The recent UFC 250 card was very newsworthy for a few different reasons.
We seen a continuation of the dominance of Amanda Nunes, Cody Garbrandt got back on track after three straight defeats with a knockout of the year contender and Aljamain Sterling surly solidified himself as next in line for the bantamweight title whenever a new champion is crowned.
However, one piece of news from the event went somewhat under the radar. UFC 250 was the last time we seen the classic gold championship belt been defended.
The main event was a title fight for the UFC Women’s Featherweight title between champion Amanda Nunes and challenger Felica Spencer.
It turned out to be a one-sided affair with Nunes dominating all five rounds to retain her title. At the end of the fight she was presented with her newly designed Legacy Championship Belt which the UFC introduced in January 2019.
Nunes was the last champion to hold the old design of the belt and after her victory at UFC 250 was presented with the Legacy belt.
The old design is the belt that would come to mind for most UFC fans and MMA fans in general. It was introduced in 2001 when Zuffa purchased the UFC.
Now all 12 champions in the UFC hold the new Legacy design and the old design will become a relic of the past. The old designs were introduced at UFC 30 when Tito Ortiz beat Evan Tanner for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title.
At UFC Fight Night Brooklyn in January 2019 Henry Cejudo beat TJ Dillashaw in 30 seconds for the Flyweight title. This made Cejudo the first holder of the newly designed belt.
It was a shocking and controversial result with the fight ending so quickly with some saying it was an early stoppage. It was a lively first title fight in the era of the Legacy belt, but we have seen some great for the belt since.
However today we are here to talk about the old belt and fondly look back at the great title fights of that era.
From 2001 until 2019 we have seen instant classics when two warriors go to battle to become UFC champion. So, let’s take on the tough task of picking out the best five fights for the old UFC belt.
First just to make things easier we will refer to the old belt as the Zuffa belt. We will also be only looking at title fights from the timeframe of 2001 until 2019.
For any older fans wondering why classic older fights aren’t on here its strictly fights that were for a Zuffa belt. The picks are based off opinion mainly but will take general legacy, star power of both athletes and rivalry into consideration.
They all don’t have to be five round wars, but you will see most of the fights are on the longer side.
I personally tried to stay away from shock results and upsets and didn’t let them cloud my judgement to much.
As good and as shocking Matt Serra beating GSP at UFC 69 and TJ Dillashaw beating Renan Barao at UFC 173 were at the time they won’t be on here. Same with individual performances or a quick mauling.
So, the likes of Conor McGregor vs Jose Aldo or Eddie Alverez won’t be here. Same with Holly Holm or Amanda Nunes battering Ronda Rousey. Along with any of Ronda’s quick fights during her time in the sun.
Honourable mentions to start Rashad Evans vs Forrest Griffin at UFC 92, Gray Maynard vs Frankie Edgar III at UFC 136, Dominick Cruz vs Urijah Faber at UFC 132, Rampage Jackson vs Dan Henderson at UFC 75 and Lyoto Machida vs Shogun Rua at 104.
Even limiting the honourable mentions was tough so if you feel any fights were forgotten please let us know it would be great to hear them. Now on with the list.
5. Gray Maynard vs Frankie Edgar II
These two had one of the best trilogies in the history of the sport so trying to just pick one was hard. After careful consideration, their second bout just about edges it. Maynard took the first fight by decision setting things up for both to meet again at UFC 125 for the lightweight title.
Frankie Edgar just came off two big back to back wins over a huge name in BJ Penn. While Gray Maynard came in as the undefeated challenger to the throne.
The first round was probably the most one-sided round you’ll ever see in MMA. Maynard dropped Edgar repeatedly with an onslaught of punches, but Edgar just survive the opening round.
Frankie Edgar came out in the second round like Rocky Balboa himself. He began to stun Maynard with shots of his own and even pulled of a huge take down on the bigger man.
The third round was a much closer contest with Maynard looking good with an impressive ground game. He controlled Edgar brilliantly with some excellent grappling.
Edgar almost locked in a deep submission to finish the fight at the end of the round but was unsuccessful. You could also argue Edgar won round four with some nice take downs of his own.
It was the fifth and final round which was razor close. Both men threw similar percentage of punches and implemented a similar grappling game. The fight ended in a draw with Frankie Edgar regaining his title. A draw is usually very frustrating but this one wasn’t in the eyes of many fans.
This fight seen the story of an extremely one-sided start and an excellent come back by Edgar. It also set up their great third fight at UFC 136. A fight which Edgar won by KO in the fourth round once again retaining his lightweight title and winning the trilogy.
4. Matt Hughes vs Frank Trigg II
This is the shortest fight on the list but certainly as epic as the rest. The pair first met at UFC 45 for the welterweight title when Hughes submitted Trigg in the first round.
The bad blood between the two would spill over into UFC 52 where the pair would meet again for the welterweight title. The build up was intense with Trigg talking mad trash throughout the build up trying to get the mental advantage over his opponent. With Trigg even blowing Hughes a kiss from across the cage before the fight good stuff Frank.
