UFC on FOX first aired just one fight, a special UFC heavyweight championship bout, on November 12, 2011. Since then, the Octagon has been featured on network television four times a year, and those events have been chock full of memorable melees.
With the forthcoming UFC on FOX: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson card on April 16 marking the 19th event of its kind, here’s a look back at the top 10 clashes in UFC on FOX history.
10. Gian Villante vs. Corey Anderson
Corey Anderson and Gian Villante clashed with an offensive output of men 50 pounds lighter than themselves. The Ultimate Fighter 19 light heavyweight winner committed to nearly 300 significant strikes, landed 111 of them and almost all of them were punches thrown at distance targeting his opponent’s head. Meanwhile, Villante landed 30 leg kicks in an effort to take his opponent’s wheels away so he could drop a hammer on Anderson, which Villante did with less than a minute remaining in a bout he was down two rounds to none. Amazingly, it was the second straight win and Fight of the Night bonus for Villante in a scrap that he was statistically outstruck in. It was simply a great effort by the two young light heavyweights and, in the end, the quality of those final blows beat the sheer quantity of the previous ones.
9. Ben Saunders vs. Kenny Robertson
Let’s be honest, Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder was a fun, technical kickboxing scrap, but Ben Saunders vs. Kenny Robertson was the knockdown, drag-out slobberknocker that really deserved that Fight of the Night bonus. These two bald-headed welterweights went to town on each other in a high-paced slugfest for fifteen minutes. Robertson, a former high school teacher, scored a knockdown in the first round and landed 80 some odd significant strikes in the first two rounds. And “Killa B” was right there with Robertson, swinging punches and throwing knees, but it was in the final period where Saunders took complete control. Actually, “mission control” or “invisible hand” or “dead orchard” as Saunders’ BJJ coach Eddie Bravo would call it, as Killa B used his long legs to lock Robertson down within his full guard and land elbows in the process. On the feet and on the floor, Robertson and Saunders attacked and attacked, and it was great and they deserved that bonus, as well as the standing ovation they received.
8. TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao 2
Their first meeting at UFC 173 was an absolute master class as TJ Dillashaw dethroned then-UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao. Originally, this rematch was supposed to play out at UFC 177, but Barao’s weight-cutting issues ended up postponing the rematch a full year and two months after the first fight. The added time, plus the strange circumstances at UFC 177, made this rematch much more emotional and heated than their first encounter. The then-defending UFC bantamweight champ Dillashaw still outclassed Barao, but the amped-up pressure of the rematch created those heated exchanges, where both parties were landing hard punches that were not present in the first fight. At UFC 173, Dillashaw floated and stung round after round until a fifth round knockout. At UFC on FOX: Dillashaw vs. Barao 2, the champ stood his ground and sat down on his punches en route to a fourth-round knockout, which was about seven minutes less fight time inside the Octagon with the same result.
7. Benson Henderson vs. Clay Guida
Technically, this fan-favorite scramble-fest did not air on FOX, but it was the co-main of the first UFC on FOX event. Remember when watching UFC fights on Facebook was a thing? For those that watched the entire card, the unequivocal show-stealer was the UFC lightweight title eliminator between Benson Henderson and Clay Guida. They were up, they were down, they were spinning around and, rightfully so, the unanimous decision in favor of “Smooth,” as they won the Fight of the Night bonus. Besides the punching, kicking and takedown attempts, it was a hair vs. hair battle of whose long, wavy mane could better translate the frenetic pace of the fight. A one-punch UFC heavyweight championship bout was exciting, but 15 minutes of non-stop lightweight action was truly entertaining.
6. Mauricio Rua vs. Brandon Vera
This fight wasn’t supposed to happen. And this fight wasn’t supposed to be this good. The fourth UFC on FOX event was hampered by injuries and, originally, was set to be headlined by Brian Stann vs. Hector Lombard. In the infinite wisdom of the UFC matchmakers, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua - who was to be at UFC 149 - was matched against Brandon Vera - who was to be at UFC on Fuel TV: Munoz vs. Weidman. With all that being said, Shogun was on an upswing, having been the UFC light heavyweight champ the year earlier and coming off arguably the greatest scrap in Octagon history at UFC 139. Meanwhile, Vera’s star was falling due to several losses and an unimpressive win against Eliot Marshall at UFC 137. People had counted Vera out and this main event out before it had even started, but when the two stepped inside the Octagon, it was vintage Vera and vintage Shogun in an intense stand-up battle, with neither giving an inch until an incredible fourth-round rally by Rua to cause the TKO stoppage of Vera.
