Top 10 UFC Rivalries of All Time
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has become the home of the highest quality MMA fights and rivalries in the sport, making the jump even before they signed an exclusive rights deal with ESPN in 2019. During their early years, die-hard fans saw some of the most real, personal, and intense rivalries of the company's entire existence. Now, the UFC has been the epicenter for some of the greatest modern-day rivalries in all of sports. This list is going to pick apart the top ten UFC fighter rivalries of all time.
What are the biggest UFC rivalries of all time?
- Connor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
- Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier
- Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock
- Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz
- Connor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz
- Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen
- Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate
- Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture
- Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard
- Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber
1. Connor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Before the pair's one and only fight, Connor was on one of the greatest runs in UFC history. He won eight fights out of his first nine, captured the featherweight title with the fastest knockout in UFC history, and avenged the only loss in his UFC career in decisive fashion against Nate Diaz at UFC 202. McGregor then set his sights on Eddie Alvarez, the lightweight champion at the time, to try and become a two-division simultaneous champion at UFC 205.
During the UFC 205 pre-fight weigh-ins, Khabib and Connor had their first verbal exchange, which sparked a memorable social media war of words. While Connor was on hiatus following his win against Alvarez, Khabib was constantly poking at him for his inactivity and supposed fear of fighting him. While Khabib was preparing to fight for the vacant lightweight championship, an altercation ensued at his hotel between Khabib and McGregor's training partner Artem Lobov. Khabib slapped Connor’s training partner after he insulted him to his face, making McGregor furious. The aftermath of this slap led to McGregor and an entourage of men storming into the Barclay Center while some fighters were on a bus exiting the venue following a media event and demanded Khabib come out and square up with him. When he declined, McGregor and his posse began throwing large objects at the windows of the bus, injuring a few of the fighters on the bus, casting a dark cloud over the entire organization.
When these two would eventually square up at UFC 229, it was fireworks. In what ended up being the highest selling pay-per-view of its time, Khabib and Mcgregor went four rounds in the octagon until Khabib put the Irishman to sleep with a rear-naked choke. Following the fight, mayhem would ensue, with Khabib jumping over the cage and attacking one of McGregor's training partners, Dillon Dannis. While Connor was trying to help defend his team member, he got punched repeatedly by one of Khabibs cornermen, Zubaira Tukhugov. The aftermath of this incident cast a negative cloud over the organization and its tolerance for fighter misconduct.
2. Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier
At UFC 121 in 2010, Jones and Cormier’s rivalry started right after the two met backstage for the first time. Cormier was rubbed the wrong way by an arrogant 23-year-old Jones who said he could take him down regardless of Cormier’s Olympic wrestling background, and just like that, a feud was born. The verbal jabs and mind games played by both men were ruthless. At the UFC 178 pre-fight press conference, these tactics got to the point where security had to get involved to keep the two from attacking each other right then and there. Ultimately, Jones had to pull out of UFC 178 due to injury, but when he and DC did square up at UFC 182 and 214, both contests ended in the same result; Jones dominating his way to a victory and taking out the most hated rival of his career. The two are still bitter foes today, trading jabs at one another. As Cormier is retired and currently an MMA analyst, Jones is preparing a move up to the heavyweight division.
3. Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock
Gracie and Shamrock had the first publicized trilogy of fights in MMA history, two of them being over 20 years ago and the last one in 2016. Their first encounter was at UFC 1 when the promotion put on their first event, a one-night-open-weight tournament. Gracie and Shamrock met in the semi-finals of the tournament, and, in just 57 seconds, Gracie forced Shamrock to tap out after he exposed his back, leading to a rear-naked choke. Their second encounter would occur at UFC 5 in 1995 and saw the two men fight to a draw after a hard-fought contest that had the live crowd roaring from start to finish. In 2016, far past both men’s primes, they ran it back one more time, this time at Bellator 149. When the two stepped into the Octagon, Gracie finished the fight with a disputed knee to the head followed by hammer fists on the ground. The rivalry holds its own today because of the precedent these two set for what a highly competitive feud should look like for the fighters of the future.
4. Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz
Former friends turned enemies, this rivalry could have been written in a storybook. After both losing to Randy Couture, the two men developed a close friendship and began working out together to help each other prepare for fights. However, while this friendship was developing, Chuck kept racking up wins, to the point where people were beginning to ask when he was going to fight for the title. Liddell helped Ortiz prepare for a fight against light heavyweight champ Vitor Belford but began to distance himself from Ortiz following to prepare for his eventual fight with his friend for the belt.
