Andrei Arlovski and 10 MMA Fighters Who Couldn’t Live Up to the Hype
Former UFC Heavyweight champion and current Strikeforce fighter Andrei Arlovski may be at a crossroads in his MMA career as he enters the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament this Saturday night.
Once considered one of the biggest stars in the sport, Arlovski left the UFC in March 2008 to pursue what many determined to be a more talent-rich world of heavyweight opponents outside of the world’s biggest MMA organization.
Arlovski, though, has dropped each of his last three bouts and is in need of a big win in the first round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament in order to re-establish himself as one of the world’s top fighters.
Though he lost to three very respectful fighters in Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rogers and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva—all three of whom are also in the tournament—there is growing concern that the former UFC Heavyweight champion has simply “lost it." Perhaps the pressure of being a top fighter was too much for him to handle.
The hype around Arlovski was perhaps at its biggest point when he defeated former champion Tim Sylvia to become the UFC Heavyweight champion at UFC 51. It wasn’t long after that when we began to see the controversy of whether the UFC or PRIDE had better heavyweights. While many considered the PRIDE heavyweight division to be better, UFC President Dana White publicly bashed PRIDE Heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko and essentially claimed that the UFC was the place where all the best fighters performed and proved themselves.
"I've been saying that forever, but the media over-hyped this mythological creature that they thought was the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world, which is just so...it's so asinine and ridiculous," Dana White said in an interview with MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani.
With the UFC being the biggest fighting organization particularly in America, the fans latched on to this idea and many believed that Arlovski was not only one of the top heavyweights in the world, but that he may very well be the best.
Much has been documented about fighters who have traveled from outside of the UFC and struggled once they got to the UFC, but very little has been made about fighters who have left the UFC in a successful way and had struggles in other organizations.
Arlovski still has a chance to redeem himself and live up to the hype that surrounded him during his run as the UFC Heavyweight champion, but he’ll need to get started soon before all of the nostalgia begins to rub away.
If he can’t do it, Arlovski will not be the first fighter who failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him by the MMA community. This list of 10 MMA fighters who couldn’t live up to the hype is both a look back on history as well as a glance at the current MMA landscape.
10. Yoshiyuki Yoshida
A fourth degree black belt in Judo, Yoshiyuki Yoshida became the first Cage Force welterweight winner in December 2007. During the tournament, he defeated former two-time Pancrase interim champion Kartsuya Inoue, Matt Cain, Shooto champion Akira Kikuchi and current UFC fighter Dan Hardy.
This impressive tournament victory prompted the UFC to give Yoshida a chance to prove himself in the big leagues. Yoshida made his debut at UFC 84 where he made short work of former The Ultimate Fighter competitor Jon Koppenhaver, choking him unconscious with an Anaconda choke just 56 seconds into the first round.
The hype was on.
The next fight Yoshida fought in was against perennial top welterweight contender Josh Koscheck at UFC: Fight for the Troops in December 2008. The fight ended in a highlight reel knockout when Koscheck landed not one but two thunderous punches that sent the Japanese fighter to the canvas in an unconscious mess.
The UFC later reported on the incident, “Yoshida, who remained on the canvas while being tended to by commission doctors, was removed from the Octagon on a stretcher as a precautionary measure. He was later treated and released from a local hospital for a concussion.”
Yoshida made a successful return at UFC 98 when he defeated Brandon Wolff by submission in round one, but would go on to lose his next two fights, dropping his record to 2-3 and spelling the end of his run in the UFC.
He debuted in Bellator Fighting Championships in September 2010 but was absolutely lit up by the 5-0 Chris Lozano, who was able to stop the fight between rounds two and three due to a severely swollen eye.
At age 36, Yoshida’s best days are long gone and he was never quite able to live up to the hype.
9. Rolles Gracie Jr.
The son of one of the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Rolles Gracie Jr. was expected to carry on the legendary Gracie family name.
