When Yair Rodriguez knocked out Chan Sung Jung in the final seconds of UFC Fight Night: Denver this past weekend, the MMA world exploded. Rodriguez's elbow landed squarely with Jung's chin, sending him straight to the mat. It was the end of an epic back-and-forth battle that headlined the UFC's 25th anniversary card.
Was it the best knockout in the history of the UFC? The case can be made, though you also can for a multitude of other finishes. ESPN's MMA team -- Brett Okamoto, Ariel Helwani, Jeff Wagenheim, Phil Murphy and Eric Tamiso -- gave their pick of the best ever.
Okamoto: Yair Rodriguez elbow against Chan Sung Jung at UFC Fight Night: Denver
I was fortunate enough to be on press row for Saturday's knockout and, naturally, that was one of the conversations that came up between journalists, UFC staff, fighters, managers, etc. after the event. Was Rodriguez's knockout the best of all time?
And for me, it was. You have to take everything into account. The absurd, technical difficulty of the knockout. The fact it happened in the final second of a five-round, Fight of the Year contender, which Rodriguez would have lost had it gone to the scorecards. The devastating effect it had on Korean Zombie. I mean, not only do I think it's probably the best ever -- considering everything, I'm not sure how it will ever be topped.
There are more historical knockouts (Conor McGregor over Jose Aldo, Holly Holm over Ronda Rousey, Chris Weidman over Anderson Silva). And there are greater comeback knockouts (Scott Smith over Pete Sell, Mike Russow over Todd Duffee). But watch that Rodriguez replay one more time, remember what the circumstances were -- and try to tell me that's not the best of all time.
Helwani: Yair Rodriguez elbow against Chan Sung Jung at UFC Fight Night: Denver
When discussing the best knockout in UFC history, you have to consider three important factors: stage, technique and timing. We've seen plenty of knockouts on the biggest stage, like Conor McGregor vs. Jose Aldo, Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping. We've seen amazing technique in fights like Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim, Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga and Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm. We've also seen some jaw-dropping, not-so-technical knockouts that came at the perfect time, such as Pete Sell vs. Scott Smith and Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo. These are all amazing choices. Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of them.
However, at the risk of being accused of recency bias, I'll vote for Rodriguez's knockout as the greatest of all time. Why? It was a technique we've never seen before, it came in the main event of the UFC's 25th anniversary show (big stage!), and, with one second left in the fight, it's timing could not have been better. It checks all three boxes.
Murphy: Gabriel Gonzaga head kick against Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 70
UFC 70's main event was pegged as "striker vs. grappler." The supposed grappler, Gonzaga, was a heavy underdog. The script had Pride legend Cro Cop, a 6-to-1 favorite, picking apart the young Gonzaga with an array of kicks to earn a heavyweight title shot.
But in a twist of violent irony, the jiu-jitsu practitioner flattened the kickboxer, as Gonzaga hit Cro Cop flush in the temple with a high kick late in the first round. Cro Cop dropped, along with every jaw in the arena. Referee Herb Dean rushed in to unfold the Croatian, freeing Cro Cop's contorted leg from under his body.
More than 11 years later, Gonzaga "Cro-Copping" Cro Cop remains in the UFC's opening montage and will forever remain seared in the memories of those watching that night.
Wagenheim: Yair Rodriguez elbow against Chan Sung Jung at UFC Fight Night: Denver
The latest is the greatest.
There have been more consequential KO's than what we witnessed in Saturday night's main event, which did not have the high-level, high-stakes gravitas of a championship bout. Holly Holm became a world champ when she shocked that world in 2015, her heavenly head kick knocking the stellar Ronda Rousey out of orbit. Conor McGregor grabbed his first belt a month later with spectacular efficiency, needing only one punch and 13 seconds to put a halt to Jose Aldo and his decade-long win streak.
Among iconic vanquishings, some are memorable for their aesthetics, others for the personalities involved. One of my earliest MMA remembrances, from 1998, was watching Vitor Belfort's flying fists chase Wanderlei Silva across the Octagon. That fast-forward approach didn't work so well in 2001 for Caol Uno, as BJ Penn went olé and then rat-a-tat to author a lightning-strike finish. Remember the night in 2007 when Gabriel Gonzaga cro-copped Mirko Filipovic with that turnabout-is-fair-play head kick? Dan Henderson dropping the devastating H-bomb on Michael Bisping in '09 on the spotlit stage of UFC 100? Edson Barboza putting a new spin on the word "stiffen" when his 2012 kick chopped down Terry Etim like an ax-splintered oak? And how about all of those Chuck Liddell lashings -- clocking Randy Couture (x2), crushing Tito Ortiz (x2), collapsing at the fast hands of Rashad Evans?
But what Rodriguez did to Jung was breathtakingly unprecedented on two essential levels: the urgency and the innovation. The jaws of defeat were just one second from chewing him up when "El Pantera" bit back. And he did so with a finishing move the likes of which we'd never before seen in 25 years of UFC history. Rodriguez thus elbowed his way into the epic knockout annals. What he did to "The Korean Zombie" stands above all other KO's as a masterpiece of mixed martial artistry.
THE SURPRISE K.O. AT THE BUZZER ������ pic.twitter.com/YQWeRckTwP
- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 11, 2018
Sandhu: Yair Rodriguez elbow against Chan Sung Jung at UFC Fight Night: Denver
It's easy to fall into recency bias and get caught up in the hyperbole when something spectacular happens and immediately jump to the "greatest of all time" line of thinking.
That being said, Rodriguez's reverse upward elbow knockout of Jung last weekend in Denver is the greatest knockout in UFC history, in my book anyway, and here's why.
First of all, Rodriguez and Jung engaged in a 25-minute, instant classic which has probably secured fight of the year honors for 2018. Unbeknownst to him, "El Pantera" was losing the fight on the official scorecards. Before the fifth round started, his wrestling coach, friend and cornerman Israel Martinez told him to finish the fight, but it wasn't until the very last second, 4:59 to be exact, when Rodriguez pulled off one of the most creative, mind-blowing, buzzer-beating knockouts I've ever seen. The "Korean Zombie" face planted right into the canvas. Incredible scenes.
Considering that not too long ago, Rodriguez was cut by the organization, for him to then come into this event, the UFC's 25th anniversary show, headline the card (on short notice no less) and then pull this off was nothing short of outstanding. It probably will never be replicated. That was once-in-a-lifetime stuff we witnessed Saturday night, and a finish that will be replayed again and again for years to come.
- Dana White (@danawhite) October 5, 2015
Tamiso: Edson Barboza spinning wheel kick against Terry Etim at UFC 142
A pirouette of violence from Barboza that landed flush on Etim for a walk-off knockout. In martial arts, nothing has been so vicious, yet beautiful at the same time. Midway through the third round of this lightweight bout in Brazil, Barboza kicked so quick and so powerful that the lights were shut off for Etim before falling to the canvas.