This year is shaping up to be the year of the grudge match in the UFC.
Some of the most anticipated bouts of 2012 are battles between bitter rivals; tense affairs that are about much more than just a test of skills inside the Octagon. From Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen 2 to the highly anticipated and long awaited light heavyweight championship battle between friends-turned-foes Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, fights that will resolve some of the biggest ongoing feuds in the organization are shaping the summer schedule.
With the current break in the action prior to Jones and Evans finally settling their differences in the Octagon at UFC 145 in Atlanta next month, I thought it would be fitting to look back on some of the best grudge matches from days gone by.
Here are my picks for the top 10 grudge matches in UFC history.
10. Marcus Davis vs. Dan Hardy — UFC 99
I think this rivalry often gets overlooked because it didn’t play out as a main event match up. No matter its place on the card, the heat between Hardy and Davis was legitimate, reaching a head in Cologne, Germany at UFC 99.
Hardy started his verbal assault on Davis after “The Irish Hand Grenade” had a steady run of success in England and Ireland, including collecting victories over Hardy’s fellow countrymen Jason Tan, Paul Taylor, and Paul Kelly. After calling him a “fake Irishman” and saying his website “looked like a St. Patrick's day parade had blown up,” Hardy really struck a nerve when fans created Photoshopped images of Davis and posted them on the internet.
The two eventually stepped into the cage to settle things, with Hardy winning a controversial split decision, all three judges scoring the fight 29-28 with two favoring Hardy two rounds to one.
Davis was adamant about wanting an immediate rematch, but it never materialized, as Hardy would go on to beat Mike Swick five months later to earn a shot at Georges St-Pierre and the welterweight title.
9. Michael Bisping vs. Jorge Rivera — UFC 127
The most recent entry to this list, Rivera set the former Ultimate Fighter winner off with a series of videos that mocked Bisping, including a parody of a song from South Park, and having his coach Matt Phinney portray “The Count” in an unflattering light in a couple of the videos.
While some people found them funny, Bisping wasn’t one of them, and the tension between the two nearly boiled over at the weigh-ins. Once they were in the Octagon together, Bisping funneled his anger and aggression into his performance, which included drilling Rivera with an illegal knee midway through the opening round.
After earning the stoppage less than two minutes into the second round, Bisping spat on the mat in the direction of Rivera’s corner, and got in his opponent’s face demanding an apology. Bisping drew the ire of several fighters for his post-fight actions, with numerous middleweights putting their names forward to face the emotional Brit in the future.
8. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Rashad Evans — UFC 114
This one could have landed so much higher up on the list had Jackson not abruptly retired from fighting and delayed this contest so that he could channel his inner Mr. T as part of “The A-Team.”
Before Evans had beef with Jones, he and Jackson really couldn’t stand each other, and an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter was put together with the two light heavyweights as opposing coaches. Their constant bickering and antagonizing of each other made for entertaining television, and a lot of broken doors at the UFC Training Center.
And while the bout certainly captivated the MMA world when it finally took place in May of 2010, had the bout not been delayed, this one could have cracked the top 5.
7. Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Serra — UFC 83
Welterweights can thank Matt Serra for creating the unbeatable machine that is the UFC 170-pound champion, Georges St-Pierre. A year after stunning St-Pierre at UFC 69, the two would meet again, this time in Montreal, Quebec in front of the largest crowd in UFC history at the time.
Serra picked and poked at St-Pierre every chance he could, taking verbal jabs at the French-Canadian challenger, hoping to throw him off his game. His plan didn’t work. St-Pierre dominated the fight from the start, earning the stoppage late in the second round after a series of vicious knees to the body.
St-Pierre has continued to dominate the welterweight division since, defending the welterweight title on six consecutive occasions, including a victory in another memorable grudge match.
6. Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber — UFC 132
These two just don’t like each other. They didn’t when they fought the first time back at WEC 26 when Faber beat Cruz, and they still didn’t as they prepared to face off for a second time last summer.
Despite rattling off eight straight wins and becoming the WEC-turned-UFC bantamweight champion since suffering the lone loss of his career, Cruz was eager to avenge his loss to Faber. Throughout the build-up to their UFC 132 headlining encounter, the two continuously went back-and-forth at each other whenever they could, however they could: interviews, press conferences, conference calls, Twitter, you name it.
Cruz came away with the victory last July, earning a unanimous decision to even the series at one win each. Not surprisingly, the rivalry hasn’t subsided, and the two are now coaching opposite each other on Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, preparing to resolve things once and for all (maybe) with their trilogy bout this summer.
5. Georges St-Pierre vs. BJ Penn — UFC 94
This was Champion vs. Champion, and they had a history too: St-Pierre edged Penn in an incredibly close contest at UFC 58 nearly three years earlier, and the controversial split decision loss still ate at “The Prodigy.”
