MMA Through the Years: A Look Back at the Greatest Moments in the Sport’s History

March 28, 2023
From: Spartacus
Featured image for “MMA Through the Years: A Look Back at the Greatest Moments in the Sport’s History”

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has come a long way since its inception, with some of the greatest moments in sports history taking place inside the octagon. From incredible knockouts to historic title fights, there have been numerous moments that have helped shape the sport into what it is today. In this article, we will take a look at 10 of the most memorable moments in MMA history.

#1 UFC 1: The Birth of a Sport

On November 12, 1993, the first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event was held in Denver, Colorado. The event was created to determine which martial art was the most effective in a real fight. There were no weight classes, no time limits, and very few rules.

The eight-man tournament featured fighters from various martial arts backgrounds, including boxing, wrestling, karate, and jiu-jitsu. The tournament was won by Royce Gracie, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter who submitted three opponents in one night to become the first-ever UFC champion.

UFC 1 was a groundbreaking event that had a significant impact on the future of MMA. The event introduced the world to a new style of fighting that was more realistic and exciting than traditional martial arts competitions.

The success of the first UFC event helped to popularise MMA and led to the creation of other MMA organisations around the world. The UFC itself went on to become the largest and most successful MMA organisation in the world, with events held in countries around the globe.

The first UFC event also led to the development of new rules and regulations for MMA competitions. Today, MMA events have weight classes, time limits, and strict rules designed to protect the fighters and ensure fair competition.

#2 Royce Gracie’s dominance in UFC 1

At UFC 1, Royce Gracie was a relative unknown, having only a few fights to his name. However, he dominated the competition, winning all three of his fights by submission. Gracie’s success at UFC 1 was due in large part to his exceptional jiu-jitsu skills.

Gracie’s jiu-jitsu skills revolutionised the sport of MMA. Prior to the UFC, most fighters relied on striking skills to win fights. However, Gracie’s success at UFC 1 showed that grappling skills, specifically jiu-jitsu, were just as important. Gracie’s success led to an increased interest in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and grappling, and many fighters began to incorporate these skills into their training.

Gracie’s success also helped establish the UFC as a legitimate organisation. Prior to UFC 1, there was scepticism and criticism of the sport of MMA, with many people viewing it as barbaric and inhumane. However, Gracie’s success at UFC 1 demonstrated that there was skill and technique involved in the sport, and helped to change people’s perceptions.

Gracie’s dominance at UFC 1 also paved the way for the rise of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the sport of MMA. Today, jiu-jitsu is an essential part of any MMA fighter’s skill set, and Gracie’s contributions to the sport cannot be overstated. His success at UFC 1 was the start of a legacy that continues to this day.

#3 Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz

Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz are two of the most well-known fighters in the history of MMA. The rivalry between the two began in the early 2000s when they were both rising stars in the UFC. They first fought at UFC 47 in 2004, with Liddell winning by TKO in the second round. This set the stage for a rematch, which would become one of the most anticipated fights in MMA history.

The second fight between Liddell and Ortiz took place at UFC 66 in 2006. The event broke pay-per-view records, with over a million buys, making it one of the most-watched events in MMA history at the time. The fight itself was a back-and-forth battle, with both fighters landing significant strikes. In the end, Liddell emerged victorious once again, winning by TKO in the third round.

The impact of this fight cannot be overstated. It helped bring MMA into the mainstream, as people who had never heard of the sport before were suddenly talking about it. The rivalry between Liddell and Ortiz helped to generate interest and excitement in the sport, paving the way for MMA to become the global phenomenon it is today.

Furthermore, the Liddell-Ortiz rivalry was a personal one, with both fighters trading insults and trash talk in the lead-up to their fights. This helped to create a sense of drama and tension that drew fans in and kept them on the edge of their seats.

The second fight between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz was a pivotal moment in MMA history. It helped to establish the UFC as a legitimate organisation, and it paved the way for MMA to become one of the most popular sports in the world. The rivalry between Liddell and Ortiz added to the excitement and drama of the fight, making it a must-see event for fans of combat sports.

#4 Anderson Silva’s front kick knockout of Vitor Belfort

Anderson Silva’s knockout of Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 is one of the most memorable moments in MMA history. Silva was already a dominant force in the sport, having defended his middleweight title multiple times before facing Belfort. But what happened in the cage that night was truly remarkable.

