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

Alright, we’re finally there. It’s top 5 time. Before we get to the best five fights – by my humble determination – let’s go back and recap the previous 20 (well, 21 if you’ve been paying attention). If you want a little bit more in-depth on each fight, check out Part 1 which covers numbers 25-16 as well as what this list is all about, and Part 2 which counts down 15-6. I’ll also be doing a follow up to this list which will look at the notable exceptions from these 26 fights. If there’s a fight you’d like to see addressed, make sure you make yourself heard on twitter head over to and let me know. Don’t worry, I won’t be offended.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Fights 26-6 were all pretty good in their own right, and deserve some repartee of their own. Consider it an appetizer before the main course.

26. Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock – UFC 40

Old man with awesome sideburns gets beaten into a living death.

25. Caol Uno vs. Yves Edwards – UFC 37

It’s amazing that of these two, Edwards is the one still fighting well in the UFC.

24. Andrei Semenov vs. Ricardo Almeida – UFC 35

Semenov knocks Almeida out like a redheaded stepchild. Curiously, Almeida had red hair in this fight.

23. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg – UFC 45

Trigg nestles in to what would become the all-to-familiar grip of the Rear-Naked Choke.

22. Phil Baroni vs. Amar Suloev – UFC 37

Baroni gets his head kneed off, re-attached, punishes Armenian for his transgressions.

21. Genki Sudo vs. Mike Brown – UFC 47

Genki Sudo = fun. Who would’ve thought he was beating a future WEC champ here though?

20. Philip Miller vs. Mark Weir – UFC 40

Seriously, these guys were undefeated at the time. Weir is now 20-18-1. Miller, still undefeated.

19. Yves Edwards vs. Josh Thomson – UFC 49

Yves Edwards did what? Ok, I take back the shock in him still being competitive. He can do whatever he wants after that.

18. Tito Ortiz vs. Vitor Belfort – UFC 51

The last great back and forth fight in both guys’ careers. Actually, probably the only one.

17. Vernon White vs. Ian Freeman – UFC 43

All things considered, draws have a pretty decent track record in the UFC. Par example.

16. Chuck Liddell vs. Vernon White – UFC 49

Remember when winning wasn’t the most important thing to getting a UFC contract? Vernon White sure does.

15. Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton – UFC 34

I’m still bitter about this one. Hughes admitted he was out dammit!

14. Chris Lytle vs. Tiki Ghosn – UFC 47

Lytle: See – Entertaining, solid fighter. Tiki: See – Entertaining punching bag; punchline.

13. B.J. Penn vs. Caol Uno 2 – UFC 41

As I was saying earlier about draws… although this one did ruin the Lightweight division for years.

12. Josh Barnett vs. Randy Couture – UFC 36

Randy is the most fun to watch when he’s getting beaten up.

11. Ricco Rodriguez vs. Randy Couture – UFC 39

Randy is the most fun to watch when he’s getting beaten up.

10. Ian Freeman vs. Frank Mir – UFC 38

See above statement regarding Couture (with different rationale), multiply by 1,000.

9. Yves Edwards vs. Hermes Franca – UFC 47

Before Hermes Franca was fat and didn’t give a shit, he was wicked fun.

8. Duane Ludwig vs. Genki Sudo – UFC 42

Giant Swing! Robot Dance Striking! Stupid rules…

7. Matt Lindland vs. Phil Baroni 2 – UFC 41

MMA grudge match that actually turned out all grudgy and stuff… say what?!

6. Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler – UFC 47

Combined, these guys were younger than Randy Couture in 10 of his fights. Youthful exuberance at its finest.


5. Pedro Rizzo vs. Josh Barnett – UFC 30

When great fights are bandied about, this one almost universally never comes up. Personally, I don’t know why. It combines some of the things fans seem to like most about MMA.

First, you’ve got Heavyweights, and not just run of the mill Heavyweights. Josh Barnett was a UFC champion (sort of), the runner up in the 2006 PRIDE OWGP, and a top 10 Heavyweight for the vast majority of the past decade. Pedro Rizzo may have been the most successful Heavyweight in the UFC to never hold the promotion’s belt. Good start.

Second, this was a pure striking battle, and nothing gets MMA fans more hot and bothered than that. It wasn’t just a sloppy striking battle either. Both guys were using a full arsenal of strikes, and using them effectively. There were knees, kicks, and punches a plenty, often in combination with each other.

