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5 MMA champions who struggled in the UFC

Will former Bellator champion Michael Chandler struggle or thrive in the UFC?
Will former Bellator champion Michael Chandler struggle or thrive in the UFC?
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 10 Jan 2021, 18:20 IST
Top 5 / Top 10
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UFC 257 will see the UFC’s latest acquisition in action, as former Bellator Lightweight champion Michael Chandler debuts in the Octagon against Dan Hooker.

Michael Chandler is the latest MMA champion to make his long-awaited UFC debut, but plenty of big-name champions before him have failed to make an impact in the UFC.

The world’s biggest MMA promotion, the UFC isn’t the easiest place to succeed in. While some champions like Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold have done brilliantly in the Octagon, UFC history is littered with champions from other promotions who have largely struggled.

On that note, here are five MMA champions who struggled to make an impact in the UFC.


#1 Ben Askren – Bellator and ONE FC champion, 1-2 record in the UFC

Ben Askren struggled to make a mark during his UFC stint.
Ben Askren struggled to make a mark during his UFC stint.

Ben Askren, one of the most credentialed wrestlers to ever set foot in the world of MMA, took more than a decade to make his way into the UFC. A two-time NCAA Division One National champion, Askren made his way into Bellator in 2010 and wasted no time in winning their Welterweight title after just four fights.

‘Funky Ben’ went on to successfully defend his title on four occasions, but when his Bellator contract expired in 2013, it seemed like it was time for him to move to the UFC. However, a dispute with UFC President Dana White drove him to the Singapore-based ONE FC instead, and within two fights he won their Welterweight crown too.

After successfully defending that title on four occasions, Askren retired. But in a surprising move in late 2018, the UFC and ONE came to an agreement to trade him to the former promotion, and ‘Funky Ben’ was back.

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However, despite his gaudy 18-0 record, his UFC career didn’t go all too well. His debut fight against Robbie Lawler saw him almost knocked out before he recovered to secure a controversial submission.

And the less said about his next two fights, the better. He was brutally knocked out by Jorge Masvidal in just five seconds – the UFC’s fastest-ever knockout – and was then submitted by Demian Maia.

‘Funky Ben’ ended up retiring for good after that fight, ending his career with a record of 19-2. His lack of UFC success unfortunately remains a black mark on his ledger.


#2 Mirko Cro Cop – PRIDE Grand Prix champion, 4-6 record in the UFC

Mirko Cro Cop failed to live up to his terrifying reputation in the UFC.
Mirko Cro Cop failed to live up to his terrifying reputation in the UFC.

Perhaps no fighter came to the UFC with quite so much fanfare like Mirko Cro Cop. One of the world’s most feared Heavyweights, Cro Cop had won PRIDE’s Openweight Grand Prix in 2006, beating fighters like Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett.

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When he signed with the UFC in 2007, it was expected that he’d left-high-kick his way all the way to the UFC Heavyweight title with little to no issues. However, in hindsight, red flags should’ve been raised on his UFC debut.

Sure, Cro Cop beat the unheralded Eddie Sanchez, but he struggled to get a rhythm going throughout the fight and didn’t look like the killer who terrified opponents in PRIDE. In his second UFC outing, his mystique was killed for good by Gabriel Gonzaga – who used Cro Cop’s own trademark headkick to knock him senseless in the opening round.

The Croatian then lost his third UFC fight, this time in a listless effort against Cheick Kongo, and quickly headed back to Japan. At the time, he was seen as the biggest flop in UFC history.

However, Cro Cop wasn’t quite done with the UFC. He returned in 2009 and picked up three more wins, all over lower-level opponents, but suffered four KO losses at the hands of Junior Dos Santos, Frank Mir, Brendan Schaub and Roy Nelson.

Even in his wins, Cro Cop never came close to recreating his PRIDE success in the Octagon, which disappointed his fans hugely.


#3 Takanori Gomi – PRIDE champion, 4-9 record in the UFC

Takanori Gomi struggled greatly during his UFC career.
Takanori Gomi struggled greatly during his UFC career.
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It’s hard to consider the UFC career of Takanori Gomi, once considered the world’s greatest Lightweight, as anything but a painful disappointment. ‘The Fireball Kid’ spent a total of seven years with the promotion, putting together a 4-9 record in the process, with the nadir being a five-fight slide from 2014 to 2017.

