Athletes in the UFC like Jon Jones, Conor McGregor and Henry Cejudo truly understand that there is more to combat sports than physical prowess. Mental fortitude and the ability to get in their opponents' heads is the other side of the coin. Great fighters are those who understand and ace both facets of the game.
Social media call-outs, pre-fight antics and trash talk are just some tools that athletes use in a bid to intimidate their opponents. There have been instances when fighters have occupied a spot in their rivals' minds long after their feud came to an end. The fact that some fighters are in their rivals' heads long after their retirement from the UFC is something that never fails to astound.
Fighters can endure in the minds of their foes for a significant amount of time for a myriad of reasons. Handing their rivals a loss truly bolsters their position in their minds more often than not. While losing is quite normal in the realm of combat sports and the UFC, some defeats haunt fighters.
The build-up to the fight often plays a vital role in setting the tone for a budding rivalry, laying the foundation for a fighter living rent-free in their rivals' minds. In this article, we'll look at those fighters who completely dominated the mental aspect of their rivalries in the UFC.
#5. UFC middleweights Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa
Israel Adesanya's fight against Paulo Costa at UFC 253 in September 2020 was a highly-anticipated matchup. Touted as the fighter to bring 'The Last Stylebender's reign to an end, Costa went into the fight with a tremendous amount of confidence.
Mocking his frame and physical build, Costa dismissed Adesanya as weak. However, the Kiwi put one over Costa by way of KO/TKO in the second round. This marked the first loss of Costa's career, and the Brazilian took it poorly.
Israel Adesanya's name stayed on Costa's lips for quite some time. Calling for a rematch almost immediately, Paulo Costa consistently threw shade at the Kiwi for his antics throughout the ordeal, which critics dismissed as unbecoming. As far as Costa is concerned, there's unfinished business between him and Adesanya.
#4 UFC bantamweights T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt
Following Cody Garbrandt's ascent to the top of the UFC bantamweight food chain, a clash between himself and former Team Alpha Male teammate T.J. Dillashaw was inevitable. Cody Garbrandt couldn't help but wonder about the same. A war of words ensued between the two, with Dillashaw claiming to have made Garbrandt cry in practice.
Garbrandt clapped back by releasing a video of him knocking Dillashaw down. They later had stints as rival TUF coaches, where fans saw them verbally nuking each other throughout.
UFC 217 saw the rivals butt heads inside the octagon for the first time. Dillashaw walked out of the cage as the victor that night, putting Garbrandt to sleep in the second round. They subsequently decided to run it back, headlining UFC 227. However, the result was the same this time around with Dillashaw walking away with a first round KO/TKO win.
The legitimacy of T.J. Dillashaw's accomplishments in the UFC came into question after he tested positive for a banned substance called recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) during a later fight against Henry Cejudo. This was all the ammo Garbrandt needed to renew his war of words with Dillashaw.
#3 UFC light heavyweights Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier
The feud between 'DC' and 'Bones' is perhaps one of the most infamous feuds in the history of the promotion. Jon Jones has managed to thrive in 'DC's mind for quite some time. Both fighters have indulged in a lot of action both inside and outside the octagon. From brawls during pre-fight formalities to ceaseless jabs on social media, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier have done it all.
Although 'DC' has been away from active contention for quite some time, the heavyweight top dog never fails to throw shade at his longtime rival. They fought twice with DC suffering a unanimous decision loss the first time around at UFC 182 back in 2015. Their rematch ended with a 'no contest' after Jones tested positive for a banned substance called Turinabol.
#2 UFC lightweights Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov
Tony Ferguson vs Khabib Nurmagomedov is perhaps the biggest UFC fight that never actually happened - although it wasn't for lack of trying. Fans and MMA pundits have witnessed the fight getting canceled five times. The UFC breathed life into this saga when it was first announced back in 2015. However, fans still await the opportunity to witness two of the greatest lightweights trade blows.
Khabib Nurmagomedov always occupied a spot in the back of Tony Ferguson's mind, who never gave up on trying to get this fight made. But the stars just weren't aligned to make it happen.
Marking their last ditch effort at making the fight, the UFC booked Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov to fight in April 2020. A global pandemic derailed the fight that time around. Both fighters must certainly wonder what could have been, more so Ferguson.
#1 UFC lightweights Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor
Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor are presently embroiled in one of the most bitter feuds in the UFC. Spanning across a number of years, their rivalry manifested itself in the form of a trilogy. Dustin Poirier was the one who came out of the trilogy on top as the proud owner of prime real-estate in Conor McGregor's mind. He bested Conor McGregor in his rematch and the final edition of their trilogy saga at UFC 257 and UFC 264 earlier this year.
Conor McGregor, in the wake of his loss, took to social media on multiple occasions to throw shade at Dustin Poirier. The fact that he had been bested by a longtime rival did not sit right with Conor McGregor. Unable to deal with the loss, Conor McGregor has repeatedly taken to social media in a bid to set the ball rolling for yet another rematch.