The UFC has been delivering the highest level of mixed martial arts action available for close to 30 years. In that time, the Las Vegas-based organization has promoted thousands of fights. Some of those have been pretty forgettable, plenty of others have been good, and a select few have gone down as the best UFC fights of all time.
The list of iconic UFC fights seems to get longer every year, and 2021 has been no exception to that rule. This year gave us epic battles like Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega, Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen, Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler, and Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar. Even so, there are a few fights that stand head and shoulders above the rest. We’ve done our best to narrow that list down to 10.
Keep reading for our roundup of the best UFC fights of all time, all of which can be viewed legally on UFC Fight Pass, the promotion’s official streaming service. Although some of these bouts are over a decade old, they’re still sending shockwaves through the MMA universe.
The Best UFC Fights of All Time
10. Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor, 2016
Five years since an incredible fight 🙌 pic.twitter.com/JRCfpWK0rr
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) August 20, 2021
Few MMA-related lists are complete without some mention of McGregor (for better or worse), and this one is no exception. He’s known for making knockout wins look effortless, but in the summer of 2016, the Irish superstar was dragged into a grueling, 25-minute battle with his chief nemesis, Nate Diaz.
Diaz and McGregor had already fought a few months earlier. Diaz shocked the world in that fight by handing the Irishman his first UFC loss with a second-round submission. Heading into the rematch, anticipation couldn’t have been higher.
The second fight was a nail-biter, and the two welterweights engaged in a razor-close battle through all five rounds. Diaz landed slightly more significant strikes, connecting on 166 attempts compared to McGregor’s 164, and also racked up 5:50 minutes of control time on the mat. McGregor, however, was behind the more decisive moments of the matchup: He dropped his rival three times.
Needless to say, the judges had a tough job on their hands. In the end, they handed McGregor a majority decision win, meaning two judges scored it in his favor, and the third scored the fight a draw.
Just like that, the two superstars were tied 1–1. The grounds for a trilogy have existed ever since, but it hasn’t happened yet. Don’t be surprised if that finally changes in 2022.
9. Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar, 2005
#OnThisDay in 2005: The fight that changed everything between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar!
— UFC Europe (@UFCEurope) April 9, 2021
MMA is better now than it ever has been before. A good fight today is objectively better than a good fight from the early days of the sport, as training practices have improved dramatically and fighters have become more skilled as a result. Even so, we’ve got to give it up for the classics, and none hold a candle to the 2005 light heavyweight fight between Forrest Griffin and Stefan Bonnar.
Griffin and Bonnar met in the finale of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, a time when the UFC was struggling to break into the mainstream. The two light heavyweights helped the promotion do just that: The three-round slugfest was a dazzler, and Griffin ultimately won by decision.
It was hardly a technical fight, but it didn’t matter. The aggression and grit of both men left jaws on the floor, and it helped introduce a whole new crop of fans to the UFC.
8. Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson, 2017
Relive the epic battle between Justin Gaethje and Michael Johnson pic.twitter.com/PgqqoAfauz
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) April 14, 2018
Robbie Lawler is the only fighter to appear twice on this list, but Justin Gaethje nearly did, too. Over the course of his incredible career, the American lightweight has participated in a long list of unforgettable battles, many of which arguably rank among the best of all time.
But the best fight of Gaethje’s legendary career occurred in 2017. After an impressive reign as the World Series of Fighting lightweight champ, he made his Octagon debut opposite Michael Johnson. Gaethje was unbeaten at the time, and he was among the most hyped fighters in MMA. Yet Johnson very nearly spoiled the undefeated star’s debut by pushing him to the brink of consciousness in the early going.
In a display of incredible toughness and heart, however, Gaethje surged back for a second-round knockout win—bolstering his resume with not only a classic fight but one of the sport’s great comebacks.
7. Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit, 2016
#OnThisDay in 2016 – Lawler and Condit gave us a FOTY to remember 😳[ Watch more on @UFCFightPass ] pic.twitter.com/RviRhXNAh4
— UFC (@ufc) January 2, 2021
From the moment it was announced that Robbie Lawler would defend his welterweight title against Carlos Condit in early 2016, MMA fans expected an incredible fight. The two welterweights were both regarded among the most exciting fighters in the sport, and with a title on the line, drama seemed guaranteed.
In the end, the fight surpassed all expectations. The pair engaged in a wild striking battle for the full five rounds, bombing each other with the kind of heavy artillery that could have easily wiped out lesser fighters.
Lawler won the fight via split decision, but many fans felt Condit should have gotten the nod—and that verdict is still debated today. One way or the other, the fight was one of the best ever.
6. Cheick Kongo vs. Pat Barry, 2011
A fight doesn’t need to last multiple rounds to be great. Heavyweights Pat Barry and Cheick Kongo proved that when they collided in the Octagon in 2011.