Gracie made his MMA debut in September 2007 as part of the New York Pitbulls in the International Fight League, a team coached by his cousin, Renzo Gracie. He made a successful debut, submitting Sam Holloway with a rear naked choke at 1:49 in the first round.
Rolles would go on to win two more fights for the Art of War Fighting Championship organization before signing with the UFC.
He faced fellow UFC newcomer Joey Beltran at UFC 109 in Feb. 2010—a night that the Gracie family would rather forget ever happened.
Though Rolles was able to take Beltran down early in the fight and secure mount, he was unable to finish the fight and completely exhausted himself in the process. In the second round, Joey Beltran pummeled a turtled-up Gracie who had been gasping for air earlier in the round. The referee stopped the fight at 1:31 in the second round, declaring Beltran the victor by TKO.
Renzo Gracie would later go on to describe his cousin’s loss as “embarrassing” and Rolles was released from the UFC shortly thereafter, competing in just one fight for the world's biggest MMA organization.
8. Bob Sapp
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A former professional wrestler and NFL football player, Bob “The Beast” Sapp began his mixed martial arts career in April 2002 when he defeated Yoshihisa Yamamoto by TKO in the first round. Sapp won his next fight in just 11 seconds, when he defeated Kiyoshi Tamura, again by TKO.
The 6’4”, 340-pound monster exploded into stardom due to his massive physique and relentless aggression. The fans wanted to see Sapp face the best, and they got what they wanted when he was given a shot at then-champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Sapp tossed the much smaller Nogueira around and delivered quite a bit of punishment before he gassed out and was submitted with an arm bar in the second round.
Though Sapp has had a successful financial career in the sport, he never grew into the mixed martial arts champion that many fans expected he would be come following the electric start to his career.
He is just 2-4 in his last six professional fights with one loss even coming to MMA newcomer Bobby Lashley.
7. Gabriel Gonzaga
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Gabriel “Napão” Gonzaga made his MMA debut in April 2003 when he defeated Cicero Cicero in his home country of Brazil. Gonzaga would go on to assemble a 4-1 MMA record, with his only loss coming to the very capable Fabricio Werdum, before signing with the UFC.
Gonzaga continued the great start to his career by finishing each of his first three UFC fights over Kevin Jordan, Fabiano Scherner and Carmello Marrero. But then the real test happened at UFC 70 when he faced Croatian kickboxing expert and consensus top-10 heavyweight Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.
The fight will go down in UFC history as one of the most surprising but memorable knockouts the organization has ever seen as Gonzaga pulled a page out of his opponent’s book, landing a vicious head kick that completely knocked the heavily favored Cro Cop out. The win would earn Gonzaga a shot at then-champion Randy Couture’s UFC Heavyweight title.
Couture dominated Gonzaga in their fight, finishing the Brazilian in the third round in what many consider to be the beginning of the end of Gonzaga’s UFC career. He would go on to lose a rematch with Fabricio Werdum in his next fight as Werdum stopped him with punches once again.
When it was all said and done, Gonzaga dropped five of his last eight fights in the UFC before he was released after losing to Brendan Schaub at UFC 121.
Gonzaga later said on Twitter that, at 31 years old, he was retiring from MMA and would only compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu going forward. In early 2011, though, Gonzaga teamed up with Jorge Rivera to open up an MMA gym in Massachusetts.
Whether Gonzaga does decide to retire or not, the hype that came from his knockout of Cro Cop is something that he was unable to even come close to living up to.
6. Mark Kerr
“The Smashing Machine” was the subject of an HBO documentary which chronicled the former Division I wrestling champion’s MMA career and his sad addiction to opiates. Kerr made a name in MMA for himself fighting in Brazil’s World Vale Tudo Championship III where he absolutely destroyed his competition. At one point, one of Kerr’s opponents famously crawled out of the ring to avoid Kerr’s vicious assault.
