International Fight Week came into existence in the summer of 2012, with the UFC deciding to turn its annual July pay-per-view into a tentpole event on the yearly fight calendar, supersizing the week to celebrate all things fights and fight fans.
Over the years, additional events have been added to the week-long festivities, including a three-night run of consecutive events in the summer of 2016 that featured four title fights and 11 current or former champions climbing into the Octagon.
After a one-year hiatus, International Fight Week returns this year, taking place in the days leading up to UFC 266 on Saturday, September 25 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where champions Alexander Volkanovski and Valentina Shevchenko are set to defend their titles against challengers Brian Ortega and Lauren Murphy, respectively, and Nick Diaz makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon in a rematch with “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler.
In honor of the impending week-long celebration of fisticuffs, fighters, and mixed martial arts in general, this quiet week on the UFC calendar feels like an opportune time to take a trip down memory lane and look back on some of the top performances from previous International Fight Week events.
This is The 10.
The headlining act of the first International Fight Week, the build to this middleweight title fight ended up outdoing the actual fight itself, but in fairness, it would have taken an all-time classic to surpass the groundwork that had been laid on the road to Las Vegas for this one.
Sonnen turned his first meeting with Silva at UFC 117 into a must-see event with his unparalleled talent for trash talk, spending two months taking shots at Silva and his teammates every chance he could get. When they stepped into the Octagon in Oakland, the veteran wrestler dominated the first four rounds and was less than three minutes away from completing one of the most shocking and one-sided upsets of all time before Silva laced up a triangle choke and secured the finish.
A suspension put Sonnen on ice for more than a year, but when he returned at UFC 136 with a second-round submission win over Brian Stann, he again took aim at Silva on the microphone, laying into the still reigning middleweight titleholder. After edging out Michael Bisping in a closely contested bout at the start of 2012 in Chicago, the rematch was official and installed as the main event for UFC 148 in Las Vegas.
Sonnen put Silva on the deck right out of the chute to start the fight and maintained the position throughout, grinding away from top position, “The Spider” showing little concern with Sonnen’s output while working to tie up his arms.
They were right back into the clinch to start the second, but this time, Silva kept things upright, defending one takedown along the fence and another in space after they had separated. When he backed himself against the cage in his typical fashion, inviting Sonnen in, the wrestler threw an uncharacteristic spinning backfist attempt and lost his balance, tumbling to the canvas. Silva buried a knee in his chest and unloaded with ground-and-pound, felling Sonnen with a right hand once he got to his feet, and sealing the victory seconds later with more unanswered blows.
It would be the last time Silva successfully defended the middleweight title and the penultimate triumph in his record-setting run of 16 consecutive victories inside the Octagon.
Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva (UFC 162 - Watch on FIGHT PASS)
A year after vanquishing familiar foe Sonnen, Silva stepped in to defend the middleweight title against a new face in the 185-pound weight class — unbeaten rising star Chris Weidman.
“The All-American” debuted a little more than two years earlier, accumulating five straight victories to begin his UFC career, punctuated by a vicious second-round knockout win over Mark Munoz the previous summer.
Much like the two Sonnen fights, the challenger put the champion on the deck early in the first, sticking with a deep takedown attempt to get Silva on his back, but where Sonnen looked to grind, Weidman looked to land and pass, cracking Silva with a clean right hand while trying to clear his legs that got the champion’s attention. After stinging Silva with more ground-and-pound, Weidman dove on a heel hook attempt, forcing the Brazilian to defend, resulting in the two returning to their feet.
Silva walked himself to the fence and called Weidman in, but again, unlike Sonnen, the unbeaten challenger stayed within himself, popping “The Spider” with a couple clean shots. Silva showed complete disregard for the New York native’s striking, standing in front of him with his hands on his hips, static, only to eat another right hand, calling Weidman back to do it again seconds later. This time Silva offered some offense of his own, but the challenger was quick to dodge the attacks and get back to work.
It was a brazen, borderline disrespectful approach from the dominant champion, one that carried over into the second round and proved to be his undoing.
