15 Biggest Title Fight Mismatches in UFC History
There may be nothing as anticlimactic as a title fight in which one of the combatants is proven to be so woefully out of his depth in the bout, be it for any reason, that there is no true drama or doubt as to who is going to win; it simply becomes a matter of when.
In the world of fight sports, the title is supposed to mean something. It’s a benchmark that is intended to represent and signify the best of the best, and thus, those fighting to take the title should be among the greatest of the division. There should be no one better than them available; no one better suited or more capable of taking the title by force than the No. 1 contender.
Be it by the virtue of his record, or by recent accomplishments in the cage, the No. 1 contender is supposed to be the next champion, just waiting to take the belt.
Sadly, that isn’t always the case, and recent matchmaking has left some wondering if it will ever be the case again.
Granted, it’s not always easy for the powers that be that make the fights because they have no idea who will shrink due to the enormity of the moment vs. who will really thrive under the pressure.
But sometimes that matchmaking is so poor and the outcome is never really in doubt, even before the combatants enter the cage.
So, here are 15 examples of both sides of that coin. Hopefully, we never have to see it handed back to us in change after we pay our hard-earned money for the next pay-per-view.
After all, that kind of coin is about as useless as a penny at a toll booth.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Justin Eilers
Andrei Arlovski, left
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If people think that the heavyweight division in the UFC is somewhat shallow today, then they would have been cringing back during the time when Frank Mir was on the sidelines, recovering from a nasty motorcycle accident, and Andrei Arlovski was the interim champion.
Arlovski found himself pitted against Miletich-trained Justin Eilers, who was actually coming off a loss in his previous UFC bout.
Short and ugly: Eilers would succumb due to a leg injury inside of the first minute of the first round, and to be honest, no one was really complaining.
Sadly, Eilers would never get another shot at the title. He was slain in a domestic dispute on Christmas of 2008.
Tim Sylvia vs. Gan McGee
The bout between then-heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia and Gan McGee occurred at UFC 44 and was billed as “The battle of the giants.”
Sylvia was sporting an undefeated record, whereas McGee had only suffered one defeat, at the hands of Josh Barnett.
It honestly should have been a competitive bout, because on paper they matched up well, and Sylvia was facing a challenger with a longer reach advantage, who had stopped Pedro Rizzo with an overhand right back in a time when Rizzo was still very dangerous.
But as the fight began, it became clear that McGee was setting himself up for a very quick call.
Holding his chin up and his hands out and away, as if trying to channel the spirit of Roy Jones Jr., McGee was as vulnerable to a straight knockout blow as anyone could be, and Sylvia delivered, nearly seconds after Joe Rogan pointed it out to the viewers at home.
McGee toppled, Sylvia swarmed and that was all she wrote—until the results of the post-fight drug screen came back positive for Sylvia and saw him stripped of his title.
Sean Sherk vs. Kenny Florian
As the second contest from The Ultimate Fighter serious to be given a title shot, Kenny Florian was rushed into his bout with Sean Sherk at UFC 64.
At the time, Sherk was sporting a record of 32-2 with one no-contest; Florian was 5-2.
The story of the fight was nearly what everyone expected; Sherk took Florian down and controlled him the entire fight, no questions asked.
Granted, Florian managed to cut Sherk, but that didn’t make it any more of a contest.
Florian showed grit and heart, but he simply was in no way ready for the power, experience and style that Sherk brought to the table.
Tito Ortiz vs. Yuki Kondo
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If there is perhaps any place where MMA fans have come to expect mismatches, it’s Japan. At UFC 29, that is exactly what the fans got when Yuki Kondo climbed into the ring against reigning champion Tito Ortiz.
Kondo was a very good fighter at the time, and completely outgunned in terms of size and power. He wasn’t a legitimate light heavyweight, but more of a bulked-up middleweight.
Kondo surprised Ortiz with a knee to the midsection that knocked Ortiz down, but after that, it was painfully clear that against the youth, aggression and power of Ortiz, Kondo was simply in over his head.
Ortiz secured the victory via submission inside the first round.
Tito Ortiz vs. Elvis Sinosic
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Once again, we find Tito Ortiz involved in a mismatch that was really beyond his ability to control.
Sinosic earned his shot at the title by defeating Jeremy Horn via triangle leg choke, and in truth, a bout between Ortiz and Horn would have been much more competitive.
Sinosic was a game fighter who did not possess the experience or takedown defense needed to give Ortiz any problems. Sinosic was coming into the fight having won just one of his past four fights—the bout with Horn.
