The debate about the best fights in MMA is never ending. With each passing event and with each passing bout, new contenders emerge to be considered as the best fights of all time. It took many years and many different fighters to implement and to try to figure out which fighting styles and which martial arts were the most effective and the most eye pleasing. Finally after years of practice, modern MMA fighters have successfully discovered and implemented the most entertaining and effective fighting styles. This has certainly benefited the fans as they get to witness a series of spectacular fights every year now.
There have been many great fights over the years such as Liddell vs. Silva, Lawler vs. MacDonald-2, Jones vs. Gustafsson, etc. Even in 2016, fans witnessed many great fights such as Lawler vs. Condit, Diaz vs. McGregor-2, Woodley vs. Thompson, etc. In the past few years most great fights have been at welterweight due to Robbie Lawler’s aggressive, fast-paced and in your face type of fighting style. However, one division which has served the fans with some spectacular, mouth-watering bouts over the years has been the middleweight division.
In the wake of UFC 210’s co-main event bout between former UFC champion Chris Weidman and former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi, we take a look at the ten greatest MMA middleweight fights of all time. So let’s take a look at which fights make the list of these ten great bouts.
Honorable mentions: Scott Smith vs. Cung Le-1, Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson-1
- Lyoto Machida vs Gegard Mousasi
Event: UFC Fight Night 36
Date: February 15, 2014
Mousasi was tearing through the Strikeforce LHW division and then made his UFC debut against Ilir Latifi, winning the fight via unanimous decision. He then announced his return to the middleweight division.
The legendary Brazilian mixed martial artist Lyoto Machida was tasked with welcoming the Dutchman back to middleweight. A lot of dubiety and incertitude had surrounded the fight, as fans believed that it would be a dull and monotonous bout due to the counter-striking nature of both the fighters.
This fight had huge significance for both fighters as Machida was looking for a title shot, whereas Mousasi was looking to make a strong first impression in the division. Thus much to the gratification and felicity of almost every MMA fan, both fighters left behind their counter-striking fighting style and instead came out guns blazing. After five gruelling rounds, when the scorecards were read, it was the Brazilian who got the victory via unanimous decision (49-46, 50-45, 50-45).
The fight won both the fighters Fight of the Night honors.
9. Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ De Souza vs. Luke Rockhold
Event: Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov
Date: September 10, 2011
This was a championship bout for the Strikeforce Middleweight championship. ‘Jacare’ Souza had won the belt by defeating an out of prime Tim Kennedy and had defeated an undersized Robbie Lawler in his first title defense. On the other hand, Luke Rockhold was a young, up-and coming prospect at the time and was making his name by finishing fights in the first round. ‘Jacare’ was the overwhelming favorite to win the fight, as it was widely believed that Souza’s other-worldly BJJ and great cardio would be too much for the young American to handle.
During the fight the Brazilian took the centre of the cage. However, it was the American who controlled the action by stuffing Jacare’s takedowns and pushing the striking. The AKA member’s BJJ proved to be much better than expected which in turn helped him to effectively stop almost all of the BJJ ace’s takedowns and grappling initiatives. He also effectively utilized his huge five inch reach advantage and brutal kicks to keep the distance to avoid Souza’s powerful hooks. He also successfully landed multiple combinations, whereas ‘Jacare’ could only land a few occasional strikes. The fight went to the judges’ scorecards. All three judges scored the fight in favor of the American (50-45, 48-47, 48-47).
This fight didn’t have the brutal bloodshed or a phenomenal knockout or a stunning submission as some of the other fights on this list. Though, it still is one of the best middleweight fights ever because of the sheer technical brilliance showcased by both fighters in this bout.
8. Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson-2
Event: UFC 204
Date: October 8, 2016
This was a grudge rematch seven years in the making. In 2009 at UFC 100, Dan Henderson had knocked out Michael Bisping with one of the most brutal punches in MMA history. There has been a lot of bad blood ever since between the two fighters. Bisping had often demanded a rematch, though Hendo had always squashed his demands for a rematch.
The entire landscape of the UFC’s middleweight division changed last year, when Bisping knocked out Luke Rockhold to win the title. He made his first title defense in a grudge rematch against Henderson. During the fight Bisping took the centre of the octagon and continuously hit Hendo with a combination of strikes, while effectively using his long reach to avoid Hendo’s powerful hooks. Throughout the fight Henderson often caught Bisping with powerful, hard punches which knocked the champion down to the ground but was unable to finish the fight. Henderson did more damage due to his power but it was “The Count” who vastly out-struck the veteran American.
The judges gave a unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) victory to the champion. Bisping retained his title and also got his revenge. Both fighters received Fight of the Night honors for this bout.