Third, it was competitive. Incredibly competitive. Everyone but Josh Barnett expected him to get plowed in a striking match with Rizzo and his legendary leg kicks, but Barnett stood in there trading with the Brazilian, and up until about a minute before the finish you really had nothing with which to separate the fighters. And unlike in most fights where that’s the case, it wasn’t because nothing was landing, but instead because just about everything was landing. Especially…

Fourth, oh my goodness, the knockout. There have been few that have matched it in MMA, even all these years later. Barnett got clipped with a shot to the temple that stood him up and blessed him with some chicken legs, and then Rizzo had a clean shot at Josh’s chin, and made sure that it did not go to waste.

As you can see, this was a great fight. Criminally forgotten, but that’s what happened to so many of the fights of this time period that weren’t shown on PPV, or really promoted in any manner whatsoever.

4. Josh Thomson vs. Hermes Franca – UFC 46

Was there anything worse than being a Lightweight in the UFC during the UFC 40’s? Josh Thomson, Hermes Franca and Yves Edwards would probably say no. Those three are kind of like the Lightweight equivalent of Diaz, Parisyan and Sanchez, except with none of the acclaim. Edwards/Thomson and Edwards/Franca have already been featured on this list, and now it’s time for the final bout between these three.

Josh Thomson always seems to be a fighter who never gets the credit he deserves. Whether it’s his attitude, the fact that he always seemed to come up short when people actually had their eyes on him (Edwards and Melendez 2 fights, for example), all sorts of injuries, or simply because he picked the wrong time to be in the UFC, something just never seemed to allow him to reach the potential from both a fight and marketability standpoint that he seemed capable of.

Hermes Franca is much the same, but the Brazilian has been the source of his own undoing. He managed to get back to the UFC when the Lightweight division was a real, actual entity with a belt and everything, but tested positive for steroids after his title shot against Sean Sherk. Following his suspension, he didn’t seem to have the same desire, as he lost 6 of 7 fights (including the Sherk bout), missing weight and just generally looking out of shape. Coupled with a retirement, an unretirement, and an arrest, and Franca has become a forgotten man.

However, back in 2005 this fight was two of the best in MMA, and the fight did not disappoint. Thomson used his excellent movement and fluid mix of punches and kicks to control the first round, as Franca looked for the big right hand. Towards the end of the round, we got a taste of the scrambles that were to ensue. The second round of the fight was wild, as the first half of it was just constant scrambling and submission attempts. The third round offered another dynamic to the fight, as Franca rocked Thomson badly, and decided to dribble Josh’s head off the ground for a while. Despite the pace slowing after the flurry by Franca, it remained entertaining to the end.

This fight showed just about every aspect that MMA can show, and did so at a high level. What else could you ask for?

3. Karo Parisyan vs. Nick Diaz – UFC 49

Just as we mentioned Karo, Nick and Diego, we get to take a look at the first epic fight between those three. Parisyan had been making an impression inside and outside of the UFC as an exciting fighter, and look no further than #6 to see what Diaz is all about.

I hardly want to describe the action in this fight, because it’s hard to give the fight its due. On the feet, both guys have iron chins and completely different styles of striking. Diaz uses straight punches, while Parisyan throws some of the widest bombs in the game. The important thing to note is that both guys come forward and throw. Neither guy is much for striking defense either, which is helpful when you’re in the mood for some fun.

The wrestling in this fight consists of Karo picking Nick up and slamming him every which way, since Diaz wouldn’t know a wrestling mat if it smacked him in the face. Still, throws and slams are awesome to watch, especially when they’re followed by the type of grappling we saw in this bout. And that grappling would be the type where fighters are swapping positions and submission attempts like a couple of eighth-graders swapping saliva.

The only downside to this bout was that original live broadcast thought it would be a great idea to cut out the third round, especially after the first two were so even and so exciting.

2. Shonie Carter vs. Matt Serra – UFC 31

Matt Serra and Shonie Carter will both be remembered for a very long time by MMA fans. Serra, for the fact that he holds likely the biggest upset in MMA history and that it won him the UFC Welterweight Title, not to mention his much more impressive cornering during the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter (Drago really did need to use the foot stomps, after all). Carter, on the other hand won’t be remembered as much for his in-ring accomplishments (save for one), but more his overall personality. The pimp outfits, the diapers, and just generally being a wacky dude.

