5 of the biggest career missteps in UFC history

TJ Dillashaw
TJ Dillashaw's decision to drop to 125 pounds was a major error in judgment [Image via Getty]

For any fighter, mapping a career trajectory through the UFC can be an absolute minefield full of pitfalls to dodge.

For every Sean O'Malley, who seems to have nailed things perfectly thus far, there are numerous examples of UFC fighters who made huge missteps in their careers and paid the price.

Some of these fighters were able to recover from these missteps, while some others saw their careers fly off the rails entirely and never got back on.

Here are five of the biggest career missteps in UFC history.

#5. Brandon Vera openly flirts with a move to Elite XC (2007)


Back in 2007, the UFC's heavyweight division was in a curious spot, largely because it was headed by a deeply unpopular champion in the form of Tim Sylvia.

'The Maine-Iac' had reclaimed the title from Andrei Arlovski in 2006, but a pair of dull bouts with Arlovski and Jeff Monson had soured the fans on him. By 2007, everyone was desperate to see him dethroned.

Remarkably, the promotion appeared to have found the perfect guy for the job. Brandon Vera had exploded onto the scene in late 2005 with a debut knockout, and had followed that with a trio of wins in 2006, ending with a TKO victory over former titleholder Frank Mir.

'The Truth' was in pole position to fight Sylvia for the title, before he made a curious and fateful decision that basically screwed everything up.

New promotion EliteXC were looking to make big moves into the MMA market by purchasing a bunch of smaller promotions and signing fighters like Nick Diaz and Kimbo Slice, and they decided to set their sights on Vera.

Evidently forgetting he was under contract with the UFC, 'The Truth' decided to hear out EliteXC's offer, and openly flirted with them while turning down an offer of $200k per fight from Dana White and company, a huge figure at the time.

Unsurprisingly, Vera, whose contract did not expire until the end of the year, was instantly iced by the UFC, with the shot at Sylvia and his title going to Randy Couture instead.

All the momentum that 'The Truth' had built went up in smoke, and as the year went on, so did EliteXC's interest in him. Vera returned to the fold, but looked rusty in a non-title loss to Sylvia and never really got back on track until he was released in 2013.

Had he simply shut out the noise and taken the fight with Sylvia - who we now know had a serious back injury at the time - though, he could well have become a UFC champion instead.

#4. Germaine de Randamie refuses to fight Cris Cyborg (2017)


The women's featherweight division is now a footnote in UFC history, having been scrapped in 2023 after the retirement of reigning champion Amanda Nunes.

It's arguable, though, that the division was cursed from the start, when its inaugural champion had to be stripped of her title before she'd made a single defense.

Realistically, the promotion never intended for Germaine de Randamie to be involved in the first featherweight title fight, let alone become champion. The division was, of course, supposed to be built around Cris Cyborg, who'd signed a big-money move to fight in the octagon a year prior.

After a series of catchweight fights designed to help her move to 135 pounds didn't really work, Dana White and company decided to bite the bullet, announcing that a women's 145 pound title would be introduced in February 2017.

The only problem? Cyborg could not make the inaugural title fight, meaning that de Randamie was matched with Holly Holm instead. The hope was clearly to set up Cyborg vs. Holm, but 'The Iron Lady' ended up surprising 'The Preacher's Daughter' to claim the title.

The win should've put the Dutch fighter in line for a huge payout in a big pay-per-view main event against Cyborg, but there was just one problem. Apparently due to the Brazilian's previous doping issues, de Randamie didn't want to fight her.

Given that, well, Cyborg was a star name and de Randamie wasn't, that didn't sit well with the UFC. Just months after winning the title, 'The Iron Lady' was stripped of her crown and largely slipped down the card, meaning she missed out on what would easily have been the biggest payout of her fighting career.

#3. Alexander Volkanovski accepts a fight with Islam Makhachev on late notice (2023)


When then-featherweight titleholder Alexander Volkanovski was matched with lightweight kingpin Islam Makhachev at the start of 2023, the Australian was handed the chance to become the UFC's fifth simultaneous double champion.

Given he'd largely cleaned out the division at 145 pounds, it was an opportunity that was too good to turn down, and many fans gave him a good chance of winning.

