MMA is one of the most popular spectator sports today, and one with a very rich history. Whether it is in the ONE Championship Circle or in the UFC’s Octagon, a plethora of memorable fights has transpired in the cage in the sport’s more than two decades of existence.
Legends of the 4-ounce gloves have put together some amazing performances, world champions who have stood their ground and defended their golden belts to the best of their abilities, all to the delight of fans watching from around the world.
Today, we celebrate some of the most memorable world title defenses throughout the years. Evolve Daily shares the top 10 title defenses in MMA history.
1) Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg (UFC 216, October 7, 2017)
What more can be said about MMA legend Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson’s incredible career? Arguably the greatest of all time, there’s no denying Johnson’s place in MMA history.
With a record 11 UFC title defenses, there’s arguably one that stands out the most, and that’s his last one which came against Ray Borg. It was the culmination of Johnson’s evolution as a fighter, and the complete range of his skills was certainly on full display.
Like the majority of Johnson’s fights, this one was all “Mighty Mouse” from the opening bell, until he hit that infamous suplex-armbar in the fifth round to force the tap.
2) Angela Lee vs. Stamp Fairtex (ONE X, March 26, 2022)
Coming off a nearly three-year hiatus to focus on motherhood, ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee from the EVOLVE Fight Team returned to action in March of 2022 to face Thai superstar Stamp Fairtex.
Lee picked up right where she left off, dominating the ground exchanges like she never took a break. However, Lee was nearly out on her feet from a vicious body shot from Stamp midway through the first round.
Lee survived, and then proceeded to put on a grappling clinic en route to a second-round rear-naked choke victory. It was no doubt Lee’s toughest world title defense to date.
3) Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen (UFC 117, August 7, 2010)
No man has ever dominated the UFC middleweight division quite like the legendary Anderson “The Spider” Silva has. At the peak of his powers, Silva was a striking savant, who operated with surgical precision in the Octagon.
The blueprint to beat Silva was, of course, bringing him to the mat to wrestle. Chael Sonnen was the first man to have success with this.
Much to everyone’s shock, Sonnen dominated Silva on the mat for the majority of the title war, and it looked like he was going to cruise to an unanimous decision victory. But Silva pulled a triangle armbar out of his back pocket to force the tap in the dying moments of the final round.
4) Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor (UFC 229, October 6, 2018)
You can’t doubt Khabib Nurmagomedov’s place among the all-time greats of this sport. Ending his professional career with an unheard-of perfect 29-0 record, “The Eagle” is a legend through and through.
And while he’s had many great title defenses, the one against arch-nemesis Conor McGregor was the most memorable.
McGregor was the biggest star in MMA. He was the only two-time champion in the UFC at the time, so naturally, there was a lot of hype surrounding this fight.
Nurmagomedov showed fans he was levels above and beyond the competition by dominating McGregor and forcing him to submit to a neck crank in the fourth round.
5) Aung La N Sang vs. Ken Hasegawa (ONE: SPIRIT OF A WARRIOR, June 29, 2018)
Myanmar’s “The Burmese Python” Aung La N Sang is arguably the greatest middleweight champion in ONE Championship’s brief history so far. The 37-year-old veteran is a capable striker with tremendous heart, which he wore on his sleeve in his title defense against Ken Hasegawa.
N Sang and Hasegawa went to war for five rounds, beating each other to a pulp. They went back and forth, trading their heaviest shots at the center of the Circle, but neither man hit the canvas until late.
On the brink of total exhaustion, N Sang delivered a devastating uppercut that ended matters in the final moments of the fight to retain his belt.
6) Georges St-Pierre vs. BJ Penn II (UFC 94, January 31, 2009)
The first fight between UFC legends Georges St-Pierre and BJ Penn was an instant classic, with the former taking home a close but controversial split decision after three grueling rounds. But the rematch years later was where “GSP” showcased his true dominance. The two warriors battled it out for St-Pierre’s welterweight belt.
St-Pierre dominated Penn, destroying him in every category. “The Prodigy” couldn’t mount any meaningful offense, as the Canadian fighting icon poured on the punishment. The fight was ultimately stopped in the fourth round because Penn had sustained too much damage and was deemed by the ringside physician to be unable to continue.
7) Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson I (UFC 165, September 21, 2013)
As controversial as his life has been outside the Octagon, there’s no denying Jon Jones’ greatness inside of it. As a fighter, “Bones” simply had no equal. In fact, the only man who ever came close to beating him was Alexander Gustafsson.
Gustafsson pushed Jones to his absolute limit. The Swedish fighter’s length and toughness proved problematic for the American, and the two traded their most powerful blows for five full rounds.
At the end of a very close fight, fans were split down the middle as to who was the rightful winner. That ended up being Jones, who took the ‘W’ with a surprising unanimous decision. That was the closest Jones had ever come to losing.
8) Adriano Moraes vs. Demetrious Johnson (ONE on TNT, April 7, 2021)
As great as the legendary Demetrious Johnson is, Brazilian superstar and longtime reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes could also be mentioned in the same breath. In fact, he earned that right by dealing Johnson the first and only knockout loss of his career.
The two flyweights met in April of 2021 at “ONE on TNT.” It was Johnson’s first crack at ONE Championship gold, and many fans thought he would simply blow past Moraes and capture the belt.
That plan ultimately fell apart, as Moraes delivered a knee to the head that ended matters in the second round.
9) Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou (UFC 220, January 20, 2018)
Arguably the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, Stipe Miocic has beaten an A-list of legendary fighters in the premier division of combat sports. When he met French-Cameroonian phenom Francis Ngannou, however, many fans believed it would be the end of Miocic’s reign at the top.
That wasn’t hard to fathom. Ngannou left a path of destruction in his wake since joining the UFC. It was only natural to think Miocic’s days were numbered.
But the American legend proved he was the more intelligent fighter, using the full spectrum of his fighting ability to neutralize Ngannou’s vaunted power en route to a thorough unanimous decision victory.
10) Amanda Nunes Vs. Cris “Cyborg” Justino (UFC 232, December 29, 2018)
This one isn’t a title defense per se. But with Amanda Nunes having so many dominant victories in her career, it was just too difficult to overlook this performance as her best one. In this fight, Nunes took the UFC Women’s Featherweight Championship from the daunting Cris “Cyborg” Justino, much to the surprise of many.
Of course, given “Cyborg’s” reputation, Nunes came in as the perceivable underdog. Already the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion at the time, Nunes was no doubt talented. But no one really expected her to beat “Cyborg,” especially in a division higher than her natural weight class.
Nunes, however, seized the moment and shocked the world by stopping “Cyborg” in the very first round to achieve two-time champion status.
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