Early in the first round, Belfort threw a high kick that Silva was able to dodge. Silva responded with a front kick to the face that landed flush on Belfort’s chin, sending him crashing to the mat. The knockout was so devastating that Belfort was out cold before he even hit the ground.

This highlight-reel knockout solidified Silva’s status as one of the greatest fighters of all time. He was already considered a master of striking and had a record-breaking title reign as middleweight champion, but this knockout cemented his place in MMA history. The front kick became known as “The Spider Kick” in honour of Silva’s nickname, and it has been replayed countless times as one of the most impressive knockouts in UFC history.

#5 Conor McGregor’s rise to stardom

Conor McGregor is undoubtedly one of the most famous and polarising figures in MMA history. His brash personality, quick wit, and flashy fighting style have helped him achieve worldwide fame and fortune.

McGregor’s rise to superstardom began with his debut in the UFC in 2013. He quickly gained attention for his trash talk, predicting his victories and taunting his opponents in the lead-up to fights. However, it was his fighting skills that truly set him apart. He quickly climbed the ranks of the featherweight division, earning a title shot against the reigning champion, Jose Aldo.

At UFC 194, McGregor face Aldo in what was one of the most highly anticipated fights in UFC history. The buildup to the fight was intense, with McGregor trash-talking Aldo at every opportunity. But when the two finally stepped into the Octagon, McGregor wasted no time. Just 13 seconds into the first round, McGregor landed a perfectly placed left hand that knocked Aldo out cold. The crowd erupted in disbelief as McGregor celebrated his historic victory.

The win solidified McGregor’s status as one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history. It also made him the undisputed featherweight champion and set the stage for even bigger fights and paydays. McGregor’s star power continued to grow, and he became a global icon, transcending the sport of MMA and becoming a cultural phenomenon.

#6 Ronda Rousey’s dominance in the women’s division

Ronda Rousey is often credited with helping to bring women’s MMA into the mainstream. Prior to Rousey’s rise to stardom, women’s MMA was not taken as seriously as men’s MMA. Rousey, a former Olympic bronze medalist in Judo, burst onto the scene with her incredible grappling skills and charismatic personality.

Rousey’s rivalry with Miesha Tate was one of the most heated in MMA history. They fought twice, with Rousey winning both times, including a submission victory in their second fight to capture the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title. Rousey also defeated Cat Zingano in just 14 seconds, setting a record for the fastest finish in UFC championship history.

However, Rousey’s incredible run came to a stunning halt at UFC 193 when she faced Holly Holm. Holm, a former boxing world champion, was considered a massive underdog heading into the fight. However, she shocked the world by dominating Rousey with her superior striking, eventually knocking her out with a head kick in the second round. The loss was devastating for Rousey and marked the end of her reign as the dominant force in women’s MMA. Nevertheless, Rousey’s impact on the sport cannot be understated, as she helped to pave the way for other female fighters to achieve mainstream success.

#7 Matt Hughes’ comeback victory over Frank Trigg

At UFC 52, former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg faced off in a highly anticipated rematch. Trigg had previously lost to Hughes in their first encounter at UFC 45, and he was eager to redeem himself.

In the first round, Trigg caught Hughes with a low blow that the referee missed, and he followed up with a flurry of punches and knees that rocked Hughes. Trigg continued to dominate the round, landing multiple takedowns and controlling Hughes on the ground.

In the second round, Trigg continued his assault, landing a big knee to Hughes’ head and taking him down again. However, Hughes was able to reverse the position and take Trigg’s back. From there, he secured a rear-naked choke and forced Trigg to tap out.

The victory was a memorable one for Hughes, as he had overcome a significant amount of adversity to secure the win. The fight has gone down in MMA history as one of the sport’s most exciting come-from-behind victories.

#8 Fedor Emelianenko’s win over Mirko Cro Cop

The Pride Final Conflict 2005 matchup between Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Cro Cop was one of the most highly anticipated fights in MMA history. At the time, Emelianenko was the reigning Pride heavyweight champion and considered by many to be the best heavyweight fighter in the world. Cro Cop, meanwhile, was a feared striker and had earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport.

The fight itself was a back-and-forth battle, with both fighters having their moments of success. Cro Cop was able to land some powerful strikes and seemed to have Emelianenko in trouble at times. However, Emelianenko’s toughness and grappling skills allowed him to weather the storm and take control of the fight.

In the end, Emelianenko was able to secure a unanimous decision victory, with all three judges scoring the fight in his favour. The win solidified Emelianenko’s status as the top heavyweight fighter in the world and helped to further establish Pride as one of the premier MMA organisations at the time.

