Red Sox vs. Yankees. North Carolina vs. Duke. Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier.
The fabric of sport is woven with rivalries – opponents whose frequent encounters and hostile history has a way of elevating each game, each series, each fight into something bigger.
On Saturday, April 23 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the most fierce rivalry currently raging on in the UFC will reach a boiling point as Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones step into the Octagon for a second time. This time around, however, it will be Cormier entering last, carrying the UFC light heavyweight title and Jones playing the role of challenger.
It’s with that in mind that we look back at some of the greatest rivalries in UFC history.
DANIEL CORMIER VS. JON JONES
With these two readying to renew acquaintances in 720 hours (not that we’re counting), kicking off this list with the light heavyweight rivals only makes sense.
Cormier and Jones have been clear about their dislike for one another from Jump Street and it stems mostly from outside the cage incidents, starting with a flippant comment made by Jones while he was on the way up that rubbed the two-time Olympian the wrong way. Since then, it has only escalated, with the two getting into a physical altercation and numerous verbal battles while promoting their first fight.
In the wake of Jones being stripped of the title and Cormier ascending to the top of the division, the rematch between these two has remained one of the most anticipated bouts on the UFC calendar, and the excitement surrounding the UFC 197 main event continues to climb.
Not only do both men want to prove they are the superior talent inside the cage, but another piece of this rivalry is Cormier’s clear frustration and disdain for the path Jones has traveled since entering the UFC spotlight.
Round 2 can’t get here soon enough.
CHUCK LIDDELL VS. TITO ORTIZ
This rivalry will go down as the trilogy that never was, as a third bout between these light heavyweight adversaries never materialized, though not for a lack of trying.
During his time atop the division, many criticized Ortiz for “ducking” the emerging knockout artist Liddell, but after losing his title to Randy Couture six months earlier, the two would meet at UFC 47. “The Iceman” emerged victorious, ending the fight just two minutes into the first round.
They would run it back two-and-a-half years later, this time with the light heavyweight title on the line, and though the fight lasted into the third round, the outcome was the same. Liddell once again stopped Ortiz, but his tandem finishes didn’t bring the bitter rivalry to a close.
Four years after their second meeting, Liddell and Ortiz were tabbed as opposing coaches on Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, with a third bout between the two scheduled for UFC 115 shortly after the show’s finale. Liddell was skeptical that Ortiz would make it to the fight from the outset and was proven right, as “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” withdrew from the show and the subsequent fight, replaced by Rich Franklin, who would knock out Liddell in the closing seconds of the first round in what would become the UFC Hall of Famer’s final Octagon appearance.
TITO ORTIZ VS. KEN SHAMROCK
In addition to having a longstanding rivalry with Liddell, Ortiz also had – and probably still has – serious beef with Ken Shamrock.
It started when a young and brash Ortiz earned back-to-back wins over Lions Den products Jerry Bohlander and Guy Mezger at UFC 18 and UFC 19, respectively, taunting the team’s leader, Shamrock, and his bested foes with gestures and t-shirts carrying crude messages following the victories.
Four years later, they would finally meet at UFC 40 in what was one of the most anticipated matchups in UFC history at that time. After three competitive rounds that saw Ortiz getting the better of the MMA pioneer, Shamrock’s corner threw in the towel prior to the start of the fourth round, giving Ortiz the victory.
Even though four years had passed between their first encounter and their subsequent bouts, the interest in this rivalry remained incredibly high. They would do it again two more times with Ortiz claiming first-round TKO victories in both bouts.
RONDA ROUSEY VS. MIESHA TATE
This one started under the Strikeforce banner, but has carried over the UFC women’s bantamweight division and remained one of the top championship rivalries in the sport today – one that has taken a new twist in recent weeks.
After picking up her fourth consecutive win to start her career, Rousey set her sights on challenging Tate for the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title. The only problem was she had previously been competing at featherweight and the newly minted titleholder wasn’t all that keen on the idea, suggesting Rousey was trying to avoid Cris Cyborg and use Tate’s standing to propel herself to greater heights.
They would meet for the first time in March 2012, with Rousey picking up a first-round submission win to claim the title, but it wasn’t until they transitioned to the UFC that business really began to pick up.
When Cat Zingano suffered a knee injury prior to serving opposite Rousey as a coach on Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC tabbed Tate to replace her in both the series and the subsequent championship bout. The season and build-up to their rematch was tense, with Rousey refusing to let an opportunity to take a shot at Tate go by.
In their second meeting, Tate would become the first fighter to last beyond the first round with the Olympic judoka, but the end result was the same, with Rousey retaining her title by armbar in the third. But now it’s Tate who stands atop the women’s bantamweight division and all signs point to a trilogy match between these two rivals eventually being in the cards.
BROCK LESNAR VS. FRANK MIR
When former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar arrived in the UFC, the organization didn’t hand him an easy fight the first time out. Instead, Lesnar was matched with former world champion and submission specialist Frank Mir at UFC 81.
The fight didn’t last long – 90 seconds – but was filled with enough controversy and animosity that a rivalry ensued. Lesnar looked good out of the gate, but after a quick stand-up, Mir snared the hulking wrestler in a kneebar, maintaining the hold while Lesnar feverishly tapped and the referee failed to stop the bout. That loss and the way it went down resonated with Lesnar, and after both men claimed UFC gold – Lesnar by defeating the returning Randy Couture, Mir by stopping interim champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – the stage was set for a title unification bout at UFC 100.
