Kimbo, Gina and More: The Top 10 Failed Faces of MMA
If it hasn't become abundantly clear to you yet, let me state it explicitly: Georges St. Pierre is the new face of MMA and is the man Dana White believes is the best fit to bring mixed martial arts further into the mainstream.
Exploring why Dana White and the UFC chose St. Pierre is a story for another article, but at the present time when such a push is so easily apparent, it's worth taking a look at the other fighters who have been marketed as faces of the sport, but who have struggled once that title was placed upon them.
Like being named the "sexiest man or woman alive" supposedly signals the death of acting careers, being named the face of MMA, or a particular branch of it, has been a bad omen for many fighters.
Will Georges St. Pierre be able to stay successful now that he's been branded as the new face of MMA?
Here are 10 fighters who have struggled once that title has been thrust upon them.
Only one of them has been able to eventually live up to the hype and expectations. The jury is still out on a few of the others.
10. Miguel Torres: The Face of the WEC
Miguel Torres was seen as a nearly unstoppable force in the bantamweight division.
Torres had trained with Carlson Gracie, who issued a challenge stating that nobody could beat Torres at 135 lbs.
That statement stuck with people, and many believed that Carlson Gracie was right.
Only a few months ago, Torres' record stood at a gaudy 37-1, and after Urijah Faber's loss, the WEC became even more aggressive in promoting Torres as some sort of invincible fighter.
Some of the overwhelming hype can be attributed to WEC commentator Frank Mir, who admits to having a Miguel Torres bias, but many others felt that nobody had the power to knock Torres out at 135, and nobody could stop his submission attacks on the ground.
Recent fights have proved that Torres is not as invincible as previously thought.
Close fights with Takeya Mizugaki and Yoshiro Maeda were enough to make some people question Torres' ability to create and follow a game plan since Torres was expected to win both of those fights in far easier fashion.
My own personal thought at the time was that Torres was careless with his flashy offense. I thought that he might get away with his front roll axe kick against weaker competition but that stronger opposition would eventually make him pay for such moves.
Torres' loss to Bowles was a case where Torres had Bowles rocked early, but got overly aggressive as he tried to finish the fight.
Once Torres was dropped by Bowles, he still tried to work for an armbar instead of trying to defend himself, as though he simply thought that his chin could absorb whatever Bowles could throw.
After his second consecutive loss and more than a few recent shaky performances, it is difficult to predict if Torres can return to WEC glory.
At one time, Torres benefited from a relatively weak 135 lb division, but as the division gets stronger, it will be interesting to see where Torres fits in.
9. Vitor Belfort: The Face of the UFC Heavyweight Division
Vitor Belfort was seen as one of the most brilliant young prospects in MMA when he burst into the UFC at the age of 19.
Belfort had the grappling background in the form of a Carlson Gracie black belt, as well as naturally fast and powerful strikes.
Belfort was seen as the favorite heading into his first match against Randy Couture at UFC 15.
Couture won convincingly, and since that time, Belfort has struggled to live up to the expectations placed upon him early in his career.
Personal tragedy has been at least partially responsible for Belfort's losses. While that may be somewhat true, others say that the reason Dana White tried to put Belfort in against Anderson Silva so quickly was because Belfort is a notorious flake who couldn't put together a string of wins over elite middleweight competition, and so the UFC needed to market the title fight now rather than later.
Although he's been fighting professionally since 1996, Belfort is only 32 years old, so he still has some time to prove his doubters wrong.
8. Matt Lindland: The Face of the Anti-UFC Movement
Lindland had a pretty successful run in the UFC, but that all came to an end when Lindland showed up to the weigh-ins at UFC 54 wearing a banned T-shirt.
Rather than give Lindland a fine or a slap on the wrist, the UFC cut Lindland from the UFC despite Lindland being victorious over Joe Doerksen.
Additionally, many people believe that Lindland deserved the win in the fight against Jackson, and Emelianenko won only after illegally grabbing the ring rope to stop a takedown.
All things said, Lindland was seen as an elite middleweight who was out of the UFC not because of fighting ability, but because of lack of marketability.
A documentary was filmed, and there was a lot of hardcore fan support lining up behind Lindland.
Losses to Vitor Belfort and Ronaldo Souza have since squashed a lot of the momentum behind the anti-UFC movement.
The truth about the situation is that marketability will always play some role in fight promotion, but Lindland is also partially responsible for his UFC exile for ignoring UFC restrictions.
Given his age (38) and his two recent decisive losses, debating the issue of Lindland's treatment by the UFC has become an academic issue rather than a practical one.
7. Urijah Faber: The Face of the WEC
Urijah Faber was really the first fighter pushed as a WEC superstar.
The UFC marketed his first fight against Jens Pulver as "the biggest fight in the history of the 145 lb division."
Faber had an exciting style, a marketable look, and an impressive resume, but none of that mattered against Mike Brown, who lacks the flashiness of Faber but makes up for it with sturdiness.