A year passed and, after Ortiz lost his light heavyweight title to Randy Couture at UFC 44 in 2002, he had no choice but to fight Chuck as a necessary step to reclaiming the light heavyweight championship. They would first face off at UFC 47, where Liddell ended up winning by knockout in the second round of the fight, catapulting him into superstardom. Following the defeat, Ortiz took a 14-month layoff from the sport to regroup but eventually came back in an attempt to prove he was still one of the very best in the light heavyweight division. After Lidell won the championship in a rematch with old foe Randy Couture, he turned his sights to a hungry and motivated Ortiz for a rematch at UFC 66. Liddell won again via KO in the third round of the fight. While Ortiz and Liddell faced off a third time in 2016 at a Golden Boy Promotions event, Liddell looked as if he was in no condition to return to the octagon, resulting in an Ortiz first-round KO and his only win in this all-time great trilogy.
5. Connor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz
After Rafael Dos Anjos pulled out of his lightweight title defense at UFC 196 against Connor McGregor, the featherweight champion at the time, due to injury, the UFC scurried to find a replacement for the highly anticipated fight. In turn, the UFC booked a more appealing fight in the eyes of fans, allowing California native Nate Diaz a shot at The Notorious One, McGregor. The bout was set to be at welterweight, the first of McGregor’s career, and a significant jump from his normal weight class of featherweight. When the bout got going, Connor pushed the pace in the first round, but he began slowing down late in the second. Diaz found his opening after McGregor went for an ill-timed takedown attempt, countered, and caught him in a rear-naked choke forcing the tapout, to the surprise of all watching at home and in attendance.
McGregor was immediately clamoring for another crack at Diaz, and the UFC set a second bout between the two at UFC 202. This time, McGregor was able to avenge his loss and beat Diaz via majority decision after a barnburner of a five-round fight. The idea for a trilogy fight is now more appealing than ever, as Diaz looks to potentially resign after the final fight in his contract, and McGregor is directionless following his injury at UFC 264. The fight looks even more appealing considering both men post about the idea on social media and even banter a bit with one another.
6. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen
After Silva defended the middleweight championship against Demian Mia at UFC 112, he needed a fresh foe to interest him after dancing around the best in the division for so long. After Chael Sonnen used his legendary mouth to spew some trash talk aimed at Silva and his home country of Brazil, Silva finally found his match. In their first encounter at UFC 117, the unthinkable happened. While Sonnen was primarily known for his strong grappling ability and strong ground and pound game, he actually outstriked Silva by a ratio of 5:1 through the entire contest until the champion caught Sonnen out of nowhere in the 5th round with a triangle choke armbar to force the stoppage.
Prior to the fight, Sonnen only had a 4-3 record in the UFC, making this bout a catapult to stardom for Sonnen even in defeat. While it took some time to put together, a rematch between the two was set for UFC 148. The banter of Sonnen is what really helped keep this feud hot during the two-year gap until the rematch was set in stone. On top of that, Silva’s last-second submission in their first encounter after losing the four rounds prior was one of the greatest in-fight comebacks in UFC history. However, when the two would finally face off, the finish was definitive and short. Silva finished Sonnen in two rounds via TKO, ending the greatest MMA rivalry of the late-2000s.
7. Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate
This feud is what created a fanbase and mainstream interest in women's MMA. The heat, hate, and verbal warfare between these two women were top-notch. Their first encounter was in StrikeForce MMA after the UFC purchased it in 2011 but was run as an independent promotion. In the pair’s first encounter at StrikeForce: Tate vs. Rousey, Tate was the bantamweight champion, and Rousey was on the beginning of her climb to the top of the MMA world. This pre-fight coverage was filled with a hefty amount of back and forth between the two women, with nothing off-limits for either to talk about.
When they got into the octagon, it was electric, but Rousey immediately took Tate to the ground and applied her patented armbar, only for Tate to escape and connect with some standing punches. This effort was not enough to stop Rousey’s quest for gold, as for the second time that round, she forced Tate to the ground and submitted her in it’s closing seconds becoming the new bantamweight champion. Rousey actually snapped Tate’s arm on the second armbar and bragged about it in her post-fight media, adding literal insult to injury. When they finally matched up against one another after coaching a season of The Ultimate Fighter, the stage was set for UFC 168. During the fight, Tate forced the bantamweight champion Rousey three rounds, the first time a fight of hers had ever gone that long, escaping the many submission attempts and creating some impact from her feet. Shortly into the third round, Rousey caught Tate with a submission, putting an end to the contest as Tate tapped out. While the two would never face off again, they set the standard for the type of energy and excitement female UFC fighters can bring to a potential card.
8. Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture
One of the most important trilogies in MMA history, Couture vs. Liddell, told a story fans have seen in fighting before. The older, more accomplished fighter triumphed at first, but the young up and comer made the necessary adjustments and proved their value to the world through hard work and grit. After some initial growing pains, Liddell found some confidence through impressive victories and earned himself a shot at the light heavyweight championship. Liddell would get this opportunity at Couture and the championship at UFC 43 but lost in the third round via TKO. He then went on a two-fight win streak following the loss, beating friend turned foe Tito Ortiz and Vernon White to earn another chance at the new champion Couture, winning on the same UFC 49 card Liddell KO’d White on.
