Friday, January 4, 2008

Top 5 Blockbuster Events Of All Time

Even though the UFC and PRIDE FC have hosted well over 100 events combined, very few can be called blockbusters, and more often they’re labeled busts. The blockbuster, however rare, has the potential to revitalize an organization for months, and for these purposes, a blockbuster is defined as an event with a strong card and an even stronger night of fights. Although UFC 79 turned in a great card and and exciting event, it will be a few months before history casts its official judgment on the event. So, which cards in MMA history have given fans a great card as well as great fights? An article originally written for MMA Madness looks for the answer with its top 5 blockbuster events ever.

#5: PRIDE Final Conflict 2005

The card: Featured the middleweight tournament semis (and later that night, the finals). The final four in the tournament were Ricardo Arona, Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua, and Alistair Overeem. Silva and Rua are the two most accomplished middleweights in PRIDE history while Arona and Overeem aren’t slouches either. The pairings of Arona with Silva and Overeem with Rua were significant due to the widely known preference of the two Chute Boxe legends (Silva and Rua) to not fight one another.

Additionally, the card featured a heavyweight title fight between then-champion Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Filipovic. While Fedor was expected to retain the title, Filipovic provided the greatest challenge Fedor had ever faced. Filipovic was undefeated in over a year and had torn through such big names as Josh Barnett and Kevin Randleman. To add even more fuel to the fire, Cro Cop had knocked out Fedor’s little brother, Aleksander, with a ferocious kick to the head one year prior to the event.

The event: Wanderlei’s unanimous decision loss to Arona paved the way for Rua to dominate Overeem, and later Arona, for two consecutive knockouts. With that pair of wins, Rua solidified himself as a top 205 pounder not just in PRIDE, but also in the world.

#4: UFC 47: It’s on!

The card: One of the first few hugely advertised UFC cards, UFC 47 featured the end of the long war of words between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Ortiz, a friend and former training partner of Liddell’s, was accused of ducking The Iceman for well over a year, citing a pact the two had supposedly made not to fight one another. Liddell maintained that no such agreement ever existed.

If that wasn’t enough to put people in the seats (and it was), matchmaker Joe Silva added a truly fun match up between the highly skilled Andrei Arlovski and the thick-headed Cabbage Correira.

Finally, 21-year-old Nick Diaz was pitted against the 22-year-old phenom Robbie Lawler, who had only suffered one UFC loss at that point (an injury submission). Lawler had turned out four impressive UFC victories in addition to the loss, with two coming by TKO. Diaz had just one UFC win to his credit before UFC 47, but it was an impressive armbar victory just three months prior.

The event: The fights played out just as Silva must have envisioned. In the main event, Liddell was all over Ortiz from the start, striking at will and eventually creating the now-famous ten second video of Ortiz being pummeled against the side of the cage early in round 2. The performance solidified Liddell’s arrival (and comeback from the Couture loss), signifying that the more experienced and mature Liddell deserved a second chance at The Natural.

Arlovski peppered Cabbage early and often, quickly opening up the Hawaiian favorite. Amazingly, no matter how many times Arlovski blasted Cabbage, the big man would not go down. The crowd quickly became engaged in the sheer display of punching accuracy (from Andrei) and stone chin (from Cabbage). It took until the second round of continuous punching to drop Cabbage, resulting in an eruption from the crowd.

In what is now known as one of the greatest UFC fights of all time, Diaz and Lawler went back and forth during the first round, each gaining the advantage many times over. Diaz, the heavy underdog entering the fight, ended up pressing most of the action and chased Lawler for much of the fight. In the second round, Diaz and Lawler even began to taunt each other. Lawler lost his cool, swung wildly at Diaz, and Diaz nailed a right hook that sent Lawler crashing to the canvas.

#3: PRIDE Bushido 9

The card: Tournament-style cards are always tough to plan, but if promoters stack enough talent in these showdowns, the results are usually enjoyable. That’s exactly what happened in Bushido 9, which featured the opening rounds of the welterweight and lightweight tournaments in which the fights were two-round affairs.

The welterweight contenders included superstars such as Dan Henderson, Akihiro Gono, Ikuhisa Minowa, and Murilo Bustamante. For good measure, Phil Baroni was invited too, just in case any of the referees wanted to fight.

