UFC in Los Angeles: Five Memorable Southern California Moments

UFC 199 Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping
Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

UFC returns to Los Angeles this weekend for UFC 227. With two title fights and a quality card, the promotion has once again shown Southern California the love. They’ve had some memorable moments in L.A. over the years; where will Saturday’s card stack up?

While the UFC has been around since 1993, it took nearly 13 years (and 69 events) for the promotion to make their first trip to Southern California. They then stuck around for a while, and held back-to-back pay-per-views in Anaheim and Los Angeles respectively in the spring of 2006. Now, a trip or two is expected each year.

There’s been 12 total UFC events in So Cal: seven in Anaheim, four in Los Angeles, and one in Inglewood. There’s even been a canceled event, UFC 176, which was scrapped in August of 2014 due to an injury to Jose Aldo.

The promotion has not only made Southern California, but the entirety of the golden state, a regular stop in their yearly event calendar. But, it all started with a PPV double-dip in Anaheim and Los Angeles more than a decade ago. We’re headed back again this weekend for UFC 227. Featuring a couple of top-notch title-fights, the UFC is once again showing their appreciation for their Southern California fans.

As we look forward to another fun weekend of MMA in LA, we decided to take a look back at some of the most memorable moments from the UFC’s trips to So Cal. Regardless of the specific location, the promotion has had created some incredible memories for fans and fighters alike.

UFC goes to California

The first time is always memorable. For UFC 59: Reality Check in Anaheim, the promotion made sure to bring some names nobody would forget. Featuring Nick Diaz-Sean Sherk, Tito Ortiz-Forrest Griffin, and Andrei Arlovski defending his heavyweight title, the card was made for the bright lights of Southern California.

The spotlight, though, would be stolen by title-challenger Tim Sylvia. A high point in one of the most interesting careers in the promotion’s history, UFC 59 saw Sylvia re-claim his heavyweight crown nearly three years after he was stripped of the title.

The second of four fights between Sylvia and Arlovski, and the first of back-to-back title bouts against each other, saw Sylvia once again become the heavyweight champion with a first-round TKO. Sylvia would win the rematch with Arlovski at UFC 61 a few months later, too.

The event was a commercial success, hitting an estimated 425,000 PPV buys. It was a record for the company, which was just about to hit their stride. Even today the promotion would gladly take a buyrate of that size. Thanks to a quality, sold-out event at the Arrowhead Pond, and impressive PPV numbers, the UFC’s relationship with Southern California got off to the perfect start.

Bisping Finally Becomes Middleweight Champion

It took more than 12 years, 36 fights, and a short-notice opportunity, but Michael Bisping did it. At UFC 199, filling in for Chris Weidman a few months after defeating Anderson Silva in London, Bisping became the middleweight champion at The Forum in Inglewood.

    An event that was overshadowed by injuries, and UFC 200 coming up the following month, UFC 199 wasn’t highly touted come fight night. By the end of the night, we’d seen impressive victories from Brian Ortega, Max Holloway, Dustin Poirier, Dan Henderson, and more. But it was Bisping’s first-round KO of Luke Rockhold that would have everyone talking.

The winner of The Ultimate Fighter 3, Bisping is a UFC OG by anyone’s standard. Showing up on short-notice, out of shape, and defeating a guy who he’d already lost to highlighted the reason so many fans love the Brit. Now retired, Bisping has plenty of wins under his belt, and some losses too. At UFC 199, none of that mattered. He was the champ, and there wasn’t a damn thing anyone could do about it.

Rousey’s Debut (and more)

Ronda Rousey joining the promotion was a big deal. Her UFC career may have ended on a sour note, but it began with a bang. Defendig her belt for the first time in Anaheim at the Honda Center in February of 2013, Rousey wouldn’t disappoint. She’d headlined two Strikeforce cards already in her career, but this was an obvious step into the mainstream spotlight.

Having the first-ever women’s fight in the UFC main event a PPV was great, especially given Dana White’s past comments. But the potential for a disaster was there. Fortunately for White, Rousey, and the rest of us, Liz Carmouche was game. For a while. It took nearly the entirety of the first round, and some strong-willed choke defense, but Rousey was eventually able to secure her signature armbar with 11 seconds remaining in the opening frame.

The first of several UFC highlights for Rousey happened before a raucous crowd at the Honda Center. She’d return to Southern California for UFC 184 a few years later to face Cat Zingano in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. All Rousey did that night was earn the fastest victory of her career, submitting Zingano via armbar after just 14 seconds.

She may have only fought twice in So Cal in her career, but it’s hard to have two better performances than Rousey’s. Her impact on the sport can’t be understated, and Southern California has had a front seat for a couple of the biggest moments of Rousey’s career.

Welcome to Network Television

The UFC making it on to network television was one of the biggest moments in the history of the promotion. We may take Fox cards for granted now, but back in November of 2011, MMA on network TV was a treat. The promotion made sure to make the most of it, holding the event in Anaheim and putting two of the best heavyweights in UFC history in the main event. Oh, and it was for the title.

Anytime Cain Velasquez or Junior dos Santos are mentioned, the other is eventually brought up as well. Their trilogy of fights is stuff of MMA legend, and the first bout set the tone. The Brazilian dos Santos gave Velasquez the first loss of his career in decisive fashion, knocking out the Mexican about a minute into the first round.

Utilizing their time on “Big Fox” as best they could, the promotion knew they needed great fighters and a great arena. As we’ve seen, pitting quality opponents against each other in Southern California is as good a recipe as the promotion could hope for. The deal with Fox may be on it’s last legs, as the UFC heads to ESPN, but we’ll never forget the promotion’s network television debut.

Setting Records with a Couple of Legends

Remember that PPV buyrate record we mentioned ealier from UFC 59? That record lasted for exactly one event, as it would be broken the very next month by UFC 60. The reason? The fighters in the main event. Featuring two of MMA’s biggest legends, UFC 60 brought us the first clash between Matt Hughes and Royce Gracie. It was Gracie’s first bout in the United States since UFC 5, more than a decade earlier.

Drawing 620,000 buys on pay-per-view, there’s no way to call the event anything but a success. The five-fight main card saw three submission finishes, while Hughes cemented his place on the Mount Rushmore of MMA in front of nearly 15,000 people at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Even though the Hughes-Gracie bout was at a catchweight 175-pounds, and not for a title, matchups like this are exactly why the promotion was created. Hughes would go on to defeat Royce’s legendary cousin Renzo Gracie at UFC 112, earning a third-round TKO win. But it’s his matchup with Royce that goes down as one of the first “super-fights” in UFC history.

Honorable Mentions

Apart from these memorable moments, some great title matchups have taken place is Southern California. Matt Hughes-BJ Penn 2 was in Los Angeles headlining UFC 63. Then, at UFC 121 in Anaheim, Cain Velasquez took the heavyweight belt from Brock Lesnar. And we haven’t forgotten about Jon Jones’ third-round knock-out of Daniel Cormeir at UFC 214 last summer, either. The promotion loves big fights in So Cal, and more often than not, the events have delivered in impressive fashion.

We’ve been treated to plenty of great UFC moments in Southern California. Let’s hope for a few more this weekend at UFC 227. Let us know what your favorite moments from the promotion’s trips to Los Angeles are, and if we missed any! Comment below, on Facebook, or reply on Twitter!


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