The Emelianenko-Cro Cop matchup remains one of the most memorable fights in MMA history, with both fighters leaving it all in the cage and showcasing their incredible skills and toughness.

#9 Georges St-Pierre’s comeback win over Matt Serra

Georges St-Pierre is widely considered one of the greatest fighters in MMA history. However, his career had a few setbacks, one of which was his loss to Matt Serra at UFC 69 in 2007. St-Pierre was heavily favoured to win the fight, but Serra shocked the world by knocking him out in the first round.

Despite this setback, St-Pierre remained determined and worked hard to get back into the octagon. He secured several victories in the following years, including a win over Matt Hughes to claim the interim welterweight title.

St-Pierre’s chance for redemption came at UFC 83, where he faced Serra in a rematch. This time, St-Pierre was able to showcase his skills and dominated Serra throughout the fight. In the second round, he secured a takedown and unleashed a barrage of punches and elbows, forcing the referee to stop the fight.

With this victory, St-Pierre regained the welterweight title and solidified his status as one of the greatest fighters of all time. He went on to defend his title several times and became a dominant force in the sport.

#10 Jon Jones’ victory over Daniel Cormier

The rivalry between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier is one of the most heated and controversial in MMA history. Both fighters were at the top of their game, with Jones considered by many to be the greatest fighter of all time, and Cormier an Olympic wrestler turned MMA champion.

Their first fight at UFC 182 in 2015 was a back-and-forth battle, with Jones ultimately securing a unanimous decision victory. However, the fight was marred by controversy, as Jones tested positive for cocaine metabolites in a pre-fight drug test.

Their second fight at UFC 214 in 2017 was highly anticipated, with Cormier seeking revenge and Jones looking to regain the light heavyweight title that he had been stripped of due to a series of legal and personal issues. The fight was intense from the start, with both fighters trading blows and grappling for position.

In the third round, Jones landed a head kick that staggered Cormier, and followed up with a vicious series of punches that knocked Cormier out cold. The victory was bittersweet for Jones, as he once again tested positive for banned substances and was later stripped of the title.

Despite the controversy surrounding their rivalry, there is no denying the skill and athleticism of both fighters. Their battles inside the octagon will be remembered as some of the most exciting and dramatic moments in MMA history.


The moments discussed above have not only been memorable but have also helped shape the sport of MMA and create some of the greatest fighters of all time. From the first-ever UFC event that established the sport as a legitimate organisation, to the dominance of Royce Gracie and his jiu-jitsu skills that revolutionised the way fighters approached MMA, these moments have been significant in the development and evolution of the sport.

The rivalries between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, and Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, have brought fans to the edge of their seats and created intense excitement and anticipation for their fights. These rivalries have also showcased the athleticism and skill of the fighters involved, helping to solidify their legacies as some of the greatest in MMA history.

Other moments, such as the highlight reel knockout by Anderson Silva and the rise of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, have brought mainstream attention to the sport and helped to increase its popularity.

These moments have not only provided fans with unforgettable memories but have also helped shape the sport into what it is today. They have created some of the greatest fighters of all time and will continue to inspire future generations of MMA fighters to push the limits of what is possible in the octagon.

Related Posts
São Paulo’s Elite: The Top MMA Training Grounds in Brazil’s Metropolis

In the pulsating heart of Brazil, São Paulo emerges not just as a cultural and economic hub but also as a Mecca for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) enthusiasts. The city's alleyways and grand avenues alike echo with tales of legendary Read more

Battleground London: The MMA Gyms Shaping Champions

Nestled amidst the iconic landmarks, historic streets, and the River Thames, London is a city that seamlessly intertwines its age-old legacy with contemporary pursuits. One such modern-day endeavor is the world of mixed martial arts (MMA). As the global MMA Read more

Rising Dragons: The Top 10 MMA Gyms Transforming China’s Fight Scene

In the vast expanse of China's millennia-old history, martial arts have always held a revered place, telling tales of legendary warriors and epic battles. Yet, as we journey through the 21st century, a new wave of combat arts is rapidly Read more

Manila Streets to Global Elite: Gyms Making MMA Legends!

Manila, often heralded as the bustling capital of the Philippines, is not just known for its historical landmarks and vibrant culture, but it's rapidly becoming the epicenter of mixed martial arts (MMA) in Southeast Asia. The city's unique blend of Read more

app banner cta
website banner cta