Before Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz battled for a memorable 25 minutes, the start of UFC 143’s broadcast unveiled a new pay-per-view intro. Goodbye to the chants and Roman gladiator, and hello to a new cutting edge beginning filled with some of the Octagon’s greatest moments in a montage titled “Evolution.” It has been over two years since “Evolution” made its debut and it has seen several changes in its lineup of highlights, so here’s the opening segment broken down piece-by-piece or knockout-punch-by-takedown from UFC 172.
This first sequence sums up the entire point of the first UFC event, with the imposing, muscular, and athletic Ken Shamrock facing the enigmatic and gi-wearing Royce Gracie. In one quick burst, Shamrock shoots for a takedown, but Gracie reacts and works to his back. With Shamrock’s lack of experience of gi grappling and Gracie’s expertise with it, Gracie uses his own lapel to secure his first choke inside the Octagon and forces his second tap.
In the UFC 52 co-main event, Matt Hughes tangled with his bitter rival Frank Trigg for the second time with the UFC welterweight title on the line. Easily one of the most beloved fights in UFC history with its unforgettable moment highlighted in this clip of then champ Hughes hoisting his challenger Trigg high into the air and running him clear across the Octagon into a diving slam.
Often described as the greatest fight in UFC history, the light heavyweight final of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter saw fan favorites Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar openly exchanging fists and feet in a three-round war that would eventually get both fighters inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
In the first meeting of “The Iceman” and “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” no title was on the line, but a lot of pride and personal satisfaction was being decided with each and every attack. This clip shows Ortiz’s undoing as Liddell delivered an unanswerable onslaught of punches, which pinned the former champ Ortiz against the cage as the future champ Liddell delivered his jackhammer-like shots, which dropped Ortiz and ended the fight.
5. BJ Penn vs. Sean Sherk - UFC 84: Ill Will
In his first title defense, UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn took on the former champ Sean “The Muscle Shark” Sherk, who was undefeated at 155 pounds inside the Octagon. After nearly 15 minutes of the two top lightweights trading stand-up strikes, “The Prodigy” exploded in the final moments of the third round with a flying knee that caught Sherk perfectly in the face as he took a second against the fence. With his opponent clearly hurt, Penn pounced with short punches, causing a stop to the fight as the round ended.
It was the passing of the torch moment in the welterweight division as Georges St-Pierre entered the Octagon on a mission to claim the UFC title and to defeat the only man to best him in his pro MMA career - Matt Hughes. In their first meeting, St-Pierre went toe-to-toe with Hughes, but let off the gas for a moment and then champion Hughes recognized the opening and seized an armbar finish. In the rematch, “Rush” went full-throttle and caught Hughes a little over a minute into the second round with a head kick and then dove on his opponent to deliver fight-ending ground-and-pound.
After 16 consecutive wins and 10 successful title defenses inside the Octagon, Anderson “The Spider” Silva was, finally, beaten by the undefeated Chris Weidman. With the UFC middleweight title up for grabs, Silva did what fight fans had seen many times before - bob and weave to avoid his opponent’s attack. But it did not work against Weidman as the former two-time NCAA D1 All-American wrestler kept his focus and just reached out and touched Silva with a looping left hook that dropped the longtime champ. Weidman followed up with punches on the ground to crown himself the first new UFC middleweight champ in seven years.
There were the highest hopes for the final WEC lightweight champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis as he made his transition into the UFC. After two performances in gritty decisions, critics were aplenty about Pettis being unworthy of their previous praise. Taking on the always-game Joe Lauzon, who was coming off the biggest win of his career to that point over Melvin Guillard, “Showtime” delivered a lightning quick left head kick, which stopped Lauzon in his tracks only a little over a minute into the bout. After a few follow-up punches, Pettis’ stalled hype train was back in motion and hurtling towards his eventual title shot.
Raw emotion! The first UFC heavyweight champion, Mark “The Hammer” Coleman, always fought with his heart on full display. After winning back-to-back UFC tournaments, the former NCAA Division I National Champion and 1992 US Olympic freestyle wrestler was set to collide with his toughest opponent yet in UFC Superfight champion Dan “The Beast” Severn. Securing side control and working a headlock, Coleman gathered his breath and invested in one big squeeze and yank of Severn’s trapped head, which “The Beast” tapped to just shy of 3 minutes into the clash. From there, “The Hammer” celebrated his new gold belt with screams of success, fist pumps, and jumping up on the cage.
10. Brock Lesnar vs. Heath Herring - UFC 87: Seek and Destroy
While his impromptu UFC debut had its moments, the world’s eyes became forever glued to Brock Lesnar when he delivered what can only be described as a “Falcon Punch” to the left side of tough and tested MMA veteran Heath Herring’s face, which sent “The Texas Crazy Horse” heels over head to the cage. What happened next was the former NCAA Division I National Champion wrestler became a Pamplona bull and tried to spear Herring, who luckily ducked his head before their two noggins collided. This was the beginning of the end for Herring and would be Lesnar’s first Octagon win.
11. Rich Franklin vs. Nate Quarry - UFC 56: Full Force
Making his first title defense, UFC middleweight champion Rich “Ace” Franklin readied for what would no doubt be a strikers’ duel with TUF 1 alum Nate “The Rock” Quarry and his Muay Thai striking skills, which had netted him three straight first round KO wins inside the Octagon to earn this title shot. It was just two and a half minutes into the first round that Franklin landed a left straight missile that knocked Quarry out standing. It was a clear message to the rest of the 185-ers that “Ace” was not a champ to be messed with.
