5 UFC fighters who were often accused of choking in big fights

Despite his eventual title reign, Dana White once labelled Tyron Woodley a choker
Despite his eventual title reign, Dana White once labelled Tyron Woodley a choker

In the world of the UFC, there are plenty examples of fighters who almost made it to the top but couldn't quite get over the final hurdle. While most of these fighters would be considered great, a number also earned a less favorable reputation.

These UFC fighters were often accused of "choking" in big fights, even though that wasn't necessarily the case for many of them. Whether these fighters deserved their reputation is still up for debate, often decades later. However, it's fair to say that the label largely stuck with them.

Here are five UFC fighters who were often accused of choking in big fights.

#5. Melvin Guillard - Former UFC lightweight contender


In terms of fighters who had unbelievable talent but didn't quite make it to the top of the UFC, there are few better examples than Melvin Guillard. 'The Young Assassin' emerged into the promotion in 2005, but despite flashes of brilliance, couldn't quite get to the top of the mountain.

Most of Guillard's detractors would point at his lacking ground game as the main reason he never captured or even challenged for the lightweight title. Indeed, submissions were always an Achilles heel for 'The Young Assassin,' who suffered six tapout losses in the octagon.

However, it was also often suggested that Guillard would simply choke under the bright lights. This theory was backed up by the fact that he won just one of the six headline or co-headline bouts he competed in from 2007 to 2014.

Most notable would be Guillard's loss to Joe Lauzon in 2011. At the time, 'The Young Assassin' was riding a five-fight win streak and probably would've been granted a title shot with a big win. Instead, he left himself open and was dropped and submitted in under a minute.

In 2014, meanwhile, after a loss to Michael Johnson, Dana White was highly critical of Guillard, claiming he "ran the entire fight and was incredibly passive".

Whether it was fair to label 'The Young Assassin' as a choker is still debatable. It is, however, a theory that the fighter himself may have teased in a 2017 interview when he labelled himself "(his) own worst enemy".

#4. Nate Marquardt - Former UFC middleweight contender


While he won titles in practically every promotion he fought for, including Pancrase and StrikeForce, Nate Marquardt never managed to claim gold in the UFC. It was this that caused many observers, including Dana White, to label him a choker.

'Nate the Great' debuted in controversial fashion in the summer of 2005. Headlining the promotion's inaugural Fight Night event against Ivan Salaverry, Marquardt won a tight - and uneventful - decision before being suspended for a positive drug test.

Once he returned, a further three wins netted him a middleweight title fight with Anderson Silva, which saw him lose via first round TKO.

Marquardt never managed to earn another title shot but did put together two lengthy winning streaks that led him to a pair of title eliminators. Both fights saw 'Nate the Great' come up short, losing to Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami.

It was the Okami fight that caused White to call Marquardt a choker. Although his inflammatory rant was aimed at coach Greg Jackson as much as it was the fighter, the reputation stuck.

Remarkably, it was a rhetoric that 'Nate the Great' himself claimed he agreed with in an interview just weeks after the loss. Claiming White was correct, he stated that he was well aware that he needed to show more aggression to reach the top.

Unfortunately, this never quite happened, in the UFC at least, meaning his reputation as a perennial bridesmaid never was shaken.

#3. Kenny Florian - Former UFC lightweight contender


The old adage suggest that hindsight is 20/20, and in that sense, the way that MMA fans now look at Kenny Florian has changed a lot following his retirement.

'Ken-Flo' is now widely seen as a fighter who lacked natural athleticism but made up for that with hard work and a willingness to maximise his skills. The fact that he got near the top of the UFC at all was probably somewhat of a miracle.

During his active career, though, Florian unfortunately earned the reputation of someone who would choke in the big fights. On paper, at least, it was hard to disagree with this idea.

After all, 'Ken-Flo' came out on the short end of three title bouts in the octagon, and also lost in the inaugural TUF finale against Diego Sanchez.

It was his defeat to Gray Maynard in a title eliminator in 2010 that caused Dana White to outright label Florian a choker. The future UFC CEO stated that he "stood there and stared for three rounds" rather than take the fight to 'The Bully'.

In reality, in all of the big fights that he lost, Florian was outgunned by more talented fighters. He also won plenty of big fights too, including victories over Takanori Gomi and Joe Stevenson.

Despite this, 'Ken-Flo' never quite shook off the "choker" label, even though it was largely an unfair one.

#2. Tyron Woodley - Former UFC welterweight champion


It seems baffling to suggest that a fighter who eventually claimed the UFC welterweight title and made four successful defenses could ever have been labelled as a choker.

However, prior to his 2016 title win, Tyron Woodley was slapped with the reputation by Dana White, and he had to work for a long time to shake it off.

Bizarrely, White hit 'The Chosen One' with the label after just his second defeat in the octagon. More to the point, the defeat came at the hands of the highly-rated future title challenger Rory MacDonald - hardly a loss to be ashamed of.

Even so, it was probably fair to suggest that Woodley hadn't fought to his potential in the bout. Prior to the fight, he'd stopped the likes of Josh Koscheck and Carlos Condit, and had only lost a questionable decision to Jake Shields.

Against MacDonald, though, the Missouri native couldn't get into any kind of ryhthm, causing White to state that he'd been beaten "mentally and physically" and "chokes in the big fights".

The label stuck with Woodley until he knocked out Robbie Lawler to claim the gold two years later, but he never did get on the right side of White. In fact, in 2020, the UFC CEO outright labelled him the hardest fighter he'd ever had to work with.

#1. Chael Sonnen - Former UFC middleweight contender


Unlike the other fighters on this list, Chael Sonnen was never labelled as a choker by Dana White. However, as a fighter who lost three title bouts in the UFC - as well as a big title fight in the WEC - he did earn the reputation with other observers.

'The American Gangster' famously fought his way to a shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva in 2010 by beating the likes of Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt.

After morphing into a star, thanks to his wild trash talk, he put on the performance of a lifetime against 'The Spider', winning four rounds before falling prey to a fifth round triangle choke.

Following a lengthy suspension after a positive drug test, Sonnen then earned a rematch against Silva, only to lose again. Later, he essentially talked his way into a light-heavyweight title shot against Jon Jones and ended up scoring an unwanted hat-trick of title fight losses.

So was Sonnen a choker, as some fans suggested? One observer who suggested this was the case was his own teammate, former UFC title challenger Matt Lindland. He stated that despite his talents, Sonnen wasn't actually tough and would often find a way to lose, just as he did against Silva.

Indeed, 'The American Gangster' himself seemed to confirm this in 2012, when he stated that he'd been using the help of a sports psychologist in his quest to become a champion.

Unfortunately, this approach still wasn't enough to help him dethrone Silva, leading many fans to buy into the theory that he was, indeed, a choke artist.

Quick Links

Edited by Rachel Syiemlieh
App download animated image Get the free App now