This fight between the two of them will also always be remembered, and unfortunately it will be remembered for the finish. I say that’s unfortunate because it should be remembered for so much more than that. While the finish was one of the craziest in MMA history (Shonie seems to find himself in the middle of those) and that certainly adds to the fight, this fight would have been great regardless.

Matt Serra was one of the first fighters to bring an extremely aggressive, attacking style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the UFC, and he wasted no time in showing it off, putting on a grappling clinic that had Frank Shamrock tripping over himself trying to figure out what exactly he was doing. He picked the perfect opponent to ply that style against, as Carter was Benson Henderson before their was a Benson Henderson. Through 84 bouts, Carter has been submitted all of 4 times (one of those being by injury due to a slam). His limbs seem abnormally flexible, and it’s a good thing, as Serra was constantly putting him in bad positions in this fight. However, as the first round came to a close, Carter managed to clip Serra with a spinning backfist, which ended up being more of a glancing forearm. Hollywood couldn’t have foreshadowed what was to come any more perfectly.

The second round stayed on the feet a bit more, and the rangier and more experienced Carter controlled the action, leaving everything up to the final round to be decided. The third was back and forth, a combination of the first two rounds, and as the tired fighters scrambled back to their feet with 30 seconds remaining, it was hard to tell which way the decision was going to go. At this point in the fight, in relation to this list we were probably looking at a top 15 spot or so. Just as Mike Goldberg was trying to set the stage for the final flurry of action, it happened. Carter threw out a sloppy kick which he in no way expected to land, but followed it up with another spinning backfist that landed perfectly. Through the combination of the blow, the shock of “the one you never see coming”, and just being dog tired, Serra was done. Carter didn’t follow up, and he didn’t need to. Everyone in that arena and who has ever watched the fight can tell it was over, following up would have ruined it all.

1. Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo – UFC 31

Was there ever any doubt?

When you think of great Heavyweight fights in the UFC, there are few that come to mind in terms of being significant, being fought at a top level, and having great action. You’ve got Nogueira/Sylvia, which has the nice comeback angle to it, Couture/Sylvia, which is overrated in terms of the actual fight, Lesnar/Carwin, which again features a big comeback, and then some of the fights I’ve already listed. None of those fights holds a candle to the epic, five round standard bearer that is Couture/Rizzo. When people in the MMA world talk about grown men fighting five rounds, whether they do it intentionally or not, they are talking about this fight.

This fight took place before the Heavyweights in PRIDE really began to set themselves apart from the crop in the UFC. Rodrigo Nogueira had not yet exploded on the scene, and Mark Coleman – who had lost three fights in a row to end his UFC tenure – was the top Heavyweight fighting in Japan. Couture and Rizzo were seen as the top two Heavyweights in the world. It’s rare in any combat sport for the top two fighters to square off, and even rarer when that fight delivers.

Couture and Rizzo wasted no time in making sure they delivered, as the fighters traded 10-8 rounds in the first and second. Randy Couture wasn’t just controlling his opponent and wearing him down in the first round, he was beating the tar out of him. Then in the second, Rizzo decided that enough was enough, and he put some leg kicks on Couture so hard that Randy still talks to this day about the dent they left.

After that, you’d think that a couple of Heavyweights would be unable to move, let alone keep fighting, but on this occasion, both fighters seemed to feel fatigue for moments during the fight, and then decided to ignore it. Couture came out and won rounds 3 and 4 in my eyes, and forced Rizzo to come after him in the fifth. And, after everything they had been through that night, including those astonishing first 10 minutes, Pedro did just that. He won the final round in impressive fashion, leaving Randy on all fours as the fight came to a close. Rizzo’s arms shot up in the air, and Couture staggered over to his corner, exhausted. His body language was not that of a man who thought he had won an amazing title fight, but instead that of a man who had been subjected to a 25-minute war. I can’t blame him.

The decision in this fight is a moot point, as either fighter could have conceivably won, and a rematch was inevitable regardless. The importance in this fight was the fight itself, as it was the first to truly show the drama that could unfold when two highly skilled, evenly matched competitors were able to put it all on the line over five rounds. Truly a spectacle to behold, and easily the #1 fight on this list, and perhaps of any list of the Top UFC Fights.

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).


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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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