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The Ultimate 100 Recap - The Top Ten

Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - All week, Spike TV has counted down the greatest fights in UFC history, as voted by the fans, on The Ultimate 100 Greatest Fights series. Click below for a recap of fights 10 to 1 on the list.

By Thomas Gerbasi

All week, Spike TV has counted down the greatest fights in UFC history, as voted by the fans, on The Ultimate 100 Greatest Fights series. Click below for a recap of fights 10 to 1 on the list.

Note that the ‘fight recap’ section after each fight consists of reports that were filed on fight night.

No one thought Forrest Griffin was going to lie down and take a beating from high-profile PRIDE import Mauricio “Shogun” Rua when they met in Anaheim in September of 2007. Griffin was going to show up, be competitive, swing for the fences, and eventually get put away by ‘Shogun’ – at least that’s what the Hollywood script called for. Griffin didn’t get the memo though, and he not only beat Rua, he dominated him, putting the icing on the cake with a submission in the final minute to cap the upset victory.

FIGHT RECAP - In the eyes of many, PRIDE veteran Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua was one of the best – if not the best - light heavyweights in the world. But in his UFC debut tonight at the Honda Center, Forrest Griffin elevated his own status in the 205-pound weight class at the expense of the feared Brazilian, dominating him throughout their three rounder and then finishing the bout with a submission at the 4:45 mark of the final round.

From the outset, Griffin showed no fear of the Curitiba resident, landing with strikes and fighting off Rua’s takedown attempts as the crowd chanted his name. With a little over a minute gone though, Rua got his takedown and started to open up with forearms in Griffin’s guard. Griffin fought his way back to his feet with a little under half the round gone, and after some trading of punches, he scored his own takedown, followed by some ground strikes before the two combatants, both showing swelling on their faces, stood and traded again, with Rua getting Griffin to the mat with 30 seconds to go. By the end of the frame, Griffin had reversed position and was in control at the bell.

Again standing in the pocket with Rua, Griffin scored early with strikes in the second until ‘Shogun’ got the takedown and bloodied his foe’s forehead with ground strikes. Incensed at seeing his own blood, Griffin fought back harder, reversing position on Rua and landing with his own strikes on the mat before the two stood again. With under two minutes left in the round, the two traded punches, with Rua looking to be the more fatigued. Griffin, tired himself, nonetheless worked Rua over when the bout hit the mat again, with referee Steve Mazzagatti watching the action closely until the bell.

Rua opened his final round offense with a takedown, and Griffin tried to pull a fast one with a submission that was turned away. While on the ground, Rua fired away with the occasional elbow while Griffin fired back and continued to outwork his more celebrated opponent from all angles, eventually getting into a dominant position where he locked in a rear naked choke and finished off Rua with just 15 seconds left.

With the win, Griffin improves to 15-4; Rua falls to 16-3. At the time of the stoppage, Griffin was leading 20-18 on all three scorecards.

Many felt that Gabriel Gonzaga’s ground game was good enough that if he could take feared striker Mirko Cro Cop to the mat, he had a chance to win. Well, Gonzaga followed that plan and grounded and pounded Cro Cop for much of the opening round. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, his efforts seemed for naught when the fight was stood up with 35 seconds left in the round. Suddenly, Gonzaga was going to face the wrath of the most feared striker in the game. But then a funny thing happened, and Gonzaga whipped a right kick to Cro Cop’s head, and the Croatian fell like he was shot, grotesquely twisting his knee and ankle in the process. Not only was it shocking, it was spectacular.

FIGHT RECAP - For years, Mirko Cro Cop had knocked opponents out in devastating fashion with fearsome kicks to the head. Tonight, before a packed house at the MEN Arena, Gabriel Gonzaga gave the Croatian bomber a taste of his own medicine, sending him crashing to defeat with a single right kick to the head in the UFC 70 main event, earning himself a shot at UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture in the process.

“I trained very hard, mentally and physically, for this fight and I was aiming for the knockout,” said Gonzaga, now 8-1. “I had the opportunity and I took it.”

“I’m disappointed,” said Cro Cop, 22-5-2. “I will have to look at the fight and see the mistakes I made.”