Silva started the second jawing at Weidman, feigning being dazed when the challenger missed with a strike attempt before defending a telegraphed takedown attempt with ease and telling Weidman the fight was going to be contested on the feet. When Weidman connected with a reaching left hook a little more than a minute into the round, Silva again feigned being rocked, but this time, Weidman caught him with the same punch as the champion looked to exit to his right and Silva collapsed to the canvas.
Quick follow-up blows prompted referee Herb Dean to step in and a new era in the middleweight division had begun.
Ronda Rousey vs. Alexis Davis (UFC 175 - Watch On FIGHT PASS)
For those with short memories, former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey was a force of nature, and no bout shows that more than this one.
After breaking the gender barrier in the UFC in February 2013, Rousey fought beyond the first round for the first time that December in her rematch with chief rival Miesha Tate, ultimately securing her eighth straight victory and first title defense in the second round. She kicked off her 2014 campaign with a 66-second mauling of fellow Olympic medalist Sara McMann and then upped the dominance ante with her performance against Davis four months and change later in Las Vegas.
A long time pro, Davis put together a five-fight winning streak at just the right time or the absolute wrong time, depending on who you’re asking, parlaying victories in her first three UFC outings into a championship opportunity opposite Rousey in the co-main event of UFC 175.
It took more time for referee Yves Lavigne to give his pre-fight instructions to both women than it did for Rousey to dispatch Davis, as they raced to the center of the Octagon and began trading punches. When Rousey cracked Davis with a right hand, the Canadian challenger reached for a takedown, resulting in Rousey executing a beautiful head-and-arm throw (koshi guruma) and unloading a torrent of unanswered punches to the dazed and trapped Davis.
The whole thing lasted 16 seconds and remains a blistering representation of Rousey at her absolute best.
Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald (UFC 189 - Watch On FIGHT PASS)
This is, without question, one of the greatest fights of all time.
Seven months earlier, Lawler capped off one of the most unexpected career comebacks in MMA history by edging out Johny Hendricks to claim the UFC welterweight title in their second of two closely contested, highly entertaining clashes that year. The resurgent veteran earned the opportunity to face Hendricks the first time by getting the better of MacDonald at UFC 167, landing on the happy side of a split decision verdict against the quiet, talented Canadian, and now they were poised to do it again.
More than six years later, I can still close my eyes and transport myself back to my seat on press row inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena as this fight played out — the crowd in such a frenzy as the welterweights beat the holy hell out of one another that the entire fight was soundtracked by a single long, enduring ovation.
When they stood across from each other at the close of the fourth round, their faces busted open and painted with blood, the building shook, everyone aware, in the moment, that we were witnessing something special.
When MacDonald rose from his stool as the fifth round loomed, blood continued to stream from his mouth, from his nose, and seemingly from his eyes, while Lawler motioned for the crowd to get up and make noise, his upper lip looking like someone had split it with an axe.
They touched gloves in the center before the round commenced, and when it did, they got right back after it, smashing each other with heavy strikes that opened up the crimson faucets connected to their faces, Lawler getting the better of the exchanges. Just before the first minute had passed, the champion hit the challenger with a straight right hand that prompted MacDonald to cover up and fall to the canvas; his body unable to absorb any more punishment.
Lawler marched around the Octagon ecstatic, shouting and celebrating, his upper lip butterflied at the right edge, his hands and gloves stained red with MacDonald’s blood.
What a fight.
What a freakin’ fight, man.
Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes (UFC 189 - Watch On FIGHT PASS)
One of the many wild things about the Lawler-MacDonald clash is that it wasn’t the main event.
That honor was originally intended for Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor, but when the Brazilian featherweight champion was forced from the contest earlier in the month, perennial contender Chad Mendes stepped up on short notice to face the surging Irish superstar, with an interim title hanging in the balance.
