The UFC has now been around for a long time – the best part of three decades to be exact. And over those years, we’ve seen countless numbers of great fighters enter the Octagon.
A number of different generations of fighters have been and gone from the UFC over the years, and some of the most dramatic moments have come when we’ve seen a clash of generations.
Notably, when a younger generation overcomes the one that came before it, we’re often treated to a dramatic changing of the guard.
With that in mind, here are five of the most dramatic changing of the guard moments in UFC history.
#1 Francis Ngannou vs. Alistair Overeem – UFC 218
When he entered the UFC in 2011, Alistair Overeem was arguably the scariest heavyweight on the planet.
While Overeem didn’t quite ascend to the top of the mountain in the UFC, he firmly established himself as one of the best heavyweights on the planet during his time there.
By 2017, Overeem had recovered from his loss to Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight title fight. And following wins over Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum, he seemed primed for another run at the title.
But at UFC 218, he ran into Francis Ngannou. And any thoughts of another title shot were quickly obliterated.
Ngannou was somewhat unproven at the time, with his best win being over the past-his-best Andrei Arlovski. Many observers felt the wily veteran Overeem would have too much for him.
But that idea was blown away in the first round when ‘The Predator’ almost decapitated the Dutchman with a brutal uppercut. Overeem had been stopped before in his UFC career, but never quite this violently.
It was a devastating message that the time of Overeem’s generation was over, and Ngannou was now the scariest man on the roster.
#2 Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes – UFC 65
When Georges St. Pierre debuted in the UFC in 2004 with wins over Karo Parisyan and Jay Hieron, many observers immediately crowned him as the future of the welterweight division.
But when ‘GSP’ was submitted by the UFC’s 170lbs kingpin Matt Hughes in a fight for the vacant UFC welterweight title at UFC 50, it seemed to signify that the future was not quite there yet.
Undeterred by his loss, St. Pierre returned to the UFC six months later as a much-improved fighter. And he quickly cut a swath through the welterweight division, defeating Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk and BJ Penn in dominant fashion.
That was enough to net St. Pierre another shot at Hughes. At UFC 65 – just over two years after their initial meeting – the two faced off with the UFC title on the line.
This time, the fight looked like a mismatch. St. Pierre methodically broke Hughes down with his striking, and even outwrestled the powerful grappler.
‘GSP’ ended the fight in the second round with a violent head kick, and the message sent could not have been any clearer: the Hughes era was over, and the St. Pierre era had begun.
#3 Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva – UFC 162
By July 2013, Anderson Silva had held the UFC middleweight title for a ludicrous period of time – six-and-a-half years, to be exact.
Over that period, ‘The Spider’ had beaten everyone put in front of him, including great fighters like Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen.
Essentially, he seemed unbeatable.
So when the UFC matched him with fast-rising prospect Chris Weidman at UFC 162, most observers figured we’d be in for another virtuoso performance from the Brazilian.
However, that turned out to be far from the case. Weidman – a highly credentialed wrestler with underrated striking – took Silva down in the early going to win the first round.
And in the second, when Silva attempted to draw ‘The All-American’ in with his trademark unorthodox striking, Weidman refused to bite.
Instead, he countered with a left hook, and Silva – evidently misjudging Weidman’s range – failed to duck out of the way. The blow landed like a sledgehammer, and ‘The Spider’ was knocked out for the first time in his MMA career, losing his UFC middleweight title in the process.
The UFC would give Silva an immediate rematch – if any champion deserved it, it was him – but he didn’t look like his old self in the fight and ended up breaking his leg en route to another TKO loss.
This wasn’t a changing of the guard for Weidman as he would hold the title for just two years before losing it to Luke Rockhold, but for Silva it certainly was.
‘The Spider’ would only win two more fights – with the result of one being overturned – in the seven years that followed before leaving the UFC in 2020.
#4 Jon Jones vs. Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua – UFC 128
Incredibly, the fight between Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Jon Jones at UFC 128 wasn’t even supposed to happen. Shogun was actually supposed to defend his UFC light-heavyweight title against Rashad Evans at the event.
But when Evans blew out his knee during the build to the fight, the UFC decided to offer his spot to Jones, who had skyrocketed through the ranks of the division since debuting in 2008.
Just 23 years old at the time, Jones was coming off a win over fellow prospect Ryan Bader, but despite his talent, a fight with Shogun sounded tricky for him.
However, ‘Bones’ made it look anything but. Over the course of three rounds, Jones destroyed Shogun, throwing him around like a ragdoll with his wrestling while also abusing him with his striking game.
Shogun – widely recognised as the best 205lber of all time – was made to look like an old man, a relic of a generation that had long passed. And when the fight was stopped, it felt like a mercy to the Brazilian.
This fight remains one of the UFC’s greatest changing of the guard moments for a number of reasons. Shogun was simply never the same again after the loss despite picking up a number of subsequent wins in the UFC.
And with the Jones Era up and running, the new UFC light-heavyweight champion continued to destroy members of Shogun’s generation – defeating Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Evans and Vitor Belfort within two years of winning the title.
#5 Conor McGregor vs. Jose Aldo – UFC 194
When Conor McGregor burst onto the UFC scene in 2013 and immediately started firing verbal barbs like we’d never really heard before, it was clear that the Irishman was going to be a star.
But nobody could’ve expected that by the start of 2015, ‘The Notorious One’ was going to be the big talking point for the UFC. By that point, McGregor had beaten five straight opponents at 145lbs to position himself as the top contender for Jose Aldo’s UFC featherweight title.
Aldo had held the title since his arrival from the WEC in 2011, and looked basically unbeatable. He hadn’t lost a fight for over a decade. And even when McGregor knocked out Chad Mendes – who’d pushed Aldo to the limit a year prior – many people still doubted he had what it took to take out the Brazilian.
But at UFC 194, ‘The Notorious One’ proved those doubters wrong and ushered in a changing of the guard at 145lbs. In one of the most sensational moments in UFC history, McGregor knocked Aldo out in just thirteen seconds with basically his first punch of the fight.
The result ushered in a changing of the guard across the whole UFC, but not in the way many people figured.
As with similar moments earlier in UFC history, Aldo was never the same again following the loss. But McGregor didn’t go onto any run of dominance at 145lbs. Instead, he dropped the title to chase bigger things – namely the UFC lightweight title and then a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather – and ushered in the era of the “money fight” instead.