The 10 Biggest Disappointments in UFC History
There's plenty to love about MMA. It's provided hours of entertainment and enjoyment to you in your lifetime, and for every card happening on the other side of the world in the middle of the night that's only available on some obscure Fox channel, there's a positive to counteract it.
But on the flip side of that entertainment and enjoyment, there is an unfortunate dark reality: MMA is disappointing. It just inherently is.
From the fights you fantasy-book and never get to see, to the injuries to fighters or whatever else you want to focus on, the sport will let you down if you give it the opportunity.
It's always important to view MMA through that lens, through the eyes of someone who understands not to let things get too bleak, to not get too low with the lows. Disappointment can be managed with the right expectations, and few fanbases in sport understand that fact better than diehards who've devoted their recreational time to following MMA.
It doesn't make those disappointments go away when they happen, though. It doesn't make them any less likely in the future, either. It also doesn't erase the scars of those that happened already.
In honor of that—of those scars that have already happened, in particular—let's take a look at the 10 biggest disappointments in the history of MMA's top promotion, the UFC.
The UFC 223 Shenanigans
UFC 223 was supposed to be a joyous occasion, a night when the UFC's lightweight title situation finally got sorted out after years of upheaval.
It was supposed to be a night when Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson settled their differences. They had been booked against one another three times previously but never met due to a whole host of circumstances.
But because the MMA gods are cruel and vindictive beings, that never happened. And it never happened thanks to one of the weirdest weeks in the history of the promotion—a chain of events that would not be out of place in some Hitchcockian alternate universe.
Ferguson was pulled from the main event after blowing out his knee tripping over a cable in a TV studio on fight week. UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway stepped in to fight Nurmagomedov, but he was pulled when his weight cut went off the rails. Anthony Pettis and Paul Felder were offered the Nurmagomedov fight, but the UFC wouldn't pay Pettis enough and Felder was deemed uncompetitive as an opponent by the athletic commission, per MMA Fighting.
Oh, and the reason they were available in the first place? Conor McGregor attacked a bus full of fighters with a moving dolly and caused multiple fighters to be injured or rattled to the point of their removal from the card. McGregor was the sitting champion of the lightweight division at that moment, though it was confirmed he would lose the belt to the winner of the UFC 223 bout
In the end, Al Iaquinta took the shot at Nurmagomedov and lost a decision. It was a disappointing—albeit perhaps entertaining, in its own way—turn of events that ruined one of the most anticipated fight weeks of the past few years.
Brock Lesnar Fails Post-UFC 200 Drug Test
Brock Lesnar was the biggest star in the UFC for a long time. His years as a pro wrestling mainstay had built him a following, and his legitimate excellence as an NCAA heavyweight wrestler gave him the athletic pedigree to jump to MMA and perform at a high level.
His run to the top of the game in 2008-09 was among the most meteoric in the sport's young history, and his fights against Frank Mir and Shane Carwin were some of the greatest displays heavyweight MMA has ever seen.
However, his career was cut short in 2011 after diverticulitis robbed him of much of his power and explosiveness, and he retired to return to the pro wrestling world and the more manageable physical and mental toll that would take.
Or so we thought.
More or less out of the blue, a month before UFC 200 in July 2016, the UFC announced that Lesnar would be returning to the promotion to fight Mark Hunt. It was a shocking turn of events considering he was still under his pro wrestling contract at the time.
When he returned, he mauled Hunt and took a convincing decision win, looking the best he had in years and making people wonder if he didn't have one last run in legitimate combat left in him.
Then, as with most things that seem too good to be true, reality interjected and ruined the whole thing.
Thanks to United States Anti-Doping Agency PED testing—a modern conceit that wasn't around when Lesnar ruled the heavyweight world—a mix of various banned substances was found in his sample, and the win was overturned to a no-contest, marring the victory and calling the whole return into question.
'Face the Pain' Is Somehow Still the UFC Theme in 2018
Again, perhaps "disappointing" is not the right word for this. It's challenging to find the right descriptor to encapsulate the proper amounts of shocking and embarrassing, though, so "Face the Pain" ends up on a list about disappointments, because it has to go somewhere.
In terms of things that shouldn't be anywhere near a UFC broadcast, or any broadcast, in 2018, "Face the Pain" would have to be at the top of the list. It's an assaultive, unpleasant piece of screaming trash nu-metal that almost no UFC fan or other routine consumer of UFC media speaks highly of.
