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October 1, 2014

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No. 2: Top 5 significant fights in UFC history

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UFC

Forrest Griffin, right, and Stephan Bonnar put on a fight for the ages during the finale of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The back-and-forth brawl seen on Spike TV is credited with saving the UFC.

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Editor's Note: The Ultimate Fighting Championship is celebrating its 100th show on July 11 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. In the days leading up to this historic night, the Las Vegas Sun is presenting a Top 10 list of key personalities and points that have helped propel the sport into the forefront of the world's fighting conscience.

UFC president Dana White credits Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar’s epic back-and-forth battle in April of 2005 for single-handily saving the struggling mixed martial arts organization.

No other UFC war gets White’s official “most important fight in UFC history” seal of approval.

But there’s been plenty of other brawls, sprawls, and mauls that head up a short list of bouts that could be referred to as the best-of-the-best.

Few fight fans will forget Tim Sylvia arguing with referee Herb Dean after the official called a stop to Sylvia’s bout with Frank Mir at UFC 48 when his right forearm broke under the pressure of an armbar.

Or Gabriel Gonzaga’s devastating head kick that ended Mirko "Cro cop" Filipović’s night early at UFC 70.

The excitement of Matt Hughes’ carry-across-the-cage/rear naked choke win over Frank Trigg at UFC 52 can’t be duplicated every night in the Octagon.

But as entertaining as those moments were, some fights carried an even stronger significance to the UFC reaching this Saturday’s milestone UFC 100 moment. In honor of the occasion, here’s an open-to-argument list of the Top 5 significant fights in UFC history.

No. 5 — Brock Lesnar def. Randy Couture (punches in the second round) at UFC 91 on Nov. 15, 2008 at the MGM Grand.

The fight proved that Lesnar was more than just marketing magic, and instead the former WWE sensation could actually contend at the highest level inside the Octagon.

In just his third UFC fight, Lesnar thoroughly beat down the legendary Couture, ending the bout with a flurry of hammer-fist punches after catching Couture with a staggering blow. The victory certainly seemed to signal a changing of the guard for a heavyweight division that was getting younger and more athletic.

Few have the physical gifts of the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Lesnar, or the ability to sell as many pay-per-view buys thanks to the large legion of pro wrestling fans that tuned in to see the transition of the South Dakota native from scripted action to MMA. With another wrestling star Bobby Lashley making a similar move, street legend Kimbo Slice entering the UFC fray and undefeated challengers in Cain Velasquez and Shane Carwin, the big boy division should be interesting for some time to come.

No. 4 — Chuck Liddell def. Tito Ortiz (punches in the third round) at UFC 66 on Dec. 30, 2006 at the MGM Grand.

White managed both fighters at one point, but a well documented falling out with Ortiz easily put him on “The Iceman’s” side during the contest that was seen by the largest pay-per-view audience in UFC history.

A sellout crowd of 14,607 attended the rematch hoping to see similar fireworks to those at UFC 47, when Liddell ended the long-awaited grudge match via a knockout.

“My No. 1 favorite knockout in UFC history was when Chuck Liddell knocked out Tito,” said White, recalling the first match. “Chuck and I both hated Tito and he gave me his gloves and his trunks.”

The audience — which included big-time celebrities like George Clooney, set a gate record of $5,397,300 — got their wish when the UFC’s biggest star’s celebrated after a flurry of punches ended Ortiz’s night in the third round. The match put to rest the five-year saga between Liddell, Ortiz and White and also ended the UFC’s biggest year in terms of pay-per-view purchases with a big bang of more than 1 million buys.

No. 3 — Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock fight to a draw after 36 minutes at UFC 5

On April 7, 1995, at the Independence Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The first superfight between the two future Hall of Famers set the table for so many more mano-a-mano matches to come in MMA. The result — with no judges on hand, the two fought to a draw after more than half an hour of action — left the 6,000 fans on hand, and a record 260,000 pay-per-viewers disappointed.

But Gracie’s unique style and Shamrock’s flair no doubt helped turn a whole generation of men on to the newly televised form of combat.

“Watching Royce Gracie winning the first tournament, I became inspired to do what I do now,” said UFC welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre. “Using the martial arts, a weapon no one knew at the time, he was able to win even though he was so much smaller than all the guys he fought. That really inspired me to get involved.”

No. 2 — Randy Couture def. Chuck Liddell (punches in the third round) at UFC 43 on June 6, 2003 at Thomas and Mack Center.

Couture and Liddell were both on their way to becoming the UFC’s biggest stars when they tangled for the first time.

Having suffered a verbal submission loss to Ricco Rodriguez in a heavyweight tile bout the fight before, Couture dropped down to the light heavyweight division and decided to trade with one of the game’s most dangerous strikers.

Couture wrote history when his furious third-round ground-and-pound forced an end to the fight and made him the first UFC fighter to win titles in different weight classes.

The two superstars met twice more with Liddell enacting revenge in both cases with KOs.

No. 1 — Forrest Griffin def. Stephan Bonnar at “TUF” No. 1 on April 9, 2005 in Las Vegas.

The light heavyweight finalists put on a show for the ages as the finale was broadcast live by Spike TV. It was the UFC’s first live event that was not on pay-per-view, and people took notice.

“These two stepped in there and started to fight and either people were channel surfing or watching it. They would pick up the phone and call their friends and go ‘Are you watching this fight on Spike TV?’” said White, of the back-and-forth war that Griffin finally won via a unanimous decision.

“During six minutes of that fight, the viewership actually got up to 10 million, outdrawing the Masters that day on CBS. That was it. That was what kick-started the UFC.”

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