Next month at Madison Square Garden, Jiri Prochazka and Alex Pereira meet for the vacant light heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 295.
For Prochazka, it’s a return to action and a chance to re-claim the title he never lost in competition, but rather opted to relinquish last year after suffering a severe shoulder injury. For Pereira, it’s a third consecutive November appearance at MSG, as he won his promotional debut at the famed arena in 2021 and claimed the middleweight title from Israel Adesanya last year at UFC 281.
The 205-pound weight class was the premier division in the UFC for a number of years, and produced a litany of entertaining and memorable contests that stand out over the 30-year history of the promotion.
Here’s a look back at some of the best of them in the latest edition of The 10.
UFC 22: Frank Shamrock Ded. Tito Ortiz By Submission (Strikes) At 4:50 Of Round 4
Shamrock’s entire five-fight UFC career consisted of title fight appearances and this was certainly his most memorable fight during that run. While his win over Igor Zinoviev is a better highlight, this bout showcased one of the key elements that made Shamrock one of the best fighters of his time.
For three-and-a-half rounds, Ortiz took Shamrock to the ground, content to hang out in guard, grinding out control time from top position while offering minimal offensive output. Shamrock stayed active off his back, landing short punches and palm strikes, but there was little force behind them. All he could do was bide his time and wait for an opportunity to explode, and he got it late in the fourth.
With a minute left in the round, Shamrock elevated Ortiz and scrambled to his feet, attacking the challenger with a flurry of kicks and punches, knowing he needed to do something to swing the momentum of the fight back in his favor. As Ortiz looked for another takedown, Shamrock grabbed onto a guillotine choke, using it to sweep to top position, where he released the hold and unloaded a series of heavy strikes to the head of the prone Ortiz.
“The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” tapped out in the center of the cage and Shamrock secured his fourth successful title defense.
UFC 66: Chuck Liddell Ded. Tito Ortiz By TKO (Punches) At 3:59 Of Round 3
This was the biggest fight in UFC history at the time — a clash between a pair of iconic fighters with a tense history — and it did not disappoint.
Liddell opened a cut over Ortiz’ left eye midway through the first and went hunting for the finish, dropping Ortiz and opening up with a torrent of punches. The challenger got back to his feet and had his most successful moments of the fight in the second, taking Liddell down momentarily and taking his back for a brief second late in the frame.
Midway through the third, however, Liddell re-opened the cut over Ortiz’ left eye and it seemed to spur the champion on. With 90 seconds left in the middle stanza, Ortiz tried to respond on the feet and the two started trading, and just like in his second fight with Couture, Liddell got the better of things.
A clubbing left hand and a long right uppercut put Ortiz on the canvas and when Liddell passed the legs and started unloading with ground-and-pound, referee Mario Yamasaki stepped in and stopped the fight.
UFC 71: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson Def. Chuck Liddell By KO (Punches) At 1:53 Of Round 1
Though Liddell had suffered a handful of defeats throughout his career, he had always managed to avenge those losses, but the one that had escaped him to this point in his career was his defeat to Jackson in the 2003 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix.
Fresh off a debut win over Marvin Eastman and with the winner pegged to face two-division PRIDE champion Dan Henderson next, Jackson turned in one of the best performances of his career.
Commanding the center of the cage, Jackson happily let Liddell paw at him from the outside, and when the champion threw a left to the body, the challenger countered with a right hand over the top that caught Liddell on the chin and put him on the canvas. The follow-up blows were academic — Liddell was out and “Rampage” was the new UFC light heavyweight champion.
UFC 98: Lyoto Machida Def. Rashad Evans By KO (Punches) At 3:57 Of Round 2
Starting with Jackson’s win over Liddell at UFC 71, the light heavyweight title began changing addresses with great frequency over the next couple of years. While “Rampage” successfully defended the title against Dan Henderson, he dropped the belt to Forrest Griffin in his next fight.
Griffin, in turn, dropped the title to Evans in his first title defense, setting up this showdown between the newly minted champion and the undefeated challenger.
Machida controlled the distance, slipping away from Evans’ attacks while offering scant offense of his own for most of the first round before a left hand put the champion on the canvas with a minute left in the frame.
The second played out largely the same as the first, with Machida keeping Evans off balance and the champion unable to find ways inside to land with force. The one difference, however, was that this time when Machida connected and had Evans hurt, “The Dragon” didn’t let up.
With Evans on shaky legs and groggily trying to tie up the challenger, Machida connected with a right hand along the fence that straightened Evans out, following it with a left hook to the chin that put the champion down for good, signaling the dawn of “The Machida Era.”
UFC 128: Jon Jones Def. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua By TKO (Knees And Punches) At 2:37 Of Round 3
“The Machida Era” officially lasted just under a year, as Rua eventually wrestled the title away from his countryman in their second encounter after many believed he had beaten the champion in this initial clash at UFC 104.
Ten months after winning the belt, Rua defended it for the first time, stepping in against the surging unbeaten upstart Jones, who jumped at the opportunity to replace his injured teammate and former titleholder Rashad Evans in the championship main event.
From the outset, it was clear that Jones was operating on a different level than Rua. He moved quicker and with greater purpose. His strikes were long and clean and forceful.
The challenger dominated, using his wrestling to ground Rua and rough him up on the canvas, mixing in punishment on the feet whenever they were standing. Midway through the third, Jones hurt Rua on the canvas, and when the champion rose to his feet, “Bones” put him away, ripping a left hook to the body that sent “Shogun” crumpling to the canvas.
And with that, history was made, as Jones became the youngest fighter in history to win UFC gold.