Kerr’s long-time friend and training partner, Mark Coleman, introduced him of the UFC where he would eventually go on to win two heavyweight tournaments, increasing his MMA record to 7-0 before he left the organization.
PRIDE’s bigger paychecks and more stable business were selling points for Kerr, who had begun drawing comparisons to Coleman. Many experts considered Kerr to be the best heavyweight fighter in the world at this time.
Kerr temporarily lost the first fight of his career to Igor Vovchanchyn, who was given the victory even after delivering illegal knees. The loss was later overturned by Kerr himself initially admitted how devastating the loss was to his psyche.
Though the loss didn’t go on the record books and he won his next fight, we never saw that same, dominant Mark Kerr again. After starting his career 11-0, Kerr has since fallen to 15-11-1 in his career with 10 losses in his last 12 fights.
5. Phillipe Nover
It’s not often that UFC President Dana White makes comparisons of young, unproven fighters to the top guys in the sport, but that’s exactly what he did during Season Eight of The Ultimate Fighter. Phillipe Nover impressed White so much that the UFC President mentioned that he reminded him of a, “young Georges St-Pierre.”
If those aren’t heavy shoes to fill, I don’t know what are.
Nover made White’s prediction look good early in the show, though, as he submitted both Joe Duarte and George Roop.
It wasn’t until the finals of The Ultimate Fighter that we saw what many consider to be the real Phillipe Nover, when he disappointed us by losing a unanimous decision to Efrain Escudero.
The UFC wasn’t ready to give up on Nover, though, and granted him a fight at UFC 98 against Kyle Bradley, who had gone 0-2 in the Octagon since joining the company. Bradley knocked Nover out early in the first round, and while the decision to stop the fight was questioned by some, Nover's subsequent loss to Rob Emerson at UFC 109 was not. Nover's 0-3 UFC record prompted the company to release him.
A young George St-Pierre he was not.
4. Houston Alexander
Perhaps one of the most over-hyped UFC fighters in the past half-decade was the extremely aggressive Houston Alexander.
After starting his career 6-1-1 in smaller shows, Alexander made his UFC debut at UFC 71 when he famously knocked out Keith Jardine in just 49 seconds. After that one knockout, Alexander signed a three-fight deal with the UFC .
Alexander dominated a very respectable fighter in Alessio Sakara in his second UFC fight, knocking out the Italian fighter in just 61 seconds.
Fans loved Alexander’s punishing knockout power, and he had a hard-working but still entertaining personality that many fans gravitated towards.
But reality came crashing down for Alexander when he faced fellow a heavy-handed slugger, the undefeated Thiago Silva at UFC 78. Silva mounted Alexander in the first round and threw down a series of vicious punches until the fight was stopped. Many experts criticized Alexander’s lack of ground skills following the loss.
Alexander went on to lose his next three fights in the UFC, the final of which came at the hands of Kimbo Slice. His overall record of 2-4 prompted the company to release him.
Though he recently defeated Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in his last fight, at age 38, Alexander’s chance to make it in the UFC is very likely now over.
3. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou
Speaking of Sokoudjou, he is another name who has to make this list.
“The African Assassin” began practicing judo around age five and moved to the United States to pursue a career in the martial arts in 2001. He won the U.S. Open Judo championship in 2001 before beginning training in mixed martial arts.
Sokoudjou made his PRIDE debut at PRIDE 33 against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. As a 16-to-1 underdog, Sokoudjou shocked everyone when he knocked out Nogueira in just 23 seconds. He would then defeat another legend, Ricardo Arona, in his second PRIDE fight, again by way of early first round knockout.
The hype around Sokoudjou was evident when he made his UFC debut at UFC 79 against undefeated karate expert Lyoto Machida. Unfortunately, Machida dominated the fight and eventually won by submission with an arm triangle choke late in the second round.
