It was thirty-three years ago today that the absolutely tragic bout between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes went down — where a younger, far more athletic Larry Holmes beat the aging legend so badly that he actually cried for Ali when it was over. Though Ali is still celebrated as one of the greatest fighters of all time, his legacy has never been the same as it could have been if he simply stayed retired. It’s in memory of this fight that we’ll be talking about falls from grace during today’s roundtable: fighters who stuck around far too long, lost some embarrassing bouts as a result and tarnished their once-great legacies. Read on for our picks, and please continue to send your ideas for future CagePotato Roundtable topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim Sylvia: A name once synonymous with greatness, excitement, and extraordinary physique. Once atop the Mount Olympus of the sport, he reigned supreme over lesser beings for roughly four years, vanquishing the best of the best in his weight class. OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating here. So maybe Tim Sylvia was never exactly a world beater; he was awkward, plodding, fat, had no real ground game to speak of and was the UFC heavyweight champion when all the best fighters in the division were busy competing across the Pacific ocean.
But for all that, he was the heavyweight champion. He even had sex with his greatest rival’s ex-girlfriend. (Leading to this glorious interview with said rival, Andrei Arlovski.) He was relatively wealthy, at least compared to other fighters. Point being, he had achieved all someone who came into this world as Tim Sylvia could possibly hope to achieve. Even once he had lost the title, he still retained the respect that was deservedly owed to him.
Then this happened.
After those humiliating 36 seconds, Sylvia was never the same. He came into his next fight, against former boxing champion Ray Mercer, weighing over 310 pounds. After an apparent gentlemen’s agreement was reached to only throw punches, Sylvia proceeded to open the fight with a leg kick. Mercer, who has previously suffered a defeat to Kimbo Slice and had no weapons beyond his hands, proceeded to knock Sylvia out cold. Sylvia has spent the rest of his career fighting nobodies at super heavyweight, with the one exception being another rematch against Arlovksi, which ended in a no-contest after Arlovski illegally soccer kicked him. (The rules for this fight were, let’s just say, murky.)
The Maine-iac has attempted to return the UFC numerous times, even going so far as to circulate a video demonstrating his considerable abilities. He’s also been photographed riding around in a Rascal, yet somehow, the UFC has continued to pass on his services. Outside of the cage, his comprehension of race relations is somewhat lacking, which is disturbing considering he’s a (presumably terrible) police officer.
If you remain unconvinced Sylvia represents MMA’s furthest fall from grace, consider this. If you type in “Tim Sylvia” in Google, the first auto-suggestion is “Tim Sylvia shits himself.” That sentence will one day be inscribed upon his tombstone as a testament to all who tread there that as low as they find themselves, it’s probably not as low as Tim Sylvia has fallen.
I get that the idea behind these roundtables is to present a question that each of us attempt to “answer” as objectively as possible, with talks of “floor turds” and “garbage asses” abound, but to claim that anyone in MMA has fallen further than Ken Shamrock is to turn a blind eye to the facts, plain and simple.
Ken Shamrock is the soggiest, slipperiest floor turd of them all, a floor turd dropped from the foulest, most wretched garbage ass known to man. And worse, he’s a perpetual two-flusher — a turd that simply continues to cling to an otherwise pristine bowl in bits and pieces, no matter how hard you scrub or attempt to knock him off with a particularly strong stream of urine. The Bristol Stool Scale would label Shamrock a Type 6 turd — a mushy, fluffy, not-even-a-real-turd turd; a classification made all the more depressing when you take into consideration that Shamrock was once a fibrous, healthy, Type 3 turd that we all aspire to someday be.
But the point of these roundtables is not only to convince our fellow writers that they are wrong — which they undeniably are, in this case — but to convince you readers that we are right. So I ask unto you, Potato Nation: Have any of the other candidates on this list been guilty of the following?
- Beat up a woman they thought was a man. At a mall.
- Begged their fans to call them for the low, low price of $11.99 a minute.
- Required steroids to beat up a 400 pound man who died from a (likely obesity-related) heart attack at age 32 shortly thereafter.
- Swindled countless low-level MMA promotions out of thousands of dollars.
- Gone 2-7 since 2005.
- Held an autograph signing session at a Boston-themed pizza place. In Toronto.
- Partaken in one of the worst MMA title fights of all time (OK, that one wasn’t totally his fault).
- Partaken in Juggalo Championship Wrestling.
- Filed a bogus lawsuit against the UFC and lost.
- Willingly sought after a bout with James Toney (which was shockingly cancelled due to money issues).
- Lost a battle of wits to Tito Ortiz. Twice.
That last one might be the most damning of them all. But to his credit, ol’ Shammy is a hell of a pool player.
