5 current UFC stars who fell to defeat in their octagon debuts

Merab Dvalishvili fell to defeat in his UFC debut
Merab Dvalishvili fell to defeat in his UFC debut

In the world of the UFC, a good debut win can set a fighter up for greatness. Winning at the first attempt in the octagon, though, is not easy.

Over the years we've seen numerous stars lose in their UFC debuts and still go onto win titles and become legends.

Right now, there are a number of fighters who seem to be on a similar path to greatness, despite losing their first fight in the octagon, often in terrible fashion.

Here, then, are five current UFC stars who fell to defeat in their octagon debuts.


#5. Carlos Ulberg - UFC light heavyweight contender

One fighter currently on the cusp of title contention despite losing his octagon debut is Carlos Ulberg.

'Black Jag' is due to face off with former light-heavyweight titleholder Jamahal Hill in the co-headliner of UFC 303 next month. Win, and the native of New Zealand could be elevated to the top contender's spot in his division.

In many ways, Ulberg's rise is what was expected of him by a number of fans when he was signed to the promotion back in 2021.

A training partner of then-middleweight champ Israel Adesanya, 'Black Jag' came with a lot of hype behind him. A former high-level kickboxer - and professional model - he dispatched his foe on Dana White's Contender Series in just two minutes to earn his contract.

However, in his octagon debut against Kennedy Nzechukwu, he flattered to deceive. A wild first round saw UIberg stun 'The African Savage' more than once, but when he couldn't put his foe away, he ran out of steam.

The second round, then, saw Nzechukwu waylay him with a right hand, knocking him silly and shattering the hype around him instantly.

If anything, though, the loss was a good thing for Ulberg. He's been allowed to develop his game against gradually trickier opponents since slowly, and has won all six of his bouts, five via stoppage.

Had Ulberg steamrolled Nzechukwu, he may have been pushed up the ladder too quickly and seen his career stall because of it. Instead, he's an example of a fighter who lost his debut and has thrived since.


#4. Arman Tsarukyan - UFC lightweight contender

Sometimes, fighters who lose their UFC debut do so primarily because they're given a horrendously tricky opponent for their first octagon bout.

That was certainly the case for Arman Tsarukyan, who is currently looking to cement a lightweight title shot in the near future.

If 'Akhalkalakets' does receive a shot at the gold, it's likely that he'll be challenging Islam Makhachev - the same man who faced off with him in his first fight in the UFC.

The two grapplers clashed back in April 2019, when Tsarukyan was essentially an unknown quantity despite his 13-1 record.

Why did he end up fighting an opponent as highly regarded as Makhachev? Put simply, nobody else at the time was willing to face the Dagestani, who was already one of the most feared fighters in the division.

Tsarukyan actually did better than anyone could've imagined, going move-for-move with Makhachev on the ground en route to a razor-close decision loss.

Since then, the Armenian has proven his worth by winning nine of his next ten bouts, with his only loss coming in a tight bout with Mateusz Gamrot. Tsarukyan has beaten Beneil Dariush and Charles Oliveira and is now ranked No.1 in the division.

As for Makhachev, it's arguable that despite winning a further eight bouts, claiming the lightweight title, and beating the likes of Oliveira and Alexander Volkanovski, nobody has pushed him as hard as Tsarukyan since.


#3. Belal Muhammad - UFC welterweight contender

Some fighters take the longest route possible to the top of the UFC, and a prime example of that is top welterweight contender Belal Muhammad.

'Remember the Name' is all set to challenge Leon Edwards for the 170-pound title in July, and it's hard to say that he hasn't earned his shot. Muhammad has not lost a fight since 2019, putting him on an unbeaten run of ten bouts.

It's a far cry from his 2016 octagon debut, which saw him fall to defeat at the hands of journeyman Alan Jouban.

Muhammad came into the promotion with a 9-0 record and a win over the highly-regarded TUF veteran Steve Carl. Many fans, in fact, thought he'd take out Jouban.

That wasn't the case, though. 'Brahma' landed two knockdowns in the first round alone, and came close to finishing Muhammad in that round and in the second, when he dropped him again.

The newcomer survived, though, and somehow managed to edge out the third round. He still lost a lopsided decision, however, with two of the three judges giving Jouban a 10-8 first round.

The main takeaway from the bout was that Muhammad was insanely tough, and that's something he's kept proving over the years that have followed. It's fair to say, of course, that the fighter who faces Edwards in July is nothing like the fighter he was in his debut.


#2. Magomed Ankalaev - UFC light heavyweight contender

When Magomed Ankalaev signed with the UFC back in 2018, the word was that the promotion had unearthed a 205-pound Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Ankalaev hailed from the same part of Russia as 'The Eagle' - Dagestan - and boasted an impressive 8-0 record. It seemed like a no-brainer that he'd blow past Paul Craig in his octagon debut and go instantly into contention.

When it came to fight time, however, something remarkable happened late on. Initially, Ankalaev dominated his Scottish foe with both his striking and his grappling, and appeared to be coasting to a win.

With literally moments remaining in the final stanza, though, Craig threw up a desperate triangle choke - and the Dagestani had to tap out with one second remaining.

The win was one of the most incredible comebacks in UFC history and burst Ankalaev's bubble in an instant. Lesser fighters would've had their career ruined by such an embarrassing debut loss.

However, the Dagestani has not lost since, reeling off an unbeaten run of 12 bouts. In fact, he should arguably hold the light-heavyweight title now, having only missed out on it due to some wonky judging in his 2022 clash with Jan Blachowicz that saw the fight controversially declared as a draw.

At any rate, it's likely that Ankalaev will face Alex Pereira for the gold in the near future. If he can win, he'll have erased the memories of his horrible debut defeat for good.


#1. Merab Dvalishvili - UFC bantamweight contender

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Right now, there are arguably no hotter contenders in the entire UFC than Merab Dvalishvili.

Ranked No.1 in the bantamweight division, 'The Machine' has reeled off an incredible ten wins in a row. He even holds wins over three former UFC champions in Petr Yan, Jose Aldo, and Henry Cejudo.

However, many people probably don't realise that the native of Georgia not only lost his octagon debut, he actually began his career with the promotion with a two-fight skid.

The second of those losses was a controversial one. Dvalishvili largely dominated Ricky Simon throughout their bout but was declared the loser via technical submission at the end of the third round. This was despite never actually tapping out nor definitively passing out.

His debut loss, in December 2017, though, was a little more cut and dry. The fight was still relatively close, but for the most part, unheralded foe Frankie Saenz was able to prevent Dvalishvili's takedowns and outstrike him to a three round decision.

Fascinatingly, the win saw Saenz end a three-fight losing streak, although he would only win once more before his octagon career ended in 2020.

'The Machine', on the other hand, took a little time off following his controversial loss to Simon before returning to beat Terrion Ware. The Georgian has not looked back since and now sits on the cusp of a title shot that he may well win.

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