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UFC President Dana White places the interim lightweight championship belt on Dustin Poirier after defeating Max Holloway in their interim lightweight championship bout during the UFC 236 event at State Farm Arena on April 13, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
UFC Fight Pass

Desert Island Fights | Part 5

If You’re Trapped On An Island And Had To Choose A Handful Of Fights You Couldn’t Live Without, What Would You Choose?

To determine which fights I enshrined into my edition Desert Island Fights, I took the “Spotify Wrapped” approach.

Once a year, the music streaming service Spotify sends you your most-played songs and stats for the previous year. All at once it can be a validating, illuminating and humbling experience.

With that in mind, I went into UFC FIGHT PASS and looked at which UFC bouts I’ve watched the most on repeat over the years.

MORE DESERT ISLAND FIGHTS: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

One caveat: I didn’t include any fights that my esteemed colleagues have already written about in the first four iterations of this series. That means obvious classics like Zhang Weili vs Joanna Jędrzejczyk 1, Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen 1 and the Sgt. Pepper of MMA fights: Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald 2 might all have made this list if I had written Part 1. That’s okay, though; there’s an absolute bounty of great fights in the UFC FIGHT PASS library, and if these were the 10 that I was destined to live with for all eternity, I’d be a happy man.

In no particular order:

Max Holloway vs Justin Gaethje
UFC 300: Pereira vs Hill - April 13, 2024

Accuse me of the recency bias on this one if you must, but I defy you to explain to me how this BMF belt classic won’t be on all manner of ‘Best Of’ lists until the end of time.

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If you had seen this bout in a Hollywood movie, you’d laugh and say, ‘that could never happen,’ which just makes it all the more unreal. I mean, just watch the reaction of Holloway and Gaethje’s UFC peers on the video embedded below this paragraph. You know it’s a singular moment when the best fighters in the world can only express disbelief.

Fighters React To Max Holloway's BMF Knockout Punch
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Fighters React To Max Holloway's BMF Knockout Punch
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Holloway had dominated most of the fight and really only needed to get on his bike in the waning moments to secure the BMF belt for himself. So why—why—did he invite Gaethje, one of the scariest men to ever fight at lightweight, to go full Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots in the middle of the Octagon as the seconds ticked down?

“If that’s not a BMF moment, I don’t know what is,” Holloway would say later. “These are the types of things you do to etch your name in the history books.”

Dustin Poirier vs Max Holloway 2
UFC 236: Holloway vs Poirier 2 - April 13, 2019

To be perfectly candid, if you only gave me the Dustin Poirier fight library for my isolation on a desert island, I’d be 100% happy. Show me when the guy was in a boring fight. They’re all bangers, they’re all interesting, and win or lose, they’re all edge-of-your-seat.

That’s certainly true of this bout, a rematch with Max Holloway for the interim lightweight title. I was fortunate enough to be in the venue that night in Atlanta, and I recall somewhere after the final bell that I was dizzy for having held my breath for nearly the entirety of the 25 minutes. Watch it again and you’ll see why.

Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway embrace after finishing five rounds in their interim lightweight championship bout during the UFC 236 event at State Farm Arena on April 13, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway embrace after finishing five rounds in their interim lightweight championship bout during the UFC 236 event at State Farm Arena on April 13, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

The main event followed a co-main of equal nail-biting drama (Israel Adesanya vs Kelvin Gastelum, celebrated in Part 3 of Desert Island Fights by my colleague Gavin Porter), and it seemed like an impossible show to follow. Strangely enough, it wasn’t.

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Holloway, as he is prone to do, won the volume game when it came to striking. And Poirier, as he is prone to do, won the power game and ultimately the unanimous decision. But it was a thrilling anything-can-happen brawl until the final bell, when all in attendance at State Farm Arena finally exhaled.

Jéssica Andrade vs Claudia Gadelha
UFC Fight Night: Saint Preux vs Okami - September 22, 2017

This Fight of the Night co-main was easily the highlight of the  Saitama Super Arena festivities back in 2017, and remains an all-time classic. Both fighters had lost their chance at strawweight gold to the great Joanna Jędrzejczyk and were eager to show they still had what it takes. And boy, did they.

Full Fight | Jéssica Andrade vs Claudia Gadelha
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Full Fight | Jéssica Andrade vs Claudia Gadelha
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Gadelha’s elite BJJ certainly had its moments, but it was really a night that started to separate Andrade’s striking from the rest of her peers at 115 pounds, to say nothing of the numerous WWE-style body slams throughout. Andrade still regards this performance as her favorite among her nearly 40 pro fights and it’s easy to see why.

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This is as good a strawweight bout that exists, and that’s a hill I’ll forever die on. A brilliant cocktail of technique, violence and sportsmanship, this 15 minutes has it all.

Frank Mir vs Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira
UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008 - December 27, 2008

Even as he fast approaches the age of 50, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira still cuts a pretty imposing figure and it seems unlikely, even today, that someone—anyone—could knock him out. Flash back to 2008 and the notion sounded damn near impossible, particularly by the likes of Frank Mir, who recorded the first ever TKO of “Big Nog” at UFC 92.

Frank Mir (white shorts) def. Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira (red shorts) - TKO - 1:54 round 2 during the UFC 92 at MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 27, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Frank Mir (white shorts) def. Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira (red shorts) - TKO - 1:54 round 2 during the UFC 92 at MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 27, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Minotauro felt unstoppable back then. He had been both the PRIDE and UFC heavyweight champion and was riding a three-fight win streak into this bout for the right to face Brock Lesnar for the heavyweight title.

