilt, with some great exchanges in the clinch especially, but Lindland’s wrestling was able to neutralize just enough of Baroni’s power to win the day for him. And the finishing sequence with Baroni throwing those bombs to Lindland’s body, epic.
I’m not sure if you got the memo, but Nick Diaz is one of the most consistently entertaining fighters in MMA history. His first UFC tenure featured fights like this one, and bouts against Karo Parisyan and Diego Sanchez that were both classics. He then left the organization and put on fights of lore against Takanori Gomi and Paul Daley. His return to the UFC saw a fight of the year candidate against B.J. Penn. So looking back, it was no shock that Diaz’ bout with Robbie Lawler turned out to be incredibly fun. Rather than use his Jiu Jitsu, Diaz chose to stand and trade with Lawler, which wasn’t exactly seen as a bright idea at the time. The fighters traded huge shots throughout the bout, with both being seriously rocked in the first round. In the second, the actioned picked right back up, until a right hand from Diaz just turned Lawler’s brain off. Also, extra hilarity points for Stevie Mazz warning Diaz for in-ring trash-talking, and then not being sure if he was stopping the fight or not. Oh Mazzagatti, will you ever learn?
See something you disagree with? Feel free to come hash it out with me on twitter @bradtaschuk. Or head over to the FightLockdown Forums, where I can be found to discuss all the recent fights and news in the world of MMA, along with some great betting discussion (if you like money).