Gonzaga came out of his corner determined to fight, and he immediately started tossing out rangefinding punches as he stood in the pocket with the feared striker. Cro Cop took his time while looking for an opening, but when he threw his first big kick to the body, Gonzaga was able to grab his opponent’s leg and take him to the canvas. On the mat, Cro Cop tried to keep his cool in an attempt to force a standup, but Gonzaga would have none of it as he fired away with forearms to the head, one of which opened a cut on the Croatian’s forehead. With 35 seconds left, apparently Cro Cop got a reprieve, but instead, he was sent crashing to the mat with a single right kick to the head at the 4:51 mark, throwing the arena into shock as the next challenger for the heavyweight crown was determined.

“I’m going to do my best to prepare for this fight and I’m going to try and do the same thing again,” said Gonzaga of his future opponent, the legendary Couture.

This time, no one will count ‘Napao’ out.

Elite 170 pounders Sanchez and Parisyan locked horns in August of 2006 in a bout that you can show to skeptics and say ‘this is what mixed martial arts is all about.’ And though the then-unbeaten Sanchez’ true arrival as one of the best welterweights in the world came at Parisyan’s expense via decision, ‘The Heat’ should never hang his head for a performance that saw him land his patented judo throws on Sanchez and continue to battle, even as the seemingly indefatigable Albuquerque native kept attacking for 15 torrid minutes. If you can’t appreciate this fight for its technical and visceral brilliance, I’m sure there’s some golf playing on the tube somewhere for you.

FIGHT RECAP - The critics were waiting in the wings, waiting to pounce on unbeaten welterweight Diego Sanchez as he looked for his 18th victory without a loss tonight in the UFC Fight Night main event at the Red Rock Casino against veteran Karo ‘The Heat’ Parisyan. This was going to be the fighter to humble Sanchez, to stop the meteoric rise that began with his win on the first season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. But Sanchez’ performance, which got him a well-earned unanimous decision victory over the gutsy Parisyan in one of the best fights of 2006, left one lasting statement to those skeptics:

Not tonight.

Scores were 29-28 (twice), and 30-26 for Sanchez, who moves into the upper reaches of the 170-pound weight class, which is currently ruled by champion Matt Hughes (who will defend his crown against number one contender Georges St. Pierre on September 23).

“Karo was a very tough guy, he has so much heart,” said the 24-year-old Sanchez. “It was such an honor to fight him; it was an awesome fight, the best of my career.”

After an intense pre-fight staredown, the welterweights immediately got down to business, with Sanchez landing a hard right uppercut before taking Parisyan down. ‘The Heat’ winced in pain and appeared to be bruised under the left eye, but he was able to get back to his feet and score a takedown of his own that was followed by some strong strikes by both men. The fast pace of the bout had the crowd roaring, and once both fighters stood, Parisyan struck with two judo throws that put Sanchez on the defensive for one of the few times in his UFC career. As the round drew to a close, both men traded strikes, with neither man taking a significant edge.

The standup battle picked up where it left off in the first round, with Sanchez and Parisyan both taking good shots. One minute in, Parisyan picked Sanchez up and took him down, but Sanchez worked well enough from the bottom to stay out of serious trouble. With three minutes left, Sanchez rose and the welterweight contenders got back to trading punches. Sanchez got Parisyan (whose nose was now bloodied) back to the mat with a little over two minutes left and started to attack with big shots from the top position. Parisyan rose, but now his right eye started to show signs of wear as well, and Sanchez got his foe back to the ground before the bell sounded.

Taking a well-deserved break for the first few seconds of the final round, both Sanchez and Parisyan soon resumed hostilities on the feet, with Sanchez landing the crisper punches. Parisyan got even though, taking Sanchez to the mat and working from the top. Sanchez got out of trouble quickly and tried to sink in a choke, but Parisyan escaped. Seconds later, things got even worse for ‘The Heat’ as Sanchez got on top and started opening up with both hands. Parisyan showed the heart of a lion though, and with little under two minutes left he made it back to his feet. Sanchez scored with a series of uppercuts and a knee though (the knee knocking Parisyan’s tooth out), and the fight appeared to be slipping away from ‘The Heat’, something that was made a certainty as Sanchez pounded away at Parisyan until the final bell tolled.

“I believe I’m the best in the world,” said Sanchez. “I’m ready to fight whoever.”

