July has always featured massive UFC events, with November and December routinely playing host to crucial fight cards and memorable events as well, but May has been a sneaky-good month for the promotion over the years.
From early events featuring the debuts of future champions like Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell to successful shows over Memorial Day weekend and Fight Night cards that have frequently delivered memorable contests, the fifth month of the year has produced some gems.
Before this year’s trio of international events gets a chance to add some instant classics to this list, here’s a look back at some of the top contests and cards to take place inside the Octagon in the month of May.
This is The 10.
UFC 31: Still one of the best cards ever
On “Star Wars Day” 2001, the UFC arrived at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey for UFC 31: Locked and Loaded, an eight-fight affair that remains one of the greatest events in the organization’s history.
The final preliminary card bout of the evening featured the MMA debut of the first non-Brazilian to win a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world championship in the black belt division, which earned him the nickname, “The Prodigy.” In his first Octagon appearance, BJ Penn finished Joey Gilbert with two seconds remaining in the opening round.
In addition to featuring Chuck Liddell knocking out former heavyweight champ Kevin Randleman, the main card also included Shonie Carter’s unforgettable spinning back fist finish of Matt Serra, Carlos Newton dethroning Pat Miletich as welterweight champion and the 2001 Fight of the Year between heavyweight champ Randy Couture and Pedro Rizzo.
This wasn’t so much a “passing of the torch” as a member of the next generation punching arguably the most iconic name from the early days of the UFC square in the face and making sure that everyone knew a new day had dawned inside the Octagon.
Hughes was in the midst of his second reign as welterweight champion, having defeated Georges St-Pierre, beaten Frank Trigg for a second time and turned back Joe Riggs before welcoming Gracie back to the UFC. More than a decade removed from his last Octagon appearance, the Brazilian legend remained one of the most recognizable names in the sport, leading this event to become one that captivated diehard fans and those who hadn’t followed the sport since Gracie’s UFC heyday in the early and mid-90s.
The bout began tentatively, with Hughes picking his shots in space before finally spinning Gracie to the canvas 90 seconds into the frame. He controlled the action on the canvas against the Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout, threatening with a straight armbar before floating over to take Gracie’s back and pounding out the finish.
Seven years after making his promotional debut, Penn had won the welterweight title and returned from a three-year hiatus from the Octagon to claim the lightweight title that eluded him earlier in his career.
After claiming the belt with a blistering performance against Joe Stevenson, the Hawaiian superstar defended his belt for the first time against former champion Sherk in the main event of 2008’s Memorial Day fight card in Las Vegas.
In the first, Penn pieced up Sherk with his crisp boxing, popping a mouse under the former champion’s right eye with his jab and landing the cleaner shots. The second saw Penn begin to pull away as he continued to crack home hard punches, sending Sherk back to the corner in need of repairs. The pace slowed somewhat in the third, but it was more of the same until the final moments, when Penn unleashed one of the most memorable finishing sequences in UFC history.
As the “10 Second” clacker sounded, Penn chased Sherk into the fence with a series of punches before catching him with a perfect jumping knee to the chin as Sherk rebounded off the fence. A torrent of punches followed and the horn sounded, seemingly saving Sherk from defeat, but as Penn walked back to his corner, he turned towards his felled opponent, who was still struggling to rise from the canvas and motioned with his hands to wave off the fight.
Seconds later, the bout was called, leaving no doubt that “Lightweight Champion BJ” was a certified badass.
Dustin Poirier put on a Fight of the Year contender with Justin Gaethje earlier this month in Arizona, but that’s nothing new for “The Diamond,” as he’s been turning in memorable performances throughout his UFC career.
The same can be said of Chan Sung Jung, who debuted in the UFC by finishing Leonard Garcia with the first (and only) successful Twister submission in the history of the organization and has never been in a boring fight in his entire North American career.
Paired off in Fairfax, Virginia in this headlining featherweight clash, the perennial standouts didn’t disappoint, going toe-to-toe in an electric contest that culminated with “The Korean Zombie” locking up a deep D’Arce choke just over a minute into the championship rounds.
If you haven’t seen this fight, bookmark this page, go watch it and thank me later.
UFC 146: Battle of the Heavyweights
This remains one of the most memorable Pay-Per-View events in UFC history, as it marked the first time the company delivered an all-heavyweight main card and each of the five big boy clashes ended inside of two rounds.
From a novelty standpoint, seeing five consecutive heavyweight scraps is an intriguing selling point, as the division routinely produces the highest ratio of finishes to fights in the UFC and the allure of a main card stacked with explosive potential was compelling. In terms of the division itself, UFC 146 helped delineate things going forward, as top contenders and emerging talents all took to the cage before champion Junior Dos Santos was set to defend his title for the first time against former champ Frank Mir.
The entire main card took less than 22 minutes of fight time, as Stefan Struve, Stipe Miocic and Roy Nelson logged impressive stoppage victories before Cain Velasquez mauled Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Dos Santos put away Mir in the second round, setting the stage for his second of three bouts against Velasquez.
This was a great way to shine a spotlight on the division and something that could work in various divisions right now.
