To most cinema-goers, sequels are looked at in almost scornful fashion, but for combat sports fans, it offers an opportunity for fighters to showcase new talents in an attempt to top their epic encounters from years previously. With Tyron Woodley’s rematch with Stephen ‘Woodley’ Thompson just around the corner, we decided to take a look back at some of the biggest rematches in UFC history, ranging from historically significant events through to five star classics remembered by fans for years to come.
10) Royce Gracie vs Ken Shamrock (UFC 5)
Where better to start this countdown then the first rematch ever to take place in the UFC? Even from the first tournament the UFC ever held, it was clear that Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock were a class above their competitors, Shamrock as an acclaimed shoot fighter who made his name in Japan, and Gracie as one of the pioneering figures of Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. While the rest of the fights at UFC 1 were slow, laboured and downright brutal encounters, Gracie and Shamrock’s semi-final encounter was a master-class in grappling and submission work, one that ended in Gracie’s favour thanks to a GI Choke in the second minute.
After teasing an encounter at UFC 3, a formal rematch between the two was scheduled for UFC 5 eight months later, competing in a so-called super-fight to determine the company’s first undisputed champion, while the company’s traditional tournament format served as the under-card for the show.
Although the fight lacked the intensity of the duo’s first fight, eventually declared a draw after 30 minutes, it helped to change the way that the UFC would be promoted to this day; the marketing of the ‘super-fight’ led to UFC 5 being a buyrate success, and soon pre-scheduled fights would surpass the tournament as the traditional style of booking for the company. The fight also saw the introduction of time-limits and the concept of a championship, both of which can still be seen in the UFC til this day.
Gracie and Shamrock meanwhile would finally settle the differences at Bellator 149, where Gracie would end a 23 year feud with strikes in the first round.
9) Frankie Edgar vs Gray Maynard (UFC 125)
Frankie Edgar may not be the greatest fighter in UFC history, but what The Answer’ lacked in terms of outright skill he made up for with heart and determination, and nowhere was this better exemplified then his epic bout with Gray Maynard at UFC 125.
The first fight between the two men took place at Fight Night 13, where Maynard used his superior wrestling skill to inflict the first defeat of Edgar’s fledgling MMA career. Edgar however would bounce back from the loss in style, winning his next three fights before claiming the UFC Lightweight championship from BJ Penn at UFC 112. Despite the accolades, the defeat to Maynard was a dark cloud that hung over the early days of Edgar’s title victory, and after besting Penn in a rematch at UFC 118, it seemed inevitable that Maynard would be next in line for a shot at the championship
What followed was arguably one of the company’s greatest fights of all time, with Maynard dominating the early stages of the fight, knocking Edgar to the ground on three separate occasions. Edgar was barely able to make it into the second round, but mounted a heroic fight-back, landing several vicious strikes to the chin of the bully and setting up a back and forth encounter that would go on to be voted the greatest fight of 2011. The judges were unable to split the pair and the fight was ruled a draw, allowing Edgar to retain his title in the process.
A rubber match between the two would take place 9 months later, with Maynard once again dominating the early stages, before Edgar would mount a fight-back, eventually finishing “the bully” with strikes late in the fourth round.
8) Chuck Liddell vs Randy Couture (UFC 52)
It has long entered folklore that the first season of the Ultimate Fighter was the golden goose that helped save the UFC from bankruptcy from 2005, but whilst most remember Forrest Griffin’s epic showdown with Stephen Bonnar, it was the rematch between that series’ two other stars that helped solidify the company’s boom period.
The first encounter between Liddell and Couture came by in controversial fashion. Light Heavyweight champion title Ortiz had entered contractual issues with the UFC, refusing to defend his title against number one contender Liddell. In an attempt to entice Oritz back to the company, the encouraged former Heavyweight champion Randy Couture to drop down a weight class, booking the Natural against Liddell in an interim title fight at UFC 43. In what was a shock to the MMA world, Couture neutralized Liddell’s powerful hooks with straight punches and eventually began taking him down at will. Couture eventually gained full mount and forced a referee stoppage due to punches in round 3.