After some intense posturing by Ortiz, and a momentary sign of life by Sinosic via a head kick that seemed to land just enough to give the appearance of a competitive fight, Ortiz took Sinosic down and elbowed his forehead open for the TKO victory.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Dan Hardy
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When Dan Hardy was announced as the next opponent for Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight title, it seemed a pairing made in the interests of getting fans to suspend disbelief long enough to imagine Hardy was never very far from landing a KO blow.
After all, Hardy had won his No. 1 contender status with those heavy hands, battering Mick Swick for the slot.
But none of that mattered against the takedown game of GSP, be it on paper or in the cage.
GSP took Hardy down nearly at will, dominating the fight and looking close to securing victory via submission, but Hardy gutted it out in order to see the judges' scorecards in a bout that was never really in doubt.
Chuck Liddell vs. Jeremy Horn
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After defeating Tito Ortiz, then claiming the light heavyweight title by KO over Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell was matched up with one of the few men to ever defeat him, Jeremy Horn.
But Horn had no chance of defeating Liddell if he couldn’t get the fight to the ground, and everyone knew it.
Liddell had a field day, beating the hell out of Horn with punches that just couldn’t miss. Considering the power of Liddell’s fists, it speaks volumes for the grit and spirit of Horn that he lasted as long as he did.
But sometimes lasting in a fight in which you are seriously outgunned becomes detrimental to your health, and eventually Horn could no longer see the punches coming and the fight was stopped, giving Liddell his first successful title defense.
Rich Franklin vs. Nate Quarry
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In the title fight between Rich Franklin and Nate Quarry, we find one of those bouts that happened out of necessity rather than the spirit of true competition. It didn’t take long to see that sometimes this is a sport that, like boxing, can necessitate that fighters suffer for their dreams.
Rich Franklin was coming off his coaching stint on season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter and needed an opponent for the corresponding pay-per-view. After some hunting, Quarry was offered the shot and jumped at the chance.
When watching the two men circle each other, it seemed clear that not only was Quarry much smaller than then-champion Franklin, but he was also rushed to the dance far too early, two beats behind in a song he’d never heard before.
Franklin beat Quarry to the punch nearly ever time, using superior footwork and landing nearly at will, leaving the gutsy Quarry looking like a brave man who had brought a knife to a sword fight, mainly because the knife was all he had at the time.
I cannot say enough about how much I appreciated and envied Quarry for the professionalism he showed in not only taking the fight, but going about all aspects of such a tough situation like it was his fifth time instead of his first.
He didn’t fight like a man who was just showing up for a paycheck, and he very easily could have.
But in the end, he was completely outmatched in a mismatch of epic proportions, and when the KO came, Quarry fell like a statue and looked like he’d been through five rounds of violence, condensed into 150 seconds of hell.
Maurice Smith vs. David "Tank" Abbott
Maurice Smith, right
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After Maurice Smith pulled off one of the greatest upsets in MMA history, dethroning Mark Coleman at UFC 14, his first title defense ended up being against David “Tank” Abbott, who had lost his last two bouts before being offered a shot at the title as a last-minute replacement for Dan Severn.
Abbott came in on just a few days notice, out of shape and possessing a sluggers chance, and that was it.
Sadly, he was matched up against a far superior striker in Maurice Smith, who had his easiest day in the office, blasting the legs of Abbott and driving the occasional straight punch into his face.
Abbott did his best Roberto Duran impression and gave up the ghost due to exhaustion, although getting his legs chopped out from under him was probably of equal consideration in his decision.
BJ Penn vs. Joe Stevenson
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When BJ Penn looked to attempt to claim the lightweight title for the third time, his opponent, Joe Stevenson, was reduced to nothing more than a speed bump in the road that saw Penn run over him repeatedly, refusing to be denied his second title belt.
This was more than just a mismatch. It was a mauling so harsh that it was hard to watch without feeling overcome with a sense of sympathy for Stevenson, who was doing his level best to keep from drowning as Penn blasted and battered him at will.
I don’t know how much blood Stevenson lost in this short bout, but it was considerable, at one point spurting out of his head like a horror movie gone wrong.
Some mismatches aren’t recognized on paper, but rather in the paleness that seems to fall over a fighter as he anticipates the worst, only to see it realized.
Anderson Silva vs. Patrick Cote
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Perhaps not a mismatch on paper, Anderson Silva vs. Patrick Cote was the first of three consecutive middleweight title bouts in which the challenger had no hopes of getting the bout to the ground, save if the champion slipped on an ice cube.
In that situation, and considering the champion in question, if you don’t have a hope of getting the fight to the floor, then you'll end up on the wrong end of a classic mismatch that could result in painful consequences.