The lovely kiss was quickly swapped out for a not so lovely knee to the crown jewels of Hughes a minute into the fight. Hughes looked to referee Mario Yamasaki to stop the fight to let him get back to normal after the incident.
Oddly, Yamasaki let the fight continue and Trigg got an incapacitated Hughes to the ground and start laying down punches on him. Trigg got the back of Hughes and got him in a rare naked choke and looked set to beat him with the very same move Hughes previously beat him with oh the irony.
Somehow Hughes showed superhero like strength and got out of the hold and picked up Trigg to carry him across the cage and slam him right back down.
Suddenly the roles were reserved with Hughes now having Trigg in a rare naked choke. Trigg had no choice to tap and was once again submitted in the first round by Hughes. It was a short but epic fight with a script like something you would see out of a film.
UFC President Dana White calls this his favourite fight of all time. It was also inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2015.
3. Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson
These pair met for the first time at UFC 165 as Jones was set to defend his light heavyweight title. This was at the height of Jon Jones power before all the controversy surrounding him. Jones was fresh off defending his title for a fifth time.
Nobody really gave Gustafsson a chance coming into this one which looking back is madness. Gustafsson came in on a five-fight win streak but just wasn’t capturing the imagination of many fans at the time.
As soon as the fight started Gustafsson immediately showed he was a treat. In the first round he took Jones down for the first time in his career and put hands on him in a way nobody has ever done since.
Honestly, there was not any back and forth Alexander continued to do this to Jon until the fourth round.
Jon used his versatile striking and landed a big spinning elbow on his opponent in round four. This changed the tide of the fight and Alexander was doing everything to just survived after getting rocked.
It was all Jones from here with him dominating in the final round with some huge head kicks and flying knees trying to finish the fight.
Jones won the fight via decision which was very controversial. Many including myself taught Gustafsson won the fight and was going to get his hands on the belt.
Unfortunately for him it wasn’t to be, but he became a star in the process. Controversial decision to one side the fight as its own separate entity was fantastic. It’s the most recent fight that will be added to the UFC Hall of Fame this summer.
The pair met again at UFC 232 with Jones winning in the third round. Nothing will top their first razor close back and forth epic.
2. Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen
I have said before on these articles that Anderson Silva was the man that got me into MMA. So, during the build-up of this fight I hated Chael Sonnen he worked me well. I must say now I’m a big Sonnen fan because of how he sucked me in.
Throughout the whole build up of this fight Chael Sonnen talked trash unlike anyone we’ve ever seen before. He made the blueprints for the likes of Conor McGregor to come after him. Sonnen was ruthless in the verbal blows he would make at Silva.
Many fans believed that Silva would just destroy Sonnen and that would be that. At the time Silva was nine fights into his legendary middleweight championship run. While Sonnen had a decent 26-11-1 professional record at the time.
The pair met at UFC 117 for the middleweight championship. Surprisingly Sonnen dominated the fight on the ground for four rounds and still had us all on the edge of our seats.
Most fighters would be booed out of the building for that approach. This would have been a casual fans first exposure to Sonnen, but he had everyone captivated.
Sonnen was backing up his talk heading into round five all he had to do was hang on and he was world champion. Then Silva pulled something out of the bag from nowhere.
With about two minutes to go a seemly defeated Silva wrapped Sonnen up in a triangle choke and forced him to tap to retain his title.
It made Silva look superhuman over coming such adversity in easily his hardest defence. Chael Sonnen became a household name and a real villain of the sport people loved to hate.
It was my favourite title fight for a long time until our final pick came along.
1. Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald II
Now this was a bloody war for the ages. This is one of the fights you show a non-MMA fan to try get them hooked into the sport.
Th pair first met at UFC 167 with Lawler winning the fight by a close split decision. About a year later Lawler would go on to win the welterweight title.
MacDonald would go on a nice three fight win streak beating the likes of Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia.
The two would clash once again at UFC 189 for Robbie Lawler’s welterweight title. MacDonald did come in as the favourite as he was the successor to his training partner GSP and surly a future champion of the division.
The first fight had nothing on this one. It started off close with both men feeling each other out and slowly progressing into the fight. The turning point came during the third round.
Both lads became bloody messes as MacDonald was badly cut up from an accumulation of strikes. A big head kick and nasty elbows by MacDonald seen Lawler draw a lot of blood too leaving both men covered in the stuff by the end of the round.
Round four was all MacDonald destroying Lawler with more elbows. If it were anybody else on that night, the fight would have been over. Lawler simply wouldn’t quit.
The bell came to end the round both men stood face to face faces battered and torn open. The image of the two men staring each other down is the most boss photo you’ll ever see.
The fifth and final round also started with a shot that isn’t for the weak hearted. As the round started the camera focused in on MacDonald’s face. His nose was bent, eyes black and blood everywhere even after the corner men cleaned him up.
Both men came out swinging for the fences showing so much heart and grit. A minute into the final round it was the broken nose of Rory that just gave in. Robbie landed a shot shattering his nose. Rory couldn’t take any more and dropped to the ground ending the fight.
Robbie retained his title but neither man truly lost both men came out of that cage with the love and respect of the whole MMA community.
Personally, I think you won’t find a better MMA fight never mind a title fight.