A new decade has dawned, and where the 2020s will take the sport of MMA is anyone’s guess. The 2010s, however, saw mixed martial arts go through a couple of boom periods, which brought with them some of the biggest events in the sport’s history.
In no particular order, because rankings articles this time of year are frankly old hat, here’s a look at the events that really mattered this past decade. The big shows, the monumental cards, the events that simply won’t be forgotten.
UFC 129: St. Pierre vs. Shields
Date: April 30, 2011
Location: Toronto, Canada
Georges St. Pierre had long been one of the top draws in the UFC heading into UFC 129 in April 2011. But to that point, he’d fought only in Quebec and the U.S. With MMA having been made legal in Ontario in 2010, however, the stage was set for the UFC to host what was its biggest show to date at Toronto’s SkyDome (Rogers Centre).
Strikeforce champion Jake Shieds, undefeated for over five years, was billed as a real threat to ‘Rush.’ He wasn’t, earning the title shot off a split decision win over Martin Kampmann that was razor thin. Fans were happy to buy into the narrative that Shields was GSP’s toughest test to date, however. If only to see the Canadian star successfully headline a stadium show with 55,000 appreciative Canadian fans in attendance. St. Pierre won a unanimous decision in the main event, giving fans exactly what they expected. The rest of the card? A thrilling co-feature between Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick (who can forget the alien-like bulge, a hematoma, growing off Hominick’s forehead by the end?), and the end of Randy Couture’s career, as he was crane-kicked into retirement by Lyoto Machida, made this one all the more memorable.
ONE Championship: A New Era
Date: March 31, 2019
Location: Tokyo, Japan
The rise of ONE Championship in Asia has been an interesting journey to say the least. The promotion has seemingly beat the UFC to the punch at every turn, beating it to China, making Japan a regular stop, and proving that the American outfit’s dominance is not yet global. While questions about transparency and financing remain, the reality is that ONE is the dominant player in Asia.
A New Era, held in March 2019, cemented that. Four title fights, the debuts of Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez, and the addition of grappling ace Garry Tonon made the Tokyo card a big one. Johnson did exactly what the all-time great was expected to do: win. Former UFC and Bellator champion Alvarez, however, suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Timofey Nastyukhin, a finish that left Alvarez looking like something out of a horror flick.
Regardless of outcome, ONE proved they were part of the big leagues.
KSW 39: Colosseum
Date: May 27, 2017
Location: Warsaw, Poland
The popular narrative is that the UFC is the only promotion that really matters. The popular narrative is, of course, wrong. Throughout its history, the UFC has always had competition, sometimes strong, sometimes… not so much. The second half of the 2010s, however, brought about a surge in popularity for MMA. As the sport expanded across the globe, a number of players beat Dana White and company into certain territories. Perhaps the best example, Polish promotion KSW, who continue to expand in Europe to this day. A powerhouse in their home country, the promotion is known for elaborate production, a tendency to rely on heavyweight slugfests, and fantastic fan support.
Look no further than KSW 39, which saw 57,776 spectators turn out for a stadium show headlined by a champ vs. champ fight between Mamed Khalidov and Borys Mańkowski. Strongman Mariusz Pudzianowski featured in the co-main event, with a few other familiar names, like Sokoudjou and Norman Parke, decorating the card.
Stadium-level MMA? It doesn’t have to be the UFC.
UFC 200: Tate vs. Nunes
Date: July 9, 2016
Location: Las Vegas, NV
The UFC 200 card was something of a disaster in terms of how it came together, but it remains a monumental card for the company. While it paled in comparison to 2009’s UFC 100, the event was a milestone. Of course, it should have been bigger. Conor McGregor was expected to appear, but was yanked due to skipping out on press obligations. A dubious decision by the UFC, given what later transpired.
Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier was lined up as the new headliner — a fitting replacement given the pair’s rivalry. However, days out from the event, Jones failed a USADA drug test, and was pulled from the card. Women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate taking on Amanda Nunes was promoted to the top of the card in the end, alongside a surprise return by Brock Lesnar taking on popular heavyweight Mark Hunt.
The event remains most memorable for the scandals surrounding it, including another drug test failure, by Brock Lesnar, which saw his win over Hunt overturned to a No Contest (in turn leading to Hunt’s recently dismissed lawsuit against the UFC). Still, it was the coming out party for Amanda Nunes, and saw strong performances from the likes of Aldo, Gastelum, Dillashaw, Lauzon, and Mousasi. Oh, and Anderson Silva stepped up on basically zero notice to fight Daniel Cormier.
UFC 193: Rousey vs. Holm
Date: November 15, 2015
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Ronda Rousey set a lot of benchmarks during her time atop the MMA world. First in Strikeforce, then in the UFC. Yet the night she’s best remembered for, perhaps unfortunately, was the beginning of the end. 56,214 fans witnessed her dethroning, when Holly Holm separated Rousey from the 135lb title by way of head kick. That attendance number surpassed the previous promotional record set at UFC 129. The shock defeat of a woman seen as unstoppable stunned fans thoroughly enough that many forget Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Mark Hunt, and Robert Whittaker also had big nights themselves.
Ultimately, however, UFC 193 will always be recalled as the end of the Rousey era.