Although the majority of attention is given to the knockout punch or a well-executed submission, there is perhaps no more exciting maneuver in mixed martial arts than the slam. It’s a move that the fans love and fighters dread…well, those on the receiving end, anyway.
And at UFC 123 this Saturday, odds are pretty good that we'll get to see one.
There's no shortage of fighters capable of executing a slam, but pulling the maneuver off in a professional fight is a difficult task. It requires a great amount of strength and energy, which can come in short supply when you're going three to five rounds with the best fighters in the world.
Amazingly, when compiling some of the best slams in history, we found that no less than four of them were performed by fighters competing at UFC 123. The odds of that happening are so low that we can only assume UFC matchmaker Joe Silva sat down to make this card and said to himself, "I want to see a slam. A good, solid slam."
With that, let’s review ten of the most epic slams in our sport’s history.
Quinton Jackson vs. Ricardo Arona
Pride Critical Countdown 2004 (6/20/04) watch here
We start the list off with, arguably, the most famous slam, and one that also came to define the career of one-half of UFC 123's main event.
Rampage was still in the early stages of his career when he first appeared with the Pride organization in 2002, quickly establishing himself as a dangerous opponent and a contender in the ultra-competitive 205 pound division.
In June 2004 he faced Ricardo Arona, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace and former Abu Dhabi Under 99kg and Absolute champion. Seven minutes into the first round (note: under Pride rules, the first round was 10 minutes in length with the second and third rounds going five minutes), Arona caught the explosive and unorthodox Jackson in his guard and attempted to secure a triangle choke. Jackson planted his feet and hoisted Arona high into the air with ease as if he were a small child. Arona made the mistake of holding on to the submission, and Jackson made him pay for it with a snap powerbomb that knocked Arona out cold and gave Jackson the TKO victory.
Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton
UFC 34 (11/2/01) watch here
Hughes, whose feud with rival BJ Penn culminates in the third leg of their trilogy at UFC 123, is perhaps the greatest welterweight in UFC history and its most dominant champion.
In November of 2001, Hughes began his memorable run at the top by facing then champion Carlos Newton. Barely a minute into the second round, Newton locked in a triangle choke, which Hughes countered by lifting Newton up off the ground, walking him over to the other side of the Octagon, and resting him up against the cage in an impressive display of strength.
After several moments that must have seemed like an eternity to both fighters, Hughes pulled Newton out from the cage, bringing him down to the mat with force. Newton was knocked out and deemed unable to continue, giving Hughes the win and his first UFC welterweight championship.
It was a memorable, but controversial, finish to the fight. Many felt it should have been declared a no contest, citing that Hughes seemed out of sorts himself from the triangle choke. Newton would get his chance at redemption the following year at UFC 38, but he was stopped via strikes in the fourth round.
Gerald Harris vs. Dave Branch
UFC 116 (7/3/10) watch here
Middleweight Gerald Harris, the third fighter on our list appearing at UFC 123, actually trained with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson early in his MMA career. It appears at least some of Jackson rubbed off onto Harris: he's far more reserved and less bombastic than Jackson outside the ring, but he is every bit as strong, hard-hitting, and aggressive as Rampage is.
In a familiar scene, Dave Branch made the mistake of going for a triangle choke against Harris and paid dearly for his error in judgment. In the third round of their bout, Harris reversed the triangle attempt by hoisting Branch up from under his legs. Harris delivered the slam with force, driving Branch to the mat with his full weight behind it.
The impressive slam made Harris an overnight star. The replay appeared as a highlight on ESPN Sportscenter for days following the event, giving him mainstream exposure and praise from throughout the sports world.
Harris faces Maiquel Falcao at UFC 123.
Tim Boetsch vs. David Heath
UFC 81 (2/2/08) watch here
Our next fighter and final UFC 123 competitor also became an overnight celebrity in the sport after his slam, though with far less panache.
Tim Boetsch made his UFC debut as a last minute replacement against David Heath at UFC 81. With only ten days notice, the IFL veteran stepped into the Octagon against the veteran Heath and finished it late in the first with a vicious and forceful standing throw. It was as if Boetsch willed his opponent to no longer be standing or conscious and executed a maneuver that would seem bullyish if it wasn’t against the actually larger Heath. The throw knocked Heath out almost instantly and gave Boetsch the win.
It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done and was a highlight reel moment that fans still talk about to this day.
Dan Severn vs. Anthony Macias
UFC 4 (12/16/94)
American wrestlers have dominated the MMA landscape in almost every weight class, but in the early days it was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that ruled the day and was thought to be the predominant form for the sport.
That changed when Dan Severn made his debut.
Severn, a two-time high school Greco-Roman champion and four-time All-American during his tenure at Arizona State University, came into the UFC with an impressive amateur wrestling background. But his opponent, Anthony Macias, came in looking much leaner and more intimidating than Severn. In the early days of the sport, the casual onlookers took one look at the more athletically shaped Macias and figured this would go quickly.
They were right, but for the wrong reasons.
After Macias went for several leg kicks, Severn employed his technical prowess, shooting and taking Macias down. Severn grappled with the outmatched Macias, who desperately tried to break Severn's grasp with elbows to no avail.
Then UFC fans saw the type of slam that they'd previously only seen in the spandexed world of professional wresting.
When Macias began striking at Severn with downward elbows to the back of the head (now illegal under the Unified Rules of MMA), Severn responded by hitting a hellacious belly to back side suplex. He then brought Macias back to his feet for a repeat performance, and this time Macias could be seen trying to shake the cobwebs. Eventually Severn's wrestling, combined with the impact of the back-to-back suplexes, proved to be too much for Macias and he was tapped by a rear naked choke.
