One of the wonderful things about sports, whether it’s a stick and ball sport or a battle waged inside an eight-sided cage is the ability to create and recreate magic – Rematches are the most natural rivalries in sports, whether it’s a blood feud with one seeking revenge or just two good fighters meeting again it’s always a special occasion.
The first rematch in MMA history dates back to April 17, 1995 at UFC 5 when MMA pioneers Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock met in the first non-tournament fight in UFC history and it’s been off to the races ever since.
As I speak we are on the home stretch to one of the most anticipated rematches in this sport’s young history when Anderson Silva puts his UFC middleweight championship on the line against Chael Sonnen.
Silva had built an aura of invincibility around himself in the four years that he had ruled the UFC’s 185-pound division, not since Mike Tyson was cracking skulls in devastating, highlight-reel fashion in the late eighties had a fighter in combat sports been deemed unstoppable to this degree.
After 23 minutes and 10 seconds in the octagon with Sonnen that was shattered – When the opening bell sounded most of the fight community would have expected Sonnen to be caught in the spiders web within the first fifteen minutes, however Sonnen had different ideas.
The NCAA Division I All-American wrestler bettered Anderson Silva even in a standing contest and after securing his take-downs “The Spider” looked like a fish out of water off his back as the Oregon native battered the champ who was unable to improve his position or take this fight back into his wheelhouse on the feet.
20 minutes into their epic encounter and Sonnen had decisively won four-straight rounds and looked as if the middleweight title was as good as his, but one mistake cost him his moment of glory as Silva desperately threw his legs in the air to secure a triangle-armbar, retain his gold and shatter the dreams of Sonnen.
While the two top-ranked middleweights on the planet prepare to meet again after almost a two year gap we will take a look at the best rematches in this sports young history.
Honorable Mention #1: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Lyoto Machida II – UFC 113, May 8 2010
Before their first encounter few gave “Shogun” a chance to dethrone the unbeaten light-heavyweight king Lyoto Machida, by the time the fight ended fans and media alike were up in arms that the judges scored the fight in favor of the champion.
The pair of Brazilians first met at UFC 104 going the full 25-minutes in a fight largely dictated by the challenger as he was able to solve the puzzle of the elusive, fast-paced karate styling of the top-ranked light-heavyweight by pestering him with his lead leg-kick and connecting with offence but all three judges declared the winner Machida.
In the rematch “Shogun” wasn’t leaving this one to chance, to the delight of the Canadian fans in attendance he leveled “The Dragon” with a powerful right-hand and pounced on his prey with vicious ground-and-pound before the fight was called off and he was declared the top dog at 205-pounds.
Honorable Mention #2 BJ Penn vs. Jens Pulver II – The Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale, June 23, 2007
Jens Pulver was the king of the lighter weight-classes when he met with a 3-0 23-year-old Hawaiian named BJ Penn, they would duke it out for 25-minutes with the veteran being a step or two ahead of Penn in their show-stealing lightweight title fight.
After coaching rival teams on the last talent-stacked series of The Ultimate Fighter Penn and Pulver would do it all over again, Penn had returned to 155-pounds after two losses at welterweight and proved his worth as one of the best while Pulver was on the decline of his career, dominating the fight before choking him in the second frame.
Honorable Mention #3 Gilbert Melendez vs. Josh Thomson II – Strikeforce Evolution, December 19, 2009
Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson’ first meeting pitted two middle of the road lightweights against one another as the two San Jose residents put on a thrilling fight that went the full 25-minutes with Thomson proving that he were just a little better than the Cesar Gracie-trained lightweight.
When they met again in 2009 they started where they left off but this time it were clear that Melendez had stepped up his game significantly, dropping him on several occasions and clearly winning the second meeting.
They recently completed the trilogy with Melendez once again getting his hand raised but it didn’t come easy as Thomson took the fight to him again as they completed 75 minutes inside the San Jose-based organization’s six-sided cage.
#10 Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson II – Pride Fighting Championships 28, October 31 2004
In the heyday of the Pride-versus-UFC rivalry the one inter-promotional fight fans clamored for more than any other was a 205-pound meeting between Pride middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva and UFC’s poster boy Chuck Liddell.
While today we are used to UFC President Dana White scoffing at the idea of arranging inter-promotional super-fights, in 2003 when they weren’t the biggest dog in the playground he sent Liddell over to compete in the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix – So confident that he even put up a $250,000 with company figurehead Nobuyuki Sakakibara wager that “The Iceman” would prevail in the eight-man field.
