Why do we watch MMA? That’s a big question with many different answers, depending on whom you ask. Personally, the jiu-jitsu practitioner in me says I watch it for the slick sweeps, transitions, and submissions. Which is absolutely true, to an extent. The reason I, and many others, prefer MMA to boxing and kickboxing is the inclusion of the grappling. It adds an entire new dimension to the fights and opens up the technical possibilities in MMA well beyond the realm of most combat sports.
That being said, as much as I can be wowed by an amazing submission, there’s something particularly special about the knockout, something more primal. Appreciating grappling takes a certain degree of training and analysis; the knockout is the universal sign of victory or defeat, depending on which side of it you’re on. There are very few occurrences in sport that can make a room full of grown men go from silent to screaming on their feet within 3 seconds, but a quick and devastating knockout is one of them.
The history of the UFC is absolutely riddled with devastating, highlight reel knockouts, but inevitably some of them stick out more than others. Moving forward the UFC seems to be slightly backing away from the glorification of the knockout, most noticeably by their removal of the ‘Knockout of the Night’ bonus, which was replaced by a generic ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus. As we becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of brain damage this will probably prove to be a smart move business-wise. Still, the knockout is a natural part of the sport that isn’t going anywhere. I’ve sorted through the massive collection of spectacular knockouts the UFC has accumulated over the past 20 years and selected what I think are, for one reason or another, the 10 greatest knockouts in UFC history.
10 Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz – UFC 47
UFC 47 was the setting for the long awaited match between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Ortiz, who had been the organization’s biggest star for years, was finally put in the cage with Liddell, then their fastest rising star. Ortiz had been accused of ducking the fight for up to a year, which made the confrontation even more interesting. The fight itself was over quicker than many predicted. Liddell caught Ortiz with a barrage of punches only 38 seconds into the 2nd round that sent ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ down to the mat, a finish that represented a changing of the guard in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.
9 Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim – UFC 142
The most memorable moment in Terry Etim’s UFC tenure is, unfortunately for him, being on the receiving end of a kick that could have come straight out of Street Fighter II. After a competitive 2 rounds, Edson Barboza caught Etim with a spinning wheel kick that connected flush with his face. He instantly went limp and collapsed to the ground while Barboza began walking calmly away to his corner. Their fight earned both men ‘Fight of the Night’ honors, while Barboza’s kick got him ‘Knockout of the Night’ and, later, 'Knockout of the Year' (2012).
8 Lyoto Machida v. Randy Couture – UFC 129
In a highly anticipated showdown, Lyoto ‘The Dragon’ Machida faced UFC Hall of Famer and all-around MMA legend, Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture in front of 55,000 people in Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Machida earned himself a ‘Knockout of the Night’ bonus by finishing Couture in the 2nd round with a karate kid-inspired front crane kick that sent Couture tumbling to the canvas. With that kick, which was 'Knockout of the Year' (2011), Machida became the man who sent Randy Couture into retirement.
7 Maurício Rua vs. Lyoto Machida – UFC 113
Just a year earlier, Machida had found himself on the receiving end of a brutal knockout himself. Machida, then the UFC light heavyweight champion, faced perennial fan favourite Maurício ‘Shogun’ Rua in a rematch of their controversial championship fight 7 months earlier at UFC 104, in which the judges scored the fight for Machida in a match many – if not most – felt Rua won. This time ‘Shogun’ ensured nothing would be left in the hands of the judges. Less than 4 minutes into the first round, he countered Machida’s straight left with his own left hook that sent Machida down to the canvas. Rua dove after him, landing into full mount and unloading a vicious barrage of ground and pound before the referee stepped in to stop the fight, winning the UFC light heavyweight championship and giving Machida his first UFC loss.
6 Matt Hughes v. Carlos Newton – UFC 34
Back in 2001, Carlos Newton was the reigning UFC welterweight champion, and Matt Hughes had yet to wear UFC gold. When they met in the cage, Newton locked Hughes into a triangle choke, but Hughes was able to stand up with Newton’s legs still around his neck. Hughes pinned Newton to the cage and subsequently slammed him straight down into the canvas, where he immediately lost consciousness. Hughes became the UFC welterweight champion for the first time, a title that he would go on to defend 7 times over 2 reigns.
5 Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture – UFC 52
UFC 52 hosted the 2nd encounter between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. Couture, then UFC light heavyweight champion, entered the fight with a victory over Liddell at their interim championship fight at UFC 43, two years prior. This time, Liddell wasn’t leaving without the belt. A straight punch by Couture left him exposed to the devastating right hand of The Iceman, which landed straight on Couture’s temple. The legend collapsed onto the canvas as Liddell and his fans burst into celebration on a night that marked the beginning of a new champion in the light heavyweight division.
4 Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping – UFC 100
UFC 100 was the most star-studded event the promotion ever produced, and was also the setting for one of the nastiest knockouts to ever take place in the octagon. Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping were coaches opposite each other on the 9th season of The Ultimate Fighter. When the two met in the octagon, Hendo caught the brash Brit with a powerful right hand just as Bisping was circling towards his right side. Henderson became the first person to ever knock out Bisping, and to this day Bisping admits he has absolutely no recollection of the fight due to the severity of the knockout.
3 Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Mirko Cro Cop – UFC 70
At UFC 70, former K-1 World Grand Prix finalist and 2006 Pride World Grand Prix Open-Weight champion faced down Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist Gabriel Gonzaga. In a reversal of virtually everyone’s expectations, Gonzaga was the one to play the role of knockout artist that night. In the first round, after delivering punishing elbows on the ground, Gonzaga landed with a beautiful head kick to Cro Cop – the master of the head kick knockout himself – right as he stood up. The resulting knockout became 2007’s Knockout of the Year and marked the beginning of the end of Cro Cop’s dominant period in MMA.
2 Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort – UFC 126
1 Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman – UFC 162
2013’s Knockout of the Year might just be the greatest knockout in UFC history, if only for the sheer unpredictability of it all. Chris Weidman, a man written off as a legitimate threat to the 8-year reign of Anderson Silva by virtually everyone, shocked the world when he caught ‘The Spider” with a left hook in the 2nd round that ended the reign of the king. Silva displayed his usual antics, taunting Weidman in an attempt to provoke him into the standup wars that Silva favored. Weidman, unfazed, fired shots at Silva’s head. The first connected lightly, and as Silva mockingly pretended to be hurt, the second connected with his jaw. His body went limp and his eyes rolled back in his head as everyone in the MGM Grand Arena jumped to their feet. Chris Weidman became the first new UFC middleweight champion since 2005, and the dawning of a new era in the middleweight division began.