5 UFC stars who failed to maximize their potential

David Terrell (right) never lived up to his massive potential inside the octagon
David Terrell (right) never lived up to his massive potential inside the octagon
Scott Newman

Every year sees a bunch of new prospects hit the UFC. Each time, at least a handful of them garner quite a great deal of hype due to their abilities in the octagon.

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of prospects burst onto the scene in the UFC and appear to have all the potential in the world, only to not live up to their billing when all was said and done.

Like he never left! 👊🇺🇸 @ToddDuffee gets the round one knockdown. #UFCVancouver

Various factors are to blame when this happens – from injuries, to a lack of focus, to plain bad luck. However, it’s always somewhat disappointing to see.

With that in mind, here are five UFC stars who failed to maximize their potential.

#5. Warlley Alves – UFC welterweight

Despite holding a win over Colby Covington, Warlley Alves has never quite reached his potential
Despite holding a win over Colby Covington, Warlley Alves has never quite reached his potential

Ever since its inaugural season back in 2005, The Ultimate Fighter has been one of the prime breeding grounds for prospects in the UFC.

The reality show might be somewhat maligned these days, but it has still produced some great fighters, from Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping to Robert Whittaker and Kamaru Usman.

Back in 2014, it looked like welterweight prospect Warlley Alves would almost definitely join that list of successful TUF graduates. A member of Team Sonnen on the third season of TUF: Brazil, Alves destroyed three opponents en route to the final, where he choked out Marcio Alexandre to win the season’s welterweight tournament.

Early on, it looked like Alves would have no problem replicating his TUF success in the octagon proper. He edged out tough veteran Alan Jouban in his first post-reality show bout, and then impressively finished Nordine Taleb and Colby Covington with nasty guillotine chokes.

However, a red flag emerged when Alves gassed out in a fight with Bryan Barberena and ended up dropping a decision. A few months later, he was well beaten by Usman, proving that he wasn’t quite on the level of the division’s top prospects.

Since then, Alves has continued to struggle for traction, producing excellent performances at times but also struggling against more talented fighters, particularly showing issues with his cardio and durability.

And he's BACK! 🇧🇷 @WarlleyAlvesMMA gets it done QUICK at #UFCFightIsland8. [ #InAbuDhabi | @VisitAbuDhabi ]

Essentially, while he’s done well to remain part of the promotion’s roster for almost a decade now, when you consider that Sonnen considered him a future title contender, if not welterweight champion, it’s hard not to believe he’s failed to reach his potential.

#4. Brandon Thatch – former UFC welterweight

Brandon Thatch's struggles on the ground meant that he failed to reach his potential
Brandon Thatch's struggles on the ground meant that he failed to reach his potential

The UFC’s welterweight division has always been loaded and it seems like new prospects emerge there constantly. One such prospect who appeared to have all of the potential in the world just a few years ago was Brandon Thatch.

A giant 170lber who looked far bigger than his training partners Nate Marquardt and Georges St-Pierre, Thatch signed with the promotion in mid-2013 and brought plenty of hype with him thanks to a record of 9-1.

Upon his arrival, it looked like all the hype was well deserved. ‘Rukus’ destroyed an overmatched Justin Edwards in his octagon debut. He then stepped up another level to stop tough veteran Paulo Thiago with a knee to the body.

The UFC seemed to believe that they’d discovered the next big thing at 170 pounds and matched Thatch with Stephen Thompson in what would’ve been his first headline bout, only for ‘Wonderboy’ to drop out of the fight with an injury. That forced the promotion to turn to former lightweight champ Benson Henderson as a replacement.

Despite the discrepancy in experience, Thatch was largely favored in the fight. However, despite having some strong moments, he gassed out late on and succumbed to a rear naked choke in the fourth round.

‘Rukus’ was widely expected to recover from the setback. However, unfortunately, the nature of the loss turned out to be the story of his run in the octagon. He followed it with three losses, all via submission, before being released from his deal in 2016.

That's 4 losses in a row for Thatch. What a turnaround. Great debut for Price.

In this case, it appeared that Thatch had all the potential in the world from a physical standpoint. However, like so many others before him, he simply couldn’t close up the holes in his game enough to reach the top.

#3. Rustam Khabilov – former UFC lightweight

After an amazing start to his UFC career, Rustam Khabilov couldn't live up to the hype
After an amazing start to his UFC career, Rustam Khabilov couldn't live up to the hype

Right now, the Russian republic of Dagestan seems to be churning out more top fighters than any other place in the world.

Not only did the republic produce former UFC lightweight kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov, but other Dagestani fighters such as Islam Makhachev, Magomed Ankalaev and Zabit Magomedsharipov are considered amongst the best fighters in their weight classes, too.