By 2005, Couture had managed to overcome Ortiz to claim the Light Heavyweight championship outright, while Liddell’s victory over the Huntington Bad Boy seven months later saw him reclaim his status as the division’s number one contender. Sensing an opportunity, the UFC booked the two as opposing coaches on the Ultimate Fighter, eventually building to a rematch between the two at UFC 52, taking place just one week after the finale of the reality show.
The start of the match saw both fighters start on their feet feeling out the distance and attempting multiple jabs and hooks, before Liddell caught Couture with an inadvertent eye poke. Angered by the poke, Couture rushed at Liddell with multiple strikes. Seeing an opportunity, Chuck back-pedalled and caught Randy on the jaw with a straight right hand which sent him crumbling to the mat in the middle of round one.
Any event that followed the Ultimate Fighter would have done great business, but it was the involvement of Liddell and Couture, along with the previous history from their first fight, that helped push the show from a solid PPV outing into the pivotal event that it became. UFC 52 would go on to become one the most successful show’s in company history, earning 280,000 PPV buys and shattering the company’s previous record of 150,000 buys at UFC 40, and setting the company on it’s way to becoming the sporting superpower that we see today.
A rubber match between Couture and Liddell would take place at UFC 57, where Liddell would claim a one sided encounter late in the second round.
7) Brock Lesnar vs Frank Mir (UFC 100)
Sometimes in combat, being in the right place at the right time can help turn a decent fight into a five star epic spoken about for years to come, and for me no UFC match encapsulates that better then Brock Lesnar’s second showdown with Frank Mir at UFC 100.
There had always been an air of spectacle that surrounded Brock Lesnar; the former high school wrestling champion had previously been a performer for World Wrestling Entertainment, before signing for the UFC in 2008 after a career in American football failed to materialise. Lesnar would make his Octagon debut against Frank Mir at UFC 84, dominating the former champion for the majority of the fight before being caught in a kneebar submission with a minute of the first round remaining.
17 months later, the fortunes for both men had taken a dramatic upturn. Lesnar bounced back from his defeat in style; steamrolling the journeyman Heath Herrig before using his significant weight advantage to claim the Heavyweight championship from Randy Couture. Mir meanwhile used the Lesnar victory to kick-start a three winning streak, culminating with a win over interim champ Antonio Nogueira at UFC 92. With both men staking a legitimate claim to the championship, a rematch between the two men was inevitable, eventually being booked as the main event for the company’s illustrious centenary PPV.
The decision to cast the fight as the main event would prove to be a brilliant one. Lesnar had emerged as the company’s most marketable star, and added with his previous history with Mir and the celebratory nature of the show, had the potential to draw huge numbers in the buy-rate. The fight also had increased incentive from a personal level for both men. Mir was looking to cap off a comeback following a career threatening motorbike accident in 2004, while Lesnar was keen to answer the critics that claimed his push to the title was as much due to his celebrity as his fighting prowess.
In the event itself, Brock would go on to answer his critics, dominating Mir throughout the first round, before finishing the Californian with strikes in the middle of the second, crowning off the 33 year old’s rise from company sideshow to the most dominant and feared fighter in UFC heavyweight history. UFC 100 meanwhile, would go on to become the company’s biggest ever show, amssing 1.6 million buys and not being bettered or another seven years.
6) Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen (UFC 148)
For nearly eight years, Anderson Silva was the unrivalled king of the UFC Middleweight division; a versatile counter striker whose creativity and unpredictable nature would often leave his opponents looking silly in the process. With this level of dominance, it would be inevitable that the UFC would make a deal about the first man to give the Spider the first sign of trouble in the Octagon.
Chael Sonnen was in many the polar opposite of Silva. While Anderson remained largely respectful of his opponents outside of the cage, Sonnen was brash, arrogant, and often relied on trash-talking in an attempt to gain an upper hand on his opponent. When the two finally met for the title at UFC 117, Sonnen proved a stylistic nightmare, rocking the Spider with a punch early in the fight, before taking him down and dominating from the top position.
The next three rounds provided a similar outcome, and it looked inevitable that Oregon Gangster would provide the upset win over the previously dominant champion. With one minute of the fight remaining however, Silva was able to slip past Sonnen’s guard, locking in a triangle choke on Sonnen and forcing him to submit, retaining his title in the most dramatic of fashion.
