Photo courtesy: UFC
This Saturday night, the UFC presents UFC 239 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada as part of International Fight Week. Unlike past years, there is only one fight card this year with the pay-per-view. The tradition of the UFC running during the Fourth of July weekend goes back to 2006 and has featured some of the promotion’s biggest cards in its history. Here is a look at some of those highlights:
*UFC 61 (July 8, 2006): Six weeks earlier, they broke their record of pay-per-view buys for the Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie card from Los Angeles that drew 600,000 buys. On this night, with the rematch between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock following the third season of TUF they did 775,000 buys and were on fire. The fight was a big disappointment as Ortiz finished Shamrock early and there was outrage that it was an early stoppage, which turned into a blessing as they had an excuse for a third fight that aired on free television that October that millions tuned into on Spike. Ortiz and Shamrock is one of the most important feuds in UFC history with each fight having a spot among the promotion’s legacy in their rise. This card also featured a horrendous heavyweight title fight where Tim Sylvia defeated Andrei Arlovski by unanimous decision to retain the title.
*UFC 73 Stacked (July 7, 2007) – The card was named Stacked due to its deep lineup but the legacy of that name is because of the irony that Sean Sherk and opponent Hermes Franca both tested positive in their post-fight drug tests with the California State Athletic Commission. Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans fought to a draw, which would have been a win for Ortiz if he didn’t grab the cage and have a point deducted. This was the first time I could recall an Ortiz fight meaning less than it should and it wasn’t a coincidence that it happened several months after UFC and Spike ran a documentary building up a fight between Ortiz and Dana White that climaxed with Ortiz not showing up for the fight and painting him as being scared of White. It was just as baffling back then when it aired. This also featured the UFC debut of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira after the folding of PRIDE and he overcame an early knockdown to earn a decision over Heath Herring. The opening prelim that you couldn’t watch that night unless you were in the building featured Frankie Edgar stopping Mark Bocek.
*UFC 86 (July 5, 2008) – Forrest Griffin became the light heavyweight champion defeating Quinton Jackson by unanimous decision. This was a great fight and the decision was debated at the time. The two served as coaches for Season 7 of Ultimate Fighter, which has the trivia note of featuring current NXT wrestler Matt Riddle.
*UFC 100 (July 9, 2009) – The biggest show of the promotion’s history until the era of Conor McGregor. It was sheer luck this show ended up as big as it did. Frank Mir submitted Brock Lesnar in February 2008 and Lesnar would build himself up and become UFC heavyweight champion the prior November when he beat Randy Couture. Mir became interim champion and set up the inevitable rematch. The two were supposed to fight at UFC 98 in May but was postponed due to Mir suffering an injury and placed on this card. It was coupled with a welterweight title fight between Georges St-Pierre and Thiago Alves and the TUF 9 coaches – Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping facing off in a big grudge fight. On top of that, the number ‘100’ meant a lot and is the answer everyone should given when people ask why the UFC continues numbering their shows. On the prelims, a young fighter named Jon Jones defeated Jake O’Brien to earn his third UFC victory. The night ended with Lesnar avenging his loss to Mir and then cutting a promo against sponsor Budweiser stating he prefers Coors and was going to go home and ‘get on top’ of his wife (Rena Mero a.k.a. Sable).
*UFC 116 (July 3, 2010) – For the second straight year, Brock Lesnar was the featured attraction of the July card and fought Shane Carwin. Over the past year, everyone looked at Lesnar, Carwin, and rising star Cain Velasquez as the heavyweights to watch and Lesnar would fight both that year. Carwin was destroying Lesnar in the first round and referee Josh Rosenthal did not stop it, which would not have controversial if he did. Carwin threw out everything and had nothing left by Round 2 and was submitted. With Steve Austin, Jim Ross, Bill Goldberg, and Paul Heyman in the audience, this was the peak of the pro wrestling crossover speared on by Lesnar’s success. This was also one of the best UFC shows of all-time with a great story involving Chris Leben winning a fight two weeks prior over Aaron Simpson and then coming back on this card to submit Yoshihiro Akiyama.
*UFC 132 (July 2, 2011) – It was headlined by a rematch between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, who fought in WEC and Faber submitted. The two served as coaches and had an excellent rivalry where Cruz was the smug and arrogant villain and Faber was the Kerry Von Erich babyface. Cruz won the rematch convincingly and was clearly the top bantamweight in the UFC’s newly formed division since absorbing the WEC talent. During fight week, most believed this would be it for Tito Ortiz, but he pulled off a remarkable upset by submitting Ryan Bader, which was a hell of a win and became the biggest story of the weekend. Chris Leben had another memorable July appearance with a 27 second knockout of Wanderlei Silva.
