When lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov makes the walk to the cage on Saturday for the start of his title unification bout with interim champion Dustin Poirier in Abu Dhabi in the main event of UFC 242, it will be the ninth time in UFC history that two reigning champions faced each other in the cage.
Given that UFC 242 will be the 492nd event the promotion has staged in its nearly 26-year history, it is hardly a common occurrence.
The first one comes with a bit of an asterisk. At UFC 75 in London on Sept. 8, 2007, UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson faced PRIDE middleweight (also the 205-pound class) champion Dan Henderson in what was billed as a unification bout.
This will be the fifth time in UFC history that a champion and an interim champion met for the undisputed title. Adding the Jackson-Henderson bout, that makes it six times out of nine that champions in the same weight class met each other to settle things.
Three times, a champion from one weight class moved up to face a champion from another division. In the most recent of those, then-bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw dropped to flyweight to challenge 125-pound champion Henry Cejudo.
Then-light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier knocked out heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 last year to become a two-class champion. And at UFC 94 on Jan. 31, 2009, in Las Vegas, lightweight champion B.J. Penn moved up to challenge welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Given the thousands of fights the UFC has promoted, the rarity alone makes it significant.
But UFC 242 figures to grab a place near the top of the list of the most significant events in the promotion’s history not only because of what is expected to be a terrific bout in the main event, but also because of Nurmagomedov’s emergence into a star.
A Muslim, the UFC brought him to the Middle East to fight in Abu Dhabi as almost a celebration of his career. He’s 27-0 overall and 11-0 in the UFC and is quickly becoming a massive draw.
UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports the show is on track to produce numbers similar to the record-setting UFC 229, which featured Nurmagomedov submitting Conor McGregor in the main event in a show that sold two million pay-per-views.
This is its competition, my choice of the 10 most significant events in UFC history. I chose them based on the interest and significance of them at the time, and not in hindsight. Otherwise, UFC 1 and The Ultimate Fighter Finale 1 would have been on the list.
This is my list of the 10 cards that hit milestones and helped push the UFC to a new level.
10. UFC 196, Conor McGregor-Nate Diaz I, MGM Grand Garden, Las Vegas, March 6, 2016 — McGregor was the reigning featherweight champion and was moving up to challenge Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight title. McGregor’s outsized persona and his bid to become the first fighter in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously gave this show significance.
But it was amped up considerably when dos Anjos was injured and the UFC replaced him with Diaz. After submitting McGregor, Diaz uttered one of the most memorable lines in UFC history when he was interviewed in the Octagon by Joe Rogan.
“I’m not surprised, motherf------!” Diaz shouted as the crowd went wild.
9. UFC 129, Georges St-Pierre-Jake Shields, Rogers Centre, Toronto, April 30, 2011 -- The card was notable for a number of reasons, including that it was Hall of Famer Randy Couture’s final bout.
Shields had won 15 in a row and was perceived as a significant challenge for St-Pierre, who had dominated the welterweight division. He’d won eight in a row and 14 of his previous 15.
The event was held on the Toronto Blue Jays’ home field and drew a then-record 55,724 fans to see a stacked card that included St-Pierre defeating Shields by decision; Lyoto Machida knocking out Couture with a kick to the face; Jose Aldo defending his featherweight title over Mark Hominick and Rory MacDonald decisioning Diaz.
8. UFC 200, Miesha Tate-Amanda Nunes, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, July 9, 2016 — The plan was to have McGregor-Diaz II headlining this show, but when McGregor declined to attend a news conference, White yanked him from the card.
He then made a rematch between Cormier and Jon Jones the main event, but Jones was knocked off the card the week of the fight when he failed a drug test. The UFC then moved Tate-Nunes to the main event and brought in Anderson Silva to fight Cormier.
Brock Lesnar defeated Mark Hunt on the card, but that was overturned later when Lesnar, too, failed a drug test.
Significantly, this was the last bout under the Fertitta ownership of the UFC. A group headed by brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta purchased the UFC in 2001 and built it in a global power before selling it for $4.2 billion the day after this show.
7. UFC 189, McGregor-Chad Mendes, MGM Grand Garden, Las Vegas, July 11, 2015 — In some ways, this was the beginning of the McGregor Era. He was supposed to fight Aldo for the featherweight title, and there was massive interest after a worldwide media tour. The tour concluded in Dublin, Ireland, with McGregor snatching Aldo’s belt.
But a little more than three weeks before the bout, Aldo pulled out with a rib injury. The UFC brought Mendes in as a replacement and made it for the interim title.
Sinead O’Connor performed live during McGregor’s walkout, and even though he was close to being finished, he rallied to knock out Mendes and win the belt.
6. UFC 193, Ronda Rousey-Holly Holm, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Australia, Nov. 15, 2015 — This bout came at the peak of Rousey-Mania. She was head-and-shoulders with McGregor as the biggest star in the sport. She was 12-0 with 12 finishes and was attracting A-List celebrities to her fights.
The Australian fans were desperate to see her and paid a gate of $6.8 million to fill a record 56,214 seats.
What they wound up seeing was one of the most significant upsets in the company’s history.
5. UFC 66, Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz II, MGM Grand Garden, Las Vegas, Dec. 30, 2006 — This was the UFC’s first fight that really caught on outside the hardcore MMA fan base and creeped into the mainstream. UFC 40, featuring Ortiz against Ken Shamrock, had been big as well, but this one nearly sold one million on PPV and did a gate of $5.4 million, a record at the time.
Liddell was the UFC’s biggest star, and Ortiz wasn’t far behind. They’d fought at UFC 47 in 2004 and Liddell knocked Ortiz out in the second. The appetite for a rematch was strong and fans supported it heavily when it happened.
4. UFC 194, Aldo-McGregor, MGM Grand Garden, Las Vegas, Dec. 12, 2015 — This card featured six fighters who had held or would go on to hold a UFC championship (Aldo, McGregor, Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman, Max Holloway and Colby Covington). It was the climax of the Aldo-McGregor rivalry and fans from Brazil and Ireland descended upon Las Vegas.
McGregor predicted he’d knock out Aldo early because he said Aldo would charge him at the opening bell and he’d counter him. Everyone laughed, but it’s exactly what happened.
3. UFC 100, Brock Lesnar-Frank Mir II, Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, July 11, 2009 — The card was filled with stars and featured five men who held or would go on to hold UFC championships (Lesnar, Mir, St-Pierre, Michael Bisping and Jon Jones).
The attention the show got was enormous and at the time, its 1.6 million PPV sales set a UFC record.
2. UFC 157, Rousey-Liz Carmouche, Honda Center, Anaheim, California, Feb. 23, 2013 — This show represented the first time two women fought in the UFC, and they headlined the show. The atmosphere in the arena was incredible as the build-up was near-perfect. When Rousey made her ring walk, the sound was deafening as fans recognized the history about to unfold.
1. UFC 229, McGregor-Nurmagomedov, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Oct. 6, 2018 — The intensity between McGregor and Nurmagomedov was palpable at all pre-fight media events and the public turned out in an enormous way. It was a deep and entertaining card, but this was one carried by its main event.
It was proof that the UFC could do the big numbers on PPV that boxing had done so frequently. The event sold two million on pay-per-view and had a record MMA gate of $17.2 million.
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