The first thing I need to do is clarify: this is a not a list of the most devastating, brutal or technical knockouts. These are the knockouts that have sculpted not only the repertoires of some of the greatest fighters in history, but the foundations of mixed martial arts itself.
Here, in no particular order, are the most important knockouts in MMA.
1. Frank Mir vs Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira
The meeting between Frank Mir and the then interim champion ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira was truly a clash of the jiu jitsu giants, both holding a highlight reel of submission victories; Mir’s including Brock Lesnar and Nogueira’s boasting Mark Coleman and Mirko Cro Cop.
Fans expected a technical battle on the ground, but were instead greeted by some of the most impressive striking that Nogueira had encountered, so much so that he was knocked down by Mir twice in the first round. Although ‘Big Nog’ had been knocked down before, and been on the receiving end of one of Cro Cops legendary head kicks, he had never actually been knocked out. Unfortunately for Nogueira, the patriarch of MMA in Brazil, this was about to change.
In a flurry of combined blows Mir eventually managed to do what no man could before him, knock out the legend, and regain the UFC heavyweight title (although only in the interim).
This fight holds significant importance in the world of MMA as it made the world take notice of Frank Mir’s stand up game, (allowing him an important rematch with Brock Lesnar) and proving to all before him that Nogueira’s chin wasn’t made of granite.
2. Dan Henderson vs. Wanderlei Silva
Pride 33 – The second coming
Never bring an axe to a bomb fight
Pride 33 set the stage for one of the most exciting fight cards of all time, featuring superstars such as ‘The Fireball Kid’ Takanori Gomi, Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem and Mauricio Shogun Rua. However, its main event featured two of the most successful mixed martial artists the world has ever seen, Wanderlei ‘The Axe Murderer’ Silva and ‘Dangerous’ Dan Henderson. Wanderlei, the reigning Pride middleweight champion, being a practitioner of Thai boxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, had some of the most deadly knees in the sport, (for conformation see Rampage Jackson in his first two matchups against Silva ). Whereas Hendo, the reigning welterweight champion (fighting this time at a higher weight class), was a classic matchup for Silva, being an Olympic standard wrestler and in possession of a right hand known only as the ‘H bomb’.
The two met in Las Vegas, and from the very start it was clear that this would be one of the greatest fights in the history of the sport – should Henderson win he would unify both middleweight and welterweight belts. The fight featured an evenly matched back-and-forth between the two champions, however, in the third and final round Wanderlei was subject to a weapon not yet displayed in Henderson’s arsenal, his thundering left hand.
The importance of this knockout speaks for itself; Dan Henderson managed to do what no man had done before or since, unify two belts in different weight classes. The importance also lies with Wanderlei, this knockout ended his six year reign as the Pride middleweight champion, and is ultimately responsible for his below par career since, a fact lamented by many of his fans, myself included.
3. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva
Third strike Wand he’s out
It does seem to be unfair to lay focus once again on Wanderlei Silva being at the receiving end of a knockout, however to understand why this is one of the most important fights in MMA you have to look back at Rampage and Wanderlei’s history, the history of one of the most brutal and passionate feuds ever to take place in any sport.
The hatred began when Rampage decided to insult the established middleweight champion Silva, on a personal/national level, and his Chute Boxe team (a source of immense loyalty). Eventually coming to a head when, at Pride 25 after a win over experienced Kevin Randleman, Rampage called out Silva claiming he had “his belt”, this comment riled Wanderlei so much that he leapt into the ring and shoved Jackson. The stage was set for the start of a trilogy of fights yet to be matched in their hatred and brutality. The first two ended in the same ferocious way: Rampage – with his face massacred by Wanderlei’s knees – lying face down on the canvas.
The history behind the two fighters made this one of the most important fights for mixed martial arts. At UFC 92 the roles were reversed and it was Wanderlei who woke up with a flashlight in his face. Rampage came at him with a screaming left hook, and jumped at the chance to get closure over the worst losses of his career. Following up with a brace of blows that screamed redemption, Rampage was pulled off the prone Silva and was able to once again able to howl with pride.
4. Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie
Out with the old, in with the Hughes
Royce Gracie holds a special place in the world of MMA, with significant meaning for the UFC, as he won first ever Ultimate Fighting Championship event. On November 12 1993 Gracie proved to the world that size doesn’t matter and that knowledge of Brazilian jiu jitsu can bring down the toughest of brawlers.
Matt Hughes, by contrast, was the embodiment of an all-American wrestler. With a pedigree in ADCC wrestling competing against wrestlers like Tito Ortiz and Jeremy Horn, Hughes had the ability to not only out grapple Gracie, but utilise his stand up to prove himself to be a more complete mixed martial artist.
Facing Gracie in a catch weight bout at UFC 60, Matt demonstrated superior take downs and striking, eventually catching Gracie in an arm lock, but he was unable to make Royce tap. Hughes switched position and rained blows down on Gracie until he was awarded a TKO. This proved to the world that, although the Gracie family held unprecedented status in BJJ, Hughes’ complete package meant that baton was passed to a true athlete and a worthy ambassador in the world of MMA.
5. Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir
Can you see him now?
The rematch between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir is truly one of the fights that cemented the UFC’s legitimacy in world of sports.
As the main event of UFC 100 fans around the world watched as Brock attempted to avenge his first career loss, and destroy the man who had ruined his UFC debut. The event itself was not short of surprises, with a virtuoso knockout from Dan Henderson ‘shutting the big mouth’ of Brit Michael Bisping, one I would recommend anyone, fan or newcomer to watch.
However Lesnar’s story is one that features a great deal of human interest: he had secured the heavyweight belt after an impressive win against hall of famer Randy Couture, while Mir had secured the interim heavyweight belt with a knockout of Big Nog (see knockout number one). The fight started in a similar way to the last, Lesnar displaying his wrestling skills while Mir demonstrated good ground defence. When the two were broken apart at the end of the first round a haematoma on Frank’s forehead was evident. Finally, at 3:16 of the second round, Brock managed to utilise his superior size and power to ground and pound Mir and secure the win, the heavyweight belts and his place in UFC history.
This KO holds importance within the UFC for many reasons. Firstly, Brock Lesnar had long since been regarded as a special guest in the UFC, a celebrity that would bring in a mass of fairweather fans who would disperse as soon as he was crushed by a ‘true’ practitioner of MMA. Brock stamped out this school of thought with his bear-like fists, winning against a man who not only beat him before, but had beaten some notable foes also. Brock may have left the UFC, but the legacy that his celebrity calibre and unquestionable ability brought to the sport helped launch the UFC into the mainstream. I for one can see him now for what he is, a true heavyweight legend.
6. Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Brendan Schaub
UFC Rio – Silva vs. Okami
Here’s one hybrid that won’t save the world
As UFC commentator Mike Goldberg stated, “Brazil is the birthplace, the cradle, of mixed martial arts”, and so many of the world’s greatest fighters, past and present have Brazilian heritage.Three of the current UFC champions, Jose Aldo (featherweight), Anderson Silva (middleweight) and Junior Dos Santos (heavyweight), all hail from Brazil.
However there is one other affiliation that the three champions share, an affiliation with one man, the modern patriarch of Brazilian jiu jitsu – Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira. For the first time in 13 years, Rio was the resting point for the octagon, and within just a few miles of his home, the debut fight for Big Nog on his home soil.
Nogueira was matched up against Brendan ‘The Hybrid’ Schaub, a former pro footballer and a finalist on season ten of The Ultimate Fighter, with significant wins over Mirko Cro Cop and Gabriel Gonzaga. However, all of Brendan’s athletic ability and experience, including a golden gloves boxing title, could not have prepared him for what was about to come, Nogueira’s vastly improved stand up. Nogueira marched forward landing blow after blow on The Hybrid until the final strike landed, crumpling the American against the cage. The noise that ensued is one of the most powerful and awe inspiring sounds to arise from a crowd, so much so that it made Anderson Silva (in his locker room preparing for a fight) break down in tears.
The sights of Junior Dos Santos smiling like a giddy schoolboy and ‘Little Nog’ (Big Nog’s twin brother) astride the cage, sharing in his brother’s victory are some of the most endearing images in the world of sports. This fight dragged Nogueira’s career back into his rightful place as one of the most important heavyweights to ever compete in MMA.
7. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson vs. Ricardo Arona
Pride Critical Countdown
Thank you for flying ‘Air-rona’
Pride fighting championship was a phenomenon of brutal capacity, allowing soccer kicks and stomps to the head of downed opponent – it was the metaphorical coliseum of the modern age, pitting warrior after warrior against each other, in championship bouts, catch weight matchups and gruelling grand prixs (a tournament in which fighters would fight a number of times in the same event). Pride was also responsible for the making of some of the most influential and exciting fighters in mixed martial arts, one such fighter was Rampage Jackson.
Originally billed as a homeless fighting man from America, Jackson enthralled fans with his colourful interviews, charisma, impressive entrances, unfeasible strength and the unrivalled use of the power slam. However this bout with Arona proved to be earning of his nickname, Slampage.
The fight started with impressive displays of striking from Arona, nearly knocking Jackson out with an upkick, however after attempting a triangle choke on Rampage, Arona discovered why you don’t underestimate the power of Quinton Jackson. Rampage grabbed Arona, lifting his entire body to head height before driving him into the canvas. Ricardo’s head bounced off the mat knocking him out instantly, although arguably helped along by the heavy fists of Jackson, creating one of the most devastating and physically impressive knockouts of all time.
This KO holds importance in the world of mixed martial arts as it was the true birth of one of its most exciting and entertaining sons, who later went on the become the UFC light heavyweight champion and the last ever Pride middleweight champion.
Although it could be argued that Jackson’s fighting prowess is no longer at its prime, he was, and always will be, the king of the slam.
8. Dan Henderson vs. Fedor Emelianenko
Strikeforce – Fedor vs Henderson
The Last Emperor Falls
Fedor Emelianenko used to be the king. Undefeated for ten years, ‘The Last Emperor’ was Pride Fighting Championship’s premier heavyweight superstar, and for years was considered the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. His legacy muddied by back-to-back losses to Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva, Fedor was in serious need of a victory in his July 2011 bout with light heavyweight Dan Henderson in what was billed as a clash of legends. Both owned iron jaws and dynamite right hands, and the fight promised to deliver on countless “what ifs” fans had throughout the Pride era.
