Some stars are created organically. They prove themselves in the cage and build an audience based on their fighting prowess and general excellence.
These are the stars with staying power.
Randy Couture. Georges St-Pierre. Anderson Silva. Matt Hughes. Jon Jones.
Others are products of a powerful media and marketing machine. They haven't necessarily sought the spotlight, but it has found them nevertheless. Smelling money, promoters pounced.
You know an over hyped fighter the moment you see one. He'll be the guy on UFC Live after just his first significant win in the Octagon, the articulate trash talker who doesn't walk it quite as well as he talks it.
He's the fighter getting a huge media push who just happens to be from whatever country the UFC is invading next, merely a part of MMA's own war on local insurgents.
He's Shane Carwin, a muscle-bound heavyweight who is pushed to the top of the sport on the strength of a single viable win, then somehow stays there despite not winning a bout in more than two years.
Carwin, believe it or not, isn't the worst of the worst. Here are 10 fighters even more over hyped than he is. Thought of someone else who belongs on this list? Let me know in the comments.
Remember when Brandon Vera had the hubris to suggest he might be light heavyweight and heavyweight champion of the UFC simultaneously? Why weren't more people laughing?
Vera's comments are hilarious in retrospect, but too many people were nodding right along with a worshipful UFC announce team. It turns out, however, that beating the likes of Justin Eilers and the fat version of Frank Mir is not necessarily a sign of future UFC dominance.
Vera bought into his own hype, had a disastrous contract holdout and is best remembered today for getting his face rearranged by Jon Jones and losing to octogenarian Randy Couture. If you're waiting for those title reigns, I wouldn't recommend holding your breath.
Every professional fight gym has a Tim Lajcik. Every school does, too.
There was one on your high school basketball or football team.You'll know who I mean—a guy who looks like he should dominate every game or competition. A super athlete who performs great in practice, is built like a god, who just looks like a stud.
And a guy who, for whatever reason, just can't get it together in actual competition.
MMA has seen many of these gym warriors. Ken Shamrock was one, a legend in the dojo who seemed to wilt when the lights were brightest. But no gym warrior outshined Tim Lajick.
For years, we heard about this legend who trained with Eugene Jackson and a host of other UFC competitors. He made his debut against Tsuyoshi Kohsaka back at UFC 21, but it was clear right away he wasn't on the level of the MMA veteran.
He lost badly and just kept on losing. Every significant fight of his career ended in the "L" column, all except a draw with Ron Waterman that isn't fit to be mentioned in polite society.
Lajick has rightfully been long forgotten by the MMA world. But he remains an important early example of a hype train being spectacularly derailed.
Sure, this is the definition of low-hanging fruit. But seriously, Kimbo Slice has made seven figures fighting professionally. Kimbo Slice!
Looking back, it was the most amazing marketing plan imaginable. Instead of developing and nurturing a talent for violence, Slice just went around town beating up homeless guys and filming it.
A YouTube sensation was born and Kimbo became a hot attraction. He set ratings records on national television for Elite XC. As part of the opposition, he was ripped mercilessly by UFC President Dana White.
Of course, he was signed by the same Dana White the moment he became available. Business is business and Kimbo Slice was synonymous with money.
His appearance on The Ultimate Fighter showed why. It remains the most watched season in the show's history. His "Enemy/Inner Me" monologue is one of reality TV's all-time best moments and the show humanized Kimbo. It made us actually, gulp, want to see him succeed.
That, unfortunately, could never be, Eventually, what we all suspected became transparent—Kimbo Slice couldn't actually fight a lick. But his TUF appearance guaranteed we will remember him wistfully.
Instead of a laughingstock, he became the underdog. We loved Kimbo Slice. But boy, was he awful.
Repeat after me—there was never an "old Vitor Belfort." No matter how many times you hear about him on UFC broadcasts, the muscle-bound phenom who once roamed the Octagon, he never really existed. He was a legend we made up to scare schlubby, big-mouthed heavyweights and to entertain children.
MMA lore is that a young Belfort was an unstoppable wrecking machine, an exciting knockout artist who was capable of beating anyone. It was a legend built on obese heavyweights like Tank Abbott and Jon Hess and a legend that was shattered every time he hit the cage against top competition.
