The new millennium brought huge changes to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The UFC, had been banned in most states and forced into southern states or states with no athletic commissions. Since 2001 the UFC has gained much more legitimacy. Though little had changed with the mechanism, The state of New Jersey’s approval and the new ownership established in Las Vegas put the MMA brand back into the national spotlight.
This new ownership pushed the hostile view of the sport aside and brought it back to pay-per-view. They also transformed the sport to be regulated in Nevada. The fighters evolved and spent nearly a decade figuring out what worked and what did not in all situations in the ring. They were finally ready for the spotlight. The result was a series of amazing fights, each year featuring many contests that put the brutal and archaic styles of the early years to shame. In the early years MMA enthusiast would insist that MMA events were much more than glorified bar fights. In this new millennium finally, it is true.
These are my personal choices for best fights of the new millennium. Now, I am no expert but I do have some strong opinions and I am a very objective observer. But this is, clearly, a subjective examination. Fights, to me, are like stories. Some might not have the best poetic endings but they can still manage to say something profound nonetheless. Other stories can be beautifully written but just don’t reach the soul like they should. As I see it these top 10 fights of the new millennium are what gave the UFC legitimacy. I could not put these in any specific order, so you be the judge.
Event: UFC 86
In 2008 Forrest Griffin was a very hot ticket with a lot of name recognition, thanks to TUF. He was a crowd favorite and PPV attraction. But a legitimately world-class fighter? No one was quite ready to go that far, even after an upset win over Pride’s Mauricio Rua. This fight changed everything. Griffin, though outmatched physically, simply outworked Jackson, overcoming a huge uppercut in the first round to come back and win the fight. It was back-and-forth. Griffin’s hard leg kicks and superior work on the ground ultimately won over the judges and earned him the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.
Event: UFC Fight Night 6
The Ultimate Fighter’s first season stars, like Sanchez, were greeted with some doubt by longtime MMA fans and fighters. Could they really compete with the best in the world or were they merely creations of reality television? Sanchez was one of the first to answer those questions. He beat Nick Diaz in an instant classic in 2005 and then took everything Parisyan had to offer. That included a hard judo throw that landed him right on his head but Sanchez came back with a pace and intensity Parisyan, the top dog, just couldn’t out pace to earn the decision.
Event: Pride Final Conflict 2003
Yoshida, a former gold medalist, was old, crippled and fighting up in weight when he gave MMA a try for Pride. In this fight, it looked like none of that was going to matter. Against all odds, Yoshida was giving as good as he got in a standing exchange with the relentless Wanderlei Silva. Silva was in his prime. The crowd was beyond hope, could their hero prevail? He fell short by way of decision after 15 minutes of immortality. I almost forgot about this fight. If you ave never seen it you have got to find it and watch.
Event: Pride 33
Gomi was on his way to title bouts. He wanted Matt Hughes, B.J. Penn and had his eyes on the UFC championship. He should have been thinking about his opponent, Nick Diaz, instead. Diaz, had left the UFC for Pride with a vengeance. Diaz weathered an early Gomi assault to finish the fight with an unseen gogoplata submission. The win was overturned when Diaz tested positive for weed. This was a clear error in the record books, not to show this as a win for Diaz. All of us who remember it will never forget what really happened that wild night in Las Vegas.
Event: UFC 102
There was really nothing to look forward to when Randy Couture returned to his adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon. The energy became beyond compare once Couture his the cage. It was amazing to see Couture’s impact on the crowd, they clearly loved him. This was the kind of fight that deserved those roaring cheers. No longer was either fighter in his prime. Neither fighter was what he once was. In this bout, that worked out well. It was like watching Fred and Ginger, rolling on the mat, engaging in the clinch, striking at distance they were poetic in their legend and it was mesmerizing.
Event: UFC 125
Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard re-invented what fighting would become. It was an amazing display of geius and courage. Frankie Edgar,the champion, managed to come back from a first-round pounding to take things the distance. This was a rally like no other, a comeback from hell that had to be seen to be believed. The rest of the fight was an all-out war, with momentum sliding back and forth between the two men as neither was able to impose his will. Even the judges could not decide. The draw just felt right. Neither man deserved to be a loser that night.
Event: UFC 165
Jon Jones’ combination of brutal elbows and a clear head defeated the likes of; Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, “Shogun” Rua and Lyoto Machida. He made everything look so easy. Some would say that Jones had never been truly been tested. When pushed to his limits, how would he respond? Then came Gustafsson, the spindly and overlooked Swede who forced the champion past his comfort zone and into unknown territory. Jones rallied past adversity and won the fight with a final-round flurry that pushed him ahead on the judges’ scorecards. Jones remains a polarizing figure. Everyone loves to hate this man but no one could question his resolve after this fight. Arguably, the best fighter to ever step into the UFC Octagon.
Event: UFC 175
This middleweight bout struck me on a different level. Lyoto Machida was getting destroyed. You could see the pain and confusion in his eyes. But he never quit. In the fourth round, continuous hard hits dazed him. In the fifth round, Machida went balls to the wall in the last 10 seconds, risking all on a final flurry. Weidman survived, erasing any lingering doubt that his wins over the great Anderson Silva had been flukes. The Machida reign was over after this fight.
Event: UFC 117
Chael Sonnen’s hard to believe streak of a lifetime peaked when he took it to Anderson Silva in a way no one ever had. Silva was also the most dominant fighter ever in the UFC. Silva made amazing fighters look foolish. No one had ever been able to dominate Silva, no one until Sonnen. For four rounds, Sonnen toyed with the champion. And then as no one expected, a triangle choke, proved his undoing. A failed drug test and a rematch would follow. This rematch turned out to be one of the most successful fights in UFC history. But this is the fight that I remember. This fight made both men legends
Event: UFC FN 59
UFC Fight Night 59 was headlined by McGregor and Dennis Siver, which earned McGregor a featherweight title shot against champion Jose Aldo. According to FOX, UFC Fight Night 59 was the top cable program and number 2 for all television outside NFL programming, making it its third best day ever. The reason was Conor McGregor. He brought a whole new audience to MMA. His brash Irish background and heated trash talk made this fight worth watching. McGregor’s style was so unorthodox and new that Siver looked confused the entire fight. The final TKO in the second round was a rousing win for a soon-to-be champion (my prediction). And this fight is what gave him the shot. Although this was not an epic fight, it changed the business of MMA. There is a great white hope in MMA now and his name is Conor McGregor.