It wasn’t one blow that ended Silva’s rematch with Franklin, but the wide array of techniques displayed by the UFC middleweight champion were a thing of beauty, and left Franklin not only helpless, but with a look on his face wondering what the best pound for pound fighter in the world was going to unleash on him next. A truly virtuoso performance from ‘The Spider’

FIGHT RECAP - If anyone doubted the validity of Anderson Silva’s first win over Rich Franklin last year, they are not doubting it anymore after the UFC Middleweight Champion defended his crown for the second time with a second round stoppage of the man he won the title from in a more competitive but equally dominant fight at a packed U.S. Bank Arena Saturday night.

“Rich is a great athlete, a great champion and a great person, and he deserves respect,” said Silva, who halted Franklin in the first round at UFC 64 on October 14, 2006. “I was just doing my job.”

“He had me tonight, what can I say,” said Franklin. “I just want to say thanks to Anderson. He’s a great champion and a great guy.”

Entering the Octagon to a deafening roar that almost drowned out Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, Franklin looked much more confident than he did for his first fight against Silva and actually had a spring in his step as he waited for the champion to join him. And when the lights dimmed and Silva walked into battle to the strains of DMX’ ‘Ain’t no sunshine’, the crowd initially booed, but then just settled into a murmur of anticipation for what was about to come.

Of course, the boos began again when Silva was introduced, which was unfortunate for the classy champion, especially since the equally classy Franklin invoked the crowd to cheer for his foe.

But there would be no friendships when the bell rang, and Franklin was busy early with leg kicks and quick jabs to the head. Silva didn’t fire his first shot until 55 seconds had elapsed, and that was a knee to the body followed by an attempt at the same clinch that ended Franklin’s title reign in 2006. This time though, Franklin fought the attempt off well, and after a brief scramble against the fence, the bout hit the mat. Silva would rise after a few moments of the ground, and Franklin got close and pushed Silva to the fence. After breaking, the two engaged, with a left kick to the face by Silva the most telling blow before Franklin was able to push his foe to the fence again. Once the two separated, Silva brought out his bag of tricks, which included spinning backfists and of course, his devastating knees. It was a right hook to the head though, which dropped Franklin at the bell, and forced his cornermen to assist him back to his stool for 60 seconds of much needed rest.

With his legs back apparently back under him, Franklin aggressively took after Silva to begin round two, but when ‘Ace’ got too close, the champion showed why he is the best fighter in the world, pound for pound, as he hurt Franklin with another right hand, and started sending a ferocious arsenal of knees the hometown hero’s way again. Finally, Franklin just collapsed under the assault, causing referee John McCarthy to call a stop to the bout at 1:07 of the round.

And when it was over, there were no boos in Cincinnati.

Sure, Anderson Silva looked great in stopping Chris Leben in one round, but this was Rich Franklin, the UFC middleweight champion and a guy who was coming off a five round near shutout of dangerous David Loiseau in a fight where he battled a number of serious injuries. There would be no first round KO here, right?

Wrong. From the moment Silva got Franklin in his vice-like clinch, you could see ‘Ace’s title slipping away, and soon ‘The Spider’ started ripping knee after knee into Franklin’s body, setting him up for a shot to the head which visibly broke the champion’s nose, all to the oohs and aahs of a stunned Mandalay Bay crowd. The ending, at 2:59 of the first round, was brutal, emphatic, and left no doubt as to who the better man was that night in the Octagon. Silva’s ascension to the throne sent a message to the rest of the 185-pound world – challenge me at your own peril.

FIGHT RECAP - Leading up to tonight’s 185-pound title fight between Rich Franklin and Anderson Silva, many wondered if the Brazilian’s 49 second blowout of Chris Leben in June was a fluke. It wasn’t, as Silva used a brutal Muay Thai clinch to dominate Franklin on the inside and stun the crowd in attendance for UFC 64 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center by scoring a first round TKO over the Cincinnati native to win the UFC middleweight crown.

“I feel like UFC’s my home and I’m here to stay,” said Silva, who was overcome with emotion after taking out Franklin, who was attempting to make his third successful title defense in his first fight back after a seven month layoff due to injury.

