When the belt is on the line, the best fighters refuse to lose.
At the end of the day, nothing says “Champion” like a gutsy comeback from the brink of disaster. In dire moments, battered and reeling, it’s an inimitable stamp of greatness for a fighter to be able to rebound from the cusp of defeat and retain his title. These moments solidify the basic appeal of MMA at its highest level, revealing the difference between champion and challenger. Here are five title fights where the champion showed his mettle and mojo in the face of adversity.
5. SHANE CARWIN VS. BROCK LESNAR
UFC 116: July 3, 2010
In his first fight since overcoming diverticulitis, UFC Heavyweight Champion Lesnar almost had his reign derailed in the opening seconds as Carwin drilled him with a
hammering left uppercut. The ground-and-pound assault that followed left Lesnar appearing helpless and overmatched. However, after surviving the disastrous first frame, Lesnar rallied in the opening moments of the second round as Carwin appeared exhausted from punching himself out. Lesnar nailed a quick takedown, peppered Carwin with a few fists, passed to side control, and sunk in an arm-triangle that forced Carwin to tap.
4. QUINTON JACKSON VS. WANDERLEI SILVA II
Pride 28: Oct. 31, 2004
In their violent rematch for Silva’s PRIDE Light Heavyweight Belt, Jackson sought revenge for the sleep-inducing barrage of knees that he had absorbed in their first epic collision. After a few furious exchanges in the opening moments, Silva landed a big combination three minutes into the round, only to run into a big right hand that staggered him, with Jackson promptly dumping him to the canvas. After a restart, Rampage delivered a right cross that floored Silva and followed it up with a few knees to the head before the round ended. Silva was quickly taken down in the second, but he swept Jackson and unleashed a series of soccer kicks and stomps. Back on their feet, Silva delivered a perfect counter right and a follow-up assault of five knees to the head that left Rampage hanging facedown through the ropes.
3. FRANK TRIGG VS. MATT HUGHES II
UFC 52: April 16, 2005
There was no love loss between these two grapplers in their rematch, and Trigg welcomed Hughes to the Octagon with a direct shot to the family jewels. With no help from ref Mario Yamasaki to recover, a wounded Hughes was promptly pounded in the face after collapsing to the mat. Trigg then took Hughes’ back, seemingly on the brink of victory as he locked in a tight rear naked choke. But Hughes, a stubborn country boy to the end, simply wouldn’t give. With his face turning various shades of crimson, he eventually worked out of the choke, and turned the tables. Hoisting Trigg up in a double leg and sprinting across the Octagon, Hughes delivered the UFC’s most memorable body slam. He then softened Trigg up with a few punches, took his back, and sunk in a rear naked choke to retain his title.
2. GRAY MAYNARD VS. FRANKIE EDGAR II
UFC 125: Jan. 1, 2011
The opening round of this title fight is one that Edgar would like to forget. Actually, he took so much punishment that he might not remember it. Maynard uncorked a barrage of combos that floored Edgar, but “The Bully” couldn’t seem to close the contest and Edgar just kept hanging on. So one-sided was the trouncing that all three judges scored the round 10-8. However, Edgar was unwilling to simply throw in the towel, and he looked like a man reborn in rounds two through five, as both men traded takedowns and fistic combos. The final four rounds were razor-thin, with both men tested to the limits of human endurance. When the scorecards where read, the bout was ruled a draw, allowing Edgar to retain his title. It wasn’t a win, but it was a defining moment in Edgar’s career that once again proved to pundits that he is a deserving champion.
1. CHAEL SONNEN VS. ANDERSON SILVA
UFC 117: Aug. 7, 2010
In 11 previous UFC bouts, including five title defenses, the sum total of Silva’s troubles were brief moments of success by Travis Lutter and Dan Henderson. Otherwise, the talented middleweight simply dominated foes. Enter Chael Sonnen, who not only talked the talk but also walked the walk, delivering a bruising, four-round beating. He took Silva down at will, staggered him with punches, and maintained a furious pace for 20 minutes. As the fifth round began, there was no doubt that Silva needed a stoppage to win. On his back with the persistent Sonnen in his guard, “The Spider” saw his opening and sprung, locking on a triangle/arm bar submission that he cranked home for the tap. Outlanded in strikes 320-64, Silva showed that no matter how down he is, he’s never out of a fight.