Next Saturday night’s main event is a going to be big.
After nearly two full years away from the Octagon, the first man to ever hold championship gold in two divisions simultaneously, “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, will end his hiatus and return to face the unbeaten, unstoppable Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title in the main event of UFC 229 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It is a fight that has been brewing since before McGregor made his first UFC appearance in the 155-pound weight class at UFC 205, where he knocked out Eddie Alvarez claim his second title, and the anticipation and excitement surrounding this dream pairing has only continued to grow.
When tensions between the two sides exploded in April with McGregor’s actions in the bowels of Barclays Center in advance of UFC 223, the question shifted from would he and Nurmagomedov ever share the cage together to when would it happen.
After months of waiting, it will finally take place next weekend.
The UFC 229 main event is one of the biggest fights in history – an epic clash between a flamboyant showman who has backed up all of his bravado with his performances inside the Octagon and a quiet, unflappable, undefeated fighter who has dominated everyone he’s faced to date.
These are the iconic bouts it will be measured against.
This is The 10: The Biggest Fights in UFC History.
Note: these are in chronological order.
Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock – UFC 40 (November 22, 2002) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
While the rivalry between these two dated back to UFC 18 and UFC 19 when Ortiz beat Lion’s Den representatives Jerry Bohlander and Guy Mezger in back-to-back appearances, talking trash and donning t-shirts emblazoned with insulting statements, the duo would square off for the first time several years later, as Shamrock returned to the UFC following a high profile and relatively successful stint in the WWF.
This fight got the full-court press in terms of media at the time, with Ortiz and Shamrock appearing on The Best Damn Sports Show Period as well as ESPN and USA Today.
Shamrock was the mainstream draw because of his time in the WWF, but Ortiz was the superior talent, having already successfully defended his UFC light heavyweight title four times. Plus, the heat between the two was obvious and it resulted in a massive surge in attention for the event.
UFC 40 not only established a new high water mark for Pay-Per-View buy rates and UFC gate receipts at the MGM Grand at the time, but it also became the starting point for the three-fight series between Ortiz and Shamrock.
Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz – UFC 47 (April 2, 2004) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
It took a while to make it happen, but the delays only ended up making this light heavyweight clash even bigger.
Ortiz and Liddell were the two biggest names in the UFC at the time – a pair of highly recognizable, elite talents who had been circling each other for more than a year. Ortiz initially stalled, suggesting that as friends and former training partners, he and Liddell made a pact never to face one another. Liddell refuted the claim and accused “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” of ducking him.
Finally, on an early April night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, the two most recognizable talents in the UFC stood across the cage from each other. When the dust settled, Liddell walked away with a second-round stoppage win and the UFC had another major Pay-Per-View success.
Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture – UFC 52 (April 16, 2005) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Just a year after Liddell and Ortiz captivated the sport, this second fight between Couture and “The Iceman” was even bigger.
The difference-maker was The Ultimate Fighter</, which debuted earlier in the year with Liddell and Couture coaching two teams of aspiring UFC fighters and aired on Spike TV.
One week earlier, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar engaged in an epic back-and-forth in light heavyweight finals of the reality TV competition that stands as one of the most significant moments in UFC history. The following Saturday, it was time for the legendary coaches to throw down, and after Couture came away from their first encounter with a knockout win, the second ended with Liddell returning the favor and kicking off his reign as the UFC light heavyweight champion.
Georges St-Pierre vs. BJ Penn – UFC 94 (January 31, 2009) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
This fight was everything.
It was a rematch between two fighters who had battled to a split decision in a title eliminator clash where the outcome is still debated to this day.
It was a meeting of two of the absolute best fighters on the planet, colliding at the peak of their powers, coming off their most impressive performances to date.
It was the first time two UFC champions squared off against one another, with St-Pierre’s welterweight title hanging in the balance.
The anticipation for this fight was off the charts and it was amplified through UFC Primetime, a three-part series that detailed each man’s preparations in advance of the fight.
St-Pierre earned a fourth-round stoppage win, further solidifying his standing as the top welterweight in the world, while Penn would return to the lightweight ranks and pick up right where he left off before venturing up in weight to face his French-Canadian rival for a second time.
