Barely a decade ago, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was looked at as little more than a freak show — a human cockfight that drew the attention of a few bloodthirsty video store browsers and a government boycott committee spearheaded by John McCain himself. Now, this fight club is the fastest rising sport in American history, a pay-per-view juggernaut and the pinnacle of a billion dollar industry. And UFC President Dana White has these 10 fights — along with some shrewd business decisions — to thank for this monumental success. 10. Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz — UFC 47
One of UFC’s first great rivalries, the war between “The Iceman” and “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” started long before this 2004 showdown. Friends and training partners early on, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz broke into the fight game together, but when it came time for Tito to put his UFC Light Heavyweight Championship on the line against his pal, he refused, claiming that the two had made a pact never to fight. Liddell said he had no idea what Tito was talking about, but the two men wouldn’t meet in the cage until after Ortiz had lost his title to Randy Couture. When they finally did throw down, it became apparent why Tito ducked Chuck as “The Iceman” obliterated the California-native with one of his devastating punches early in the second round. Living up to its ample hype, the brawl announced Liddell as a heavy-handed antihero and Ortiz as a fighter fans would pay to hate.
9. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen — UFC 117
Built up like a professional wrestling match thanks to the “Rowdy” Roddy Piper-inspired microphone theatrics of the always controversial Chael Sonnen, the August 2010 bout between UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva and his trash talking adversary could have easily fallen flat after months of hype. After all, Silva had been sluggish and distracted in many of his recent fights and Sonnen’s bark could have been much worse than his bite. Instead, the fight was an overnight classic. A five-round war, the bout was dominated by Sonnen for the first four rounds as he continually scored with huge takedowns. Yet, just when it seemed like the powerhouse was going to back up his big mouth, “The Spider” latched on a triangle armbar with minutes to go in the fifth. It was a dramatic ending that proved Sonnen was a worthy challenger and Silva was a true champion.
8. B.J. Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre — UFC 58
Returning to UFC after leaving the promotion due to what he claimed was a lack of competition, B.J. Penn stood across the cage from a man who would give him more than he could handle — Georges St. Pierre. Meeting in March of 2006 to determine the No. 1 contender to Matt Hughes’ Welterweight Championship, “The Prodigy” and St. Pierre were both eager for the opportunity and this meeting proved it. Back and forth for three tense rounds, the bout could have been a showcase for the gifted Penn. Instead, it was St. Pierre who won out, winning a close split decision and announcing himself to the world as a fighter to watch.
7. Forrest Griffin vs. Quinton Jackson — UFC 86
Forrest Griffin deserved this. Long a favorite of UFC fans, the grinning big man had cultivated a reputation as an exciting brawler since his debut on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, but Griffin wouldn’t get a shot at championship glory until this bout against “Rampage” in July of 2008. Thrilling from the jump off, Forrest went down early in the first when Jackson connected with a blistering uppercut, but the warrior refused to stay down. Mounting a comeback, Griffin blasted “Rampage” with a leg kick in the second and then dominated the Light Heavyweight Champion for every round after that, eventually winning a grueling fight — and the title — by unanimous decision.