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March Madness: Ten Classic UFC Performances

 
Over the years, there have been some amazing fights that have taken place in the Octagon in the month of March.

You could say that about many months, especially those that have traditionally featured major events like May, July and December, but March has a certain “catch you by surprise” element to it.

In the rundown of iconic events in the history of the UFC, everyone remembers the major events that took place on holiday weekends or the night 55,000 people packed the Rogers Centre in Toronto, but few recall a themed show in Las Vegas where a rivalry began, a trilogy started and one fighter’s career was irreversibly altered.

Here’s a look at some of the most memorable UFC fights from the month of March, beginning with a trio from UFC 58: USA vs. Canada.

Sam Stout def. Spencer Fisher by Split Decision – UFC 58 (March 4, 2006)

Later this month, Stout will step into the Octagon with Ross Pearson on the preliminary card at UFC 185, but nine years ago, the Canadian lightweight with an iron chin made his UFC debut in an instant classic that proved to be the starting point for a three-pack of bouts against Fisher.

They started trading at the outset and only stopped when the horn sounded to signal the end of each round. Back and forth they went, both having their moments in a close contest where both showed their heart and their ability to take a punch.

Stout got the nod by split decision, but you knew it was only a matter of time before they ran this one back. The rematch came 15 months later and was even better, with Fisher claiming a unanimous decision victory in one of the top fights of 2007. The series level at one win each, the two locked horns in a rubber match five years later with Stout claiming the victory in another Fight of the Night encounter.

Georges St-Pierre def. B.J. Penn by Split Decision – UFC 58

Nearly a decade later, you can still divide a room of hardcore MMA fans by bringing up this contest.

Not only was this a bout to determine the No. 1 contender in the welterweight division, but it was also Penn’s return to the UFC and “The Prodigy” strode to the cage wearing the championship belt he never actually lost and a t-shirt that read “World Champ.” It was classic angry B.J. and this was a classic encounter that started a heated rivalry.

Penn bloodied St-Pierre early, cracking him with a series of stiff jabs right out of the gate. After the first, the Canadian was a mess, but in the second and third, the future champion turned to his wrestling, putting the Hawaiian on his back and starting to get the better of the exchanges as Penn started to tire.

It went to the cards and St-Pierre earned the nod, a decision that never sat well with Penn. Three years later, with St-Pierre back atop the welterweight division and Penn wearing lightweight gold, the two squared off again and it wasn’t close, Penn’s corner stopping the fight after St-Pierre put it on his nemesis for 20 minutes.

Rich Franklin def. David Loiseau by Unanimous Decision – UFC 58

The final scores tell you everything you need to know about this fight: 50-42, 50-42, 50-43.

While “The Crow” stung Franklin with a left hook out of nowhere in the third, it still wasn’t enough to win the frame and the middleweight champion manhandled the Canadian challenger the rest of the way en route to one of the most lopsided decisions in UFC history.

Franklin was fresh off his first round, knock-him-stiff finish of Nate Quarry and simply dominated Loiseau at every turn. Though the challenger showed a ton of heart late in the fight as the one-sided beating continued, this was the most complete performance of Franklin’s career and his final successful defense of the middleweight title; seven months later, he’d run into a Brazilian challenger named Anderson Silva.

Randy Couture def. Tim Sylvia by Unanimous Decision – UFC 68 (March 3, 2007)

Eight years later and the fact that Couture returned from a 12-month retirement to not just beat, but dominate, Sylvia and claim the UFC heavyweight title remains an MMA “I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it” moment.

“The Maine-iac” had won six straight and returned to the top of the heap in the heavyweight division, while Couture had moved on to doing commentary and beginning his acting career. He seemed content and comfortable in retirement, but answered the call to return to the Octagon and turned in a performance for the ages.

It isn’t just that Couture beat Sylvia, it’s that he dominated the action, dropping the champion with a right hand down the pipe less than 10 seconds into the contest en route to sweeping the scorecards and winning the final UFC title of his career.

Anderson Silva def. Dan Henderson by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) – UFC 82 (March 1, 2008)

Time has dulled how much anticipation and uncertainty there was heading into this fight, but in the moment, this was a big-time affair pitting the reigning UFC middleweight champion against the PRIDE middleweight champion, where belts and bragging rights were on the line.

It ended up being one of the early markers of Silva’s excellence, as “The Spider” dropped the first frame, but rebounded to finish the fight in the second, slipping around to Henderson’s back and sinking in the rear naked choke.

