5 best UFC events in history

UFC 229 stands as one of the best events in history
UFC 229 stands as one of the best events in history

Next weekend marks UFC 290, and there’s every chance that the show could be one of the best of 2023. But could it become an all-time great event?

Over the years, the UFC has produced some truly thrilling events, but which should be considered the best of all time?

It’s hard to quantify such a thing, as everything from star power to fight quality must be taken into consideration.

However, the following five events stand out above the others and should be considered the best in UFC history.

#5. UFC 40: Vendetta (2002)

Tito Ortiz helped to make UFC 40 truly unforgettable
Tito Ortiz helped to make UFC 40 truly unforgettable

The beginning of the UFC’s modern era can really be pinpointed on one great event in November 2002. UFC 40 was not only one of the most exciting events in history from a fight quality perspective, but it was the first event to really push into the mainstream, too.

That’s because the show’s headliner saw Tito Ortiz, the promotion’s poster-boy and light-heavyweight champion, defend his title against the legendary Ken Shamrock, who made his return to the octagon following a lengthy stretch in WWE.

Fans across the world had been salivating over the fight for years, as Ortiz’s rivalry with Shamrock dated back to 1999, and they weren’t disappointed.

The two men put on a thriller, with ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ coming out on top when Shamrock’s corner halted the bout after the third round.

However, this was not a one-fight card by any means. Not one single bout went the distance, with the likes of Chuck Liddell, Robbie Lawler and Andrei Arlovski scoring highlight reel knockouts, while welterweight kingpin Matt Hughes also made a successful defense of his title.

Overall, there was something for everyone on this show, from slick submissions to brutal knockouts, making it the perfect introduction point for new fans, many of whom became hooked on MMA after witnessing it.

#4. UFC 84: Ill Will (2008)

BJ Penn stopped Sean Sherk in the headliner of UFC 84
BJ Penn stopped Sean Sherk in the headliner of UFC 84

2008 featured a number of great events, but May’s UFC 84 still stands as one of the all-time classics some 15 years on.

The event featured a number of key storylines that piqued the interest of the fans coming in, from BJ Penn’s feud with Sean Sherk over the lightweight title to Tito Ortiz’s apparent last stand against Lyoto Machida as his contract came to an end.

In the end, though, it was the explosive quality of the fights that made this one an instant great. Five of the six preliminary bouts ended in violent fashion, from a debut knockout from future heavyweight champ Shane Carwin to a slick submission from Rousimar Palhares.

Things didn’t let up when the main card began. The fans were treated to four fights that ended in knockouts, including Penn stopping Sherk with a flying knee to finally end their rivalry and Wanderlei Silva destroying Keith Jardine in a wild brawl that lasted just 36 seconds.

Stealing the show, though, was Ortiz’s fight with Machida. The bout saw ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ picked apart by ‘The Dragon’, much to the delight of Dana White, only to almost steal a victory from the jaws of defeat with a last-gasp triangle choke.

In the end, though, Machida came out on top, becoming the breakout star of this amazing show in the process. Overall, if newer fans haven’t seen this one, they ought to head to Fight Pass to check it out.

#3. UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor (2018)

Khabib Nurmagomedov ended his rivalry with Conor McGregor at UFC 229
Khabib Nurmagomedov ended his rivalry with Conor McGregor at UFC 229

The biggest-selling pay-per-view in UFC history took place in October 2018, and saw the bitter rivalry between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor come to a head in explosive fashion.

However, UFC 229 was far from a one-fight show, and so it stands to reason that it ought to be considered among the all-time greats.

Fans were treated to one of the greatest comebacks in octagon history, as Derrick Lewis came back from the brink to defeat Alexander Volkov.

Meanwhile, Anthony Pettis’ brawl with Tony Ferguson quickly turned into one of the best fights of 2018 until an unfortunate injury ended Pettis’ night.

Elsewhere, big wins were scored by Dominick Reyes, Vicente Luque and Aspen Ladd, with seven of the fights on offer ending in knockouts.

When things were done, of course, everyone was talking about Khabib’s fight with ‘The Notorious’. ‘The Eagle’ basically dominated the Irishman, destroying him on the ground en route to a fourth-round submission.

Even more of a talking point was the wild brawl that took place afterwards and saw the fighters, as well as their teammates and cornermen throwing down.

For some, it was a black eye on the sport, but for many, the mayhem only capped off a truly memorable rivalry and made the whole event a legendary one.

#2. UFC 166: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 3 (2013)

Cain Velasquez cemented his spot as the world's top heavyweight at UFC 166
Cain Velasquez cemented his spot as the world's top heavyweight at UFC 166

The octagon travelled to Texas in October 2013 for UFC 166, and the fans who attended the event were treated to a true classic. It felt like every fight only got better and better at this show, with eight of the bouts ending in violence, and even those going the distance featuring some great action.

The show was headlined by the third clash between legendary heavyweight rivals Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, with Velasquez putting his title on the line.

In the end, Velasquez came out on top of a titanic battle that saw both men hurt at times, in what was a fitting end to an epic rivalry.

The fight that really stole the show, though, was Diego Sanchez’s crazy brawl with Gilbert Melendez. The two lightweights exchanged wildly for the entire 15 minutes of the fight, and while Melendez won a decision, Sanchez’s heart won over the crowd and re-established him as a cult hero.

Elsewhere, Gabriel Gonzaga, John Dodson, Hector Lombard and Tony Ferguson all scored highlight reel wins, while Daniel Cormier picked up a key victory over Roy Nelson.

Overall, this was an event that had something for everyone, and with 13 fights on tap, it felt truly epic, too.

#1. UFC 189: Mendes vs. McGregor (2015)

Conor McGregor ushered in a new era in 2015
Conor McGregor ushered in a new era in 2015

Regardless of the controversy that often surrounds him, Conor McGregor is undoubtedly the biggest star ever produced by the UFC, and so it should hardly be a surprise that an event involving him sits at the top of this list.

However, UFC 189, which acted as the coming-out party for ‘The Notorious’ as an elite-level fighter, ushered in a new era for the promotion in more ways than just that.

It was the first event to introduce the promotion’s new uniform, designed then by Reebok, and it was also the first to ditch the old-school Face the Pain introduction video, too.

Filled top-to-bottom with some of the top young fighters in the world, the event genuinely felt like the beginning of something new, and inside the octagon, it delivered the goods too.

McGregor ended the night by stopping Chad Mendes to win the interim featherweight title, but in many ways, the show had already been stolen.

In the co-headliner, Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald put on a total war for the welterweight title, ended by Lawler in the fifth round. In truth, neither man was quite the same again.

Before that, though, the amount of highlight reel finishes on offer was astonishing, from Thomas Almeida and Jeremy Stephens both scoring flying knee KOs and Gunnar Nelson dropping and choking out Brandon Thatch.

Even for the fans who didn’t like some of the things the McGregor Era ushered in – “money fights”, for instance – it remains hard to deny the greatness of this event. Simply put, it’s never quite been topped.

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Edited by C. Naik