Shoeys, backflips and dances: Best signature celebrations in UFC history

At the game-changing moment when a fighter locks in an inescapable submission hold or connects with a no-getting-up knockdown punch, just as the referee jumps in and the crowd erupts, the TV broadcasters at cageside always amplify the scene with a few defining words. One of the phrases viewers will sometimes hear in descriptions of end-of-bout scenarios is that the fighter who authored the finish has just “closed the show.”

Often the stage show is far from over, however, with the curtain just starting to rise for Act 2.

Almost every winner will meet the jubilant moment by dancing, jumping around, flopping to the canvas or in some other way playing to the crowd. These are the ways that fighters connect with those watching, aiming to build their brand within the UFC and beyond. There are all sorts of victory celebrations in MMA, and one of the ones most popular with fans could be on display this Saturday at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas (ESPN+, main card at 7 p.m. ET, prelims at 4 p.m.).

One half of the main event is Tai Tuivasa, the rotund Australian heavyweight who, when he wins a fight, climbs on top of the cage and delights the crowd by pouring a can of beer into a shoe and chugging whatever doesn’t spill down his heaving chest.

For Tuivasa, who faces Marcin Tybura in this weekend’s fight, the shoey has become a joyful calling card. The big guy is a treat to watch throw leather regardless of what comes after, but it would not be unreasonable to assume that some fans’ primary reason for rooting on Tuivasa is that they’re excited to see him quaff suds from sweaty footwear.

Yeah, it’s a disgusting spectacle, if you think about it. So don’t think about it. If Tuivasa wins, enjoy his uninhibited euphoria, ignoring that a stinky foot has been a squatter living inside that shoe. Forget whatever bacteria the beer is marinating in. Just share in Tuivasa’s merrymaking. Drink it in.

OK, maybe that final image goes too far.

The point is, a professional fighter doing a shoey in front of a crowd of fans is a bonding experience for all. Tuivasa might not look the part of an elite athlete, but winning a bout in the leading prizefighting organization in the world — which he has done eight times, thus earning a No. 10 ranking in ESPN’s heavyweight rankings — elevates him to status as one of the best of the best. The shoey, a beer hall indulgence that typically occurs only after someone has drunk a few too many to fully grasp what they’re getting themselves into, restores Tuivasa’s everyman status.

After all, as Tuivasa told ESPN a couple of years ago, the shoey is “just something that me and my mates would do on a bender.”

Along the road to making the shoey his signature celebration, Tuivasa has endured some bumpy twists — and not just the losses in his three most recent fights. Among his UFC victories, all but one have been knockouts, which have propelled Tuivasa up onto the cage to toast his fans with a brewski served in a tankard made of leather and laces. But following his one decision win, against Andrei Arlovski in 2018, a more subdued Tuivasa used his postfight interview in the Octagon to politely ask commentator Joe Rogan for his shoe. Rogan smiled knowingly and shut down the fun, saying, “I’m not lending you my shoe. I’ve got to walk around in that thing.”

Then there was the night in 2021 when, fighting on the undercard of the third Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor bout, Tuivasa got the crowd extra energized for the main event by knocking out controversial NFL castoff Greg Hardy. Tuivasa jumped up on the cage to celebrate with a shoey, then did three more while walking back to the dressing room. In the last shoe he was handed by a fan in the stands, there was not just beer — but hot sauce. “Disgraceful. Disgusting,” Tuivasa said later that night at the post-fight press conference. “I think it was Poirier’s, too. Blech!”

Clearly, the gentleman is a craft beer connoisseur.

Not all victory celebrations in MMA are as just-do-it attainable as the shoey. Some require as much athleticism as is called upon in a fight, maybe even more. Some take much practice, while others appear spontaneous. Some are disrespectful, others exhibit the height of respect. Here are some of the most notable postfight revelries, past and present.


Present-day celebrations

Greatest in the whirl: Valentina Shevchenko‘s dance

When Shevchenko wins — which has happened a lot for the former longtime UFC women’s flyweight champion — she celebrates in the center of the Octagon with a spinning dance that pays tribute to the culture of her upbringing. Shevchenko is from the Central Asia republic of Kyrgyzstan, and the traditional dance is known as the Lezginka, which derives from the adjacent Caucasus region. It’s typically a couples dance in which the woman moves gracefully, like a swan. If you enjoy watching Shevchenko twirl, credit her mother, who made Valentina and her sister, fellow UFC fighter Antonina, take up dance at a young age because “she didn’t want us to lose our femininity,” Shevchenko told Sports Illustrated several years ago. “So we have to do both things: martial arts and dance.”

Sticking the landing: Justin Gaethje‘s backflip

Gaethje’s UFC debut in 2017 was exhilarating and exhausting. The fans were roaring throughout his fight with Michael Johnson, and when Gaethje got the finish late in Round 2, it was evident from his posture that he had used up all of his energy. He took a deep breath and tried to climb onto the cage, but fell before reaching the top. He tried again and fell again. Finally, on his third climb, Gaethje reached the top and went into a glorious backflip, sticking the landing. This became Gaethje’s ritual after a knockout — although he now reserves enough energy to make it on the first try. However, the celebration is a no-go in Las Vegas, as the Nevada State Athletic Commission deems it too dangerous. Gaethje’s response to that in an interview with Fox Sports: “They let us get punched and kicked and kneed in the face, and then we can’t jump off the damn cage.”