Unfortunately for partially balding Dana White circa 2003 Liddell met “Rampage” Jackson in the semi-finals to advance to meet the Pride middleweight kingpin in the finals – Jackson wasn’t intimidated by the wild Brazilian exchanging toe-to-toe before being locked in the Thai-Clinch where Silva bullied him around firing off over 20 unanswered knee strikes to the forehead that halted the fight.
A war of words ensued over the coming months fronted by the challenger and it only made sense that we would go back to the well with two fresh fighters who hadn’t fought earlier that evening – The fight community was split on who would come out on top but the only thing that was different about this fight was it ended in highlight-reel cringe-worthy fashion.
In the best fight of the year 2004 according to Sherdog.com Jackson was able to score takedowns and match the striking of the middleweight king but in the end the Thai-Clinch of Silva was the nail in the coffin firing off several knees to the face before Jackson pancaked flat, falling through the ropes with blood pouring from his face.
#9 Mike Thomas Brown vs. Urijah Faber II – WEC 41, June 7, 2009
At a time when the UFC didn’t even have a lightweight division Urijah Faber became a star fighting across North America before getting the platform for the lighter weight-classes with World Extreme Cagefighting where he was their top draw.
At WEC 36 when Faber met Mike Thomas Brown inside WEC’s blue cage he hadn’t tasted defeat in the organization and had defended his featherweight title four times but the 33-year-old veteran snapped that streak — Minutes into their bout Brown caught Faber right on the chin as he spun around in an attempted spinning back fist; some hammer fists later and WEC was shook upside down.
When these two did the dance once again at WEC 41 in Faber’s backyard it delivered as one of the biggest fights in the feeder-leagues existence with 13,000 strong in the Arco Arena to witness one of the better fights in the sports history.
The story behind this encounter is amazing, in the opening frame both hands of Faber were broken and his right thumb was dislocated so he continued fighting looking to re-capture his 145-pound title resorting to throwing forearm strikes and elbows but you know what they say about a guy with no hands in an ass kicking contest?
The American Top Team product took the decision over five-rounds to retain the top prize at 145-pounds but the will and determination of Team Alpha Male’s Faber was the story of the evening.
#8 Frank Trigg vs. Matt Hughes II – UFC 52, April 16, 2005
As we entered the early shades of a new millennium mixed martial arts was a developing sport under the new guidance of Zuffa, LLC who had recently purchased the organization from the Semiphore Entertainment Group – Their lightest of four weight-classes, 170-pounds was ruled by one man, Matt Hughes.
Hughes took the championship slamming early UFC star Carlos Newton through the canvas, knocking himself silly in the process and had been flawless since with two-straight defenses before part one of the Hughes-Trigg series played out in the famed octagon.
“Twinkle Toes” Trigg had no issues putting on the black hat provoking the welterweight king and eliciting one of the most heated rivalries in the sports history – In the first fight both powerful wrestlers scrambled for dominate positions before Hughes slammed Trigg and before he knew it he was on his back and secured a standing rear-naked-choke that forces the challenger to collapse.
When they met again in 2005 Hughes was once again UFC welterweight champ and their rematch still stands as one of the wildest fights in UFC history. Before the bell even sounded, Trigg got tight into his face that made Hughes push back his arch enemy.
Moments into their affair Trigg nails Hughes with a groin shot that referee Mario Yamasaki doesn’t see but Trigg wasted no time pouncing on the world-class wrestler, took his back seeking a rear-naked-choke but somehow Hughes survived before lifting Hughes, running half of the octagon and slamming him to the floor in bone-thudding fashion.
From there it was academic, Hughes mounted him and rained down punishment before he rolled and gave away a rear-naked-choke.
#7 Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II – UFC 125, January 1, 2011
When Gray Maynard bullied Frankie Edgar to the mat over and over in a top-heavy wrestling match in 2008 nobody would have suspected that these two would complete one of the best trilogies in MMA history with two encounters for the UFC lightweight crown.
The first blemish on New Jersey’s Edgar’s impressive resume came to Maynard at UFC Fight Night 13 and despite having an 145-pound frame in a land of serious high-level competition he would go on to dethrone the consensus top-ranked lightweight of all-time BJ Penn, topping him in two-straight fights.