When the lights went down, the thousands of Irish in attendance roared, and Sinead O’Connor appeared on an elevated riser, belting out “The Foggy Dew” as “The Notorious” one saluted her, draped in the Irish tricolor on his way to the Octagon. Mendes followed, with Aaron Lewis crooning “Country Boy” amidst background chants of “Olé!” from the Irish faithful.
You could feel the electricity coursing throughout the venue.
Though it came together on short notice, the bout was positioned as a serious litmus test for McGregor — a chance to face a wrestler, one with powerful hands at that, and potentially answer questions about how he would contend with being taken down and controlled on the canvas.
McGregor started well, connecting with several clean punches and kicks, hemming Mendes in along the fence, applying constant pressure and talking at him all the while. Midway through the round, Mendes drove through a takedown, scooping McGregor into the air and depositing him on the canvas, but the Irishman worked back to his feet quickly. Mendes landed an overhand right soon after and blood trickled from a cut on the outside of McGregor’s right eye.
McGregor kept attacking with piercing kicks to the body and casual clean punches, only for Mendes to again drive through a takedown, attacking with punches and elbows, before trying to lock up a guillotine choke late in the opening stanza.
The second began with McGregor smiling across the cage at Mendes, calling him back into battle, only to race across the cage and resume pressuring him as soon as the action kicked off. McGregor continued kicking from range and defended the first takedown attempt of the round by Mendes, sprawling well and avoiding the re-shot, scrambling back to his feet and returning to his pressuring approach.
A straight left hand hurt Mendes and forced him to circle out, but he timed another entry and once again put McGregor on the deck, attacking with elbows from top position as McGregor looked to tie him up and counter from the bottom. Mendes again tried to drive on a guillotine choke, but failed to secure the hold, allowing the Irishman to get back to his feet with 40 seconds remaining in the frame.
McGregor didn’t let him escape the round.
Precise shots and suffocating pressure backed Mendes into a corner and a straight left hand put him down with limited time left on the clock. Follow-up blows finally ended it, sending the crowd into hysterics.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha (TUF 23 Finale - Watch on FIGHT PASS)
This is another classic bout with a deeper backstory than simply being a terrific fight that came together on a Friday night in Las Vegas.
Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha first met towards the end of 2014 in a title eliminator bout, each having won their respective UFC debuts earlier in the year. That fight took place a week after Carla Esparza was crowned the inaugural UFC strawweight champion and the winner would be the first to face “The Cookie Monster” for the belt in 2015.
Jedrzjeczyk won the fight by split decision and snatched the title away from Esparza three months later at UFC 185, making good on her promise to the media earlier in the week that they didn’t need to learn how to pronounce her last name properly because they were going to be able to call her “Joanna Champion” going forward.
Gadelha solidified her position as top contender with a win over Jessica Aguilar and then the rivals were tabbed to coach opposite one another on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter, where Team Claudia dominated the competition, claiming six of the eight semifinal positions, three of the four finals berths, and produced both tournament winners.
On the same night that Tatiana Suarez and Andrew Sanchez joined the roll call of Ultimate Fighter winners, Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha renewed hostilities inside the Octagon as well, and it was terrific.
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The Brazilian challenger started quickly, taking the fight to Jedrzejczyk, dropping her with a stiff jab less than 10 seconds into the contest. Gadelha did a good job pressuring Jedrzejczyk, forcing the champion to fight in close, wrestling her to the canvas multiple times, and landing quality shots when she put Jedrzjeczyk on the ground over the first two rounds. Gadelha looked slower, but still managed to find success early in the third, cracking Jedrzejczyk with multiple crisp counters and once again dragging her to the floor, though she failed to keep her there for too long or do much damage in those clinch and grappling exchanges.
Two minutes into the middle stanza, the champion started taking over and clawing her way back; pressuring the challenger and pestering her with constant little punches and kicks to the midsection designed to empty her already depleted energy reserves. Gadelha tried to stand her ground and landed a few clean shots in return, but Jedrzejczyk just stayed in her face, stayed on the gas pedal, and continued firing combinations at her rival.