For over two years, rumours of a rematch between the two men had been rife, but a combination of injuries and Sonnen’s suspension for unauthorized testosterone replacement therapy meant that the event would eventually take place at UFC 148, the centerpiece of a five day extravaganza that would come to be known as International Fight Week. The dramatic end of the first encounter, combined with the long wait for a return encounter, led to the match being one of the most eagerly anticipated in UFC history; weigh ins were held in front of a capacity crowd in Mandalay Bay, Sonnen amped his trash talking to almost vicious levels, and even the normally calm Silva was caught in the histrionics prior to the fight.
As the fight finally took place, Sonnen quickly took the champion down in the first round and maintained a dominant position throughout, eventually gaining full mount while attacking with ground-and-pound. Sonnen however was unable to inflict substantial damage to the champion, and as the fight resumed Silva was repeatedly admonished by the ref for holding Chael’s shorts.
Being unable to score a takedown due to Silva’s constant violations of the ref’s commands, Sonnen failed to connect with a high-risk spinning back-fist strike, leaving Sonnen in a scooting position for Silva to land a knee to the chest, then with punches to stop the fight in the second round.
5) Chuck Liddell vs Tito Oritz (UFC 66)
Chuck Liddell’s victory over Randy Couture in the main event of UFC 52 proved to be the catalyst for a wave of popularity that would turn Mixed Martial Arts into the fastest growing sport in North America, so it would be appropriate that another high profile rematch would come to show how far the sport had come in the space of two years.
Much like Couture, Liddell’s history with Tito Ortiz can be traced back to early 2004. The two had previously been long time training partners and best friends, but Ortiz’s refusal to defend his Light Heavyweight title against Liddell led to a divide between the two, culminating in a high profile encounter with Liddell coming out on top thanks to a flurry of punches in the second round.
By the end of 2006, Liddell had managed to overcome Randy Couture to claim the UFC Light Heavyweight championship, and after victories over Jeremy Horn, Renato Sobral and a rematch with Couture, was booked to once again square off against Ortiz in the main event of UFC 66. While the first fight between the two men had been something of a cult encounter, the rematch was a sea of showbiz and hysteria. The popularity of mixed martial arts had exploded since the first season of the Ultimate Fighter, with Liddell and Ortiz both emerging as the UFC’s most colourful and high profile stars. A rematch between the two had the potential to not only be the biggest fight the company ever hosted, break the fabled barrier of over 1 million PPV buys, something considered impossible by the company just a few years earlier.
Midway through the first round, Liddell caught Ortiz with a flurry punches that dropped Ortiz to the canvas. After taking heavy shot’s from Liddell, Ortiz was able to scramble and survive the round. The second round appeared to be more even for both fighters with Liddell neutralizing Ortiz’s wrestling ability and Ortiz defending against Liddell’s strikes. As the ending of the round neared, Ortiz successfully secured a takedown on Liddell and briefly pinned him against the cage as Liddell scrambled before the bell rang.
The start of the third round was again even before Liddell pressured Ortiz with another flurry of punches. After an exchange of blows, Ortiz attempted a single leg takedown but ended up mounted by Liddell, who began raining down a series of strikes that Ortiz could not successfully defend. The referee than stopped the fight and Liddell was declared the winner via TKO to successfully defend his Light Heavyweight Championship for a fourth time.
4) Matt Hughes vs Frank Trigg (UFC 52)
When UFC president Dana White describes a fight as his favourite ever, you know it has to be a five star classic of unpredictable twists and turns, and that was exactly what Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg delivered at UFC 52.
The first fight between Hughes and Trigg took place at UFC 45, where after a tactical grappling match-up early on, Trigg fell victim to a standing rear naked choke at 3:45 of the first round. At the pre-fight press conference, Hughes was quick to rub salt into the wound of the former WFA Champion, claiming that a fighter would have to be a white belt t submit to a choke in the way Trigg did. The resentment between the two continued to build over the next seven months, and after Hughes regained the Welterweight Title at UFC 50, Trigg was immediately lined up as the first challenger to the crown.
After an early lockup between the two, Trigg caught Hughes with a knee to the groin unseen by referee Mario Yamasake, and quickly capitalized on Hughes’ distraction by staggering him with a barrage of punches. The fight quickly went to the ground, with Trigg ground-and-pounding the champion with vicious shots before attempting to submit Hughes with, of all things, a rear naked choke of his own. Hughes spent nearly two minutes attempting to fight off the submission, before finally breaking free and slamming Trigg to the ground on the far side of the Octagon.
