Here's the ninth and final installment of our USA TODAY/Bloody Elbow Top 50 MMA fights in modern history.
Beau Dure 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 final 5 fights:
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira def. Tim Sylvia Feb. 2, 2008 -- UFC 81
Here's a fight that I have nothing but good feelings about. Its on the list because by winning the UFC interim heavyweight title, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira became the first, and so far only, fighter to win a UFC championship after holding a PRIDE championship belt [Note: Mark Coleman won two UFC tournaments and held the UFC heavyweight title, and won the PRIDE 2000 Open GP, but he never held the PRIDE divisional title]. But the fight itself was also a joy for me as a long-time Nogueira fan because it was so delightful to see him pull off a text-book Big Nog win over Tim Sylvia. Sylvia battered him standing in the early rounds, even knocking Nogueira down, but in the end, Big Nog pulled guard, got the sweep and slapped on the choke for an epic win.
Kimbo Slice vs. James Thompson, May 31, 2008 -- Elite XC: Primetime
This isn't a fight I have good feelings about. Nonetheless it was the headline fight on the first MMA card to ever be broadcast live on American broadcast television. It delivered big ratings for CBS too, but the ugly spectacle of James Thompson's cauliflower ear exploding everywhere and the uglier spectacle of a referee who seemed to be favoring Kimbo Slice made it hard to enjoy. First the ref let the fight continue in the second round even as Thompson had Slice down and was battering him with unanswered blows. Then in the final round the ref called the fight for Slice when Thompson had been stunned, but not dropped by punches. The first of three EliteXC shows on CBS, it served as a warning to those watching closely that the promotion's big draw had serious liabilities.
Urijah Faber vs. Jens Pulver, June 2008 -- WEC 34
The polar opposite of Slice-Thompson, Faber vs Pulver was the coming out night for WEC and the featherweight division. The first WEC event to get serious push from Zuffa, it drew almost 13,000 fans to featherweight champion Faber's hometown ARCO arena in Sacramento and drew a rating that the WEC has rarely matched since. As a fight it also delivered with the game veteran Pulver lasting five full rounds with the champion Faber. Both fighters went all out for five rounds and put in great performances. This card cemented the WEC's reputation for putting on incredible fight cards.
Fedor Emelianenko def. Tim Sylvia, July 19, 2008 -- Affliction: Banned
The promotional debut of t-shirt company Affliction, saw Fedor Emelianenko fight in America for only the second time before a crowd of almost 14,000 and for a PPV audience claimed to be as high as 100,000. Since the collapse of PRIDE, Fedor had fought for Bodog and DREAM against less than worthy competition (nothing against Matt Lindland, but he's a middleweight). His bout with Sylvia would be his first fight against top 10 competition in years. Fedor answered any questions definitively by blizting Sylvia with a barrage of punches and getting a rear naked choke on the downed Maine-iac in 0:36. Fedor continues to fight under the Affliction banner, having disposed of another former UFC champ in Andrei Arlvoski as well. Only time will tell if Affliction will last past a third event and if it doesn't your guess as to Fedor's next stop is as good as mine.
Seth Petruzelli def. Kimbo Slice, Oct. 4, 2008 -- Elite XC: Heat
Heat turned out to be an appropriate name for this event, still the most seen MMA fight in U.S. history. Sadly, scheduled Kimbo opponent Ken Shamrock wilted under the heat and pressure of the event and cut himself warming up only hours before the fight. Like a chain of dominoes, Kimbo Slice and EliteXC itself were the next to fall. Kimbo seemed rattled by the last-minute substitution of Seth Petruzelli for Shamrock and fell from the first punch. Petruzelli then went on a Florida radio show and made remarks that were interpreted to mean he had been paid to keep the fight standing against Kimbo. EliteXC, already desperately in debt, and hoping to sell itself to CBS/Showtime collapsed almost immediately in the wake of the near farcical string of events.
Well that's it for our series of the Top 50 MMA fights. Its been a lot of work and a lot of fun. Its inspired me to get on the stick and get back to my MMA History series. More on that in the full entry.
Here are links to my more in-depth MMA History series, it only goes up to about 1997 but I'm about to start doing more, I swear!
Previous installments of MMA History:
XVIII: The Losses of Luta Livre
XVII: The Lion's Den Roars
XVI: Rico Chiapparelli and the RAW Team
XV: Pancrase, RINGS, and Shooto 1996
XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil
XIII: Coleman Gets His Kicks
XII: End of the UFC Glory Days
XI: Carlson Gracie's Mighty Camp
X: The Reign of the Wrestlers
IX: Strikers Attack
VIII: From Russia With Leglocks
VII: A New Phase in the UFC
VI: A Dutch Detour
V: The Reign of Royce
IV: Rickson Brings Jiu Jitsu Back to Japan
III: More on Japan
II: The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming
I: UFC 1 Pancrase meets BJJ