The Countdown: Top 10 Greatest Rivalries in UFC History
When two guys hate each other, more often than not, they are going to fight. Fighting isn’t always the answer to solving a problem, but if you make a living out of punching people in the face, a fight solves everything.
Fighters leave it all in the cage and if there was animosity before the fight, chances are it will disappear after the fight is over.
In the 16-year history of The Ultimate Fighting Championship, we have witnessed some memorable rivalries. Today I am going to list the top 10 greatest rivalries in UFC history.
Let the countdown begin!
No. 10: Michael Bisping vs. Matt Hamill
This rivalry came to place back in 2006 on Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter Season Three. Bisping, a well-rounded English striker, and Hamill, an All-American wrestler and the first deaf fighter to ever compete in the UFC, were both chosen as the top picks for Team Punishment which was coached by former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz.
Bisping wasn’t fond of Hamill’s overly aggressive training style and at times the two would nearly come to blows during training sessions. It also didn’t help that Hamill would walk around the house calling himself “the King” and screaming “woo” as loud as he can while Bisping would be trying to sleep.
The two were obviously the best light-heavyweight fighters on the show and looked certain to collide in the series finale. That was until injury prematurely forced Hamill out of the reality TV contest.
The duo finally met up at the O2 Arena in London, England and Bisping walked away with a very controversial decision victory. Many people including myself thought that Hamill had won that fight.
However this fight is the perfect example of why you should never leave it in the hands of the judges; some of them spend more time staring at Arianny Celeste (UFC ring girl) than watching the actual fight!
No. 9: Andrei Arlovski vs. Tim Sylvia
The two former champions first squared off at UFC 51 for the then vacant Heavyweight Championship. Arlovski was the crowd favorite as Sylvia was just returning from his suspension when he was tested positive for steroids. The fight lasted about 47 seconds with Arlovski finishing off Sylvia with an Achilles Lock to claim the championship.
Arlovski and Sylvia met in a rematch at UFC 59 and this time it was Sylvia who came out on top, finishing Arlovski off in the second round with a TKO stoppage to reclaim the UFC title.
At this point, the hatred for one another came to fruition and the two were quickly signed for a third bout.
Everyone expected fireworks but instead, they received one of the most boring five-round fights in UFC history. Tim Sylvia managed to squeak by with the decision victory but he definitely didn’t receive any support from the fans afterward.
To make matters worse, Tim Sylvia was dating Andrei Arlovski’s ex-girlfriend Patrycja Mikula—a playboy cyber girl and model. When Arlovski was asked about it, he had this to say to his arch rival:
“Tim how tastes my big pee-pee?”
No. 8: Josh Koscheck vs. Diego Sanchez
They were teammates on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter but left the show as bitter enemies.
They lived and trained with each other for six weeks. Eventually, they met up in the semifinals in what turned out to be a very exciting fight.
The fight was back and forth with a ton of action. The end result saw Diego Sanchez walk away with the split decision victory. After the fight, fellow Team Liddell members—Bobby Southworth and Kenny Florian—made it known that they disagreed with the decision and thought that Koscheck had won.
Soon after that, the trash talking between Koscheck and Diego started up. They were eventually signed for a rematch at UFC 69 and before that, Sanchez shoved Koscheck at the weigh-ins.
The actual fight was a disappointment. Sanchez was suffering from a staph infection and didn’t fight up to his potential. Koscheck took advantage and ended up winning the decision, handing Sanchez his first career loss.
To this day, these guys still dislike each other and a rematch may very well happen in the future.
No. 7: Nick Diaz vs. Joe Riggs
Nick Diaz is the type of person who cannot fight someone without making it personal. It’s just the way he is. He isn’t exactly the best ambassador for MMA and some of his antics might give the sport a bad name. However, he always makes things a little bit more entertaining.
Heading into his Welterweight fight with Joe “Diesel” Riggs at UFC 57, Diaz as usual instigated some trash talking. Riggs didn’t back down and the two sparred verbally at the elevators, at the weigh-ins, after the weigh-ins. They even sparred verbally before, during, and after their fight.
There fight was an exciting three-round battle with Joe Riggs winning by unanimous decision.
The trash talking continued afterwards and the two had an unsanctioned fourth round at a Las Vegas Hospital.
