Lakers & Celtics. Yankees & Red Sox. Duke & North Carolina.
Tiger & Mickelson. Frazier & Ali.
Exceptional rivalries have existed in the history of every competition, and remain one of the most intriguing aspects of sports to passionate fans around the world.
The visible tension, the genuine emotion, the fierce thrill. Rivalries generate a unique feeling that sport-lovers cannot resist.
The home of mixed martial arts is no different. The Ultimate Fighting Championship naturally brings in a variety of characters that clash in the press conferences and more importantly, the Octagon. This organization has cultivated some of the tremendous individual rivalries due to its raw hostile nature. Let’s take a close look at the current most thrilling rivalries in the UFC.
Jon “Bones” Jones versus Daniel “DC” Cormier
The Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier beef may be the most thrilling for devoted fans on this list. This tension between the two light-heavyweights arose all the way back in 2010. At UFC 121, the two men met together backstage in what was an unfavourable first impression. Jones offered his take on the altercation to ESPN MMA insider Ariel Helwani.
“The whole story behind me and him is just so silly. I met him and came up to him with a big smile on my face. He's another black guy in the sport, and I felt the need to say hello to him, and I was just like, ‘hey man, I hear you're a great wrestler' and all this stuff, and he's like ‘Yeah, yeah, you don't know who I am?' I'm like ‘No I don't know who you are, but my coaches were telling me that you wrestle on the Olympic level.' And I was like ‘I bet you that I could take you down. It was my way of trying to develop a new friendship, and he just took it so seriously, and he was just so offended that I didn't know who he was, and from that moment on he decided that there was a beef between us”
Cormier explained his perspective in a marginally different fashion to ESPN.
I didn't expect Jon Jones to know who I was as an Olympian. I don't expect Jon Jones to know any wrestlers. He was the guy that was coming up to be the UFC champion. What I said was, How do you break the ice by insulting someone?' That's the only problem I had. It was the first time he and I ever interacted.
Three years later, the two would discover their genuine dislike for one another. On August 4th, during a media event at UFC 178 for their first scheduled bout, the two of them became physical during their stare down. Cormier shoved Jones in the throat, and Jones replied back by attempting to punch Cormier. When he missed, he tackled him along with other security guards. Their continual strife was starting to unravel and become public.
The verbal exchanges heated up with various interviews that year. In one specific instance, the men had an interview on ESPN, where the cameras turned off, and Jones and Cormier exchanged some pretty tasteless words.
When the camera panned away, Jones said, “Hey p*ssy, you still there?”
Cormier replied, “I’m here, I’m here. You are just the fakest person. I actually admire that you can actually be this fake, and like, when the TV comes on, how you can just change. It's like you're a chameleon. It's awesome."
They both went back and forth, where Jones gave a death threat to Cormier after DC said he would spit in his face.
Unfortunately, Jones got injured for that scheduled fight, so the UFC naturally had to postpone.
Their first bout, instead, took place at UFC 182 at the MGM Grand. It was a close back and forth fight, but Jones was able to score a unanimous decision. Notwithstanding during the bout, the anger was apparent, as after each bell rang to end the round, the two would continue throwing punches.
After this win, a rematch was scheduled multiple times. However, due to consistent injuries from Cormier, the hit-and-run incident from Jones and then the testing of banned substances from Jones, it took longer than expected. While this was happening, the twitter verbal sparring continued, with Cormier repeatedly calling out Jones for his poor actions outside of the Octagon.
At UFC 214, the two men ultimately had their rematch, where Jones would win by a third-round TKO.
The mutual animosity, the call-outs and the genuine interest from fans haven’t disappeared. Although DC recently loss to Miocic, a trilogy fight to end Cormier’s remarkable career is likely in the foreseeable future.
“The Notorious” Conor McGregor versus Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov
Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov share an extensive history together in a short window of time. The sport’s most popular fighter and the undefeated lightweight champion have brought their trash talk to an extremely personal level.
Their initial sign of tension started in 2016. In November, at UFC 205 weigh-ins, the men had an altercation backstage. The lightweights saw each other from either side and started exchanging words before they were separated by security. After this, the men would continually jab at each other on twitter on various occasions.
Two years later, Khabib formally called out McGregor after Tony Ferguson pulled out of their scheduled fight at UFC 223. The tweet read, “Where are you now? @thenotoriousmma”.
This is when the beef started heating up. A few days later, a video would surface that showed a dispute between Khabib and Conor’s training partner, Artem Lobov. That same day, UFC President Dana White announced that McGregor would be stripped of the official title for inactivity.
