, Port Arthur, Texas

October 5, 2013

David Estrada column: Rehashing MMA's best fights

David Estrada
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Rehashing MMA’s best fights

In life and in sport there are battles.  Then there are wars.

Inspired by last month's five round war of a fight between Jon "Bones" Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, this week's column will focus on the all-time best headlining or title fights that went the distance.

In general, fans prefer an ending to a fight instead of a judges' decision.  They prefer the emphatic first round knockout or late round Jiu-Jitsu choke to finish a bout.  But MMA history has shown some of these showcase or championship bouts that went the entire distance are some of the most riveting of all time.  Here is a top six list of such bouts:

6. Jon "Bones" Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson - UFC 165, Sept. 21, 2013 - This aforementioned bout was indeed the catalyst to produce this list.  When all was over with, this UFC light heavyweight championship bout with Jones retaining the title, one knew it was one of the greatest headlining bouts in history.  Naturally people had to think back to compare it with others like it where every second of every round was captivating.

5. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray "The Bully" Maynard II - UFC 125, January 1, 2011 - This five-rounder for the UFC lightweight championship has the distinction of having the most dramatic shift of the top six.  Edgar was rocked hard by Maynard in the opening round and was in survival mode.  Maynard continued the onslaught but couldn't finish the champion who miraculously made it past the first round.  To add to this fight's lore is the fact that Edgar actually fought back, dominating Maynard at some points in the later rounds. This seesaw bout was rightly judged a draw and the two later battled at UFC 136 in Houston where Edgar definitely won by fourth round knockout.

4. Ben "Smooth" Henderson vs. Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone - WEC 43, October 10, 2009 - This WEC lightweight title bout held in San Antonio was widely regarded as being the 2009 MMA fight of the year.  Both fighters showed extreme diversity in their standup and ground offense and defense in this bout that had action every second of the way.  Fans in the AT&T Center were on their feet applauding at the end of the fourth round.  The fighters detected something special was going on and they actually stopped to hug before going back at it against each other in the fifth and final round.  Henderson ended up getting the decision victory and later became a lightweight champion in the UFC.

3. Tim Sylvia vs. Randy "The Natural" Couture - UFC 67, March 3, 2007 - This is perhaps the most heart-wrenching and improbable of these bouts.  MMA legend and then 42-year-old Randy Couture went up against younger, heavily-favored, six foot eight inch Tim Sylvia.  In a classic case of wisdom and heart over brawn, The Natural executed the perfect game plan to take the title from Sylvia.  

    In the opening seconds of the bout, Couture leveled his giant of an opponent which brought 19,000 fans to their feet. Couture worked for a rear naked choke the rest of the round but could not secure it.  The rest of the bout featured Couture using his intelligence by keeping Sylvia guessing with a mixture of striking and takedowns. Couture captured longtime and new fans' hearts and the judges' decision announcement in his favor was one of the most touching in MMA history.

2. Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar - The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale - April 9, 2005 - Although this fight was not the headliner (Rich Franklin fought Ken Shamrock in the main event) nor was it for a championship belt, it was for a title in the first Ultimate Fighter season finale, so it makes this list.  One thing is certain – this war was the most influential in UFC history.  Griffin and Bonnar were thrust into the limelight in front of a national cable TV audience.  They delivered with a spellbinding performance slugging it out for three rounds.  By the end of the bout, there were an estimated 10 million television viewers, largely due to people calling each other to tune in.  This fight put the UFC on the mainstream map and the sport has grown exponentially since then.

1. Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua - UFC 139 - November 19, 2011 - Topping the list of greatest showcase fights to go the distance is the masterpiece these two combat sports veterans created in 2011.  Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua were long revered in the Japanese PRIDE promotion and found success when landing in the UFC.  In this five round back and forth war, the legends showed the best of the best MMA has to offer – intelligence, wisdom, athleticism, heart . .  Henderson was awarded the decision victory but this was really one of those bouts where there were no losers.

Dan Henderson versus Shogun Rua encapsulated what all of these bouts were all about.  Each man dug deeper in himself than ever before to make it to the end.  These bouts weren't just fighter versus fighter.  These bouts were about man versus himself, pushing the limits themselves higher than ever before.

    David Estrada Jr. is a Mixed Martial Arts columnist for the Port Arthur News. He can be e-mailed at