In recent years – bsince the Zuffa takeover in 2001 – if a fighter makes it to the UFC, they usually manage to stick around for at least two or three fights. Even big-name busts like Denis Kang and Rameau Sokoudjou were given multiple chances to prove themselves in the Octagon, and if a fighter steps in on short notice they’re usually guaranteed another crack too.
That isn’t always the case, however. A handful of fighters have come into the UFC for one fight and then were gone directly after, for various reasons. This article is about five of them.
Before we begin, a small caveat - I’m not counting fighters coming off a season of The Ultimate Fighter as the majority of them are on one-fight deals with the UFC, nor am I going back to the pre-Zuffa days when plenty of fighters only had a cameo UFC appearance.
#1 Rolles Gracie
Back in 2010, the legendary Renzo Gracie made a lone UFC appearance – a loss to Matt Hughes at UFC 112 – but he was never expected to stick around anyway as he came out of retirement for the fight. His cousin Rolles, on the other hand, was meant to be the big hope for the Gracie family to actually have a new, post-Royce UFC superstar.
To say it didn’t work out would be an understatement. Signed to fight at Heavyweight against Mostapha Al-Turk at UFC 109, Gracie was instead matched with late replacement Joey Beltran when Al-Turk failed to secure a Visa. It sounded like a ready-made fight for him and early on, it looked like he’d deliver. He took Beltran down, mounted him and worked for a fight-ending rear naked choke.
Beltran was tougher than expected though and fought out of the position, and just three minutes into the fight, Gracie was thoroughly out of gas. He failed on a handful of weak takedown attempts to begin the second round before simply falling to the mat, where Beltran finished him with a series of punches.
It was a terrible display and unsurprisingly, the UFC came to the conclusion that Rolles was simply not ready for UFC competition, even at the lowest levels, and he was immediately released from his contract after the lone fight. Renzo himself described the performance as “embarrassing” – Royce Gracie he was not.
#2 James Toney
Longtime UFC fans had been clamouring for a legitimate top-level boxer to get into the Octagon for years and after teases from the likes of Kermit Cintron, Amir Khan and even Floyd Mayweather, in 2010 they got their wish. Kind of, anyway, as former three-weight world champion James ‘Lights Out’ Toney signed a big deal with the promotion.
The only problem? Toney was in his early 40’s, miles past his prime, was woefully out of shape, and clearly wasn’t taking the whole thing seriously. He talked an insane amount of trash, promising that he’d be able to use his boxing skills and nothing more to climb to the top of the UFC. Clearly recognising the potential to get one over on a rival sport, the UFC matched Toney with former champ Randy Couture for his UFC debut at UFC 118.
The fight turned out to be a total embarrassment for Toney. He was taken down by an ankle pick of all things, and from there Couture simply dominated him, moving easily into full mount before slapping on an arm triangle choke. Toney couldn’t even tap out properly, waving his hands around wildly in submission instead.
The fight didn’t prove a lot about how a top-level boxer would do in MMA simply because Toney just didn’t take it seriously enough, but it was certainly funny to see him shut up. And it came as no surprise when the UFC immediately let him go after the fight, having proven their point.
#3 Sean Gannon
Back in the early 2000’s, when Youtube hadn’t even taken off as a thing, a certain street fighter rose to fame when tapes of his backyard brawling went viral on the internet. His name? Kimbo Slice of course. People were talking about Kimbo coming to the UFC for a couple of years, but before he even took an MMA fight, one man stopped his hype train.
That man was Sean ‘The Cannon’ Gannon – a Boston cop and amateur MMA fighter. Gannon took on Slice in an unsanctioned fight and defeated him when Kimbo couldn’t answer a 30-count (!) following a knockdown. And shockingly, this led him to be signed by the UFC for a debut at UFC 55 in late 2005, despite a professional record of just 2-0.
Nobody was surprised when Gannon turned out to be nowhere near a UFC-level fighter. Matched with fellow debutant Branden Lee Hinkle, he was taken down and quickly pounded into a bloody heap before the referee stopped the fight in the first round. Clearly, there was a big difference between a street fight and a legitimate MMA competition, and Gannon just wasn’t ready for the latter.
He was released after the loss and hasn’t fought in professional MMA since – and in a twist of fate it was Kimbo who went on to massive fame in the Elite XC promotion and later the UFC and Bellator, despite numerous embarrassing losses.
#4 Roger Gracie
After Rolles’ embarrassing loss and Renzo’s cameo in 2010, it would be another three years before a member of the famed Gracie family would enter the UFC. This time it was Roger Gracie, and many observers felt that things would be different. Firstly Roger was one of the best grapplers on the planet, having won countless titles in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and no-gi grappling.
Secondly, he’d already had plenty of fights in StrikeForce and beaten decent, UFC-level opposition, too – the likes of Keith Jardine, Trevor Prangley and Anthony Smith. So hopes were high when he arrived in the UFC following the StrikeForce merger in 2013. For his debut, he was matched with fellow StrikeForce alum Tim Kennedy.
Unfortunately, Roger was beaten by Kennedy by unanimous decision in what was a relatively dull fight. It turned out to be the last fight on his StrikeForce contract and the UFC chose not to renew it. Why this was is somewhat of a question mark, but it was likely due to the poor performance, Gracie’s hefty pay cheque, and the fact that he always felt more at home in grappling competitions.
Roger has fought twice in MMA since, but for the most part, he’s indeed returned to the grappling world. His UFC performance was better than Rolles’s, but it still wasn’t enough to earn him more than one UFC outing.
#5 Jonathan Wiezorek
Perhaps the most curious name on this list, Wiezorek remains to the best of my knowledge the only man in the Zuffa era to win his lone UFC fight but not be brought back for a second outing. The reason is a bit of a mystery but probably has to do with the absolutely terrible quality of his lone fight – a Heavyweight match with Wade Shipp on the untelevised prelims of UFC 47 in 2004.
At the time both men were likely seen as prospects – Shipp was 4-1 while Wiezorek was 5-0 – and with the Heavyweight division being low on talent the UFC were clearly willing to try anything. What ensued was one of the all-time sloppy UFC fights, even by 2004 standards.
Wiezorek simply charged at Shipp with his head down, eating a ton of counter strikes and being busted wide open in the opening moments. But somehow his chin held up and Shipp quickly gassed himself out. Wiezorek secured a takedown, got to back mount, and pounded Shipp out before the first round had ended.
Despite winning, though, Wiezorek never returned to the Octagon. The likely explanation is that his win was hugely unimpressive – even the lower-level UFC Heavyweights of the time like Mike Kyle and Travis Wiuff probably would’ve handled him – and with nothing suggesting he could become a star, he was quickly let go. But he remains a cool trivia factoid at least.
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