*UFC 148 (July 7, 2012) – One of the biggest rematches to date headlined this card as Anderson Silva defended his middleweight title against his toughest challenge and top rival Chael Sonnen. In their first fight, Sonnen was seconds away from securing a clear-cut decision win and was caught in a submission when they fought in August 2010. Silva desperately needed a rival and Sonnen answered that call. After a post-fight drug test failure and time away, they didn’t have a rematch for two years, but this fight was gigantic. It was all Silva, who stopped Sonnen in the second round with a knee to the body. The sequence was replicated on Raw that Monday by CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. Tito Ortiz had his first retirement fight against Forrest Griffin, which Griffin won by decision and regretted his goofy post-fight speech and would apologize. Ortiz would return in less than two years and fight for Bellator. On the prelims, Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Gleison Tibau by decision and while it was 30-27 from all three judges, Tibau fought him competitively in all three rounds.
*UFC 163 (July 6, 2013) – This show was the changing of the guard at middleweight with heavy underdog Chris Weidman stopping Anderson Silva and ending his near seven-year title reign as middleweight champion. It wasn’t the biggest upset in UFC history, but it was every bit as shocking as watching Fedor Emelianenko lose to Fabricio Werdum or any dominant figure finally losing. The two had a rematch in December, which is the fight where Silva’s leg snapped, and he’s never been the same level of fighter since these losses. Weidman held the title for over two years, losing it to Luke Rockhold in December 2015. It was a life-changing win for Weidman and will likely be the defining moment of his career.
*UFC 175 (July 5, 2014) – The show featured two title fights with the strategy of Chris Weidman and Ronda Rousey co-headlining, which they had done at UFC 168 the prior December and was a successful formula. Weidman defeated Lyoto Machida is an outstanding fight with a unanimous decision victory and Rousey needed 16 seconds to knock out Alexis Davis. After this fight, Rousey rose to another level of superstar because her fights started drawing way larger numbers on pay-per-view with her next fight against Cat Zingano doing 600,000 buys without any support on the main card and then jumping to 900,000 against Bethe Correia.
*UFC 189 (July 11, 2015) – This was the launch of Conor McGregor as a mega star. Prior to this card, he had only fought on pay-per-view once and was not the main event when he fought Dustin Poirier the prior September. This was scheduled to be the big showdown with Jose Aldo for the featherweight, but Aldo had to pull out two weeks earlier and was replaced by Chad Mendes. The new wrinkle was how McGregor would fare against a top-flight wrestler, although Mendes was not in fight-ready shape when he accepted the fight. There was a sea of Irish fans that traveled to the show and produced an amazing atmosphere, complete with Sinead O’Connor performing as McGregor walked to the cage. The UFC set their new gate record with $7.2 million at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which McGregor has topped four times since in the state. This was the best card of 2015 and also featured the Fight of the Year between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald. This year began the experiment of running multiple shows in the weekend with a TUF Finale on Sunday headlined by Stephen Thompson knocking out Jake Ellenberger and Kamaru Usman winning the TUF contract by submitting Hayder Hassan.
*UFC 200 (July 9, 2016) – This was a show riddled by problems and was propped up to be the greatest UFC card of all-time due to the significance of International Fight Week and its number. The week of the fight was the craziest one I ever covered with three UFC cards from Thursday through Saturday, including Eddie Alvarez defeating Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight title on the Thursday card. The major news was a drug violation by Jon Jones and his removal from his rematch with Daniel Cormier and Anderson Silva stepping in to replace Jones. As a result, the new main event was Miesha Tate defending the women’s bantamweight title against Amanda Nunes, who knocked out Tate and began her reign that continues today. The real main event was Brock Lesnar’s return for the first time in 2011 and WWE allowing him to fight on the card against Mark Hunt. There was part of the deal that included an ad for SummerSlam that ran during the show and promoted Lesnar’s match with Randy Orton that year. After Lesnar’s win over Hunt, a pair of drug test failures were reported and soured Lesnar’s victory and while constantly teasing it, has never fought since. This was also a card that was set to feature the rematch Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz after their first fight in March. McGregor had a public standoff with UFC, and he was off the card, threatened to retire and ultimately made up and fought Diaz in August that year. The result? The UFC had two massive pay-per-views instead of one that summer. Days after this show, the announcement of the UFC’s sale was official with one of the largest transactions in sports history.
*UFC 213 (July 8, 2017) – This show was scheduled to feature Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw fighting for the title but Garbrandt had a back injury and the two wouldn’t fight until November. This show was not big and the least memorable of the 4th of July weekend shows. The bantamweight title fight between Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko fell apart in the days leading up and was left with an interim middleweight title fight where Robert Whittaker defeated Yoel Romero.
*UFC 226 (July 7, 2018) – The night that cemented Daniel Cormier’s legacy as he returned to heavyweight and defeated the dominant champion Stipe Miocic, who had been champion for over two years. Cormier caught Miocic and finished the fight in the first round. Brock Lesnar entered the cage and essentially shot his own angle, cut a promo burying the heavyweights and everyone assumed the next fight was set except Lesnar had no deal with the UFC. The card also featured one of the worst fights of 2018 with Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou going three rounds with minimal action and Lewis winning.