For MMA fans the UFC has recently become as synonymous with Fourth of July celebrations as the smell of meat on a grill and the familiar spectacle of fireworks. Since 2006 the organization has pumped out seven shows including this past weekend’s “UFC 132: Cruz vs. Faber II,” a card meeting if not surpassing the standard of entertainment excellence set by previous offerings.
Though this year’s potato salad has been packed and UFC 132 has passed, take a look back at ten of the most memorable fights from past events within a week of the holiday before turning your focus to future pairings. Some were pretty, some were ugly, but all undoubtedly left an impression on those who watched still glowing as bright in their memories as any burst of colored gunpowder.
Chris Leben vs. Anderson Silva (June 28, 2006 – UFN 5)
This card featured the likes of Josh Koscheck, Mark Hominick, Rashad Evans, and included an undercard bout between Thiago Alves and Jon Fitch, but the real stand-out moment of UFN 5 was the Octagon debut of long-standing middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Going into his bout with Chris Leben few realized what was about to be witnessed including Leben who’d talked a good deal of smack leading up to the fight. Less than a minute into things Silva had announced his arrival in devastating fashion with a series of sleep-inducing knees/strikes. He’s won twelve straight since and cemented a legacy in the sport unlikely to be matched for a number of years if ever.
Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader (July 2, 2011 – UFC 132)
From the first card to the most recent, Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader seemed to have all the makings of an obvious outcome but, as the wise have learned, one should never judge a bout by its cover. Ortiz, who hadn’t won in nearly five years to the day, was facing a possibly forced retirement or at least release from the UFC and taking on a highly-touted prospect with one loss, not to mention an Ultimate Fighter season crown to his name, a decorated amateur wrestling career, and one-punch knockout power. Rather than end as many had suspected it would – a stroll in the park for blue-chipper Bader – the wily old veteran landed a stiff shot early and locked in a fight-ending Guillotine Choke for rare submission success during the ensuing scramble. Given the significance of the win, rather than dig a grave as he did in traditional form, Ortiz should have perhaps decided to mimic a zombie instead and rose from the ground instead as the victory may have very well resurrected his career.
Quinton Jackson vs. Forrest Griffin (July 5, 2008 – UFC 86)
Like the previous fight, Forrest Griffin a vast underdog who rose to the occasion with the role of favorite being played by then-champion Quinton Jackson. However, he did so in a less convincing fashion by hobbling “Rampage” early with leg kicks, weathering a few later storms, and eventually having his hands raised due to a somewhat questionable decision. Both sides of that particular argument have valid points but there’s one issue they can certainly agree on – the high level of entertainment involved.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Heath Herring (July 7, 2007 – UFC 73)
While not necessarily a spectacular fight on paper, or for the most part in the Octagon, few can forget Heath Herring’s hesitancy to spring on top of a badly injured Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira instantly after landing a perfectly placed kick to the Brazilian’s face. The pause allowed Nogueira to recover who then went to outpoint “The Texas Crazy Horse” in the end. Herring, on the other hand, lent credence in the eyes of many to at least one word in his nickname by not following up the scintillating strike with additional punishment.
Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir (July 11, 2009 – UFC 100)
Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar have treated fans to one of the most enjoyable, though at times over-the-top, rivalries in recent history. Before their meeting at UFC 100 Mir implied he planned to destroy Lesnar, even possibly injuring him in the process and ending his career if he chose to do so, while his hulking heavyweight opponent actually delivered and pounded Mir into pulp, then shocked the world by talking trash to his still-dazed adversary, giving a double middle-finger salute to fans, and insulting one of the UFC’s major sponsors in a post-fight speech.
Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber (July 2, 2011 – UFC 132)
The UFC’s decision to absorb WEC has showed significant return with a number of enjoyable pairings produced since the move and, in fitting fashion, bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz and challenger Urijah Faber wowed over the weekend with a five-round, back-and-forth battle involving the division’s gold being defended for the first time in promotional history. Beyond simply the belt, the bout also involved a shared dislike of each other between the two talented 135ers stemming from an earlier fight seeing Faber emerge winner. Cruz retained, Faber maintained his Zen-like coolness, and somewhere in the audience a bunch of Zuffa employees with WEC ties enjoyed a well-deserved tribute to their hard work.
Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock (July 8, 2006 – UFC 61)
As mentioned earlier Ortiz hadn’t won in nearly five years before his bout with Bader at UFC 132. The match-up in question, as it turns out, was part of a one-sided but extremely important hate-fest between “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” and Ken Shamrock. The two light heavyweights first crossed paths in the late 90s with their relationship blossoming as beautifully as a Corpse Flower – rarely and with a somewhat rancid scent. They eventually fought in 2002 with Ortiz winning, then again at UFC 61 after filling opposite coaching slots on TUF 3. Ortiz breezed to victory, though Shamrock protested what seemed to be a rightful stoppage before the two finally squashed things a few months later in a special event on Spike TV.
Yoshishiro Akiyama vs. Chris Leben (July 3, 2010 – UFC 116)
Another exciting summer moment came in Leben’s brawl with Japanese star Yoshishiro Akiyama was the type of tryst a stranger to the sport could watch and easily love. The inked-up brawler had fought two weeks prior and was serving as a late replacement but, as he has so often, hulked up after taking a few clean shots and out-hearted Akiyama to victory with a Triangle Choke late with less than thirty seconds left in the fight. The look in Leben’s eyes after the second round, subsequent attempt to rile up the crowd, and reckless abandon in the final frame equate to moments that should be forever etched in MMA lore.
Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin (July 3, 2010 – UFC 116)
This particular pairing marked the moment for most when Lesnar went from semi-pretender to “Top 3” contender. Shane Carwin’s conditioning certainly played a role in Lesnar’s ability to achieve success when they fought at UFC 116, but without question the former heavyweight champion ate a ton of damage and maintained his composure before ultimately winning. The performance also came after a long layoff due to a career-threatening illness making it even more impressive.
Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson (July 11, 2009 – UFC 100)
Perhaps the most appropriate Fourth of July Week scrap in history also produced one of the best finishes. Former Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson took on top middleweight Michael Bisping after serving as team-leaders on TUF 9. In tribute to American Independence, Henderson loaded up a right hand and fired it like a cannonball at the brash Brit’s jaw. The blow flattened Bisping who also suffered an additional blast to seal the deal after being dropped. Shortly thereafter, somewhere in the mystic beyond, Ben Franklin high-fived George Washington while Thomas Jefferson chugged a beer in celebration and John Adams complained about Mario Yamasaki not having prevented the late shot.
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC