The UFC is taking a cue from many of the entertainers who flock to its Las Vegas hometown and taking up residency at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida in order to deliver three events in eight nights that will mean a return to normalcy in terms of athletes getting the chance to compete in the Octagon and fans getting to take in the action.
In honor of this extended stay in Duval county, here’s a look back at some of the most memorable fights and moments that have transpired in previous UFC trips to “The Sunshine State.”
The fight didn’t even last three full minutes, but it’s significant nonetheless as this light heavyweight contest marked Franklin’s promotional debut, kicking off a run where “Ace” would go on to become a cornerstone for the UFC later in his career.
Franklin was undefeated at the time — 11-0 with one no contest verdict — and had picked up some solid victories fighting primarily in the Midwest. Tanner was an established standout who had previously challenged for the light heavyweight title and entered the bout on a four-fight winning streak. He was, undeniably, the toughest test of Franklin’s career to that point.
With Franklin in his customary southpaw stance, the first two minutes saw each man trying to dictate the terms of engagement — Franklin happy to operate in space and snipe with strikes from range, while Tanner frequently pressed forward, hoping to close the distance and initiate the clinch. But seconds later, Franklin found a home for a left that clearly stung Tanner and began pressing forward, connecting with power shots that eventually put Tanner on the canvas and brought the fight to a halt.
This was the first of 20 appearances Franklin would make inside the Octagon during the course of his career. He’d win the middleweight belt in a rematch with Tanner two years later and go on to be one of the most popular and prominent competitors in the UFC in the post-Ultimate Fighter era.
Matt Hughes vs. Sean Sherk
People seem to forget how utterly dominant and nasty Matt Hughes was at the peak of his powers as the UFC welterweight champion.
Tougher than a three-dollar steak and fiercely competitive, Hughes felt like a next generation evolution from Mark Coleman — a ferocious wrestler who could break your will, pummel you on the ground, or lock up a submission and force you to tap. After winning the title from Carlos Newton, he successfully defended the belt with stoppage victories over Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, Newton, and Gil Castillo, setting up this clash with Sherk in the UFC 42 main event.
Sherk was undefeated at the time, brandishing a 19-0-1 record that included victories over Karo Parisyan, Tiki Ghosn, Jutaro Nakao, and Benji Radach. He too came from a wrestling background, but Sherk had also worked diligently to develop his hands and had a little more snap and pop to his punches than Hughes.
This is one of those awesome fights that has gotten lost in the shuffle because it happened before the UFC became the juggernaut that it is today and coverage wasn’t as prominent as it is now.
Hughes battered Sherk in the opening round, busting him up with ground-and-pound along the fence and basically “big brothering” him throughout the opening 10 minutes. But the Minnesota native was never deterred, countering with a takedown of his own early in the third, only to have Hughes chain together submission attempts off his back, bringing further intrigue to the encounter.
The champion dominated the fourth round as his size and strength started to overwhelm the challenger, but to his credit, Sherk came right back out to start the fifth, attacking with a takedown attempt of his own, winning the round, but ultimately losing the battle on the scorecards.
Rashad Evans unexpectedly won the heavyweight competition on Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter, using his speed and wrestling prowess to get the better of a host of contestants that were significantly bigger than him in height and weight. He quickly moved back to light heavyweight following his victory and had posted three straight quality wins heading into this one, his first main event opportunity in the UFC.
Salmon was a wrestler from the Midwest making his promotional debut, and unfortunately for him, it turned into a night that will live on for all eternity.
The newcomer actually won the opening round, taking Evans to the canvas twice, including passing to side control during the first ground exchange, and holding his own in the striking department. Out of the chute in the second, however, Evans found some success on the feet, knocking Salmon off balance and to his butt less than 30 seconds in, which seemed to bolster his confidence.
As he stalked Salmon along the fence a minute into the frame, pawing with his lead left hand, Evans uncorked a naked right high kick that sounded like a 500-foot home run when it landed.
Salmon was out instantly and crashed to the canvas in a heap. It remains one of the best knockouts in UFC history and has been immortalized as part of the main card introduction video package ever since.
Stout and Fisher first locked horns 16 months earlier — the former making his promotional debut and the latter taking the fight on short notice — and it turned into a back-and-forth barnburner that garnered Fight of the Night honors where Stout emerged with a split decision win.
