Every athlete, at one point or another, experiences a paramount moment in their careers. Some would refer to it as a landmark moment, whereas others may call it a career climax or even a pinnacle. Regardless of whatever one calls it, they know that this one moment holds more importance to an athlete’s career than anything else that athlete achieved. Fans know they witnessed something incredible in those special moments, but only after it happens will anyone realize the importance of what that one event did for the sport that they follow and love.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship serves as the proving ground for up-and-coming prospects and established MMA commodities in today’s era, but it also historically serves as an area where many of the world’s best go on to define their own careers. This proved all too true in 2006, when the talent the UFC carried in its light heavyweight division attracted people to its cards. No fan could blame the UFC for banking as much on its light heavyweights as it did, especially since the promotion carried top 205ers Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell on its roster.

In terms of landmark moments, very few of 2006’s best moments can top the night that Ortiz and Liddell engaged in the second fight of their storied rivalry. For those who need a refresher, Liddell fought to earn his way to title contention during Ortiz’s longtime light heavyweight title reign. As the undisputed No. 1 contender at that time, Liddell thought on many occasions that he would see Ortiz for the belt sooner rather than later. As many will recall of Ortiz’s career, though, injuries and contract disputes attributed to the prolonged delay of the first bout.

While Ortiz spent much of 2003 on the sidelines, Couture went on to defeat Liddell for the UFC interim light heavyweight crown and then dominated Ortiz in one of the most lopsided title fights in UFC history. The bout that many thought was laid to rest when Couture beat Liddell resurrected itself when Couture also beat Ortiz. The first bout between Liddell and Ortiz went on to serve as the landmark of 2004. Fast forward to 2006, and the rematch of the century would happen, except this time, it would happen with the belt on the line.

UFC 66 emanated live on Dec. 30, 2006 from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, with Liddell vs. Ortiz II as its headliner. How did the belt come in as the added attraction?

Everything that raised the stakes in the rematch stemmed from the aftermath of the first fight. Ortiz came into the rematch on the strength of a five-fight winning streak, which included a split decision win in an intense bout with Forrest Griffin and two wins over Ken Shamrock. Liddell, meanwhile, settled his score with Couture, knocking “The Natural” out in the second round and retiring the legend from MMA temporarily. Liddell also made short work of Renato “Babalu” Sobral before signing on to face Ortiz in a bout that did as much in terms of delivering a classic bout as it did for the UFC from a financial standpoint.

Midway through round one, Liddell landed one of his trademark flurries on Ortiz and stuck a few heavy blows. Ortiz endured the shots and scrambled to make it past the first round, but round two turned out slightly less clear. Ortiz defended some of Liddell’s best punches, and Liddell’s vaunted takedown defense neutralized Ortiz’s wrestling offensive for most of the round. Ortiz scored one takedown on Liddell, arguably taking the round, but Liddell changed everything in the third frame.

Liddell took control of a fairly even third round by landing another flurry, overwhelming Ortiz but not forcing the referee’s intervention. Ortiz attempted a single-leg on Liddell, but wound up mounted by Liddell, who inevitably found the first-round TKO win. After the bout, the two men took home “Fight of The Night” honors. The bout attracted a buyrate of 1,050,000 viewers who watched via pay-per-view providers. Only a small handful of UFC events have touched that amount or surpassed it.

Of course, with Liddell vs. Ortiz II transpiring, a number of events flew under the radar in 2006. In this same year, Matt Hughes avenged a loss to B.J. Penn, Griffin defeated Stephan Bonnar in a rematch of their TUF 1 Finale bout, and Rich Franklin defeated David Loiseau. While people will remember Franklin’s dominance over Nate Quarry, Evan Tanner and Loiseau, he also served as one-half of a title bout that flew under the radar in 2006, which saw a gentleman named Anderson Silva dethrone Franklin for the gold.

Most hardcore MMA fans knew Silva before he fought Franklin at UFC 64 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Oct. 14, 2006. Silva cut his teeth in Pride Fighting Championships, most notably defeating former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton. Silva came into the UFC on the heels of his famous reverse-elbow knockout win over Tony Fryklund and destroyed the iron-chinned Chris Leben. Some fans expected Silva to look decent against Leben, but few people thought he could compete with the well-rounded “Ace.” Even fewer really knew how legitimate Silva would prove until after he destroyed one of the most respected men in the sport.

Normally, whenever Silva’s hands remain low, it serves as a prelude to a decimation the likes of which few can survive. But against Franklin, Silva trapped the champ in the Muay Thai clinch and drained Franklin’s energy away with his knees, breaking Franklin’s nose in the process. “Big” John McCarthy halted the bout at 2:59 of round one, when Franklin fell to the ground and did not get up. The world stood in shock as Silva received the belt, but nobody thought Silva would even make it past the first defense, let alone tie Franklin’s middleweight record of two successful title defenses.

What happened? Silva went on to defeat 10 men, including Franklin in a rematch, to cement his claim as not only a longtime pound-for-pound premier fighter, but also as one of the greatest fighters to ever step in the cage. Silva did lose the belt when a bizarre performance led to a knockout loss to Chris Weidman at UFC 162 this year, but had Silva not dominated Franklin as he did the first time in 2006, the current middleweight title scene might look a little bit different today, even if Weidman still went on to hold the belt.

It was only fitting that Silva and Liddell ended 2006 on top, because as two future greats, they would set the stage for yet another evolution of the sport. As the popularity of the UFC ran off the charts heading towards 2007, especially with pay-per-view buyrates and mainstream media exposure hitting unfathomable highs, the art of striking in MMA evolved. Fighters could no longer get away with things they once could, and so they needed to add new facets to their game. As a number of legends would soon find out, the refusal to do so would lead to their ultimate downfall.

Photo: Anderson Silva (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.