Editor’s Note: “Modern History” is being loosely defined as the post-formative years of MMA, when the sport became more widely and thoroughly regulated.
Every so often, a fight comes along that’s just so bizarre it causes you to squint at the TV, shake your head, and quietly whisper to yourself; “What the hell am I watching?” Here, we rank the most bizarre MMA fights we’ve seen over the years.
Some are eye-wideningly weird. Others, shocking. And all of them, memorable for all the wrong reasons. Let’s rank these off-the-wall encounters from least, to most bizarre.
8. Nicholas Dalby vs Ross Houston: Cage Warriors (2019)
So smeared with blood was the canvas by the end of this fight that it looked like a crime scene.
When Nicholas Dalby faced Ross Houston for the Cage Warriors welterweight title a few years back, the encounter quickly turned into a macabre slip-and-slide affair thanks to the voluminous spillage of blood. Both fighters were leaking from gaping wounds, making it almost impossible to throw a punch without aquaplaning across the canvas.
Things got so bad that referee Marc Goddard was forced to end the bout in round three, declaring a no contest.
“It was almost comical; I was about to lose my footing, I could’ve broken my ankle,” said Goddard post fight. “I wouldn’t care if that happened to me, but I would really care if it happened to a fighter.”
#7. Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis: UFC (2018)
It was billed as a clash between the two hardest hitting heavyweights in history. But never has a bout fizzled so spectacularly as this bizarre MMA fight between Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis at UFC 226, widely considered the worst heavyweight encounter of all time.
To a chorus of boos, the duo engaged in a bizarrely stand-offish, to-and-fro dance that labored on for three sleep-inducing rounds. With neither fighter willing to close the distance, Ngannou and Lewis instead took turns flinging a variety of second-guessed, wildly inaccurate strikes at one another. Just 31 of them landed over the course of 15 minutes.
The fight was so lacking in action that referee Herb Dean had to step in and have a stern word with both men, imploring them to engage.
In the end it was Lewis who got his hand raised, albeit in the most reluctant manner possible, while shaking his head in disappointment. The “Black Beast” later admitted that even he was bored during the fight, while Ngannou issued a public apology to fans. Dana White, meanwhile, labelled the fight an “abomination.”
6. Diego Sanchez vs. Michel Pereira: UFC (2020)
When you lock together in a cage a man famous for fiercely brandishing a jewel-encrusted crucifix during his walkout, and another known for launching himself into mid-fight back flips, you’re going to get an insanely bizarre MMA fight.
Diego Sanchez vs. Michel Pereira in 2020 was an encounter that truly had it all; front flips, back flips, forward-roll kicks and almost as many flying knees as there were conventional strikes.
These are, however, all par for the course for any Michel Pereira fight. But the way this encounter ended added an extra layer of weird to proceedings. Pereira looked to be heading toward a comfortable decision win when he landed an illegal knee on the grounded Sanchez, who was then gifted the victory by disqualification.
#5. Don Frye vs Yoshihiro Takayama: Pride (2002)
It’s the bout that took “fighting in a phone booth” to a new level. When Don Frye and Yoshihiro locked horns at Pride 21 in 2002, fans inside the Saitama Super Arena in Japan were treated to a bizarre spectacle never seen before, or since.
For Takayama, a legendary Japanese pro wrestler with just two MMA fights to his name, both of them losses, facing the 14-1 Frye was a tough task. But at 6ft 7in and 280 pounds, he dwarfed his much more experienced opponent, who had just come off a victory over Ken Shamrock.
As soon as the bell wrang, what seemed like a hockey fight broke out. Both fighters clinched while holding each other’s head, and for more than a minute, exchanged a flurry of relentless, undefended shots. This happened two more times during the fight, before Frye managed to slam Takayama to the canvas and put him away with some savage ground and pound.
#4. Wanderlei Silva vs Kazuhiro Nakamura: Pride (2006)
The critical lesson we can learn from this encounter is: don’t pull off your gi during a fight.
