On Saturday the UFC hosts its first non-title five-rounder between Chris Leben and Mark Munoz, and begins an era . Dana White long maintained that he liked the ‘special’ nature of a 25-minute title tilt, but there’s no denying that the enforced 15-minute curfew on non-title tilts has curtailed the occasional classic. At the elite level of the sport, timing is harder to gauge, mistakes harder to spot, opponents tougher to break down, and a finish more elusive. Below the jump are just five fights that should have gone the championship distance.
5. Diaz vs Penn, UFC 137
Let’s just get this out of the way. This wasn’t a fight that should have been made a five-rounder with GSP’s departure from the card: it was a fight that should have always been five rounds. Both men were two-time champions (Penn at welterweight and lightweight, Diaz in the WEC and Strikeforce). Diaz is renowned for his cardio, while Penn has shown that, though terrifying in the early going, he can wilt under sustained pressure. Both fighters consistently ignore the possibility of a judge’s decision and fight like you’ve stolen their girlfriend, making a five-round snoozer a virtual impossibility. And in the event, the fight was a Diaz clinic, with the Stockton native showcasing the punching volume that makes him a monster in the welterweight division. Given that BJ seemed resigned to the loss after the fight, perhaps it didn’t matter that the pair were limited to a 15-minute bout. But ask yourself: if the fight had turned out exactly the same but you’d known fourth and fifth rounds were coming as the pair winged haymakers in the closing seconds, how would you have reacted?
4. Evans vs Jackson, UFC 114
In a fight that’s somehow been rechristened ‘boring’ by revisionist MMA historians, Evans floored Jackson within the first minute, planted him with a hybrid power-double/football tackle that’s the apotheosis of his wrestle-boxing style later in the first round, and was forced to fight a desperate rearguard action in the third to take the UD. For his part, Jackson regrouped from an early scare to pummel Evans and nearly force a stoppage. The fight had oceans of bad blood behind it, coming from a season of The Ultimate Fighter where the pair showed a genuine dislike for each other, and watching it end in a razor-thin decision seemed anti-climatic. The message is clear: if you’re going to spend 12 weeks building up a fight, why let it end in 15 minutes? And on that subject...
3. Hughes vs Serra, UFC 98
The Hughes/Serra feud dated back to Serra’s appearance on the ‘comeback’ season of TUF, when Hughes dropped in to give the housemates some of his own abrasive brand of coaching. It intensified when Serra, post-GSP-upset, took the coaching role himself, playing the laid-back Brooklyn foil to Hughes’ Bible-thumping taskmaster. Serra compared Hughes to a chipmunk and even mocked his portrait ‘It looks like you’re peeing, jackass!’ but what must have grated on the ultra-competitive Hughes more was Danzig, Serra’s atheist protege, tearing through the field to take the crown. The Hughes/Serra fight itself was more competitive than Hughes fans might have expected - though some of the credit probably goes to an accidental headbutt in the early going, Serra managed to avoid the former champ’s ferocious ground-and-pound, and even wobbled Hughes. The pair embraced and settled their differences after the fight, but it still seemed like slim payoff after such protracted hostilities.
2. Machida vs Jackson, UFC 123
If there’s a man who the five-rounder favours, it should be Machida, whose patient, counter-heavy style ought to reward the chance to thoroughly analyse an opponent’s distance and timing. Machida’s sole 25-minute effort against Shogun might have underwhelmed, but his tilt against Jackson makes the case perfectly - in the first two rounds, Rampage kept the karate master at bay with clinchwork, dirty boxing and constant pressure, but by the third, Machida had his measure. In the closing minutes of the fight, the Dragon unleashed a flurry of punches that looked like a Street Fighter super combo, and under the informal Pride rules - whoever’s ‘winning’ the fight at the end gets the nod - Machida would have certainly won. Instead, Rampage narrowly took the first two rounds, admitted to being ass-whupped in the third, and scraped a win that everyone would have liked to be more decisive.
1. Liddell vs Silva, UFC 79
In a perfect world, the Ice Man would have met the Axe Murderer at the climax of the 2003 Pride Middleweight tournament, when both men were at the peak of their powers. Instead, Rampage Jackson got in the way and Pride teased Dana White with the prospect of a superfight for years before the UFC’s purchase of the ailing promotion gave White the last laugh.
By the time they met, both men were coming off a pair of losses - Liddell to Jardine and Jackson, Silva to Henderson and Crocop - and arguably past their best. The fight, though tremendously exciting at the time, makes for odd viewing when rewatched - there’s a protracted feeling-out process at the start, before Silva lures Liddell in by sagging against the cage, then lets fly with a brutal flurry of punches. Silva scored two knockdowns - one arguably mostly-slip - but seemed reluctant to follow up, perhaps unsure of how to tackle a grounded opponent without his trademark head-stomps. Liddell, wanting a W on his record, stole two rounds with the first takedowns he’d landed in years and was content to coast at the end of the third, bouncing out of Silva’s range while glancing at the clock. The decision in Liddell’s favour wasn’t hugely contentious, but fourth and fifth rounds might have made Liddell more keen to finish the fight early, while giving both men more chances to score a knockout. Even though it wasn’t the megafight it should have been by the time it finally happened, the sheer history behind this clash of all-time greats meant it should have been treated with the same importance as any title fight.