This weekend sees a UFC Fight Night event that seems low on name value and star power, but could yet prove to be an exceptional show to watch, such is the unpredictable world of MMA and the octagon.
Over the years, the UFC has produced a number of events that came under fire for a lack of star power, only for those events to deliver some truly memorable and entertaining fights when it came down to it.
Sure, fans would still probably rather see mega-stars like Conor McGregor and Jon Jones competing than unproven prospects and unknown quantities. However, sometimes, the shows nobody expects to be any good turn out to be outstanding.
Here are five UFC events that were low on star power, but turned out to be awesome to watch.
#5. UFC: Ultimate Fighter 2 Finale
Back in 2005, the UFC didn’t produce nearly as many events as they do today. So, there was an unwritten acceptance that every show would feature a headline bout with plenty of name value, even if it didn’t feature a title bout.
The first-ever Ultimate Fighter Finale, for instance, is widely remembered for the legendary clash between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. However, the headliner actually saw pioneer Ken Shamrock – still a huge name with casual fans – take on rising star Rich Franklin.
By the late part of 2005, though, that idea began to change. When it was announced that the second TUF Finale would be headlined by welterweight prospects Diego Sanchez and Nick Diaz, many fans were shocked.
It wasn’t that the two men weren’t talented, more that neither man really carried the kind of star power that was assumed to be needed to headline an event.
Given that the rest of the show primarily featured fighters from the less-popular second season of the TUF reality show, it was definitely a weaker card than fans were used to at the time.
However, the show turned out to be a stone cold classic. Not only did Sanchez and Diaz deliver one of the best grappling-based fights in UFC history, but every clash on the card was wild, from the thrilling finishes delivered by Josh Burkman and Kenny Florian to the two back-and-forth wars that decided the season’s TUF champions, Rashad Evans and Joe Stevenson.
In the end, the event was living proof of Dana White’s eventual assertion that fans could not judge the quality of an event on paper, even if it lacked star power.
#4. UFC 180: Werdum vs. Hunt
The UFC’s first visit to Mexico, which came in November 2014, was actually intended to be an event filled with big names and star power, leaning heavily on the most established Hispanic fighters that the promotion could call upon.
Unfortunately, injuries played their part, and UFC 180 quickly began to look cursed. Not only was heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez forced out of his title defense against Fabricio Werdum – forcing the promotion to replace him with Mark Hunt – but the event also lost Diego Sanchez and Joe Lauzon.
In the end, on paper at least, this looked like an event that would only interest real hardcore fans. The biggest name outside of the two headliners was probably Kelvin Gastelum, who was seen more as a prospect at the time.
However, the undercard, which was populated by the largely-unknown cast members of TUF: Latin America, proved to be thrilling. Literally every fight featured some wild action, particularly future superstar Yair Rodriguez’s crazy war with Leonardo Morales.
The main card was even better. Not one fight lasted the distance, with Hector Urbina and Augusto Montano producing violent finishes before Ricardo Lamas and Gastelum submitted Dennis Bermudez and Jake Ellenberger, respectively.
While the headline bout was clearly worse off for the lack of Velasquez, it didn’t stop it from being an action-packed fight that saw Werdum stun everyone by finishing the iron-chinned Hunt with a flying knee.
In the end, the event drew a disappointing 185,000 buys on pay-per-view, but it’s safe to say that the fans who did tune in would definitely have been entertained.
#3. UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. Hill
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, the UFC has begun producing the majority of its Fight Night events at the Las Vegas APEX, largely in front of just a handful of fans at best.
A number of these events have lacked in name value and star power. Many of them seem to exist only to provide the promotion’s bloated roster with their contracted fights and to meet the number of shows that the deal with ESPN+ demands.
However, sometimes, these events have delivered some insane action. One such example was this past August’s Fight Night show that featured a headline bout between light heavyweights Thiago Santos and Jamahal Hill.
With just a handful of ranked fighters in action, and the main card featuring the finals of TUF 30, a series that hadn’t exactly garnered much attention, the event felt completely skippable. That was particulary the case as it was following a major pay-per-view in the form of UFC 277 just a week prior.
Remarkably, though, the event turned out to be one of the most action-packed in the promotion’s history. Not one of the 10 bouts on offer went the distance – only the third time that had happened in UFC history – and almost every single one offered serious violence.
Fans were treated to slick submissions and wild knockouts from the start, including a rare Von Flue choke from strawweight prospect Cory McKenna. While just five fighters were handed $50,000 bonuses, every one of the night’s winners probably deserved one.
In the end, it was hard to pick any fault with the event, which was bizarre to say given that most fans had been looking down their nose at it when the card was announced.
#2. UFC Fight Night: Cowboy vs. Miller
Fans are largely used to seeing a UFC event practically every weekend these days. However, back in 2014, the year that the Fight Pass streaming service was launched, it was still a new wrinkle and a number of observers didn’t seem happy.
They felt that cards were being watered down, with the promotion preferring volume over quality. Many also claimed that the events lacked any kind of name value and star power.
UFC Fight Night: Cowboy vs. Miller was one such event. Sure, the headline bout between Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller sounded like a potential classic, but beneath that, the depth of the card was about as shallow as it could get.
A number of the main card fighters had never really been in televised bouts before. Also, only a handful featured in the UFC’s rankings at the time, with none really in title contention.
In the end, though, the show proved to be a thriller. Cerrone and Miller delivered the goods in the main event, with ‘Cowboy’ coming out on top thanks to a brutal head kick. The entire main card also featured nothing but insane finishes, with three wild brawls that ended in knockouts to start it off.
Even the prelims saw three finishes in five bouts, with future bantamweight kingpin Aljamain Sterling in particular impressing with a stoppage of the overmatched Hugo Viana.
In essence, the quality of this event justified the UFC’s decision to increase its number of shows. It proved that a lack of star power, and even a lack of top-notch fighters, wouldn’t necessarily make an event any less entertaining.
#1. UFC 95: Sanchez vs. Stevenson
The gold standard for a UFC show that lacked star power but turned out to be awesome to watch remains 2009’s UFC 95, which took place in London, England.
The promotion had made a number of trips to the UK since returning there for the first time in years in 2007, but by the time this event came around, it felt like they’d given up on really stacking the cards there with big names. That was probably because they were airing on tape delay in the US.
Rather than featuring a huge main event like Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga or Quinton Jackson vs. Dan Henderson, this event saw Diego Sanchez making his lightweight debut against Joe Stevenson in the headliner.
Meanwhile, the next biggest name on the card was probably Josh Koscheck. Even he was faced with newcomer Paulo Thiago. Aside from that, fans had heard of the likes of Nate Marquardt, Chael Sonnen and Demian Maia, but they certainly weren’t superstars.
In the end, though, that lack of name value didn’t matter. After a slow opener between Paul Kelly and Troy Mandaloniz, every single fight on offer delivered some wild action, with eight of the 10 bouts ending via stoppage.
The most memorable moments saw Dan Hardy become the UK’s new big star by knocking out Rory Markham, future champion Junior dos Santos light up the crowd by stopping Stefan Struve in less than a minute. Koscheck suffer a stunning knockout loss to Thiago in the main card opener.
Sanchez’s fight with Stevenson actually didn’t deliver the wild action many fans had hoped for, but by that point, the fans were so energised by the other crazy bouts they’d seen that it didn’t really matter.
UFC 95 proved to be a massive hit with everyone who watched it, and once again, Dana White’s assertion that a card could only be judged after it’d happened was proven correct.