When Jedrzejczyk worked her way free of a takedown attempt late in the round and walked back to the center of the Octagon, motioning for Gadelha to get to her feet and join her, you knew the tides had turned and “Joanna Champion” was set to take over, and that’s exactly what she did.
The final scorecards illustrate the shift in momentum, with Gadelha winning the first and second on all three cards and Jedrzejczyk sweeping the final three frames to successfully defend her title for the third time.
Amanda Nunes vs. Miesha Tate (UFC 200 - Watch on FIGHT PASS)
It’s funny how landmark moments don’t always feel that way when they’re happening, but turn into unforgettable origin points over time. Such is the case with this fight, which wasn’t supposed to headline UFC 200, but landed there after a series of late changes altered the makeup of this milestone event.
Tate was just under four months removed from winning the bantamweight title in spectacular fashion at UFC 196, rallying in the waning moments of the fight to secure a rear-naked choke and put Holly Holm to sleep. Nunes had fought on that card as well, holding on and holding off Valentina Shevchenko in a competitive bout that pushed her winning streak to three and put her in line to challenge for the belt.
Tate was the established figure — the defending champ coming off a career-defining victory — and Nunes was the mercurial challenger; someone that had flashed potential, but still felt a little unfinished as a fighter.
Nunes’ striking looked sharp early, and she quickly scrambled her way out of Tate’s first takedown attempt, doling out a heavy right hand as they reset for good measure. She stuffed the next two takedown attempts by the champion and stuck a jab in Tate’s face that straightened her up.
A right hand followed behind it. Then another. Another sharp jab cracked home, prompting Tate to back up and raise her guard as she circled on the outside, looking for ways to get inside and get this fight to the ground. A clean right hand as Tate dipped her got the titleholder to retreat, the challenger in hot pursuit, firing out power shots whenever in range.
As Tate ducked her head and threw a wild left, Nunes slipped out of the way and countered with a cracking right hand, following with another that forced Tate to fully cover up and back pedal. When the champion tripped along the fence, Nunes continued unloading, Tate’s face an absolute mess of blood and broken bones. After easily avoiding a desperation takedown attempt by Tate, Nunes climbed on her back, sinking in her hooks, lacing up a rear-naked choke.
Tate quickly tapped and a smiling Nunes celebrated, taking the place atop the division.
Nearly 1,900 days and five successful title defenses later, “The Lioness” is still the unquestioned queen of the bantamweight ranks and arguably the greatest female fighter of all time.
Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson (The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale - Watch on FIGHT PASS)
When I interviewed Gaethje ahead of this fight, his UFC debut, I asked him how he would describe his style to those that had never seen him compete before.
“Carnage,” he said.
For just a tick under 10 minutes on July 7, 2017, Gaethje and Johnson beat the holy hell out of one another, swinging hammers right out of the gate and never letting up until the waning seconds of the second round, when referee John McCarthy pulled the UFC newcomer off the former Ultimate Fighter finalist and seasoned lightweight stalwart.
These two maniacs threw a combined 374 total strikes in less than two rounds, every single one of them correctly registering as significant strikes because there weren’t any rangefinders or half-hearted offerings let loose in this one, only power shots.
Both men landed heavy blows that rocked the other and it looked like the human demolition derby everyone anticipated Gaethje’s debut would be, as the unbeaten lightweight drew Johnson into a brawl that was destined to end with one of them landing on the business end of a stoppage loss.
The thing with Gaethje — and Brian Stann articulated it perfectly during the contest — is that he forces opponents to fight this way, to fight on his terms because he’s unrelenting. No matter how much you try to move or what you hit him with, he keeps coming forward, keeps throwing hard leg kicks and heavy hands, cutting off the cage and giving you no option other than to stand and trade with him.
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Johnson tried, and truthfully held his own for much of the fight, rocking Gaethje in the late stages of the opening stanza and putting him on skates early in the second as well. But he couldn’t finish him and he couldn’t stand up to the avalanche of pressure and power shots coming his way late in the second.