It really shouldn’t have been like that. Highly rated from his early career with Shooto, Gomi made his PRIDE debut in 2004 and immediately cut a swathe through their Lightweight division.

The likes of Jens Pulver, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Hayato Sakurai all fell to ‘The Fireball Kid’, who ended 2005 ranked as the top Lightweight on the planet. Gomi was defeated by Marcus Aurelio in 2006 but continued to win the majority of his fights after PRIDE closed shop.

By the time he signed with the UFC in 2010, he boasted a gaudy record of 31-5 and was expected to quickly become a UFC title contender. However, his UFC debut could hardly have gone much worse.

Gomi came in not looking close to his best physical shape and was easily beaten by long-time UFC veteran Kenny Florian. While he looked back to his best in a win over Tyson Griffin, losses to Nate Diaz and Clay Guida quickly bounced him from UFC title contention.

Sure, it’s fair to say that Gomi’s late-career slide was probably due to a culmination of damage, but it’s hard not to be disappointed with anyone who has a UFC record of 4-9, especially one who was supposed to be a UFC title contender.


#4 Wanderlei Silva – PRIDE champion, 5-7 record in the UFC

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Wanderlei Silva couldn
Wanderlei Silva couldn't recapture the magic of his PRIDE career in the UFC.

The reign of terror of Wanderlei Silva, one of PRIDE’s most legendary fighters, in the Japanese promotion’s Middleweight (205lbs) category lasted for six years, where Silva defeated numerous greats like Quinton Jackson and Kazushi Sakuraba.

‘The Axe Murderer’ had begun somewhat of a downturn in his career when he made his way back to the UFC in 2007, but plenty of hype still surrounded him. After all, Silva was renowned for bringing an unparalleled amount of aggression with him into all of his fights.

Early into his second UFC stint, when he had some early fights with the promotion in the late 90’s, it looked like Silva would live up to his reputation.

A crazy war with Chuck Liddell saw him begin things with a loss, but the fight was so good that it didn’t really matter. And when he smashed Keith Jardine in his second outing, it looked like the UFC would see the best of ‘The Axe Murderer’.

However, that was never the case. Back-to-back losses to ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Rich Franklin followed, and a move to 185lbs didn’t really rejuvenate him either, as he was stopped violently by Chris Leben in his second fight in the Middleweight division.

Silva did pick up some decent wins during this period but never really looked like the man who terrorised PRIDE. He eventually left the UFC in 2014 following a refusal to undergo a drug test.

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The truth is that Silva was probably past his prime by the time he re-entered the UFC in 2007, and it seems likely that his PED issues were an attempt to recapture his old magic. Had ‘The Axe Murderer’ joined the UFC in 2003, things could’ve been different, but his UFC tenure must be seen as a disappointment.


#5 Will Brooks – Bellator champion, 1-3 record in the UFC

Former Bellator champ Will Brooks struggled for any kind of traction in the UFC.
Former Bellator champ Will Brooks struggled for any kind of traction in the UFC.

Largely thanks to a somewhat low-key persona, former Bellator Lightweight champion Will Brooks didn’t exactly bring that much hype with him to the UFC.

However, ‘Ill Will’ was still supposed to develop into a UFC Lightweight title contender. To see him end his UFC career after just a year with a record of 1-3 was hugely disappointing.

Brooks made his name in Bellator, where he put together a 5-1 record before edging out Michael Chandler to win their Lightweight title in 2014. He defeated Chandler again in a rematch and then defended his title two more times before joining the UFC in 2016 when his contract expired.

‘Ill Will’ won on his UFC debut, but it was hardly the most impressive showing – a tight decision over ageing veteran Ross Pearson. Most fans put the performance down to Octagon shock and expected Brooks – an outstanding wrestler and grappler with a decent striking game – to do better next time around.

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That didn’t happen though, as he was taken out by Alex Oliveira, Charles Oliveira and Nik Lentz, all with surprising ease, given Brooks’ lauded reputation. In the end, the former Bellator champion washed out of the UFC after just 16 months.


Brooks’ struggles should be a warning sign to Michael Chandler more than anyone else, and not just because Brooks beat him twice in Bellator.

He brought a big reputation from Bellator but simply found the stronger competition in the UFC a little too hard to handle. Only time will tell whether Chandler succeeds or follows Brooks’ disappointing path in the UFC.

Published 10 Jan 2021, 18:20 IST
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