The boot was on the other foot, as Hughes landed a ground and pound of his own before securing the fight with a rear naked choke with a minute of the first round remaining. As of 2017, the fight remains only one of three fights ever inducted into the UFC hall of fame, and would mark a highlight reel moment for Hughes on his way to becoming one of the sport’s most iconic fighters.
3) Georges St. Pierre vs BJ Penn (UFC 94)
BJ Penn’s stock as a fighter may be on the wane these days, but most old-school fans will remember the Hawaiian as one of the most willing and determined fighters ever to grace the Octagon, often willing to take on fighters with a near 100lb weight advantage during his time competing in Japan. And it was this versatility that led Penn to one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in UFC history.
After a spell competing in K1-Kickboxing, Penn returned to the UFC in March 2006, taking on Welterweight contender Georges St. Pierre on the under-card of UFC 58. Despite losing the fight, Penn received significant praise for his performance against the future champion, causing noticeably more damage throughout the fight, as Joe Rogan described Georges St-Pierre’s face being “a bloody mess” with Penn “barely having a scratch on him.”
Shortly after the fight, Penn turned his attention to the UFC’s lightweight division, beating Joe Stevenson to win the vacant championship before a one-sided defence against Sean Sherk at UFC 84. In his post fight interview, Penn asked the crowd if they wanted to see him fight Georges St-Pierre and was answered with a loud ovation, and after GSP retained the Welterweight title at UFC 87, a rematch between the two was scheduled for January 2009.
The fight would prove to be an historic one; never in the company’s 15 year history had two current title holders faced off in the UFC, while Penn also sought to become the first fighter in the UFC to concurrently hold two championships in two separate weight classes (a feat not attempted again until Conor McGregor in 2016). Such was the level of anticipation, that the UFC were forced introduce a new primetime preview series to satisfy audience demand, while NBC Sports described the encounter as one of the most anticipated fights in MMA history.
The first round of the fight was somewhat even, with Penn exercising elusive head movement, fast hands and good take-down defense, thwarting all of St-Pierre’s take-down attempts while both exchanged punches. In the ensuing three rounds, however, Penn turned out a lacklustre performance. St-Pierre scored his first take-down of the night midway through the second round, and by the end of the round Penn was visibly tired.
At the start of round three, St-Pierre landed a “superman punch” that bloodied Penn’s nose and shortly took the Hawaiian down again. From that point on, St-Pierre took Penn down almost at will, repeatedly passed Penn’s renowned guard, and persistently punished the Hawaiian with a ground-and-pound attack. At the end of the fourth round, after more of St-Pierre’s ground-and-pound onslaught, and upon B.J.’s command, Penn’s brother requested that the referee stop the fight.
2) Robbie Lawler vs Rory McDonald (UFC 189)
Since rejoining the UFC in 2013, Robbie Lawler has made his reputation by part of some of MMA’s greatest matches, becoming the only man to win three consecutive “Fight of the Year” awards between 2014 and 2016. But for many mainstream fans of the sport, it is his rematch with Rory MacDonald at UFC 189 that remains his finest hour.
The stakes were high for both Lawler and MacDonald going into UFC 189. The two had previously fought in the undercard of UFC 167, where Lawler was able to squeak a narrow victory by split decision over his Canadian opponent. By the time the two faced off again 18 months later, both had established themselves as two of MMA’s most exciting stars; Lawler finally claiming the Welterweight title after two five star matches with Jonny Hendricks, while MacDonald was on a three fight winning streak that saw him overcome the likes of Tyron Woodley, Damien Maia and former Strikeforce champion Terec Saffiedine.
The fight also carried much personal motivation for both men; Lawler was determined to prove his legitimacy as champion in a division still recovering from the absence of Georges St. Pierre, while MacDonald was looking to extract revenge for a loss he considered the most disappointing of his career.
After a cagey opening first round, the fight between the two exploded to life in the second, when MacDonald began to catch Lawler with more frequency while Lawler landed a stiff jab which appeared to stun MacDonald. Lawler began to heat up and MacDonald could no longer maintain he measured pace as his face began dripping blood at an alarming pace. MacDonald came out for the third round pumping jabs as Lawler danced in front of him. Lawler put together a nice combination that he ended with a huge left hand, followed be a strong jab, that opened up MacDonald’s face early.