The next day, after the UFC 223 media day ended, McGregor and a group of training partners and friends instantly rushed the Barclays Center to get revenge for Khabib's altercation with Lobov. They instantly started hollering at Khabib who was in a UFC bus full of fighters; cussing him out and slamming the windows. When he didn’t come out, McGregor threw a metal dolly and shattered the windows. Dana White later said to ESPN, “This is the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the company.”
McGregor was later arraigned with his teammate for his violent actions. After many court dates, McGregor willingly accepted a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty for disorderly conduct. This meant the Irishman could continue fighting in the United States, and the fight was on.
The much-anticipated fight was scheduled for UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena. A press conference was scheduled on September 20th, for just the two fighters, with no crowd and just reporters.
The event was extremely hostile and felt more personal than most fights. McGregor showed profound disgust for Nurmagomedov’s family and religion, while getting into a personal feud with his manager, Ali Abdelaziz. The Eagle continued to be focused and disinterested throughout the conference.
The talk was finally done and these two men were eager to hurt each other severely. Nurmagomedov said in the week prior that he wanted to “change his face.”
At UFC 229, Nurmagomedov outmatched McGregor for the majority of the fight and carefully finished him in the fourth round by submission. When he won, he instantly jumped the cage and started a brawl with McGregor’s team. Inside the cage, Nurmagomedov’s team and McGregor exchanged punches before the security could hold everyone off. This truly revealed how personal this rivalry between the two really was.
McGregor has stated he wants the rematch desperately, whereas Nurmagomedov doesn’t think he justly deserves it, as he not long ago said in an interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, “I don’t want to fight a guy [McGregor] that never wins.”
Conor McGregor versus Nate Diaz
Conor McGregor has developed many enemies due to his outspoken personality. This next rivalry is with the very talented Stockton native, Nate Diaz. Two of the UFC’s most brash and outspoken athletes were likely to clash when they got paired up.
After Rafael Dos Anjos pulled out of the scheduled fight with McGregor, the UFC organized a short notice fight between McGregor and Diaz at 170lbs for UFC 196. Both fighters usually fought at 155, but were willing to go up due to the short notice timeline for Diaz.
This fight was considered thanks to Diaz’s callout and shared interest from the UFC and McGregor.
At UFC on FOX 17, after Diaz defeated Michael Johnson, he made the famous callout towards McGregor. Instead of answering Joe Rogan’s question he says, “Fuck that. Conor McGregor, you’re taking everything I’ve worked for Motherf*ker. Ima’ fight your f**king ass. You know what’s the real fight, what’s the real money fight. It’s me.”
The build-up for this fight was respectively some of the greatest trash-talk and overall entertainment that UFC fans have ever witnessed prior to a fight. In a 10-day period, these men went from disconnected fighters to genuine foes.
The first visible sign of mutual animosity in the build-up was at their first staredown after the UFC 196 official press conference. When both men came towards each other, Diaz put out his arm blocking McGregor’s face, and the Irishman didn’t hesitate by swiftly punching it away. Security was holding both teams back from brawling immediately after.
The build-up continued with fierce animosity in back-and-forth interviews and another small press conference.
This included the remarkable interview on Fox with Jay and Dan and the business channel interview on CNBC.
In the Fox interview, the two men exchanged intense words for a near eight minutes.
Soon after, they spoke on CNBC to talk about business and money. McGregor and Diaz continued the verbal sparring, but the Stockton native left early after hearing the absurd questions from the reporter.
Their last meeting was at a press conference held for the two of them only. McGregor, was his boisterous self, while Diaz did not seem to care the slightest.
At UFC 196, Diaz shocked the world by submitting McGregor in the second round via rear-naked choke.
McGregor asked for an immediate rematch and due to the considerable interest of the fans and Diaz’s apparent willingness, it was scheduled for UFC 202.
Fort this build-up McGregor managed to do a lot less media as he eagerly wanted to focus for this rematch. But, the level of interest never dropped and the moments they met, it was especially thrilling.
A pre-fight conference was finally held for UFC 202 on August 17th. McGregor showed up extremely late, and soon after Diaz walked out. As he did, he flipped off Conor, and when this happened McGregor and Diaz’s team started throwing monster cans and water bottles at each other from opposing sides of the auditorium.
The rematch was delivering increased levels of excitement to the fans. It was a key event the consuming public was waiting eagerly for.
At UFC 202, McGregor and Diaz put on a back-and-forth classic. The Notorious edged out a split decision in what was deemed by fans and analysts as one of the greatest UFC fights of all time.
The beef has undoubtedly remained and the interest for a future trilogy is still as big as ever.
Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman versus Colby “Chaos” Covington
This fierce rivalry between welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and No.1 contender Colby Covington is invariably a more recent development.
