21 of the biggest rivalries in MMA history [UPDATED]

UFC 229: Khabib v McGregor Press Conference
UFC 229: Khabib v McGregor Press Conference / Steven Ryan/GettyImages
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BJ Penn and Matt Hughes

Many times the rivalries in MMA begin when a champion is dethroned or is in danger of being dethroned. This next rivalry is the first option. BJ Penn is a colorful character, always was and probably always will be. He made his start in the UFC as a member of the lightweight division. When he fought Caol Uno to a draw in the UFC lightweight tournament, the UFC decided to move away from the division. This force Penn to move up to welterweight, a division where he was seriously undersized and would have to take on the bigger fighters.

The champion at that time was Matt Hughes. Hughes was the heavy favorite when he fought Penn and to everyone’s surprise, Penn defeated Hughes by first round submission. There was some trash talk leading up to the fight, Hughes felt disrespected by Penn moving up in weight for an immediate title shot, but after the fight, the bad blood intensified.

After a short time away from the UFC Penn returned looking to regain his lost title. Hughes was set to face Georges St-Pierre when an injury removed St-Pierre from the fight. Penn stepped in and the rivalry was reignited. Penn was critical of Hughes punching power, suggesting that he was only a submission guy. Hughes said that a lucky punch by Penn in the first fight was the reason he was submitted at all. The second fight was for pride for both of these men. The fight took place at UFC 63 and this time it was Hughes who won by third-round TKO.

Penn returned to lightweight and Hughes continued on in the division, winning some and losing some. When Penn won the lightweight belt and decided to make the return to welterweight Hughes was waiting. The third fight took place at UFC 123 on Nov. 20, 2010. This time it was Penn who came out hard and caught Hughes with a first round KO.

Hughes has since retired from fighting. That fight with Hughes was the last fight Penn won, Penn has since retired and now working in politics in Hawaii.