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The 10 Greatest Rivalries in MMA History
Everyone loves a good old fashioned rivalry, right? Rather it is Batman v the Joker or Coke v Pepsi, people are seemingly drawn to a feud of epic proportions. In MMA, the case in point is no different, with a slew of infamous and iconic conflicts between fighters that have had fans on the edge of their seat and make them go back and enjoy in all their trash talk glory.
For a sport that is relatively still young, MMA is, without doubt, one of the most popular sports around today, with the UFC taking over the combat sports world in recent years. Now there have been many great rivalries in the sport of MMA since the UFC’s inception in 1993 but what rivalries popularized the sport? what rivalry brought the most eyes and what made the most money?
It takes more than animosity to make a great rivalry, this list will be based on entertainment value, how competitive the fights were and their lasting impact on MMA, here are the top 10 greatest rivalries in MMA history.
The 10 Greatest Rivalries in MMA History
10. Brock Lesnar v Frank Mir
— PWP Nation – Disaffected Wrestling Content Creator (@PWPNation) June 13, 2016
After leaving professional wrestling and trying his hand at the NFL, Brock Lesnar decided to compete in mixed martial arts, and from that decision, drama and entertainment unfolded. Starting out in Japan at a K-1 kickboxing promotion in 2007, Lesnar demolished Min-Soo Kim before controversially signing for the UFC in 2008.
His first task, heavyweight title contender Frank Mir. A world-class fighter during his era, many thought it was like sending a pig to slaughter, with Mir far more skilled and experienced in the sport compared to Lesnar.
The pair met at UFC 81, with Lesnar shockingly dominating Mir for much of the round before being caught with a kneebar.
A rematch was scheduled to headline the historic UFC 100 card, their second meeting was the total opposite of was preceded it. With Lesnar now Heavyweight champion and Mir the Interim champion. Lesnar made light work of Mir with ground-and-pound, becoming undisputed heavyweight champion. A trilogy bout was scheduled but broke down due to Lesnar’s medical issues.
Their rivalry was a landmark for the promotion at the time, with the two fights bringing in a combined over 2 million PPV buys, with UFC 100 being the highest-grossing UFC card in history for a decade.
9. Uriah Faber v Dominick Cruz
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) March 4, 2016
In MMA terms, the Bantamweight division is rarely spoken about or highlighted as one of the best weight divisions in the sport, but with the meeting between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber in 2007, things changed.
Meeting under the WEC banner, Urijah ”The California Kid” Faber defeated a young and green Cruz via guillotine choke at WEC 26 for the WEC Featherweight Championship. By the time the pair joined the UFC, Cruz and Faber had moved down a division to Batmanweight, where a heated rivalry ensued.
Winning the inaugural UFC Bantamweight Championship at WEC 53 in 2010, the first defence of his UFC belt was against Faber, who he defeated fairly easily at UFC 132 in 2011.
The pair were chosen to coach The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) prior to what would have been their rubber match at UFC 148, but because of Cruz’s persistent injuries, the bout was cancelled.
It took a further five years to round off the rivalry, with Cruz yet again defending his crown at UFC 199. Defeating Faber yet again by unanimous decision and closing off a heated and highly competitive feud.
8. Chuck Liddell v Randy Couture
— mymma (@mymma11) April 18, 2020
If you are looking for a heated rivalry full of hate and venom, this feud had very little. But Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture took part in a legendary trilogy that sure as hell cemented itself in the MMA history books.
Ironically, the first fight was never meant to happen. With a highly anticipated bout between Liddle and Tito Ortiz in the works. But due to contract disputes with Ortiz, the UFC decided to book Liddell and Couture for the interim belt.
The pair went toe-to-toe at UFC 43 with Couture knocking out Liddell and then defeating Ortiz to becoming the undisputed 205-pound champion.
After a disappointing run in the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix, Liddell made his long-awaited return to the octagon. Knocking out Ortiz and Vernon White before the ”The Iceman” got his chance at Couture at UFC 52.