Many would argue that Sokoudjou was never the same after this very disappointing loss. Losses to Luiz Cane, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Gegard Mousasi, Ikuhisa Minowa and Houston Alexander have pushed him far outside of the top 10 and completely out of discussion as one of the world’s best up-and-comers.
2. Brandon Vera
Once hyped as the future of the UFC heavyweight division, Brandon Vera was cut from the UFC following his loss to Thiago Silva at UFC 125.
Known for his Muay Thai kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Vera was known as a very small heavyweight but used his technical skills to both knockout and submit his often much larger opponents in exciting fashion.
He started his career off at 7-0 before he was given a shot at former UFC Heavyweight champion Frank Mir at UFC 65. The winner of the fight was expected to go on to face then-champion Tim Sylvia at a later date. Vera pummeled Mir in the fight, needing just 69 seconds to knock out the former champion and earn himself a shot at the title.
But that never happened. A contract dispute with the UFC kept Vera out of action for nearly a year before he returned to face Sylvia, who had recently lost his title to Randy Couture. It was on this night that Brandon Vera would begin his slide into oblivion as Sylvia used his size and strength to completely negate anything Vera could do, eventually winning the fight by unanimous decision. The loss marked the first blemish on Vera’s record and may have proved to be a mental obstacle that he was never able to overcome.
Vera lost his next fight at heavyweight to Fabricio Werdum as he was knocked out for the first time in his career. It was at that point that he decided his size disadvantage at heavyweight was too much and that he would be making the full-time move to the 205-pound light heavyweight division.
Vera started off 3-1 at light heavyweight but would eventually drop the final three fights of his UFC contract to Randy Couture, Jon Jones and Thiago Silva. While all three of these fighters are considered top level talent, Vera simply was not up to par any longer and was finally cut by the company, finishing with a 7-6 record in the UFC.
Though it’s not over yet, the once promising start to Vera’s career is now marked by disappointment and even some humiliation.
1. Kimbo Slice
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Though other fighters on this list have been disappointing after promising starts to their MMA career, perhaps no fighter was more hyped in his debut than former backyard brawler Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson.
Slice got his fame originally by becoming a YouTube sensation with his fights of him beating up various untrained hoodlums in backyards and parking lots. Slice was so popular, in fact, that even an opponent of his, Sean Gannon, got a chance at a legitimate MMA career and even fought once in the UFC.
Slice made his MMA debut in June 2007 when he defeated former Olympic gold-medal boxer Ray Mercer at Cage Fury Fighting Championships 5. He would later call out MMA legend Tank Abbott, who was in attendance.
Not only did Slice defeat Tank Abbott in violent fashion, but he also defeated MMA veterans Bo Cantrell and James Thompson before his final fight in EliteXC, when he got a taste of reality.
Originally scheduled to face Ken Shamrock in October 2008, Shamrock had to pull out of the fight just hours before it was slated to happen due to a cut he suffered in warm-ups. Needing to find a replacement for Slice to fight, EliteXC head of fight operations, Jeremy Lappen, turned to Seth Petruzelli.
Petruzelli was a relatively unknown fighter and was expected by most to get absolutely hammered by a much larger Slice, but that didn’t happen. Petruzelli won the fight by TKO just 14 seconds in, ending the hype train that was Kimbo Slice.
With EliteXC folding shortly thereafter, Slice went on to be a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter. Slice was the second overall pick in the “draft” by coach Rampage Jackson, who saw potential in the former backyard brawler.
Slice would lose his first fight on the show to eventual TUF winner Roy Nelson but was still offered a contract with UFC following the show. He went on to win a decision victory against Houston Alexander before being knocked out by Matt Mitrione in his second UFC fight.
The loss to Mitrione dropped Slice to 4-2 in mixed martial arts and would spell the end for his time in the UFC, as he was later released from his contract.
Though Slice was a huge star in MMA for a span of nearly three years, his backyard fighting skills simply didn’t translate to mixed martial arts, and he has to be considered one of the biggest flops the sport has ever seen.