Along the course of his or her competitive career, an MMA fighter is almost certain to navigate peaks and valleys--a series of highs and lows defined by tremendous victories and agonizing defeats. The top fighters enjoy those peaks far more frequently in their careers, periods when they seem almost invincible, as is the case for current UFC Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
Many fighters will also experience lows that indicate their career is nearing the end, as appears to be the case now for the legendary Chuck Liddell. And while MMA will probably never have its own Rocky Marciano, the former boxing champion that retired undefeated, the cream of the MMA crop is expected to maintain its standard of excellence once it has been established.
However, there are those fighters that sometimes simply baffle fans with their performances; fighters we just know are way better than they often perform, and go through more letdowns--in either performance, result, or often both--than we know they should.
The following is a list of MMA fighters that often fail to live up to their billing. Some surprise us with wins, but most have shocked us with losses or subpar performances that we know are beneath them.
Japanese MMA fans are quite familiar with Ikuhisa "The Punk" Minowa, who at 42-30-8 is an MMA version of the "Brooklyn Brawler." Fans can always expect a valiant performance out of the often overmatched Minowa, who has lost to a who's-who list of fighters in the sport, including Mirko Cro-Cop, Wanderlei Silva, and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
But Minowa has also surprised his fair share of opponents, including Don Frye, Gilbert Yvel, and Phil Baroni, with whom he has traded wins and losses in a pair of fights.
Minowa is often at his best in "freak show" bouts that are popular in Japan and often feature small fighters taking on much larger foes--the 180-pounder holds victories over behemoths Bob Sapp and Eric "Butterbean" Esch.
Considering "The Spider" is the current UFC Middleweight champion and heralded by many as the top overall fighter in the world, it would be hard to place Silva high on this list. But there is no denying that his performances of late haven't lived up to the standard he has set for himself.
After opening his career in 2000 with a decision loss, Silva has suffered a few random defeats in his career, starting with a 2003 triangle submission loss to 8-13 Daiju Takase, and later being caught with a flying heel hook by Ryo Chonan. His last defeat was three years ago when he was disqualified for an illegal kick against Yushin Okami.
Since then, he has reeled off 10 straight wins, but recently seems to have sunk to his overmatched opponent's levels rather than making them rise to his. His lackluster performances of late have not only drawn the wrath of fans, but his boss Dana White, who made sure to give Silva an opponent that will bring out the best in him.
Silva moves up a weight class to take on former Light Heavyweight champ Forrest Griffin next.
"The New York Bad Ass" burst on to the scene in the early part of the decade, battering his way to a 5-2 record, beating the likes of Dave Menne and Amar Suloev, and with both losses at the hands of world class middleweight Matt Lindland
Baroni seemed poised to take the UFC by storm, but suffered through a streak of four straight losses, including a bad stoppage loss to Evan Tanner that prompted Baroni to attack referee Larry Landless and get himself suspended.
After exiting the UFC, Baroni seemed to re-emerge in Pride, defeating this likes of Yuki Kondo, Minowa, and Ryo Chonan. However, since returning stateside, his career has hit the skids again, and he is just 5-5 since 2006.
Despite sporting a pedestrian record, Baroni is known as one of MMA's ultimate gamers, whose punching power gives him a chance in any fight. The majority of his fights have been against world-class competition, and if he can get over the cardio issues that seem to plague him late in fights, he could put himself back on the map.
Brandon Vera entered the UFC in 2005 with big expectations, largely due to his proclamation that he would win titles in both the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions. He silenced the critics of his lofty aspirations for a while, running his record to 8-0 with wins over the likes of Assuerio Silva and former heavyweight champ Frank Mir.
After being humbled in a 2007 heavyweight bout with Tim Sylvia, Vera was TKO'd in his follow-up bout with Fabricio Werdum, and hasn't looked nearly as impressive since.
