By Ryan Frederick, WrestlingObserver.com
For an organization that has barely over just 20 years of existence, there aren’t many time honored traditions that are kept. The UFC does have one that comes this weekend, as they return to Las Vegas for their annual Memorial Day Weekend card on Saturday from the MGM Grand Garden Arena for UFC 187.
The UFC 187 card is among the more loaded events of recent years, with two big title fights and lots of fights with title implications in all of them. Over half of the fighters competing on the card are ranked in the UFC’s official rankings. Despite the card being loaded as is, it has suffered from two major changes, as Jon Jones was pulled out of the main event and subsequently suspended after a myriad of personal issues, and a new champion at 205 pounds will be created when Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier meet in the main event. Khabib Nurmagomedov was also looking for a title shot when he was supposed to meet Donald Cerrone, but a knee injury forced him from the card. Despite those changes, the card remains one of the most anticipated fight cards of the year.
This will be the tenth straight year the UFC has put on a fight card on Memorial Day Weekend, and with the exception of the first one in 2006 taking place in Los Angeles, this will be the ninth straight event in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena. The annual Memorial Day Weekend card has produced major events, with seven title fights and several title changes, and shows that have brought a lot of UFC history with them. Let’s take a look back at the UFC’s history on Memorial Day Weekend.
This was the UFC’s first event on Memorial Day Weekend, and it took place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. At the time, the UFC was building to the biggest fight in company history as UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes, dominant at 170 pounds, was fighting the UFC legend from the early days, Royce Gracie. Many thought Gracie may have a chance against Hughes, but that was more of backwards thinking that the Gracie techniques could still hold true in 2006. It ended with Hughes displaying more of his dominance as he dominated Gracie en route to a first-round TKO win. The event was a huge success, garnering 620,000 PPV buys, a record at the time (which would be broken shortly there after), and was the first UFC event to break $20 million in gross PPV sales.
UFC 60 also featured Ultimate Fighter 1 winner Diego Sanchez defeating John Alessio by unanimous decision, Brandon Vera submitting Assuerio Silva in the first round, Mike Swick submitting Joe Riggs in the opening round, Spencer Fisher finishing Matt Wiman with a flying knee in the second round, Melvin Guillard scoring a first-round knockout of Rick Davis, and Jeremy Horn submitting Chael Sonnen in Sonnen’s last UFC bout for nearly three years before he came back and took the middleweight division by storm.
For as big as UFC 60 was in 2006, UFC 71 was even bigger as the Octagon headed to its’ now Memorial Day Weekend home at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It was the most popular star in UFC history, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell, looking to avenge the only loss in his career he had yet to avenge when he welcomed the challenge of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. This fight had a lot of hype, and was really the first time mainstream media paid close attention to the UFC, as ESPN provided coverage for the first time, doing a live broadcast of the weigh-ins and post-fight coverage.
The fight came at a time when Liddell was his most dominant, but Jackson was thought to be the man to give Liddell his toughest test. Many were still expecting Liddell to win because of how dominant he had been. It didn’t quite play out that way. Jackson landed a big right hook, sending Liddell down to the canvas, and after a few more punches, there was a new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion as “Rampage” won the title in under two minutes and he himself went on to become a big superstar. It was the beginning of the end for the career of Liddell, as he went 1-4 for the rest of his career before retiring in 2010.
Other fight action saw Karo Parisyan defeat Josh Burkman by unanimous decision, Houston Alexander finished Keith Jardine in just 48 seconds, Thiago Silva defeated James Irvin by TKO, and Alan Belcher submitted Sean Salmon in 53 seconds. Seven of the nine fights saw finishes, with six of those coming in the first round, and five in 2:04 or less. The event garnered 675,000 PPV buys and a gate of over $4.3 million.
2008 saw UFC 84 back at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for an event that was named Sherdog.com’s Event Of The Year. It was the return of former UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk, who was coming back off a suspension for failing a drug test and subsequent stripping of the championship, as he challenged the new champion at 155 pounds, B.J. Penn. In what was one of Penn’s most dominant performances of his career, he controlled the fight throughout, finishing Sherk with a flying knee and punches as the horn sounded at the end of round three. Penn established himself as the true champion at lightweight, and went on to challenge UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre, setting up a true superfight that took place at UFC 94 in January 2009.
The show was also notable as it featured what was thought to be the final UFC appearance of former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz. It was the last fight on the contract of Ortiz, who had a tumultuous relationship with the UFC, to say the least. Ortiz fought future champion Lyoto Machida, and while Ortiz had a triangle choke nearly locked in, it was a dominant showing for Machida, who won the fight by unanimous decision. Ortiz left the UFC, but after negotiations with other organizations didn’t materialize, he eventually re-signed with the UFC and returned in November 2009.
