The Ultimate Fighting Championship is heading to San Diego this Saturday for UFC Fight Night: Vera vs. Cruz, featuring the hometown fighter and former two-time Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz in the main event against the steaming hot Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera. Cruz has won two straight since losing to Henry Cejudo for the championship in mid-2020, whereas Vera enters on a streak in which he’s won nine of his last 11 appearances, including some spectacular finishes and performances. After last week’s card that took place in the UFC Apex, fans and fighters alike are pumped for the UFC’s return to California. Their last appearance in California came at UFC 270, but the promotion alongside its competitors have had a storied history in the state, ever since the first MMA event took place in the state. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 10 of the biggest and best MMA events to happen in the Golden State.
The UFC took a trip to Oakland in August of 2010 for UFC 117. The event featured a multitude of big names on the main card, but also on the prelims before they had reached the elite level. The main event however, stole the show in the minds of many as the legend Anderson Silva pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of MMA. After taking a beating at the hands of ‘The Bad Guy’ Chael Sonnen for four and a half rounds, Silva did the unimaginable and sunk in a deep triangle, forcing the tap from the American fighter. The submission was unthinkable and to this day remains one of the most wild endings to a fight ever. The rest of the main card saw Jon Fitch defeat Thiago Alves in the co-main event, Clay Guida defeat Rafael Dos Anjos due to an unfortunate injury, Matt Hughes secure a Schultz Front Headlock submission over Ricardo Almeida, and Junior Dos Santos beat Roy Nelson by decision. Phil Davis and Stefan Struve are among some of the other fighters who fought in prelim action, but overall the card featured four eventual champions and saw six of eleven matches end in a stoppage.
Just four months after UFC 117, the promotion went back to California to host a heavyweight main event between Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar. The event sold 1,050,000 pay-per-views which is good for fourteenth all time in terms of highest selling UFC events. Unfortunately for Lesnar who drew in a lot of the crowd, Velasquez was the better man that night, capturing the knockout victory in the opening round. The rest of the card was not as heavy in name value as the main event, but featured names like Jake Shields, Diego Sanchez, as well as Tito Ortiz. Sanchez earned himself fight of the night honours after beating Paulo Thiago by decision, with Velasquez and Daniel Roberts earning the other performance bonuses.
Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Gracie was an event that saw many firsts. Firstly, it was the inaugural Strikeforce event. Second, it was the first MMA event ever to take place in California. The event took place March 10, 2006 and featured a great card. The main event saw Frank Shamrock return after a three year layoff to defeat Cesar Gracie by knockout just 21 seconds into the contest. The rest of the main card featured a number of big name fighters as well. Clay Guida defeated Josh Thomson in the co-main event by decision, Cung Le scored a knockout victory over Mike Altman in his MMA debut, Gilbert Melendez stopped Harris Sarmiento, and Stockton’s very own Nate Diaz captured a knockout victory. Looking back on the event today, it is of great significance due to it being the first event in California and how its reception stunned local press and skeptics alike. The event saw a huge crowd and fans loved the fights, paving the way for not only Strikeforce as a promotion, but MMA in the state of California as well.
Bellator 106 was originally intended to be Bellator’s first ever pay-per-view event, with a headlining bout between ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Tito Ortiz. Ortiz would eventually pull out of the fight due to injury, and the card would alternatively be headlined by a title rematch between Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez. The two would put on yet another barnburner of a matchup, with Alvarez capturing the title back by split decision. The win was controversial, but the level of skill and entertainment brought fans tons of enjoyment regardless. The co-main event featured an Interim Light Heavyweight Championship fight between Emanuel Newton and ‘King Mo’ Muhammed Lawal. Newton would capture the interim title by decision, setting him up for a unification bout with Attila Végh. The card also featured a third title fight in the Featherweight division that would see a second title change hands that night, as Daniel Mason-Straus defeated Pat Curran by decision to become the new champion. Joe Riggs also got a win on the card as Bellator turned in a very successful event.
Many MMA fans consider the main event of Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley as the greatest one round fight in history. The event would take place at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California and featured a number of names fans know and love. To open the main card, Shinya Aoki cranked Lyle Beerbohm’s neck, forcing him to submit just 1:33 into the first round. The next bout up the card saw Gegard Mousasi and Keith Jardine fight to a majority draw after Mousasi was penalized one point for an illegal upkick. Then came the top of the card, as Gilbert Melendez knocked out Tatsuya Kawajiri in the first round to retain his Lightweight title. As mentioned earlier Nick Diaz and Paul Daley put on an incredible show. Diaz ultimately got the win via TKO with three seconds left in the first round, but Daley certainly had his moments as well as the two battled tooth and nail to get the win in the event’s main event. This event helped to bolster the already growing ‘Nick Diaz Army’ and was yet another amazing event to take place in California.
The rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander gustafsson took place December 29, 2018 in Inglewood, California–but not without a great deal of controversy. Originally, the event was set to happen in Las Vegas, but just six days before the card Jones would test positive for turinabol, the same substance he tested positive for that led to a 15-month suspension just a year prior. The Nevada State Athletic Commission would not approve Jones for a licence as a result of the positive test and so the UFC packed up and moved the entire event to California, as their commission would grant Jones his licence. With that controversy out of the way, the UFC put on a great event which featured two title fights along with some excellent contender fights as well. In the main event, Jones beat Gustafsson for a second time, stopping him via TKO with brutal ground and pound. The co-main event saw a incredible result with Amanda Nunes knocking Cris Cyborg out cold in just 51 seconds to become the first female double champ in history, something not many MMA fans saw coming. Further down the card, Michael Chiesa submitted Carlos Condit with a ridiculous one-armed kimura, Corey Anderson beat Ilir Latifi by decision, and Alexander Volkanovski secured the biggest win of his career to that point, when he stopped Chad Mendes in the second round by knockout. The prelims of this card were also stacked, with names like Petr Yan, Uriah Hall, and Ryan Hall all capturing stoppage victories.