Now trying to recreate himself in the light heavyweight division, "The Truth" is finding some success, having admitted to taking training lightly in the past and recommitting himself to a dedication to proper training, in and out of his fight camps. With two or three more victories, he could fulfill his immense potential with a title shot.
Former World Heavyweight champion Frank Mir was one of the original "Golden Boys" that Zuffa pushed after acquiring the UFC in 2000. After arriving in the promotion with a 2-0 record and quickly submitting both Roberto Traven and Pete Williams in his first two UFC fights, Mir was poised for a title run.
Then he ran into Englishman Ian Freeman, who was determined to overcome the odds and defeat Mir in the UFC's first live appearance in the United Kingdom. Mir was violently defeated, and sent back to the drawing board.
He would go on another winning streak after the loss, culminating in his arm-breaking title victory over Sylvia in 2004. Unfortunately, his career was halted afterwards in a motorcycle accident that broke Mir's leg and forced into a two-year recovery.
Mir's comeback fight after the accident was possibly his worse ever loss, as he was beaten down by jiu-jitsu phenom Marcio Cruz. He went into fights against Dan Christison (win) and Vera (loss) looking slow and out of shape, and his career seemed to be on the line when he took on Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut. Fortunately for Mir, he withstood an early onslaught to pull off a kneebar victory.
Despite his recent loss in the rematch with Lesnar, Mir has looked his best since over the last two years, including his sound defeat of former Pride champion Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera. What remains to be seen is how Mir will respond to his latest setback.
Currently on a three-fight losing streak, Tim Sylvia seems to be a mere afterthought on the MMA landscape. It wasn't always that way.
Sylvia arrived in the UFC undefeated and steamrolled his way into the heavyweight title, winning the belt in only his second fight by knocking out Ricco Rodriguez. Every time he seems to have made his case as the world's best heavyweight, a setback ruins his claim.
During his title reign, he was popped with a steroid suspension. His 2004 title loss to Mir was shocking--not that Mir won, but that Sylvia dove for a takedown and put the fight right where Mir wanted it, leading to the fight-ending, arm-snapping finish.
He would later regain the title, suffer another setback against Andrei Arlovski, and then regain the title by beating Arlovski.
His UFC run started going downhill when he was soundly defeated by the older, smaller Randy Couture in 2007. His 2008 debut in Affliction was no better, as he was destroyed by Fedor Emelianenko in a fight that wasn't even competitive, after years of calling the Russian dynamo out and claiming he would beat him.
Now, Sylvia is coming off a knockout loss to 46-year-old former boxing champion Ray Mercer, and it is questionable if he can ever reclaim the status he once held in the sport.
The dangerous Belarussian has maintained conflicting images throughout his MMA career, being known as a fierce striker that is just as dangerous on the ground, as well as a vulnerable fighter with an increasingly fragile jaw.
Arlovski's glass jaw was exposed early in his career, most notably in a sudden and vicious KO at the iron hands of Pedro Rizzo at UFC 36. He rebounded and established himself as one of the UFC's premier stars, winning the heavyweight title with a submission over Sylvia.
"The Pitbull" then went on a slide, losing the title back to Sylvia by KO and then dropping their rubber match in a lackluster decision in which Arlovski appeared to be very gun shy. He put together another impressive win streak, but has been violently stopped by Fedor and rising fighter Brett Rogers in his last two outings, and one wonders if Arlovski will ever be the same, or if his chin is completely shot.
Gomi is not only one of the premier lightweight fighters of all time, but may go down as one of the most talented overall fighters ever. He dominated the lighter ranks of Pride up until its demise, and has defeated some of the best fighters ever in the welterweight and lightweight divisions, including "Mach" Sakurai, Jens Pulver, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and Rumina Sato.
Up until 2006, he had suffered only two losses, and those were to lightweight juggernauts Joachim Hansen and BJ Penn. But in 2006, Gomi's nonchalance caught up to him when he was shocked by Marcus Aurelio, who tapped out the then-Pride champion with an arm-triangle choke in a non-title bout.