The Gracie family has to be mentioned in any discussion about falling from grace. They went from being synonymous with victory and with MMA itself to being synonymous with being one-dimensional dinosaurs that can’t beat journeymen.
To understand how bad their fall from grace is, let’s start from when the Gracies took the world by storm: UFC 1.
Not many people knew about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu heading into UFC 1. That was partially by design, since the Gracie family — the savvy marketers that they are — called their art “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.” So the average American who hasn’t heard of grappling arts sits down to watch UFC 1 and then sees a scrawny Brazilian dude in pajamas steamroll over people twice his size, including a roided-up Ken Shamrock.
To prove that winning the tournament was no fluke, Royce Gracie provided an encore at UFC 2. He withdrew from the UFC 3 tournament after a victorious match with chemically-enhanced Jesus freak Kimo Leopoldo exhausted him, but Gracie returned at UFC 4 and again won the tournament.
“Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” was on fire, the Gracie family was on fire. They became part of MMA’s burgeoning mythology. To the layman, the Gracies were an undefeated family of adept warriors who could crush anyone (despite the undefeated claim being patently false) and who practically invented grappling (also false; ground-fighting was older than dirt). This was the high point for the Gracie family, and it didn’t last long.
Sakuraba, a talented Japanese wrestler/submission fighter, systematically dismantled the Gracie family, and in doing so proved that the Gracie air of invincibility was just smoke and mirrors. Sakuraba first defeated Royler Gracie at PRIDE 8 in 1999. But his two most notable wins over Gracies were his 90-minute fight with Royce Gracie at the Pride 2000 Grand Prix that ended in Royce’s corner stopping the fight, and when he broke Renzo Gracie’s arm three months later.
The Gracies were mortal now, but there was no shame in that; the Gracie name still commanded respect.
But, six years later, the Gracie name was taken down several more pegs when Royce was lured into the Octagon to fight Matt Hughes. Hughes humiliated Royce almost as bad as Royce humiliated the hapless strikers he faced back in the early 90’s. Then, a year later, Royce further tarnished the Gracie family’s name by testing positive for anabolic steroids in a victorious rematch with Sakuraba — tainting his win over the Japanese fighter.
This was, more or less, the end of the old guard of the Gracie family (save for Renzo Gracie’s ill-advised return to MMA against Matt Hughes in 2010. Ugh).
The next generation of Gracies wasn’t fit to wear their fathers’ gi pants. They proved to be no better than regional-level fighters. Rolles Gracie Jr. couldn’t beat Joey Beltran — even Rolles’ own relative Renzo admitted that was pretty bad. There was a brief glimmer of hope for the Gracie family in the 21st century with BJJ phenom Roger Gracie but he, too, couldn’t put it together in MMA. After an impressive 4-0 run, he lost to King Mo. He won two gimme fights against Keith Jardine and Anthony Smith but then lost an ugly fight to Tim Kennedy in his UFC debut, and was unceremoniously booted from the promotion. Of course, Rolles and Roger are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m neglecting to mention countless other Gracies who tried their hand at MMA and couldn’t live up to their last name.
This isn’t to knock the Gracies though. Their “Gracie Breakdown” YouTube series is amazing, and they’re still a family of talented grapplers. It’s just that when you look at the 90s and then look at the present day, you can’t help but see the sad state of affairs for the Gracie family. Twenty years ago, they ruled the MMA world. Now, a Gracie fighter is only in the news when he fights like he fell out of a pub at 3 am.
There was a time not too long ago when Jens Pulver wasn’t just the face of the lightweight division, he pretty much was the lightweight division. The son of an alcoholic horse jockey, Pulver survived horrific instances of abuse and battled depression — an origin story that made it so easy to cheer for him, and so rewarding to watch him win fight after fight. Pulver went on to become the most dominant lightweight of the early days of the UFC, a true pioneer of the sport in every sense of the word.
Then the predictable happened: Pulver got older, his competition evolved, and MMA moved on, leaving him behind. Time for him to retire, right? If only it were that easy.
See, it’d be one thing if Pulver was rewarded for his services as handsomely as the present-day UFC champions are, but keep in mind that Pulver was in his prime back when the organization was still confined to insignificant venues in obscure towns throughout rural America (Lake Charles has an arena? That’s news to me…). How do you tell a guy who has done so much for our sport — a man with a family to feed and bills to pay — to get out once there’s actually some money to be made as an MMA fighter? You don’t. You simply cringe when you learn that Pulver dropped a lopsided contest to yet another guy you’ve never heard of, and just hope that he at least made bank for the beating.
See Also: Replace “lightweight” with “Japanese,” and you can pretty much say the same thing about Kazushi Sakuraba (if you add a gnarly professional wrestling injury, of course).
Word(s) association: GO!
