Can-crusher (n.): MMA fighter who makes his reputation by destroying the weak and inexperienced, but falls apart when faced with an opponent who’s half-decent. In no particular order, here are the eight fighters who have defined “can-crushing” more than anybody else in the sport, beginning with one who should still be very fresh in your minds…
BRANDON VERA (11-6)
Notable cans crushed in the last three years: Reese Andy, Mike Patt
Biggest win in the last three years: Krzysztof Soszynski
Recent losses: Thiago Silva, Jon Jones, Randy Couture
A cautionary tale about believing your own hype, Brandon Vera’s career has unfolded in two distinct phases: The “sky’s the limit” phase, in which Vera hacked through every opponent in his path, culminating in his beat-down of former champ Frank Mir at UFC 65 — and the “when is this dude getting fired?” phase, marked by contract disputes, unchecked ego, underwhelming performances, and a half-dozen losses. Following the Thiago Silva fight at UFC 125, we expect the Truth to be sent back down to the minors where he can prey on scrubs for a while.
ALEKSANDER EMELIANENKO (17-4)
Notable cans crushed in the last three years: Miodrag Petkovic, Eddy Bengtsson, Ibragim Magomedov, Sang Soo Lee
Biggest win in the last three years: Honestly, he hasn’t beaten anybody worth mentioning.
Recent loss: Peter Graham
Fedor’s younger brother built a fearsome reputation in PRIDE for his ice-cold demeanor and lightning-fast knockouts of equally scary-looking mofos like James Thompson and Ricardo Morais. But ever since he left the Japanese scene in 2006 to compete almost exclusively in Europe, his career has drifted steadily out of relevance. A 2008 deal with Affliction signaled a return to meaningful competition, but it didn’t work out — reportedly because of health issues that he has denied ever since. His painful loss to Peter Graham last month suggested that even his can-crushing days might be coming to an end.
TRAVIS FULTON (221-46-8)
Notable cans crushed in the last three years: Preston Shane, Matt Brenner, Antone Tomash, Jessie Nunez, Tony Crawford
Biggest win in the last three years: Brad Kohler
Recent losses: Jeff Monson, Ricco Rodriguez
Over the past 15 years, Travis Fulton has competed in 275 professional MMA matches. The only way to build up that kind of experience is to fight constantly, every weekend if you have to, for any regional promotion that’s looking for names to put on the poster and will pay cash at the end of the night. Travis Fulton has been smashing inexperienced palookas since before Jeremy Bullock lost the use of his legs. Of his last nine opponents, five had never competed professionally before. Hey, it’s a living.
Honorable mentions in the “Ironman Can Crusher” category: Jeremy Horn, Travis Wiuff
MEGUMI FUJII (23-1)
Notable cans crushed in the last three years: Emi Fujino, Sarah Schneider, Tomomi Sunaba, Won Bun Chu
Biggest win in the last three years: Lisa Ward
Recent loss: Zoila Frausto
Look, this hurts me just as much as it hurts you. Fujii was long regarded as the greatest female fighter on Earth, but her undefeated record was built on the twisted limbs of journeywomen and newbies. Her run through Bellator’s 115-pound tournament last year was supposed to silence the critics…and then she couldn’t finish Zoila Frausto in five rounds, and managed to lose a controversial decision. We’re not saying it’s time to write Fujii off as a top competitor, but we have to start dealing with the reality that Fujii doesn’t hold victories over anybody with a meaningful reputation.
GABRIEL GONZAGA (11-6)
Notable cans crushed in the last three years: Josh Hendricks, Justin McCully
Biggest win in the last three years: Chris Tuchscherer
Recent losses: Brendan Schaub, Junior Dos Santos, Shane Carwin
Napao’s similarities with Brandon Vera don’t end at their identical MMA records. Both came into the UFC as highly-regarded wrecking machines, vaulted to title contention by destroying a big name — for Gonzaga it was his infamous head-kick KO of Mirko Cro Cop — and they never looked the same once they made it to the top. Starting with his unsuccessful heavyweight title fight against Randy Couture at UFC 74, Gonzaga began to exhibit all the signs of a front-runner, crumbling at the first sign of pressure. With every knockout loss against one of the top dogs in the UFC, his win over Cro Cop looked more and more like a fluke, until finally he was out-gunned by Brendan Schaub and fired. Breathe easy, cans, because Gabe may never be coming back. And speaking of Cro Cop…
MIRKO “CRO COP” FILIPOVIC (27-8-2, 1 no-contest)
Notable cans crushed in the last three years: Anthony Perosh, Mostapha Al-Turk, Hong Man Choi, Tatsuya Mizuno
Biggest win in the last three years: Pat Barry
Recent losses: Frank Mir, Junior Dos Santos
The sad fact is, Gabriel Gonzaga stole Cro Cop’s soul. Ever since Filipovic fell victim to his own trademark technique three-and-a-half years ago, he’s fought like a man who’d rather be doing something else. Fishing, for example. Suddenly, he went from one of the greatest fighters in the world to a sad, weary shell, uninspiring in victory (over competition that was, frankly, below him) and completely outmatched in defeat. Following his non-fight against Frank Mir at UFC 119, Cro Cop will try to salvage his career against Brendan Schaub at UFC 128, while Schaub will try to retire two can-crushers in a row.
JASON REINHARDT (20-1)
Notable cans crushed in the last three years: Chris Larkin
Biggest win in the last three years: N/A
Last loss: Joe Lauzon (November 2007)
A true legend among can-crushers, Jason Reinhardt kicked off his career with 19 straight victories. It should be mentioned that just five of his opponents had winning records, and about half were making their MMA debuts. Still, the numbers alone were enough to earn Jason a shot in the UFC, where he was choked out by Joe Lauzon in just over a minute at UFC 78. Reinhardt hasn’t competed since a first-round armbar win over Chris Larkin (0-0 at the time) two years ago, though he was briefly slated to compete against Zhang Tie Quan at WEC 51.
ALISTAIR OVEREEM (34-11, 1 no-contest)
Notable cans crushed in the last three years: Lee Tae-Hyun, Tony Sylvester, Kazuyuki Fujita
Biggest win in the last three years: Brett Rogers
Last loss: Sergei Kharitonov (September 2007)
Sure, he could beat the tar out of virtually any heavyweight in the world — it’s just that he chooses not to. As much as we love watching Ubereem wreck people, it is kind of troubling that he owns two MMA title belts now, and yet only one victory in his last ten fights came against an opponent who was even close to top-ten. Fabricio Werdum will be an enormous step up in competition from what he’s been getting lately. If he wins, he’s the real deal. If he loses, he’s the terrifyingly-jacked-male version of Megumi Fujii.