The sport changed dramatically in the last 10 years and these are 10 moments worth remembering.
(Fedor celebrates one of his favorite MMA moments on Nov. 7, 2009)
Mark Coleman Remerges in PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 Finals, May 1, 2000
Mark Coleman’s career appeared done when he entered PRIDE’s inaugural Grand Prix in 2000. “The Hammer” popularized ground and pound in MMA but losses to Maurice Smith, Pete Williams, Pedro Rizzo and a worked bout against Nobuhiko Takada in his PRIDE debut had the legend on a serious skid.
With nothing to lose, the former Ohio State University NCAA National Champion wrestler he went 15 minutes with consummate gamer Akira Shoji, stopped an undefeated Japanese top heavyweight in Kazuyuki Fujita and kneed one of the most feared fighters of the time, Igor Vovchanchyn, until “Ice Cold” melted.
The genuine emotion Coleman displayed in celebrating saw him trip over the ring’s rope. It remains one of the most poignant moments in mixed martial arts.
Kazushi Sakuraba Snaps Renzo Gracie’s Arm at PRIDE 10, Aug. 27, 2000
Japan’s top submission grappler Kazushi Sakuraba achieved his status by doing what was thought unthinkable—beat the Gracie clan. He started with an unlikely victory over Royler Gracie but a 90-minute classic versus no-holds-barred legend Royce secured the professional wrestler’s place at the top of the real fight world.
But it was his sudden standing kimura that ripped Renzo Gracie’s apart that cemented Sakuraba’s superstar status. Renzo was considered the toughest, most complete fighter of the family. The Brazilian’s refusal to tap and his indifferent face was a testament to Gracie’s tolerance for pain is while serving as the best reminder of Sakuraba’s greatness.
Randy Couture Bests Pedro Rizzo at UFC 31, May 4, 2001
In the UFC’s first event under Zuffa’s management, Randy Couture fought five rounds fearlessly. Brazilian sniper Pedro Rizzo fought the fight of his life but Couture still earned the extra inches needed to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
It’s the performance that sums up one of the generation’s most decorated fighters—a trench war that inextricably linked “The Natural” and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Don Frye Settles “Bad Blood’” with Ken Shamrock at PRIDE 19, Feb. 24, 2002
Ken Shamrock told Don Frye he was ready to die in their fight. When they met in the middle of the ring for the face off, onlookers knew it was the truth for both. The seesaw match delivered as Shamrock was knocked flat on his back only to bounce up instantly and press on. Frye persevered through Shamrock’s famed ankle attacks en route to a decision, but the damage would remain. The Americans showcased incredible warrior spirit in The Land of the Rising Sun, marking the last classic between two old guard combatants.
Wanderlei Silva Stops Quinton Jackson at Pride 28, Oct. 31, 2004
An epic stare down turned into a grueling contest for Wanderlei Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. “The Axe Murderer” slashed the American again, draping Jackson across the bottom ring rope after chopping muay Thai knees left him unconscious and spilling blood across PRIDE’s white mat.
Silva, who ruled the 205-pound division for four years, reached the pinnacle of violence in mixed martial arts with this bout and cemented his status as one of the most compelling characters in the sport.
Forrest Griffin Defeats Stephan Bonnar, April 9, 2005
At the height of America’s reality show craze in 2005, television viewers sifted through programs that alluded to physical confrontations but mostly delivered clever editing and unsatisfying scraps. Enter “The Ultimate Fighter.” The UFC’s rebirth came on SPIKE TV with the only reality show that guaranteed a fight at every episode’s end—no editing necessary. It was a phenom. Forrest Griffin, one of the tournament’s standout personalities, changed the sport by raging against Stephan Bonnar for 15 minutes.
The unanimous decision win for Griffin placed him on the sport’s pedestal thanks to unparalleled exposure for the time. It was the most watched UFC bout in history and served as the launching pad for that record to be broken and reset over and over again for the rest of the decade.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua Wins 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix, Aug. 28, 2005
Never has a fighter walked through a murderer’s row like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua did. An emphatic soccer kick stoppage over Quinton Jackson, a unanimous decision over Brazilian Top Team rival Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and TKO and KO victories over Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona, respectively, in a single night affirmed the return of the Shogunate in 2005.
Dan Henderson Knocks Out Wanderlei Silva at Pride 33, Feb. 24, 2007
Dan Henderson became the only fighter in history to hold two titles simultaneously by cutting down the Brazilian legend with a left hook. The bout was also PRIDE’s fade to black—one last contribution to mixed martial arts—as the organization held one more card before fading into Zuffa’s fold.
Chuck Liddell Edges Out Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79, Dec. 29, 2007
Chuck Liddell was to the UFC as Wanderlei Silva was to PRIDE. With PRIDE’s demise, Silva entered the Octagon to determine who was the best 205-pound fighter in the world, although arguably a few years too late. The infamous strikers met expectations as they stood toe-to-toe for 15-minutes, answering one big “what if” that lingered from the PRIDE days.
Fedor Emelianenko Arrives on CBS, Nov. 7, 2009
The Fighter of the Decade is undoubtedly Fedor Emelianenko. He is considered by many critics to have never lost a fight in 33 outings. Even with his one dubious cut loss—he later avenged it convincingly—in his fifth professional bout, Emelianenko managed to win 28 consecutive bouts over nine years.
Billed simply as “Fedor,” the consenus number one heavyweight in the world anchored Strikeforce’s inaugural event on network television. The Russian knocked out top-10 ranked opponent Brett Rogers in a dramatic contest live on CBS. It was the perfect ending to a decade that saw the rise of MMA in popular culture and hinted at a time in the not-so-distant future when being the heavyweight champion of the world is as coveted a title as it was in boxing’s mid-20th century heyday.
FIGHT! Fans: What are your favorite memories from the “oughts?” Did we leave something off the list?