Diaz and Riggs might not go down in history as an epic rivalry, but how often have we seen two guys actually brawl in a hospital after just battling each other for three full rounds?
No. 6: B.J Penn vs. Jens Pulver
When B.J Penn first burst onto the UFC scene in 2001, he was smashing through everyone in the lightweight (then called bantamweight) division. He destroyed Joey Gilbert, Din Thomas, and Caol Uno off in the first round with strikes to earn a shot at the champion Jens Pulver at UFC 35.
Although Pulver was the champion, he was considered to be a 10-1 underdog heading into the fight. Fans all over the world believed Penn was unbeatable and would dominate Pulver the same way he had dominated his previous three opponents.
Pulver proved the critics wrong and defeated Penn by a majority decision in a classic fight to retain his championship.
Afterwards, Penn requested an immediate rematch but Pulver had left the UFC and didn’t return until 2006. In between that time period, Penn felt that Pulver was hiding from him and the war of words between the two continued to grow stronger every day.
Penn and Pulver served as rival coaches during the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, showcasing their heated rivalry to millions of viewers worldwide. After the show, they met up in the season finale to settle the score inside the octagon.
This time it was Penn who came out on top, finishing Pulver off with a rear naked choke in the second round. After the fight, the two fighters shared a hug and ended their historic rivalry.
No. 5: Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg
Coming in at No. 5 on this list is the epic rivalry between former welterweight champion Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg. These two have disliked each other for years and have battled in the octagon twice. Both times, Hughes has had his hand raised, finishing Trigg off in the first round with a rear naked choke.
The second time they fought, MMA fans across the nation witnessed one of the most exciting first rounds in the history of the UFC. Before the fight started, in the stare down, Trigg went nose-to-nose with Hughes and blew him a kiss which caused Hughes to respond with a shove.
They met at the center of the cage and traded punches until a lock-up. While against the cage, Trigg caught Hughes with a knee to the groin that was not caught by referee Mario Yamasaki. As Hughes retreated and tried to regain his bearings, Trigg pounced and sent Hughes to the canvas with a left to the jaw.
In serious trouble, Hughes caught a flurry of blows on the ground as Trigg worked his way into the mount position.
Hughes tried to escape the bottom, but wound up giving Trigg his back at the three-minute mark, and the challenger immediately locked in a rear naked choke. Hughes' face turned red and everyone in the arena thought it was over, but amazingly he was able to escape. Hughes then followed up by picking his foe up and carrying him across the cage before dropping him on his back with his trademark slam.
Eventually, Hughes finished Trigg for the second time with a rear naked choke towards the end of the very first round.
To this day, these two still hate each other. In Matt Hughes’ book Made In America, he belittles Frank Trigg every chance he can.
No. 4: Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz
These two former light heavyweight champions started out as training partners and “friends” but eventually turned into bitter enemies.
When Tito Ortiz was the Light Heavyweight champion, Liddell was quickly climbing up the ranks and eventually earned himself a shot at Ortiz’ title.
According to Ortiz, the two had previously made a “pact” that they would never fight against each other because of their friendship. Chuck Liddell denied this and even went as far to say that he and Ortiz were never friends at all.
Liddell went on to accuse that the champion was “ducking” him after Ortiz backed out of the fight due to a contract issue with the UFC.
When they finally met in the octagon at UFC 47, Liddell knocked Ortiz out in the second round to claim the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.
Two years later, Ortiz called out Liddell for a rematch and with a smirk on his face, Liddell responded, “You don’t really want to fight me again."
They fought again at UFC 66, Liddell victorious once again by finishing Ortiz with strikes in the third round. The rivalry between Ortiz and Liddell generated a ton of fan interest and their second fight was one of the most watched Pay-Per-View's in UFC history.
No. 3: B.J Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre
When B.J Penn and Georges St. Pierre first fought at UFC 58, there wasn’t any bad blood between them. In fact, they didn’t start despising each other until after their second fight at UFC 94 when the infamous “grease gate” incident took place.
In their first fight, Penn and St. Pierre fought for the full three rounds with St. Pierre just barely winning by a split decision. Afterward, Penn dropped down to lightweight and captured that title in early 2008.
Instead of staying put and cleaning out the 155 lb. division, Penn opted to move up in weight for a rematch to challenge St. Pierre for the Welterweight Championship.