The lightweights were even more impressive and included Jens Pulver, Hayato Sakurai, Joachim Hansen, Takanori Gomi, and Tatsuya Kawajiri. At some point, all of them -- with the exception of Kawajiri -- have held titles (Gomi had two). PRIDE couldn’t have picked a better combination of lightweight stars to vie for the title.

The event: Generally considered one of the most exciting events in MMA history because of the two-round rule, the amount of talent, and the level of competition in the bouts, the first round of Bushido 9 featured just three decisions.

The rest of the finishes included some of the most spectacular knockouts and submissions of all time. The welterweight opening round featured a Dan Henderson KO just 22 seconds into the first round. Not to be outdone, Luiz Azeredo countered for the lightweights with his own early KO, 11 seconds into the first. In a battle of Japanese stars, Gomi and Kawajiri put on a technical display, which eventually ended with Gomi securing a rear naked choke.

In the semifinals, the action continued with both welterweights winning by KO, including a devastating session of soccer kicks from Bustamante. The lightweights turned in two unanimous decisions in the semis, but the matches were just as exciting as any of the big finishes that night.

#2: UFC 52: Liddell vs. Couture 2

The card: Easily the strongest card in UFC history, UFC 52’s main event consisted of the second meeting between then-champion Randy Couture and challenger Liddell. Liddell had been soundly outmatched and knocked out in their first meeting at UFC 43. Since then, however, Liddell had notched a few wins, including the huge knockout of Ortiz.

Another rematch/title fight came in the form of Matt Hughes versus Frank Trigg. Hughes had previously come from behind to beat Trigg via rear naked choke at UFC 43 and the bad blood was still very much alive. A war of words ensued in the weeks leading up to the event promising that something exciting would come of this fight.

In a match up of pure grapplers, wrestler Matt Lindland was scheduled to fight BJJ Black Belt Travis Lutter.

The event: Liddell reversed his fortune from UFC 43, knocking out Couture and winning the title in one fell swoop. It was both Couture’s first KO loss and Liddell’s first title. Even more exciting than the left cross which crushed Couture to the mat was the promise of a third fight to come.

Hughes and Trigg put on what many consider to be the most exciting MMA fight of all time (it gets my vote). Early in the first, Trigg mistakenly kneed Hughes in the groin. Referee Mario Yamasaki missed the blow and Trigg was able to jump on top of Hughes, nearly knocking him out and then nearly choking him out. Unbelievably, Hughes powered out of the choke, picked Trigg up, hauled him across the Octagon, and slammed him down with a thud. Hughes pounded Trigg and eventually locked in a rear naked choke, the very move which gave him the victory in their first meeting.

Lindland turned in a superior performance, beating Lutter at his own game, locking in a tight guillotine halfway through round two.

And in a surprisingly enjoyable fight, Jason “Mayhem” Miller scrapped his way to a decision loss against rising star, Georges St. Pierre.

#1: PRIDE Final Conflict 2003

The card: Similar to Bushido 9 and Final Conflict 2005, this was another tournament-style card featuring Liddell, Silva, and Quinton Jackson. And similar to the way in which Rua and Silva were destined to fight at the end of the 2005 tournament, this tournament was designed with a final match in mind: Silva vs. Liddell.

Other scheduled bouts included a big welterweight fight between Henderson and Bustamante and a #1 contender fight between Filipovic and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Fedor had already beaten Nogueira once, but only by decision. A good win by Nogueira would put him right back in line to try Fedor again. Meanwhile, Filipovic was undefeated in PRIDE at the time, holding a huge TKO victory over legend Kazushi Sakuraba.

The event: The tournament didn’t disappoint, but it did surprise, with Jackson manhandling Liddell on his way to the finals. Liddell was being beaten so badly that his own corner threw in the towel. Meanwhile, Silva had no trouble earning a decision over Hidehiko Yoshida. In the finals, it was Silva who rolled, averting early slam attempts by Rampage, and instead delivering 28 knees and three bicycle kicks en route to the win.

Meanwhile, Henderson caught Bustamante with a knee strike just 53 seconds into the bout as Bustamante shot in for a takedown. The win established Henderson as the real deal, and he would only go on to lose two more contests during his entire PRIDE career.

Nogueira turned in an equally exciting and impressive performance with his second-round arm bar over Filipovic. The win legitimized the Brazilian as the best man to challenge Fedor’s supremacy.