5 times that UFC champions enhanced their reputations by taking losses surprisingly well
In the UFC, it’s hard for a fighter to come to terms with any loss, particularly if it comes in a title bout. So, unsurprisingly, many fighters on the losing end of things come up with wild excuses to explain their defeat. However, that’s not always the case.
Over the years, we’ve seen a number of UFC champions lose their titles and rather than handle their losses badly, they were gracious in defeat.
Given that some of these losses came in dramatic fashion, it would’ve been easy for them to come up with some kind of excuse. But in the case of these former champions, their stoicism in the face of defeat drew respect from fans.
Here are five times when UFC champions enhanced their reputations by taking losses surprisingly well.
#5. Tito Ortiz vs. Randy Couture – UFC 44
Back in 2003, not only was then-light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz the poster boy of the promotion, he was considered to be one of the brashest fighters in the sport of MMA, too.
‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ lived up to his nickname by getting under the skin of his opponents with pre-fight trash talk. And he was hardly a gracious winner, either, thanks to his semi-controversial “gravedigger” celebration.
When he lost his title to 40-year-old former heavyweight champion Randy Couture in a big upset in 2003, everyone expected him to come up with excuses for the loss.
After all, most fans had expected Ortiz to wipe the floor with ‘The Natural’. Instead, he found himself dominated in every single area in a way that nobody had ever done before.
However, in the post-fight press conference, a tearful Ortiz surprised everyone by being nothing less than hugely graceful in defeat.
‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ stated that every champion had to take a loss in order to come back stronger. He paid tribute to Couture by saying that he’d put him into positions he’d never been put in before. Ortiz wished Couture luck in his title reign.
Ortiz even got choked up before thanking his coaches and training partners, a moment that drew a massive round of applause from those in attendance.
Sure, he never did manage to regain the title he lost to Couture. However, by being so gracious in defeat, he did prove himself to be more than just a 'bad boy' caricature.
#4. Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards – UFC 278
Whenever a fighter sees his lengthy winning streak snapped, it’s interesting to see how they handle it. Kamaru Usman’s UFC welterweight title loss to Leon Edwards at UFC 278 was one of those instances.
Not only was it the first loss for ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ in the octagon after he’d put together a win streak of 15 fights dating back to 2015, but it also came in truly dramatic fashion. In the dying moments of a fight that Usman was clearly winning, he got KO'd by a head kick.
However, if anyone had expected Usman to be salty, they were surprisingly mistaken. ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ was almost more affable after losing than he’d been after winning, making him seem far more human in the process.
Usman paid tribute to the head kick Edwards had landed to knock him out, calling it a “great shot” before stating that he’d watched footage of the fight three or four times.
He also said that the fact that a last-gasp shot like that could end a fight was “the beautiful thing about this sport.” He went on to state that he was simply grateful to have people caring about his fights so much.
It was a classy response from a fighter not used to suffering defeats, and the fact that he took his loss in stride probably bodes well for his future. If nothing else, his reputation was definitely enhanced by his behavior in defeat.
#3. Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt – UFC 207
While he never established himself as an abrasive trash talker like a Chael Sonnen or a Colby Covington, Dominick Cruz was certainly not afraid to insult his opponents. During his reign as UFC bantamweight champion, Cruz trash talked his foes with a sardonic demeanor.
When he lost his title to Cody Garbrandt in late 2016, then, it was hard to imagine quite how he’d react. After all, ‘The Dominator’ had stunningly regained it from TJ Dillashaw after spending almost two years on the shelf, and more to the point, the loss to ‘No Love’ was his first in nearly a decade.
Cruz didn’t really talk much in the direct aftermath of the loss, but when he turned up at the event’s press conference, he went deeper than most fighters would ever do. His candour earned him plenty of respect from his fans and peers alike.
Rather than come up with any kind of excuse, ‘The Dominator’ basically admitted he’d been beaten by the better fighter on the night – labeling Garbrandt as an opponent with a “good heart.”
The former champion also went on to say that the only way forward for him would be to find the positives in the loss, and that “part of life is losing.”
In a sport with so many apparent sore losers, Cruz’s approach came across as a breath of fresh air – and it probably earned him plenty of new fans, too.
#2. Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena – UFC 269
When Julianna Pena defeated Amanda Nunes for the women’s bantamweight title at UFC 269 in December 2021, it was considered arguably the biggest upset in the history of the promotion.
Not only had Nunes not been beaten since 2014, but she had also run roughshod over the bantamweight and featherweight divisions– claiming both titles and defeating no fewer than six former UFC champions.
Still, Pena somehow managed to out-hustle her. She got the better of Nunes on the feet before submitting her with a rear-naked choke in the second round.
So, what went wrong for Nunes? Prior to their rematch in the summer of 2022, ‘The Lioness’ went out of her way to explain that “a lot of things had gone wrong” in her training camp for the fight, notably suffering injuries to both knees.
In the direct aftermath of the fight, though, Nunes never mentioned her knees. Instead, she simply stated that she wasn’t surprised by Pena’s strong performance. 'The Lioness' claimed that she was ready to go back to the gym and train hard for the rematch.
#1. Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira – UFC 281
Prior to his recent UFC middleweight title loss to Alex Pereira at UFC 281, Israel Adesanya was in a strange spot with the fans.
‘The Last Stylebender’ had quickly become one of the promotion’s most popular athletes thanks to his rapid rise up the 185lbs rankings. But prior to his clash with ‘Poatan’, it felt like that popularity was beginning to wane due to his penchant for less-than-exciting fights as well as a slightly abrasive attitude.
However, the fans who expected him to be salty after his loss were surprised by his calm demeanor at the post-fight press conference.
Rather than try to blame an injury, or claim that the referee’s stoppage was not legitimate, Adesanya graciously accepted the defeat.
He did claim he felt fine when the referee stepped in – but also stated that he trusted his coaches, who’d told him the stoppage was justified.
More importantly, he also went into detail about what’d caused the loss. He mentioned a leg injury that compromised his footwork, an injury caused by Pereira hitting him with a series of calf kicks. However, he gave the Brazilian a lot of credit for the move to invest early in leg kicks.
Overall, Adesanya was admirably candid about his defeat. Even though he lost his title, his stock rose significantly, particularly in the eyes of the fans who saw him as little more than a flashy point-fighter prior to the loss. Adesanya was not at all shy about appearing in the public eye after UFC 281.
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