In the world of sports, the proverbial fall from grace happens frequently. An athlete is celebrated and perceived in a thoroughly positive manner, yet through their actions the facade is forever changed. Ryan Braun and Lance Armstrong were chemically enhanced cheaters while Pete Rose chose to bet on a game that he could directly affect. Then there are dudes like Tiger Woods whose balls have seen more holes off the golf course than on it while Lenny Dykstra is just a freaking maniac. All of them were beloved at one time or another but through actions outside the lines of their sport, they are damn near pariahs. This is the typical fall from grace but it is rare that a competitor’s legacy is forever changed due to actions within their athletic field.
It happened to Joe Namath in a Los Angeles Rams uniform just like Joe Montana for the Kansas City Chiefs. Willie Mays stumbled around the outfield for the NY Mets and even Michael Jordan couldn’t catch lightning in a bottle when he suited up for the Washington Wizards. Some athletes hang around too long and all the good will they had built up over the course of their amazing careers is almost like a footnote to how they are initially remembered. Such is the case with the very first mainstream media MMA superstar, Chuck Liddell. The Iceman was at the forefront once the ESPNs and Jim Romes of the world finally decided that our sport was legitimate.
Sure, we all knew who Chuck Liddell was, but using him as the pseudo poster boy of MMA was a great fit to the uninformed masses. He was college-educated and soft-spoken but he also had a Mohawk accompanied by head tattoos. He was cerebral, yet scary, and his highlight-reel knockouts solidified the persona. He was the UFC LHW Champion of the World and the perceived baddest man on the planet for several years. He beat a who’s who of the best fighters during his era like Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort, Kevin Randleman and Alistair Overeem.
Then with one glancing blow on the point of the chin from Quinton Jackson and *POOF* it all changed.
Everybody in MMA loses. It happens. If a fighter hangs around long enough, eventually his lights are going to get turned out, and that’s exactly what happened to The Iceman back at UFC 71. It was supposed to be a momentary setback and he was hand-fed the glass jaw of Keith Jardine in his next outing. Problem is, Jardine and his meth-addict style actually avoided the overhand right of Liddell, handing the former champ his second consecutive defeat. In his next fight, Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva FINALLY happened and it did not disappoint. It was a back and forth war that saw the Iceman come out on top. Sadly, it would be the last victory of Liddell’s HOF career.
Let’s not mince words here: the Iceman’s last three fights are brutal to watch. Not just because we witnessed a former champ losing, but losing in such a manner that we feared for his safety. It started with Rashad Evans damn near sending Chuck’s head into the 13th row with a vicious overhand right. Then Maricio Rua left Liddell on his back staring wide-eyed at the arena lights, and in his final Octagon appearance, Rich Franklin put The Iceman’s career on ice (*rimshot*). It was an uncomfortable end to an otherwise fantastic career. A 1-5 record with 4 horrific KO losses forever damaged Chuck Liddell’s overall legacy and the biggest MMA fall from grace was complete.
From Richard and Maurice McDonald to Ron Wayne, history is littered with poor shmucks who cashed out too early; guys who missed the big picture and went for the short money. Art Davie is one of those guys. A former ad-man and born hustler, Davie was arguably the most important driving force behind the creation of the UFC, pitching his idea of an eight-man mixed-styles fighting tournament to Rorion Gracie and John Milius, and co-founding WOW Promotions, which produced the UFC’s early events along with fledgling pay-per-view outfit Semaphore Entertainment Group.
The UFC became an immediate PPV phenomenon after launching in November 1993 — but after just five events, Davie sold his interest in the company to SEG, and officially left the UFC at the end of 1997, allegedly due to conflicts with Semaphore’s Bob Meyrowitz about the direction that the promotion was taking. Davie would later urge Meyrowitz to stop promoting UFC fights altogether, following the death of Douglas Dedge. But he still takes bittersweet pride in his creation to this day; watching the UFC blossom without him is like being a “divorced father with someone else raising my kid,” Davie once said.
In some alternate universe, Art Davie is still collecting a giant paycheck as a top executive with Zuffa — at least in the sort of meaningless no-show role that Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell currently enjoy. Instead, he’s been wasting his golden years trying to convince people that extreme arm-wrestling (!) is the wave of the future. Davie went from promoting Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and Dan Severn, to promoting Tater Williams and James Irvin, who himself has fallen from fastest knockout in UFC history to getting his ass kicked by an arm wrestler.
Davie had it all, but didn’t know it, and got out when he thought the getting was good, years before it actually was good. Now, he’s just another old guy in a fedora sitting at the bar, telling anybody who will listen that he “invented that UFC stuff.”
“Sure, pal,” the bartender will say, pouring Art another double of mid-shelf scotch. “Sure you did.”
Has there been an especially painful fall from grace that we’ve omitted? Let us know in the comments section.