The Brazilian would go on to win 10 more fights to push his record winning streak to 16 before losing to Chris Weidman at UFC 162, and after fighting for UFC gold in each of his first two bouts after returning to the Octagon following a decorated career in PRIDE, Henderson never made it back to a championship fight in the UFC.

Jon Jones def. Maurico Rua by TKO (Strikes) – UFC 128 (March 19, 2011)

This was the coronation of a new champion and the dawn of a new era in the light heavyweight division. Because he’s been so dominant since, we tend to forget that there were bouts along Jones’ road to the top where “Bones” wasn’t the clear-cut favorite and this was one of them.

Now, the fact that Jones went from submitting Ryan Bader to blistering “Shogun” to claim the light heavyweight title in the span of six weeks is just part of the champion’s legacy, with Rua standing as the first of the five straight former champions Jones defeated in succession. Then, it felt like a tall order and a serious test for the young upstart, but he absolutely aced it and hasn’t looked back since.

Jones controlled things from the outset and didn’t let off the gas until the bout was stopped midway through the third. Four years and eight fights later, he remains the undisputed champion and is closing in on being considered the greatest fighter of all time.

Chan Sung Jung def. Leonard Garcia by Submission (Twister) – UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Davis (March 26, 2011)

Less than a year prior to this bout, Jung and Garcia threw down in a back-and-forth slugfest at WEC 48 that ended up earning Fight of the Year honors for 2010, and with many fans and critics feeling that the decision should have fallen in Jung’s favor, the UFC was quick to run this one back once the featherweights arrived on the roster.

Rather than engaging in another slobberknocker, “The Korean Zombie” fought a somewhat more technical and measured fight. Sure, he traded hands with the hard-nosed Team Jackson-Winkeljohn veteran, but he also played to his strengths and took the fight to the ground late in the second frame, which is when history happened.

With the clock ticking down and the end of the round drawing near, Jung forced Garcia to tap to the first twister submission in UFC history, torqueing his head one way and his body the other. To this day, no one has been able to replicate the finish in the Octagon.

Dong Hyun Kim def. John Hathaway by KO (Spinning Back Elbow) – TUF China Finale (March 1, 2014)

Just when Hathaway looked to be establishing a rhythm and shifting the momentum in his favor – THWACK!

Spin. Elbow. Jaw. Goodnight.

As “The Hitman” stepped forward, Kim rotated and connected with one of the nastiest spinning elbows you’ll ever see. While Jon Jones has landed a few quality spinning elbows in his day, “Bones” has yet to put one on the button the way “The Stun Gun” did here. Hathaway crashed to the canvas like he’d been shot as the former grinder Kim celebrated his second consecutive knockout victory.

Johny Hendricks def. Robbie Lawler by Unanimous Decision – UFC 171 (March 14, 2014)

Of the 41 contests that took place in the Octagon last March, this was easily the best of the bunch. Hell, it was arguably the best of the year.

Hendricks and Lawler went toe-to-toe for the vacant welterweight title in an instant classic last year in Dallas. “Bigg Rigg” was coming off a controversial decision loss to Georges St-Pierre four months earlier, while Lawler was in the process of orchestrating one of the most impressive career comebacks in MMA history, winning three straight to fight for UFC gold for the first time.

And this one didn’t disappoint. Even heading into the fifth round – Hendricks having won the first and third, Lawler the second and fourth – the former National champion wrestler simply had a little bit more left in the tank down the stretch, out-working Lawler in the final five minutes and sealing the victory with a takedown late in the frame.

They’d run it back nine months later with Lawler coming out victorious, leaving the possibility of a championship trilogy bout on the table.

Dan Henderson def. Mauricio Rua by TKO (Punches) – UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Henderson 2 (March 23, 2014)

Their first encounter at UFC 139 in November 2011 is regarded as one of the best fights in MMA history, with Henderson earning a unanimous decision win in a bout that was full of shifts and momentum and near finishes.

While no one expected the rematch to run parallel with their epic first encounter, these two legendary veterans did a good job making their second meeting memorable as well.

Rua controlled things early, avoiding Henderson’s attempts to land his patented overhand right and mixing in his own strikes effectively. Ten minutes into the contest, “Shogun” appeared on his way to a victory, but 91 seconds later, the fight was over and his nose was a complete mess.

Coming out of a failed takedown attempt, Henderson disengaged and painted Rua with a right hook that sent the former UFC light heavyweight champion tumbling across the canvas, with referee Herb Dean waving off the fight soon after.

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