In the first fight against Matt Brown at WEC 36, the difference between flash and solid fighting became clear when a poorly thought out leaping back elbow was countered by a nice, short punch.
This was the second time in his career that Faber was stopped after attempting a flashy move. The first was against Tyson Griffin after Faber was knocked out of the air while attempting a superman punch.
Faber can still be very successful in the WEC, but he is a rightful underdog against the latest face of the WEC, Jose Aldo.
6. Gina Carano: The Face of Female MMA
While it would be wrong to say that Carano had been marketed for her looks alone, it's clear that part of the reason Carano was called "The Face of Women's MMA" is because of her looks.
She has fought a lot of credible opponents, but her last few opponents were chosen not because they were the most difficult matchups, but rather because they were credible fights that Carano could win.
Carano's big hurdle was always going to be the fight with Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos.
Carano fought gamely against Santos, but when Santos had Carano mounted at the end of the fight, Carano turned away and protected her admittedly pretty face rather than trying to improve her position.
The result is that while Carano has saved her face, she's no longer the face of women's MMA.
Carano was subsequently cast for a Steven Soderburgh film, "Knockout," and while her marketability as an icon may remain intact, her future in fighting remains uncertain at best.
5. BJ Penn: The Face of the Early UFC Lightweight Division
Today, BJ Penn has come to claim his spot as the greatest lightweight in the world, and possibly the greatest in the short history of MMA. However, Penn was expected to reach this position far earlier in his career.
Penn was signed to a big UFC contract before he'd even fought a professional fight.
As we know, "The Prodigy" is extremely gifted, but he still had some troubles early on in his MMA career.
Penn was heavily favored going into his title fight against Jens Pulver and dominated Pulver in the first two rounds. Penn would tire out later on in the fight, allowing Pulver to come back and win a majority decision.
Still, Penn was seen as so much better than the rest of the division to the point that UFC guest commentators would forget who won the Pulver fight, and would call Penn the champion.
After Pulver left the UFC, the UFC tried once again to crown Penn the champion, but after the fight with Caol Uno was judged a majority draw, the UFC would temporarily abandon its lightweight division plans.
Penn went on to defeat Hughes in 2004 for the welterweight title but left the UFC and was stripped of his title following a contract dispute. Because of this defection and others like it, the UFC wisely now includes a "Champions Clause" in UFC contracts.
Over the next few years Penn would fight in different weight classes across Japan and Hawaii before returning to the UFC at welterweight.
Penn finally earned his UFC lightweight title in 2008, six years after his first title fight.
4. Andrei Arlovski: The Face of the UFC Heavyweight Division
Despite signs that he might have a weak chin, Andrei Arlovski was still marketed heavily by the UFC to the point that, heading into his first rematch against Tim Sylvia at UFC, the UFC commentators asked if Arlovski was even beatable.
Arlovski will stand as one of the fighters who could have possibly been much more successful if he had not been given a glass jaw. Arlovski has enough offensive skills that he could possibly knock anybody out, but a questionable chin and questionable tactics make a loss always one punch away.
3. Roger Huerta: The New Face of the UFC
Roger Huerta was given an easy road early on in his UFC career. In 2007, Huerta was put on a development track that allowed him to rack up wins and benefit from media exposure.
Huerta had the looks and exciting style that was marketable, and so despite not having any truly elite victories, Huerta became the first mixed martial artist to find his way on to a SportsIllustrated magazine cover.
After defeating Clay Guida, it seemed like it was time for Huerta to take a step up in competition.
Against Kenny Florian, Huerta's relentless pace was no match for Florian's more technical striking and grappling.
After the fight, Huerta expressed more interest in acting than he did in a continued fighting career.
Huerta was then frozen out of competition for a long period, and lost in his return fight to Gray Maynard in a fight that was not as close as the split decision would suggest.
Huerta hopes to revitalize his MMA career in Bellator, but it's no longer the case that people are predicting a world title in Huerta's future.
2. Chris Horodecki: The Face of the IFL
Part of the IFL's plan to compete with the UFC included attempting to build up a baby face in the form of Chris Horodecki. The IFL groomed Horodecki for the lightweight title and he was hyped up as a possible future pound-for-pound fighter.
Horodecki brought a lot of attention due to his child-like looks, even getting heavy coverage by ESPN.
Everything came crashing down to earth against Ryan Schultz in a rematch of a fight Horodecki won.
Since then, Horodecki has been working to regain some of his former hype, but was set back against Anthony Njokuani.
1. Kimbo Slice: The Face of Elite XC
A series of YouTube videos helped hype up Kevin Ferguson, a.k.a. Kimbo Slice.
Pro Elite signed Ferguson to a big contract and hyped him up as if he was the baddest man on the planet.
Even after he looked bad in his fight against James Thompson, Elite XC's Gary Shaw still stood by Kimbo and said that while he lacked ground acumen, he was still the most dangerous striker in MMA.
Seth Petruzelli stepped in for Ken Shamrock at Elite XC: Heat on short notice, and the rest is history.
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