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The 10 Most Hyped Fighters to Ever Enter the UFC

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2013

The 10 Most Hyped Fighters to Ever Enter the UFC

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    In rare cases like that of gargantuan former heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar, the hype surrounding fighters who made their UFC debut was merited.

    For others, like Hector Lombard, extraordinary media attention only brings added pressure and unfamiliar headaches, factors that often result in disappointing performances.

    For better or for worse, though, MMA fans will usually peg flashy competitors as either blue-chip prospects, coveted transplants, or spectacles, in Lesnar's case.

    The UFC has certainly facilitated its share of tantalizing debuts. Here are the 10 most hyped fighters to ever enter the Octagon.

Honorable Mention

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    Following an unbeaten career in the WEC in which he scored KO's in seven of eight bouts, and before his first fight in the UFC, company president Dana White named Jose Aldo its first ever featherweight champ.

    Similar to Ronda Rousey's situation after the Strikeforce/UFC merger, Aldo benefited from being in the right position at the ideal time and became an inaugural champ in one of the UFC's new weight classes.

    In his first fight with the company at UFC 129, the highly—touted Aldo didn't look like the dominant featherweight that tore through the rankings in the WEC.

    Instead, Aldo got outstruck by challenger Mark Hominick, 147-131. Only a career-best five takedowns and 94 significant strikes landed prevented the Brazilian from an embarrassing debut loss in the UFC.

10. Uriah Hall

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    Landing just one aesthetically pleasing knockout blow both altered Uriah Hall's career forever and landed him on this countdown.

    Hall, a contestant on the 17th season of The Ultimate Fighter, stunned Adam Cella in the season's third episode when he clipped the Team Jones fighter with an acrobatic spinning wheel kick.

    Cella hit the mat hard and didn't regain consciousness for several minutes. Afterward, White acknowledged that he had never seen a more stunning knockout in the history of the show.

    Hall KO'd the next two fighters he faced in the house to earn a shot at Kelvin Gastelum in the finals in April.

    Unfortunately for Hall, the limelight proved too much, and the Jamaican-born middleweight dropped a split decision to the heavy underdog Gastelum in one of the most anticipated finals in TUF history.

9. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

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    Sporting a record of 17-3 with one no contest in Japan's Pride Fighting Championships, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira had already become an MMA legend before joining the UFC.

    Former UFC heavyweight champ Josh Barnett and Russian legend Fedor Emelianenko were the only two fighters to top "Big Nog" in Pride, so Nogueira obviously entered the big show with lofty expectations.

    With few worthy heavyweights lingering in the class upon his arrival, the UFC looked to the smooth submission artist to give the division an injection of excitement.

    Big Nog promptly lived up to the talk, decisioning Heath Herring at UFC 73 before dismantling Tim Sylvia to garner the interim heavyweight strap at UFC 81.

8. Alistair Overeem

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    Hulking up to 265 pounds helped surgical Dutch kickboxer Alistair Overeem revive his once—sputtering MMA career.

    Overeem began making the transformation from tall and skinny light heavyweight to massive heavyweight shortly after losing to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at Pride 33.

    Following his loss to Sergei Kharitonov at Hero's 10, Overeem quickly morphed into a freak in the gym, a move that swiftly paid major dividends in the ring.

    Overeem went on an impressive 11-fight unbeaten streak in four different promotions before finally making his UFC debut in December 2011.

    In his first fight with the company, Overeem dismantled Brock Lesnar in a heavyweight title eliminator bout.

    Only a failed pre-fight drug screen prevented Overeem from locking horns with Junior dos Santos for the heavyweight strap in what would have been just his second fight with the promotion at UFC 146.

7. Ronda Rousey

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    Aside from her obvious sex appeal, the company's first women's bantamweight champ, Ronda Rousey, used her uncanny submission prowess to steal the spotlight in February in the UFC.

    Essentially responsible for the addition of the women's 135-pound division, the two-time Olympian (judo) tore through her competition in Strikeforce after nailing two first-round armbars in smaller promotions.

    Making Sarah D'Alelio, Julia Budd, Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman each feel the wrath of her armbar in the first round in Strikeforce was enough to persuade UFC president Dana White to create the new class.

    Rousey fought through a scare in her promotional debut at UFC 157. "Rowdy" then lived up to the hype by armbarring a game Liz Carmouche with 11 ticks left in the first round of the promotion's first ever women's fight.

6. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic

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    With the exception of a few setbacks to the organization's top-tier competitors, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic handled just about every challenge thrown his way in Pride.

    In Pride, Cro Cop utilized his dynamic kickboxing game to trump the likes of Josh Barnett (three times), Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, Wanderlei Silva and Kazushi Sakuraba, among many others.

