Although MMA is relatively young compared to other combat sports, it has seen a number of stars come and go. Years of hard work in the gym and in the cage/ring tend to pay off big time when a fighter can finally become that top attraction and earn a living doing what they love to do.
Some of these fighters embody the blue-collar work ethic that the average person can easily identify with. They come from humble beginnings and work their way up the rankings. However, others enter the MMA scene with the spotlight immediately upon them.
Despite many of them still learning the ropes, these fighters were under the MMA microscope as soon as they stepped into the sport. Some panned out while others flamed out, but without a doubt these have to be near the top of anyone's list when thinking of the most hyped fighters in the history of MMA.
Remember how karate schools prospered under the "Machida Era"? Yeah, you probably don't because it only lasted for one fight. Sure Lyoto Machida won his fight with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 104 on the scorecards, but in the minds of everyone (including Dana White), Rua was the clear victor.
"Shogun" later vindicated himself by knocking out Machida in the rematch, and the hype machine behind Machida effectively came off the rails.
Prior to that, however, Machida was the hottest thing in MMA since the unified rules were created. He came from a very traditional martial arts background and presented a unique style that became the ultimate riddle for UFC fighters.
His fight against Tito Ortiz became a signature fight during his early UFC tenure due to how easily Machida ran circles around the former champion. Machida appeared to be near-unstoppable until meeting Rua, but it appears as if "Shogun" was just a bad match for him style-wise as Machida has looked better than ever in recent months.
Despite a two-fight losing skid that dropped Machida completely out of the UFC title picture, the Brazilian has risen back into title contention and appears to be at the top of his game.
When you go through Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions without having a point scored on you, there are going to be some high expectations. David Terrell took on those expectations when he entered the MMA world.
Competing in Pancrase allowed Terrell to fully utilize his ground game without much fear from his opponents' strikes. He came to the UFC in 2004 and met Matt Lindland, who at the time was one of the top middleweights in the world.
In a shocking turn of events, the grappler Terrell TKO'd the former Olympian Lindland in the first round. The win created quite a bit of buzz around Terrell in the MMA world, and he was set to compete for the vacant UFC Middleweight title.
The loss to Evan Tanner would be a huge setback for Terrell as he never again became a relevant force in the UFC. He did secure a victory over Scott Smith but a series of injuries kept him out of the Octagon until his release in 2008.
The grappling sensation would be the MMA equivalent to a "one-hit wonder" as Smith exited the MMA scene just as quick as he entered it.
Jon Jones seemingly has everything a guy could want in life. Great family, great house, money in the bank and, oh yeah, he gets paid a lot of money to beat people up a few times a year. He also happens to be very good at it.
Jones' ascent to the top of the UFC's rankings began much the same way as a lot of fighters who enter the promotion, stepping in on late notice. Jones had built up a 6-0 record over a three-month span prior to joining the UFC's ranks but was undoubtedly a huge underdog against Andre Gusmao in his UFC debut.
The future lightweight champion displayed his trademark spinning attacks combined with a strong wrestling attack. It was against Stephan Bonnar, however, where Jones' talent truly shined.
Despite a rather pedestrian career at 205 pounds, fans believed Bonnar would be scrappy enough to take out the young prospect. Instead, Bonnar found himself the victim of numerous highlight-reel moves from the future light heavyweight champ. The win against Bonnar effectively announced Jones' as a future star in the promotion.
Still, Jones was brought along slowly, defeating numerous veterans prior to taking out Ryan Bader at UFC 126. After the Bader win, Jones moved from the ranks of highly touted prospect and into the realm of legit title contender.
It seems Rory MacDonald was painted as a future champion as soon as he walked in the UFC's doors. After a successful run in the King of the Cage promotion, MacDonald signed with the UFC and was successful in his UFC debut.
In just his second fight in the company, MacDonald faced future interim-welterweight champion Carlos Condit. MacDonald dominated the majority of the fight but ultimately fell victim to Condit's conditioning as "The Natural Born Killer" pulled off a miracle comeback in the final frame.
The Condit fight made him an instant star with UFC fans despite the loss. It was clear that MacDonald possessed a great wealth of talent for someone who was so young with so little prior martial arts experience.
It doesn't hurt that he trains at the world-renowned Tristar gym with UFC champion Georges St-Pierre, either.
MacDonald bounced back in a big way after the Condit bout by thoroughly controlling Nate Diaz at UFC 129. With an impressive skill set, solid resume and youth on his side, MacDonald is poised to become the UFC's biggest Canadian star after GSP.
There was a time when Brandon Vera appeared to be near-unbeatable. He said he wanted to hold both the UFC Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight titles at the same time, and it seemed to be a very real possibility for "The Truth."
An 8-0 start including highlight-reel victories over Justin Eilers and Frank Mir had Vera primed for a UFC title shot. However, Vera became embattled in a contract dispute and never appeared to be the same fighter after sitting on the sidelines for an extended period of time.