The event also saw MMA legend Wanderlei Silva scoring his first UFC win in nine years as he knocked Keith Jardine out in 36 seconds. Thiago Silva made Antonio Mendes due to punches, Rousimar Palhares submitted Ivan Salaverry in the first round, and the event also saw the debut of future Interim UFC Heavyweight Champion Shane Carwin, who knocked out Christian Wellich in just 44 seconds in the opening bout of the 11-fight card. The event registered 475,000 PPV buys and a gate just above $3.7 million.
UFC 98 took place on May 23, 2009, and it saw the second title change on Memorial Day Weekend. This card was originally scheduled to be headlined by Brock Lesnar against Frank Mir, but a Mir knee injury forced the postponement of that bout to UFC 100 in July 2009. In its place, Rashad Evans was selected to make the first title defense of his newly-won UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. It was thought he would defend against former champion Quinton Jackson, but Jackson was unable to fight due to surgery. Evans instead defended against Lyoto Machida. It ended up being a bad night for Evans, who was unable to do much to Machida, and the fight resulted in Machida winning the championship after he scored a second-round knockout of Evans.
The co-main event saw the long-awaited fight between Matt Hughes and Matt Serra finally happen as they looked to settle their grudge. Both men coached season six of The Ultimate Fighter, which ended in December 2007. Injuries to Serra saw the anticipated bout delayed for almost 18 months, but when they finally squared off, it was Hughes getting the win by unanimous decision. Both men are former UFC Welterweight Champions, and both are now retired from competition, although both have indicated a willingness to return to fighting if they were able to meet in a rematch.
The event also saw Chael Sonnen begin his march towards earning a middleweight title shot as he defeated Dan Miller. Future UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar defeated former UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk by unanimous decision. Preliminary card action saw five-first round finishes, including Tim Hague submitting Pat Barry, and Krzysztof Soszynski knocking out Andre Gusmao. UFC 98 received 635,000 PPV buys and had a gate of just over $3.25 million.
2010 saw UFC 114 and one of the most-anticipated, most-hyped, and probably the best build to a UFC fight when former UFC Light Heavyweight Champions Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson finally met in the Octagon to settle their grudge. Fans had been clamoring for the bout for a long time, which saw Evans and Jackson trash talk following UFC 96 in March 2009, and the two went back-and-forth as coaches on season ten of The Ultimate Fighter. They were slated to fight at UFC 107 in December 2009, but Jackson took a role in The A-Team movie and it was delayed.
It ended up being the perfect storm on Memorial Day Weekend of 2010. The UFC was able to build the fight even bigger by featuring it on UFC Primetime, and they built the weekend around a UFC Fan Expo. The event ended up being a massive success, scoring over 1 million PPV buys, a number not reached many times in the UFC, and almost unheard of for a non-title bout. That is a credit to how well built the fight was, and people wanted to see Evans and Jackson finally get their hands on each other. It ended up being a disappointing fight as the two didn’t engage much on the feet as Evans used his wrestling to score numerous takedowns, winning the bout by unanimous decision.
In the co-main event, Michael Bisping scored a unanimous decision win over Dan Miller. Other fights saw Mike Russow score a comeback knockout win over Todd Duffee, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira scoring a controversial decision win over Jason Brilz, John Hathaway defeating Diego Sanchez by decision, Melvin Guillard scoring a knockout win over Waylon Lowe, and Dong Hyun Kim defeating Amir Sadollah by decision.
2011 was UFC 130, and it was the second straight year that the event was headlined by a non-title light heavyweight bout featuring Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. He took on Matt Hamill in the main event, which replaced the original headline bout, which was supposed to be Frankie Edgar defending the UFC Lightweight Championship against Gray Maynard in the finale of their trilogy. Both men were injured shortly before the event was scheduled to take place, and with so little time until the card, it was left with a weak headliner in Jackson against Hamill. That showed on pay-per-view and at the gate, with just 325,000 PPV buys and a $2.58 million gate.
Jackson defeated Hamill by unanimous decision in a lackluster fight with not a lot of action to cap off what was a mostly underwhelming card. Frank Mir scored a decision win over Roy Nelson in the co-main event in another lackluster bout. Other action on the card saw Travis Browne knock Stefan Struve out with a Superman punch, Rick Story defeating Thiago Alves by decision, Brian Stann knocking out Jorge Santiago, and future UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson scoring a decision win over former WEC Bantamweight Champion Miguel Torres.
