Ranking the 8 Most Electric Debuts in UFC History
When a fighter makes their UFC debut it is often times not their best night at the office. So much so that a thing called the "Octagon Jitters" has become a prevalent statement. But there are some who bury those jitters and generate something special.
Sometimes it comes from fighters who have legendary careers and we can look back with hindsight to see how it all began. Others are a flash in the pan, but a flash so bright we remember it long after they are gone.
There is no blueprint for an incredible debut. It could be a quick finish, a great fight, or their presence pre- and post-fight that captures our imaginations.
For the purpose of this list, early UFC events were excluded. Everyone was making their debut and it was more about the shock value of this new sport that generated the electricity. Also, for the most part, known commodities such as Ronda Rousey and Rampage Jackson were excluded. Their debuts were electric because fans knew what they were getting. It was old hat.
These fighters confounded expectations or simply came out of the woodwork to lift the crowd off their feet.
Who gave UFC fans their greatest debuts? Here is a look at the eight most electric debuts in UFC history.
No. 8 Chan Sung Jung
UFC Fight Night 24 vs. Leonard Garcia
Let's begin the countdown with a tiny bit of a cheat entry. If we wanted to full-blown cheat we could have gone with the likes of Ronda Rousey, but "The Korean Zombie" is worth breaking through.
First, why is this a cheat? "The Korean Zombie" and Leonard Garcia had already fought in an instant classic in the Zuffa-owned WEC a year prior. The rematch was highly anticipated. But there are two big reasons why this cheat entry breaks through—a KO loss took the bloom off the Chang Sung Jung rose and a rarely seen finish.
"The Korean Zombie" was coming off a stunning KO loss to George Roop, so his UFC debut didn't have significant hype as it would for a rising prospect seeking title contention. It was a rumbling with the hardcore fans waiting to see this matchup one more time. They got all that and more.
The two exchanged and put on a show, but the electricity rose through the air when it hit the mat in the second round.
The twister had never been pulled off in the UFC, but the Korean would get into the record books in the final second of the second frame. Garcia was forced to tap and fans were stunned at a brutal new submission they had not seen before.
The win was the first of three leading into a title shot for Jung. It was the rare submission that put him on the map to the UFC fans and gained him a much larger fan following.
No. 7 Junior Dos Santos
UFC 90 vs. Fabricio Werdum
Want to get recognized and jump into the fray right out of the chute? Knock out a contender in 80 seconds.
That's exactly what Junior dos Santos did at UFC 90 against Fabricio Werdum.
Werdum had all the hype entering the fight. Going up against a relatively unknown Brazilian seemed like it would be a showcase fight for the title contender. It was to be a platform for Werdum. Well, as we all know now, that was not how it transpired.
JDS blasted him with an uppercut and launched himself into the heavyweight division.
Surprisingly, it would still take another six victories before he would get his crack at UFC gold. An opportunity he took advantage of. But his incredible run all started with a swift KO. Not many knew his name before that fateful night, but fans certainly knew him after.
No. 6 Conor McGregor
UFC on Fuel TV 9 vs. Marcus Brimage
It is not surprising to see Conor McGregor on this list. One would expect that sport's biggest star to have made a statement in his Octagon debut, but many forget that he was at one point in time tucked away on the prelims. In Stockholm.
That's right, McGregor was in the middle of the pack during the preliminary card that aired on Facebook. Yes, Facebook prelims. Remember those days?
McGregor had some buzz, but nothing that shouted "biggest star in the sport." He was a two-division champion for Cage Warriors and had a dynamic personality. Marcus Brimage was a solid fighter to challenge him and winning was no foregone conclusion. In hindsight, yeah, it was.
How electric was his performance and mic time? The UFC immediately took notice of what they had and made his next fight a centerpiece of their UFC Fight Night 26 card in Boston—the first-ever event on Fox Sports 1. The UFC saw what they needed in Stockholm to quickly put the marketing machine behind him.
McGregor's debut was just 67 seconds of dynamite. The rest is history, and it is still being written.
No. 5 Frankie Edgar
UFC 67 vs. Tyson Griffin
Frankie Edgar debuted all the way back in early 2007, and he was not the one folks were anticipating to shine on that day.
Tyson Griffin had the buzz of being a sure-fire prospect. He was David Terrell's undefeated future title contender, if not champion. At least, that was the thought. For much of the night at UFC 67 viewers did not know anything about the fight. But thanks to UFC debuts of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Mirko Cro Cop ending early, the UFC got to air the prelim battle.
And it stole the show.
Edgar and Griffin had one of the best fights of 2007, and it was this young upstart out of New Jersey who shined.
The contest earned Fight of the Night honors with Edgar taking down a unanimous decision victory. It would still take a few more fights before Edgar became a household name, but it was his debut that kick-started that buzz. It was a glimpse into the future of the lighter weight classes. Well-rounded, complete fighters who could go for 15 minutes.