To this day, it might be the best fight ever put together by the UFC. Others have been more impressive once the Octagon door was closed and locked and the action commenced, but in terms of where the participants were at in their careers, in their athletic capabilities and their overall skill sets, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pairing.
Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir – UFC 100 (July 11, 2009) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Rivalries often birth really big fights and at the time, there was no bigger rivalry than the feud between Lesnar and Mir, and the second meeting between the tandem heavyweight titleholders that closed out the UFC’s centennial celebration in Las Vegas was enormous.
Mir bested Lesnar in his promotional debut, tapping out the UFC neophyte in less than two minutes, but not before the former WWE superstar showed flashes of dangerous potential. The loss – and Mir’s comments following in the months following the fight – stuck in Lesnar’s craw and when the two men each ended up with a heavyweight title in their possession, a bout to unify the belts and settle this feud was an automatic.
UFC 100 featured the best fight card the promotion had ever put together, with TUF coaches Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping meeting in the middle fight of the main card and St-Pierre defending his welterweight title against Thiago Alves in the penultimate fight of the night.
But the main attraction was the rematch between Lesnar and Mir and it exceeded expectations, with Lesnar gaining a measure of revenge by viciously finishing Mir in the second round in one of the most iconic events of all-time.
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen – UFC 117 (August 7, 2010) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
There aren’t many people who would disagree if you suggested that the middleweight title clash between Silva and Sonnen was the most anticipated fight in UFC history at the time.
Sonnen used a solid, but unspectacular, three-fight winning streak combined with his otherworldly ability to command attention whenever he had a microphone in his hand to turn a fight that many viewed as a foregone conclusion into one of the biggest fights of all-time. The veteran middleweight waged a campaign of verbal warfare on Silva, his teammates, his training partners, and the entire country of Brazil, delivering incendiary remarks every chance he got in hopes of getting under the Brazilian standout’s skin and knocking him off his game.
He promised to dominate Silva in the Octagon and halt his lengthy winning streak, a claim that was laughable coming from the career journeyman, right up until the point where he nearly pulled it off.
Through four rounds, people sat transfixed, their jaws on the floor as Sonnen wrestled his way to a commanding lead on the scorecards, leaving Silva in need of a fifth-round finish in order to retain his title.
What transpired in the final two minutes of the frame is etched in the memories of fight fans the world over, and the UFC 117 main event will forever recognized as one of the biggest fights of all-time.
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos – UFC on FOX (November 12, 2011) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
It feels like this one gets lost in the shuffle because it ended so abruptly, but make no mistake about it: this was one of the biggest fights in UFC history.
The heavyweight title was being defended in the first-ever UFC bout to be broadcast on network TV; a little on-air appetizer before the UFC’s multi-year broadcast partnership with FOX kicked off in earnest in 2012.
In one corner stood Velasquez, the unbeaten, reigning, defending, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world; 9-0 and a year removed from defeating Lesnar in their headlining clash at UFC 121.
In the other corner was Dos Santos, who had matched Velasquez win-for-win as they ascended the heavyweight rankings, fresh off a blistering effort against Shane Carwin at UFC 131 in Vancouver.
These were the two best heavyweights on the planet and they were throwing down live, on network television.
The broadcast averaged 5.7 million viewers and peaked with 8.8 million people tuning in to see Dos Santos dethrone Velasquez just 64 seconds into the fight.
With numbers like that, there is no room for debate; this one unquestionably deserves as a place on this list.
Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor – UFC 194 (December 12, 2015) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
If you were to rank these fights – or your own selections for the biggest fights in UFC history – you would have to put this one at the top of the list.
There has simply never been a bigger fight than this.
The build started in earnest in the summer of 2014, in Dublin, Ireland, when McGregor returned to action and sent the packed house at the O2 Arena into hysterics by sparking Diego Brandao in the very first round. Two months later, he’d do the same to Dustin Poirier at UFC 178 and four months after that, McGregor felled Dennis Siver in Boston, jumping over the cage wall to get in the face of the one and only featherweight champion in UFC history, Jose Aldo, setting the stage for an epic summer showdown.
