Yesterday I posted Part 1 of The Best Rivalries in MMA History. Below is part 2 in the series, with Part 3 coming down the pipeline fairly shortly.
Hughes vs Trigg was something that actually had gone back before both men entered the Octagon at UFC 45. According to research (the Bleacher Report is this particular source, so take from that what you will) , both men had wrestled against one another at junior college and had gotten into a physical altercation. (Edit: Again, this is what I get for trusting anything read on Bleacher Report. It was apparently Mark Hughes wrestled against.) It would be years later that both men would get to settle the rivalry in the cage.
Leading up to the first fight, the trash talk was at an all time high. Seriously, watch that intro video. Trigg calls in to question Hughes' family and the whole nine yards. Needless to say, this did not sit well with Mr. Hughes. The first fight ended rather quickly, with Hughes taking Trigg's back early on in the first round. Trigg would attempt to stand up to shake the choke, but Hughes locked in a nice standing rear naked choke, causing Trigg to tap out just as he began to go unconscious and fall to the floor.
They would meet again a year and a half later at UFC 52. Trigg would tell anyone who listened that Hughes had gotten a fluke victory in their first fight, something that no doubt dug under the skin of the Welterweight champion. As Mario Yamasaki brought the fighters together to give them his instructions, the two fighters stood nose to nose, until Hughes shoved Trigg away from him. The fight would go on to be one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history. After a groin strike by Trigg that went unnoticed by the referee, the former Oklahoma Sooner would land some big punches on Hughes, knocking him down and eventually taking the champions back. Trigg locked in a deep rear naked choke, looking like he would take the title from Hughes.
But, it was not to be. Hughes ended up getting off the canvas, scooping Trigg up, and running across the Octagon, slammed him down hard, causing the crowd in attendance to explode. Hughes would work some ground and pound until Trigg gave up his back, and that was all she wrote. This fight would signify the end of Frank Trigg as a title contender, and gave Hughes two first round submissions over a man he hated.
BJ Penn vs Matt Hughes
These two UFC Hall of Famers (one a current, the other a future) met for the welterweight title back at UFC 46. BJ Penn is legendary for moving around weight classes to challenge himself, and this was the first time he would leave the 155 lbs division. Hughes was entering the fight as the 5 time defending champion and considered the best welterweight in the world. Penn would surprise the dominant champion by taking full mount early in the first round, and landed some heavy ground and pound. Hughes would give Penn his back, and it was all over. BJ sunk in a rear naked choke and became the new Welterweight champion.
Following that victory, Penn left the UFC and did not return for more than 2 years. Following a loss in his return to the UFC to GSP in a title eliminator, St. Pierre would be injured in his training camp for a title fight with Hughes which would open the door for the rematch. Penn looked at it as if Hughes had his belt, and hadn't taken it from him. The first round was mostly all Penn, as he frustrated the champion with his otherworldly flexibility and crisp boxing, stunning Hughes with a couple of punches.
In the second round, Hughes mounted more offense by taking the Hawaiian down and landing some excellent elbows from guard. Eventually BJ would catch Hughes in a sweep, and like the first fight took the champions back. Penn would be working for a armbar as the round was ending, seemingly stealing another round.
By the beginning of the third round, BJ was visibly tired and Hughes started to land shots on the feet. Hughes would eventually take Penn down, where he would work to a crucifix position and finished the fight via punches. With the re-instatement of the Lightweight division Penn would go back down to his more natural weight class, and it looked to be the end of the rivarly.
Four years later, it was announced that after back to back losses to Frankie Edgar, Penn would be moving back to the welterweight division for a rubber match with Hughes. At UFC 123, Penn made short work of the Illinois native, landing a right hand which knocked Hughes to the mat, where BJ would finish quickly, earning a stoppage earning the stoppage at 21 seconds of the 1st round. Penn would then come in to help Hughes train prior to his loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 135.
It is rare in the sport of MMA that we get to see the No. 1 ranked fighter in the division fight the consensus No. 2 fighter in the division while both are in their prime. At Pride 25, this was a reality when Fedor, (coming into the fight after defeating Semmy Schilt and Heath Herring to earn his shot), met Nogueira (coming in with 7 Pride victories, a 19 - 1 - 1 MMA record and the unanimous best heavyweight on the planet). With Pride's heavyweight division being so much deeper than the UFC's, this was essentially for the position of Baddest Man On the Planet. Nogueira was the heavy favorite, and many pundits did not believe the man could be beaten (sound familiar?). Over the span of 20 minutes, these two legendary heavyweights would do battle for supremacy in the heavyweight division. Fedor surprised many analysts and the crowd by willingly diving into Nogueira's guard, which was considered suicidal for a professional fighter. Emelianenko showed no fear, using some of the most vicious ground and pound ever seen in the sport in the first round to soften up the champion. Nogueira meanwhile kept attempting for submissions throughout the entire first round.
