October 17th 1997, UFC 15, video captured what would become one of the most recognizable fan clips in MMA history. Fight fan James Radner, with “JUST BLEED” painted across his chest and “UFC” painted on his forehead, exuded the type of energy any MMA fan can relate to when you’re about to watch people complete in one of the most violent sports on the planet. An MMA fan would be lying if they told you they prefer fights where both fighters leave the octagon unscathed instead of looking like they just battled with swords in a Thunderdome cage.
From the biggest MMA hard core fan to the most casual, it’s the intense back & forth wars most of us choose to re-watch over and over. While some fights unexpectedly become a historic battle of wills, there are some match ups where it’s almost impossible to picture anything but an extremely violent fight packed with nail biting action. March 30th, 2019, MMA fans will be treated to one of those match ups with Justin Gaethje and Edson Barbosa. But before this weekend, let’s remind ourselves of some of the bloodiest and most entertaining fights to ever take place in the octagon.
Jonathan Goulet vs Jay Hieron: UFC Fight Night 2, October 2nd 2005
This is my first memory of a crazy blood bath. After a fairly uneventful 1st, not long into the 2nd round Goulet unleashed a knee from the clench that would open a gash on Hieron’s head that had no hope of being closed without immediately stopping the fight and taking him to the back for stitches. Hieron had no desire to quit the and despite the severity of the cut the cage side doctor allowed the fight to continue. After the devastating knee, a majority of the remaining round took place on the ground in one area with Hieron on top a decent amount of that time, raining blood down on Goulet. When the round ended there was a pool of blood on the mat and both fighters looked like somebody dumped buckets of blood over the top of them. Not far into the 3rd round Goulet landed another knee to the same cut area & the fight was stopped. To my knowledge, Randy Couture still has that mat from that fight on the wall in his gym.
BJ Penn vs Joe Stevenson: UFC 80, January 18th 2008
In a career full of exciting fights, this probably remains the most brutal of BJ Penn’s victories in the octagon. BJ started the fight very quickly, dropping Stevenson with an uppercut and dominating him on the ground the entire 1st round. Toward the end of the round, BJ landed an elbow that opened up Stevenson’s forehead, immediately pouring blood on the canvas like somebody had turned on a water faucet. Despite great effort from the cut men, the gash was too nasty to stop from bleeding profusely. Between rounds this fight could have easily been stopped but the doctor deemed the fighter okay to continue, forcing Penn to continue beating on what appeared to be an already defeated opponent. As blood continued to pour from Stevenson’s forehead into his eyes the fight finally hit a point where he could no longer defend himself properly and BJ sunk in a rear naked choke to end the fight. BJ leaped up and gave MMA fans one of the most iconic post fight celebrations in UFC history, licking the blood off the back of his gloves like a Menominee warrior who just scalped his victim.
Stefan Struve vs Denis Stojnic: UFC 99, June 12th 2009
As well as being one of the bloodiest fights in UFC history, it’s also one of the best comeback wins. Not far into the fight Stojnic hit Struve with an elbow that split his forehead open so bad it looked like he’d been attacked with a hatchet. I vividly recall watching this fight with a large crowd of people and every person watching was convinced the fight had to be stopped. However, to all of our surprise, the fight was allowed to continue. Though in hindsight the fight probably should have been stopped, the fact it was allowed to continue set the stage for an epic comeback finish. With Struve bleeding profusely Stojnic aggressively attacked Struve in attempt to finish the fight. This is where Struve’s heart shined as bright as it ever has, turning the fight around by taking Stojnic’s back & locking in a body triangle. Struve began alternating between punches and rear naked choke attempts, eventually flattening out a tired Stojnic and getting the tap.
Jim Miller vs Joe Lauzon: UFC 155, Dec 29th 2012
This 2012 Fight of the Year is one of the best displays of heart ever witnessed in the UFC. Jim Miller did a tremendous amount of damage early in the fight and it seemed Lauzon was definitely on his way to being finished. Lauzon however was able to fight his way to the bitter end and make Miller truly earn his victory. Not only could Miller not put Lauzon away, he had to survive some very legitimate submission attempts. The lopsided early portion of the fight morphed into a back and forth war that had everybody on the edge of their seats. At the end of the fight both were so exhausted they collapsed to their backs with Miller momentarily using Lauzon like a pillow. This fight was one of the most entertaining fights in UFC history, so good the UFC booked them to fight a second time in 2016 which Miller also won by decision.
Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald: UFC 189, July 11th 2015
Voted “Best Fight Ever” by fans in 2017, it would be foolish to neglect this epic battle from the discussion. The 2nd fight between Lawler & MacDonald started off a little slow but once it picked up it never slowed down. From the 2nd round to the completion of the fight MMA fans got nearly everything you could want in a fight. There was furious back and forth action with both men inflicting massive damage to each other’s faces. They had one of the most memorable stare downs between rounds to ever taken place in MMA. The heart of both fighters was unquestionable.
Anybody unfamiliar with this fight would likely have a hard time choosing who won the fight if they only saw the post-fight picture below. Robbie’s lip was split open so badly Joe Rogan was quoted saying he could easily see his teeth through the sliced area when doing the post-fight interview. The repeated punches MacDonald took to his face had completely demolished his nose. This was a fight where both people left a part of their soul in the octagon, earned the highest respect of each other and stole the hearts of all fans who witnessed it.
The above mentioned fights are perfect examples of what we all hope to witness each time we turn on a fight card. Naturally not every fight can be so wild, odds dictate despite what fans anticipate pre-fight we’ll get a few stinkers here and there (like Ngannou vs Lewis). But like anything in life we all need to take the good with the bad while expecting a solid amount of mediocre. After all, how would we be able to label something as “The Best Fight Ever” if all the fights were equally brutal? If all fights were as exciting as the above mentioned fights it would likely raise the expectations of fans too high and we wouldn’t be able to appreciate MMA as much. This is the truth with nearly everything in life, not just MMA. So next time you feel you’re being bored to death by an overly tactful fight, remember they’re necessary for you to appreciate the best ones.