UFC 165: Jon Jones Def. Alexander Gustafsson By Unanimous Decision
For whatever reason, many people discounted the challenger’s chances against Jones in the preamble to their pairing at UFC 165 in Toronto. Early in the fight, Gustafsson showed that he wasn’t going to go quietly, and an epic encounter took shape.
Gustafsson won the first, opening a small cut over Jones’ right eye and taking the champion to the mat late in the frame, and from that point forward, it was a dogfight. No quarter was given and none was asked as Gustafsson showed he was clearly amongst the division’s elite and Jones was forced to show his heart and tenacity for the first time in his career.
The key moment came late in the fourth, as Jones, dealing with a now massive cut over his eye, connected with a spinning elbow that stung Gustafsson and forced him back into the fence. While he survived to the horn, it swung the momentum in the champion’s favor and bolstered Jones’ confidence.
The final five minutes was a battle of attrition — both men running on fumes, but unwilling to cede any ground, pressing to put a stamp on their performance and swing the verdict in their direction.
While Jones came away with the victory, Gustafsson lost nothing in this battle.
UFC 182: Jon JOnes Def. Daniel Cormier By Unanimous Decision
Jones and Cormier do not like each other and spent the build-up to this fight getting into physical and verbal altercations that made this championship clash one of the biggest in UFC history. It took a while for these two to finally land opposite one another in the cage, but once they did, it proved to be as tense and entertaining as everyone anticipated.
Unbeaten at the time, Cormier had successfully transitioned to light heavyweight and seemed capable of ending Jones’ lengthy reign atop the division, but the champion had no interest in relinquishing the throne.
While Cormier had his moments, Jones proved his superiority throughout the contest, out-working the two-time Olympian in the clinch and along the fence, stifling his takedown attempts and generally frustrating Cormier at every turn. Where the win over Gustafsson showed Jones’ mettle, this performance further underscored just how gifted an athlete and complete he was as a mixed martial artist.
Jones has had many great performances, but this might have been the best of his career.
UFC 192: Daniel Cormier Def. Alexander Gustafsson By Split Decision
Cormier claimed the title with a third-round submission win over Anthony Johnson five months earlier, and just as with his first shot at the light heavyweight title, many were counting Gustafsson out heading into this one, as the Swedish challenger was coming off a devastating first-round knockout loss to “Rumble” at the start of the year.
But just as he did against Jones two years earlier, “The Mauler” rose to the occasion and pushed the champion to his limit.
While Gustafsson used his length and smooth boxing to snipe at Cormier in space and sting the champion, “DC” did the majority of his work inside, tying up with Gustafsson and landing short, hard shots from the collar-tie position. Every time one man would start to build momentum, the other would come roaring back, leaving the crowd at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas on the edge of their seats.
In the fifth, Cormier kept the pressure on Gustafsson, forcing the challenger to circle away numerous times while punctuating his performance with more successful dirty boxing inside.
While one judge saw the fight for the challenger, two had the tens and nines in favor of the champion. Although the judges were split on the decision, the public opinion was unanimous — this was a tremendous fight and one of the best in the history of the light heavyweight division.
UFC 247: Jon Jones Def. Dominick Reyes By Unanimous Decision
This one is destined to go down as a “fork in the road” moment in the careers of both men, as Jones has only fought once since, and this debated defeat began an extended run of negative results for Reyes.
I thought Reyes won the fight.
Watching at home, it seemed like the challenger did enough to win the first three rounds, working a stick-and-move approach where he was the more active and effective of the two early before getting on his bike as Jones looked to claw his way back into the fight in the championship rounds. While it didn’t make for the most exciting fight, Reyes was sharp in those early frames, doing well to avoid much of what was coming back his way and keep things on the feet.
Jones certainly won the final two rounds, stepping on the gas a little more as Reyes began to fade, but when it came time for the scores to be read aloud, it felt like Bruce Buffer was going to follow the totals by bellowing, “And… NEW!” and it felt even more assured when he announced all three judges had scored the bout for the same fighter.
But Jones landed on the happy side of the decision, garnering scores of 48-47 twice and 49-46 once in a bout where all three scorecards were different. Not long after, Jones relinquished the title and began a sabbatical that lasted a little over three years before he moved up in weight and won the heavyweight crown.
UFC 275: Jiri Prochazka Def. Glover Teixeira By Submission (Rear-Naked Choke) At 4:32 Of Round 5
Teixeira had claimed the light heavyweight title the previous October in Abu Dhabi, besting Jan Blachowicz to become the oldest first-time champion in UFC history. For his first defense, he was paired off with the chaotic and dangerous Prochazka, who had registered stoppage wins over Volkan Oezdemir and Reyes to establish himself as the No. 1 contender.
This fight was like being on a boat in the middle of a massive storm as the shifts in momentum were considerable — one man appearing to seize control only for the other to quickly counter with something substantial of their own.
For nearly five full rounds, champion and challenger went back-and-forth in a fight that in hindsight feels punctuated by missed opportunities. Each had the other hurt and in bad spots at different times throughout the contest, but neither was able to capitalize fully, as they either got a little ahead of themselves or made tactical choices that ended up working against them.
With 90 seconds remaining in the fight, Teixeira was ahead on the scorecards and positioned in mount, raining down elbows on Prochazka. Thirty seconds later, he was stuck on bottom, the challenger in side control, attacking a mounted crucifix that prompted the champion to buck and roll, exposing his back. In the transition, the Czech standout adjusted quicker, lacing up the rear-naked choke, leaving the Brazilian veteran no choice but to tap.
This was a frenetic fight that felt like a changing of the guard atop the light heavyweight division, and now, 17 months later, Prochazka is finally back and looking to reclaim his place on the throne next month in Manhattan.