The second round would be very similar than the first. Fedor again climbed right into the spiderweb that was Big Nog's guard, dropping some huge bombs on Nogueira's head. But the champ would not be deterred, taking the best shots the Russian had while continuously trying to look for a submission. Nogeuira would land a beautiful sweep to end the round, but was clearly being frustrated by the man from Stary Oskal.
The third played out like the second. Fedor landing huge shots in Big Nog's open guard, while Nogeuira struggled for hand control and to try and lock in a sub. The fight would end, and Fedor would help Minatauro up, and embrace him in a show of respect. At the end of the fight, there would be a new number 1 heavyweight in the world, and his name was Fedor Emelianenko
They would rematch 7 months later at the final of the Pride Heavyweight tournament at Pride Final Conflict 2004. Fedor had fought Naoya Ogawa earlier in the night, winning via armbar in 54 seconds. Nogeuira would have a much tougher time with Fedor's former teammate Sergei Kharitonov, going to a decision with the Russian striker.
The second fight played out very similarly to the first. Fedor showed no fear of Nogueira off his back, again diving into Minotauro's guard and landing huge shots. Only 4 minutes into the fight, while working to try and pass Nog's guard, the two fighters clashed heads, opening a huge cut on the champions forehead. This fight would unfortunately end in a no contest because of the cut. Pride officials would go on to make an immediate rematch to be held on New Year's Eve at Pride Shockwave 2004
The third fight between these two was a much different affair than the first two. This time Fedor decided to stand with Nogeuira, using his superior speed to out strike the Brazilian. Despite Big Nog's best attempts to put the Russian Sambo fighter on his back, he was unable to secure a takedown, and Emelianenko would go on to score an unanimous decision.
Thus ended perhaps three of the most meaningful heavyweight fights in the history of the sport of MMA. Although there never seemed to be a lot of animosity in this rivalry, this was one of the rare times in the sports history that the two best fighters in the world, in their weight classes, met at the zenith of their powers.
Wanderlei Silva vs Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
The rivalry between Rampage Jackson and Wanderlei Silva goes back quite some time. Pretty much as soon as Rampage entered Pride back in 2001. He would continuously call out Silva, especially once Wanderlei became the 205 lbs champion. It all cultivated into a physical altercation between the two men at Pride 25. After Rampage's victory over Kevin Randleman, he took the mic, and at the prompting of the Pride officials, called out Wand. Silva did not take kindly to that, entering the ring and shoving the Memphis, Tennessee native. The two had to be separated by officials before things got out of hand.
The two would finally meet in the finals of the Pride Middleweight (205 lbs) tournament at Pride Final Conflict 2003. Rampage came into the fight after defeating UFC legend Chuck Liddell earlier in the night. Wanderlei had defeated former Judo Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko Youshida via decision, setting up this grudge match (although the preferred outcome by all involved was to be Liddell vs Silva).
The fight would begin with Rampage shooting for a double leg and lifted Silva in the air. Wand responded by trying to lock in a standing guillotine choke. Eventually Rampage would get the fight to the floor, where he would maintain top control and worked ground and pound on the Pride champion. Oddly enough, the referee ended up standing the two fighters up despite Rampage working to hold the position. Jackson still argues this standup, as it was unwarranted and a true Mazzagattian job done by the ref.
The standup would spell the beginning of the end of Rampage. He looked visibly tired after the stand up, and Wanderlei would assume control of the fight. Silva would lock in a Muay Thai clinch on B.A Baracus. In one of the most brutal beating from a Muay Thai clinch at that time, Wand would land 20 consecutive knees on Jackson, eventually causing the ref to intervene and stop the fight.
The two would meet again almost a year later, this time for Wanderlei's 205 lbs title. Rampage came into the fight as the number 1 contender after his famous and ridiculously violent powerbomb of Ricardo Arona.
Rampage saw some more success in this fight, successfully trading punches with the Chute Boxe wrecking machine, even dropping him with a right hand and working to finish the champion at the end of the first round.