The early bird catches it: Johnny Walker‘s worm

If you think a backflip off the top of the cage is dangerous, watch out for the worm. When Walker made quick work of Misha Cirkunov in 2019, finishing him in 38 seconds with a flying knee followed by punches, the Brazilian celebrated by flopping down onto the canvas to go into the rippling dance known as the worm. It’s a move that has been around for a century and, after being popular during the punk rock era of the 1970s, became a staple of breakdancing. But when Walker hit the mat after the Cirkunov win, he separated his left shoulder. Ever since he healed, though, Walker has continued to pull out the worm for his celebrations — just more gently. Before one bout, he assured ESPN, “I have practiced it very safely, very slowly.” A worm at a snail’s pace?

Spontaneous combustion: Israel Adesanya‘s animation

Like in a fight, you never know what’s coming next with Adesanya. His choreographed walkouts are different every time, and so are his celebrations. When he knocked out Robert Whittaker in 2019 to win the UFC middleweight championship, Adesanya pantomimed WWE wrestler Batista’s machine gun entrance. He shot an imaginary bow and arrow, breakdanced, and mimicked his favorite characters from anime cartoons. Adesanya outdid himself with his most recent celebration, after knocking out Alex Pereira a year ago. After “shooting” not one, not two, but three arrows toward Pereira, Adesanya pointed into the crowd and dropped to the canvas, stiffened. He later revealed that he was pointing at Pereira’s young son, who, back in 2017, had entered a kickboxing ring after his dad knocked out Adesanya and similarly flopped to the canvas. It was time for payback against the kid. “I’m petty,” Adesanya said with a smile.


Old-school celebrations

Respect vs. disrespect: Lyoto outclasses Tito

Around the turn of the century, Tito Ortiz became known for celebrating his UFC finishes by pantomiming the digging of a grave, dragging his fallen opponent into the hole, then covering him with dirt. This attention grabber was highly disrespectful, but that’s Ortiz for you.

I prefer to highlight the postfight behavior of a former light heavyweight champion of more recent vintage, Lyoto Machida. His celebration was icy in a whole different way. After laying out an opponent with a karate strike, he would bow down to him, then kneel silently while the fighter was being attended to. True martial arts spirit.

Think a shoey is gross? BJ Penn’s tasteless blood sport

In 2008, after winning the UFC lightweight title by battering Joe Stevenson and choking him out, BJ Penn celebrated by licking Stevenson’s blood from his gloves. That became a topic of conversation during the leadup to his next fight, with former champ Sean Sherk saying Penn “needs to see a psychiatrist.” Penn won the fight, knocking out Sherk in the third round, and as he walked away, he licked his gloves. But Penn quickly noticed that none of the blood Sherk had spilled was on his gloves. So Penn walked back over to Sherk to rub some off his face before taking another lick. Yuck.

Right at home in Rio: Jose Aldo, man of the people

Fighting in the UFC and, before that, in the affiliated WEC, had taken Jose Aldo to cities all around the United States, but not since he was in small regional promotions had he competed in his native Brazil. The UFC remedied that by booking Aldo’s 2012 featherweight title defense against Chad Mendes in Rio de Janeiro. The crowd was electric for the main event, and Aldo did not disappoint, knocking out Mendes with a knee one second before the horn to end Round 1. As soon as the referee waved off the fight, Aldo rushed out of the Octagon and well up into the crowd, where he was surrounded by overjoyed countrymen, who danced and cheered with him. It was one of the great organic celebrations in UFC history.


Also worth celebrating…

  • Chris Barnett‘s gymnastics: Don’t be deceived by Barnett’s roly-poly physique. The big man can unleash spinning head kicks and other athletic maneuvers. But he saves his best moves for postfight. Barnett has celebrated both of his UFC heavyweight wins with front flips that might not be Olympic-worthy, but they do get the fans on their feet.

  • Derrick Lewis‘s strip show: He has more knockouts than anyone in UFC history (14) and always celebrates one with a chest-pounding flop to the canvas for a beast-mode growl. But after knocking out Marcos Rogerio de Lima in 33 seconds with a flying knee, Lewis added a unique twist: He removed his shorts and paraded around the cage in his briefs, later explaining that he was feeling overheated.

  • Vanessa Demopoulos‘s leap of faith: Demopoulous has reached into her past as an exotic dancer in celebrating her strawweight victories. After her first UFC win in 2022, as Joe Rogan interviewed her, Demopoulos jumped into Rogan’s arms. She won three more times in the Octagon and celebrated by leaping into the arms of interviewers Daniel Cormier and Michael Bisping. Who’ll be on the mic when Demopoulos fights on May 18?

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