It was a war of nerves in the early going, but by the second minute of the first round, both fighters started opening up a bit more, with Silva securing a tight Thai clinch that produced a series of solid knees to the body and head, one of which jarred the champ briefly. Franklin waded right back into battle, but as he came in, Silva locked his hands around Franklin’s neck again, and this time a huge right knee left Franklin stunned and open for a brutal follow-up that included two more kicks and a final left knee that sent Franklin to the canvas, where referee John McCarthy wisely halted the bout at the 3:59 mark.

“I was not expecting him to be that strong in the clinch,” said Franklin. “I expected it to be my sweet spot and it gave me a lot of trouble.”

In perhaps the most exciting 90 seconds seen in the sport, former pro wrestling superstar Brock Lesnar was on the verge of completing a UFC debut that hadn’t been seen since the days of a young Vitor Belfort. He had taken former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir down and was unleashing a ferocious ground and pound attack that it seemed no fighter could recover from. But after a point deduction from Lesnar for an inadvertent blow to the head and another trip to the canvas, Mir was able to clear his head and do what his art form of jiu-jitsu made its name on – beating a bigger and stronger opponent with superior technique. The fight ending kneebar came 90 seconds into the fight, and showed that in mixed martial arts, expect the unexpected.

FIGHT RECAP - For a little over a minute, former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar looked like he was going to have his way with former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in his Octagon debut tonight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. But at this level of the game, it only takes one mistake to end up on the losing end of the equation, and Mir proved it, submitting Lesnar 90 seconds into the opening round.

“No excuses, he’s a top-notch jiu-jitsu guy and he got me tonight. He’s the better fighter,” said Lesnar, a former NCAA wrestling national champion who drops to 1-1 in pro mixed martial arts.

Within seconds of the opening bell, Lesnar had dumped Mir on the canvas and started reigning down blows. An inadvertent shot to the back of the head by Lesnar forced a stoppage of the action and a deduction of a point by referee Steve Mazzagatti though, and gave Mir a chance to clear his head.

And while he would be put on the mat a second time, now by a right hand from Lesnar, this time Mir would weather the storm while fighting to sink in an armbar, and as Lesnar looked to finish, Mir grabbed his leg and sunk in the fight-ending kneebar.

“I went for a couple of armbar attempts, but look at the guy’s arms,” said Mir. “His legs were a little leaner, so I attack the neck or the legs on a big guy because they’re always vulnerable.”

It was the Las Vegan’s biggest win since a motorcycle accident sidelined him in 2004.

“I had Brock Lesnar dropping elbows on my head and I still pulled through and grabbed a submission,” said Mir, now 11-3.

As for Lesnar, his 90 seconds of work did show promise, and in turn, he promises to return to the Octagon to chase after the heavyweight crown.

“You win some and you lose some,” said Lesnar. “I’d like to win them all, but you can’t.”

When BJ Penn returned to the UFC in 2006 after two years away from the organization, he came in as a man who had never lost the welterweight title in the Octagon. So when it was announced that his first fight back at UFC 58 on March 4, 2006 would be a bout against rising star Georges St-Pierre, Penn didn’t see it as a title elimination match – he saw it as his unofficial first title defense.

“I saw him (St-Pierre) get down on his knees and he begged for the title shot,” said Penn, referring to St-Pierre’s public request for a title shot after his win over Sean Sherk in November of 2005. “Now he’s got it. I still believe I’m the champion – I don’t know where (Matt) Hughes got his belt from – and this is my first title defense. I’m gonna make my second title defense against Matt Hughes, and then we’re gonna see where I take it from there.”

St-Pierre, while initially disappointed that his win over Sherk would not propel him into an immediate title shot, took the Penn fight with his characteristic grace.

“At the beginning I was a little bit disappointed, but after, I realized that BJ Penn was the champion and he beat Matt Hughes, so now I’m very happy to fight BJ Penn and after I beat him I think it’s gonna give me more credibility for a title shot,” said St-Pierre. “And I’m not mad at all because for many people, BJ Penn is the best pound for pound fighter in the world and is still the UFC champion. So for me it’s just a good thing to fight this guy.”

He was confident as well.

“Every time I fight somebody, I fight him like he’s the world champion and that’s what I’m gonna do with BJ Penn. I’m not afraid of BJ Penn, I’m afraid about not performing like I’m supposed to do. But that’s why I keep training hard. I do my homework and I’m sure I’m gonna do very well.”