    Filipovic then extended his winning streak to five fights when he TKO'd Eddie Sanchez in his promotional debut at UFC 67.

    But the hysteria surrounding Cro Cop in the UFC began to die when the Croatian suffered back-to-back losses in his next two fights.

    Filipovic first got KO'd by underdog Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 70, getting a dose of his own medicine and absorbing a brutal head kick from the Brazilian grappling specialist. He then suffered a unanimous decision loss to Cheick Kongo at UFC 75, a loss that prompted Cro Cop to take two fights in Japan's Dream promotion.

5. Kimbo Slice

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    A successful street fighting career sensationalized on the web miraculously led Kevin Ferguson, a.k.a. Kimbo Slice, to the set of The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights.

    An undeniably polarizing figure, Slice made the most of his time on the show, despite the fact that he dropped his first-round bout to eventual season winner Roy Nelson.

    At season's end, Slice made his highly—anticipated promotional debut against veteran Houston Alexander. Slice decisioned Alexander at a catchweight of 215 pounds to set up a bout with Matt Mitrione at UFC 113.

    Mitrione outclassed Slice and scored a second-round TKO to send the once-touted Bas Rutten prospect into MMA obscurity.

    Although he's since turned to pro boxing, Slice surely would have landed higher on this countdown had he continued his spectacle of an MMA career.

4. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson

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    Scoring eight devastating knockouts in Pride made Quinton "Rampage" Jackson a valuable commodity upon his arrival in the UFC.

    Jackson scored brutal knockouts of Kevin Randleman and Chuck Liddell at Pride 25 and Pride Final Conflict 2003, respectively. A year later, Rampage notched one of the most brilliant knockouts in the promotion's history by rendering Ricardo Arona unconscious with a ruthless slam at Pride Critical Countdown 2004.

    Fresh off a win over Matt Lindland at WFA: King of the Streets, Rampage avenged the first loss of his career with a violent knock out of Marvin Eastman in his much—awaited promotional debut at UFC 67.

    Jackson earned the most significant win of his career in just his second fight with the promotion, knocking out Liddell at UFC 71 to take home the light heavyweight belt.

3. Hector Lombard

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    The buildup surrounding Hector Lombard leading up to his debut in the UFC definitely seemed warranted at the time.

    After all, the former Olympic judoka was riding the wave of an exceptional 25-fight unbeaten streak, one that included wins over Brian Ebersole, Alexander Shlemenko and Trevor Prangley.

    But to the chagrin of the UFC's brass, Lombard's unbeatable mystique faded because of a lackluster promotional debut against Tim Boetsch at UFC 149. 

    Boetsch got stuffed on each of his nine takedown attempts, but remained the aggressor in the fight, outstriking Lombard 57-47 en route to a forgettable split decision win.

2. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua

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    With the exception of a fluke injury loss to former UFC heavyweight champ Mark Coleman, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua tore through his opposition in Pride.

    During his extraordinarily fruitful run in Pride, Rua won 12 of 13 fights, only failing to finish Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Kazuhiro Nakamura in that span.

    Shogun knocked out Alistair Overeem for a second time at Pride 33 before inking a deal with the UFC after the company purchased Pride. 

    Widely regarded the top light heavyweight in the world, Rua made his promotional debut against heavy underdog Forrest Griffin at UFC 76.

    A then-green Griffin instantly altered the landscape of the division when he outstruck Rua 146-53 before locking up a shocking rear-naked choke to end the fight with 15 seconds left.

    But just four fights later, Rua knocked out Lyoto Machida at UFC 113 to capture the 205-pound belt. With a few vicious strikes, Shogun erased both the memory of his first loss to Machida and the disappointing loss in his debut to Griffin.

1. Brock Lesnar

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    Freak athlete Brock Lesnar needed just one pro fight to give UFC president Dana White the confidence to award the former pro wrestler and football player a contract and a fight in his debut with Frank Mir.

    Lesnar scored an early takedown and nearly pulled off the unthinkable and upset the former champ with heavy ground-and-pound at UFC 81.

    But shortly after referee Steve Mazzagatti made the controversial decision to break the two fighters up, with Lesnar pummeling Mir from a dominant position, the former University of Minnesota wrestler got caught in a Mir kneebar and was forced to tap just 1:30 into the fight.

    Lesnar went on to snatch the heavyweight belt with a TKO of Randy Couture two fights later at UFC 91.

    Subsequent wins over Mir and Shane Carwin at UFC 100 and UFC 116 effectively verified that the hysteria surrounding Lesnar was genuine.

    Granted, Shogun's debut may have appealed to more hardcore MMA fans, but there's no denying that Lesnar's previous endeavors made him a more popular and talked—about figure.

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