5. Edson Barboza vs. Danny Castillo
Judges are in the unenviable position trying to score a clash like this one. Should the first round have been a 10-8 for Danny Castillo? Probably. Should the second round have been a 10-8 for Edson Barboza? Maybe. Then again, what qualifies as a 10-8 round? Regardless of what the scorecards read, when Castillo was ground and pounding Barboza in the opening five minutes - it was wild. Then, when Barboza cleaned Castillo’s clock and dropped “Last Call” in the second round - it was even more wild. And when the pair of lightweights were trying to one up the other in the third - everyone was on the edge of their seat to see who would steal this win in the end. Both Castillo and Barboza had tasted victory and defeat in that Octagon before they had reached the last round, let alone the final bell. It was ruled a majority decision for Barboza, but it could have been a draw just as easily. Either way, it won the Fight of the Night bonus, which was the right and only decision to make.
4. Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner
On any other night, the above-mentioned Rua vs. Vera melee would have been awarded Fight of the Night honors, but these two lightweights went to war and they could not be denied that bonus. Not only Fight of the Night, but Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner was named 2012’s Fight of the Year at the annual World MMA Awards. Earlier in the year, former WEC lightweight champion Varner made his UFC return on short notice with a KO of Edson Barboza in what the World MMA Awards gave the Upset of the Year award. At the start of the bout with Lauzon, Varner was on fire with a knockdown of Lauzon as he landed twice as much as he received. Of course, The Ultimate Fighter 5 alum has grit to spare, and he began to even the score by grabbing a pair of takedowns in the second stanza, but Varner appeared to still be ahead on the scorecards entering the final period. The pace did not drop off for a moment as Varner continued to push forward, landing strikes and takedowns, but it was Lauzon’s will and skill halfway through the third, where he wrapped-up a triangle choke amidst a scramble, to force the end to a phenomenal tilt.
3. Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson
Current UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson won the title at UFC 152, but “Mighty Mouse” really became the owner of that belt in his unanimous decision win over “The Magician,” John Dodson. At 135 pounds, Dodson was a knockout artist who won The Ultimate Fighter 14 season with a first-round KO of eventual UFC bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw. At 125 pounds, The Magician was thought to have almost unstoppable striking power and, early on, fans saw it in this title fight on FOX. Dodson stunned Johnson in the first, then dropped him in the second, but the champ never relented, only increasing the pressure as the fight wore on. While the first fifteen minutes were a struggle and often an uphill climb for Mighty Mouse, Johnson glowed in the championship rounds with undeniable dominance in the clinch. These smaller/faster divisions’ clashes are more like car races, and when they appeared to be maxing out their engines in fifth gear - the champ Johnson somehow pushed it into sixth.
2. Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown
If you’re trying to get your friends into the UFC, you show them fighters like Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler. And then in July 2014, those exact two fighters - who make UFC fans out of non-UFC fans - were set to meet each other in a five-round main event that had a title shot hanging in the balance. Expectations were sky high and, of course, “The Immortal” and the “Ruthless” one leapfrog those silly expectations with a rocketship and leave us all with a collision for the ages. There was punching, kicking, elbows, knees, clinches, takedowns, wrestling and several times where it looked like one would finish the other, but they bit down on their mouthpiece, got back to fighting and returned fire. The current UFC welterweight champion, Lawler’s record seems to be filled with these types of performances nowadays, where he bests an opponent who is battling him at the highest level. Sure, Brown would have liked to have done even better, but The Immortal was executing, was landing, was pressuring and was pushing forward. And Ruthless was doing it right back. After twenty minutes of fighting, Lawler and Brown only increased their offense and made the final round the craziest of them all. It was like two marathon runners making their fastest mile their last mile.
1. Junior dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic
You can watch the fictional Apollo Creed vs. Rocky Balboa or you can watch the actual Junior Dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic. By far, most UFC heavyweight fights end by finish and if they don’t, it’s usually because of a lack of action. But then there are clashes like Mark Hunt and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva’s first meeting or there’s this wondrous war between Dos Santos and Miocic. It defies logic that two monstrous knockout artists like Dos Santos and Miocic could go toe-to-toe with each other for more than a couple minutes without a stoppage, but they went a full 25 with a combined 200+ significant strikes landed. And it wasn’t just striking either, as Miocic shot for takedown attempt after takedown attempt for a total of 18, which Dos Santos sprawled and brawled his way through, only yielding one takedown. Like the previous Brown-Lawler bout, Miocic was great in the fight, landing nearly 50% of his significant strikes, shooting for takedowns and making his opponent work from beginning to end. But the former UFC heavyweight champ was just that much better, landing more strikes, scoring a knockdown, defending takedowns and somehow throwing more strikes as the fight went on. It’s simply not the pace anyone would or should expect from heavyweights, which is what makes the reality that it happened that much more magical.