And when it comes to confidence, Penn is never too far behind.

“I feel like when I fought Caol Uno the first time,” said Penn, referring to his 11 second knockout of the respected Japanese fighter in 2001. “I’m staying up at night and I’ve got a different feeling, I’ve got a nervous energy going. I think we’re gonna maybe get to see moments of greatness come March 4th.”

As the welterweight showdown approached at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, St-Pierre certainly didn’t look like a fighter. Instead, he was the spitting image of a 9 to 5 businessman when he entered the UFC Octagon for the first time at 5:08pm local time to warm up in a suit, tie, and no shoes. But once he returned to fight Penn, he was all fighter, as he survived a bloody pounding in the first round to win the next two on two of the three judges’ cards and earn a split decision in a highly anticipated bout that actually lived up to the hype.

Penn was barely able to contain himself as he awaited the opening bell, and the roar of the crowd was ear-splitting. Penn came straight out at his foe, looking to land a bomb, but St-Pierre kept his cool in perhaps the biggest fight of his life. A flurry by Penn left St-Pierre blinking his eye from an inadvertent thumb, but also left his nose bloodied. “I saw two BJ Penns,” said St-Pierre.

At the three-minute mark, the two clinched and St-Pierre walked Penn to the fence and tried to work his knees. Penn responded with knees of his own and fought off St-Pierre’s takedown attempts. After a break, the two traded, and St-Pierre picked up his pace with punches and kicks. Penn calmly stood in the pocket though and picked at his opponent with accurate shots that opened a cut under St-Pierre’s right eye.

”I’m a very good athlete, so I was used to winning all the rounds,” said St-Pierre. “But after that round, I came back and I was hurt. I was cut under my eye, I couldn’t breathe well from my nose, and it was hard. It was a big test mentally to see how I could come back from a hard first round.”

On the other side of the Octagon, Penn had to be feeling good about the way things were going, but he didn’t expect St-Pierre to fold.

“I never disrespect my opponent halfway through the fight because all it takes is one punch or one kick and the fight’s done,” said Penn. “I went back to my corner (after the first round) and I thought, ‘I’m a little tired, but it’s not so bad.’”

Looking to turn the tide, St-Pierre came out fast in the second, shooting out jabs and kicks that surprised Penn. After locking up again, St-Pierre was finally able to put Penn on the mat, where he worked from inside the Hilo native’s guard briefly before standing and landing a couple of shots on the prone Penn. With a little over three minutes left, both fighters stood and St-Pierre was able to bully Penn back to the fence for a moment before ‘The Prodigy’ fought his way back to the center of the Octagon. Again, St-Pierre was able to land kicks, but his strikes were having little effect on Penn, whose hands were considerably heavier, though not as active. With under a minute to go, Penn opened up a bit more with his back to the fence, but it was St-Pierre who ended the round the strongest when he took Penn down to the mat just before the bell sounded.

Penn’s gas tank was now running on empty.

”We started fighting some more and I come back to the corner after the second round and I’m thinking ‘I don’t feel too strong right now. My body doesn’t feel too good, I’m gonna take Georges down, throw a couple punches,’” Penn recalled. “But he defended it well, and the rest is history – the fight ended up the way it did.”

With the fight seemingly up for grabs, the third began with both fighters looking to trade, but it was St-Pierre who was able to outland Penn, an amazing feat given the way the bout began and with the amount of blood lost by the Montreal fighter. With under four minutes left, St-Pierre scored his biggest takedown, picking up Penn and slamming him to the mat. Penn was able to work his way back to his feet, but St-Pierre put him right back against the fence. At the 2:15 mark Penn went for his first takedown of the fight, but St-Pierre avoided it adroitly and again smothered Penn against the Octagon fence before taking him down again with just under a minute left in the fight. Penn, a jiu-jitsu ace, looked to submit St-Pierre in a last ditch effort on the ground, but it was not to be.

Scores were 29-28 twice and 28-29 for St-Pierre, who earned a rematch against UFC welterweight king Matt Hughes with the win. It was an opportunity he took advantage of when he defeated Hughes at UFC 65 to win the 170-pound title for the first time. Penn, who entered the bout wearing the championship belt he never lost in the Octagon, was disappointed with the verdict.