Both men raised their profile in their initial encounter and had continued to do so in the time leading up to this contest.
Fisher stuck around at lightweight, scored a memorable walk-off win over Matt Wiman and followed it up with a first-round finish of Dan Lauzon before dropping a hotly contested battle to Hermes Franca the same night Evans stopped Salmon in Hollywood, Florida. Stout lost his sophomore appearance in the Octagon to emerging contender Kenny Florian, but then ventured back to the regional ranks, claiming and successfully defending the TKO lightweight title with wins over Jay Estrada and Fabio Holanda.
The rematch garnered main event billing and the rival lightweights did not disappoint, picking up where they left off in their first encounter to once again thrill the crowd and turn in a Fight of the Night-winning effort. Fisher earned a clean sweep of the scorecards the second time around to draw level at one win each, and for years, both he and Stout had to field questions about a rubber match between the two.
It would eventually take place five years later and for the third time in as many meetings, the Canadian Stout and his Midwest counterpart Fisher garnered Fight of the Night honors. Stout claimed the victory and the series, and Fisher announced his retirement following the bout.
There are other rivalries that stand out more prominently in the UFC history books and carried far greater stakes, but the battles between Fisher and Stout make up one of the best series of fights to ever grace the Octagon.
Looking at the results of this fight on paper, there is nothing particularly dramatic about what transpired in Orlando, Florida on April 19, 2014. Nurmagomedov, who had won all five of his previous UFC appearances and carried a 21-0 record into the Octagon, earned a clean sweep of the scorecards against Dos Anjos, halting the Brazilian’s five-fight winning streak.
But this one was about more than how the fight played out; this was Nurmagomedov’s coming out party as a contender and the bout where the idea that he might be the most talented fighter in the loaded lightweight division really started to take root.
Dos Anjos had been brilliant over his previous five fights, scoring victories over a collection of talented, experienced veterans, capped by a unanimous decision win over Donald Cerrone, and the unbeaten grappler from Dagestan made him look like they were on completely different levels.
Pondering just how good Nurmagomedov was only grew following this contest as Dos Anjos kicked off another winning streak, culminating in a championship victory over Anthony Pettis at UFC 185 and a successful title defense against Cerrone nine months later. Sidelined due to injuries that entire time, Nurmagomedov’s reputation and standing in the division benefitted from Dos Anjos’ success.
In the five years since this encounter, Nurmagomedov has answered all of those questions and asserted himself as the top fighter in the weight class, posting six more victories, including a title win over Al Iaquinta and success title defenses against Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.
He was an intriguing prospect when he first arrived on the scene, but this was the bout where “The Eagle” really started to take flight.
Bruce Buffer’s introductions took three, maybe four times as long as this fight did, but even though it ended quickly, if you say the words “Thiago Santos vs. Steve Bosse” to serious fight fans, you’re going to get an immediate reaction.
Bosse was a former hockey player who made his bones as one of the best enforcers in Quebec’s fight-heavy LNAH before transitioning to a career in the cage. He’d won 10 of his first 11 assignments and eight straight heading into this one, but he’d been out of action for nearly two full years by the time he stepped into the cage.
Santos was only four fights into his UFC career and still hadn’t established himself as the vaunted finisher and feared powerhouse he is today. He’d flashed his frightening power and punishing kicks in victories over Ronny Markes and Andy Enz, both of which ended inside the opening round, but we’d yet to experience that moment that made everyone sit up and really take notice of the Brazilian.
Santos landed a left kick to the inside of Bosse’s lead leg less than 15 seconds into the round and it crashed home with a thwap! “Marretta” went to the midsection 10 seconds later as the fans in attendance chanted his name, with Bosse catching the kick on his forearms. As Bosse pressed forward, Santos set his feet and went high, connecting with a quicker, more powerful version of the kick Evans used to ice Salmon, leaving the French-Canadian newcomer out on the canvas in the center of the cage.
Because of what transpired after the fight, Diaz’ performance in the bout itself has become a bit of a forgotten piece to this story but make no mistake about it: this was a tremendous showing from one of the sport’s biggest stars.
Returning after a year on the sidelines, Diaz marched into the Octagon and thoroughly outpointed Johnson, beating him to the punch in nearly every exchange while taking plenty of time to talk to and taunt the former Ultimate Fighter finalist.
