The sport of MMA sees meteoric rises and long-standing greats, both of which can come in epic falls from the mountain top. All fighters find themselves declining at one point or another. Some fall particularly hard.
This list looks at seven fighters who had varying avenues of demise from MMA fame and dominance. Each has a particular reason for reaching the list, but each can be easily pointed to when one speaks of a "fall from grace" in MMA.
If you are going to fall from grace, you might as well do it in spectacular fashion like "Rampage" Jackson did. Don't merely lose some fights, fail to reach your potential or get old. Slap your own face and name on the side of a lifted truck, perpetrate a hit-and-run in said truck, force police to chase you down and then tell a judge you thought God was talking to you.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson was always considered to be a bit of a wild card. But he surprised everyone with his stunt that left him in jail and boss Dana White scrambling to explain the fighter's senseless crime.
A loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 86 seemed to be too much for the former light heavyweight champion to handle. Ten days after the controversial loss, the MMA veteran was the subject of a police chase and subsequent arrest.
Dana White spoke to Yahoo! Sports regarding Rampage's actions, stating "He was up for four days and he was doing some crazy fasting thing. “He was up for four days, drinking water and energy drinks, that was it.”
Jackson later explained to CagePotato.com for the cause of Rampage through town: “I thought I heard the voice of God telling me to go save [my friend]. I felt if I didn’t get to [my friend], he would die.”
Rampage, unlike many on this list, did return to prominence follow the event. He even earned a title shot against current light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. But his fall, while temporary, was a dramatic one.
If you were a fan of MMA in the 1990s, you know Tank Abbott. For many of the old-guard fans of the sport, Tank was one of the names you just knew. That is why seeing videos like the infamous “Tank Abbott vs. Scott Ferrozzo 2” floating around the web is damn-near heartbreaking.
Abbott was never the best in the world. He wasn't really ever in the conversation. But he was one of the most popular in the UFC's early days. He was never a millionaire or destined to move on to a grand coaching career, but Tank Abbott was an entertaining and popular fighter. He was the crazy barbarian uncle of MMA who tilted cars after a little too much tequila. He deserved better than what he got.
His continued descent into complete trivial obscurity may not be surprising, but it is sad.
It is difficult to quantify Kerr's career heights or his fall. His career predated modern rankings and in-depth analysis of competition. What can be said is that he was without question a human-shaped monster of muscle that had the potential for greatness, only to fall painfully short.
Kerr won his first 12 fights and finished eight of 12 opponents via submission or (T)KO. He also won the UFC 15 four-man tournament.
Kerr's legend grew with each fight in a career and he could have seen greatness. But something took over Kerr and removed him from the path of the greatness he was on track to attain.
The documentary “The Smashing Machine” (its name taken from Kerr's own fight nickname) showed the fighter's career-crippling addiction to pain killers and subsequent fall from grace in MMA (IMDB).
And from 2000 to 2009, Kerr held a (4-11) record. The career slide stint included two separate five-fight losing streaks. His two victims in that span, Steve Gavin and Chuck Huus, were nobodies even on the regional level.
Kerr's story is a painful one, made all the more sad by the fact he comes off as a soft-spoken and sincere personality. But Kerr's story now stands as a cautionary tale, light-years removed from what could have been said of him if he had stayed the course.
BJ Penn's decline is spectacular mainly due to his imposing it upon himself. The pursuit to prove he can beat bigger and more powerful men ultimately marginalized his career to a tale of “what could have been.”
BJ burst onto the scene as a vicious lightweight in 2001. He was the perfect mix of violent strikes and world-class ground fighter. But the Hawaiian was not content to be shackled by weight class. His sites were set on bigger things, literally, which ultimately proved his downfall.
BJ Penn defeated Matt Hughes for the welterweight title with what is still among the greatest stoppage upsets in history. The win helped solidify him as one of the greatest fighters of all time. Then BJ left the UFC due to a contract dispute and his welterweight title was stripped.
Penn moved back and forth from 155 lbs and 170 lbs throughout his career in the UFC and abroad. He even fought at 185 lbs against Rodrigo Gracie and a then heavyweight Lyoto Machida in K-1, as recalled in a CagePotato.com article.
"The Prodigy" was more than capable of being a long-time lightweight champion. Instead, he subjugated himself to being a punching bag for welterweight contenders. After a draw against Jon Fitch, a fight where at its conclusion BJ was lucky to have round limits, "The Prodigy" was beaten mercilessly by Nick Diaz and Rory MacDonald.
Purists will argue Penn is simply a true warrior (and I am inclined to agree), but it is clearly some form of insanity that had Penn running away from a potential lightweight legacy. The fans will always have “The Prodigy” and never "The Legend."
When Pride FC fell, the organization's faithful were excited to see Mirko Filipovic head to the UFC. He was destined to take over a perceived weak heavyweight division.
After his debut victory over Eddie Sanchez at UFC 67, Cro Cop was the victim of what was probably the quickest fall from grace ever witnessed in MMA. Gabrial Gonzaga knocked out Filopovic at UFC 70 with a high kick that forever altered the Croation's legacy.
Cro Cop had never been unbeatable. He had been the victim of a surprise upset once before at the hands of Kevin Randleman at Pride FC: Total Elimination 2004.
Even with the similarities of the Randleman and Gonzaga losses, the latter truly finished his standing as an viable elite member of the sport. What made the fall so grand was that Cro Cop was undone by his best weapon: the head kick.
His career is the closest embodiment of the notion “Live by the sword; die by the sword.” He, like most members of the list, is still appreciated by fans. Many still applaud what he did accomplish in Pride FC and K-1. But there is no denying that after UFC 70, Cro Cop had fallen from grace, never to return to prominence.
Fedor Emelianenko was without question the greatest MMA fighter of the Bronze Era of the sport. Between 2000 and 2009 he was unbeatable. MMA Mania wrote that when Fedor tapped to Werdum in Strikeforce, it was as if the MMA world lost a fundamental physical truth.
Fedor's 13-month fall from grace is unmatched in its sheer magnitude. He was the greatest and thus had the farthest to fall.
The first loss was tough for fans, but many knew even Jesus had lost his temper once and so they felt their savior still stood.
When Fedor was beaten by Antonio Silva seven months later, his fans felt he was just too small for the weight class. Then 40-year-old and 205-lb Dan Henderson knocked Fedor unconscious, and even harden Fedor zealots had to accept their idol had truly fallen.
A modest but respectable three-fight winning streak did little to repair the damage done by Fedor's losses at Strikeforce. There is simply no returning to greatness after you set impossible standards to match with your own history.
Chuck Liddell's demise is the most violent and depressing of all falls from grace in MMA. Fedor had the farthest fall, Filipovic had the most abrupt decline, Penn's is a death-wish grind, but Liddell's was the worst overall.
Liddell's next two fights went to decision and everyone assumed that Liddell was still a viable 205-pounder. Then came the Rashad Evans knockout, the Mauricio Rua knockout, and the Rich Franklin knockout.
To call each finish a "knockout" is to understate what happened to Liddell. Each opponent laid him out violently upon the canvas.
Each time it happened the fans became less celebratory for the winner and a more concerned for Liddell. Each time the camera panned to Liddell post-knockout his eyes were open but fogged, his stare aimless and almost frightened. It was brutal to watch.
What proof is there that it was the most painful fall from grace? The MMA world use to beg for more Liddell fights. By the end everyone was happy to see Liddell retire. We all sincerely feared for his health.