7. Chris Weidman vs Luke Rockhold
Event: UFC 194
Date: December 12, 2015
The All-American had been on a tear through the UFC’s middleweight division. In his previous title defense he had defeated Vitor Belfort and was still undefeated at the time of this fight. Whereas, Rockhold was on a four fight win streak coming into the fight. Weidman was the betting favorite to win the bout. Though, many pundits and veterans such as Tim Kennedy and Joe Rogan had given the edge to Rockhold.
During the fight, Weidman took the centre of the octagon and started pressurising Rockhold with his aggressive striking. Rockhold dropped back and was looking to counterstrike with jabs and kicks. After two and half back-and-forth rounds, Weidman conceded a takedown after a missed wheel-kick, Rockhold took Weidman’s back and from there transitioned to the full mount landing heavy damage with ground and pound. After taking damage Weidman survived until the fourth round where Rockhold again took him down and continued his ground and pound which ultimately led to a fourth-round TKO stoppage by the referee Herb Dean.
The All-American was defeated for the first time in his MMA career via TKO in the fourth round by the BJJ ace. The bout won Fight of the Night honor.
6. Jake Shields vs Dan Henderson
Event: Strikfeforce Nashville
Date: April 17, 2010
At the time of this bout, Shields was the Strikeforce Middleweight champion. In his entire MMA career he had been a welterweight, though he jumped up in weight and made his middleweight debut against Robbie Lawler. He easily dispatched Lawler via first round submission. He then faced Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller in his next fight for the vacant Strikeforce Middleweight title, and won the fight via unanimous decision.
Hendo was coming into this fight at the back of his most famous victory against Michael Bisping at UFC 100. He was expected to challenge Anderson Silva for the title but instead left the UFC due to some contractual issues. After leaving the UFC, he joined UFC’s biggest rival at that time, i.e. Strikeforce. Hendo was immediately given a title shot for Shields’ title.
The bout was supposed to be a walk in the park for the former Pride middleweight champion. He was widely expected to knock-out the undersized Shields. In the first round of the fight everything was going according to plan for Hendo as he dropped Shields with heavy punches on more than one occasion. However, Shields wasn’t to be discouraged and deterred, and he went on to dominate the veteran over the next four rounds. In the following rounds, Shield’s took the former Olympic wrestler down on a whim and did a lot of damage via ground-and-pound.
Shields won the fight to retain his title via unanimous decision (48-45, 49-45, 49-46). Even though it was a great bout between two great fighters; unfortunately it would still be remembered as the bout after which the highly infamous brawl between ‘Mayhem’ Miller and the entire Cesar Gracie fight team took place.
5. Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping
Event: UFC Fight Night 84
Date: February 27, 2016
The build-up to this fight was nasty, with Michael Bisping continuously talking trash about ‘Spider’ Silva. Coming into this fight, Silva had lost two consecutive fights via KO to Chris Weidman and his previous fight had been turned into a no contest after he tested positive for banned substances. On the other hand, Bisping was on a two-fight win streak at the time. Silva was the betting favourite to win the bout. Though, many pundits had given the edge to Bisping.
During the fight, “The Count” controlled the centre of the octagon and was also pushing the pace of the fight. From the get-go the Mancunian initiated the striking exchanges, whereas Silva dropped back towards the cage and was only looking to dodge and counter-strike. After two close back-and-forth rounds, Silva dropped Bisping with a flying knee at the end of round three while Bisping was signaling to referee Herb Dean that he lost his mouthpiece. The Brazilian believed he had won the bout and continued to celebrate as referee Herb Dean said the fight was not over, and it continued for another two rounds to the decision.
Bisping did enough in the final two rounds of the fight to secure a controversial unanimous decision victory (48-47, 48-47, 48-47). Both fighters were awarded with Fight of the Night honors.
4. Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida
Event: UFC 175
Date: July 5, 2014
Chris Weidman had done what most people thought was never going to happen, he had defeated and snatched away the UFC middleweight title from Anderson Silva. He then went on to defeat “The Spider” in a rematch at UFC 168. He was then expected to face Vitor Belfort in his next fight, though Belfort withdrew from the bout. The All-American was instead booked to face another Brazilian MMA legend i.e. Lyoto Machida in his next bout at UFC 175. The American was a betting favorite to win the fight, though fans and pundits alike refused to completely write off “The Dragon”.