In 2006, Wanderlei Silva faced off with Kazuhiro Nakamura in the quarterfinals of the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. While Nakamura had some decent wins under his belt, including a victory over Kevin Randleman, the Japanese judoka was far from a match for Silva, then 30 years old and firmly in his prime.
Entering the ring wearing a short-sleeved gi, Nakamura surprisingly held his own against Silva, even initiating brawls with the most feared striker in the division. That was until his gi started to bother him, and Nakamura decided to disrobe right in front of the advancing Axe Murderer.
To the surprise of no one, Silva swiftly dropped “King Kaz” to the canvas and unleashed half a minute of undefended ground and pound that forced the ref to step in.
3. Chael Sonnen vs. Paulo Fihlo 2: WEC (2008)
Sometimes, a fighter is forced to face their demons in the cage—literally. That’s what happened to Paulo Fihlo in this very bizarre MMA fight.
Fihlo was 16-0 at the time and considered perhaps the world’s top middleweight alongside Anderson Silva. In December 2007, the Brazilian had defended his WEC middleweight belt with a controversial submission win over Chael Sonnen, who hadn’t actually tapped, but rather yelled out in pain, causing the ref to step in.
The duo were set to rematch just months later, but a substance abuse problem landed Fihlo in a rehab facility, postponing the bout until November 2008. And when Fihlo rocked up to the weigh-ins, he tipped the scales seven pounds overweight, which meant the title was no longer on the line.
When the fight started, Fihlo showed no aggression or urgency, but instead plodded around the cage as Sonnen beat him up. Then soon after, it appeared as if Fihlo started to lose his mind. He began talking to himself, and instead of focusing on Chael, the 30-year-old seemed distracted by an invisible opponent elsewhere in the cage, prompting commentator Frank Mir to scream “Who is he looking at!?”
You can catch the moment below.
2. Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000: Bellator (2016)
There’s gassed, and then there’s Kimbo Slice and Dada 5000 gassed.
The two former streetfighters spent much of this bizarre MMA fight attempting to regain their breath, hugging one another and winging punches so anemic it seemed like the fight was shot in slow motion.
Towards the end of the third round, Slice managed to throw one last sluggish, glacial right hand that ever so slightly brushed the chin of Dada 5000, sending him lumbering uncontrollably across the cage—from exhaustion, more than anything—before thudding unceremoniously into the canvas.
“I’m so winded right now,” Slice told Bellator color commentator Jimmy Smith inside the cage during his post-fight interview.
This, unfortunately, was Slice’s last fight before the 42-year-old died of heart failure just months later. Dada 5000, meanwhile, later claimed on Instagram that he was clinically dead during the encounter.
“Yes I did have kidney failure during the fight I also had two heart attacks which I did code aka died during the fight,” the post read in part. “Glory to the Most High which saw favor in me to bring me back.”
1. Gabi Garcia vs. Yumiko Hotta: Rizin (2016)
The most bizarre MMA fight we’ve seen surely has to be this criminally mismatched encounter between Gabi “She Hulk” Garcia and Yumiko Hotta.
Rippling with muscles, the 6ft 2in Garcia went into the fight weighing an astonishing 207 pounds. While the 5ft 6in Hotta, a pro wrestler with a 5-4 MMA record, tipped the scales at just 165 pounds.
This was truly a bizarre spectacle from start to finish. When both fighters entered the ring, 49-year-old Hotta to her credit seemed unfazed by the hulking presence waiting for her in the opposite corner. And as her name was announced, “Passion Hotty” let out a furious roar to the Tokyo crowd, before meeting Garcia in the center of the ring, and looking sharply up at the undefeated 30-year-old Brazilian.
Then, when the bell rang, Hotta decided to stay true to her pro wrestling roots, running across the ring and bouncing herself off the ropes. That tactic came to a swift end after eating a stiff left hook from Garcia, who then proceeded to land a brutal knee to the face, before swarming her tiny opponent with some savage ground and pound, ending the fight in just 41 seconds.
What do you think? Are there any other bizarre MMA fights that we missed?