Mixed martial arts is a combat sport unlike anything else. It incorporates aspects from wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai and various traditional martial arts into a singular combative competition experience. Although the sport is still very young, it is growing at an astounding pace, and every day the sport draws in more fans from all over the world.

For those readers who are among the newly initiated to the world of MMA, I feel that it is my duty as a longtime fan and correspondent to increase your awareness and appreciation for this great sport’s history. I have always believed that to truly appreciate a sport fully as a fan you have to understand the history behind it. It would be crazy for a boxing fan not to know who Muhammad Ali is or for a baseball fan not to know about “The Curse of the Bambino.”

MMA is no different. To appreciate what the sport is today, fans should go back and watch the fights that shaped the sport and become familiar with the fighters who pioneered the sport in the early days, when there were no weight classes, no gloves and few rules.

No. 10: Royce Gracie vs. Kimo Leopoldo, UFC 3

UFC 3 took place on Sept. 9, 1994 at the Grady Cole Center in Charlotte, N.C. It was a one-night, eight-man tournament with no weight classes, no time limits and no judges. Fights could only be won via submission, knockout, referee stoppage or by a fighter’s corner throwing in the towel.

In the opening round of the tournament, fans were treated to a David vs. Goliath match-up between a 170-pound Royce Gracie and a 250-pound Kimo Leopoldo.

Even though Gracie was able to win the fight via submission at the 4:40 mark, he was unable to advance in the tournament due to fatigue from the beating Leopoldo put on him leading up to the finish.

No. 9: Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg, UFC 52

UFC 52 took place on April 16, 2005 at the MGM Grand Arena in Paradise, Nev.

In the co-main event of the evening, then-UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes defended his title against archrival Frank Trigg.

During the fight, Hughes was hit with a groin shot that went unnoticed by the referee. The action continued, and Trigg looked to put Hughes away with a barrage of punches and a rear-naked choke attempt. Hughes was able to survive the danger and regain his composure to take control of the fight. He eventually secured a rear-naked choke of his own to submit Trigg.

No. 8: Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Carlos Newton, Pride 3

Pride 3 took place on June 24, 1998 at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.

This fight featured Japanese pro-wrestler-turned-fighter Kazushi Sakuraba taking on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizard Carlos Newton.

The fight was an absolute grappling clinic. The two men went back and forth with transitions, attacks and counterattacks. It easily stands out as one of the greatest grappling chess matches in MMA history.

Sakuraba showed his brilliance to the world when he was able to submit Newton with a kneebar after Newton had taken his back.

No. 7: Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi, Pride 33

Pride 33 took place on Feb. 24, 2007 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The co-main event of the evening featured a lightweight clash between Nick Diaz and “The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi.

Gomi blasted Diaz with wild winging punches to open the fight, battering and bloodying his opponent’s face to a pulp in the process. Gomi looked like he would coast to an easy victory, but Diaz just kept hanging around and pushing forward.

After getting a takedown early in the second round, Gomi looked to take a break in the guard of Diaz. But the always game Diaz took advantage of the situation and locked in a brilliant gogoplata from the bottom to force Gomi to tap.

The win for Diaz was later changed to a no-contest as the result of a failed post-fight drug test for marijuana.

No. 6: Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez, UFC 166

UFC 166 took place on Oct. 19, 2013 at the Toyota Center in Houston. The night’s third feature bout on the pay-per-view main card was a lightweight showdown between former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez and The Ultimate Fighter 1 winner Diego Sanchez.

This fight was an absolute back-and-forth war of attrition between two fighters with iron wills. Neither man would back down, nor could one take full control of the action.

Melendez ended up coming out on top via unanimous decision in what would later be voted as the “Fight of the Year” for 2013.

No. 5: Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen, UFC 117

UFC 117 took place on Aug. 7, 2010 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

The main event of the evening featured a middleweight title fight between then-champion Anderson Silva and challenger Chael Sonnen.

Up until this point in his UFC career, Silva looked like an unstoppable force, going 11-0 in the UFC with nine of his victories coming by way of stoppage.

Sonnen put it on the champion for five rounds, taking Silva down at will and battering him with ground-and-pound. Heading into the fifth and final round, Sonnen was well on his way to becoming the new UFC middleweight champion. Then, out of nowhere, Silva was able to slap on a triangle armbar from the bottom to force Sonnen to tap.

No. 4: Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard, UFC 136

UFC 136 took place on Oct. 8, 2011 at the Toyota Center in Houston. In the main event of the evening, then-champion Frankie Edgar met Gray Maynard for the third time for the UFC lightweight title.

To this point, Maynard was the only fighter to have ever beaten Edgar in his career and also nearly took the belt from him at UFC 125 when the two battled to a draw.

Maynard looked like he was going to put Edgar away early when he caught him with powerful shots in the opening round. However, Edgar survived and battled back. Then, late in the fourth round, Edgar caught Maynard with a vicious uppercut and finished him with a flurry of punches to win via knockout.

No. 3: Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar, The Ultimate Fighter Finale

The Ultimate Fighter Finale took place on April 9, 2005 at the Cox Pavilion in Paradise, Nev.

Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar were fighting for the TUF season-one light heavyweight title and six-figure UFC contract.

At this point, the UFC was a struggling organization that was in major financial peril. That all changed with Griffin vs. Bonnar. This bloody battle of wills launched the UFC, and MMA as a whole, into the mainstream. Without this fight, the sport would not be where it is today.

Griffin was able to defeat Bonnar via unanimous decision in this back-and-forth slugfest, but truly there were no losers in the epic fight.

No. 2: Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Pride 28

Pride 28 took place on Oct. 31, 2004 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

The main event featured a blood feud between Wanderlei Silva and Rampage Jackson for the Pride middleweight championship. This marked the second meeting of an epic trilogy between these two men.

In a fierce battle, both men landed heavy shots and put each other in danger several times during the first round. The second round opened with flurries from both fighters. Then, following a brief scramble on the ground, Silva landed a devastating right hook that sent Jackson stumbling into the ropes. Silva smelled the blood in the water and went for the finish, locking in the Thai clinch and delivering a series of knees to Jackson’s face. Jackson fell into the ropes stiff and motionless with blood gushing from his face.

No. 1: Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, UFC 139

UFC 139 took place on Nov. 19, 2011 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. The main event featured a five-round, non-title light heavyweight tilt between former two-division Pride champion Dan Henderson and former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

This back-and-forth battle had it all—great grappling exchanges, superior clinch work and tremendous striking exchanges.

Both men fought their hearts out and put on a show. Henderson edged Rua on the judges’ scorecards for the unanimous decision victory.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.