Fedor Emelianenko remains one of the most revered figures in the world of MMA, but the Strikeforce M-1 collaboration event in San Jose, California would not end well for the Heavyweight legend. He faced off against Fabricio Werdum in the headlining bout of the card, where he would have his legendary 29-fight unbeaten streak snapped in the very first round, as Werdum captured a triangle armbar submission. The moment caught many MMA fans off-guard and still goes down as one of the “I remember where I was when…” moments in MMA history. Outside of the main event, the card had some other high-profile fights on it. Cris Cyborg defended her Women’s Featherweight Championship via stoppage in the second round after being docked a point early. Cung Le beat Scott Smith via knockout due to a spinning back kick and punches, and Josh Thomson beat Pat Healy by submission as well. Funnily enough, the event also saw another name featured on this list retire, as Frank Shamrock announced he would be stopping MMA on the broadcast as well.
UFC 241 saw a Heavyweight Championship rematch between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic in August of 2019, after Cormier knocked Miocic out just over one year prior. This time, in the words of the great Jon Anik, “Stipe exacts his revenge”, as he stopped Cormier in the fourth round to even the series. The event took place in Anaheim, California not far from ‘DC’s’ homebase of San Jose, and also not far from another MMA superstar’s homebase of Stockton. Nate Diaz made his much anticipated return to MMA against former Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis at UFC 241 after spending three years away post-McGregor. Fans weren’t sure exactly what to expect from 209’s finest after the layoff, but if you’re a fan of Diaz, boy was it a pleasant surprise. Diaz destroyed Pettis, putting a crazy pace on him and using the cardio fans have come to expect from Diaz. With final scores of 30-27, 30-27, and 29-28, Nate Diaz was back and ready to make even more splashes. The event also saw a fight of the year contender when Paulo Costa and Yoel Romero squared off in a number one contender fight. The two went toe to toe for all three rounds, each scoring a knockdown and landing a combined 243 significant strikes. Sodiq Yusuff and Dereck Brunson also scored wins on the main card. UFC 241 was a huge success and was a tremendous card for fans to enjoy.
Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier’s rivalry is one of the best in the sport’s history, and the two would fight for the second and final time at UFC 214 in Anaheim, California in the summer of 2017. Retrospectively the fight would turn out to be a no contest after Jones tested positive for steroids, but the result that took place that night was a brutal knockout win for Jones after a gorgeous high kick. ‘DC’ would be awarded the title back following the overturning of the fight, but that night, Jones would reclaim his title once again. The co-main event was another title fight which saw Tyron Woodley defeat Demian Maia by unanimous decision. Before that was a third title fight that saw Cris Cyborg defeat Tonya Evinger for the vacant Women’s Featherweight title. Further down the main card, Robbie Lawler beat Donald Cerrone and Volkan Oezdemir beat Jimi Manuwa by knockout in under a minute. Also on the card were current Bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, as well as perennial contender Brian Ortega, who each scored big wins over Renan Barao and Renato Moicano respectively. Calvin katter and Drew Dober also fought on the prelims of the stacked UFC 214 card as well.
UFC 199 was an epic event from start to finish. It took place in Los Angeles, California and was headlined by two title fights alongside some wicked good contender bouts as well. Firstly, eight of thirteen fights ended by way of knockout and featured moments that will live on in MMA history forever. After some awesome early preliminary action, Jessica Andrade got the prelim card started with a bang, when she stopped Jessica Penne by TKO in round number two after landing 117 significant strikes in just eight minutes of action. After that, Beneil Dariush scored a first round knockout of James Vick, followed by a Brian Ortega finish of Clay Guida with a devastating knee to close out the preliminary action. To open the main card, Dustin Poirier was matched up with Bobby Green. Poirier would come away with a first round knockout to win his fourth in a row. The next fight up the card was between Dan Henderson and Hector Lombard. At the time Henderson was 46 years old so not many believed he had all that much left in the tank after such a storied career. Unfortunately for Hector Lombard, he had a vicious back elbow left in said tank, which he used to flatline the Cuban. Ultimately, Henderson would parlay the win into a title shot as a result of getting the stoppage on this card, but that’s a story for another day. Following Henderson’s win, Max Holloway and Ricardo Lamas put on a show for the fans, culminating in one of the most epic ‘just bleed’ moments in history, as the two decided to throw caution to the wind and throw down for the final seconds of the fight. Holloway came away with the unanimous decision win and would fight for the interim title in his next fight as a result. The co-main event was the first of two heated championship rivalries, as Dominick Cruz defended his Bantamweight Championship against ‘The California Kid’ himself, Urijah Faber. Finally, in the main event, Luke Rockhold made the first defence of his Middleweight title against Michael Bisping. Originally the fight was supposed to be against Chris Weidman who Rockhold defeated to win the belt in his previous fight. When Weidman withdrew due to injury, Bisping stepped in on 11 days notice to fight the seemingly unstoppable Rockhold, who also held a victory over the Brit in the past. When the opening bell went, not many were expecting Bisping to score a win using his volume striking and excellent cardio. To their surprise, Bisping caught Rockhold with a picture-perfect left hook, sending the champion to the canvas, only for Bisping to land another flush shot, putting Rockhold out and becoming the first British champion in the history of the UFC. The event was incredible from beginning to end and culminated in one of the most inspiring championship performances in recent memory.
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