Maynard, a three-time NCAA Division-I All-American wrestler was his first challenger not named BJ and it would result in one of the best fights all year when Edgar and Maynard fought to a 25-minute draw.
Maynard showed that since they last met he had added striking to his loaded arsenal flooring Edgar on two occasions and expending almost all his energy unloading on the champion who was saved by the buzzer – In a Rocky Balboa-esque performance Edgar shook off the cobwebs and got straight back to work.
Edgar looked like a new fighter when he stood up from his corner stool after a brief intermission as he took control of the fight on a fading challenger – The fight would go the full distance and to the delight of nobody in the cage it was declared a draw.
These two lightweight juggernauts would go on to have their rubber match later that year with Edgar once again overcoming adversity but this time finishing off Maynard.
#6 Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz II – UFC 66, December 30, 2006
Few feuds were more important to the UFC than the bad blood between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz because they were crucial fights in turning around a struggling fight promotion and turning it into a multi-million dollar juggernaut.
Their story is well documented, for years Ortiz and Liddell were friends with the California-based Ortiz fighting the tide of questioning about fighting “The Iceman” until a deadly combination of greed, desire and a war of words pushed them to a must-see fight.
After a relatively uneventful opening round with both men cautiously feeling one another out the second stanza begins with Ortiz trying to force the fight to the floor unsuccessfully as Liddell is landing heavy leather, once he shows a sign of weakness the uncrowned king of the 205-pound division threw a series of murderous, looping strikes that forced the end of the fight.
When the rematch happened in 2006 it was the biggest fight in UFC history In terms of pay-per-view revenue at the time as they eclipsed 1 million buys for the first time – Unfortunately for Ortiz, this one wasn’t an easy night either.
While he lasted longer in this fight, even getting this fight to the floor momentarily all he did was prolongue the beating as he took a world of punishment at the hands of the UFC Hall of Famer in his fourth title defense.
#5 Matt Hughes vs. George St-Pierre II, UFC 65, November 18, 2006
In sports you always hear of one athlete ‘passing the torch’ to another and that’s exactly what happened when Matt Hughes and George St-Pierre met on two separate occasions.
Matt Hughes held the UFC welterweight championship on two occasions, defending it seven times – He captured the prestigious championship for the second time defeating a 24-year-old French-Canadian fighter with a 2-0 record in the UFC by the name of George St-Pierre.
While St-Pierre was competitive in their first meeting he has later in interviews agreed that he gave the champion that he admired too much respect heading into their fight and paid for it getting caught with an armbar with literally one second on the clock.
Before they would meet again in California St-Pierre would add six more wins to his tally with two UFC champions there and once again when they faced off at UFC 65 it was for all the marbles at 170-pounds.
While it might seem foolish looking at it through 2012 glasses few thought St-Pierre was the man to take the reins at welterweight, more had their eggs in the basket of Karo Parisyan to dethrone Hughes but that all changed when the bell rang as it was pretty much one-way-traffic to crowning a new champion.
The story of the fight was the improved striking of St-Pierre who was throwing his leg kick over and over and mixing up his striking with a barrage of punches, elbows and knees that eventually lead to his high-kick that put his lights out.
They would go on to put a bow on their trilogy at UFC 79 but again, Hughes didn’t have any tricks up his sleeve to deal with St-Pierre.
#4 Chuck Liddell vs. Quinton Jackson II – UFC 71, May 26, 2007
Earlier I spoke of the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix – While Liddell was one of the favorites to win the series he was abruptly stopped by a big, mean, slammin’ machine in Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
By the time they met at UFC 71 for the second time it was a completely different world – After two unsuccessful bids to defeat Wanderlei Silva the giant fan favorite fell from title-contender status after back-to-back disappointing fights against the Rua brothers – Narrowly defeating “Ninja” Rua in a controversial fight and being obliterated and soccer kicked by “Shogun” Rua.
After two more appearances in Pride he would leave the organization and after a one-off fight with Matt Lindland he joined the UFC defeating Marvin Eastman to set up his rematch with “The Iceman”.
Liddell on the other hand was on the role of his career, unbeaten since their meeting in 2003 he had defended the 205-pound crown four times including wins over Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort and Jeremy Horn.
But once again, Jackson was too much for Liddell – The second meeting a far better fight, mainly because there isn’t Dana White having a meltdown on commentary but that’s a whole different story.