The UFC had to show this fight with their allotted time remaining on the broadcast. It was too good. And it was because of Edgar.
No. 4 Joe Lauzon
UFC 63 vs. Jens Pulver
UFC 63 was the return of Jens Pulver, former UFC lightweight champion. That is what this fight was all about. Joe Lauzon was just a body on the opposite side of the cage.
Pulver had two knockouts earlier in 2006 to reinvigorate his career. The UFC came calling and it was supposed to be his triumphant return. It lasted all of 48 seconds.
Lauzon stunned the world on that night. He put the former champion out in under a minute. Virtually no one knew who this youngster was and he just knocked out a pioneer of the UFC's lightweight division. A collective gasp went out through the MMA world.
What became even more surprising is that as the world got to know Lauzon through the years, they got to know that it was his ground game that was to be feared—not the quick hands they saw at UFC 63.
Lauzon turned that big win into a successful 12-year run with the UFC. Numerous Fight and Submission of the Night honors followed, but he never got the Knockout of the Night again. His showing at UFC 63 is a perfect example of how to flip the script and steal someone else's thunder.
No. 3 Houston Alexander
UFC 71 vs. Keith Jardine
Similar to Joe Lauzon and Junior dos Santos, here is another entry of a guy coming out of obscurity to gain stardom if only for a moment in time. Houston Alexander flattened Keith Jardine at UFC 71 in a performance no one saw coming.
Jardine was coming off a quick KO over Forest Griffin at UFC 66. It was his second victory in two fights and the former TUF fighter was given a layup. Or that is what it was supposed to be. Alexander was a nobody from nowhere. Certainly not the likes of Griffin. It should have been easy.
Except for the part where Alexander put him in a phone booth and rocked his world in 48 seconds.
How good was the performance? Due to Jardine's position within the light heavyweight division, there were instant rumblings that Alexander could be the next big thing in the division. Those rumblings grew in his next fight, which was a 61-second mauling of Alessio Sakara. But it never panned out. He quickly fizzled in his next few UFC attempts and went back into obscurity.
But at UFC 71, Alexander got a brief bit of UFC fame with the hopes of gold. It is still a showing that is reminisced about today.
When folks say anything can happen in MMA, this is one of the fights that proves their point.
No. 2 Brock Lesnar
UFC 81 vs. Frank Mir
Brock Lesnar is perhaps the only person who could get into this list with a loss, but when talking about electric debuts he has to be near the top of the pile.
Of all the fights, to that point, the UFC had done I had never fielded as many messages and calls from friends and family asking about UFC 81. And it was all due to Lesnar. Sure he was a NCAA champion, but could this WWE phony transition?
His professional wrestling stint created interest from non-MMA fans who were curious. And his freakish athleticism intrigued everyone. And he was fighting a former heavyweight champion? It was too perfect.
The fight delivered even in spite of its controversy. Referee Steve Mazagatti never lived down his ill-timed performance, and it helped spur a much-needed heated rivalry in the heavyweight division. Fans got to see how incredible Lesnar was, Mir got the win on a big stage, the contentious ending got people talking and the UFC had a new bell cow.
As we know now, this all helped lead to UFC 100 where Lesnar smashed Mir into oblivion to retain the UFC heavyweight title he took from Randy Couture.
Lesnar's debut was a major event—and the rest of his UFC career his followed suit. When he makes the walk, there is a tension and excitement that is only replicated by the biggest of stars. UFC 81 was the first time UFC fans got to feel it from a heavyweight.
No. 1 Anderson Silva
UFC Fight Night 5 vs. Chris Leben
There is no other choice that Anderson Silva to top this list. His UFC debut was captivating and astonishing. With hindsight, folks may not remember that Chris Leben was on a tear.
The longtime MMA fans who also followed PRIDE and other non-U.S. promotions knew of Silva. They knew this wasn't an easy fight for Leben, but those who only followed the UFC figured it was a showcase for the iron-jawed American.
Even in the pre-fight video package Leben exclaimed that he would "send him back to Japan" to fight easier competition.
When the fight got underway, it did not take long to see this was an entirely new world the middleweight division was entering. Silva truly styled on Leben for the entire 49 seconds the fight lasted. It is actually quite surprising how much Silva did in that 49 seconds and how amateur he made Leben look.
Silva's crisp, accurate striking was new and different. It was art.
The UFC awarded Silva a title shot after he dealt with Leben, and Silva made good by destroying Rich Franklin and re-arranging his nose. But it all started at UFC Fight Night 5.
There are very few debuts you can vividly recall, but if you witnessed Anderson Silva on this night it is likely you can still remember where you were and how you reacted. It was a debut that got you excited to see this fighter each and every time he was booked.
Everyone who was fortunate enough to witness his legendary career from the start understood we were going to witness greatness after June 28, 2006.