1. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Connor McGregor for the UFC lightweight title at UFC 229
Let’s get controversial.
Yes, I did state that in order for a fight to make my top five list, it had to be objectively a good fight for MMA fans. I won’t deny it, objectively, this is easily the least entertaining of the five fights I picked, perhaps it is even worse than some of the honorable mentions I left out, however, this is where criterion 2 comes into play. No fight other than Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Connor McGregor can claim to have as much historical impact on MMA as a whole.
The build-up alone is the stuff of legends. McGregor throwing a trolley through a bus that Nurmagomedov was in, the insane (and oftentimes inappropriate) comments hurled by McGregor against his opponent's family, religion, and ethics. The sheer amount of security guards surrounding these two at any press conference was enough to convince the world that this fight was going to be different than anything we had seen.
Outside of the build-up, this fight was enormous for one key reason. The return of ‘The Notorious’ Connor McGregor. After a hiatus in which he boxed Floyd Mayweather, McGregor was back, looking to claim the title he vacated to pursue his boxing endeavor. He was set to run into a force unlike any seen in MMA, the undefeated and basically untouchable Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Having essentially never lost a round in his whole career, the questions surrounding this event were too many to ask. Would McGregor’s power spark Nurmagomedov out? Would McGregor have trained enough to actually put up a fight against the elite-level sambo of his opponent? That, plus all the animosity, made it impossible for any MMA fan to miss.
Such was the case. An MMA record 20 thousand fans witnessed the historic clash, leading to a Nevada state record of $17.2 million generated from the live gate. UFC 229 shattered the pay-per-view buys record, generating a total of 2.6 million buys in the USA alone. That is still third all-time for all combat sports, including boxing.
The fight might not have been much to write home about as Nurmagomedov repeatedly took his rival down before submitting him in the fourth, however, the fighting was far from over. In what has now the most iconic post-fight moment, Nurmagomedov jumped the cage to attack McGregor’s team, leading to an all-out brawl in the arena.
Again, is this objectively the greatest lightweight fight of all-time? Probably not. One thing you can’t take away from this is the fact that it has become the most distinguished event in MMA history simply because of the build-up, the actual fight, the viewership records AND the post-fight scuffle. Simply put, this fight put MMA on a whole other level of popularity and without it, who knows where the sport would be.