UFC 148: Chael Sonnen and the 10 Biggest Choke Artists in UFC History
Greatness is attained by those destined to live in the history books. Fighters win world championships and go on to enter the Hall of Fame by putting together a career of impressive highlights that are typically held in place by milestone moments.
Unfortunately, many stars reach the opportunity for a career milestone and end up falling just short when it matters the most.
Do you know the difference in almost winning a close battle and losing one? When it comes to the record books, almost winning and getting completely demolished carry the same weight. As my grandmother used to say, “Almost only counts in horseshoes, hand-grenades and attempted murder.”
Here is a countdown of the 10 fighters who came so very close to excellence, but went home with nothing but heartache and stitches.
10. George Sotiropoulos
Aussie George is one of the best fighters to come out of The Ultimate Fighter. After compiling seven consecutive UFC wins over increasingly difficult opponents, a victory over kickboxer Denis Siver at UFC 127 would have ensured him a shot at the UFC lightweight championship.
It looked like the deck was stacked on his side. George is an amazing BJJ practitioner, as best illustrated by his submission victory over Joe Lauzon. And while Siver is a threat to any opponent, four of his seven losses going into that fight were submissions. It was clear that if George got the fight on the ground, it would be a night to celebrate in Sydney.
But he didn’t. Siver was able to defend against takedowns for 15 minutes, and used his crisper striking to earn a decision victory, stopping all of the momentum George had built along the way. The man known as G. Sot would fall just short of receiving his title shot and tying for third place in longest winning streak in UFC history.
9. Heath Herring
At UFC 73, Heath Herring was given the opportunity to avenge a pair of losses from the PRIDE organization that haunted his career.
Allowed to face Antonio Nogueira for the third time, Herring would come close to making the most of his opportunity when he hurt Nogueira badly in the first round. The head kick visibly stunned Minotauro, who fell to the canvas in a daze.
Herring feared the ground game of his opponent (as he should have), but made a terrible mistake in allowing Big Nog to recover. Refusing to follow the fallen Nogueria to the ground, Herring gave up the opportunity to be the first man in history to stop the mythical Minotauro.
Big Nog would come back to win the last two rounds and claim the fight.
8. Melvin Guillard
Melvin Guillard was lucky enough to get a second chance in the UFC in 2008, and seemed to be making the most of it. On a 7-1 run, that included wins over Dennis Siver, Evan Dunham and Jeremy Stephens, Guillard was on the cusp of an unlikely title shot.
Like Sotiropoulos, Guillard just needed to stay on the winning side of the deck until the title picture sorted itself out. At UFC 136, he met one of Aussie George's previous opponents in Joe Lauzon.
Guillard expected to mop the floor with J-Lau in the standup aspect of the fight, and took his opponent lightly. Lauzon would connect with a big right hand that floored The Young Assassin, and only moments later, he would sink in a choke that quickly relieved Guillard of the hard-earned momentum he had picked up over the last three years.
7. Shane Carwin
Of the choke artists on this list, Shane Carwin arguably came the closest to living his dream.
At UFC 116, interim champion Shane "The Engineer" Carwin would challenge UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar in a battle of the behemoths. The battle was violent and saw Carwin do more damage to Lesnar than his botched shooting star press at Wrestlemania.
The Engineer pummeled Lesnar in violent fashion through the first round, which included some heavy ground and pound. Many felt that the fight should have been stopped, but referee Josh Rosenthall was not part of that group. Lesnar would somehow survive the round.
Carwin had a massive adrenaline dump between rounds, and was completely disabled at the start of the second stanza. It's quite possible that Lesnar could have tied an arm behind his back and still beaten the exhausted Carwin who attempted to make the best of his title opportunity.
Lesnar sits in the history book as a world champion, while Carwin sits on the list of people who were once close to being great.
6. Urijah Faber
Few fighters have come up short as often as Bantamweight golden boy Urijah Faber. The California kid is 5-4 in his most recent battles, and has gone 0-4 in title fights during that period of time.
So long as Faber sneezes, he will be granted another shot at gold, and only God and Dana White know why he continues to receive title chances when there are other fighters with far more success in recent battles who are more deserving of the opportunity.
Although Faber had tremendous success at the start of his WEC career, he has been unable to recapture that magic since 2008, as he has dropped title bouts against Mike Brown, Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz.