This wasn’t a fight people expected Diaz to dominate either — he’d been off for a year and turned in a listless performance against Dos Anjos the previous December, while Johnson had just had his four-fight winning streak snapped thanks to a debatable decision in a bout with Beneil Dariush four months earlier.
What made this performance really stand out, however, was Diaz’ efforts on the microphone following his victory, where he called out Conor McGregor, who had won the featherweight title a week earlier at UFC 194 and was expected to challenge for the lightweight title in his first fight of 2016.
It seemed like a reach in the moment — Diaz taking aim at the streaking Irish superstar after one good win — but three months later, the stars aligned, the phone rang, and the hard-nosed kid from Stockton sauntered into the Octagon and shocked the world on short notice at UFC 196.
This bout was referenced earlier in outlining the incredible run of success Dos Anjos enjoyed before and after his encounter with Khabib Nurmagomedov but is deserving of its own spot on this list because it was a truly impressive performance from the Brazilian champion.
Here’s the thing: that loss to Nurmagomedov left many people counting Dos Anjos out when he stepped into the cage to face Anthony Pettis for the lightweight title in March, but he walked into the Octagon in Dallas and stole the show against “Showtime,” pressuring him from the outset en route to sweeping the scorecards and claiming the title.
Beating Pettis was an eye-opener, and now here came Cerrone, the long-time fan favorite whom Dos Anjos had beaten 28 months earlier by unanimous decision. “Cowboy” hadn’t lost since, rattling off eight straight wins, including victories over Edson Barboza, Eddie Alvarez, and former champ Benson Henderson.
Many wondered if this was the moment Cerrone finally won the big one and claimed championship gold for the first time in his career.
Dos Anjos put those thoughts to rest in 66 seconds, swarming the veteran gunslinger almost immediately and putting him on the canvas amidst a torrent of punches before the crowd even had a chance to settle in for the championship clash. The win over Pettis was Dos Anjos’ most complete, impressive performance from start-to-finish, but this was “RDA” at his most dominant.
This is the second bout from that December 19, 2015 fight card on FOX to make this list and I want to take a second to shout out the rest of the card because looking back, it was absolutely packed with talent.
The Fight Pass prelims produced victories for Francis Ngannou, Vicente Luque and Kamaru Usman, who edged out Leon Edwards, while the televised prelims included the promotional debut of Valentina Shevchenko and a bunch of entertaining performances from veteran names, including Tamdan McCrory, Nate Marquardt, and Charles Oliveira. Joining the two main card fights already mentioned were Karolina Kowalkiewicz’ successful promotional debut against Randa Markos and Alistair Overeem registering a second-round stoppage win over former champ Junior Dos Santos.
What an absolutely monstrous card.
This collection has been peppered with primo finishes and Price’s effort against Vick has to be mentioned.
Vick had climbed to the brink of contention in the lightweight division before suffering three straight losses and opting to move to welterweight. It was a shift that many believed was long overdue and had to the potential to kickstart a second run of success inside the UFC cage for the former Ultimate Fighter contestant.
A native of Cape Coral, Florida, this was a homecoming of sorts for the high-energy Price, who entered off a loss to Geoff Neal, but had established himself as an entertaining, all-action fighter with the ability to finish from literally anywhere at any time. This became another example of that fact.
Price pressed in for a takedown 90 seconds into the fight, but ended up getting stuffed on the way down, leading to Vick landing in top position, raining down blows. As the Texan postured up and looked to clear the legs, Price cracked Vick in the jaw with his right heel, knocking him out.
There were a ton of questions swirling around Jedrzejczyk heading into this one as the former strawweight queen had earned just a single victory in her previous four fights and there had been talk the week before about potential weight-cutting issues in the lead up to fight week.
While each of Jedrzejczyk’s three losses had come in championship bouts against elite talents, it was difficult not to wonder if years of intense fight camps, grueling title fights, and the overall physical toll of being an elite competitor was starting to get to her. On top of that, Waterson had just turned in the best performance of her UFC career seven months earlier, sweeping the scorecards against former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz in Philadelphia.
Once they got in the cage, however, it was clear that the questions about Jedrzejczyk’s future were premature as the former queen of the strawweight division defeated the talented Top 10 fixture over the course of five rounds. Waterson was never able to get any real momentum, as the Polish superstar controlled the tempo and dominated the exchanges en route to securing a unanimous decision victory and setting the stage for her epic clash with Zhang Weili earlier this year.