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But Mir had other plans and looked quite possibly as good as he ever would; maintaining distance and using some crisp boxing to stymie the Brazilian legend. And for those who chirped that Mir was “never quite the same” following a career-threatening motorcycle accident, he silenced them once and for all.

Jeremy Stephens vs Dooho Choi
UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs Choi - January 14, 2018

This fight is a fascinating study in dualities: the calm, calculated, placid precision of Dooho Choi and the full-throttle fury of Jeremy Stephens.

Full Fight | Jeremy Stephens vs Dooho Choi
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Full Fight | Jeremy Stephens vs Dooho Choi
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When the fighters are evenly matched, fury rarely wins those matchups, but “Lil Heathen” was at the peak of his game and nothing was going to stop him on this freezing night in St. Louis. The finish still takes my breath away even now.

Dominick Cruz vs TJ Dillashaw
UFC Fight Night: Dillashaw vs Cruz, January 17, 2016

If I didn’t know better, you could probably convince me that Dom Cruz had somehow found a time machine, gone into the future and watched this fight, and then came back armed with the knowledge of how to win the bantamweight title.

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Dominick Cruz punches TJ Dillashaw in their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside TD Garden on January 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Dominick Cruz punches TJ Dillashaw in their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside TD Garden on January 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

That’s not to say TJ made it easy; it was a split decision, after all. But throughout the 25 minutes, there’s this inescapable feeling that “The Dominator” seems to know the move that’s coming and how to counter it, like a video game you’ve played a hundred times and finally won.

Irene Aldana vs Lucie Pudilova
UFC 228: Woodley vs Till - September 8, 2018

Maybe it’s because it was just the second fight of the early prelims, or perhaps because Conor vs Khabib was percolating just a few weeks in the future, but this fight is criminally overlooked in the pantheon of great bantamweight throwdowns.

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Irene Aldana of Mexico punches Lucie Pudilova of Czech Republic in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC 228 event at American Airlines Center on September 8, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Irene Aldana of Mexico punches Lucie Pudilova of Czech Republic in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC 228 event at American Airlines Center on September 8, 2018 in Dallas,TX (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Yes, it won Fight of the Night, so I at least feel validated that the powers that be were watching the same fight I was, but when was the last time you heard someone mention it? Go look at it now, you’ll witness the deft counterstriking that eventually earned Aldana a title shot, and an absolutely wild effort from Pudilova, fighting forward like she was possessed. So close was that conflict that nearly a split decision felt inevitable.

Wanderlei Silva vs Brian Stann
UFC on FUEL TV 8 - March 2, 2013

There’s a famous country song that intones “I’m not as good as once was, but I can be as good once as I ever was” and for me that perfectly encapsulates Wanderlei Silva knocking out Brian Stann at Saitama Super Arena.

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Wanderlei Silva Reacts With Megan Olivi | UFC Hall of Fame
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Wanderlei Silva Reacts With Megan Olivi | UFC Hall of Fame
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It might have served a fitting bookend for the 2024 UFC Hall Of Famer who scored both a performance bonus and a Fight of the Night bonus for his victory over Brian Stann, who was younger, faster and favored by most to win, coupled with fact it all happened in Japan, where “The Axe Murderer” first made audiences sit up and take notice during his days in PRIDE.

Yazmin Jauregui vs Iasmin Lucindo
UFC Fight Night: Cruz vs Vera - August 13, 2022

This bout is one I’m nominating for the “modern classics” wing of this very unofficial Desert Island Hall of Fame. When the bout was first announced, it caused a bit of confusion among fans: why were two relatively unknown debutants featured in the middle of the main card of a stacked SoCal fight night? Within mere moments of the opening bell, the question had been answered. 15 minutes later, the raucous, sweaty crowd at Pechanga Arena was on its feet and roaring. Dana White himself met each fighter as they exited the Octagon to express how impressed he was. Let that sink in for a second.

Full Fight | Yazmin Jauregui vs Iasmin Lucindo
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Full Fight | Yazmin Jauregui vs Iasmin Lucindo
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I’d wager my life savings on the notion that at least one, if not both, of the women involved will fight for the strawweight title one day (time is on their side, one of them is 25 and the other is 22), and we’ll look back at this fight as the incredible origin story of an incredible UFC career.

Michael Bisping vs Luke Rockhold 2
UFC 199: Rockhold vs Bisping 2 - June 4, 2016

"I'm going to knock him out. He's going to be laying on the floor. He's going to look up at the stars and think 'S***, I just lost my belt to somebody that came in on two weeks’ notice.'"

They don’t call him “Mystic Mike,” but Bisping did predict these things in a fight that caps my list for its pure storytelling perfection. Not only do I watch this fight on the regular, but I sometimes indulge in the media and press conferences that surrounded UFC 199, just to relive the entire sequence like a Hollywood movie. The entire run-up, the fight and the epilogue are a complete chef's kiss.

Referee Big John McCarthy pulls Michael Bisping (blue gloves) off of opponent Luke Rockhold (red gloves) after knocking him out to win their Middleweight Title Bout at UFC 199 at The Forum on June 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Referee Big John McCarthy pulls Michael Bisping off of Luke Rockhold (red gloves) after knocking him out to win their Middleweight Title Bout at UFC 199 at The Forum on June 4, 2016 in Inglewood, CA (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Previously beaten at the hands of Rockhold, Bisping was feeling himself when he got the short notice call to replace Chris Weidman in the middleweight main event. “The Count” had just defeated Anderson Silva and was rightfully swollen with confidence that he could defeat any man, including the champion Rockhold, which he did emphatically in the first round. The fall, the rise, the redemption…it’s all here and I never tire of reliving those wild two weeks.

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"Some say revenge is sweet,” Bisping beamed at the post-fight presser. “I disagree. I say it's better than sweet."

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