It was a great decade for fighters, and it was a great decade for fights. We’ve already run down our picks for the ten most influential fighters of the decade, so now here’s the ten matches that we loved the most over the last ten years. Great stories, great action, and great warriors – they’re all here.
10. Matt Hughes versus Frank Trigg II: It was the most ludicrous chain of events since Hughes-Newton. Trigg, who blasted Hughes in the press before the fight, hit Matt low and jumped on his advantage to apply a rear naked choke. Somehow Hughes survived, not only slipping out of the hold, but picking Trigg up, running across the cage, and slamming him….with authority. Lesson? Don’t mess with Matt Hughes.
9. Diego Sanchez versus Nick Diaz: It was hard to choose just one Diego Sanchez fight. He had one fight that just made your mind boggle every year after winning The Ultimate Fighter. This could have easily been Sanchez-Parisyan or Sanchez-Guida. But it’s not. This is my list, so mind your business.
8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira versus Bob Sapp: This fight has lost some oomph over the years as Sapp has fallen to “parody of himself” status. But when it went down, this was considered the most incredible comeback of all time. Poor Nogueira was tossed around like a child’s toy, but somehow managed to pull off the miracle submission. Amazing. Have I already used amazing? Transcendent.
7. Don Frye versus Ken Shamrock: I was tempted to include Frye’s crazy slugfest with pro wrestler Takayama, but this was the better overall package. Two of the best talkers ever, in a heated feud, in a fight one man won at the expense of his own long term health. Amazing.
6. Nick Diaz versus Takanori Gomi: Nick Diaz smoked tons of weed. Tons. Enought to get popped and for this win to magically become a no contest. Not sure how it helped him, but if it did, everyone should smoke. This was a wild affair, with hard slugging and the next to impossible to complete gogoplata submission from Diaz.
5. Matt Hughes versus Carlos Newton I: Pete Sell and Scott Smith be damned: this was the greatest finish in MMA history. Anyone who says otherwise is a mere noob. Imagine a man trapped in a tight triangle choke. Because he has farmer strength (possibly even retard strength) the victim of this brutal submission is able to pick his opponent up over his head and, as he passes out from the choke, slam him to the mat. It was the greatest thing in the history of fighting and life.
4. Kazushi Sakuraba versus Royce Gracie: Put yourself back in the year 2000. Royce Gracie was still the guy that had dominated the first five UFC events. He had never been beaten in the cage. Now he was back, chasing the big money in Japan. Gracie’s first match back was a win over Sakuraba’s mentor Nobuhika Takada. Sakuraba, not yet the Gracie Hunter, was out for revenge. The two battled for more than 90 minutes. It was the definition of epic and when Gracie’s family threw in the towel, a legend was born.
3. Chuck Liddell versus Wanderlei Silva: For years these two fearsome strikers were like two rival gangs, but gangs separated by an uneasy truce. Liddell was in the UFC and Silva in PRIDE. The two were widely considered the best fighters in the light heavyweight class, but never met in the cage. Then UFC 79: finally they went toe to toe. Although now past their prime, it was everything fans could have hoped for and more. An explosive standup battle that no one lost (okay, Silva lost) and one of the most memorable fights of the decade.
2. Randy Couture versus Tim Sylvia: If it were a movie, the ending would have been cheesy. The old veteran, battered and past his prime, was returning to fight the gigantic heavyweight champion. Instead of just holding his own (like Stallone did in Rocky Balboa) Couture went ahead and took it to the next level. He dominated the bigger man from bell to bell.
1. Forrest Griffin versus Stephan Bonnar: The fight that changed everything for MMA in America. The first Ultimate Fighter season was capped off by this epic slugfest. It wasn’t always a technical masterpiece, but the heart and fighting spirit defined MMA for a new generation of fans.