Gaethje rocked Johnson with an uppercut with roughly 90 seconds remaining in the second round and never really let him recover, chopping at his legs, blasting him with heavy shots, finishing him with a knee to the head along the fence that left him sitting along the cage, his nose an open faucet of blood.
Gaethje fought twice in 2017 and both contests landed on the Fight of the Year podium. He’s earned nine bonuses in eight UFC appearances, and still hasn’t gone the distance inside the Octagon.
His fights are pure, unadulterated carnage, just as he promised.
Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic (UFC 226 - Watch on FIGHT PASS)
When Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic were each ticketed to defend their respective titles at UFC 220 in Boston at the start of 2018, everyone could see the groundwork being laid. While both had daunting challenges before them — Cormier against Volkan Oezdemir; Miocic opposite Francis Ngannou — the consensus thinking was that if both emerged victorious, a “Champion vs. Champion” clash for the heavyweight title later in the year was the only thing that made sense for each man.
Cormier held serve first, dominating Oezdemir and securing a second-round finish. Miocic followed suit in the main event, navigating some tricky spots early to demoralize and defeat the streaking Ngannou, setting up the midsummer clash to close out the annual International Fight Week pay-per-view in Las Vegas.
Miocic took the center of the cage as the fight commenced, walking Cormier down, looking to work from range. Circling on the outside, Cormier was bent on contesting this fight in close quarters, reaching to clinch with Miocic whenever the heavyweight champion waded in a little too far. It was a cat-and-mouse game between the two standouts, each man having minor successes in the opening moments of the contest.
Miocic sniped at Cormier as the light heavyweight titleholder stood in the center of the Octagon, landing two and three shots to Cormier’s one, building momentum before Cormier responded with a one-two of his own and an inadvertent eye poke momentarily pressed pause on the action.
Miocic continued being the aggressor on the restart, and both men threw and landed good shots as the seconds ticked down in the opening round. They briefly clinched in the center of the Octagon with 30 seconds remaining, and when Miocic went to exit, Cormier cracked him with a short right hook that put him on the deck. Three clean blows quickly followed and the fight was halted.
Daniel Cormier was the new UFC heavyweight champion and the latest fighter to earn “Double Champ” status.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Ben Askren (UFC 239 - Watch on FIGHT PASS)
Heading into 2019, Masvidal was a journeyman on a two-fight losing streak.
Now when I say journeyman, I don’t mean it in the disrespectful way some have opted to use it these days, but rather in the true, original intention, as a means of describing a veteran fighter that has built a lengthy career for themselves facing tough competition while never quite reaching championship status.
Masvidal was a hardcore favorite — a guy that came up fighting in Miami backyards alongside Kimbo Slice and worked his way through an alphabet soup of organizations and promotions, flashing slick boxing, tremendous takedown defense, and effortless cool at every turn — but it wasn’t until he knocked out Darren Till in London and followed it up with a backstage scuffle with Leon Edwards that the wider audience started to pay attention.
That brouhaha backstage at the O2 Arena resulted in the infamous “three piece and a soda” line being dropped and propelled “Gamebred” to a new level of attention in the UFC. When he was paired off with Askren in a main card bout at UFC 239, the talkative rivals jawed with one another non-stop in the build to the fight, upping the ante on the already intriguing matchup.
When the introductions ended and the bout was about to begin, Masvidal stood with his hands behind his back along the fence, a wide smile on his face.
Referee Jason Herzog asked each man if they were ready and when he said, “Fight,” Masvidal took a shuffle step to the right, sprinted towards the center of the Octagon, and elevated, hitting Askren with a perfectly executed flying knee as the wrestler dipped his head.
The follow-up blows were academic — Askren was out and a new UFC record for the fastest knockout had been established. Masvidal relished in the moment, getting in the fallen Askren’s face initially before mugging for the camera and playfully crashing to the canvas in a heap.
He’d call the two follow-up blows “super necessary” at his post-fight media availability, issuing another saying into the MMA lexicon, propelling himself to superstar status in the process.