These ten great MMA matches are right off the top of my head...hardly written in stone. I’ll stick with the two heavyweights of MMA productions: The UFC and the late, great Pride FC. I’ve seen so many great fights over the years, it was very difficult to whittle them down 10, let alone in order, so I’ll just spit out my ten random picks, in no particular order at all.
1) Phil Baroni vs. Ikuhisa “The Punk Minowa” 1 in Pride FC, 2005
I swear this thing looked just like Rocky 1, except that Minowa is no Apollo Creed. After Round One, which included some takedowns by both fighters, both decided to just stand and duke it out. In Round Two, they stood in the pocket and traded bombs (most of which connected). They both forgot about leg kicks.
Baroni and Minowa were on a mission. Nearly every punch landed. The normally subdued Japanese crowd was going nuts! The last 30 seconds saw both fighters on spaghetti legs, but they were still trading bombs like Popeye and Bluto.
Finally, midway through Round Two, Baroni landed a weary left-right combo that put Minowa down for keeps.
2) Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira vs. Mirko Cro cop Filipovic in Pride FC, 2003
It was a match made in Heaven—an undefeated stand-up striker versus a grappling submission specialist. In Round One, Big Nog had a lot of trouble with Cro Cop’s lightening fast sprawl. And Cro Cop found out early that his vicious left leg kicks weren’t stopping a determained Nog from moving forward.
When Nog started getting takedowns, he found Cro Cop’s submission defense surprisingly competent. Big Nog never stopped trying though, and he finally arm-barred Cro Cop early in the Round Two. (It was to be Cro Cop’s first loss).
3) Royce Gracie vs. Dan Severn in UFC IV, 1994
Yes, to the untrained eye, a snooze-fest...but riveting to anyone with ground-attack knowledge. Gracie was undefeated and winner of UFC I and II (He was unable to continue in the UFC III tournament after defeating Kimo Leopoldo).
A much decorated wrestler, Dan Severn, breezed through his first two opponents. Gracie was extended to over four-minutes by a crafty Kenpo specialist, Keith Hackney. Severn outweighed Gracie by 80-pounds.
Within a minute of the opening bell, Severn shot in and took Gracie down (not that Gracie minded). And for 16-minutes Severn lay in Gracie’s guard trying to choke, punch, head-butt, and elbow his tiny opponent, but landing nothing significant. At last Gracie pulled a sneaky triangle choke, and Severn finally tapped.
4) Royce Gracie vs. Kimo Leopoldo in UFC III, 1994
Gracie ducked the punch and they both clinched. Gracie pulled guard, and from then on it was non-stop movement. Gracie got the full mount, but Kimo reversed it. Kimo never stopped trying for the knock out, and Gracie was fighting for his life. Finally, Gracie arm-barred Kimo at the 4:40 mark.
5) Fedor Emelianenko vs. Kazuyuki “Iron Head” Fujita in Pride FC, 2003
This one was supposed to be a no-brainer. What Japanese pro wrestler deserves to be in the same ring with Fedor?
But, at the bell, Fujita stands and trades with Fedor! Then a Fajita left hook puts Fedor on Queer Street! Amazingly, a staggering Fedor didn’t go down and out. Instead, he kept his cool and clinched Fajita up until the cobwebs wore off. He then took down Fajita and tapped him with a clean rear naked choke four-minutes into the Round One.
After the fight, Fedor was still wobbly. Talk about a close call!
6) Takanori Gomi vs. Luiz Azeredo in Pride FC, 2005
Gomi “The Fireball Kid” and Azeredo traded punches from the opening bell like dueling airplane propellers. The action was non-stop, and I don’t recall the referee breaking them once. Then at about the six-minute mark of Round One, Gomi knocked Azeredo out cold with a combination.
As if the fight itself wasn’t exciting enough, after the referee waved Gomi off, he proved himself a classless punk by jumping on his unconscious opponent and he continued striking him while being pulled off by the ref and eventually by both corners.
A mini riot broke out in the ring. And Gomi was still trying desperately to strike Azeredo! Finally, they pulled Gomi out of the ring and calm was restored. Suspiciously, he was not disqualified.
7) Chuck Liddell vs. Alistair Overeem in Pride FC, 2003
How could this fight not be exciting? Not much to say here except that they both delivered. These two strikers were looking to end matters early. Alistair built a comfortable lead with his vicious knee-strikes. Things weren't looking good for Chuck, but he was striking back with bad intentions. Nobody took a break in this nail-biting barn-burner.
Midway through Round One, Chuck caught Overeem along the ropes with punches in bunches. The referee waved Chuck off as Alistair slumped to the canvas.
8) Fedor vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in Pride FC 2005
This long anticipated matchup was slightly tarnished in that, purportedly, Fedor came into the fight with a broken right hand. But both fighters brought their “A” game.
Fedor was handling Mirko pretty well in stand-up striking, but I couldn’t help but wonder when Cro Cop was going to unleash his cannon of a left high kick. The fans didn’t have to wait long. And when his left kick started landing, Fedor’s body and face began bruising up in a hurry. Yet Fedor displayed better striking. And Cro Cop had no answer to Fedor’s ground came except that he was able to weather Fedor's ground-and-pound storms.
By round 3, Fedor rarely threw his right hand, and I’ve got to wonder what if? Without that busted hand, would the fight have gone the distance? Fedor couldn’t stop a very game Cro Cop, but he did win the decision very convincingly.
9) Frank Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz in UFC XXII, 1999
It’s the only fight I ever rooted for Frank to win because he’s not quite as classless as Tito. Great action-packed give-and-take fight here. I was getting a bit worried because Tito was slowly pulling away by out-grappling Frank. It seemed to me that Tito had built a comfortable lead going into the Round Four.
Then, in Round Four, Frank surprised Tito with a right hand, and the next thing I know, Frank is standing and punching Tito’s big melon while Tito is turtling up on his hands and knees and tapping! Imagine that? Tito tapping from strikes?
I was quite the happy camper after that one! How fitting was that win after Tito donned that disgusting T-shirt after he defeated Frank’s Lion’s Den stable-mate, Jerry Bohlander?
10) Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama in Pride FC, 2002
Okay. Look closely at the stare-down. Now tell me Yoshihiro didn’t look like Don Frye’s aunt. And a very ugly woman, I might add.
Nevertheless, he was a Japanese pro wrestler who Don Frye was supposed to dismantle. And he did just that. Only this was no ordinary MMA match. It was more like a hockey fight. And not just any hockey fight. This brawl reminded me of the old Islanders vs. Flyers games/fights when the Islanders were winning all those Stanley Cups.
These two went right hand crazy from the opening bell. They punched like like Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots! Takayama’s face soon looked like it greeted an 18-wheeler at 70 mph. And he was hideous to begin with!
After what seemed like an endless exchange, Frye took down Yoshihiro and landed a few more shots shots until the referee stopped it in the first round.
This is a fight that you should YouTube immediately.
These are definitely my Top 10 .... as of today ... as of *right now* today. These may change tomorrow; I'll let you know!