The duo embarked on a 12-day, eight-city, five-country world tour promoting the bout, which was positioned as the main event at UFC 189, but a little over two weeks before the July 11 fight card in Las Vegas, Aldo was forced to withdraw after suffering an injury during training camp.
McGregor stayed on the card and stopped Chad Mendes to claim the interim featherweight title in front of a raucous crowd at the MGM Grand, which only further increased the anticipation for his showdown with Aldo.
When the two finally met at UFC 194, it somehow managed to exceed expectations, not only in terms of the buzz and electricity that coursed through Las Vegas throughout fight week and the record-breaking numbers the event delivered at the box office, but in terms of the bout itself as well.
Just 13 seconds after it started, McGregor finished it and nothing has been the same since.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz II – UFC 202 (August 20, 2016) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Five months earlier, a fight cobbled together from the ashes of a scuttled “Champion vs. Champion” clash captivated the MMA world and became a massive success.
Filling in on short notice for the injured Rafael Dos Anjos, Diaz agreed to meet McGregor at welterweight at UFC 196 and after an entertaining press conference, they met in the Octagon and Stockton’s favorite son did the unthinkable.
After taking a round to get loose and being on the wrong end of the exchanges through the first half of the second round, Diaz tagged McGregor and shifted the momentum in his favor. And when the fight hit the canvas, he forced the Irish superstar to tap out in the center of the Octagon.
McGregor immediately requested a rematch and after some delays, the duo was paired off for a second time in the main event of UFC 202 in Las Vegas.
The outcome of their first fight combined with the incredible popularity of the two fighters turned this into the most anticipated fight in UFC history.
In the cage, McGregor drew level, surviving another Diaz rally to leave the cage with a majority decision win after another wildly entertaining clash.
With the score even at 1-1 and both men set to return to the Octagon in the coming weeks, could a rubber match be on the horizon?
Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones - UFC 214 (July 29, 2017) (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
A rematch, a grudge match and a battle of arguably the top two fighters in the sport, last summer’s second meeting between Cormier and Jones also carried a ton of questions and tremendous amounts of anticipation.
Jones won the first meeting, earning the unanimous decision victory at UFC 182 and handing Cormier his first loss. Soon after, he was stripped of the light heavyweight title and suspended, with Cormier claiming the vacant belt, adding another layer of animosity to this permanently simmering rivalry. Jones took shots at “DC” from the sidelines and Cormier fired back at “Bones,” the two constantly adding fuel to the fire for the rematch everyone knew was inevitable.
The false starts along the way only increased the excitement surrounding the fight.
First, it was Cormier who was forced to withdraw just a few weeks before UFC 197, where Jones returned and claimed an interim title with a safe, solid victory over Ovince Saint Preux. Then it was Jones who would cause a delay, as days before the duo was set to meet at UFC 200, he was pulled from the fight for a potential anti-doping violation. Cormier was crestfallen, but carried on, earning two more victories and continuing to trade verbal jabs with Jones every chance he got.
Finally, the two faced off for a second time at UFC 214.
Could Cormier get the victory he needed to draw level with his chief rival? Would Jones return from another lengthy layoff to pick up where he left off? Would they bury the hatchet, regardless of the outcome?
After two close rounds to start the fight where Cormier was the aggressor and Jones worked the body, Jones caught Cormier with a high kick that sent him stumbling backwards and brought about the end of the fight. “DC” was reduced to tears in the cage and Jones gave credit to his adversary for bringing the best out of him.
Easily the biggest fight of 2017, it’s still a major topic of discussion today because of what happened in the aftermath.
A month after the contest, Jones was notified of another potential anti-doping violation and the result was overturned. Cormier was reinstalled as light heavyweight champion and has since gone on to add the heavyweight title to his mantle, while Jones has been sidelined, trying to find a way back to the cage.
Just two weeks ago, it was announced that Jones would be eligible to return at the end of October and as soon as the news was official, talk of a third fight started, with Jones leading the charge through social media and Cormier responding in kind.
As big as their second meeting was - and it was massive - a third meeting between the two could be even bigger.