“I just feel that I probably did more damage,” said Penn. “But he fought well.”

Despite losing to Hughes in their first bout in November of 2003, Frank Trigg was not about to concede that the champion was the better fighter. And after Trigg stopped Hughes’ early nemesis Dennis Hallman and the man he went the distance with, Renato Verissimo, it was time for a rematch. It was one Hughes didn’t particularly care for.

“I didn’t want to fight Trigg the second time because I didn’t feel like I had anything to win,” admitted Hughes. “I didn’t feel like I could beat him any better than I did the first time, so what would be the point of me fighting him again? Trigg had nothing to lose, and I had nothing to win in that fight.”

Hughes was wrong, as his second victory over Trigg was an instant classic, definitively putting it on the list of best UFC fights of All-Time. Words just don’t do it justice, so if you haven’t seen this fight, go now and watch it.

FIGHT RECAP - UFC welterweight champ Matt Hughes made it two in a row over Frank Trigg in the evening’s second title bout, sending ‘Twinkle Toes’ to defeat via a rear naked choke in a bout that packed more drama into four minutes and five seconds than most do in five five minute rounds.

After an opening staredown that saw Trigg bump Hughes and the champion respond with a shove, the two combatants met at the center of the cage and traded punches until a lock-up. While against the cage, Trigg caught Hughes with a low knee that was not caught by referee Mario Yamasaki. As Hughes retreated and tried to regain his bearings, Trigg pounced and sent Hughes to the canvas with a left to the jaw.

In serious trouble, Hughes caught a flurry of blows on the ground as Trigg worked his way into the mounted position.

Hughes tried to escape the bottom, but wound up giving Trigg his back at the three minute mark, and the challenger quickly capitalized with a rear naked choke. Hughes’ face turned crimson, but amazingly he was able to escape and then follow up this good fortune by picking his foe up and carrying him across the cage before dropping him on his back with a trademark slam.

Now it was Hughes in control, and in the full mount he opened up on Trigg with both hands. With the packed house going wild, Trigg then turned and it was Hughes sinking in a rear naked choke, which produced a tap out at the 4:05 mark.

Six years in the making, the showdown between the most dominant light heavyweights of this era was worth the wait. Punctuated by brutal close range exchanges, this was a fight that had patrons at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on their feet and people at home jumping off their couches. In the end, Liddell revived his career with a three round win, and in defeat Silva remained one of the sport’s true action heroes, a guy anyone would still pay to watch fight.

FIGHT RECAP - Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And though he came six years and four days late, he finally showed up with a fight between the two most dominant light heavyweights in history, Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva, and the ensuing three round war at the Mandalay Bay Events Center tonight lived up to all expectations, with Liddell emerging victorious via a three round unanimous decision.

Scores were 30-27 twice and 29-28 for the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, who broke a two fight losing streak with his win over the former PRIDE Champion, who was trying to stop his own two-fight skid.

“It would have been a travesty if we wouldn’t have fought because it’s a great fight for the fans,” said Liddell in the understatement of the year. “I knew it was a big fight for everybody, especially for me to get back on track.”

“I gave my best,” said Silva. “Win or lose I like to give to my fans.”

Both fighters did that and more.

With flashbulbs lighting up the arena, both fighters circled each other warily early on, not wanting to be the first to make a fatal tactical error. Silva, after dropping his hands to taunt Liddell, engaged first, but none of his blows struck paydirt. Shortly thereafter, Liddell apparently hurt Silva, with Silva backing up to the fence either because his legs were rubbery or because he wanted to lure Liddell in. Whatever the reason, it worked, and the two threw bombs at each other, with Silva getting the worst of it as he emerged with a mouse under his left eye. Silva soon got his licks in and the crowd erupted, growing even louder as Liddell and Silva both scored with power shots that would have crumbled lesser men. After some more furious exchanges, the bell rang, ending one of the most exciting rounds of the year.