During the fight Weidman used his huge reach advantage to strike from distance as Machida had trouble closing the distance all night. The then champion also utilized his NCAA Division 1 wrestling skills to continuously land takedowns and also often controlled the fight in a Thai clinch. After Weidman had won the first three rounds with his wrestling and relentless pressure and aggression, Machida finally began to find his range with strikes in the fourth round. The Karate black-belt landed several hard strikes in the fourth round including a left hook which stunned the American at the very end of the round. “The Dragon” would continue to find success in trading strikes early in the fifth round as well. However, Weidman would land several hard shots of his own later in the round before seemingly clinching the round with a takedown and controlling Machida from top position for over a minute, although Machida managed to stand up and attack with a flurry of strikes in the closing seconds of the fight.
Over the course of five rounds, the All-American had done enough to secure a hard-fought unanimous decision victory (49-45, 48-47, 49-46) over the Brazilian. Both fighters were awarded with Fight of the Night honors.
3. Robbie Lawler vs. Melvin Manhoef
Event: Strikeforce Miami
Date: January 30, 2010
Any discussion about the greatest fights in history can’t be concluded without mentioning Robbie Lawler and his brilliance.
Lawler was coming into this fight on the back of a first round loss to Jake Shields, whereas the decorated Dutch kickboxer Manhoef was on a high after quickly finishing Kazuo Misaki in his previous fight. In the build-up to this fight pundits and fans alike had already written off Lawler and were expecting another easy first round finish for the Dutchman. One of the pundits even pleaded to Lawler to leave his aggressive brawling fighting style and not to exchange strikes with the Dutchman.
As the bout began Manhoef pushed the pace of the fight and began spamming Lawler’s front leg with brutal leg-kicks. The Dutchman was easily landing multiple beautiful combinations and had crippled Lawler’s lead leg with vicious leg-kicks. Lawler seemed to have no answer for Manhoef’s quick and powerful striking. A finish for the Dutchman looked to be imminent, though the American had other plans. “Ruthless” spotted an opening inside No Mercy’s guard and knocked him out cold with a ruthless right hand.
This bout proves how MMA is arguably the most unpredictable sport in the world. It also highlights that you should never write off someone of Lawler’s calibre.
2. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen-1
Event: UFC 117
Date: August 7, 2010
This fight is one of the most popular bouts in the history of combat sports. ‘Spider’ Silva is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport and was in his prime at the time of this bout. At that time he was certainly the most dominant fighter. Such was Silva’s brilliance that he made tough, intimidating men like Dan Henderson, Rich Franklin and many others look like ordinary fighters.
The build-up to this fight was much publicized and nasty, with the king of trash-talking Sonnen continuously verbally humiliating Silva. However, many fans had their doubts whether the American Gangster would be able to back up that trash talk or not.
In the first round of the fight, the people’s champ stunned ‘Spider’ with a punch before taking him down to the ground and dominating from the top position, landing multiple blows. The following three rounds played out in similar fashion with Sonnen landing an early takedown in each round and then dominating from inside Silva’s guard. In the final round of the fight, Silva slipped after being hit by a left hook from Sonnen. The American again gained the top position and started landing strikes. Silva looked to be on his way to lose the title, though he was able to lock-up a triangle armbar on Sonnen, forcing him to submit at 3:10 of round five.
The bout won Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night honors.
1. Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson-2
Event: Pride 28
Date: October 31, 2004
Silva and Jackson had fought each other a year earlier. In their first battle, “The Axe Murderer” got the better of “Rampage” by knocking him out. The Brazilian had absolutely battered the American slugger with brutal knees and head kicks, forcing the referee to intervene and stop the fight. However, the result of the fight was clouded and overshadowed by controversy due to poor-refereeing decision which had inadvertently given an unfair advantage to the Brazilian. Thus, the entire MMA world was longing for a rematch between two of the biggest superstars of the sport.
In their much publicized rematch, both fighters came out guns blazing and started throwing big, heavy strikes. Jackson landed a few punches and a knee, whereas Silva too landed a flurry of punches and several knees from the Muay Thai clinch. Jackson eventually managed to secure a takedown. However, the referee soon stood them up due to inactivity on the ground. After a few feints and fakes, “Rampage” managed to knock-down Silva with a straight right jab, he then took side control and landed a clean knee strike to Silva’s head and followed it up with some brutal ground-and-pound. The American won the first round leaving the Brazilian all swelled and bloodied up.
The second round began with both fights trading a flurry of strikes. During the third minute of the round, Silva managed to land a clean right hook on Jackson’s face, stunning him in the process. He secured a Thai clinch and landed five knee strikes to Jackson’s head. “The Axe Murderer” left “Rampage” unconscious and with blood pouring out of his face.
Silva got his hand raised by knockout at 3:26 of the second round to retain his Pride Middleweight Championship.