I don't believe competitors in any other sport are as naked as the ones in MMA. They're exposed to everyone in there, locked in a cage with just one other guy. No teammates. No uniform. No equipment. Just your body and your mind.
That might be part of what makes it such a sad event when a fighter falls from the edge of that knife blade on which all the elites are precariously balanced. You've got no one to blame but yourself. Nowhere to look but the mirror. Nowhere to hide but nowhere.
These are the 13 most heartbreaking career collapses in the history of MMA. And let's be clear: I'm not talking about guys who didn't live up to the hype, or just got old and lost their fastball, as all athletes inevitably do. These are guys who, for various reasons, had proven track records of success but stumbled and fell, repeatedly and spectacularly, before their time. Pinballing down the side of the sinking Titanic to be swallowed up by the icy, remorseless Atlantic.
So yeah! Please enjoy.
I can only be maudlin for so long before I have to give myself a break.
Looks like I'll have to save that break for another slide, though, because this is a tragedy. Edith Labelle was the best Octagon girl in the history of Octagon girls, period. I'm not going to discuss this. She was the best.
Then, on the eve of UFC 100, Labelle called in sick or got wasted or something. And just like that—poof—she was gone.
Yoshiyuki Yoshida was cruising. The Japanese welterweight was 9-2 when he made his UFC debut. In that debut, he choked out Jon "War Machine" Koppenhaver in 56 seconds. And it looked like the cruise would continue.
Everything changed on Dec. 10, 2008, when Yoshida ran headlong into Josh Koscheck's right hand. Eighteen months later, Yoshida had lost two of three and was out of the UFC.
He's 5-3 overall since facing Koscheck, with the headline being a win over Phil Baroni under the ONE FC banner.
It wasn't that long ago that Karo "The Heat" Parisyan was one of the world's best welterweights. He also had one of the world's best nicknames. I mean, "The Heat"? That's just nasty. That one has a permanent home on my all-time list.
But this judo standout really was very talented. This guy beat Nick Diaz (see photo). He beat Matt Serra and Chris Lytle. The Heat was no joke.
But there were personal demons. Those demons came to a head publicly when Parisyan tested positive for painkillers after beating Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 94. That win became a no contest.
In the intervening four years, Parisyan has gone 4-4. He did get one more shot in the UFC, at UFC 123. Dennis Hallman knocked him out in less than two minutes.
I know I said before that I wasn't including guys who were simply over-hyped, but this case involved so much hype and such a precipitous drop that I had to include it.
Nover went on to post an 0-3 record in formal UFC bouts and found himself out of the Octagon. He retired in 2010.
What a shame, too. He seemed like a decent enough guy, except when he's wearing his sunglasses indoors.
Cro Cop should've had some good years left in him when he came to the UFC. Or least some good fights.
And then came The Head Kick. People forget that The Head Kick followed several minutes of serious (and seriously uncharacteristic) tentativeness. One of MMA's true greats was forced to evolve in order to stay relevant at the elite levels. And he just couldn't do it.
Brandon Vera's fall from grace would be ranked higher if he had fallen from a higher place.
Still, though, lots of serious fans can trace Vera's step career parabola by memory. He comes into the UFC 4-0, then goes 4-0 in the UFC, capped by knocking out Frank Mir in one minute at UFC 65. But it's been pretty underwhelming since. He's 5-6 over his last 11 bouts, and is just a Thiago Silva urinal inferno away from 4-7.
It is very telling that a fourth-round TKO loss to Mauricio Rua in his last fight was seen as a big improvement for Vera. I mean, let's face it here: Whatever he may have once had, he doesn't it have anymore.
There was a weird timing issue for Chuck Liddell. He's probably the most recognizable MMA fighter ever, even now more than two years after his retirement. But he could have been something more. A lot more.
And then Rampage knocked him out. I watched that fight in the middle of a busy street ensconced in the middle of a mob of oily tanners. It was Memorial Day weekend. I was young. It was a beach town. The only bar carrying the fight was extremely small. Luckily, it had windows— or unluckily, if you liked Chuck Liddell. And it all happened right at the very moment when the UFC bloom Liddell himself helped plant was really, really opening up.
