1. UFC 100 heralds new era (July 11, 2009)
UFC 100 was the most watched pay-per-view in the organization's history, but, more importantly, it marked a turning point in the mainstream awareness of MMA. For casual sports fans and the media at large, MMA knowledge and coverage could very well be broken down into two eras: pre-UFC 100 and post-UFC 100. Whether it was the magnitude of the fight card or simply the fact that the UFC had managed to make it to triple digits is arguable, but the century event definitely pushed the sport to a new level. It makes you think Brock Lesnar could not have picked a worse time to go rogue and embarrass a major UFC sponsor after his main-event win.
2. Couture solidifies legendary status (March 3, 2007)
After losing a second straight light heavyweight title fight to Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture vowed we'd seen the last of him in the Octagon. Of course, that turned out to be far from the truth. At UFC 68, Couture returned, this time to take on heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia. Couture was 43 when he became a champion again by defeating Sylvia in front of a packed house in Columbus, Ohio, proving that age is nothing but a number for "Captain America."
3. UFC buys what's left of Pride FC (March 27, 2007)
Before March 2007, the UFC and Japan's Pride Fighting Championships struggled for supremacy in the MMA world, despite having an entire ocean between them. Talent seemed equally split between the two organizations, and each had its own detractors and defenders. But that all changed when the UFC's majority owners bought their Japanese rivals for a hefty sum, effectively making the UFC the sport's preeminent organization. Though UFC president Dana White originally promised to bring all of Pride's stars into the Octagon, it wasn't quite that simple. Pride's last heavweight champ, Fedor Emelianenko, eludes and infuriates White still.
4. The Ultimate Fighter becomes a hit on Spike TV (2005)
It couldn't have come along at a better time. The first season of T.U.F. premiered in 2005, back when reality TV was at its peak and MMA was aching for its time in the spotlight. Before the show landed on Spike TV, MMA aficionados mostly contented themselves with relatively rare pay-per-view events and DVDs (or VHS tapes) of cards that were often weeks old. After the breakout finale, featuring the Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar battle that millions tuned in to see, the landscape changed for good.
5. Emelianenko survives a slam (June 20, 2004)
Kevin Randleman seemed like he had the kind of explosive wrestling skills that would give Emelianenko a problem. He shoved the champ into a corner, got his hands locked around his waist, and then lifted him literally head over heels for a suplex that brought Emelianenko down squarely on the top of his head. At first glance, it appeared to be the stuff paralysis is made of. Against a normal person, it might have been. Not Emelianenko, though. He shook it off and, moments later, submitted Randleman with a kimura.
6. Silva era begins with a bang (2006)
Coming to the UFC after stints in Pride and the U.K.'s Cage Rage organization, among others, Anderson Silva was an unknown quantity with many American MMA fans. But after destroying Chris Leben in his Octagon debut and then dismantling a previously dominant middleweight champ in Rich Franklin -- twice -- there was hardly a fight fan who didn't know Silva's capabilities. As he picked Franklin apart in their rematch at UFC 77, the champ appeared to be fighting from several seconds into the future. To date, he continues to make his case as one of the most dominant champs the UFC has ever known.
7. Penn gets bloodthirsty (Jan. 19, 2008)
B.J. Penn claimed the UFC lightweight title with a victory over Joe Stevenson at UFC 80 that wound up being a real bloodbath. After opening a cut over Stevenson's forehead with an elbow and squeezing some extra plasma out of him with a rear naked choke submission, Penn basked in the glory of his win by licking Stevenson's blood off of gloves in front of the cameras. Not exactly hygienic, but it got a point across.
8. Frye and Takayama slug it out (June 23, 2002)
Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama were slated for a mixed martial arts bout at Pride 21, but what erupted once the bell rang more closely resembled a hockey fight sans the skates. Both men grabbed one another by the back of the head and wailed away as if all their fight training had occurred in the alleys behind dive bars. Had it ended right away, it might have been nothing besides one in a long list of Pride oddities. But somehow the bout went on for just over six minutes before Frye finally got the best of Takayama. When asked what was going through his mind during the fight, Frye responded with his typical blunt humor, "Ow, ow, ow, ow."
9. Thompson's ear pops on live network TV (May 31, 2008)
EliteXC's Primetime wasn't actually MMA's first foray into network TV, but it was the first live network event to air during a prime-time slot on a major network. Unfortunately, the organization and the network put all their eggs in the Kimbo Slice basket, making his brawl with James Thompson the main event. Thompson showed up on fight night with a cauliflower ear that looked ready to burst at any moment, and with help from Slice it did just that in front of more than four million viewers. Broadcaster Gus Johnson's call -- "It popped!" -- may never be forgotten, even if we'd like it to be.
10. Zuffa takes over the UFC (January 2001)
It might seem like ages ago that MMA couldn't even get on pay-per-view in the U.S., much less play to a sold out MGM Grand crowd in Las Vegas, but before Zuffa's purchase of the UFC, things looked grim for the sport sometimes called "human cockfighting." Increased regulation, corporate sponsorship and a relentless campaign to educate and dispel common myths helped the sport go from a curiosity to a mainstream draw. It wasn't just Dana White and the Fertitta brothers who helped turn things around after buying the UFC brand. But without them, the sport wouldn't be where it is today.