In the end, 'Alexander the Great' put up a great fight against the Dagestani but just about came up short, losing a razor-close decision that could've gone either way. With his stock arguably even higher after the fight, Volkanovski then returned to 145 pounds and thrashed interim champ Yair Rodriguez to cement his spot as top dog there.

However, the loss to Makhachev was clearly eating away at him, particularly as many people believed he deserved the nod. When Charles Oliveira was forced out of his title bout with the Dagestani in October, then, Volkanovski jumped at the chance to face him again.

The only problem? The Aussie had just ten days to prepare for the fight. While he came in looking in decent shape, the smart gameplanning that was a hallmark of his best showings was missing.

Sure enough, Volkanovski ended up suffering a bad first round knockout due to a head kick, shattering his aura of invincibility in the process. He has since lost his featherweight title to Ilia Topuria, again by knockout, and it's now debatable as to whether his best days are behind him.

In hindsight, although taking the fight with Makhachev was an understandable decision, it's hard not to view it as a major misstep, too.

#2. Nate Diaz sits out from the UFC after his fights with Conor McGregor (2016)


While Nate Diaz was always a popular fighter ever since he won TUF 5 back in 2007, in 2016, the Stockton-based fighter saw his stock rise immeasurably.

After returning from a self-imposed hiatus to beat Michael Johnson in late 2015, Diaz was given the opportunity to face Conor McGregor - the reigning featherweight champion and the UFC's biggest star - on late notice just a couple of months later.

Diaz accepted, and duly upset 'The Notorious' in a wild brawl, choking him out in the second round after tiring him out with his boxing skills.

The event drew a huge number on pay-per-view, and when a rematch was put together later that year, the hype was off the charts. While Diaz lost the five-round thriller, it didn't matter too much. The pay-per-view popped a UFC record number of 1.65 million buys and made the Californian a rich man overnight.

Riding the crest of a wave, McGregor went onto topple Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title and then pursued a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, essentially transcending MMA in the process.

Unfortunately, despite playing a huge part in making both fights so big, Diaz did not follow the same path. He probably could've called his shots with Dana White and company, but instead, feeling they weren't offering him enough money, he headed back into hiatus.

Diaz did not return to the UFC for three years, and while he remained popular, most of the momentum he'd built in the McGregor fights had dried up.

Realistically, he'd cut off his nose to spite his face, as had he taken a handful of fights - even for less money than he believed he was worth - he would likely have made millions.

As it was, he left an insane amount on the table and only fought four more times before departing the UFC in 2022.

#1. TJ Dillashaw drops to flyweight to pursue two titles (2019)


The biggest career misstep in UFC history has to be TJ Dillashaw's decision to drop to flyweight in early 2019. Not only did the then-bantamweight champion harm his own health, but he also completely ruined his MMA career in the process.

The two years prior had seen Dillashaw reach his absolute peak, as he downed bitter rival Cody Garbrandt to reclaim the 135 pound title he'd lost in 2016 and then defeated 'No Love' in a rematch to settle their feud.

There was no shortage of possible contenders to Dillashaw's throne at the time. Still, like plenty of champions before him, he set his sights on becoming a simultaneous double titleholder.

Rather than claim gold at 145 pounds, though, Dillashaw targeted new flyweight kingpin Henry Cejudo. He stated that he'd drop to 125 pounds, beat Cejudo for the title, and then "kill" the flyweight division in the process.

The fight was signed for the UFC's first-ever show on ESPN, but when Dillashaw weighed in, it quickly became apparent he'd made an error. He appeared to be painfully thin, looking more like a patient battling a serious illness than a professional fighter getting ready to battle for a title.

Sure enough, the drained bantamweight champion lasted just over 30 seconds with 'Triple C', who blitzed him with strikes and claimed a TKO in the first round. Things would soon go from bad to worse for Dillashaw, though.

When the fight's drug test results came in, he tested positive for EPO in both the pre and post-fight screening. Dillashaw quickly came clean, stating he'd used the substance to hit the 125-pound flyweight mark, but despite his honesty, he was still hit with a two-year ban and had to relinquish his bantamweight crown.

Had he simply remained at bantamweight, he could easily have continued to dominate the division and could well still be holding the title now. As it was, he ended up returning in 2021 but was never the same fighter and hung up his gloves in 2022. For that reason, his career misstep stands out above any other.

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