Here's the eighth installment of our USA TODAY/Bloody Elbow Top 50 MMA fights in modern history.
Sergio Non has written up the next block at USAT's Fighting Stances blog. To start, here's our criteria:
Some of the 50 fights we'll list aren't necessarily the best MMA bouts, but all of them are milestones for one reason or another, for better or for worse. The idea is to show how the sport has evolved. These are the fights that made the sport what it is today.
Here's the next 5 fights:
Fedor Emelianenko def. Mark Coleman, Oct. 21, 2006 - PRIDE 32
This fight, unlike the initial Coleman vs Emelianenko match in 2004, is really of little significance in and of itself. What makes it matter is that it was the headlining fight on PRIDE's first ever live card in the USA. It was a bit of a desperation move as the promotion was beginning to struggle under the glare of intense media scrutiny of alleged organized crime ties in Japan (see here, here, here, and here). Much as the original UFC tried putting on shows in Brazil and Japan when the hounds of regulation were on their heels in the states, PRIDE was looking for fresh territories to conquer and although the PPV was an unmitigated flop (75,000 orders), the live gate broke $2 million, outperforming contemporary UFCs. The live success of this card directly set the stage for Affliction's efforts to promote Fedor Emelianenko in the states.
Gina Carano def. Julie Kedzie, Feb. 10, 2007 - EliteXC
The first woman's MMA fight to air on a major cable network, in this case Showtime. The jury is still out on the ultimate success or failure of women's MMA as a commercial proposition in the U.S., but so far, so good. Carano beat Kedzie in a pretty one-sided bout and her future EliteXC bouts proved her to be a consistent draw on both pay and network TV. Carano has yet to really be tested by an opponent inside the cage, but both her fighting abilities and her power as a draw as the headliner on a major card will be tested on August 15 when she faces Christian "Cyborg" Santos.
Dan Henderson def Wanderlei Silva, Feb. 24, 2007 - PRIDE 33
In PRIDE's penultimate event, Dan Henderson did the unthinkable. He went toe to toe with the mighty Axe Murderer Wanderlei Silva and won by KO, ending Silva's five year title run. Not only that, Henderson, as the reigning PRIDE 183lb champ, took Silva's 205lb belt and became the only man ever to hold titles in two major MMA divisions at the same time. He wasn't able to repeat that feat in the UFC, despite getting immediate shots at both Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Anderson Silva for their respective belts. For PRIDE fans this was a bittersweet evening as it was the promotion's second and final event in the States and only PRIDE 34 would follow before the final gasp.
Randy Couture def. Tim Sylvia, March 3, 2007 - UFC 68
Never doubt the power of an individual to change things. Before this match, the UFC heavyweight division was in the dumps. Once a striker known for his many KO finishes, Tim Sylvia's title reign had degenerated into a series of tedious decision wins. Enter Captain America. Randy Couture had retired after losing his third fight with Chuck Liddell, but after seeing Sylvia's lackluster win over Jeff Monson, Couture felt he could beat the giant. And did he ever. In one of the most electrifying fights to watch live I've ever seen, Couture dropped Sylvia with his first punch and proceeded to dominate the champ for five full rounds as every fan in the arena stood and cheered. Ever since, the UFC heavyweight division has bubbled over with intrigue and excitement.
Quinton Jackson def. Chuck Liddell, May 26, 2007 - UFC 71
The UFC had reached a plateau with Chuck Liddell's previous title defense against Tito Ortiz at UFC 66, drawing 1.05 million PPV buys and proving that their 2005 boom was no fluke or passing fad. Expectations were huge going into UFC 71 as Liddell defended his belt against the only opponent holding an unavenged win over the Iceman, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. The fight got the biggest U.S. media coverage of any MMA fight, not just up to that time, but until the emergence of Kimbo Slice in EliteXC on CBS. Liddell's quick loss to Jackson left many fans deflated. The charismatic Rampage has largely won over the fans since, but at the time he was very much resisted by the Liddell fan base.