On April 14th, the UFC’s Octagon will travel overseas to Europe for the 15th time in its nearly 19 year history, setting down for an inaugural event in Stockholm, Sweden that is headlined by the light heavyweight battle between hometown hero Alexander Gustafsson and Brazil’s Thiago Silva.
Gustafsson-Silva promises to be an explosive matchup, and if it does live up to expectations, it may just earn a spot on this list of the ten best fights to appear on the UFC’s European cards.
10 – Rich Franklin W3 Wanderlei Silva – UFC 99 (2009, Cologne, Germany)
When it was announced that the main event of the UFC’s first foray into Germany was going to pit former middleweight champion Rich Franklin against former PRIDE champ Wanderlei Silva, you knew things were going to turn out okay at the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, and neither “Ace” or “The Axe Murderer” disappointed during their three rounder. Filled with solid action throughout that was punctuated by periodic bursts of berserker attacks from Silva, Franklin pulled out a close, but unanimous, decision in which his more disciplined style paved the way to victory. “He caught me in the second round, but for the most part, I really kept myself out of those exchanges,” said Franklin. “I didn’t get caught, I was not greedy with my punches – I used two or three punch combinations, got in and out, used a lot of footwork, and tried to do my best to not stand there and trade punch for punch. I kept moving and stuck to the gameplan for the whole 15 minutes, and it wasn’t that bad.”
9 – Marcus Davis Wsub1 Paul Taylor – UFC 75 (2007, London, England)
We couldn’t have an all-Euro list without at least one fight from New England’s “Irish Hand Grenade,” Marcus Davis, who fought seven consecutive times in Europe at the height of his UFC career. And this one was a short, but memorable, bout, where Davis got dropped early by a head kick, only to show off his underrated submission skills and finish the fight moments later. After the bout, which earned Davis the Submission and Fight of the Night awards, he declared that he was willing to do just about anything to keep the fans satisfied. “If I’ve gotta take another neck kick to get people to jump out of their seats and have a good time, that’s what I’ll do,” said Davis. “If I have to learn how to do a flying gogoplata or something crazy, that’s what I’ll learn. I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do to become better and better and better.”
8 - Antoni Hardonk KO2 Eddie Sanchez – UFC 85 (2008, London, England)
This heavyweight battle between Antoni Hardonk and Eddie Sanchez didn’t get a lot of attention, either before or after the fight, and that’s a shame, because it was an entertaining scrap with plenty of haymakers thrown before the finish. And if anything, the bout did make an impression on the winner, as Hardonk told me that the victory was the one he would put in a time capsule to let people know what he was about as a fighter. “One fight that I think about a lot is when I fought back in London at UFC 85,” said Hardonk. “I fought Eddie Sanchez and I got really hurt in that fight. At one point he hit me right in the eye and it broke my orbital bone. I was dizzy, I fell to the floor, and he jumped on me to finish the fight, but I used my ground skills to survive and weather the storm. Then I came back and I knocked him out. That was definitely one of the fights that I think about a lot because I overcame myself that time. There are some guys that are extremely gifted. They have physical talent, they’re super fast, they’re strong, and sometimes have great technique. But it’s easy to be tough or look great when things go your way. But it’s hard to look tough and put on a great fight when you’re being dominated. It’s completely different.”
7 - Paul Kelly W3 Paul Taylor – UFC 80 (2008, Newcastle, England)
If you saw this one, you’ll know why it’s here. If not, here’s what I wrote when listing the All-England battle between Paul Taylor and Paul Kelly on the best fights of 2008 list: Nothing like a little local rivalry to spice things up, and when British welterweights Paul Kelly and Paul Taylor locked up, they were fighting as if the fate of England itself was at stake. Punctuated by an opening 30 second sequence that saw both fighters standing and trading punches at close range, the fight was fast-paced throughout, with the two even exchanging blows while on the mat. As the bout progressed, the bigger and stronger Kelly pulled ahead and away, but Taylor, despite being cut and overpowered, never stopped battling, almost pulling off a kimura in the second round and still landing enough punches and kicks while standing to keep Kelly honest. In the end though, it was Kelly by unanimous decision in a memorable Octagon debut.
6 – Matt Wiman KO2 Thiago Tavares - UFC 85 (2008, London, England)
Buried on the undercard of a stacked UFC 85 card that includes names like Hughes, Alves, Bisping, Swick, Davis, Marquardt, Werdum, and Vera, Matt Wiman and Thiago Tavares soared to the top of the list to win Fight of the Night honors at the O2 Arena with an exciting back and forth battle that saw a dizzying array of submission attempts by both men, some crisp standup, and finally an emphatic knockout by Wiman, who topped off his June by getting married a week later. Everything you could want in a mixed martial arts match was here, and both fighters showed what the sport can be when done right.
5 - Renan Barao Wsub1 Brad Pickett – UFC 138 (2011, Birmingham, England)
It didn’t last long – just four minutes and nine seconds – but for pure fury, you couldn’t do much better than the bantamweight battle between Brazil’s Renan Barao and England’s Brad Pickett. From the sound of the bell to open the bout, the two tore at each other like bitter enemies, with Barao eventually gaining the upper hand and ending matters via rear naked choke submission.
4 - Ian Freeman TKO1 Frank Mir – UFC 38 (2002, London, England)
The first UFC card in Europe may have been headlined by the welterweight title fight between Matt Hughes and Carlos Newton, but it was local hero Ian Freeman who stole the show by handing unbeaten young gun Frank Mir his first pro loss via first round TKO. What made the win even more poignant was that “The Machine” scored the win not knowing that his seriously ill father had passed away shortly before the bout, news he found out after the biggest win of his career.
3 - Quinton Jackson W5 Dan Henderson – UFC 75 (2007, London, England)
For historical reasons alone, this first unification bout between a UFC champion (Quinton Jackson) and a PRIDE champion (Dan Henderson) would probably warrant a spot here, but then the two veteran light heavyweight stalwarts proceeded to put on a back and forth five rounder that Jackson eventually emerged victorious from via five round unanimous decision.
2 - Michael Bisping TKO2 Denis Kang - UFC 105 (2009, Manchester, England)
While it might be overdramatizing things to say that Michael Bisping’s career was on the line when he faced veteran Denis Kang at UFC 105 in Manchester, following his UFC 100 knockout loss to Dan Henderson, a second defeat wouldn’t have done “The Count” any favors. And after a strong first round, Kang was in control and seemingly on his way to victory, but in the second, Bisping made his adjustments, turned up the heat and stopped Kang. The pride of UK MMA had gotten back on track and he did it in spectacular fashion.
1 - Tyson Griffin W3 Clay Guida - UFC 72 (2007, Belfast, Northern Ireland)
“I was actually surprised to hear boos before me and Tyson engaged, about the first 10 or 12 seconds,” said Clay Guida of the early moments of his UFC 72 bout against Tyson Griffin. “Then we started throwing punches and it was a mess from there on out.” It was a beautiful mess though, as Guida and Griffin went at it tooth and nail for three rounds in a bout that was the Belfast card’s Fight of the Night and a 2007 Fight of The Year winner for many fans and pundits. And while Griffin took the razor-thin split decision, there were no losers in this one, as both lightweights showed off the intensity and technique of mixed martial arts, primarily on the mat, where they scrapped for much of the 15 minute bout.
Ten Best - Top European Fights in UFC History
What were the ten best fights to appear on the UFC’s European cards?