Nothing lasts forever. In no other realm is that truer than in the world of sports, in which a competitor's fortune can turn to torment in a matter of minutes.
The same applies in the world of MMA where literally seconds decide the outcome in the cage/ring. The fighters on this list know all too well how quickly things can change.
They had promising careers, but those dreams of becoming world champion (or leaving behind a lasting legacy) were cut short due to a number of reasons. For some of these fighters it was injuries, while others simply lost the desire to continue on in the sport.
There will of course be fighters whose premature departures wouldn't be considered unanimously tragic, given how subjective the term "tragic" itself is when describing an athlete fans either boo or cheer. But that doesn't mean this group of combatants wasn't meant for bigger and better days.
I put these two men together not because they endured massive downward spirals in similar fashion, but rather because both men entered the heavyweight division so impressively that they seemed destined for the Hall of Fame.
Mark Kerr began his terrorizing of the UFC's heavyweight division in 1997. The former collegiate wrestler earned back-to-back tournament victories at UFC 13 and UFC 14 in such a way that can only be described by his nickname, "The Smashing Machine." After his UFC tenure, the wheels began to fall off, however. Kerr enjoyed some initial success in Pride but ultimately succumbed to an addiction to opiates and personal issues and left the sport.
What began as a promising career eventually became a 15-11-1 record that ended with five straight losses and a career transformation in the wrong direction.
Brandon Vera entered the UFC's heavyweight division in similar fashion. He ran his professional record to 8-0 despite being on the small end of the heavyweight scale and was doing so in devastating fashion. Vera made a big impact in his career by TKO'ing former heavyweight champ Frank Mir in just over a minute at UFC 65.
The much discussed contract dispute between Vera and the UFC put "The Truth" on the sidelines for nearly a year. Rather than getting the title shot he earned at UFC 65, Vera saw his golden opportunity handed to Randy Couture. It would be the last time Vera ever came close to reaching a title shot until his bout with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in Aug. of 2012. But let's face it: Vera was never meant to be in that position against "Shogun."
Had Vera avoided the contract dispute and stayed active, who knows where his career would've went? Vera is still competing but there's no denying his initial career run that looked so promising had been cut short by the contract dispute. He's still competing now but will always hear how "the old Brandon Vera would've done this."
OK, so at 28-4-1 it's hard to say Bas Rutten's career was short. But just think of how much bigger "El Guapo" could have become if he hadn't been forced to retire due to injuries.
Rutten began competing in MMA overseas in Pancrase all the way back in 1993. He would compete in the organization for the next five years, amassing a 25-4-1 record in the process. Competing overseas, Rutten fought some of the best fighters in the world at that time (and also beat many of them), including guys like Frank and Ken Shamrock along with Masakatsu Funaki.
He eventually made his way to the UFC, where he became the promotion's heavyweight champion after beating Kevin Randleman. A tough battle culminated in a split-decision victory for "El Guapo," but Rutten moved to a lower division (light heavyweight) in order to fight at a more natural weight class.
Before Rutten could become the first fighter to hold titles in two separate weight classes, his career abruptly ended. A number of serious injuries forced Rutten to retire, and he stepped away from the game arguably in the prime of his career.
There's a good chance Rutten may have become even more of a legendary figure in MMA. He had a great career and is considered one of the true pioneers in the sport, but had injuries not cut his career short, Rutten could have found himself in Fedor Emelianenko/Anderson Silva territory in the "greatest of all time" discussion.
Everyone may not be on board with using the word "tragic" to describe Brock Lesnar's fall from grace, but we can all agree his career was far too short.
After nearly taking out former UFC champ Frank Mir in his UFC debut, Lesnar was thrown to the wolves and inserted directly into "the mix" of top contenders. In just his fourth professional bout, Lesnar captured the sport's ultimate crown by defeating Randy "The Natural" Couture.
Lesnar would go on to headline the sport's biggest event in history at UFC 100 and would become "the baddest man on the planet" until Cain Velasquez forced him to relinquish that throne. Lesnar's career sputtered to a standstill due to a number of reasons. Depending on your opinion of Lesnar, his career was either cut short by his battle with diverticulitis or his fight with his inability to take a punch.
Regardless of how you feel, it's clear Lesnar's career could have went so much further. Had he stayed healthy and developed some striking defense, he could have became one of the most dominant heavyweight champs in UFC history. Along with his skills Lesnar brought inside the cage, his most valuable were those outside of it.
Never before and not since (outside of Georges St-Pierre) has the UFC seen a fighter capable of drawing a crowd like Lesnar. You could put him on a prelim fight and the pay-per-view would still likely draw nearly a million buys. Had Lesnar stuck around for a few more years, his drawing power may have propelled the UFC to another level.
We'll never know exactly how it would have turned out, but Lesnar seems content with the legacy he left behind and continues to forge a new one in the WWE.
Genki Sudo will always go down in MMA lore for having some of the best entrances in the sport's history. It seemed Sudo had that "it" factor that could draw fans in with his charisma and performances inside the cage/ring.
Unfortunately, Sudo would never fully realize that potential, as he stepped away from the sport in 2006. Prior to his retirement, Sudo racked up an impressive 16-4-1 record and had some nice wins on his resume. The Japanese star holds victories over former UFC title contender and Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt, heavyweight boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch (by heel hook no less) and former WEC featherweight champ Mike Brown.
Sudo seemed to be destined for greatness but abruptly retired after defeating Damacio Page in 2006. He was only 30 years old at the time and easily had more fights in him. The Japanese sensation didn't see his career cut short by injuries or a string of nasty defeats, but it was cut far too short by the man himself.
Sudo could be considered MMA's equivalent to Barry Sanders in that he retired while still having plenty left in the tank.
Although we are talking about Lee Murray the fighter, it's impossible to deny that his criminal career cut his professional fighting career far too short.
Murray began his MMA career in 1999 and competed until 2004. During his tenure, Murray amassed an 8-2-1(1) record. None of Murray's victories was by decision, and the striker owns as many submission victories as he does KO's.
Given that Murray was a well-rounded fighter and trained in both grappling and striking, he could have became the major English star that the UFC needed to break into the overseas market. The UFC eventually got Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy to cash in on the UK market, but Murray could have helped them achieve that years before either man's tenure in the UFC began.
Ultimately, Murray's promise never came to fruition as he was deeply involved in criminal acts that saw him suffer injuries from stabbings, bar fights and an infamous bank robbery. Murray is now rotting away in prison rather than being a major star in the MMA world.