On April 7, the mixed martial arts world will be watching when Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov collide in a bout that fight fans have been waiting to see for years. So with anticipation at such a fever pitch, it’s probably a good time to revisit 12 of the best 155-pound bouts ever to grace the Octagon.
Now I can’t include all your favorite scraps from the 155-pound ranks because we’re capping this list at 12 and we’re bound to have different thoughts on the subject.
That said, drop a line in the comment section or hit me up on Twitter (@spencerkyte) to let me know what your favorite lightweight classic that got left off the list is because, let’s be honest, we all love talking about great fights and I’ve always got time to discuss these things with fellow fans.
This is the Dynamite Dozen: Great Lightweight Fights
It only makes sense to start with this one.
This was a clash of the two best lightweights in the world at the time – Pulver had beaten John Lewis, Caol Uno and Dennis Hallman in consecutive contests, while Penn was fresh off his 11-second destruction of Uno and 3-0 with three straight first-round finishes for his career.
Penn looked to use his grappling throughout and nearly locked up an armbar at the end of the second round, but the champion did a much better job of scrambling, defending and scoring with his own offense when they did hit the canvas after that.
A technical and tactical affair, this was a close contest that ended with scores of 48-45, 47-47 and 48-47 resulting in a second successful title defense for Pulver and the first loss in the legendary career of “The Prodigy.”
Everyone knew this fight was going to be electric when it was announced and it still managed to exceed expectations.
Out of the gate, Barboza’s speed was a factor, as the Brazilian forced Ferguson to attack on the ground after sniping him with swift jabs. Unfortunately, Ferguson connected with an illegal kick during a scramble that cost him a point and had a clear impact on Barboza, but it also seemed to up the intensity on both sides as well.
After dropping the first round 10-8 thanks to the point deduction, Ferguson knew he needed something special to get back into the fight and have a chance at leaving Las Vegas with a victory, and “El Cucuy” delivered. He cranked up the forward pressure to 11, gashed Barboza with a lead elbow 30 seconds into the middle round and made him pay for a tired takedown attempt late in the frame by locking up a D’Arce choke with impressive quickness.
If you haven’t seen this fight – or haven’t seen it in a while – go check it out.
Fisher stepped in for an injured Kenny Florian to welcome “Hands of Stone” to the Octagon for the first time and the duo combined to deliver one of the best fights in UFC history.
This was 15 minutes of back-and-forth between two guys that came out of their corners firing and never let off the gas. While Fisher made use of his edge in the grappling department early, Stout showed what would become his trademark toughness and volume striking approach to go the distance and get the nod on the scorecards in his freshman appearance.
How do you know this was a great fight? Simple: the UFC opted to run it back as the main event of Fight Night 10 just over a year later. That was a great fight too.
The opening minute of this fight is frenetic, with Sanchez pressing forward, bombing away on Guida, who did his best to cover up and survive before ultimately hitting a takedown and getting a quick breather inside Sanchez’ closed guard.
At the two-minute mark of the first round, Sanchez blasted home a clean head kick that dropped Guida and it looked like the fight was over – or just about to be over – but somehow, “The Carpenter” popped right back up and kept plugging away.
Guida got on his grind in the second, but ate a ton of elbows from Sanchez off the bottom in the process. The third was close on the feet before Guida took it to the mat down the stretch, leading to tight scores that ultimately landed in favor of the original Ultimate Fighter.
Four years and change after his clash with Guida, Sanchez took part in another scrap that has been heralded as one of the best in lightweight history when he squared off with the former Strikeforce titleholder Melendez in Houston.
For most of the first two rounds, Melendez beat up the “Nightmare,” outboxing him in space, connecting when they were in close and stymieing most of Sanchez’ takedown attempts. He opened up Sanchez with an elbow and was completely outclassing him after 10 minutes, but the resilient Jackson-Wink MMA product continued looking to engage.
The third round was Rock’em Sock’em Robots, with both guys finding a home for big shots, Sanchez gritting his teeth and mean mugging amidst the fire and Melendez showing his toughness by rebounding after getting dropped late in the final round.
Even when you know what happens, this fight is still exhilarating to watch.
While the previous fight on this list was a demolition derby, this one was more of a chess match – a violent, physical chess match, but a chess match nonetheless.
It was attack and defend; your turn, my turn; give one, get one and over the first 10 minutes, Guida seemed to be getting the better of things with his ability to put Huerta on the canvas and force the unbeaten rising star to defend and try to respond.
Heading into the final round, Huerta needed a finish in order to earn a victory and he came out of the corner in desperation mode, searching for that finish. He pressed forward, eating clean rights from Guida in order to connect with a body kick before catching “The Carpenter” on the chin with a knee as he ducked in for a takedown.
A flying knee followed with more big punches behind it and when Guida instinctively looked to bring it to the mat, Huerta scrambled to his back and sunk in a rear-naked choke. Seconds later, Guida tapped and the comeback was complete.
Joe Lauzon was involved in three fights in 2012 and while he came away with a 1-2 record, the final two bouts were both instant classics that further cemented his standing as one of the most consistently entertaining fighters in UFC history.
This battle with the former WEC champion Varner won Fight of the Year at the World MMA Awards and rightfully so as it was a phenomenal back-and-forth encounter.
