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UFC 189: Lawler v MacDonald Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
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Welcome to the opening of Mania’s March MMAdness Round of 64, where social distancing is no match for our innate desire to argue.

Here’s a quick refresher on the rules and timeline if you need ‘em, but it’s not that complicated: we rounded up 64 of the best mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts ever and divided them into packs of four. Each day, you’ve got 24 hours to sell everyone on your donnybrooks of choice. After that, it’s on to the next batch.

Now, let’s get this quarantine party started:

Match 1: Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2 (#1) vs. Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice (#64)

The tournament’s prohibitive favorite has aged like fine wine. Not only was this our “Fight of the Year” for 2015, it carried UFC 189 to the top of our “Events of the Year,” out-shining the two flying knee knockouts that preceded it on the main card. Five years later, you’ll still struggle to find a finer mix of technical acumen, intense violence, jaw-dropping grit and high drama.

That moment of Lawler spitting out a spray of blood and just walking toward MacDonald after the fourth still sends chills up the spine.

VS.

UFC 157: Burrell v Villefort Photo by Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

I didn’t want to mess with the seeding too much, but I had to include this one. Bermudez and Grice put on arguably the most underrated balls-out brawl in recent memory, slugging it out for 15 minutes of absolute mayhem. Highlights include Grice catching Bermudez with a counter left so hard the latter’s entire body contracted like an armadillo rolling up and then surviving a hellacious barrage in the third to fight back until the bell.

Sadly, this would be the last fight of Grice’s career, as he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident not long after (details). He’s still doing quite well for himself, though, teaching mixed martial arts (MMA) up in Edmonton and leading Chibwikem Onyenegecha to victory on “Contender Series” in 2018, and he left one hell of a legacy.

Poll

Who wins Match One?

This poll is closed

  • 95%
    Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald II
    (329 votes)
  • 4%
    Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice
    (16 votes)
345 votes total Vote Now

Match 2: Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier (#32) vs. Wanderlei Silva vs. Rampage Jackson 2 (#33)

UFC On Fuel TV: Korean Zombie v Poirier Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

“The Korean Zombie’s” head kick knockout loss to George Roop could have been the nail that kept him in his coffin. Instead, it led to a fundamental reinvention of his style, keeping the implacable advance that so endeared him to fans while making impressive technical strides. When he met Dustin Poirier in 2012, both men riding impressive streaks, it was every bit as entertaining as expected.

Cliche as the descriptor is, this fight really did have a little bit of everything, meshing the expected slugging with high-octane ground exchanges. Poirier survived Jung’s submission onslaught and came on strong in the third, only for Jung to score one of the wilder club-and-sub sequences of the 2010’s to claim victory in the fourth. Don’t let the under-seeding fool you — this was a damn good tussle.

VS.

wanderlei silva pride celebration

Ignore their fourth meeting the way you would a direct-to-VHS Disney sequel and Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is one of MMA’s best trilogies. Though all ended in violent fashion, none were more delightfully brutal than their second meeting.

The first time these two locked horns back in 2003, Silva’s signature knee onslaught proved more than even Jackson’s legendary durability could withstand. One year later at PRIDE Shockwave 2004, Jackson found considerably more early success, landing a takedown and later rocking Silva with a hard right hand against the ropes.

“The Axe Murderer” would survive, though, and after another stretch of time stuck on his back, caught Jackson leaning in with a right hook. Hurt, Jackson brought up his guard, only to fall victim to that same fusillade of knees, resulting in an iconic image of a lifeless “Rampage” dangling half-out of the ropes as Silva bellowed his victory.

Poll

Who wins Match Two?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier
    (153 votes)
  • 48%
    Wanderlei Silva vs. Rampage Jackson II
    (146 votes)
299 votes total Vote Now

Match 3: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mirko Filipovic (#17) vs. Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon (#48)

It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of this fight, which PRIDE never quite managed to put together until 2005. It pitted the Heavyweight G.O.A.T. against the sport’s most lethal sprawl-and-brawler for what figured to be the most difficult stylistic challenge of “The Last Emperor’s” legendary run.

Though it didn’t quite deliver the shocking violence both men were capable of, this tense, tactical battle nonetheless lived up to the imposing standards the match up presented and solidified Fedor’s place as a one-of-a-kind juggernaut.

VS.

UFC 155: Miller v Lauzon Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

This list wouldn’t be complete without a Joe Lauzon fight, and this one was as appealingly prototypical as they come. These 15 minutes featured brutal striking exchanges, ground transitions as technical as they were aggressive, and shocking amounts of blood, just the way we like it.

Miller would ultimately come out victorious via unanimous decision, and while Lauzon appeared to have evened the score with a strong effort in their rematch, the judges disagreed. Still, it wasn’t enough to take the shine off of this war.

Poll

Who wins Match Three?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mirko Filipovic
    (142 votes)
  • 51%
    Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon I
    (148 votes)
290 votes total Vote Now

Match 4: Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes 2 (#16) vs. Dominick Cruz vs. T.J. Dillashaw (#49)

When Jose Aldo first met Chad Mendes, “Money” was an uninspiring grinder who made little use of the shocking power in his right hand. In the end, “Scarface” shut down his wrestling with a spot of help from the fence and turned the lights out with a knee. He had a slightly tougher time in the rematch.

Mendes entered their UFC 179 clash with four knockouts in his previous six wins, and after surviving a heavy right hand after the first-round bell, gave Aldo everything he could handle. Each man hurt the other on multiple occasions, Aldo with his straight right and Mendes with an uppercut that damn near took the champ off of his feet. When the dust settled, each man had secured his place in the 145-pound pantheon.

VS.

Dominick Cruz and T.J. Dillashaw put on an excellent, memorable five-round battle without a single knockdown or submission attempt. Boston fans got to enjoy what was, to use another painful cliche, a high-level chess match between two highly adept and adaptable technicians.

Cruz proved that his layoff hadn’t cost him a step as he dazzled in the early going, but Dillashaw demonstrated that his divisional rise wasn’t a product of Cruz’s absence by taking control in the latter half. Neither man’s stock dropped when Cruz got the split decision, and neither Cruz’s eternal injury struggles nor Dillashaw’s failed drug test were enough to tarnish this tussle.

Poll

Who wins Match Four?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes II
    (178 votes)
  • 39%
    Dominick Cruz vs. TJ Dillashaw
    (115 votes)
293 votes total Vote Now

Spread the word, share socially ... do whatever grassroots / viral “Get Out The Vote” campaign needed to ensure your favorite fights advance to the next round. Complaining in the comments section about seeding and whatnot will not impact the results and will just make you look like an unappreciative dick.

Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.