Gomi rebounded by defeating Aurelio in a rematch, but was stunned again by Nick Diaz in 2007 in one of the greatest fights of all time. After a back-and-forth slugfest in front of a Las Vegas crowd, a tired and battered Gomi--who appeared to give in to frustration at the fact Diaz would not go down--fell into a spectacular gogoplata submission. The fight was later changed to a no-contest after Diaz failed a drug test, but Gomi was exposed nonetheless.
Gomi is now just 3-2 since the Diaz fight, having lost to Sergey Golyaev and Satoru Kitaoka, neither of whom was cracking a top-ten list of lightweights. At 30-5, Gomi as established himself as a legend in MMA, but whether his is on a cold streak or his better days are past him remains to be seen.
At just 19 years of age, Vitor Belfort burst onto the UFC scene in 1996, running through the competition in dominant fashion, including his destruction of Tank Abbott at UFC 13, when Abbott was still one of the most feared men in the sport.
Despite being derailed by future legend Randy Couture at UFC 15, he still appeared poised for superstardom, and nothing proved that more than his highlight reel, cross-cage pummeling of Wanderlei Silva at
the "Ultimate Brazil" fight card in 1998.
Belfort has at times lived up to the hype, beating the likes of Heath Herring and Gilbert Yvel after jumping to Pride, but has also let his legions of fans down several times, starting with his loss to Kazushi Sakuraba in 1999.
He returned to the UFC in 2002, dropping a decision to the rising Chuck Liddell the UFC's first cable television appearance. Belfort won his first UFC title two years later on a fluke cut victory over Couture, but promptly dropped the title in a rematch.
He appeared to have squandered his potential after subsequent losses to Tito Ortiz and Alistair Overeem, performances that seemed to indicate the dynamite that once resided in Belfort's gloves were gone.
He has since re-emerged in the middleweight division, running through Terry Martin and Matt Lindland while training under the guidance of former rival Couture. Belfort's career has been marred by distractions throughout, not the least of which was the 2003 kidnapping and murder of his sister Prisila. Still relatively young, Belfort is a well-rounded fighter who appears to have re-captured the magic that made him the original "Phenom."
It speaks volumes that a man who has won world titles in multiple divisions, and was the first American to win the prestigious Mundiales Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championships in the black belt division, would be labeled "inconsistent." But that label has plagued Penn throughout his career.
Leading up to his looming lightweight title defense against Kenny Florian, fans have questioned which Penn will show up--the one that destroyed Sean Sherk, Joe Stevenson, and Matt Hughes in 2004, or the Penn that barely got passed Matt Serra, gassed out against Hughes in their rematch and was simply outclassed by Georges St. Pierre in their most recent fight (grease allegations not withstanding).
Penn may have the most valid nickname in the sport; "The Prodigy" earned his BJJ black belt in only four years, won the aforementioned BJJ world title, and lived up to his billing upon entering the UFC in 2001. After dropping a close decision to 155-pound champion Jens Pulver, Penn rebounded with dominant wins over Gomi, Hughes, and Duane "Bang" Ludwig, establishing himself as the premier lightweight fighter in the world, UFC title or not.
The common belief is that Penn is best served fighting at 155 pounds, giving up too much size and strength at 170. But the fact that he has jumped up in weight and defeated Hughes, Rodrigo, and Renzo Gracie, and only lost by decision to current UFC 205-pound champion Lyoto Machida shows that Penn is a prodigy at any weight--provided the motivation is there.
Now with Florian on his horizon, fight fans are eager to find out where Penn's motivation is. Has he been able to move past his controversial loss to GSP? Will he use his last fight as motivation to prove he is still perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world? If the same Penn that toyed with Sherk and choked out Gomi stands across the cage from "Ken-flo," it could be a rough night for Florian.