In an effort to further promote the fight pitting two of the sport’s most popular fighters against one another, a three-part UFC Primetime series chronicled the preparations of both fighters.
St-Pierre won a one-sided affair when Penn’s corner called it quits for their fighter following the fourth round, but that wasn’t the end of things. The “Greasegate” controversy kept the contest in the news for another two months, as Penn sought to have the result overturned, and St-Pierre and his team fined after second Phil Nurse rubbed petroleum jelly on the back and shoulders of the welterweight champion between rounds. Penn’s complaint was heard, but no disciplinary action followed.
4. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen — UFC 117
Leave it to Chael P. Sonnen to take a seemingly average middleweight title fight and turn it into one of the most anticipated bouts in UFC history by talking a blue streak about his opponent, his opponent’s team, his opponent’s friends, and pretty much the entire population of his opponent’s home country, Brazil.
By the time Sonnen’s verbal assault on Anderson Silva, the Nogueira Brothers, and everyone else who became a target of “The Gangster from West Linn” came to a close, UFC 117 was a must-see event. Unlike some other grudge matches, this one delivered in the cage as well.
Sonnen backed up the majority of his tough talk, taking the opening four rounds from Silva, and he looked to be on his way to becoming the new UFC middleweight champion. But then his allergy to submissions flared up, and Silva used the Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills Sonnen had mocked in advance of the fight, forcing Sonnen to tap out to a triangle choke with just under two minutes remaining in the fight.
After defeating Brian Stann at UFC 136, Sonnen started on the verbal offensive after Silva again. His victory over Michael Bisping in January put him in a position to face Silva for a second time later this summer.
3. Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie — UFC 5
This one dates back to the inaugural UFC event in Denver, Colorado on November 12, 1993.
That night, the two UFC legends met in the semifinals. Early in the bout, Shamrock dropped back from inside Gracie’s guard to attempt a heel hook, but ended up pulling Gracie into top position. As Shamrock tried to work out from bottom, he left his neck exposed, Gracie sank in the rear naked choke, and earned the submission win, propelling him into the finals, which he would go on to win.
The loss ate at Shamrock, and after Gracie won his third UFC tournament at UFC 4, the two would meet in the first ever UFC Superfight at UFC 5. The anticipation for the fight was far greater than the contest itself, as the two battled to a draw after more than 35 minutes of limited action.
It would be another 11 years before we saw Gracie in the Octagon again. Shamrock, on the other hand, remained for a few more years before departing for stint in the WWE. When he came back, he embarked on another legendary series of grudge matches.
2. Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir — UFC 100
The biggest fight of the biggest event in UFC history (at the time) saw the two men who each laid claim to the heavyweight title meet for the second time.
Lesnar, who lost to Mir in his UFC debut 17 months early at UFC 81, had won his portion of the heavyweight title from the returning Randy Couture at UFC 91, while Mir topped fellow TUF 8 coach Antonio Rodrigio Nogueira to claim the interim heavyweight title at UFC 92.
Mir was out to prove that he remained superior to the former professional wrestler, while Lesnar sought to prove his initial loss to Mir was predicated on inexperience and Steve Mazzagatti’s controversial decision to stand the fighters up after deducting a point from the former WWE superstar.
In the end, Lesnar proved to be too much for Mir, the freakish athletic specimen avenging his previous loss with a second round stoppage win. A third bout to settle the tie was often speculated about by both the fighters and fans, but failed to materialize before Lesnar called an end to his career following UFC 141.
1. Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz — UFC 40, UFC 61, Ortiz vs. Shamrock: The Final Chapter
When your rivalry predated your first fight by more than three years, is comprised of three bouts, and the final confrontation is considered one of the pivotal fights in the development of the UFC, you earn top billing from me.
The feud between Ortiz and Shamrock started following Ortiz’s victory over Lion’s Den fighter Jerry Bohlander at UFC 18. Things continued to escalate after UFC 19, when Ortiz defeated another of Shamrock’s teammates, Guy Metzger, and then proceeded to flip off Shamrock.
Ortiz and Shamrock would finally meet in the Octagon at UFC 40, with Shamrock’s corner throwing in the towel prior to the start of the fourth round. After coaching opposite one another on Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter, Ortiz and Shamrock met for a second time in the main event of UFC 61: Bitter Rivals, with “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” earning a TKO victory just 1:18 into the opening round.
Shamrock was adamant that the fight was stopped early, so the pair met for a third time three months later. Ortiz vs. Shamrock: The Final Chapter was a ratings smash on television, but produced a similar result as the second fight, with Ortiz again winning by technical knockout in the first round.
Along with the success of Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, and The Ultimate Fighter, the Ortiz-Shamrock trilogy stands as one of the chief catalysts to the UFC’s explosion in the mainstream.
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