However, before Khabib ascended to the peak of the lightweight division, it looked like a different Dagestani would end up moving into title contention at 155 pounds. His name? Rustam Khabilov.

‘The Tiger’ debuted in the octagon in December 2012, and put on a tremendous performance to stop veteran Vinc Pichel with a series of brutal German suplexes.

When I saw this on TV.. I was like HOLY..... 3 time Vince ate the mat... #Khabilov

When he followed that with wins over Yancy Medeiros and Jorge Masvidal, coming close to stopping the latter with a spinning kick, it looked like a star was born.

However, Khabilov then failed to make an impact in his first headline bout, suffering his first octagon loss to former champ Benson Henderson via rear-naked choke.

After this, ‘The Tiger’ simply never quite regained his momentum. Prior to departing for Bellator in 2020, he put together a record of 7-2 in the octagon, but failed to finish any of his opponents, even lower-level ones. He also earned a reputation as a dull fighter.

In this case, the potential Khabilov showed in his early days in the octagon was simply too high a standard for him to produce regularly, meaning he could never live up to the hype.

#2. Todd Duffee – UFC heavyweight

Constant injuries prevented Todd Duffee from reaching the top of the UFC David Terrell remains one of the biggest missed opportunities in UFC history
Constant injuries prevented Todd Duffee from reaching the top of the UFC David Terrell remains one of the biggest missed opportunities in UFC history

The UFC’s heavyweight division has had a number of fighters with huge potential emerge over the years. Interestingly, many of them, from Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos to Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane, went onto massive success.

One big man who seemed to have all the potential in the world, only for things to go sadly awry, however, was Todd Duffee.

Duffee was signed by the promotion in 2009 following a 5-0 run on the regional scene that saw him impressively stop PRIDE veteran Assuerio Silva. However, even fans who had seen that win were stunned when he debuted in the octagon and promptly set the record for the fastest knockout in UFC heavyweight history when he turned out Tim Hague’s lights in just seven seconds.

OTD in 2009, Todd Duffee recorded a seven second knockout of Tim Hague (RIP). It remains as the fastest knockout in UFC heavyweight history.

Immediately, the hype around Duffee went into overdrive and for good reason. Not only did he clearly hit like a ton of bricks, but his heavily muscled frame looked more like a cartoon character than a real-life fighter.

Unfortunately, red flags were always visible from the start when he wound up on the shelf for almost a year following his debut due to injuries.

Duffee returned in May 2010, but suffered an embarrassing knockout loss to Mike Russow in a fight he’d been winning. That was enough to derail his hype train before a dispute with management saw him released from his contract.

He would return in 2012, but despite knocking out two foes in impressive fashion, as well as losing in his first headline bout to former heavyweight champion Frank Mir, a laundry list of injuries, including a serious nerve condition, limited him to just four appearances in that time.

Duffee remains part of the UFC’s roster. However, at the age of 36, the window of opportunity for him to reach his potential now seems closed and it’s doubtful that he’ll fight again, leaving his story as a serious case of bad luck.

#1. David Terrell – former UFC middleweight

Perhaps the greatest example of a fighter failing to reach his potential inside the octagon remains former middleweight title challenger David Terrell. ‘The Soul Assassin’ appeared to have not only the potential to become a champion in the UFC, but a genuine legend too.

Instead, though, thanks to some horrendous luck with injuries, this talented fighter was only able to fight three times in the promotion. He ended up retiring with more questions than answers hanging over him.

Already a legend in the grappling world thanks to an incredible record that saw him defeat the likes of Ricardo Almeida and Dean Lister on the mat, Terrell burst onto the UFC scene in 2004 with a stunning knockout of Matt Lindland. Given that ‘The Law’ was considered the world’s best middleweight at the time, the impact that Terrell’s knockout made cannot really be understated.

Prior to it, the UFC had not had a middleweight champion for two years. However, the win was explosive enough for the promotion to immediately book a fight for the vacant title between ‘The Soul Assassin’ and fellow top contender Evan Tanner.

Terrell came up short against Tanner in a wild fight that saw him blow his gas tank in the first round. However, at the time, it felt like a minor setback.

However, injuries kept ‘The Soul Assassin’ out of action for over a year. While he defeated Scott Smith in his return, it would be the last time we’d see him inside the octagon.

The promotion attempted to book Terrell in numerous fights in the years that followed, only for injuries to derail him each and every time. Eventually, ‘The Soul Assassin’ found himself released by the promotion. Even then, he was unable to appear in another promotion despite expressing his desire to continue fighting.

Quite what a healthy Terrell could’ve achieved in the octagon given his athleticism, grappling skills and knockout power is anyone’s guess. But over a decade after his arrival on the scene, he remains perhaps the biggest example of missed potential in the sport’s history.

Edited by Harvey Leonard


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