Top 10 non-title main events in UFC
The UFC heads to Dallas, Texas, for the first time in the promotion's history, for UFC 103. A 195-pound catch-weight bout between former champions Rich Franklin and Vitor Belfort will headline the event, meaning a title bout will missing for a second straight UFC card.
A title won't be on the line until UFC 104, when Lyoto Machida defends his belt against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. With the UFC's new business strategy of stringing together more cards in a year, it is becoming difficult to set up title fights to headline each event. But this isn't a bad thing, because as shown in past events, a title doesn't need to be at stake for a headliner to turn into a thriller.
Here are 10 of greatest non-title UFC main events of all time.
10. UFC 96: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Keith Jardine
Eight months before this fight, Jackson lost his light heavyweight title to Forrest Griffin in a five-round war at UFC 86. The scariest man in the 205-pound division seemed to have lost his edge.
Then Jackson took on archrival Wanderlei Silva at UFC 92 and knocked out "The Axe Murderer" with a crushing left hook in the first round. And just like that, Jackson appeared to rediscovered his old self.
But before challenging for the title Jackson would first have to get through top light heavyweight contender Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine, at UFC 96.
Heading into this fight most expected an easy victory for Jackson, but Jardine proved the naysayers wrong, standing toe-to-toe with Jackson for three full rounds.
Rampage won by unanimous decision, but it was later revealed that had Jardine not been dropped in the final seconds of the third round, he would have won the fight.
9. UFC 93: Rich Franklin vs. Dan Henderson
Irish fans were treated to an entertaining battle when Henderson defeated Franklin by decision. The victory also landed Hendo a coaching gig for Team USA on Season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter, alongside Team UK's Michael Bisping.
When the Frankling-Henderson bout was presented to UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, it was a no-brainer. On paper it seemed like a terrific matchup, and in person, it most certainly was. Fans went crazy during, and UFC president Dana White was so impressed by their excitement that he promised there would be many future events in Dublin.
8. UFC 85: Matt Hughes vs. Thiago Alves
When two main events were scratched due to injury, the UFC called former welterweight champion Hughes on short notice to battle rising prospect Alves.
Hughes was just five months removed from his brutal loss to Georges St. Pierre and was looking to work his way back into the mix. Alves was relatively unknown at the time, despite owning a five-fight win streak and coming off an impressive knockout win over Karo Parisyan.
Alves failed to make weight, but Hughes agreed to fight at a catch-weight of 175 pounds. However, come fight time, Alves was well over 190.
Alves knocked out the former champion with a flying knee just one minute into the second round. "The Pitbull" went from relatively unknown to top welterweight contender in one night.
7. UFC 76: Chuck Liddell vs. Keith Jardine
After losing his light heavyweight title to Jackson by way of a brutal, first-round knockout, Liddell was looking to rebound against Jardine. Oddly enough, Jardine was also coming off a crushing first-round knockout, to Houston Alexander.
This may have been the first and only time you will see two fighters headline a UFC event after being finished early in their last bout. This was supposed to be the fight to get "The Iceman" back on track, an early Christmas present in the form of an easy victory but things didn't go as planned.
Jardine's herky-jerky style gave Liddell fits and after spending three rounds battering the eventual Hall of Famer with bone shattering leg and body kicks The Dean of Mean was awarded the split decision victory.
Not only did Jardine beat Liddell but he turned him into a mutant leaving welts all over his body as a result of the kicks.
6. UFC 70: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
When Croation sensation Cro Cop made the move over to the UFC, many expected big things from him. After all, this is a man who was knocking out everyone in the PRIDE Fighting Championships left from right including Wanderlei Silva, Mark Coleman and Aleksander Emelianenko.
After stopping Eddie Sanchez in his UFC debut, Cro Cop was paired with Gonzaga to determine the No. 1 contender to then-heavyweight champion Randy Couture.