There was no feeling out process to be had between these two. From the opening bell both legends flew into each other, repeatedly landing strikes and chasing each other around the cage. Emelianenko landed a sharp uppercut which send Henderson reeling and pounced, mounting the 41-year-old and beginning to dish out the ground and pound he had built his legacy upon. Hendo, however, had other ideas, grasping at the Russian’s leg to push himself out of the onslaught and landing a gigantic uppercut to an unaware Fedor who flopped forward, unconscious.
It took seconds for referee Herb Dean to separate the fighters but the message had already been sent. Dan Henderson had done what had been considered impossible, not only knocking out Fedor but doing so in the first round. It was the final nail in Emelianenko’s coffin, causing him to be cut from the Strikeforce promotion and more importantly once and for all ending the reign of a man who was once considered the greatest fighter of all time.
9. Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort
He’s eating out of the palm of his foot!
UFC 126 saw something that fans all over the world had not seen before: Anderson Silva angry. Why was this? The answer is, Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort. After his match up with Damian Maia, Silva had received bad press regarding his unsportsmanlike conduct, one such critic was indeed The Phenom. Belfort, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, claimed that Silva merely wore the ‘mask’ of a champion and was not truly deserving. This led to one of the most intimidating staredowns in UFC history, with Anderson wearing a mask and getting in Vitor’s face, clearly verbalising the underlying storm that was about to come. Unfortunate for Belfort, he clearly hadn’t battened down all the proverbial hatches.
The fight started in classic Silva fashion, the champion sensing the moment when he could strike. However the strike that came could not have been predicted. Silva delivered the first ever knock out via front kick to the face, resulting in the collective jaws of the MMA world to drop.
This knockout holds importance due to the kick used, UFC commentator Joe Rogan confirmed that it was the first time a front kick to the face had been used to knock out an opponent. The kick spawned instant attempts of replicas and even led to Hollywood tough guy Steven Segal claiming that he was the one who taught Silva the move. Origin irrelevant, this is one of the most impressive knockouts of all time, and it’s clear that Vitor Belfort will learn to mask his comments better in the future.
10. Junior Dos Santos vs. Fabricio Werdum
The final knockout in this article features the current heavyweight champion Junior ‘Cigano’ Dos Santos. ‘Surrogate son’ of Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Dos Santos’ approach into the world of mixed martial arts is a true survivor story. After moving to Salvador Bahia, Brazil, JDS stated that he worked “for $120 a month, working 11-12 hours a day”, until he eventually met his boxing coach Luiz Carlos Dórea after training in jiu jitsu for fitness reasons. After only training in BJJ for four years previously, Junior was offered a chance of a lifetime, a debut bout in the UFC. His opponent however, was far from a newcomer to the world of mixed martial arts.
Fabricio Werdum had, by comparison, an impressive résumé in the world of fighting. Having been responsible for training Pride star Mirko Cro Cop in BJJ, Werdum then started his own Pride career in 2005 with wins over Tom Erikson, Roman Zentsov and Alistair Overeem. Werdum was then invited to fight in the UFC, quickly racking up wins against Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera. Werdum’s impeccable ground game and fast improving stand up led to him being touted the number one contender outside Brock Lesnar, and was odds-on favourite to defeat the seven year younger upstart Dos Santos.
At the start of the fight, it was clear to see that Werdum did not expect to lose this matchup, this can be inferred from his substantial gain in weight, weighing in at 256 pounds (22 more than Dos Santos), Werdum had evidently set his sights on a win, and a match up against division behemoth, and thereby benchmark, Brock Lesnar. Many argued that although Junior’s record held mostly KOs (all bouts ending during the first round) if Werdum was able to get him to the ground his superior jiu jitsu would overwhelm the younger man. However, after some back and forth trading, largely of leg kicks, Dos Santos managed to land an ‘ear wobbling’ uppercut that bent Fabricio’s legs double, and brought the crowd to their feet. Dos Santos’ jubilant reaction is so explosive that he nearly slipped on the canvas as he performed a victory lap.
This knockout holds an incredible amount of significance to the world of MMA, proving that the hard working underdog is able to defeat a man who both has the size and experience advantage. It is the story of a man who worked his way from poverty to enter the Octagon and to then become the world champion. The most interesting fact that emerged from Dos Santos’ career? As a child he hated fighting.
These knockouts have been so important in the world of MMA for a number of reasons, from Dan Henderson ending the reign of two of Pride’s most celebrated champions to Rampage Jackson and Anderson Silva showing the creativity that this sport can afford.
It has allowed retribution to be taken – manifested in the prone forms of Frank Mir and Wanderlei Silva – and the significance of being a complete mixed martial artist that shone through when Matt Hughes to dominated Royce Gracie. This entire list has helped craft the face of modern MMA, and above all given fans some of the most spectacular moments in sporting history.