Both men exchanged early with Liddell looking to stand in the pocket and trade leather but Jackson riskily took the fight to him and wound up connecting with a counter-right from hell that sent Liddell to the floor in milliseconds that began the downfall of Liddells career.
#3 Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture II – UFC 52, April 16, 2005
When you write the history book on mixed martial arts, you can’t do it without talking about Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture on several occasions.
In the midst of the Ortiz-Liddell controversy when Liddell was denied a shot at the UFC title because Ortiz didn’t want to fight his former friend UFC matchmaker Joe Silva put together a title-eliminator pitting two-divisional UFC king Couture against Liddell.
“The Natural” was consider over the hill at this stage after two-straight losses but he shocked the world when he got his hand raised, the former Olympian took the fight to Liddell like nobody had at that stage exchanging strikes and wrestling him to them mat before raining down heavy leather that forced the end of the fight on a gassed Iceman.
This sport changed with the addition of The Ultimate Fighter and the first coaches were Liddell and Couture garnering their most exposure of their careers at this point headed into the second fight at UFC 52 but this time it was Team Blue’s captain that tied the series up.
The second encounter lasted just 126 seconds as a wild exchange broke out, as soon as Couture stumbled backwards he jumped in for the kill as they both swung for the fences but as Randy put all his power behind a shot Liddell stepped to the side and lined up a straight-right power-punch that knocked Couture out for the first time as he avenged a loss and captured the title that eluded him all his career.
These two would complete the first big-time trilogy in the sport a year later but again Couture was the one throwing heavy leather that put Couture down for the count.
#2 Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin II – UFC 77, October 20, 2007
When Anderson Silva joined the UFC’s 185-pound ranks I don’t think many expected him to have a reign of dominance that stretches to present day – He entered the Nevada-based organization 6-3 in the past three years and with one win he was challenging for the title.
Most expected the once beaten math-teacher-turned-mixed-martial-artist to have a long run as middleweight champ but Silva would annihilate the pink and brown tighted king in less than a round.
Their fight opened early with Silva punishing with a powerful leg kick and exchanging strikes with both men giving as good as they got before Silva got a hold of him in the clinch as he was able to rag doll him around throwing up to 20 unanswered knee strikes that had Franklin down staring at the lights.
When they met again at UFC 77 a dedicated, well-trained and well game-planned “Ace” showed up to fight but it still wasn’t enough for Silva.
While the first round opened more competitively with Franklin landing shots on the Brazilian bomber the round finished with him being carried to his corner by Matt Hume as Silva landed a knee from the thai-plum and a big punch against the cage but he was saved by the bell.
It was all but done as we entered the second round, the 185-pound champ avoided his punishment before cornering him against the cage with a series of knees and punches that put the nail in the coffin.
#1 Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir II – UFC 100, July 11, 2009
When professional-wrestler-turned-mixed-martial-artist Brock Lesnar debuted in the UFC it was clear that he was a work in progress, with one fight under his belt and being eight years removed from his NCAA Division I title win he faced former champ Frank Mir.
At UFC 81 it was like letting an animal off a leash for the first time as he wildly powered the fight to the ground, it wasn’t pretty as Lesnar threw hammer-fists-of-fury as he looked to finish the former UFC title-carrier before clubbing him on the back of the head that made referee Mario Yamasaki deduct a point off the former WWE star.
We resumed with Lesnar once again forcing this fight to the floor but this time the submission grappler caught him with a knee-bar, spoiling his coming out party.
When the biggest event in UFC history rolled around in 2009 Lesnar held the UFC heavyweight title and Mir held the interim UFC heavyweight title, it only made sense that they unify them at UFC 100.
This time around Lesnar was a more seasoned fighter having beat Randy Couture and Heath Herring as he systematically broke down and beat down Mir in mind-numbing fashion – Mir couldn’t stop him from getting the takedown and unloading with shots as he did until the action was ceased.
Post-fight chaos broke out as Lesnar got in the face of a bloodied and beaten Mir, flipped off the crowd, talked down on the UFC’s key sponsor and hinted that he was going to be getting busy with his wife, former WWE Diva and two-time Playboy cover girl Sable.
You still there? Haven’t fallen asleep or stopped to check your Facebook page already? This has been a rollercoaster ride looking back at some of the most important moments in the sports history, now lets look forward to another one being added to the books on July 7.