It's a badly dated afterthought from the days when the UFC was selling itself on being an edgy alternative to your dad's sports culture, but as an established sports brand that's been in existence for 25 years and is worth four billion dollars, the promotion doesn't need it anymore.
They would be much better suited to throwing a few dollars into crafting fresh musical openings and trailers for every pay-per-view than keeping opening events with such a silly, over-the-top theme.
The hardcore fans who cringe every time "Face the Pain" comes on would surely thank them
Jon Jones' Tumultuous Run Outside the Cage
The man pegged by most to challenge the records and general greatness of Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, would probably be planning his UFC Hall of Fame speech by now if he hadn't gone down the darkest paths available to athletes at the top of their game.
After winning the UFC light heavyweight title in 2011, Jones went on to defend it eight times. With the exception of a bout against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165, nobody came particularly close to taking even a round from Jones, much less taking his belt.
He was, without question, the most talented athlete MMA had ever seen, and it looked like he would never lose.
Well, here in 2018, seven years after winning his first world title, Jones still hasn't lost. But he's not the champion anymore, hasn't been in a UFC cage in almost a year and has no timeline for a return.
Without getting too bogged down in the details, outside of the cage, Jones has been involved in wrecking his Bentley in upstate New York, a hit-and-run involving a pregnant woman in New Mexico, a scandal involving cocaine use and failed PED tests in both 2016 and 2017.
If his run inside the cage from 2011 to 2017 was one of the best ever, his run away from it is the worst.
Nobody knows when, or if, Jones will be back, but his legend has been badly tarnished by his actions beyond fighting, and it's among the most disappointing things the sport has ever seen given how he started out.
Ben Askren Never Fought in the UFC
Ego is a driving theme in most MMA decisions.
Be it the ego of a fighter who believes he can bend the will of another man until it breaks, or the ego of Dana White being on display in every public appearance or interview he's given for over a decade; it's pretty much inescapable.
In the instance of Ben Askren, the perfect conflation of both those things conspired to keep one of the top wrestlers ever to compete in MMA from joining the UFC. That wrestler, of course, was Askren himself.
After years of back-and-forth in the media, most of which was based on trying to outdo one another with sick burns about UFC finances and taking Ambien, we've reached the point where Askren is not likely to ever be a UFC commodity. He spent the first portion of his career laying waste to the Bellator welterweight division, and he spent the latter portion in One FC, where he held welterweight gold again.
Today he sits as a retiree, 18-0 (1) and still running his mouth about potential fights with UFC names—telling MMAjunkie Radio he predicts a bout with GSP in 2019 (via MMAjunkie.com). After the history he's shared with White, however, it sure doesn't seem likely he'll be out of retirement and into the Octagon any time soon.
Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre Never Happened
For a period in time, the two greatest fighters the UFC had ever seen were running roughshod over their divisions and were separated by a meagre 15 pounds as they did so.
Anderson Silva was ruling middleweight with an iron fist, and in the class below him, Georges St-Pierre was looking unbeatable at welterweight. From April 2007 to November 2013, the pair went a combined 25-1 and defended their titles 19 times between them.
And yet, no matter how many times the idea was floated, the two could never come to terms on an agreement to meet and determine who was the best fighter alive.
Silva had fought as low as 167 pounds in his career, but he seemed disinterested in cutting the weight required to get down to welterweight for a crack at St-Pierre. A more cynical person might have suggested that was a cop-out to avoid meeting the Canadian at his natural weight, particularly considering St-Pierre's takedown-heavy approach was kryptonite for Silva back then.
St-Pierre, though, was equally disinterested in bulking up to fight at 185 pounds. His trainer Firas Zahabi told ESPN in 2011 his fighter would be a "very small" fighter in the division. A cynic might have called him "scared" of Silva—the classic last bastion of a fight fan jilted out of a matchup he wants to see—but the fact that St-Pierre came back years later to wrest the middleweight belt from Michael Bisping lends some credence to the idea.
In any event, GSP and Silva never met. Both held their belts and enjoyed success in parallel weight classes, each cementing a legacy of excellence that may never be touched.
It still would have been nice to see them throw down, though.
Legends Never Knowing When to Quit
This one is almost more sad than disappointing. The idea that so many fighters in the UFC have gone through the ringer for so long, and they see nothing more promising or appropriate in their lives and careers than to keep fighting well after they should be, is demoralizing for anyone with an investment in the human side of the game.
