(credit to MMA 24/7 for lighting the fire under my backside to complete this blog today instead of waiting until UFC 167 on Saturday)

November 12th, 1993. It was on this day that the world – albeit a much smaller audience than what they draw these days – was first exposed to The Ultimate Fighting Championship. Viewers were witness an eight-man tournament with essentially no rules. If you knocked out your opponent, made them submit, forced their corner to throw in the towel, or just hurt them to the point of being able to continue, you moved on. The crowd at this event was less than 3,000, with a pay-per-view buyrate of 86,000. Compare that to UFC 100 (July 11th, 2009) with a crowd of 10,871, and a buyrate of 1.6 million. The UFC has come a long way in their 20 years, and many memorable fights have taken place in that time.

UFC 3 (September 9, 1994) was my first exposure to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. My parents had ordered cable at the beginning of that week, and whether they intended it or not, the cable company did not scramble the feed for the pay-per-view that Saturday night. My standout memory for that event was the fight with Royce Gracie submitting Kimo. The look of Kimo combined with the fight style and technique of Gracie (over the years, I would learn extensively of the Gracie legacy) stuck with me. It wasn’t until the end of 1996, over two years later, when we first bought a computer and subscribed to internet service, that I could start keeping track of UFC on my own.

Having been a fan of professional wrestling with a penchant for cheering for the bad guys, it should have been no surprise that I would end up becoming a fan of “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz. His feud with Ken Shamrock leading up to their first fight at UFC 40 had me hooked, and that fight convinced me to buy my very first DVD of a UFC event after its release. Outside of Ortiz/Shamrock, that event also had a slew of other fighters who have done well for themselves over the years (Chuck Liddell, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Matt Hughes, Robbie Lawler, Andrei Arlovski, and others).

There are many other fights, and fighters, that have stood out to me over the years. In honor of 20 years of UFC, here are 20 fights that are memorable to me for various reasons.

– Shonie Carter vs Matt Serra at UFC 31. First time ever seeing the spinning back fist used as a fight finisher.

– Stephan Bonnar vs Forrest Griffin at the finale for the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Quite possibly the best fight I’ve ever seen, and it’s unquestionable as to how much this fight kicked the doors wide open for UFC in regards to further mainstream exposure.

– Georges St-Pierre vs Jason Miller at UFC 52. Miller’s kip-up leading straight into a GSP haymaker was epic.

– Chuck Liddell vs Randy Couture at UFC 57. Liddell’s domination and Couture’s subsequent retirement announcement was a bittersweet end to that night.

– Royce Gracie vs Matt Hughes at UFC 60. It was Gracie’s return to UFC after an 11-year absence, although he didn’t fare well and was finished within the very first round.

– Matt Serra vs Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69. Serra pulled off what we at Buffalo Wild Wings all thought was an improbable “upset”, and that event also initiated the discussion of Alan Belcher’s ridiculous tattoo work.

– Gray Maynard vs Rob Emerson from the finale of the Pulver/Penn season of The Ultimate Fighter. Insane no-contest finish as Maynard knocked himself out on a takedown, all while Emerson tapped out because of a rib injury.

– Houston Alexander vs Keith Jardine at UFC 71. Alexander got my attention as being from East St. Louis IL (you don’t come from there without being tough), and fighting out of Omaha (where he trained with a pro wrestling friend of mine). In under a minute, he knocked out Jardine including landing a punch that lifted Jardine.

– Brock Lesnar vs Frank Mir at UFC 81. The much-anticipated UFC debut of Lesnar, the fight was fast-paced from the start & wrapped up in less than 2 minutes after Lesnar got caught in a kneebar submission.

– Kalib Starnes vs Nate Quarry at UFC 83. The fight I’d care to forget. Starnes entered to “Bittersweet Symphony” and proceeded to put up a stinker of a fight, suffering a foot injury early in the fight and basically ran away from Quarry for the remainder of the fight. Only time I’ve ever seen a 30-24 judge’s ruling on a 3-round fight.

– Clay Guida vs Mac Danzig at UFC Fight Night 15. I was already a fan of Danzig’s, and that fight subsequently got me hooked on the personality and energy of Guida.

– Chael Sonnen vs Anderson Silva at UFC 117. First time that Silva looked beatable, as Sonnen outworked him for 4 rounds before getting caught and submitted midway in the fifth and final round.

– Junior Dos Santos vs Cain Velasquez at UFC on Fox 1. Super-fast paced straight out of the gate, and 1:04 later it was over.

– Brock Lesnar vs Alaistair Overeem at UFC 141. The matchup of monsters saw Lesnar take a wicked kick to the ribs which crumbled him. His post-fight speech and subsequent retirement was the most humble he’d sounded while in UFC.

– Ian McCall vs Demetrious Johnson on UFC on FX 2. AMAZING flyweight fight that should have gone to an extra sudden-death round, but it was incorrectly scored.

– Johny Hendricks vs Martin Kampmann at UFC 154. Essentially over before it even started. His quick KO victory, coupled with GSP’s decision win over Carlos Condit in that card’s main event, would begin to set up the highly-anticipated main event of this Saturday’s event at UFC 167.

– George St-Pierre vs Nick Diaz at UFC 158. Having never been a fan of either of the Diaz brothers, watching Nick get worked over consistently for a full five rounds (with all three judges scoring 50-45) was a pleasure.

– James Krause vs Sam Stout at UFC 161. Krause did the improbable in his UFC debut, fighting a veteran Canadian in Canada and outworking him for 2+ rounds before submitting him with 13 seconds left in the third round, earning himself a double-bonus (Fight of the Night, Submission of the Night).

– Tim Elliott vs Louis Gaudinot at UFC 164. While not earning a fight bonus like he did in his previous fight, Elliott put on a clinic, outstriking Gaudinot by over 200 on his way to a decision in which two judges scored the fight 30-26.

– Gilbert Melendez vs Diego Sanchez at UFC 166. After looking like he could have been done after the first round, Melendez outfought and outwarred Sanchez to a unanimous decision that brought out the best in both fighters.

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