2012 saw UFC 146 take place on May 26, and it was a unique event in that the main card featured all heavyweight bouts. It was dubbed UFC 146: The Heavyweights, and they delivered with finishes in all five fights. The card was originally scheduled to be headlined by UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior Dos Santos defending against Alistair Overeem, who was coming off a UFC debut win over Brock Lesnar. However, Overeem failed a pre-fight drug test and was removed from the bout, and Frank Mir was selected as his replacement. It may have hurt at the box office, but the event still drew 560,000 PPV buys and a gate over $3.4 million.
Dos Santos scored a second-round TKO win over Mir in the main event in a fight he completely dominated. It was the only time Dos Santos would defend the UFC Heavyweight Championship, as he lost it back to Cain Velasquez in December 2012. Velasquez got the title shot after scoring a vicious first-round TKO win over Antonio Silva at this event, leaving Silva bloodied and battered inside the Octagon. Also on the heavyweight main card, Roy Nelson scored a 51-second knockout win over Dave Herman, Stefan Struve submitted Lavar Johnson, and Stipe Miocic scored a TKO win over the late Shane Del Rosario.
The prelims also had a solid card and saw Darren Elkins score a decision win over Diego Brandao, Jamie Varner scoring a big upset win over Edson Barboza in his UFC comeback, C.B. Dollaway scoring a decision win over Jason Miller, Dan Hardy scoring a first-round knockout win over Duane Ludwig, and Glover Teixeira making his UFC debut and submitting Kyle Kingsbury.
2013 saw UFC 160 take place on May 25, and again the event was headlined by the UFC Heavyweight Championship being defended. This time it was new champion Cain Velasquez making his first defense since regaining the title as he defended it against the man he destroyed just one year prior, Antonio Silva, who was coming off two big knockout wins since his loss to Velasquez. The co-main event was scheduled to be Junior Dos Santos finally facing Alistair Overeem, but for the second straight year, that bout was cancelled, this time due to an Overeem injury. Dos Santos instead took on Mark Hunt, who was on an underdog quest for a title shot. The event drew 380,000 PPV buys and a $2.9 million gate.
Velasquez again showed his dominance of the UFC heavyweight division, and again he made quick work of Silva. It wasn’t the exact massacre it was the year before, but it went quicker as Velasquez scored a TKO win over Silva in 81 seconds to retain the championship. Silva has yet to score a win since that loss. The co-main event saw Dos Santos score a spectacular third-round knockout win over Hunt as he finished him with a spinning head kick.
In other action on the card, T.J. Grant secured a shot at the UFC Lightweight Championship when he defeated Gray Maynard. However, Grant has yet to fight since that win as he is recovering from a serious concussion. Glover Teixeira scored a submission win over James Te Huna, Donald Cerrone scored a decision win over K.J. Noons, Mike Pyle scored a decison win over Rick Story, and Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Abel Trujillo by decision after setting a UFC record with 21 takedowns in their fight.
The most recent Memorial Day Weekend event was UFC 173 on May 24, 2014. It was supposed to be headlined by Chris Weidman taking on Vitor Belfort, but Belfort was forced to withdraw from the fight after Nevada banned the usage of Testosterone Replacement Therapy, and Belfort was a user of the treatment, and needed time to adjust. Lyoto Machida was to take his place, but a knee injury to Weidman forced the postponement of that bout. The UFC then came up with three new fights to replace the lost headliner, and the event, while it underwhelmed with just 215,000 PPV buys and a $1.7 million gate, ended up being one of the more notable UFC events of 2014.
The main event ended up being one of the biggest upsets in UFC history as it saw the UFC Bantamweight Championship change hands. Renan Barao had just one loss in his career and a 33-fight unbeaten streak, and he was an overwhelming favorite over the challenger, T.J. Dillashaw. However, as dominant as a champion that Barao was, he found himself on the other end of the spectrum, as he was dominated by Dillashaw, who finished Barao in the final round to become the new UFC Bantamweight Champion. Dillashaw and Barao will meet this summer in a long-awaited rematch for the championship.
The rest of the card saw Daniel Cormier secure a title shot when he submitted Dan Henderson in the co-main event, Robbie Lawler started his march towards winning the UFC Welterweight Championship when he scored a TKO win over Jake Ellenberger, Takeya Mizugaki scored a decision win over Francisco Rivera, James Krause defeated Jamie Varner after Varner suffered an ankle injury, and TUF winners Michael Chiesa, Tony Ferguson and Chris Holdsworth all scoring wins in preliminary action.