Following a back-and-forth verbal sparring match in the build up to the contest, Lesnar brought the series level at one win each with an hellacious first-round stoppage win over Mir to unify the titles, complete with a post-stoppage exchange between the two.
A third fight was often discussed, but never materialized.
BJ PENN VS. GEORGES ST-PIERRE
This one started with a controversial decision in their first bout, where St-Pierre came away on the happy side of a split decision verdict despite being the more visibly battered of the two after the final bell. The outcome stuck in Penn’s craw and nearly three years after their initial meeting – and with both men holding UFC gold – they would meet for a second time.
UFC 94 stands as the last time champions from two divisions have shared the cage simultaneously and the fight remains one of the biggest bouts in the organization’s history. St-Pierre dominated the action from the outset, repeatedly putting Penn on the canvas and grinding him down using his wrestling, leading to the Hawaiian’s corner throwing in the towel following the fourth round.
But the fight wasn’t without controversy.
One of St-Pierre’s corners transitioned from applying Vaseline to the French-Canadian fighter’s face to rubbing his back, leading Penn to allege that St-Pierre was “greasing” during the bout. While the incident resulted in a rule change – only “cut men” can apply Vaseline – Penn’s objections didn’t alter the result, as Penn himself admitted “(I) definitely got my butt kicked.”
ANDERSON SILVA VS. CHAEL SONNEN
A solid, but unspectacular fighter for most of his career, Sonnen became a superstar when he used his tremendous skills on the microphone and some catchphrases cribbed from old professional wrestlers to set his sights on reigning middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
Throughout the preamble to their first meeting, Sonnen went in on the Brazilian legend and his team, taking every opportunity he could to disparage “The Spider” and pump his own tires. Everyone expected a one-sided affair and that is largely what they got at UFC 117, but it was Sonnen who was dominating the action.
Heading into the final round, “The Gangster from West Linn” was way ahead on the scorecards and cruising to victory when he allowed Silva to gain wrist control and lock up a triangle choke in the closing minutes of the bout. Sonnen tapped, tried to say he didn’t, but then relented and was later suspended due to elevated levels of testosterone in his post-fight screening.
After a year off, Sonnen returned, defeated Brian Stann and once again focused in on Silva. He’d call him out after a close decision win over Michael Bisping in Chicago as well, setting the stage for their rematch at UFC 148.
While Sonnen started hot, taking Silva down and controlling the first round, an ill-advised spinning backfist left him seated against the cage in the second and Silva never let him back to his feet, earning the stoppage and a second straight win over his loquacious rival.
JON JONES VS. RASHAD EVANS
Before Jones had Cormier as a rival, he had former teammate Rashad Evans.
“Bones” ascended to the top of the division at Evans’ expense, filling in for his injured training partner in a championship bout with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua while Evans recovered from knee surgery. After winning the UFC title, Jones said he was willing to share the cage with the former champion Evans, a statement that vexed “Suga,” as the two had previously agreed not to fight each other.
The subsequent tension resulted in Evans leaving Team Jackson-Winkeljohn and kicked off a war of words between the two that culminated in their clash at UFC 145 in Atlanta, Georgia. In the cage, Jones dominated, keeping his former ally at bay with his reach and controlling the action throughout en route to a unanimous decision win.
CONOR MCGREGOR VS. JOSE ALDO
As soon as McGregor arrived on the scene, he made it known that he was gunning for Aldo and the UFC featherweight title. After beating Dennis Siver to claim his fifth straight win in the Octagon, “The Notorious” one hopped over the fence and into Aldo’s face, setting the stage for a massive grudge match.
Originally scheduled for UFC 189, Aldo and McGregor were teamed on a 10-city world tour to promote the fight that became a running journal of tensions running high and increased animosity. Aldo started the festivities off by offering McGregor the middle finger in Rio de Janeiro, while the Irishman closed out the multi-part tour by snatching Aldo’s belt off the table in Dublin.
While an injury to Aldo pushed the date of the clash back five months to UFC 194, it only served to provide more time for trash talk and fans to get more amped for the encounter and it did not disappoint. Just 13 seconds into the contest, McGregor connected with a clean left that ended Aldo’s reign atop the featherweight ranks.
They’ve been jawing at each other every since and hopefully the day comes where they’ll do it again.
DOMINICK CRUZ VS. URIJAH FABER
Their rivalry really came into focus once they matriculated to the UFC, but it began in their WEC days, where Faber got the best of Cruz in a featherweight title fight at WEC 26. Two fights later, Cruz dropped to bantamweight and after bringing the championship belt with him to the UFC, he would line up opposite the lone man to beat him in his first title defense at UFC 132.
Cruz came out the victor in their close, competitive second battle, leveling the series at one. Before they would settle things with a rubber match, they were paired together as coaching on Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, but the road to their third bout took a serious detour.
A series of major injuries would keep Cruz on the sidelines for the better part of four years, while Faber remained a perennial title challenger in his absence. But Cruz got a clean bill of health and returned to the cage this January, reclaiming the bantamweight title he never lost in competition, and guess whom he’ll face in his first defense?
Cruz-Faber III is slotted to be the co-main event of UFC 199 on Saturday, June 4 at The Forum in Inglewood, California.