Since MMA became somewhat less of a dirty sports secret and more of an understood commodity on the sporting landscape, there has been a rise in the attention paid to the career paths of fighters. Many of the more grizzled veterans of the UFC have been around for a decade or more now, and they're the first such class of athlete fans have grown up with.
They're also the first class of athlete stuck with deciding when it's time to call it quits, and many of them have pondered that decision with an unfortunate lack of grace or self-awareness.
Names like Minotauro Nogueira and BJ Penn come to mind, guys who hung on far too long and took far too much damage long after they were competitive—though they're not alone.
It's important for the generation coming after them to learn from their mistakes and get out before they become old and shopworn and, due to the nature of their chosen trade, damaged beyond repair.
The Career Arc of Cain Velasquez
Velasquez, for a long time, was The Guy. Everyone in the MMA world knew it, too. It was a given that he would be the heavyweight champion of the world one day and that once he ascended to that position there would be no one coming along to beat him for many years.
With the way it played out, though, it's hard not to be disappointed.
Sure, Velasquez blistered his way through the heavyweight division in the late 2000s, culminating with his destruction of Brock Lesnar at UFC 121 to become champion. After that, though? Injuries, long delays and repetitive opponents derailed his career and left many people wondering if he'll be remembered for a lost prime more than combative excellence.
After Lesnar, he sat for a year, then lost the belt to Junior dos Santos. For the next two years, he fought only Dos Santos and Antonio Silva, flip-flopping wins against the two over a four-fight stretch. He then spent another 20 months on the shelf before losing the title he'd regained against Dos Santos in a terrible performance against Fabricio Werdum.
That was June 2015, and he's only fought once since then: a win over Travis Browne.
Nobody is saying Velasquez wasn't great—isn't great—but his lack of activity and his opportunity to prove his skills exclusively against the same pair of opponents for much of his prime is disappointing.
The Sad End of Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey deserved better.
She's remembered now as an almost-punchline, cowering behind a pillow in an airport instead of taking her first career MMA loss with an amount of dignity or disappearing from the sport for months on end before suffering her second loss and leaving it forever.
In many ways, she's professional wrestling's problem now. She's WWE CEO Vince McMahon's hottest free-agent signing in years, and the wrestling kingpin is going to work to build her into something even more than she was in MMA.
And in MMA, she was great.
She was single-handedly responsible for the women's revolution in the UFC, rising through regional ranks to become Strikeforce champion before making the jump to the UFC and defending her bantamweight title six times there. In that time, she was among the most famous athletes in the world, and she used that fame to springboard into movies, TV and endorsement deals.
For a time, you couldn't turn your head without seeing Rousey.
However, her tactless, extreme response to her MMA losses overshadowed all of that. Even if one wanted to, there would be no way to discuss her successes without discussing how she handled her greatest failures (which, in the context of MMA, weren't even that great—all fights are a 50-50 proposition, after all).
In terms of being purely disappointing, the end of Rousey in the UFC is near the top of a list like this.
Fedor Emelianenko Never Fought in the UFC
This is the big one. The ultimate, soul-crushing disappointment for MMA fans worldwide.
Fedor Emelianenko, the greatest heavyweight of all time, never fought in the UFC, the most prolific producer of major fights of all time.
During his run in PRIDE and before, Emelianenko was unstoppable. He amassed a staggering record of 26-1 (1) before coming to America and pushing it to 31 wins. In the interim, however, he was almost a UFC property and was being lined up for enormous bouts including against Brock Lesnar, per MMA Fighting, but it wasn't meant to be.
As has been noted, ego in MMA is a roadblock to lots of great things, and it was no different here. Fedor's management felt he was a big enough star that the UFC should co-promote his fights with them—an unheard-of concession at that point in the promotion's history—and the UFC felt they were offering fair market value and then some for one of the top fighters in the world.
The deal never came together, and Fedor went on to join Strikeforce. He lost three in a row there before returning overseas to win three in a row, after which he retired.
He's since ended his retirement and gone 2-1 since coming back, but he's quite evidently a shell of the man he was a decade ago, and it doesn't appear likely he'll ever enter the Octagon now.
While Fedor surely meets that reality with the reserved stoicism he's displayed in every walk of life to this point, everyone else will live with that disappointment forever.