SIlva would begin the second round attempting to take Jackson down. Rampage ended up reversing the throw from a body lock, and ended up in Silva's guard. The ref would stand them back up shortly thereafter due to inactivity. Upon the standup, the two fighters traded punches, with Wand landing a big right hook that staggered Jackson. As Jackson backed away to create space to recover, Wand was on him like a pit bull, locking in a Muay Thai clinch and brutalize Rampage with a series of knees, leaving him unconscious between the ropes.
It would be another 4 years until they would meet for a third time, this time in the cage at UFC 92. This was Rampage's first fight since he lost his UFC Light Heavyweight title to Forrest Griffin and his subsequent minor bout with insanity (if you aren't aware, Google Rampage Energy Drink and you will see what I mean). Wand was coming in after a vicious knock out of Keith Jardine at UFC 84. The animosity was still high between these two leading into the fight, with it culminating in Wanderlei shoving Rampage at the weigh in's, forcing UFC officials to break them apart.
The third fight would go much differently, with Rampage looking to have the sharper, more technical striking, picking Wand apart when he attempted to throw his trademark wide hooks. Eventually, Wand missed with a right, and Rampage made him pay with a huge left hook, knocking Wand to the floor. Rampage would land three clean shots to Silva on the ground, two with Yves Lavigne hanging on Rampage's back in an attempt to stop the fight.
With Silva moving down to 185 lbs, it seems that this rivalry has ended. Although, I may add, Wanderlei has expressed interest in fighting Quinton a 4th time, stating he would like it to be the final fight of his career.
Chuck Liddell vs Tito Ortiz
Perhaps the most popular of any of these rivalries, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz's story goes back a ways. Former training partners at Pit Fighter Club, the animosity began when Chuck was the clear cut number 1 contender for Tito's Light Heavyweight title, but Ortiz refused to fight Liddell, saying they were friends. Liddell would refute that, wanting his opportunity to become champion. This would continue on for some time, with Dana White going as far as to say that Chuck was Tito's "bodyguard". This quote from 441mania.com in regards to their first fight.
"The matchmakers in the UFC used to call Liddell "Tito’s bodyguard" because Liddell would fight the tough guys and Tito would fight the easy ones. Dana finally made the match because he felt Liddell had earned it. Tito tried to get out of it by spinning a bullshit story that they were buddies and agreed to never fight, but Liddell wanted the fight."
The first fight was one of the most anticipated fights in the UFC's young history. While it was not for the Light Heavyweight title (which was in the possession of Randy Couture at that time), it was none the less a huge huge fight. The first round was more of a feeling out process by both fighters, until the end of the round when Liddell opened up with a blocked head kick and a few shots as the horn blew to end the round.
The second round would be short, Tito would lead with a leg kick, and Chuck opened up with punches, forcing Tito to cover up and put his back against the cage. Sensing he had his opponent hurt, Liddell opened up with a flurry, eventually dropping Tito and causing John McCarthy to stop the fight. Tito would blame the loss on a thumb to the eye, but it would be two and a half years before they would meet again.
Chuck would come into their second fight as the Light Heavyweight champion, which he had defended 3 times prior to the rematch. Ortiz was coming into the fight on a 5 fight win streak, including wins over Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin and two wins over rival Ken Shamrock. The second fight would start off much faster than the first, with Chuck catching Tito in the first round, knocking him down but was unable to finish. Tito survived the first round, and came out in the second seemingly invigorated.
The second round was definitely Tito's round and the most success he would ever have against Liddell. He would win the majority of the striking exchanges, as well as landing a late takedown to seemingly win the round.
The third round would begin with Chuck landing a couple of nice body shots, slowing down Ortiz slightly to begin the round. This round would mostly be all Liddell tho, as he continued to land good shots, stunning Tito late in the round. Tito would attempt to drop for a single leg, but that was all Chuck needed, as he unleashed a barrage of punches. Although most were not landing due to Tito covering up, the ref had seen enough and stopped the fight.
The two were suppose to meet again in June of 2010 after both were coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. Halfway through the season, Tito pulled out as the coach due to a neck injury that required surgery, and former middleweight kingpin Rich Franklin stepped in to face Liddell. When they met at UFC 115 in Vancouver, Chuck came out looking like classic Chuck, until Rick clipped him in the dying seconds of the 1st round and essentially put an end to Chuck Liddell's MMA career. Fans would be denied what could have been a classic third fight between these two, but the hatred and rivalry alone helped propel the UFC into the American sport limelight.