Everyone was betting against Gonzaga and predicting Cro Cop to begin his reign of UFC dominance and then the next thing you know Gonzaga knocks Cro Cop out cold with a thunderous head kick in the first round earning the title shot against Couture.
Gonzaga not only scored one of the biggest knockouts in UFC history but also one of the biggest upsets as well.
5. UFC 88: Chuck Liddell vs. Rashad Evans
Fresh off his victory over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79, Liddell was set to take on then-unbeaten Evans at UFC 85 but a torn hamstring kept him off the card. The Iceman wasn't out of action for long however and the fight was rebooked for the UFC's very first event in Atlanta, Ga.
The speculation heading into this bout was that if Liddell were to win he would be granted an immediate title shot against the champion at that time: Forrest Griffin. Liddell fans were adamant that the former champion would triumph over Evans and then conquer Griffin to reclaim his light heavyweight crown.
Those dreams were crushed as Liddell went for an uppercut and left himself open for an explosive overhand right from Evans that dropped Liddell like a sack of bricks. The entire arena went to complete silence the moment Liddell hit the canvas.
4. UFC 99: Rich Franklin vs. Wanderlei Silva
Five months following a disappointing decision loss to Henderson in Ireland, Franklin met Silva in the UFC's first trip to Cologne, Germany. Like Franklin's upcoming bout with Belfort, Franklin fought Silva at a catch-weight of 195 pounds.
Both fighters were coming off losses and needed a win to prove their relevancy in the sport. What made things even more interesting was the fact that Franklin had decided to train with current UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva leading up to this fight.
Not only has Anderson dismantled Franklin on two separate occasions, but he has also trained with Wanderlei for many years until they had a falling out.
The UFC were hopeful that Wanderlei would defeat Franklin that way they could set up a high profile bout between the two Silva's for the 185-pound strap but things didn't go according to plan.
Franklin outpointed Wanderlei in an exciting three round war to earn the split decision victory. The German crowd definitely appreciated the battle between these two legendary fighters.
3. UFC 47: Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz
The feud between former friends Ortiz and Liddell led to the biggest fight in the UFC at the time.
When Ortiz was the light heavyweight champion, he seemed to be avoiding Liddell. Ortiz refused to accept the fight because he claimed the two were close friends and that they made a pact that they would never fight each other. Liddell denied such claims and expressed his desire to square off with Ortiz in the Octagon for the championship but the fight took two years to put together.
It wasn't until after Ortiz lost his title to Couture that the bout between Ortiz and Liddell was finally signed. Liddell scored a second-round TKO in the fight, but not without a little controversy. Liddell appeared to poke Ortiz in the eye just before the final closing sequence on the cage, when Liddell rained combinations on Ortiz before Ortiz fell to the floor and the referee stopped the fight.
Ortiz said afterward that he couldn't see properly because of the eye poke, which aggravated Liddell even more.
2. UFC 60: Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie
This matchup pitted MMA's most dominant champion at the time in Hughes up against Hall of Famer and UFC pioneer Gracie. It was the new-school fighter taking on the old-school fighter, and the new-school fighter wanted to prove to the old veteran that the sport has passed him by.
Prior to facing Hughes the last time Gracie competed in the Octagon was all the way back at UFC 5 and the sport had evolved tremendously since then and Gracie didn't keep up.
Hughes basically had his way with the Brazilian and flattened Gracie out on his back before pounding him out with strikes for a first round TKO.
1. UFC 102: Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Not only is Couture vs. Nogueira an early candidate for fight of the year but it may rank as one of the greatest MMA fights of all time.
Prior to the bout, some fans were fearful these two legends would put on a stalemate in front of the Oregon crowd, but boy were they wrong or what? The speculation heading into the fight was that Couture was too old and Nogueira was past his prime.
Neither seemed the case, though, as the fight was an explosive three-round battle that saw Nogueira win the majority of the rounds to earn the unanimous decision.