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5 UFC fighters who won over the crowd on their debuts

Conor McGregor became an instant star when he knocked out Marcus Brimage in his UFC debut
Conor McGregor became an instant star when he knocked out Marcus Brimage in his UFC debut
Scott Newman

For a fighter, debuting in the UFC is never easy. There is a ton of pressure to succeed in the world’s biggest MMA promotion. It’s also likely that any debutant will be making a huge step up in competition too.

While debuting in the UFC is always tough, some fighters have been able to win over the crowd, and not always by winning their fight.

Of course, a win – particularly when it comes in highlight reel fashion – is always more likely to win over the UFC fanbase. However, the same fans also value heart and toughness, making it possible to win the hearts of the fans with a loss too.

With this in mind, here are five UFC fighters who won over the crowd on their debuts.


#5. Kris Moutinho – vs. Sean O’Malley, UFC 264

Kris Moutinho won over the crowd with his heart and toughness at UFC 264
Kris Moutinho won over the crowd with his heart and toughness at UFC 264

When the UFC announced that Louis Smolka had been ruled out of his fight with Sean O’Malley at UFC 264, fans were intrigued as to who would replace him.

There was no shortage of volunteers. O’Malley had quickly become one of the most talked-about fighters in the bantamweight division, but still seemed like a beatable opponent to many. However, fans were left scratching their heads when the UFC announced that newcomer Kris Moutinho would be taking the assignment.

Not only was Moutinho a complete unknown, but his 9-4 record didn’t look that impressive. On paper at least, it looked like the UFC had handed O’Malley a total softball.

However, while ‘Sugar' eventually put the newcomer away, it didn’t come easily. It was clear from the off that Moutinho was outgunned and had no answer for O’Malley’s sharp striking. That didn’t stop him from marching forward throughout the fight, however.

Incredibly, the debutant’s chin turned out to be remarkably great, too. Moutinho ended up eating a total of 230 significant strikes during the fight, landing just 70 in return. Despite that, he was only knocked down once, and even the referee’s stoppage came with him still standing.

Moutinho didn’t win his UFC debut – in fact, he didn’t really come close. However, with his remarkable display of heart and toughness in the face of adversity, he completely won over the crowd in Las Vegas. It was to the point where the fans were more enamored by him than O’Malley.

#4. David Terrell – vs. Matt Lindland, UFC 49

David Terrell's UFC debut saw him knock out Matt Lindland, making himself into a star in the process
David Terrell's UFC debut saw him knock out Matt Lindland, making himself into a star in the process

Back in 2004, the UFC’s middleweight division wasn’t nearly as deep as it is today. In fact, there wasn’t even a champion, as Murilo Bustamante had vacated his title a year prior and the UFC hadn’t bothered to crown a new one.

Part of this reluctance was supposedly due to the fact that the UFC’s top middleweight – Matt Lindland – was perceived to fight with a dull style. This meant the promotion didn’t really want to end up using him as one of their poster boys.

‘The Law’ kept winning fights though, and for a while it seemed inevitable that he’d be involved in a fight for the vacant title.

That was until UFC 49. At the event, Lindland was matched with newcomer David Terrell. Terrell was a Gracie jiu-jitsu student whose grappling prowess was practically legendary.

However, ‘The Soul Assassin’ was largely unproven in MMA, with a record of just 4-1 showing how sporadic he’d been while competing in the sport. Furthermore, nobody knew a thing about his stand-up ability.

When his fight with Lindland began, Terrell showed exactly what he was capable of. He decked ‘The Law’ with the first punch he threw – a brutal left hook – and then bounced his head off the mat with some follow-up strikes.

The fight lasted all of 24 seconds, and, in the eyes of the Las Vegas crowd at least, a new UFC star was born. Terrell got arguably the biggest reaction of the night on a show that saw Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Vitor Belfort competing.

While he never reached his full potential in the octagon, clamor over his potential returns showed the impact his debut had made on the UFC fanbase.


#3. Michael Chandler – vs. Dan Hooker, UFC 257

Michael Chandler's UFC debut was labelled one of the best ever by Dana White
Michael Chandler's UFC debut was labelled one of the best ever by Dana White

When the UFC inked former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler to a contract in late 2020, many fans questioned how successful he’d be. After all, other former Bellator champs had struggled in the octagon, and there were also worries that Chandler was past his prime.

However, those fears were put to bed in Chandler’s debut at UFC 257. He was faced with not only one of the best lightweights in the world, but one of the toughest too in the form of Dan Hooker. It was expected that Chandler would have to go through hell to gain a victory.

Nobody told Chandler that, however. And so, ‘Iron' Mike came flying out of the traps, pressuring Hooker back before decking ‘The Hangman’ with a leaping left hook.

A series of follow-up punches sealed the deal for the former Bellator champion. Unsurprisingly, the crowd in attendance on Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island went wild.

As if that wasn’t enough to get Chandler over as a big star in the UFC, a charismatic post-fight promo followed. It saw him throw insults at Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov while proclaiming himself the new king of the division.

Even at an event that saw the big rematch between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor, it was arguable that Chandler stole the show. The fact that Dana White proclaimed his performance the “best debut in UFC history” didn’t harm matters either.

#2. Israel Adesanya – vs. Rob Wilkinson, UFC 221

Israel Adesanya's beatdown of Rob Wilkinson instantly got him over with the UFC's fans
Israel Adesanya's beatdown of Rob Wilkinson instantly got him over with the UFC's fans

On a handful of occasions, it quickly becomes clear that a UFC debutant is destined for greatness. And when that happens, the crowd in attendance for said debuts tend to realize too, and immediately treat the fighter like a megastar.

That’s exactly what happened to Israel Adesanya at UFC 221 in February 2018. ‘The Last Stylebender’ came into the UFC with a reputation as one of the flashiest middleweight strikers, but few people could’ve predicted quite how good he’d look.

Sure, his opponent Rob Wilkinson was thoroughly overmatched and had never won in the UFC before, but to see Adesanya simply cut through him like a knife through butter was still remarkably impressive.

And when ‘The Last Stylebender’ cut a wild promo after the fight, proclaiming himself the new big dog in the UFC’s middleweight division, it was clear to everyone watching, and everyone in attendance at the Perth Arena, that a star had been born.

Unsurprisingly, Adesanya never looked back after his debut win, and less than two years later, he unseated Robert Whittaker for the UFC middleweight title. The rest, naturally, is history.


#1. Conor McGregor – vs. Marcus Brimage, UFC on Fuel: Mousasi vs. Latifi

UFC fans treated Conor McGregor like a superstar after his debut win over Marcus Brimage
UFC fans treated Conor McGregor like a superstar after his debut win over Marcus Brimage

While plenty of future UFC champions made their octagon debuts in preliminary bouts, few were able to turn themselves into a star with their first performance quite like Conor McGregor.

Few people outside of hardcore fans had heard of ‘The Notorious’ Irishman when he was signed by the UFC to face veteran Marcus Brimage on the undercard of March 2013’s Mousasi vs. Latifi card. That all changed very quickly.

Interest levels were ramped up when McGregor taunted Brimage during the weigh-in, but things quickly went ballistic when he took just over a minute to knock the TUF veteran out with a series of pinpoint punches.

The crowd in attendance at Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe Arena immediately went crazy for McGregor, who only cemented himself further as a star when he cut a charismatic post-fight promo, demanding “50 G’s” from UFC President Dana White.

Unsurprisingly, White obliged – awarding McGregor the bonus for the Knockout of the Night – and from there, the Irishman saw his stardom quickly rise to the point that two years later, he was arguably the biggest name in the UFC.

Edited by Harvey Leonard

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