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The USA TODAY/Bloody Elbow Top 50 MMA Fights in History IV: 2000-2001

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Hughes_newton_mediumHere's our fourth installment of the 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:

  • Mark Coleman def. Igor Vovchanchyn, May 1, 2000 — Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals
    The PRIDE GP was one of a series of major MMA tournaments around the turn of the millennium. Along with the two RINGS King of Kings tournaments and the SuperBrawl 13 tourny of American heavyweights, the PRIDE GP brought order to what had been a chaotic MMA field. An open weight tournament that featured the Sakuraba vs Royce fight we discussed in the last installment, it naturally favored the heavyweights. Besides Coleman and Vovchnchnyn, the tournament included Coleman's fellow super-wrestler Mark Kerr, Japanese Greco-Roman turned pro-wresterl  Kazuyuki Fujita, and UFC veteran Gary Goodridge. This GP outshone the others and went a long way toward establishing PRIDE as the world's premier organization. If you're not familiar with the legendary Igor Vovchanchyn, read this, this and this. For Coleman to come through this tournament and to beat the man who'd stopped Mark Kerr (officially a no contest, but Igor won), after he'd been run out of the UFC by strikers Maurice Smith and Pete Williams was a huge comeback, possibly the biggest in the history of the sport.

  • Jens Pulver def. Caol Uno, Feb. 23, 2001 — UFC 30
    This is another of those fights that's less significant in and of itself than for what it started: in this case the debut of the UFC lightweight belt. Zuffa had just purchased the struggling promotion and they brought in one of the most highly regarded Japanese fighters of the era in Uno. One of Shooto's greatest fighters, Uno had beaten the legendary Rumina Sato (2x) and had wins over top American lightweights Dennis Hallman and Din Thomas. But Jens Pulver, fresh off a stunning KO win over MMA pioneer John Lewis, managed to get the upset and become the first UFC 155lb champion.

  • Matt Hughes def. Carlos Newton, Nov. 2, 2001 — UFC 34
    Now this is a fight that does make the list on its own merits. Not only did it inaugurate the reign of Matt  Hughes atop the UFC welterweights, but its a great fight with one of the all-time best finishes in MMA history. After a back and forth first round, the second round saw defending champ Newton catch Hughes in a triangle choke only to be slammed into unconsciousness by Hughes. Unfortunately for Newton, Ref Big John McCarthy missed the fact that Hughes had been choked out on the way to the ground. Although this fight probably should have been a draw, Hughes cleared things up with a definitive win in the rematch.

  • Wanderlei Silva def. Kazushi Sakuraba, Nov. 3, 2001 — Pride 17
    This bout saw the beginning of one of the greatest reigns in MMA history, Wanderlei Silva's run atop PRIDE's 205lb class. It was also the end of Sakuraba's run at the top of the game. After a career of feasting on Brazilian legends -- in addition to wins over Royce, Renzo, Ryan and Royler Gracie, Sakuraba had beaten Vitor Belfort, Marcus "Conan" Silveira, Luta Livre ace Ebenezer Fontes Braga and tied Alan Goes -- Sakuraba's karma came due in the form of the Axe Murderer. Silva had already upset Sakuraba in September. The rematch was to decide the first PRIDE Middleweight (205lbs) champion. A closer fight than is often remembered (as was their first match), Sakuraba fans were left clutching might-have-beens and worrying for their hero's health. Wanderlei's curb-stomping style and his Chute Boxe teammates would dominate PRIDE for the remainder of the promotion's storied existence.

  • Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira def. Heath Herring, Nov. 3, 2001 — Pride 17
    Nogueira had come to PRIDE by way of RINGS where he'd won the second King of Kings tournament in 2000 and established an impressive 10-1 record. In his PRIDE run he'd already submitted GP champ Mark Coleman and he met tough Texan Heath Herring for the first PRIDE heavyweight title. Herring had earned the shot by going 4-1 in PRIDE and picking up wins over Mark Kerr, Tom Erikson, and Enson Inoue. All of those wins were impressive, but IMO none more so than the one over Erikson, a top-flight collegiate wrestler who weighed in as much at 285lbs. To those following the sport at the time Erikson seemed like a lock to rule the division. Nogueira's dominance of Herring in an epic war of a fight began a title run that makes many consider him the all-time #2 heavyweight in MMA history.

Read Parts One, Two, Three and the Prequel.