Vera dropped to light heavyweight but found mixed success in the division. A two-fight winning streak in 2009 was overshadowed by losing two straight. Vera also lost an ugly decision to Thiago Silva, but saw the loss overturned to an NC after Silva failed his drug test.
"The Truth" appears to be but a shell of the fighter who once seemed destined for great things. Vera did show signs of life in his loss to Mauricio Rua and displayed flashes of "the old Brandon Vera."
I know it's a picture of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, but it could very easily be a picture of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua or "The Axe Murderer" Wanderlei Silva.
All three men were thought to be some of the best fighters on the planet once the fighters from Pride FC crossed over into the UFC fold. "Cro Cop" himself was believed to be a top five heavyweight at the least while Silva had dominated Pride's 205-pound division, and Rua was easily a top-five light heavyweight at the time.
All three men had quite a bit of hype surrounding the beginning of their UFC careers but ultimately fell flat. Only Rua has managed to capture UFC gold with "Cro Cop," and Silva struggles to maintain even a winning record in the UFC.
"Cro Cop" won his UFC debut but saw his career effectively end with a Gabriel Gonzaga head kick at UFC 70. He was never the same fighter he once was after that loss.
Silva enjoyed an instant classic with a dream fight for many fans against Chuck Liddell at UFC 79 but has yet to put back-to-back wins together in the UFC. He remains one of the most popular fighters despite a 3-5 record since rejoining the UFC.
Rua had perhaps one of the most disastrous debuts in UFC history. He was handed Forrest Griffin as a sacrificial lamb at UFC 76 but allowed Griffin to steal that moment. "Shogun" struggled to return to his level of fighting we saw in Pride but did win an UFC title at UFC 113.
With a nickname like "The Phenom," you had better believe there was a substantial amount of hype behind Vitor Belfort. The Brazilian won his first UFC fight via 12-second KO, and at the age of 19 became the youngest fighter to secure a victory in the UFC.
Belfort would be upset by "The Natural" Randy Couture but ended his first UFC tenure by securing two victories, including a highlight reel finish against Wanderlei Silva.
After a brief stint in Pride, Belfort returned to the UFC and truly appeared to be a phenom. Despite all the promise in the world, Belfort's potential never reached the level of expectations placed upon him. This was due to a personal tragedy as Belfort's sister went missing and was eventually found murdered.
"The Phenom" spent years trying to find the talent that made him into a superstar, but it appeared as if he would never turn the corner. After clearing his mind and finding peace within himself, Belfort finally became the dominant fighter he once was.
Despite a mixed bag of results in his MMA career, Belfort will always be among the most popular fighters to ever step in the Octagon.
Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou entered the UFC with the label of future star present everywhere he went. Sokoudjou was just coming off back-to-back wins over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona; both are very good fighters from the days of Pride FC.
Particularly impressive was Sokoudjou's victory over Nogueira in which he was a 16 to 1 underdog and knocked out the highly touted Brazilian. A knockout victory over the respected Arona set Sokoudjou up to be "the next big thing" in the UFC Light Heavyweight division.
However, Sokoudjou squandered any hopes for an extended UFC run by dropping his UFC debut and finishing with a measly 1-2 record in the Octagon.
What began as a promising 4-1 start to his career with a pair of signature wins has turned into an average 12-10 overall record for the former 205-pound prospect.
When Dana White brought Kimbo Slice into the UFC, he knew exactly what he was doing. Slice, a YouTube sensation, was never expected to amount to much in MMA given his age and one-dimensional style. Yet, the UFC found a role that was perfect for Slice.
By putting him on The Ultimate Fighter, White and the UFC instantly created "must-see TV" every week on Spike TV. The UFC featured Slice in nearly every preview clip on the show and used the bait-and-switch tactic to make fans tune in despite Slice's losing his only fight while on the show.
Slice eventually competed in the UFC but went 1-1 in his brief UFC tenure. Even the win was mired by controversy as Slice and Houston Alexander seemingly made a gentleman's agreement not to hurt one another.
With his MMA career on the down slope, Slice has taken to boxing where he's fought in a series of mismatches to showcase his skills.
Brock Lesnar entered the UFC with perhaps the biggest hype in UFC history. Although a decorated collegiate wrestler with legitimate skills, Lesnar's entry into the MMA world was met initially with laughter due to his career in WWE.
Those laughs soon became extinct as Lesnar showcased how dangerous of an opponent he could be by nearly defeating former UFC champion Frank Mir in Lesnar's UFC debut. Heath Herring, a very durable veteran, had no answers for Lesnar's ground game as the future UFC champion dominated from bell to bell.
Capturing the UFC Heavyweight title in just his fourth professional bout vindicated all the hype surrounding Lesnar, but it seemed as if fans never fully came around to Lesnar despite the success. After a series of ugly bouts against Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem, Lesnar retired from MMA.
He'll never receive the proper credit, but Lesnar achieved a lot more than many fighters will in a lifetime.