The action in round two heated up immediately, with Silva winging bombs at Liddell, whose straighter punches were leaving their mark on the Brazilian’s face. Not surprisingly though, Silva kept trudging forward, eager to engage and loving the battle. A minute and a half in, Silva started to land more on Liddell, but ‘The Iceman’ was accurate with his return fire. A slip to the canvas by Liddell put fans on their feet, but the Californian rose quickly, only to eat some power shots, one of which put him down for real seconds later. With under two minutes to go, Liddell and Silva clinched near the fence, and Silva, now bleeding from over his right eye, took the worst of it. Silva wouldn’t surrender though, and the ensuing exchanges to the bell were spectacular, and that’s an understatement.

“I hit him with a lot of big shots and he kept coming,” said Liddell.

Looking to close the show, Liddell – cut under his left eye - shot in and took Silva down to start the final round, but the two quickly rose back to their feet. The pace dipped for about 20 seconds after that before the haymakers started flying again. Liddell scored with a flush right that Silva shook off, and Silva responded with a shot off the top of the head that Liddell walked through. Surprisingly, a spinning backfist by Liddell jarred Silva, and a follow-up barrage got ‘The Axe Murderer’ in serious trouble against the fence. But just when referee Herb Dean moved in to watch the action closely for a possible stoppage, Silva started firing back with both hands. At this point, with under two minutes left, it appeared that Liddell was winning this war, yet nothing stopped Silva’s forward march, and he gamely followed the tired Liddell in search of the equalizer, and though it never came, there was no question that the years of waiting for the fight were worth it, regardless of who won and who lost.

This was a real tough one to pick for the number one UFC bout of all-time (note sarcasm). A pitched battle between two fighters who fought as if a six figure UFC contract was on the line (and it was), Griffin and Bonnar gave fight fans a brawl they will always remember. Add in the fact that this standup war was being televised live to millions on Spike TV and the impact of this bout was even more profound. As far as the fight goes, it was bombs away from the opening bell, with both fighters growing progressively more tired as the rounds passed by, but refusing to give ground. In the end the decision went to Griffin, but there were no losers here, especially with contracts being awarded to both fighters after the verdict was announced.

Shortly after the fight, I was able to talk to Griffin, and here’s the story that resulted:

On the shelf with a broken arm, Griffin had decided he had had enough of the fight game. The injuries – major and minor, the low pay, the physical and mental strain, why bother? He had a degree, a good job, a girlfriend; he didn’t need the fight game.

But the phone would ring again, and Griffin would push everything in his life to the side – the job, the girlfriend, the degree – for the opportunity of a lifetime, to appear on “The Ultimate Fighter” series. He would spend two months in a fishbowl with the entire nation watching, all for the remote possibility that he would be the last man standing in a house full of fighters.

He made it.

Not that it was easy; not that he didn’t have to fight through a nasty gash on his left eyebrow to get to the finals, but on April 9, Griffin was one win away from glory once again. Fellow light heavyweight hopeful Stephan Bonnar stood across the Octagon from him, and neither fighter was willing to blink.

The ensuing 15 minutes encapsulated the best of what this sport has to offer, and the best of two fighters who fought as if their lives were at stake. If you didn’t walk away from your television set a fan that night, I don’t know what to tell you. About the only person disappointed with the three round war was the winner.

“I only watched it once,” admitted Griffin. “I guess I kinda had to. It was a hard, a lot of missed opportunities, and a lot of things where you know better. You know you can do this or do that, but you don’t. But the bottom line is I felt like I fought a great first round. I felt like I came out and just started going at it.”

Bonnar eagerly accepted Griffin’s willingness to scrap, and the pattern and pace rarely changed throughout the bout. Griffin took the first round and Bonnar rebounded in the second, leaving his foe bloodied from a cut on the bridge of his nose. Did you expect anything less from Griffin?

“I don’t know, man,” chuckles Griffin. “You need to get popped; you need to get a little bit of something. It helps if you get backed into a corner.”

Backed into a corner by Bonnar’s attack and exhausted by the furious pace of the first ten minutes, Griffin’s chest visibly heaved for any air it could get, but he continued to fight, and the third round became as memorable as the first two, and at the end, even though Griffin got the decision, both he and Bonnar received UFC contracts. It was the fight game’s rare happy ending, an exclamation point on the first part of a career that many will dub an overnight success. Does Griffin see the irony in such a statement?

“Not really,” he said. “I didn’t get here through all that hard work and winning fights nonsense; I got here through a TV game show, and I’m comfortable with that.”