Only a handful of mixed martial arts events over the years have truly transcended the MMA bubble.
We're not talking about fights that were merely big within the combat sports, here. We're talking about the ones which crossed over and became hot items in the mainstream consciousness.
The Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz rematch at UFC 66 was one of the first such examples. UFC 100, featuring Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir, was another. The North American MMA attendance record setter at Toronto's Rogers Centre for UFC 129 was yet another.
Those buried a little too deep in the bubble derided the decision to headline the Feb. 23 card at Anaheim's Honda Center. But it didn't take long into fight week to realize the first women's fight in UFC history took root well beyond Zuffa's usual media reach, earning the fight attention in places which don't usually devote much time to the sport.
In the midst of all the newfound attention, the fight delivered. Performing in the same arena which has featured many of MMA's most memorable moments, from Ortiz-Forrest Griffin 1, to Griffin's upset of "Shogun" Rua, to Fedor Emelianenko's finishes of Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, the UFC women's bantamweight champion was expected to roll over her opponent, as she has most of her career foes.
But the Marine-tough Carmouche nearly pulled off the upset, as she mounted a standing Rousey early and got the champion in a neck crank. Rousey weathered the storm, then finished the game Carmouche with 11 seconds left in the round. That kept intact Rousey's streak of winning all 10 of her pro and amateur MMA fights via first-round armbar.
UFC 157 was more than just Rousey vs. Carmouche, though. The card also featured two candidates for submission of the year: Kenny Robertson's unique leglock finish Brock Jardine (we contacted Robertson on Thursday and asked him to clarify, since the move has been called different things on different sites, and Robertson says he calls it "the kickstand,"), and Urijah Faber's rear-naked choke of Ivan Menjivar, done while mounted on the back of a standing Menjivar. It featured a fight of the year candidate in Dennis Bermudez's crazy brawl with Matt Grice, won by Bermudez on a split decision. And it featured a feel-good story with "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler scoring in upset knockout of Josh Koscheck to record his first UFC victory in nine years.
For both its overall impact on the sport and for a memorable evening of fights, UFC 157 is MMAFighting.com's event of the half-year.
1. UFC 160, May 25, Las Vegas: There was something for everyone at UFC 160. Want to see how a guy can use impressive work from the bottom to take a round and seal a split decision? Watch Mike Pyle's win over Rick Story. Want to watch two TUF winners who make up for their lack of technique with heart? Robert Whittaker's third-round TKO of Colton Smith was for you. Want to see a contender blossom right before our eyes? Then check out T.J. Grant's swift finish of Gray Maynard. Want to see the "people's main event" deliver? Then watch as Junior dos Santos and Mark Hunt go toe-to-toe for more than 14 minutes, before JDS delivers a stunner of a finish. Oh, and then there was the actual main event, in which Cain Velasquez delivered a swift beatdown on Antonio Silva, setting up the trilogy fight with dos Santos.
2. UFC 158, Montreal, March 16: What was billed as an unofficial welterweight tournament delivered, even after a lineup shuffle. Jake Ellenberger, who was originally slated to face Johny Hendricks, smoked veteran Nate Marquardt with a first-round knockout. Hendricks, who was bumped up to the co-main event against Carlos Condit when Rory MacDonald had to drop out, bested Condit 29-28 across the board in a bout sure to finish high on the fight of the year lists. And then, after a week of intrigue like only Nick Diaz can provide, Georges St-Pierre schooled the former Strikeforce champ in the main event. The UFC's experiment was stacking up divisional contenders on one card to guard against fight dropouts was an unqualified success.
3. UFC 156, Feb. 2, Las Vegas: This event wasn't top-to-bottom spectacular, but boy, did the top two fights on the UFC's traditional Super Bowl weekend event deliver. The main event was a sort-of superfight, as featherweight champion Jose Aldo Jr. defended his title against the man who held the lightweight belt during much of his reign, Frankie Edgar. Aldo won the first three rounds before Edgar surged over the last two. But Edgar couldn't put Aldo away and the champ retained via unanimous decision. That bout came right after one of the most memorable knockouts you'll ever see. Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva weathered Alistair Overeem for two rounds, then took out the gassed Overeem early in the third with a ferocious onslaught which left Overeem crumpled in a heap.
4. Tie: UFC on FOX 7, April 20, San Jose, Calif., and UFC on Fuel 10, June 8, Forteleza, Brazil: These two events deserve to be forever linked in history, as the first featured eight knockout/TKOs and the second eight submissions. Eight of the first 10 bouts at UFC on FOX 7 saw the loser look up at the lights, beginning with Yoel Romero's ridiculous flying knee against Clifford Starks and ending with Josh Thomson's head kick of Nate Diaz, which made him the first UFC fighter to finish Diaz. Fuel 10, meanwhile, featured a wide variety of submissions, including Leonardo Santos' emotional comeback win over William Marcario in the TUF Brazil 2 finale, and Fabricio Werudm's finish of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, which gave him submission finishes of both Big Nog and Fedor Emelianenko.
5. Invicta 5, Kansas City, Missouri, April 5: The cult favorite promotion which put women's MMA back on the map returned in April and had it's usual array of memorable moments, starting with Rose Namajunas' 12-second flying armbar win over Kathina Catron. Then Sarah Kaufman and Cesar Gracie fighter Leslie Smith put on a sensational show in a split decision for Kaufman which could have gone either way. Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos did her thing in a first-round finish of Fiona Muxlow. Barb Honchak was crowned the first Invicta flyweight champ. Then the main event featured one of the most memorable finishes of the year, as Jackson's fighter Michelle Waterson rode out a 10-8 round in the third against atomweight champion Jessica Penne, then submitted her in the fourth to claim the crown.
Honorable mentions: Bellator's debut card on Spike TV, Jan. 17, Irvine, Calif.; UFC on FOX 6, Chicago, Jan. 26.