Was there ever any other fighter so squarely on the verge of true stardom? And at the same time, was there ever any other elite who embarked on a series of (stoppage) losses like that, with five of his final six fights being defeats, and all but one of them by T/KO?
The first question is more compelling. Honestly, is there any fighter working in mixed martial arts right now — any one at all — who could possibly inspire a mass of Memorial Day revelers to stop downtown beach traffic that way?
Tim Sylvia tilts after the windmill of respect as Ahab after the great leviathan. And if Tim Sylvia can one day tame her, finally, then, and only then, will his eternal soul know the name of peace.
Tim Sylvia was good. He was a champion. And then he started losing. Then the fans turned on him like a pack of ornery dogs on a stray globule of ham-tinted gelatin unburdened from the Spam canister. Then he really started losing.
Now Sylvia staggers door to door on the Twitterverse, retweeting anyone who will speak his name. And you know what? I find that sad.
He could've been a contender.
Man, it feels good to finally use that line. You have no idea how good that feels.
This is the only sad collapse (well, one of two, actually, but we'll get to that) that largely happened within the confines of one fight. For all intents and purposes, it was over for Filho after his flakeout for the ages in 2008 against Chael Sonnen.
He didn't engage in that fight. What he did do was behave very erratically. And it's not like the tailspin didn't last beyond that, because it did. It very, very much did. Substance abuse was at the core of it. And yet, despite the disappointing derailment, Filho still only has four losses. But he's just too raw to ever fight again under the Zuffa banner.
Eh. I don't know. I don't feel like I can make a Ken Shamrock comment that hasn't already been made, like fifty thousand times. So just do it in your head.
I think Ken Shamrock had a really sad collapse because of [BLANK].
If he hadn't gone crazy with the drugs and been afraid to fight and what not, I think Mark Kerr might have been one of the nastiest fighters ever.
He won UFC tourneys, and he won vale tudo tourneys. Forget about gas tank; he never even had to break a sweat.
But like Shamrock, Kerr is well-trodden ground. If you haven't seen The Smashing Machine, and you're interested in learning more about Mark Kerr, do yourself a favor and go watch it.
This is one of those ones you can illustrate pretty easily with numbers.
Did any other collapse ever happen on such an easily demonstrable scale? Miguel Torres was 37-1. The dude was three-time defending WEC bantamweight champ. By comparison, three-time-defending UFC featherweight champ and current world top-fiver Jose Aldo is 21-1.
If you weren't there, imagine Aldo just falling off a cliff. Then imagine him with more of a mullet and more of a grappling game. Now you've got Miguel Torres.
He was great, and then he wasn't anymore. He lost that belt to Brian Bowles, and thus never held or defended it in the UFC. He never fought for it, either. He's 3-4 since the Bowles fight. Most recently, he lost to unheralded Marlon Moraes in the World Series of Fighting promotion.
I think MMA gets a bad rap for how many nasty injuries occur within its boundaries. It really isn't that many. But at the same time, don't get me wrong; I've watched bones break. I've watched elbows bend to their full capacity in the other direction. I've seen the blood and the concussive blows that every MMA fan has. It's not frequent, but it does happen.
And with all that said, no fight was more painful to watch than Joe Stevenson's loss to B.J. Penn at UFC 80.
Stevenson was a very good fighter and had an unparalleled reputation as one of the highest-quality men among the fighters. He earned the nickname "Daddy" because of his devotion to his children.
And then, there he was, after the B.J. Penn fight in 2008, covered in a tidal wave of his own blood, hunched against the fence, sobbing like a boy.
There was never a sharper downfall. He lost seven of 10 after losing to Penn, including his last five straight. No one knows where he is right now unless they use Wikipedia.
This is the saddest collapse ever in MMA, and that's it. I just hope Joe Daddy's doing OK out there somewhere.
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