In the rematch, Penn was dominated by a much larger St. Pierre. The welterweight champion was able to take Penn down at will and impose his for four rounds. At the end of the fourth round, Penn’s corner threw in the towel giving St. Pierre the TKO victory.
However, it was soon revealed after the fight that St. Pierre’s cornerman Phil Nurse had applied Vaseline to St. Pierre’s body illegally. B.J Penn’s camp caught Nurse doing it between rounds and notified the Athletic Commission who wiped St. Pierre off with a towel.
B.J Penn has been calling St. Pierre a “cheater” ever since then and the rivalry between the two has been growing stronger by the day.
No. 2: Matt Serra vs. Matt Hughes
Before their fight last weekend at UFC 98, Matt Hughes and Matt Serra absolutely hated each other with a passion.
Matt Serra took a disliking to Matt Hughes while watching Hughes coach opposite Rich Franklin on The Ultimate Fighter Season Two. In his opinion, he thought that Hughes was acting like a stuck up jock and an arrogant bully. His attitude rubbed Serra the wrong way.
When Serra was a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter Season Four: The Comeback, Hughes came in as an assistant coach. Serra trained with Hughes and even picked his brain on some wrestling techniques. Still, he noticed how Hughes was acting arrogant towards the other fighters and coaches.
When Matt Serra won the welterweight title from Georges St. Pierre, Hughes called the victory a fluke and stated that Serra wasn't even a top five welterweight, claiming Serra would be lucky if he made top 20.
Their rivalry was put on display to millions of viewers on the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter where they both served as rival coaches. They were supposed to fight each other at season's end in December 2007 but an injury to Matt Serra forced the fight to be cancelled.
They didn’t get to fight each other until two years later at UFC 98, just last weekend. Serra came very close to knocking Hughes out in the first round, but Hughes hung in there and managed to lay n’ pray his way to a unanimous decision victory.
After the fight, Serra and Hughes shocked the world and actually hugged out their differences. I don’t think anyone expected that but it appears their heated rivalry has come to an end.
No. 1: Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz
In the history of the UFC, there has never been two fighters who have hated each other more than Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz.
It all started at UFC 19 when Tito Ortiz took on Guy Mezger—a member of Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den training camp. Ortiz defeated Mezger in the first round with strikes and after the fight, he proceeded to flip off the entire Lion’s Den who was in Mezger’s corner.
Ken Shamrock went absolutely nuts and confronted Tito face to face—their legendary rivalry was born.
They finally met in the octagon at UFC 40. Ortiz was the former light-heavyweight champion and Shamrock was looking to shut his mouth by capturing the title. Ortiz beat Shamrock down for three rounds. At the end of the third round, Shamrock was badly hurt and exhausted which caused his corner to throw in the towel giving Ortiz the TKO victory.
Shamrock was pissed after the fight and continued to call out Tito. Dana White approached Shamrock and asked him if he would be interested in coaching the third season of The Ultimate Fighter. At first, he turned Dana down before he was told that Ortiz would be the other coach, changing his mind in an instant.
On the show's third season, the world saw a different side of Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. They saw the dedication that Ortiz had for his team and the skills Tito has as a coach.
Shamrock on the other hand looked like a complete moron on the show and didn’t show the same dedication as Ortiz. Shamrock was only there for himself, where as Ortiz actually seemed to care about the future of the fighters on his team.
Shamrock and Ortiz mouthed off to each other throughout the entire season and almost came to blows twice.
They then met in a rematch at UFC61 and once again, Shamrock was completely manhandled by Ortiz, who finished him with strikes in the first round. After the fight, Shamrock complained of an early stoppage but in reality, he wasn’t intelligently defending himself. Therefore, the referee had every right to stop the fight.
Shamrock continued to bicker and the two were quickly signed for a third bout on a special event on Spike TV called UFC's Ortiz vs. Shamrock: The Final Chapter. Shamrock figured the third time would be the charm but he was quickly defeated again by Ortiz in the first round by way of TKO.
Even though the fights were incredibly one sided, The Shamrock/Ortiz rivalry was insane and it will forever be remembered as the greatest rivalry in UFC history.
Honorable mentions: Quinton Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva III, Phil Baroni vs. Matt Lindland, Phil Baroni vs. Evan Tanner, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Mark Coleman II.