As the premiere brand in mixed martial arts, the UFC is the home to the best fighters in the world. With very few exceptions, their roster has the absolute top talent in the sport and its depth is absolutely unmatched.
However, they don’t always have all of the top talent.
Every now and then they’ll find themselves in a position where a competing promotion finds a fighter and grooms him or her into something special, and it’s eventually up to the UFC to go out and acquire that fighter in free agency.
Oftentimes, it works out nicely. The UFC shells out big bucks and lands an Eddie Alvarez or Justin Gaethje, who immediately prove their worth at the top of their weight class. They may even go buy a whole promotion or a collection of contracts from a promotion, and net themselves names like Lyoto Machida, Rampage Jackson, Ronda Rousey or Miesha Tate by doing so.
But every now and then there are busts—just as there are in any sport’s free-agency process. There are fighters the UFC acquires and either doesn’t promote properly, doesn’t match properly, or who just plain prove they don’t belong on the sport’s biggest stage despite their having success on smaller stages.
Here are six of the biggest such busts.
Non-UFC Record: 31-2-1
First UFC Fight: Loss to Tim Boetsch, UFC 149
UFC Record Overall: 3-7 (1)
In his time in Bellator there was a real case that Lombard was the best middleweight in the world not named Anderson Silva.
It was as much about how he was dispatching his foes as it was about who he was fighting, given that he was violently stopping guys almost every time out. He had the grappling prowess to control where a fight occurred, and the fistic expertise to lay fools out with a single shot and that produced plenty of exciting and memorable highlights along the way.
He came to the UFC in 2012 with some serious hype, a man people thought could be on his way to a fight with Silva after warming up in a pay-per-view co-main event against Tim Boetsch. Instead he narrowly lost to Boetsch, split a couple of more fights at 185 before dropping a class and was a welterweight afterthought before too long.
It’s crazy to think that he was the same guy who’d helped prop Bellator up for so long, but once he got in with the big dogs, he flagged considerably. He’s presently lost five straight fights and hasn’t won in four years overall.
Non-UFC Record: 30-7-1
First UFC Fight: Win over Tony Petarra, UFC 20
UFC Record Overall: 5-6
This is a painful inclusion on the list, because for a number of years Wanderlei Silva was among the most popular fighters to ever throw leather in this game. And during his time in PRIDE, he was about as successful as anyone to ever do it as well, seen by many to be among the top handful of athletes ever to compete in MMA.
However, the late period of his career, with curiosity surrounding his relationship with PEDs and various bizarre feuds, has taken some of the shine off The Axe Murderer. His run in the UFC leading up to that didn’t help either.
Silva was 1-1 in the UFC back in the late-90s before heading to Japan to become a legend. He signed to return to the promotion in 2007, where he fought Chuck Liddell in one of the greatest wars the sport has ever seen—and one that he lost. It was the start of a largely forgettable 4-5 stretch that saw him suffer two vicious knockout losses and float around finding meaningless catchweight fights from time to time.
He ended his UFC run with a memorable win over Brian Stann in 2012, though, bookending his second stint in the promotion with great fights. The results were not particularly great overall, however.
Non-UFC Record: 17-1
First UFC Fight: Win over Ross Pearson, The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Team Joanna vs. Team Claudia
UFC Record Overall: 1-3
Brooks is probably the least well-known name on the list, as he quietly amassed a hit list over his pre-UFC career. His biggest claim to fame was a run to the Bellator lightweight championship, a title he defeated Michael Chandler for and then defended a couple of times.
He left that promotion as its reigning champion and joined the UFC with some hype, living up to it in a win over longtime divisional stalwart Ross Pearson in his debut. However, that would be the only win he’d ever collect under the UFC banner, as he went on to suffer three straight stoppage losses in the course of a little over a year.
The UFC cut him not long after that, much to the shock of those who thought he was destined to become a major player in their 155-pound class. He’ll make the move to PFL in 2018 and attempt to win that promotion’s Million Dollar Tournament, but many still wonder how someone so talented to flame out so badly in MMA’s biggest company.
Non-UFC Record: 21-4-2
First UFC Fight: Win over Eddie Sanchez, UFC 67
UFC Record Overall: 5-6
Save for Silva, nobody on this list could even begin to boast as big a name, career or mythology as that of Mirko Cro Cop. He spent the early 2000s kicking people to the moon with his tree trunk legs, famously establishing the creed: "Right leg hospital; left leg cemetery."
And there were nights he was winning in PRIDE that you’d think it was an honest possibility.
When that promotion folded and the UFC brought some of its biggest stars into the Octagon, Cro Cop was the main attraction. People were practically frothing at the mouth at the idea of Cro Cop throwing down with then-heavyweight champion Randy Couture, and after an easy TKO win over Eddie Sanchez in his debut the stage was set.
Until it wasn’t.
The UFC decided to give Cro Cop another fight, this time with Gabriel Gonzaga. Gonzaga promptly knocked Cro Cop out cold—with a head kick of course, because the MMA Gods are a fickle and nasty breed—and the Couture fight was immediately off the table.
Furthermore, the Croatian never recovered. He lost again and left the promotion, returning a couple of years later for an uninspired 3-4 run. He finished up 5-6 in the UFC overall (though he got a win over Gonzaga in 2015), a staggeringly disappointing run for one of the top heavyweights ever.
Non-UFC Record: 31-5 (1)
First UFC Fight: Loss to Kenny Florian, UFC Fight Night: Florian vs. Gomi
UFC Record Overall: 4-9
Gomi’s most famous fight arguably happened in his final fight for PRIDE, where Nick Diaz boxed him up and eventually submitted him. Diaz hit a nearly unhittable gogoplata to finish the fight. Diaz, predictably, was busted for marijuana afterward and the whole thing was turned into a no-contest, but Gomi became famous almost by osmosis.
He was also a hell of a fighter in his day, though. He was an absolute marauder in the Japanese MMA scene, going 27-2 in fights in his home country over the first eight years of his career. In fact, his only losses in that time were to Marcus Aurelio, Joachim Hansen and BJ Penn, none of whom would be considered a pushover by anyone in the know.
Still, by the time he debuted with the UFC in 2010, you could see something was off. He didn’t have much for Kenny Florian in his debut, and back-to-back submission losses to Clay Guida and a surging Nate Diaz only compounded matters. He won consecutive UFC fights for the only time in his career in 2012 but lost five straight on his way to a release in 2017.
He might have been more had he made the jump to the UFC sooner, but as it was, he didn’t turn out to be much of an investment for the promotion.
Non-UFC Record: 21-2
First UFC Fight: Loss to Benson Henderson, UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Melendez
UFC Record Overall: 1-5
Another one who didn’t satisfy many people, seeing Melendez falter in the UFC was a borderline tragedy.
A charter member of the beloved Skrap Pack, along with the Diaz brothers and Jake Shields, Melendez was seen to be the best lightweight outside of the UFC when he held the Strikeforce lightweight title. He could wrestle, had good stand-up and was an excellent jiu-jitsu practitioner thanks to his time with his Skrap Pack mates, and there wasn’t much to suggest that would change when he got to the UFC.
His first UFC fight was against Benson Henderson, and it was a painful, narrow decision loss that probably rightfully should have gone his way. He beat Diego Sanchez in a crazy fight at UFC 166, then got tapped in a second UFC title shot soon after and hasn’t won a fight since.
He’s now down at featherweight and hoping to rebound from a loss there in September of last year, but based on what people knew him to be back in 2009-2011, his 1-5 record is about as shocking as any bad UFC showing on this list.