Will Faber be able to make the fifth time the charm? Oddsmakers don't seem to think so, as Faber's UFC 149 opponent Renan Barao is nearly a 2:1 favorite at -190 according to Bovada.lv.
5. Frank Trigg
Frank Trigg shares a boat with Shane Carwin when it come to coming within inches of capturing a UFC championship.
At UFC 49, Trigg got his second crack at champion Matt Hughes. This time around, he would threaten the champ like few ever could. After a standing exchange that left Hughes hurt (mostly from a low blow, but it still counts), Trigg took the champion to the mat and locked in a rear-naked choke with both hooks in.
The position spells doom for any fighter. Having hooks in controls your opponents' posture and should prevent them from standing or turning over. Apparently, nobody told Matt Hughes, as he was able to escape the choke, rise to his feet and slam Trigg across the ring.
Only seconds later, Hughes would win the bout with a rear-naked choke of his own, in a dark twist of irony for Trigg.
Instead of taking his place in the record books as a champion, Trigg will be remembered by the new generation of fans as "That guy who got knocked out by Matt Serra and Josh Koscheck."
4. Chuck Liddell
I'm going to catch a lot of flack for this one due to the unquestionable success of Hall of Fame fighter Chuck Liddell, but hear me out before you start burning me in effigy.
Liddell was one fight away from avenging every loss of his career when he met Quinton Jackson in a rematch from their 2003 battle in the PRIDE Middleweight GP. Jackson would win that battle via TKO in the second round, and he remained the only name on Liddell's resume who had yet to be vanquished.
At UFC 71, a victory for Liddell would have bumped his record to 21-3, with no losses left to address. Undoubtedly, Liddell would be viewed as the greatest light-heavyweight of all time, and would have an extraordinary claim to the title of greatest fighter of all time.
Instead, the knockout loss caused a tailspin for Liddell, as he took his next opponent (Ultimate Fighter contender Keith Jardine) lightly, and lost the battle via decision. Liddell never regained his form and was forced into retirement after receiving a trio of brutal knockouts.
He was one win away from pure greatness, and it was a fight where he came up short. Because the loss kept Chuck outside of G.O.A.T. debates, this example of choking is worthy of a spot on this list.
3. Chael Sonnen
Does anyone need to tell you how close Chael Sonnen was to ripping the UFC Middleweight championship out of the hands of longtime champion Anderson Silva?
Silva was repeatedly taken to the canvas and beaten up by the Oregonian. In fact, Sonnen landed a record 320 strikes on his opponent throughout the 4 1/2 round affair.
In the end, Silva was able to throw up his legs and secure a miraculous triangle choke that kept the belt around the waist of the Black House fighter.
2. Gray Maynard
If anyone knows how Chael Sonnen feels, it's got to be Gray Maynard. Not once, but twice, Maynard pulverized reigning champion Frankie Edgar and nearly captured the UFC Lightweight championship.
In fact, Maynard dominated Edgar so badly in the first fight that he knocked down "The Answer" four times in the first round.
Both battles are stunning examples of an oversized heart leading Edgar to an inspiring comeback, but The Bully had his way with the champion throughout the first round of both battles.
For highlights from the first fight, along with commentary from both fighters, watch the above video.
Maynard is currently trying to earn another crack at the belt that has barely eluded him. A win over the frustratingly mobile Clay Guida is a step in the right direction, but he will need to keep winning while waiting on Frankie Edgar and Nate Diaz to cash in on their title shots first.
1. Kenny Florian
A lot of people came close to greatness within a single fight. Kenny has made a career out of almost getting there and coming up JUST shy. At the Ultimate Fighter Finale, Kenny was finished by Diego Sanchez in the first round—missing out on being the first ever TUF winner.
In his quest to win the lightweight championship, Kenny won every single fight of his 155-pound career, except the ones that counted the most: losing title bouts to Sean Sherk and BJ Penn, and then losing a decision to Gray Maynard in a No. 1 contenders bout at UFC 118.
As if that weren’t enough, Florian dropped weight once again to challenge Jose Aldo for the UFC Featherweight championship. KenFlo won the first round, but ultimately lost a decision in what could be the last fight of his career.
For anyone keeping score, that means that Florian went 0-5 in the most important battles of his career.
Due to recurring back problems that have inhibited his ability to train, Florian has been forced to hang up his gloves and retire. He may not have won gold, but Kenny has a UFC record of 12-5 in elite competition and he also holds the distinction of being the only fighter to fight in four weight classes in the UFC.