12. Junior Dos Santos vs. Gilbert Yvel - UFC 108
Junior Dos Santos started his UFC career with three straight wins via unparalleled punching power. The unbelievable uppercut against Fabricio Werdum, an endless combination of hooks against Stefan Struve, and a multi-round battering of Mirko Cro Cop. Up next, Dos Santos would take on a terrifying striker in Muay Thai specialist Gilbert “The Hurricane” Yvel, who had won eight of his last nine fights, seven of those via KO. It didn’t take long for the two knockout artists to wind up and give each other their best shot as the two both planted and delivered a hook on the other with the result being Yvel falling to the ground in a heap and dos Santos victorious once again.
13. Dominick Cruz vs. Demetrious Johnson - UFC Live: Cruz vs. Johnson
Has it been two and a half years already? In the former UFC bantamweight champion’s last Octagon appearance, Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz lived up to his moniker once again in a grinding unanimous decision win over current UFC flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. Over the course of five rounds, Cruz attempted a remarkable 19 takedowns and was successful on more than half. The one featured in this clip is Cruz’s high-arching belly-to-back, German suplex of Johnson.
Marking the first women’s fight and title fight in Octagon history, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey clashed with ground-and-pound specialist Liz “Girlrilla” Carmouche. The highly entertaining struggle saw the “Rowdy” one in a truly compromising situation for the first time in a fight, as Carmouche had Rousey’s back with a deep rear naked choke attempt. The title bout ended like all of Rousey’s other meetings had up until that point with an armbar win. The featured moment is a happy and emotional Rousey getting the belt wrapped around her waist for the first time.
15. Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar - UFC 121
Heavyweights really bring the excitement and there wasn’t a second of the title clash between then UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and undefeated Cain Velasquez that wasn’t livewire electric. Making his third belt defense, Lesnar collided with Velasquez like two locomotive trains which kept smashing into each other all over the Octagon until the final exchange of Velasquez’s knee-lift right into Lesnar’s waiting kisser. The American Kickboxing Academy product followed up with a few punches to be crowned the new UFC heavyweight champ.
He got the belt with a unanimous decision, he defended it with a late fourth round submission, and UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao stamped his second title defense with the Octagon’s first spinning back kick to the head KO finish over Eddie Wineland. It’s a win / moment that truly catapulted Barao into the talks of pound-for-pound best. All UFC fans have seen, or really all anyone has ever seen him do, is win, and he has done it with very skilled and accurate striking, but this kick showed fans ingenuity and power the likes of Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, and Jose Aldo, which is truly next level fighting.
Easily one of the greatest title fights or fights in general in MMA history, UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar aimed to defend his belt against the undefeated Gray Maynard. After a first round battering the likes that no fighter should ever be able to recover from, Maynard clearly had the upper hand heading into a second stanza with Edgar, who, seemingly, was still standing via some divine intervention. The first few minutes of the second round were slower as Maynard stalked for another big punch and Edgar tried to establish some offense for his opponent to respect. With just over a minute left, the smaller Edgar shot in on the former three-time NCAA D1 All-American, wrapped his left leg, elevated Maynard over his own head, and slammed him backwards to the canvas. It sent a burst of energy through the arena and UFC announcer Joe Rogan that showed the then-champ was far from finished and was ready to make his comeback.
After an unparalleled 8-0 career in the WEC ending with him as the two-time defending champ, the UFC’s first and only featherweight champion Jose Aldo made his Octagon debut in the largest event in company history at the Rogers Centre against hometown hero Mark “The Machine” Hominick. The spectacle saw four rounds of Aldo landing about every punch and kick the champ could possibly throw and Hominick somehow continuing to grit his teeth and fight on through it. The moment shown in the montage is a stiff right from Aldo that drops Hominick in the fourth round, which Aldo followed up with strikes on the ground that nearly brought an end to the fight.
19. Jon Jones vs. Stephan Bonnar - UFC 94
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones got thrown to the wolves in his second fight inside the Octagon, but came out of it looking more incredible than before. The undefeated “Bones” faced a stiff test against future UFC Hall of Famer and former TUF 1 finalist Stephan Bonnar, who had scored back-to-back finishing wins prior to this bout. Jones showed off incredible takedowns and a dominating clinch game in this fight, but the moment of all moments was a spinning back elbow by “Bones” that countered a caught kick, which absolutely floored Bonnar and everyone who saw it live and has seen the highlight a million times since. It was crystal clear that whoever could pull off a move that stunning was truly a special talent.
How does one end a montage of some of the most eye-opening moments in UFC history? With quite possibly the greatest knockout in UFC and MMA history. In a UFC middleweight title fight between one-strike knockout artists, Anderson Silva delivered in this gunslinger duel by kicking Vitor Belfort right in the face with his extended left leg like a snake. After nearly losing his title in the epic collision with Chael Sonnen at UFC 117, Silva was set to scrap with an entirely different opponent in renowned first round finisher “The Phenom” Belfort. For the first two and a half minutes, neither threw a meaningful strike because they knew it better than anyone how quickly the other could end this fight with a vicious, well-timed counter-attack. In the next minute, the first exchange was intense with Belfort landing a couple punches and a high kick from Silva is caught by Belfort and turned into a mad scramble. With the fighters returning to the center of the Octagon to reset their duel, Belfort takes the briefest of beats to square himself with Silva and Silva strikes - a front kick that shot straight up like an uppercut to Belfort’s mug that he never saw coming. From there, Silva follows up with some strategic ground-and-pound to continue his reign as the UFC middleweight champ.