UFC Fight Night: Headliners Brown and Silva shine in Cincinnati
Matt Brown was on the verge of being cut after suffering four losses in the span of five fights before he rattled off a series of exciting, violent victories to emerge as an unlikely contender in the welterweight division.
Erick Silva arrived in the UFC with a ton of hype and had proven to be a wildly entertaining action fighter, even though he struggled to find consistency in the Octagon, alternating wins and losses through his first seven appearances.
Paired off in the main event of a hometown fight for Brown, who hails from Jamestown, about an hour northeast of Cincinnati, the duo combined to deliver a two rounds and two minutes tornado of a contest to close out the company’s first trip back to “The 513” in more than half-a-dozen years.
They got nose-to-nose while Herb Dean was giving them final instructions and started beating the hell out of each other as soon as the fight began. Silva folded Brown over with a body kick in the opening minute and seemed poised to put him away, but “The Immortal” lived up to his moniker, rising from the canvas to take the fight to the Brazilian with his signature brand of ferociousness.
The second was another five-minute back-and-forth where both men took a fair share of damage and doled out equal amounts in return before Brown was finally able to put Silva away two minutes and change into the third.
This is one of the most entertaining, enjoyable fights of the last 10 years.
UFC 173: Dillashaw claims gold; Cormier earns title shot
Injuries and adjustments changed the complexion of the card in the weeks leading up to 2014’s Memorial Day event in Las Vegas, but the action built to a crescendo and when the night was over, a new contender had emerged in the light heavyweight division and the bantamweight ranks had a new ruler.
Three months after making his divisional debut, Daniel Cormier earned himself a title shot with a one-sided drubbing of Dan Henderson. If you were to just happen upon this fight in passing on television, you might think you were watching a WWE squash match – that’s how badly Cormier rag-dolled the former two-divisional PRIDE world champion.
In running through Henderson, Cormier pushed his record to 15-0 overall and set the stage for a championship showdown with Jon Jones, giving birth to what remains the most heated, contentious rivalry in the UFC today.
Originally scheduled to face Takeya Mizugaki, TJ Dillashaw jumped at the chance to challenge Renan Barao for the bantamweight title, and deploying a movement-based game plan full of feints and attacking from angles, he battered the Brazilian. Despite being ahead on the scorecards, Dillashaw continued to press forward in the fifth and finished Barao midway through the frame, becoming the first member of Team Alpha Male to claim a UFC title.
UFC 187: A wild night in Las Vegas
Things were progressing somewhat anticlimactically over the course of the night inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena following the first bout of the main card. Most of the favorites had earned victories and all but two of the opening seven bouts ended inside the distance.
Then Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne delivered one of the most chaotic, enjoyable, one-round fights in recent memory and Donald Cerrone followed it up by punishing John Makdessi, who gallantly stepped up to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov at the last minute and came away with a broken jaw for his troubles.
In the co-main event, Chris Weidman retained the middleweight title, weathering an early flurry to pound out a finish against Vitor Belfort in less than three minutes before Daniel Cormier survived a thunderous right hand from Anthony Johnson right out of the chute to claim the vacant light heavyweight title with a third-round submission win over “Rumble.”
As far as four-fight stretches on Pay-Per-View events go, there aren’t many better than this in recent memory.
UFC 198: “I’m the World Champ! I’m the World Champ!”
The UFC’s first venture to Curitiba, Brazil and fourth stadium show was a showcase of some of the country’s top talents, but will ultimately be remembered for a changing of the guard atop the heavyweight division.
When the action shifted to the main card, Bryan Barberena spoiled the host nation’s perfect evening by upsetting Warlley Alves, but “Shogun” Rua edged out Corey Anderson to get Brazil back in the win column before Cris Cyborg earned a first-round stoppage win over Leslie Smith in her long overdue Octagon debut and “Jacare” Souza collected the same result in an all-Brazilian battle with Vitor Belfort in the penultimate fight of the night.
Just under three minutes into the main event, Stipe Miocic silenced the crowd, planting his right foot and putting a clean right hand on Fabricio Werdum’s jaw as the heavyweight champion came charging forward recklessly. Electrified by his performance, Miocic scaled the cage and celebrated on the apron with his coaches and corners, repeatedly shouting, “I’m the World Champ!”
UFC 211: Everything is Bigger in Texas
Last year’s May offering on Pay-Per-View was an absolute gem that provided intrigue and excitement from start to finish.
The UFC FIGHT PASS prelims delivered strong showings from Gadzhimurad Antigulov, Enrique Barzola and Cortney Casey, while all four of the televised preliminary card fights ended inside the distance, culminating with the wild nine-minute battle between Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier that everyone and their grandmother wants to see resolved at some point in the future.
After a tepid start to the main card, business picked up with Frankie Edgar showing Yair Rodriguez that “there are levels to this” and Demian Maia eking out a split decision win over the always-game Jorge Masvidal.
In the co-main event, Joanna Jedrzejczyk retained her women’s strawweight title with a master class in movement and precision striking against the relentless and underappreciated (at the time) Jessica Andrade before Stipe Miocic successfully defended his heavyweight belt and gained a measure of revenge by stopping former champ Junior Dos Santos, who had edged out the proud Ohio native in a five-round battle two years earlier.