The two men were going to face animosity sooner or later as two gifted athletes at the top of their division, with both something to prove.
In the first half of 2018, the two started bickering on twitter about their rightful spot in the welterweight division. Both shared words on various occasions but nothing extremely significant as Covington was worried about former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley for the most part and Usman was still focused on his bout with Dos Anjos.
However, this beef finally went public twice in the same weekend. At UFC 223, before the 25th-anniversary press conference, the two men enjoyed some harsh words for each other backstage.
They were both standing next to each other, so Usman seized the moment to properly call him out by saying, “we only talk on twitter. Don’t talk in person, we talk on twitter…I’m right here, you can talk on twitter right. You can’t talk to me face to face? I’m standing right here in front of you.” Covington responded, and both men kept exchanging words before security had to get in between them.
Immediately afterwards, the press conference started and the men maintained their energy by going back-and-forth.
The twitter beef would continue for months, with both men accusing the other of dodging the fight.
The feud ultimately took place outside of company doors in March of this year. A day after UFC 235, where Usman became the undisputed welterweight champion, they almost came to blows in a neighbouring casino.
Usman started this altercation once again, with Covington remaining more passive. However, Usman’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, was more fired up than anyone, as he was persistently attempting to march towards Covington.
Most recently, the two got into their last scuffle at UFC on ESPN 5, where Covington defeated Robbie Lawler by a genuinely impressive unanimous decision. Usman was covering as an analyst and Covington was brought onto the set to answer questions. The professionalism lasted about five seconds before the two started going off at one another. The 31-year-old accused Usman of faking specific injuries and eluding him, while Usman informed the public to “watch the videos,'' referring to Covington being less aggressive in their face-to-face meetings backstage and at the casino.
The two have not fought yet, but have produced the heat already. After Covington’s impressive win over Lawler, this climactic fight will assuredly be for the welterweight title in the very foreseeable future.
T.J Dillashaw versus Cody “No Love” Garbrandt
These two have a history that makes this rivalry primarily interesting. It may be the most personal and ugly rivalry on this list.
In 2012, former UFC fighter Duane Ludwig was announced as a coach of Team Alpha Male. This is the recognizable gym of talented fighters like Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes and of course, Cody Garbrandt. At this specific point, T.J Dillashaw was also apart of Team Alpha Male.
In 2014, the news of Ludwig’s imminent departure became public. The breakup was visibly ugly, and problems were definitely endured behind closed doors.
On May 24, 2014, Dillashaw was able to capture the bantamweight title with an impressive win over Renan Barao. Although he was still apart of Alpha Male, Dillashaw said he was still being trained under Ludwig as a “private coach.”
On the 22nd successful season of the Ultimate Fighter, where McGregor and Urijah Faber were the active coaches, the Irishman highlighted this odd arrangement in front of both teams. McGregor challenged Dillashaw’s status as an active Alpha Male member by famously referring to him as a “snake in the grass.”
Mystic Mac proved to be correct, as a few months later Dillashaw announced that he would be leaving Alpha Male to train with Duane Ludwig in Colorado. The active members of Alpha Male were unhappy with this decision, especially the young phenom Cody Garbrandt who said eagerly on FOX, “If you're not with us, you're against us.”
Garbrandt flew through the ranks and quickly became the bantamweight champion with a dominant win over Dominick Cruz. The stage was set for a brilliant match versus Dillashaw.
Their first sign of beef was when Dillashaw tweeted that he made Garbrandt cry in training, and Garbrandt replied saying he has sparring footage of him knocking T.J out.
This considerable tension would continue on the 25th season of The Ultimate Fighter where they would be the designated coaches. This season experienced some of the most physical and aggressive moments in the show's extensive history. These two went at it at the very beginning and nearly came to blows at each encounter.
They traditionally ended the successful season with a long-awaited fight fueled by personal hatred for one another.
At UFC 213, Dillashaw rallied back from being knocked down in the first round, to knocking out Garbrandt in the second round.
The UFC would soon announce an immediate rematch for UFC 217. The intense trash-talk would continue for months before the rematch, with the issue of Dillashaw’s disloyalty being at the forefront. On August 4th, Dillashaw would make quick work of Garbrandt by instantly knocking him out in the first round.
Presently, this long standing rivalry is on the gradual decline due to two contributing factors. First, Garbandt lost both fights. It is difficult to sustain the same interest to the longtime fans if one man clearly outmatches the other. Second, Dillashaw was suspended for two years by USADA after recently testing positive for EPO’s (a performance-enhancing drug). It will likely be a long time until we see these men clash inside the Octagon once again.