Mixed martial arts is full of contradictions. It can be beautiful yet brutal, captivating but crude, poetic and perturbing in equal measure. For all of the sport’s refinement and sophistication, it is, at heart, a violent, bloody spectacle. It’s what entices so many of us to watch with crazed fanaticism whilst others cover their eyes in horror at the sheer barbarity of it all. Some can’t look away; others simply can’t bear to look.
The moves that mesmerise raucous crowds, are immortalised in highlight reels and set social media ablaze, are the same moves that cause horrific injuries for the unfortunate recipients. A slashing elbow on the nose, a flying knee to the cranium, an orbital-shattering punch. All leave fighters battered and bloodied.
And yet, in full knowledge that these are real humans bludgeoning each other into submission, we cheer them on and revel in the savage theatre of battle unfolding before us. Maybe it’s because we revere fighters who suffer unimaginable levels of physical punishment in their quest for glory. Or perhaps we possess an innate morbid curiosity that yearns to see just how macabre a fight can get.
No matter the reasons, what’s undeniable is that while fight fans admire great technique, we thrive on gruesomely bloody brawls.
10. Joe Stevenson Vs. Yves Edwards (UFC 61)
This was Joe Stevenson’s first UFC fight at lightweight following his coronation as The Ultimate Fighter season two winner, back when that was kind of a big deal.
Fresh off a loss to Josh Neer, Stevenson started slowly and was dropped by an Edwards head kick that threatened to end his night early. The Californian recovered well, however, and responded with takedowns and nasty ground-and-pound in an action-packed first round.
Edwards appeared comfortable working off of his back but struggled to nullify Stevenson’s aggressive top-game, culminating in ‘Joe Daddy’ landing a huge elbow that sliced his opponent’s head wide open.
Quite literally smelling blood, Stevenson upped the intensity further in search of a second-round stoppage. Edwards remained calm and composed under heavy fire but was bleeding profusely, saturating the canvas beneath him.
Referee John McCarthy halted proceedings for the cut to be checked and ‘The Thugjitsu Master’ was cleared to continue despite his head and torso being drenched in claret. The bloodshed continued unabated, however, with Stevenson pummeling his game-but-overpowered opponent with a barrage of punches and elbows. Edwards survived the round but looked like a slasher movie victim and the fight was stopped by the cageside doctor before the Bahamian could be carved up any further.
Stevenson called this the bloodiest fight he’d ever had. Unfortunately for him, it would soon be usurped by an even bloodier bout...