Lawler continued to push the pace, but MacDonald drilled him with a high kick that he was able to block, but the shock he could not shake. MacDonald realized he was hurt bad and pounced, drilling him with a barrage of punches. Somehow Lawler remained upright and fired back some sloppy punches, but he was ultimately saved by the bell as he wobbled back to his corner. MacDonald went back to head kick early in the third; dazing Lawler with vicious shots but unable to finish his opponent. The flurry however would only spark a second wind from Lawler, finding a home for his jab as MacDonald continued to launch the headlock. MacDonald went for another take-down, but Lawler defended it again and made him pay … again.
Entering the fifth, both men were bloodied and viciously struggling, but Lawler would not be deferred, drilling MacDonald with a series of crushing straight rights onto the Canadian’s nose. The culmination of shots soon proved to be too much for MacDonald, crumbling onto his back and giving Lawler a dramatic victory, one that would go on to be considered one of the greatest title fights in company history.
1) Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor (UFC 202)
When putting together this top ten countdown, I weighed up three key criteria in the judgement of my placements; Pre-fight hype and anticipation, the historical significance of the fight as well as the quality of the match itself. The previous nine entries of this countdown have featured at least one of these criteria, but none ever managed to encapsulate all three with as much drama, tension and quality as Nate Diaz’s battle with Conor McGregor in August 2016, and made even more amazing by the fact that it was a rematch which, at least initially, nobody wanted.
The origins of the Diaz vs McGregor saga dates back to March 2016. McGregor had claimed the UFC Featherweight title from Jose Aldo at UFC 194, and was expected to take on Brazil’s Rafael Dos Anjos in a bid to hold both championship belts at the same time. Just eleven days before the fight however, Dos Anjos was forced to pull out of the fight following a broken foot, and leading Diaz to take the champion’s place and the fight switched to a Welterweight contest.
McGregor dominated the first round of the fight, catching Diaz with a series of spinning attacks and at times showboating for the Las Vegas crowd. Come the second however, McGregor’s cardio started to be called into question, as Diaz rocked the featherweight with a strong right hand and forcing McGregor to break with the norm and force a takedown on the Californian. It was there that Diaz would dominate, landing a series of blows from top mount before choking out the Irishman late in the second round, giving the Irishman his first defeat in a UFC Octagon.
While most critics believed that McGregor would call off his attempts to move up in weight, UFC president Dana White had other ideas, setting up a rematch between the two men after being swayed by McGregor’s obsession with avenging his loss. Initially scheduled as the main event of UFC 200, the fight would eventually take place at UFC 202, after weeks of vicious backbiting between the two, culminating in the two camps throwing water bottles at each other at the pre-fight press conference.
In the early stages of the fight, McGregor would display a much more clinical side to his game, focusing sacrificing his traditional spinning kicks and punches for a much more cautious and effective strategy, troubling Diaz with a series of leg-kicks before knocking him to the ground in the middle of the first round. The second round started in similar fashion, before Diaz started to hit his stride and rock McGregor with punches entering the final minute of the round, a feeling of Deja-Vu sweeping across the Las Vegas crowd.
Diaz smirked as he sensed the change of momentum, rocking a visibly tiring McGregor through a one sided third round, before McGregor caught an unlikely second wind, catching the Californian with a series of one two combos whilst bravely defending from Diaz’s increasingly desperate takedown attempts. Diaz managed to edge a cagey final round, but it wasn’t to be enough, McGregor going on to win a five round war by majority decision.
The fight received huge praise by those both inside and outside the world of MMA, with McGregor praised for his intelligent approach to the fight, and going to be named as Fox Sports’ Fight of the Year for 2016. The fight would also prove to be an historic one for the UFC, earning over 1.6 million buys and breaking the company’s all time record set by UFC 100 seven years previously.
Diaz vs McGregor 2 may have been met with cynicism upon arrival, but it’s historic place within UFC history, as well as the extreme hype surrounding the event, makes it one of the company’s most important ever matches, and earning it our place as the biggest UFC rematch of all time.