Luckily for Cote, it was his leg that suffered, rather than his sense of self, as he made note during the fight that he had made it to the third round; a feat no other contender for Silva’s middleweight crown had been able to do.
Sadly, when your title aspirations go about as far as simply contenting yourself with surviving longer than the last fellow, it does not bode well for the remainder of the bout.
Silva did what he always does—make the opposition look clumsy and out of their depth—and was ahead on all scorecards when the bout was stopped due to a leg injury to Cote.
Not only was it a mismatch, but it was anticlimactic to boot.
Anderson Silva vs. Thales Leites
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No one is ever really going to doubt that when a fighter climbs those stairs and steps into the cage, he is convinced he is going to win. After all, there are other endeavors that do not demand such a high tax on one’s soul as to lose in front of thousands and hundreds of thousands, and losing is always the risk.
When Thales Leites squared off against Anderson Silva, it didn’t seem long for him to realize that while he would probably go home safe and sound, he wouldn’t be taking the belt with him.
At a certain level, being a ground specialist is only of any consequence if you can get the fight to the ground as often as needed to win; something Leites was never really able to do, and for obvious reasons.
Watching Silva defeat Leites was, in many ways, sadly similar to watching a big brother hold an item of desire well above his little brother's head, toying with him all the while.
Leites is not a bad fighter now, and he wasn’t a bad fighter at UFC 97—he was just the wrong kind of fighter to dethrone Silva, and you could see that as plain as day on the day it was signed.
Still, there were only so many times they could justify throwing Rich Franklin back into the breach.
Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia
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It was a dance competition that spun out of a lopsided fight at UFC 112 when Anderson Silva decided that Demian Maia was so clearly below him that he didn’t deserve the respect of being taken seriously.
Silva toyed with Maia, yet instead of finishing his overmatched opponent like a professional, he decided to clown around in a clear attempt to entertain himself instead of the fans.
Maia could never get the fight to the ground, and standing, he was utterly clueless against a genius like Silva.
The rest was perhaps the greatest waste of time in UFC title fight history, as Silva landed just enough strikes to bloody Maia and keep him from victory, but nothing more.
There are some that still say it was not Silva’s fault—that he is so great, it is up to the UFC to find suitable challenges for him, and if they can’t, then you can’t blame him for acting the fool.
This, of course, is utterly wrong. If the champion is so great (as Silva is) that the competition looks substandard, then the champion should eat his meal, clean his plate quickly and go home.
Instead, Silva played with his food all night long and made a mess at the table that was hosted by Flash Entertainment, Zuffa’s new business partners.
It is important to note that Silva has never done anything like that since, and one hopes he never will.
GSP vs. Nick Diaz
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Yes, Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz was a mismatch.
No one should be surprised, and no one should be crying foul—especially Nick Diaz fans (of which I am one)—because for anyone who follows the fight game and the careers of the brothers Diaz, this one was clearly about as one-sided as a match can get.
Diaz has barely passable takedown defense, as long as he’s not facing fighters with a strong wrestling core.
When that is thrown up against GSP, who has the best takedowns in the division, the outcome is not in doubt.
Diaz was stepping into this bout basically needing to catch GSP with a one-punch KO, and Diaz doesn’t honestly possess that kind of power.
And it went just like so many predicted; GSP controlled where the bout was fought, and thus won the bout and was never for a second in danger of losing his title.
No, there was never any real mystery here, and to those who think Diaz would win a rematch against a fighter like GSP, who always plays to his strengths while attacking his opponent at his weakest points…no; just, no.
Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen
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No, there was never really any doubt.
Sonnen hadn’t fought in the division in years.
Sonnen hadn’t won a fight in the division in years.
Sonnen was bringing nothing to the table that the champion hadn’t seen before and dealt with easily.
Sonnen was coming off a stoppage loss in his last fight.
Sonnen was no threat in any way, shape or form if the fight remained standing.
Sonnen didn’t have the tools necessary to get the job done, and everyone looking at it objectively knew it.
But Sonnen sure talked a great game, got the people invested in his punchy one-liners and really helped make season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter a treat to watch. Really, that was really why he was hired; because the show was floundering in choppy seas.
But coaching is different from fighting, and Sonnen shouldn’t have been fighting in the cage opposite Jones in any universe. To try to justify it to the fans by saying “it makes sense” is a disservice to said fans.
It treats them like they’re monkeys who will clap to any tune as long as the organ-grinder keeps turning that crank.
Jones had his way with Sonnen, doing to the “gangster” from West Linn what he normally did to everyone else.
He took Sonnen down and kept on taking him down, dominating the fight and ending the bout in the first round.
It was a sadly one-sided bout, but it wasn’t a tragedy, because we knew how this story was going to end before it really even started.