Before they would fight a second time, the two men hosted the inaugural season on The Ultimate Fighter. The season ended up being a complete success and brought in future household names Forrest Griffin and Kenny Florian while also setting the stage for a huge future rematch between the two legends. At UFC 52, Liddell finally climbed the proverbial top of the mountain in dramatic fashion, capturing the light heavyweight championship via first-round KO. The pair would fight a third time at UFC 57 in a trilogy fight that bills itself, “who is really the better fighter?” At the end of the day, Liddell won in the third round via KO, putting an end to a trilogy that made an impact on the future of the sport for the better.
9. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard
The three-part trilogy of fights between Frankie Edgar and Gary Maynard put the lightweight division on notice for the type of draw the division can be for the UFC. Prior to their encounter, both men came from deep wrestling-based backgrounds. Their first encounter was at UFC Fight Night 13 in 2008, when both men were still undefeated and early into their UFC careers. Maynard got the better hand on Edgar that night, winning all three rounds and defeating his opponent via unanimous decision. Following his first defeat, Edgar regrouped and went on a three-fight win streak before eventually getting his first crack at the lightweight championship vs. BJ Penn at UFC 112, where he won via unanimous decision.
From there, the stage was set for Maynard vs. Edgar 2, this time with the championship on the line. The two faced off at UFC 121, where the pair would dance five rounds with one another in the eventual UFC fight of the year and fight of the night. However, when the final bell rang, the result left all fans that night a tad upset; it was a draw. A draw did mean one good thing: the rematch. For the third time, after a fight of the year candidate last time they squared off, Edgar and Maynard met one last time at UFC 136 later that year, where Edgar would definitively beat his longtime foe and retain his championship yet again. These two men put on some of the best fights of all time and helped create a hard-nosed identity for the lightweight division.
10. Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber
What made this rivalry stand out was the instantaneous hate Cruz and Faber had for one another, which carried on throughout the entire feud. The two first matched up in 2007 for World Extreme Cagefighting 26, and as soon as the two men were introduced to each other prior to the fight, they were peeved with one another. Faber eyed Cruz up and down in a demeaning way, while Cruz felt slighted and had the urge to knock out the contender right there. Cruz attempted to get in Faber’s head before they fought by signing his name on top of Faber's face during a mandatory poster signing event.
However, Cruz’s mind games wouldn't be able to stop the inevitable guillotine Faber sunk in on him during their first fight, forcing a tap out in the fight's opening round. Their second encounter would happen in the UFC after the organization purchased WEC and would be the first bantamweight championship fight in UFC history. Cruz was the champ, winning eight fights in a row after his last loss to Faber in WEC, making Faber the best possible choice for the first bantamweight title fight in the company's history.
They would eventually face off at UFC 132, where Cruz would come out victorious for the first time, avenging his only career loss at the time. The pair wouldn't fight again for five years after this due to various injuries suffered by Cruz, but he was finally able to make his return to the octagon in 2016 by beating a young T.J. Dillashaw.
This signaled the rematch fans waited years for, Cruz vs. Faber 3. The feud stayed hot five years later due to the constant jabs Cruz gave his rival during media and press appearances. Their season of The Ultimate Fighter also showed fans a new lens into the highly publicized rivalry. When they finally got into the cage, Cruz proved to be the better man after winning via unanimous decision at UFC 199 and even hugged it out with his longtime foe, putting the heated rivalry to an end.
What is the biggest UFC rivalry of all time?
The biggest UFC rivalry of all time is Connor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov. These two men had the world on the edge of their seats while verbal warfare was ensuing in the build-up to their one and only fight. Connor was red hot at this time, and the world definitely wanted to see the loud-mouthed Irishman beat the quieter fighter in Khabib. The massive amount of viewership in the build-up to the fight, carried over as the UFC 229 card, was the highest-selling pay-per-view in company history at the time.
What is the oldest UFC rivalry?
The oldest UFC rivalry is Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock. The rivalry between these two started at the very first UFC event and lasted over 20 years. The hate might not have been there as much as some of the other feuds on this list, but the fact that this rivalry stretched out so long, with both men wanting to still see who the better man was after so many years had passed, was something special to witness for UFC fans.
What are the greatest trilogies in UFC history?
There were a lot of great trilogies in UFC history. Some of the most memorable ones were Liddell vs. Ortiz, McGregor vs. Poirier, Liddell vs. Couture, Edgar vs. Maynard, and Cruz vs. Faber. These are just a few of the most popular, mainly because of the heat and public attention behind these feuds.