Though he eventually lost in the finals of the one-night tournament to fellow UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie, Severn's performance earlier in the evening and those slams in particular heralded a new wave of fighters. Wrestling had arrived, and Severn’s slam was but a glimpse of the sport's future.
Tito Ortiz vs. Evan Tanner
UFC 30 (2/23/01)
Although a polarizing figure in the sport, Tito Ortiz has undeniably provided plenty of unforgettable moments for UFC fans during his career, which included a three year and five month reign as the UFC light heavyweight champion. One of the more memorable title defenses during that reign came against future UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner.
As the two fighters felt each other out, Tanner made the mistake of getting close to his opponent and was unprepared for Ortiz's clinch. Ortiz punished Tanner with several knees and uppercuts, intermittently going for a takedown. With double-underhooks secured, Ortiz lifted Tanner off the ground and slammed him with force to the mat, instantly knocking him out cold. The bout took just 30 seconds.
Two and a half years later, Tanner would drop down to 185 pounds and put on impressive performances in wins against Phil Baroni and Robbie Lawler before winning the UFC middleweight championship, which had been vacant for nearly three years. Though he lost in his first title defense against Rich Franklin, his efforts helped establish the division and secure a place in the promotion’s history.
Tanner passed away in September 2008.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
Pride 17 (11/03/01)
Our next slam comes courtesy of two true legends of the sport competing at the apex of their careers.
Nicknamed "The Axe Murderer" for his relentless striking style, Wanderlei Silva had a reputation for his explosive offense, though not necessarily for his grappling or slams. In his second fight against submission ace Kazushi Sakuraba, Silva found himself on the bottom and attempted to work his way back to his feet where he was more comfortable. This proved to be hazardous, as Sakuraba used the opportunity to secure a standing guillotine choke that seemed to spell the end for Silva and make Sakuraba, a hero to his people, the promotion's inaugural 205-pound champion.
It was not to be. Silva countered Sakuraba’s standing front chancery by scooping him off his feet and slamming him shoulder-first into the mat, a maneuver that stunned the capacity crowd and broke Sakuraba's collarbone.
Amazingly, the slam didn't end the fight and Sakuraba was able to finish the round. His corner, seeing the damage done by the slam, had no choice but to throw in the towel in-between rounds, making Silva the champion.
Gray Maynard vs. Rob Emerson
The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 Finale (6/23/07) watch here
Before he was a contender for the UFC lightweight Title, Gray Maynard got his start on the fifth season of "The Ultimate Fighter," where he made it to the semi-finals before being succumbing to a guillotine choke from eventual winner Nate Diaz.
At the finale he faced his former teammate, Rob Emerson. Although he was over three years away from being #1 contender, it was clear from the outset that Maynard's wrestling was going to give Emerson and the other fighters in the division plenty of headaches, but it was nothing compared to the one he was about to give himself.
After dominating the first round, Maynard started the second by going in for another shoot. He speared Emerson hard in an attempt to take him to the ground. Unfortunately, Maynard had put a bit too much of himself into the shoot and drove himself head-first into the mat.
After hitting the ground, Emerson tapped due to a rib injury resulting from the maneuver. At the same time, a seemingly unconscious Maynard had to be rolled off Emerson, resulting in the referee declaring the fight a no-contest.
In a memorable post-fight interview, Maynard insisted to Joe Rogan that he was never unconscious. Regardless, it provided one of the more memorable finishes in UFC history and made him a familiar name to fans.
Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell
UFC 43 (6/6/03) watch here
Hall of Famers Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell first met at UFC 43 to determine an interim light heavyweight championship after champion Tito Ortiz backed out of a scheduled fight with Liddell.
Going into the fight, Couture was already a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion and had cemented his status as one of the greats. Liddell's star was still on the rise as he racked up an impressive resume with wins over some of the best the sport had to offer, including Kevin Randleman and Murilo Bustamante.
Not surprisingly, the fight was one to remember. In the third round, Liddell went for a shin kick. Randy caught it, picked Liddell up five feet into the air, and slammed him to the canvas with authority. He then mounted Liddell and finished the fight with punches, earning his first UFC light heavyweight championship and a slam that fans would never forget.
Jon Jones vs. Stephan Bonner
UFC 94 (1/31/09) watch here
Stephan Bonnar, who became a household name as a participant in one of the promotion's greatest fights in history against Forrest Griffin in 2005, returned to the UFC in January 2009 after a 15 month hiatus due to injury. His opponent, Jon Jones, had just come off an impressive debut against Andre Gusmao and sported an impressive wrestling pedigree as a former State high school wrestling champion and a national Junior College Champion.
Though few knew what to expect after Bonnar's extensive lay-off, nobody saw Jon Jones coming, least of all Stephan Bonnar. Jones put on an absolute clinic, firing off unorthodox but effective striking that shocked and thrilled the capacity crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Jones's explosive offense also included a thrilling German suplex towards the end of the first round reminiscent of Dan Severn's UFC debut. Jones also executed another Greco-Roman throw later in the fight, but it was the flawlessly executed suplex that became cemented in the memories of fans, and the judges who gave Jones a unanimous decision victory.
Grand Slams - Top 10 UFC Slams
In the sport of MMA, there is perhaps no more exciting maneuver than the slam.Here are ten of the best...