So, what does it take for a UFC title fight to be labeled as “bad?”
Sometimes it is a lack in action; two men who simply won’t engage with the energy due the moment, and when the UFC title is on the line, then yes, there is a moment there due to all the energy two fighters can muster.
Other times it is nothing more than a bad clash of styles that sees both men doing their best, but like oil and water, they just don’t mix.
Whatever the reason, the results are mainly the same; a fight that is lacking that gravitas normally associated, and hoped for, in a title bout.
And this kind of situation can befall any fighter. All are human and thus destined to fail sometimes; it’s intrinsic to the mortal system.
But some system failures are greater than others. Here are 10 fights that prove that to be true.
Back in the day, when we got four UFC events in one year (if we were lucky!), finding fighters wasn’t always the easiest thing in the world.
But putting Andre Pederneiras, who had just one single fight under his belt, in against reigning champion Pat Miletich, well…it just seemed less like a title fight and more like an exhibition.
And in truth, that’s what we got. The bout ended due to a cut in the second round, but it wasn’t much of a fight for all the obvious reasons. Pederneiras really didn’t belong in the same cage with Miletich, and Miletich didn’t have the option of turning the fight down.
This fight was nothing more than a reflection of the times when MMA was facing an uphill battle on all fronts.
When Tim Sylvia put away Gan McGee early in the first round of their title bout at UFC 44, we got the finish we wanted, minus the epic battle advertised.
McGee had held his own with Pedro Rizzo, for God’s sake; he eventually caught Rizzo with a counter punch that destroyed Rizzo’s nose and ended the fight, so naturally we thought McGee would be at his best, right?
Instead, he came out and fought like a rank amateur, although I am sure that was not his intention.
Sylvia came out, stuck to the basics, and then creamed McGee with straight punches, leaving us wondering if we had just seen a true title fight. We knew we had seen the champion at work, but a true contender for his title?
Not so much.
As Randy Couture squared off against then-champion Maurice Smith, we didn’t know what we were going to see.
Smith had defeated a monster wrestler in Mark Coleman and Couture had upset the highly touted Vitor Belfort, so it seemed to reason we would see some serious action.
What we got was a cautious contest that was more about positioning and little about fighting.
Smith found some moments of success on the feet via stiff punches into the face of Couture, but not enough to keep “The Natural” from taking the title via takedowns and top control.
And just like that, there was a new champion.
For Smith, the loss of the title was a c’est la vie moment and for the new champion, it was another accomplishment in a sport that couldn’t pay him enough to keep him interested.
And that is fully reflective of their title fight.
This is Anderson Silva’s first entrance onto this list, which is proof positive that incredible fighters can be involved with bad fights.
Silva’s fans say he “wasn’t challenged” and thus it’s no fault of his. Others say that Patrick Cote “brought it” the only way he knew how, and that there was some action, just not nearly enough.
Silva would retain the title when Cote could no longer continue due to a leg injury, and thus we got a finish of sorts.
But it was still a lackluster fight that saw neither man fighting like he wanted the title, and that says enough right there.
This fight would be ranked much higher on this list if the severe lack of action was a pure byproduct of the men themselves, but it wasn’t.
Right before the fight, there were rule changes that prohibited the use of the closed fist, and officials outside the UFC were threatening jail time for those who did not abide.
Still, it was a pretty awful fight.
Ken Shamrock, the champion, came out and took the center of the ring, and Dan Severn was content to simply circle outside Shamrock, over and over again, for almost the entire fight.
In truth, it was an oddity; fans kept watching and waiting, Severn kept circling and waiting for an opening and Shamrock seemed stunned, waiting for Severn to shoot in at any second.
And in the waiting, a title fight was lost.
Yes, there was some action at the end, with both men spending time working from the top, but that action was hindered by the new rules. Had those handcuffs not been placed on the fighters then who knows how differently the fight would have played out?
Either way, it seems like Shamrock has gotten the raw end of the deal when it comes to the opinion of the fans. Severn should at least carry half the load as he covered more ground circling around the fight than a marathon runner in the first 15 minutes of a race.
But in the end, it was simply a very bad night in Detroit.
This was just a bad clash of styles, to be honest.
I don’t really know what else to say, and that may say it all.
Sylvia managed to hold on to his title, and Jeff Monson could say he contended for the UFC belt once upon a time, but the bout was lacking any true drama from start to finish.
At the time, Monson was 4-2 in UFC competition with only one of those wins coming by way of submission and he was working against the long reach of the champion.
For Sylvia, all he seemed to need to do was keep from being submitted while using his long punches to score just enough points not to lose his title, and he did.
It wasn’t so much as neither man was lazy or not really fighting; that would be doing them a disservice by assumption.
In truth, they did what they could, and that wasn’t much.
When Tim Sylvia defended his title in the rubber match with Andrei Arlovski, perhaps we should have expected some caution on both sides.
In their first bout, Arlovski made short work of Sylvia, flattening him with a punch then seizing a leg submission quickly after. In their rematch, Arlovski dropped Sylvia again, only to see defeat snatched from the jaws of victory as he ran head long into a Sylvia punch that dropped him and had him defenseless as Sylvia pounded away for the victory.
When two men have flattened each other in previous fights, it seems wise for both to employ a bit of caution.
But in their third title fight, caution was the theme for the entire bout; neither man willing to risk getting knocked out again, and thus we saw two men fighting not to lose rather than fighting to win.
Sylvia would get the nod and the fans got little in return.
The interim title reign of Andrei Arlovski could be summed up in a nutshell in this victory over underdog Justin Eilers.
Back then, we loved watching Arlovski fight—hell, he was an animal in the cage, and seeing that belt around his waist just made sense.
Then, you had Eilers, who was coming off a knockout loss to Paul Buentello and looking every bit like the man who hoped to be the pothole in the road no one was looking for.
Sadly for Eilers, athletic as he was, he simply wasn’t in anywhere near the same league as Arlovski, and when you add to it that the challenger also seemed to be dealing with a leg injury before the fight, you end up with yet another anticlimactic ending.
After some circling by both men with a few brief striking exchanges, Eilers fell, grabbing his leg and Arlovski pounced and the fight was called near the end of the first round.
This title fight didn’t end with a bang, but with a whimper.
Another bad clash of styles was seen when Anderson Silva stepped into the Octagon to defend his belt against Thales Leites back at UFC 97.
The question going into the fight was a simple one: Could Leites get Silva to the ground?
Perhaps that is compelling enough for some, but we quickly learned that getting Silva to the mat was not going to be nearly as easy as anyone thought.
Silva did what he does when he seems bored; he stuffed takedown attempts and scored with strikes as he pleased, leaving Leites sitting on his butt, a bit bloodied and looking confused. It was a sight we saw far too often in the fight and we got to see it frequently for those 25 minutes.
And here we have the blue ribbon winner: Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia.
This wasn't a bad fight because the challenger wasn’t trying; he was, but he just didn’t have the means to get Silva to the floor.
This was a bad fight because Silva decided to use his cage time to entertain himself at the cost of the fans and the sport.
Silva wasn’t fighting like a champion on that night; if he was, he would have been much more aggressive.
Instead, he fought like a man who felt no responsibility to the sport, his title or the fans. Indeed, at one point during the bout, his avoidance of Maia almost saw him deducted a point from the referee.
Perhaps the truly damning statement is that Maia did all he could and Silva could not say the same thing.
And that, in a nutshell, is why this fight was the worst title fight in UFC history.