This one got crazy quickly. Minutes into the fight, Barry sent Kongo crashing to the canvas with a crackling right hand, and once he had the Frenchman hurt, he didn’t let up. Kongo absorbed punch after punch, clinging to consciousness by his fingernails—to the point that commentator Joe Rogan prematurely declared, “It’s over.”
It was not.
Just when it looked like Kongo couldn’t possibly take another punch, and the referee looked ready to intervene, the Frenchman surged back and floored Barry with a punch of his own. A few punches later, it was over—this time for real, as Barry stared up at the Jumbotron with his back on the floor.
Kongo had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in one of the most dramatic one-round fights of all time. Seriously, watch this one. You can do it in less time than it takes to warm up a plate of leftovers.
5. “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier, 2012
Next time you’re trying to introduce somebody to MMA, show them the 2012 featherweight fight between “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier.
This fight was a lot like Costco—it had everything. From wild striking exchanges, to blindingly fast scrambles, to slick submission attempts, every weapon in the MMA arsenal was on full display. It was also capped off by one of the rarer submissions in MMA: Jung tapped Poirier with a fourth-round D’arce Choke.
For some reason, this one seems to be forgotten when fans debate the best fights of all time, but make no mistake: It belongs on this list.
4. Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, 2020
Rewatch the fight that had everybody screaming “OH!” 😮
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 28, 2020
Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s 2020 strawweight title fight isn’t just one of the best women’s bouts of all time, it’s one of the best fights ever, period.
At the time of the fight, China’s Zhang was the reigning champion. She was on a staggering 21-fight win streak and looked to make it to 22 against Jedrzejczyk, the most dominant champ in the division’s history.
The two strawweight stars got to work early and didn’t stop until the final bell: They threw a dizzying 783 strikes combined. The 25-minute firefight took an immense physical toll on both women; Zhang’s face was purple with bruising and Jedrzejczyk, more notably, sustained a gruesome hematoma that made her forehead swell up like a balloon.
It was a dazzling display of technique and toughness, and a must-watch for anybody looking to get acquainted with the best fights in UFC history. A rematch also feels inevitable.
3. Jon Jones vs. Alexanders Gustafsson, 2013
#OnThisDay in 2013: A 𝐇𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐨𝐟 𝐅𝐚𝐦𝐞 classic between Jon Jones and Alexanders Gustafsson!
— UFC Europe (@UFCEurope) September 21, 2021
By the time Jon Jones stepped into the cage with Alexanders Gustafsson in 2013, Jones was already considered unbeatable in the eyes of many fans. Since winning the light heavyweight title with a TKO win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2011, the American had defended it six times against an impressive procession of skilled fighters: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, and Chael Sonnen.
After those performances, Gustafsson just didn’t seem to have a shot.
In the end, however, the unheralded Swede gave Jones the toughest fight of his entire career. He matched the dominating champion with his footwork and shocked onlookers by taking him down. It was a classic example of an underdog rising to the occasion.
Unfortunately for Gustafsson, the judges ultimately awarded Jones a unanimous decision win, but the fight was good enough to earn both fighters a place in the MMA history books.
2. Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, 2011
#OnThisDay 10 years ago, Dan Henderson & Shogun Rua had a battle for the ages 👊[ via @UFCOnThisDay @UFCFightPass ] pic.twitter.com/adP5TEBBkQ
— UFC (@ufc) November 19, 2021
Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, two of the greatest light heavyweights in MMA history, came up together in PRIDE but never met in the now-defunct Japanese promotion’s ring. After migrating to the UFC, they finally came face-to-face in the Octagon in 2011—and their fight was absolutely worth waiting for.
By that point, both light heavyweights had proven they possessed ferocious knockout power and superhuman durability, and both displayed those traits in spades in the Octagon. The two legends cudgeled each other for five wild rounds and repeatedly pushed each other to the brink of defeat. Miraculously, both men were still conscious by the time the fight concluded.
In the end, Henderson was awarded a unanimous decision win, but the fight was close enough that the pair were slated for a rematch in 2014. That time around, Henderson picked up a more decisive win, stopping his rival with a vicious volley in the third round.
1. Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald, 2015
Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald’s legendary between-rounds staredown took place six years ago today at UFC 189 😳 pic.twitter.com/Bo2oEVoLtM
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) July 11, 2021
Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald’s first fight, which the former won by split decision in 2013, was good, but by no means a classic. Yet when the two welterweights met again in 2015, this time with Lawler’s title on the line, it turned out to be one of the best fights ever—maybe even the best outright.
The two welterweight stars wasted no time painting the Octagon floor red. By the time the fourth round was winding down, both men were nearly unrecognizable due to the bruising and cuts they’d sustained, and the intensity inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena couldn’t have been higher—thanks in large part to Lawler giving MacDonald a murderous stare right as the round concluded.
In the end, Lawler put a stamp on things in the fifth round, flooring MacDonald with a fist to the nose, but it was the kind of fight with no real losers: an all-time classic that still holds up today.
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