The UFC is by far the world’s biggest MMA organisation – and has been now for the best part of 15 years – and so it comes as no surprise that the majority of the greatest fighters in MMA history, with the odd exception of course, have stepped inside the Octagon to compete against other greats.
Unfortunately, UFC fans never got to see the best of some of the sport’s all-time greats. For various reasons, some legends of MMA didn’t make it to the Octagon until it was too late for them to reach the top of the promotion.
Here are 5 legends of MMA who arrived in the UFC a little too late.
#1 Wanderlei Silva
Wanderlei Silva had two runs in the UFC, but unfortunately neither one came in the Brazilian’s prime. ‘The Axe Murderer’ fought on a handful of occasions in the Octagon from 1998 to 2000 – famously losing to both Vitor Belfort and Tito Ortiz – but then departed for Japanese promotion PRIDE, where he became arguably the most feared 205lber on the planet, going 17 fights unbeaten.
By the mid-2000’s, though, Silva’s aura of invincibility began to fade in the PRIDE ring. He was defeated by Mark Hunt in an odd Heavyweight fight that most fans didn’t hold against him, but a decision loss to Ricardo Arona was definitely a black mark. Silva did win a rematch against ‘The Brazilian Tiger’, but by 2006 it appeared that the cumulative damage he’d suffered was starting to add up.
‘The Axe Murderer’ suffered back-to-back KO losses to Mirko Cro Cop and Dan Henderson – his first stoppage losses since the Belfort knockout in 1998 – and unfortunately, they came on two of the final PRIDE shows. A month after his loss to Henderson, PRIDE was bought out by Zuffa, and the majority of its fighters moved into the UFC.
Silva moved over in December 2007, and while he was defeated by Chuck Liddell in his return – in a classic fight – his second appearance saw him destroy Keith Jardine, giving fans hopes that the Wanderlei who had terrified everyone in PRIDE was back. That wasn’t the case, though; ‘The Axe Murderer’ was knocked out in his next fight, and went on to alternate wins and losses until he departed the UFC in 2013.
Essentially, had Silva come into the Octagon during his prime – the early 2000’s – he may well have been a title contender if not a UFC champion, but as it was, his UFC run just came too late.