As the UFC’s debut in Paris draws near, we continue our tour through collections of European competitors and contests with a look at a number of memorable moments that transpired on European soil.
These aren’t necessarily the best fights to take place across the Atlantic — though there are some bangers in the bunch — but rather big moments that took place in different European outposts, and we’ll be sure to explain why the mattered so much.
Sit back, read on, and relive the moments.
Matt Hughes def Carlos Newton (UFC 38)
The main event of the first UFC event held in the United Kingdom, this was also a rematch of one of the most controversial fights in UFC history.
In their first meeting at UFC 34, Hughes entered as the challenger and was stuck in a triangle choke early in the second round. He hoisted Newton into the air, resting his elevated body against the top of the cage, before slamming him to the canvas… or did he? Hughes didn’t initially celebrate, giving credence to the argument that he was out, and slammed Newton to the canvas because he passed out in the choke.
Nonetheless, the American entered the Octagon at Royal Albert Hall as the welterweight champion and left the same way, successfully defending his title with a fourth-round stoppage win over “The Ronin,” dominating throughout with his wrestling. At multiple times, he moved into a mounted crucifix and dropped elbows, the same position he eventually used to finish the fight.
This was a massive rematch and bringing a championship fight to London signaled that the UFC was more than willing to showcase its best and brightest abroad, not just at home.
Gabriel Gonzaga def. Mirko Cro Cop (UFC 70)
In 2006, Cro Cop won the PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix by defeating Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett in the same night. He made his UFC debut five months later, earning a first-round stoppage win over Eddie Sanchez, and was expected to challenge Randy Couture for the heavyweight title with a victory over Gonzaga.
The Brazilian had other ideas.
After controlling the majority of the round from top position, roughing up the Croatian superstar from inside his guard, they were stood up by referee Herb Dean with 35 seconds remaining in the opening round. As they reset and looked for openings, Gonzaga unleashed a high kick from out of nowhere that caught Cro Cop clean, knocking him out cold.
It was “right leg, hospital” indeed, but this time, it was the former PRIDE standout on the receiving end and not his opponent.
This was one of those “Where were you when it happened?” moments as the UFC was really starting to gather momentum and grow as a promotion in the mid-to-late aughts.
BJ Penn def. Joe Stevenson (UFC 80)
If you ever want to know why fans of a certain age will fight you to the death for dismissing or discrediting “The Prodigy,” pull up this fight and you’ll start to understand why.
With the vacant lightweight title hanging in the balance, the former welterweight champ and MMA icon Penn and TUF 2 winner Stevenson were tabbed to face off in Newcastle to determine the new top man in the 155-pound weight class.
Penn stung Stevenson three seconds into the fight, sitting him down in the center of the Octagon. While Stevenson recovered, he was stuck on bottom, eating short punches and elbows, one of which split “Joe Daddy” wide open along his hairline, leaving him pouring blood underneath Penn at the end of the round.
The late Leon Tabbs worked hard to deal with the gash, but even the legendary cutman couldn’t stem the flow of blood from Stevenson’s forehead. While he came out fired up to start the second, Penn patiently poked at the cut with clean punches before putting Stevenson back on the deck just ahead of the halfway point of the round.
From there, it was academic, as Penn worked to mount and sunk in a rear-naked choke when Stevenson gave up his back.
Penn finally earned the lightweight title that had previously eluded him, joining Randy Couture as the second fighter to hold championship gold in two different weight classes.
Carlos Condit def. Dan Hardy (UFC 120)
Not only was this a massive matchup in the welterweight division and a tremendous opportunity for Hardy to fight at home following his gutsy effort opposite Georges St-Pierre a little more than six months earlier, but it’s also the closest we’ve come to seeing a double knockout inside the Octagon.
Condit was on the ascent, having earned consecutive victories over Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald following his debut split decision loss to Martin Kampmann following an impressive reign as WEC welterweight champion. Hardy was a massive star at home and growing star abroad, having parlayed four straight victories to begin his UFC career into a championship opportunity against St-Pierre. While he was defeated, “The Outlaw” hung tough throughout, proving he belonged in the upper tier of 170-pound weight class.
The two showed respect for each other early, taking hard kicks at range, cautious to wade into the pocket too frequently or carelessly. Hardy landed with a couple different left hooks, smiling each time it found its home, but Condit was never too bothered; taking the blow without pause and returning fire when he could.
As the duo started to settle in a few minutes into the fight, they each started letting go with their strikes a little more freely, with Hardy continuing to hunt the left hook. He found a home for it again a couple times and appeared to sting Condit at one point, filling him with confidence, prompting him to press forward with a little more assuredness.
He kept searching for the chin with the left hook — again and again and again — and as Condit stepped into the pocket, Hardy looked for it once more, but was beaten to the punch. “The Natural Born Killer” detonated a left hook of his own on Hardy’s chin and the fight was over in a flash.
If you watch the replay, Hardy landed and caused Condit to stagger to his left, but the American connected quicker and with more force, dropping the Brit and bringing the fight to a close.
Conor McGregor def. Diego Brandao (UFN 46)
It took two fights for McGregor to become a burgeoning superstar in the UFC, but in that second contest, the Irishman tore his ACL, forcing him to the sidelines.
Not only was this his return, but it came in his hometown of Dublin, in the main event of an electric night of action at The 02 Arena. The official numbers say there were 9,500 people in attendance, but even through the television screen, it felt like there were two or three times as many people there.
Each time McGregor landed, they roared in unison before a chorus of “Ole!” echoed through the arena. They were in full throat throughout, and when McGregor started landing more frequently on the tiring Brandao, they somehow found another octave, and when the finish came, the roof came off the gaff!
