Game Changers

9 Moves That Altered MMA Forever

MMA evolves in leaps and bounds, tethered to the backs of the martial artists who turn countless hours in the gym into violent masterpieces in the cage. Here are nine moments that forever changed the MMA world. These fighters are not the first guys to invent the particular moves. They are not even necessarily the best fighters to utilize them, but rather this list exemplifies the perfect intersection of technique and timing—a moment in history forged in the pain of their opponent.


Showtime Kick

Anthony Pettis cage kicks Benson Henderson

WEC 53: December 16, 2010

In the final minute of the final found of the final fight on the final card of the WEC, Anthony Pettis made everyone remember him and added a fourth dimension to fighting. Simply jumping into the air and kicking your opponent was not enough for “Showtime.” Instead, Pettis jumped off the cage wall and landed a kick to the face of Benson Henderson that helped secure the Duke Roufus disciple a unanimous decision in the judging.


Hail Mary Fist

Shonie Carter spinning backfists Matt Serra

UFC 31: May 4, 2001

There are too many fight-ending comeback moves in MMA to count. It’s what makes MMA so unpredictable and keeps butts on the edge of their seats. In the closing seconds of a fight that Shonie Carter was clearly losing, “Mr. International” fired off his trademark spinning backfist by rotating his body with such force that his arm whipped across Matt Serra’s head and finished him. The power and erratic nature of the move is why nearly every fighter practices it—just in case bedazzled suits and top hats are not enough to win a fight.



Rampage Jackson slams Ricardo Arona

Pride Critical Countdown 2004: June 20, 2004

Rampage Jackson is certainly not the first person to slam his way out of a submission, but he is the reason every Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter learns how to let go of something when they are getting lifted in the air. Arguably the most devastating thing to ever happen in a fight, Rampage forever struck fear in the hearts of anyone leaning on their guard game when he slammed Ricardo Arona into unconsciousness. In BJJ schools around the world, it is commonplace to let go of a submission attempt if a training partner lifts his opponent—a precedent that permanently left Rampage’s mark on the sport. So much for technique over strength.


Kickin’ It Old School

Marco Ruas leg kicks Paul Varlens

UFC 7: September 8, 1995

When a fight-savvy Brazilian took on a 6’8”, nearly 300-pound man in 1995, every UFC fan concluded that a bevy of submission attempts was the only route to victory. However, Marco “The King of the Streets” Ruas gave every little guy a Plan B by blasting Paul Varlens with kicks to his massive thighs and rendering his plodding foe defenseless after 13 minutes. Varlens is probably still walking funny.


Hokey Pokey

Renzo Gracie up-kicks Oleg Taktarov

Martial Arts Reality Superfighting: November 22, 1996

The blame goes to Renzo Gracie for making every fighter timid when they stand over an opponent lying on their back. In one of the most brutal up-kicks in the history of MMA, Gracie blasted the much larger Oleg Taktarov in the opening minute and followed up with a running right hand straight to the jaw of the Russian. These little Brazilians never cease making up new ways to send their larger opponents to the land of wind and ghosts.


Dirty Boxing

Randy Couture wears out Vitor Belfort

UFC 15: October 17, 1997

Cage fighting—since the sport really had no name at the time—consisted of either a few seconds of dizzying action or a long, drawn out ground battle. Randy Couture found a nice common ground. Vitor Belfort was the hottest commodity in the UFC at the time, blasting opponents with furious fists. “The Natural” overcame his perceived shortcomings by clinching, punching, and pushing the Brazilian around the Octagon until he was too tired to be “The Phenom” anymore. The Ferrari ran out of gas while the diesel engine continued to chug along. Now intelligent fighters had to add cardio into their risk/reward analysis of every move.


The “Other” Clinch

Wanderlei Silva punishes Tony Petarra

UFC 20: May 7, 1999

There may be no place in the world more dangerous than in the clutches of a man who knows what he is doing with the Muay Thai clinch. Wanderlei Silva would use this position to bash in the skulls of countless unsuspecting victims over the course of his career, but Tony Petarra was the only one who did not know it was coming. Whether they are delivered to the head, body, or legs, nothing gets a crowd going quite like a series of life altering knees from the clinch. This position is why your parents tell you to “Stay in school.”


Liver Shot

Bas Rutten knees Minoru Suzuki’s liver

Pancrase—Road to the Championship 2: July 6, 1994

It wasn’t enough for Bas Rutten to hit his opponents in the body. Oh no, this sadistic deliveryman of pain targeted specific, life-sustaining organs. In what would become his trademark, the Dutchman managed to get back to his feet off of a scramble and fire a right knee into the right side of Minoru Suzuki’s body that left him virtually paralyzed on the canvas for 10 seconds. “El Guapo” later said that this was one of the happiest moments of his life. Gotta love what you do.


Submission Magic

Royce Gracie submits…everyone

UFC 1: November 12, 1993

While most of the great U-S-of-A thought all martial arts involved nunchucks and Ralph Macchio, Royce Gracie was more than happy to educate. Gracie was not even the best fighter in his family, but he wanted to prove his family’s martial art could turn any man into a human pretzel. Donning his “pajamas” and fighting on the ground, this skinny Brazilian finished all three of his opponents that night in Denver…and he did it without the help of Steven Seagal.

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