The old Vitor faded in big fights, just like the new one does. Remember the shellacking at the hands of wrestler Randy Couture? The listless performance against Kazushi Sakuraba? Abysymal showings against Gilbert Yvel and Heath Herring?
All the old Belfort.
In fact, I will take this rant a step further. The new Belfort is more like the legendary "old Vitor Belfort" than the old Vitor Belfort ever was.
At 35, Belfort has found a home at 185 pounds and has run roughshod over the division in spectacular fashion. Want to see the legendary "old Vitor?" He's right in front of you in the here and now.
Everything about Todd Duffee was giant sized. His head was enormous. So were his water-logged muscles.
Just as big, especially after an amazing seven-second knockout of Tim Haque at UFC 102 in Portland. The UFC thought they had found the next big thing. But the biggest thing about Duffee, it seems, was his ego.
After an embarrassing loss to Mike Russow, a fight that saw a man with lats on his lats lose to a man whose backfat had backfat, the UFC let Duffee go.
It was shocking at the time, especially after the lengths they had gone to push him in the media. Dana White told the press that Duffee was difficult to work with.
With so many hungry fighters out there, why waste time on a malingerer who was making trouble, complaining publicly about fighter pay the way Duffee was?
The hope of a comeback was dashed in Japan by Alistair Overeem, who decimated Duffee in just 19 seconds.
Today, the 26-year-old fighter remains in limbo. He's fought just once since 2010, and a once-promising career seems destined to end with expectations unfulfilled.
"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist."
-Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects
Chael Sonnen pulled this off, but in reverse. The UFC middleweight star convinced the world he was one of the top fighters on the planet, mainly through pure force of personality. It never made the slightest sense, at least not objectively. And he pulled it off all the same.
Sonnen talked a great game and many of us embraced his words as truth. He looked and sounded like one of the greats—why not go along for a fun ride?
The real truth?
Sonnen is a fighter with 12 losses on his record, a fighter with one superlative skill that he uses to try to mask several enormous holes. Against average or good competition, he can do just that and thrive. Against the best, it's just not good enough.
Jason "Mayhem" Miller has spent a career being "wacky." He says outrageous things, dresses like a fourth-rate hobo, has a red skunk stripe in his hair and generally makes a fool of himself in every conceivable way.
He's like a guy who failed a casting call for Jackass, then never broke character. It's worked well for him.
Mayhem starred in a reality television series devoted to bullying bullies, and his subsequent D-list celebrity status convinced many fans he was a top fighter.
He was not.
Mayhem has never won a UFC fight. Mayhem has never beaten an opponent ranked in the top ten. Mayhem was a manufactured star, a "star" whose minor celebrity managed to outshine his meager fighting credentials.
Former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley looks like he could be a great fighter. His muscles, well, they are big. Real big. In the world of fantasy fighting, that's basically the deciding factor in who wins and who loses.
His credentials are just as impressive. He made a real run at the Olympic wrestling team. He has serious wrestling chops.
What he doesn't seem to have is a fighter's heart. Lashley has about half a round in him. After that? Lashley fades harder than Kid from Kid 'N Play. It was a weakness most transparent against Chad Griggs in a Strikeforce fight that Wikipedia lists as a loss by "exhaustion."
It's the lasting image we'll have of Lashley—hands on his knees, heaving for breath, looking more than a little sad and depressing.
Or, alternately, hilarious. You know, depending on your perspective.
Yes, I said it.
And I'm not just talking about Royce and Rickson, two prehistoric predators who feasted on overweight kung fu artists and professional wrestlers.
Renzo too. His record is littered with losses. Humor and heart he had in spades. Top-flight MMA skills? Less so.
Don't get me wrong—the Gracies pretty much created modern MMA and changed martial arts forever and for the better. But they did it against a collection of cans so rusty that everyone associated with the early UFC and Pride fights was at risk for tetanus.
Brock Lesnar is the biggest star in UFC history. He brought a whole new audience to the sport, fans from the WWE who worshiped the ground he walked on.
And, don't get things twisted, Lesnar haters—he was also a heck of a good fighter. A former NCAA wrestling champion, Lesnar was able to take opponents down and keep them there, dropping his enormous hamhock-sized fists directly onto their heads.
The problem isn't Lesnar. It's the sheer enormity of the hype. No man could live up to it, never mind a soft wrestler who shrinks away from punches and literally runs from opponents in the cage the moment they turn up the heat past "simmer."