Less than a year later, McGregor captured the interim featherweight title, and five months after that, he knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds. This wasn’t where his ascent to superstar status began, but it’s where it kicked into hyperdrive.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk def. Jessica Penne (UFN 69)
Three months after claiming the title in a not-quite-two-round mugging of Carla Esparza, “Joanna Champion” ventured to Berlin, Germany to defend the strawweight belt for the first time against Jessica Penne, the bronze medalist from Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter.
When a fighter wins a title in such dominant fashion as Jedrzejczyk did at UFC 185, you always want to see the next appearance just to make sure that it wasn’t a one-off performance or a function of a highly favorable matchup playing out just perfectly. It didn’t take long for the Polish titleholder to show that her effort against Esparza was the norm, not an exception.
It took a little longer than her championship-winning effort, but Jedrzejczyk battered Penne just as viciously as she solidified her position atop the division. She was equal parts technical and violent, never letting off the gas as she worked over the over-matched challenger.
If the win over Esparza was her introduction to the wider MMA world, this was Jedrzejczyk’s coming out party.
Michael Bisping def. Anderson Silva (UFN 84)
At the time, this felt like a terrific matchup between two veteran middleweights and the perfect type of bout to headline the UFC’s annual trip to London.
Silva was a couple years from his second loss to Chris Weidman and fighting for the first time in a year, while Bisping had won two straight to remain stationed in the middle of the Top 10 as the perennial fringe contender that could never quite get over the final hurdle.
They really started trading towards the end of the first, with Bisping staggering the Brazilian legend, dropping him again in the final minute of the second, as well. Late in the third, Silva started coming on, and when Bisping motioned to referee about his dislodged gumshield, the former champion elevated and planted a flying knee on his chin, knocking him down just as the horn sounded signaling the end of the round.
Silva celebrated, believing he’d scored a walk-off victory, but that wasn’t the case. Neither man had any real time in the corner due to the controversy, and when the fight resumed, the bloodied Bisping refused to give the Brazilian any ground, only for Silva to come forward and pressure towards the end of the round.
With the fight likely hanging in the balance, both had their moments in the fifth — Silva landing the bigger individual shots, Bisping pressing forward with volume as always — and when the scores were read aloud, “The Count” erupted in celebration, earning a unanimous decision victory.
At the time, it was the biggest win of his career and a crowning moment to an excellent career. Four months later, he’d win the middleweight title on short-notice with an unexpected first-round knockout victory over long-time rival Luke Rockhold.
Michael Bisping def. Dan Henderson (UFC 204)
After winning the title in June, Bisping got the chance to defend on home soil in October, seeking to avenge his UFC 100 loss to Dan Henderson in Manchester.
That fight — and particularly the way it ended — always bothered Bisping, as Henderson landed an unnecessary forearm smash to Bisping after twisting his jaw and sending him unconscious to the canvas. To make matters worse, Henderson then turned it into his version of Michael Jordan’s “Jumpman” logo, making it an ever-present reminder of his worst night in the cage for the newly minted middleweight champ.
Unlike the first meeting, which lasted a little more than a round-and-a-half, the second encounter between the two went the distance, though there were more than a couple moments where it felt like the judges wouldn’t not be needed. It was close, but the champion retained his belt, earning a measure of revenge and a successful title defense in front of a partisan crowd.
This would end up being Bisping’s final UFC victory, as he lost the title a year later to Georges St-Pierre and ultimately retired following a first-round knockout loss to Kelvin Gastelum. He was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2019.
Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev (UFN 127)
Paul Craig is the submission version of Derrick Lewis in that it doesn’t matter what kind of miserable situation he’s in or hellacious beating he’s already taken, the wily Scotsman is capable of submitting you at any time if you’re not careful.
That mystique took root after this fight in London.
For 14:50 of the 15-minute affair, Ankalaev largely got the better of things, the undefeated debuting light heavyweight showcasing his diverse array of skills against Craig, who entered having dropped his first two UFC appearances, each by first-round stoppage. As the clackers sounded to signal the end of the third round — and the fight — Ankalaev was lingering in Craig’s guard, the Scottish fighter maintaining wrist control.
As Ankalaev reared back to throw a punch, Craig let go of the wrist and threw up a triangle choke, instantly locking it in tight and pulling down on the Russian’s head. Ankalaev tapped and the air horn sounded one second later.
Craig had snatched victory — his first UFC victory at that — from the jaws of defeat. Four years later, he did something similar to Nikita Krylov, though this time, he took a little under four minutes’ worth of punishment before sinking in the triangle choke and securing the win.
Jorge Masvidal def. Darren Till (UFC 147)
This was supposed to be a triumphant return to the Octagon on British soil for Liverpool’s Till, who lost to Tyron Woodley in a welterweight championship bout six months earlier at UFC 228. It was the first loss of his career, and the pairing with Till was viewed at the time as a sound pairing, but a very winnable fight for the Team Kaobon man.
It looked to be headed that way early, as Till dropped Masvidal with the first left hand he threw. While the veteran scrambled and recovered well, Till continued to land the better blows of the round, smashing home another left hand just after the midway point and pressuring Masvidal throughout.
Masvidal came out a little more aggressive following a restart early in the second, looking to wrestle, but Till dealt with it well and continued to be the aggressor, looking to impose his will on the veteran. But as they both reset in the center of the Octagon, Masvidal jumped forward, throwing a right and a left, the latter catching Till’s chin and sending him crashing to the canvas.
Rather than jumpstart a return to form for the British welterweight, the March main event in London served as the jumping off point for “The Year of Gamebred,” which continued with his “three-piece and a soda” backstage followed by his record-setting knockout win over Ben Askren and culminated with his BMF title victory over Nathan Diaz at Madison Square Garden.