In 2019, the UFC and ESPN kicked off their mega-partnership to bring exciting events and content to the worldwide leader in sports. In that time, UFC has hosted 51 incredible fight cards around the world, capturing the attention of millions.
There have been hundreds of fights, amazing performances and plenty of history made in the last year and change, so let’s recap some of the best moments of the ESPN era right here.
Conor McGregor seemed like a new man during the lead up to UFC 246. He knew that he had a more than game opponent in Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone to get past and he did it in spectacular fashion.
“The Notorious” one defeated Cerrone in just 40 seconds, hitting him with some devastating shoulder strikes that caused significant damage at the very start of the bout. Then he was able to connect with a head kick and his trademark left hand, sending Cerrone to the canvas.
It was the first event of 2020 and McGregor’s first fight under the ESPN banner. Suffice to say he didn’t disappoint one bit.
UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim UFC lightweight titlist Dustin Poirier made the trip to Abu Dhabi to determine who would leave the undisputed king of the 155-pounders.
Both fighters matched the intensity of the Abu Dhabi heat, but “The Eagle” would not be denied. Nurmagomedov moved to an incredible 28-0 when he submitted Poirier via rear naked choke in the bout’s third round.
The victory was just another reminder that Nurmagomedov is without a doubt the best in the world in the lightweight division. Beating Poirier adds another big name to his resume.
In 2019, the ESPYs added categories specific to mixed martial arts, including MMA Fighter of the Year. Nominated for the award was double-champion and Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo, double-champion Amanda Nunes, the rising (at the time) Israel Adesanya and former double-champion Daniel Cormier.
Cormier would go on to win the award thanks to his impressive victory to claim the heavyweight strap from Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 and defending the belt against Derrick Lewis at UFC 230.
The fact that MMA finally has its own ESPY category shows just how far the sport has come in the last few years and for the award to go to “DC,” it honestly couldn’t have been a more fitting moment.
The UFC on primetime ESPN debuted on February 17, 2019 when Francis Ngannou and Cain Velasquez met in the main event of UFC Phoenix. The Sunday night card was the perfect opportunity for Velasquez to make his return to the Octagon.
Ngannou would go on to spoil Velasquez’s moment in less than 30 seconds and make a massive statement. The KO victory was Ngannou’s second in a row and launched him right back into the heavyweight title picture.
When the lights are the brightest the biggest stars shine, and that’s exactly what Israel Adesanya did when he faced Robert Whittaker at UFC 243. Not only was it the most attended event in UFC history, it was an Australia vs New Zealand, champion vs interim champion bout for all the glory.
Adesanya’s walkout for UFC 243 become that of legend as he performed a dance with his close friends. The hype would continue as “The Last Stylebender” would go on to have the performance of a lifetime against Whittaker.
The highly anticipated fight wouldn’t last two full rounds, though, as Adesanya’s pinpoint striking and his creativity quickly got to Whittaker. It was Adesanya’s moment and he owned it in every way possible.
Watch the best UFC on ESPN moments in the first year of the exciting partnership.
On May 11, 2019, Rose Namajunas traveled to Rio de Janeiro to defend her belt against Brazil’s Jessica Andrade. She was unsuccessful, as Andrade would defeat Namajunas with a devastating slam to the canvas.
Andrade offered Zhang Weili the same courtesy when she traveled to China to face Zhang. Once again, the fight would go in favor of the challenger, as Zhang pressed, pummeled and simply overwhelmed Andrade.
With the victory, Zhang became the first Chinese-born fighter to win a UFC world title. It was a major moment, not only for Zhang, but for the sport and the world.
Israel Adesanya, Kelvin Gastelum, Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway headlined the UFC’s first PPV on ESPN+ in unforgettable fashion.
The interim lightweight title bout between “The Diamond” and “Blessed” produced 359 significant strikes, which was the second largest total in UFC history at the time. Poirier and Holloway battled back and forth landing blow after blow, neither man taking a step back. But it was Poirier who did enough in the eyes of the judges to earn the strap.
The middleweight interim title bout between Adesanya and Gastelum will go down as one of the greatest fights in UFC history. It was an absolute war, with both fighters taking turns grasping the momentum. But with the fight outcome in the balance, Adesanya would have an iconic fifth round, dropping Gastelum on multiple occasions.
Those two bouts perfectly ushered in the PPV on ESPN+ era.
If you would have told anyone that the President of the United States would watch The Rock wrap a BMF belt around Jorge Masivdal’s waist in Madison Square Garden, they would have told you that you’re crazy. But hey, the timing was right, and the UFC aims for the stars.
UFC 244 was one of those events that featured a little bit of everything, and with the high-profile guests in attendance, it felt like the crowd inside MSG could erupt at any second. And they did just that when The Rock made his way to the Octagon with the BMF belt.
Then there were the fights. KO wins for Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Edmen Shahbazyan, Shane Burgos, Corey Anderson and Kevin Lee set up the perfect stage for Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz to fight for the inaugural belt.
Masvidal dominated the first three rounds of the bout, constantly pressuring Diaz and battering him with his arsenal of strikes. At one point, a large gash opened on one of Diaz’s eyes, and as he absorbed damage, the cut only got worse. Unfortunately for all the fans and for Masvidal and Diaz, the fight was declared over by medical personnel. It was an anticlimactic ending but didn’t put a damper on the event.
UFC’s first show on ESPN+ had to be a good one, so the matchmakers put together one heck of a card for UFC Brooklyn on January 19, 2019. The card would feature eight finishes, four submissions and four knockouts.
One of those finishes came in 32 seconds in the main event for the flyweight title between Henry Cejudo and TJ Dillashaw. It was Cejudo’s first title defense and he was able show out for the flyweight division, taking care of then-bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.
The card was a great way to get off on the right foot with ESPN+ and all the fans that utilize the platform.
The tension between Jorge Masvidal and Ben Askren during UFC 239 fight week could have been cut with a knife. It was clear that both men didn’t like each other, and it was clear that they both couldn’t wait to shut the other one up.
Well, once the Octagon door closed it took Masvidal a blink of an eye to execute arguably the greatest knockout in UFC history. “Gamebred” slowly shuffled to the side, hands behind his back and all, then sprinted to the center of the Octagon, leaping into a flying knee that connected flush to Askren’s temple. The blow knocked Askren out immediately.
The five-second knockout was the fastest in UFC history and catapulted Jorge Masvidal to the top of the fight game.
Coming into UFC 248 there was plenty of hype behind the UFC strawweight title fight between Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. And rightfully so, considering the differences in style, the technical abilities of both women and their personalities.
The fight exceeded all expectations as Zhang and Jedrzejczyk battled back-and-forth for five grueling rounds. The pair combined for 351 significant strikes, which was good for the third largest total in UFC history.
It was a fight that will go down as one of the greatest title fights in UFC history.
Thank you for looking back at some of the top UFC on ESPN moments so far. A handful of these will be airing live on ESPN this Saturday. Take a look at the broadcast schedule here.
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