It took Liddell one round to knock out Couture, starting off one of the best reigns in UFC history. Couture was back for a rematch after submitting Mike van Arsdale. The pair faced off again with Couture suffering another early knockout loss to Liddell.
A great and intriguing rivalry that was never meant to happen. It is truly a groundbreaking rivalry during the early days of MMA.
The 10 Greatest Rivalries in MMA History
7. Tito Ortiz v Ken Shamrock
— Vicio MMA (@VicioMMA) November 22, 2021
Easily one of the most heated rivalries the sport has ever seen, Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock embarked on a vicious feud that catapulted the sport of MMA when it needed it most.
However, Ortiz was overly dominant in all three bouts against Shamrock. While Shamrock may have been one of the pioneers of the sport, he always had a chink in his armour. Showcased by the fact that all three bouts between the pair only lasted one round in their final two fights.
While the trash talk was laughably bad, and the overall competitiveness of their fights was much to be desired, but it’s the lasting legacy of their TUF seasons as coaches and the pure insanity of the press conferences are enough to get on this list.
6. Conor McGregor v Khabib Nurmagomedov
On This Day in 2018.. #UFC229
🇮🇪 McGregor vs Khabib 🇷🇺
& The Rest Was HISTORY! pic.twitter.com/OMWcGb7Kvn
— MMA Videos (@MMAVidsOfficial) October 6, 2020
The most-heated, the most vicious and by far the most personal feud in MMA history has to go to the war between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018.
It all started in 2016 after McGregor won the Lightweight title against Eddie Alvarez at Madison Square Garden, a fight originally signed and agreed for Khabib. McGregor went on to become the first-ever double champ in the promotion, with a fight against Khabib highly rumoured.
However, McGregor decided to box Floyd Mayweather in a cross-promotion that saw him take in a reported $100 million dollars. He would then not fight in the octagon for 2 years, leaving the door wide open for Khabib to capitalise on the Irishman’s departure.
Days prior to Khabib’s first title shot at UFC 223, McGregor’s training partner and close friend Artem Lobov called out the Russian, with Khabib along with personnel cornering Lobov in a hotel lobby, leading to a physical confrontation.
That’s when things got ugly, a bus carrying all the fighters on the card along with Khabib was ambushed by a group, led by McGregor. Were windows were smashed and bad blood was spilt.
A fight was scheduled for UFC 229 with the newly crowned champion and unbeaten Russian facing off against ”The Notorious”. The lead up was vicious, with McGregor getting up close and personal with Khabib, leading to an entertaining yet dark press conference.
The fight was anything but competitive, McGregor did manage to take a round of Khabib in the third, the first man to do so. But it was a wrestling clinic from the Russian who submitted McGregor in the fourth to retain his title.
A rematch has long been desired by McGregor, but with Khabib now retired and the Irishman coming off two losses to Dustin Poirier, it is evident that the rivalry is over with.
The 10 Greatest Rivalries in MMA History
5. Anderson Silva v Chael Sonnen
Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen 1 has got to be the greatest brutal comeback in MMA History. 🏆🕷️🕸️ pic.twitter.com/C1fAt45kW5
— Adriane¹³ (@heichouadriane_) December 9, 2020
What happens when you pair a respectable and what many would consider the embodiment of what a mixed martial artist should be, against an all American trash talker? Well, a hugely entertaining rivalry for starters.
Never seen as a realistic challenger to Silva’s Middleweight crown, Sonnen went on a three-fight win streak before facing the Brazilian at UFC 117 in 2010.
Sonnen came into their first fight with one thing in mind, to verbally destroy Silva. The brash talking American had fans tuning in, turning the middleweight division into the most entertaining division in the UFC and when it came to the fight, Sonnen did not disappoint.
Putting on a wrestling clinic, Sonnen shockingly dominated Silva for four and a half rounds before Silva outrageously locked in a triangle choke to retain his title. While Sonnen lost the fight, his ability to talk the talk and walk the walk made fans clamour for a rematch.