Varner rocked Lauzon early in the first, but ate a clean knee to the chin that caused him to stagger momentarily less than a minute later. Both men ripped shots to the body, showcasing their boxing, with Varner scoring a knockdown in the final minute of the first before landing the more significant blows on the feet through the first half of the second as well.
But Lauzon weathered it all and Varner having taken the fight on short notice started to catch up with him as the Massachusetts native continued to press forward. While the game Varner looked to press at the action, a takedown midway through the final frame turned into a mistake, as Lauzon was able to quickly hit a sweep and trap Varner in the fight-ending triangle choke.
It was a terrific fight and a tremendous finish for Lauzon, but what would he do for an encore?
This was his encore and while he came away on the wrong side of the results, I personally think this was a better fight.
While neither guy was able to make it to the summit in the lightweight division, this battle stands out to me as one of those fights that not only highlights how deep and talented the 155-pound ranks have always been, but also that sometimes we get too caught up in titles and contention and forget to give love to the men and women who simply go out there and put it all on the line each and every time they step into the cage, regardless of stakes or circumstance.
My favorite part of this completely outstanding fight is the point in the second round where time is called while they’re on the ground and these two maniacs share a quick interaction. It’s a human moment between two fierce competitors in the midst of a terrific battle and less than a minute later, they’re right back at it.
The first day of 2011 produced the Fight of the Year and while there have been a lot of great fights since and there are still a number of months left before 2020 arrives, it might still be the frontrunner for Fight of the Decade too.
In fact, it might just be the best fight in UFC history.
Edgar and Maynard co-authored a classic in Las Vegas on New Year’s Day 2011, battling to an unexpected, while still being wildly satisfying, draw in their clash for the lightweight title.
Maynard had Edgar stumbling all over the Octagon in the first round and the champion looked dead to rights at several points, but somehow, “The Answer” came out fresh in the second, a feat that still doesn’t completely make sense seven years later. The rest of the fight was a tense back-and-forth and when it was time for the decision to be announced, no one was sure what the verdict was going to be.
Fortunately for fans, the result was a draw and they would be forced to run it back later in the year.
Frankie Edgar def. Gray Maynard by TKO (Punches) at UFC 136 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
There are very few instances where the sequel is better than the original – Empire is better than A New Hope, The Godfather Part II is the best in the series, The Dark Knight crushes Batman Begins – but this might be one of those instances.
Note: this was actually the third fight between the two, but in this 2011 two-piece, this is the sequel.
What’s crazy is that it started out pretty similar to their UFC 125 encounter, complete with Maynard putting Edgar on roller skates in the first and looking to finish before the champion bounced back in the second. Where things differed, however, was the final outcome.
Where neither man was able to close things out in January, Edgar found a way in October, picking at Maynard throughout the fourth round before rocking him with an uppercut coming out of a scramble. A handful of right hands followed and lefts against the cage halted things, bringing this rivalry to a close and further cementing Edgar’s legacy as one of the best lightweights in UFC history.
Carnage - that’s the word Justin Gaethje used to describe his fighting style for fans that were going to be watching him compete for the first time when he stepped into the Octagon opposite Johnson. Anyone that saw him compete under the World Series of Fighting banner knows it’s an apt description and the Trevor Wittman-trained lightweight brought that same brand of ferocity to the UFC cage with him against the perennial contender in his debut.
This was an insane fight - the type of battle where there are three or four shots that land and make you think, “How is that dude still standing?” Johnson said pre-fight that he wasn’t going to be drawn into a brawl, but that’s exactly what happened and fans and observers everywhere are glad it did because the resulting nine minutes and 48 seconds of fighting were special. Both men pressed forward when the smarter option was to retreat and gather themselves, if only for a moment, and the resulting exchanges had everyone out of their seats from the moment the first big shot landed up until the bout was finally waved off.
Gaethje arrived in the UFC with a ton of hype and lofty expectations and he managed to validate them both in his first appearance. But after such a memorable, electric debut, his encore would have to be a letdown, right?
Gaethje’s sophomore appearance in the Octagon came five months later against the former lightweight champion and he and Alvarez managed to deliver an equally gripping, wildly entertaining fight that might have been even better than Gaethje’s bout with Johnson.
Alvarez declared pre-fight that this bout would determine “The Most Violent Man in the UFC” and it seemed like both were trying desperately to prove they were deserving of the title, as this one was fought in a phone booth and featured myriad shots and exchanges that left you wondering how either man remained upright.
What really elevates the status of this contest is that as much as it was a demolition derby inside the UFC cage, it wasn’t sloppy and wild and it didn’t devolve into a series of wild swings for the fences. Don’t get me wrong - both guys were gassed by the time the third round started and each was looking for the home run shot that would end it - but they continued to throw combinations, work the body and mix in leg kicks throughout the nearly 14-minute affair.
Alvarez earned the victory late in the third, handing Gaethje the first professional loss of his career, but this was one of those fights where the action overshadows the end result. It was a tremendous win for the former champ and reminded everyone that “The Underground King” is one of the most tenacious, gutsy fighters in the business and further cemented Gaethje’s standing as a legitimate Top 5 lightweight and one of the most exciting fighters on the roster