Unfortunately for Sonnen, he could not perform as close as he did in his original fight with Silva. It all went downhill as soon as Sonnen decided to perform a spinning back-fist, falling to the canvas and suffering a beat down before Silva finished the rivalry for good in the second round.
4. Chuck Liddell v Tito Ortiz
— Wrestling Observer (@WONF4W) August 30, 2018
It was a matchup that took forever to put together, but once Chuck Liddell v Tito Ortiz was booked, it turned out to be the most important rivalries in MMA history.
The feud was halted, mostly due to Ortiz’s unwillingness to fight his former friend and teammate. However, Liddell had no problem with fighting ”The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” and went on a tirade, accusing Ortiz of being afraid and ducking him.
The pair finally met at UFC 47 in 2004 with Liddell knocking Ortiz out cold with a PPV buy rate of 105,000. The success of their first fight made the UFC book the second fight at UFC 66 in 2006 where Liddell yet again scored a TKO victory in round three with a massive increase in PPV buys with close to one million.
The pair did face-off in 2018 for the newly formed Golden Boy Promotions with Ortiz knocking out a 48-year-old Liddell in the first round.
The less we talk about this one the better.
3. Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz
BREAKING: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz II has been voted the best fight in UFC history…👏🏻🇮🇪🇺🇸👊🏻💥 pic.twitter.com/GntyjPQ84k
— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) April 3, 2018
When Conor McGregor arrived in the UFC, it did not take him long to become the biggest star the sport has ever seen and after his 13-second knockout of Featherweight champion Jose Aldo in 2015, he was a global superstar.
Come 2016 the Irishman was scheduled to face Rafael Dos Anjos for the Lightweight title at UFC 196. But a foot injury halted McGregor on his quest to become the first-ever dual-weight world champion the UFC has ever had.
The UFC then announce that Stockton’s own Nate Diaz will face off against McGregor, but at Welterweight, a massive 25-pound jump up for McGregor was seen as a major step up, but he came into the fight as the heavy favourite. The trash-talk and chemistry between the pair was tremendous leading up to the bout, encapsulated by the massive 1.3 million PPV buys.
The fight happened and McGregor threw everything at a resilient Diaz in the opening round. By round two McGregor was noticeably fatigued and would end up losing via submission, ending his 17-fight win streak and making Nate Diaz a household name and a ”needle-mover”.
Their rematch was set for UFC 202 after the cancellation of their scheduled bout at UFC 200. With McGregor winning via majority decision. The fight brought in 1.6 million PPV buys, becoming the biggest UFC event in history until it was beaten by McGregor v Khabib in 2018.
The rubber match is yet to be made, but with both fighters coming into the highlight end of their careers, it will be sooner rather than later before fans see these two back in the octagon together.
2. George St. Pierre v Matt Hughes
— Vicio MMA (@VicioMMA) November 18, 2021
When you have one fighter who is in their prime and another fighter who is just coming into his, you have a recipe for greatness, and it is hard to argue that GSP and Matt Hughes did not have a great and impactful rivalry.
Neither were good trash talkers during their career, but it was their talent and competitiveness that made this trilogy great.
Coming into their first encounter, GSP was still a relatively young fighter, while Hughes was seen as the greatest Welterweight and fighter at the time. At UFC 50, it was clear St-Pierre was not up to standards as of yet, with Hughes submitting his rival via armbar.
By the time GSP got his second chance at Hughes, he had won four consecutive fights, and when it came to it, he knocked out Hughes with a head kick in the second round.
The pair faced off for the third time for the interim championship after St-Pierre suffered a shocking loss to Matt Serra. GSP managed to submit Hughes, ending their rivalry and becoming the best Welterweight and fighter in the world in what was a passing of the torch moment for the Canadian.
1. Jon Jones v Daniel Cormier
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) September 13, 2017