(Money. Girls. Fame. Private locker rooms that you don’t have to share with old men washing their balls. A win for Ilir on Saturday would be truly life-changing. / Photo via LoveStrandell)
First-time UFC jitters are bad enough when you’re curtain-jerking on the prelims. Can you imagine what it would be like to go from relative obscurity to UFC headliner? Well, Ilir Latifi is about to find out this Saturday, God bless him. Come to think of it, his UFC on FUEL 9 opponent Gegard Mousasi is technically in the same situation, although at least the Dreamcatcher has had the benefit of previously competing in major promotions like Strikeforce, DREAM, and PRIDE.
Latifi is a long shot in every sense of the word, but of course this is a sport where anything can happen. Plenty of fighters have found themselves at the top of the lineup for their first UFC fight and made the most of it. Others have crashed and burned in horrific fashion. So which camps will Latifi and Mousasi fall into? Read on for a brief history lesson, and let us know what you think…
- Anderson Silva. In one of the most stunning UFC debuts, period, the up-and-coming Brazilian striker stepped into Chris Leben‘s world in the main event of Ultimate Fight Night 5 in June 2006 and scored a flawless victory over the southpaw slugger, dramatically altering the course of history in the UFC middleweight division. Silva was granted an immediate title shot and hasn’t lost a fight since.
- Alistair Overeem. Watching the Reem tear Brock Lesnar apart at UFC 141 validated everyone who ever thought that Lesnar was a pro-wrestling fraud, and that Overeem was the future of the heavyweight division. It hasn’t exactly worked out like that, but at the time, it looked like we were entering a new era.
- Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche. The UFC’s grand experiment of promoting a women’s fight in the main event of a pay-per-view card at UFC 157 shattered expectations, both inside and outside of the cage. Rousey was as nasty as advertised, picking up her seventh consecutive first-round armbar in professional MMA competition. But even though many fans saw Liz Carmouche as just a patsy in the match — Latifi-esque, you could say — “Girl-rilla” refused to go gently, bringing the fight straight to the UFC’s golden girl, and briefly catching Ronda in a rather-painful looking face-crank. All in all, it was a perfect first-showing for the UFC’s brand-new women’s bantamweight division, and helped ensure that women would have a future in the promotion.
- Frank Trigg. Trigg basically earned his way into the UFC by kicking Dennis Hallman in the balls so hard that he couldn’t recover. The fight even earned Trigg a welterweight belt for the World Fighting Alliance. But karma would collect its debt the following year at UFC 45, where Trigg was immediately slotted into a title fight against the UFC’s then-unstoppable champion Matt Hughes, who subbed Twinkle Toes in the first round with a standing rear-naked choke. Trigg went on to beat Hallman fair-and-square in a rematch at UFC 48, but was choked out once again by Hughes in an all-time classic at UFC 52.
- Takanori Gomi. There was a time when the Fireball Kid was the most feared lightweight in the world. But by the time he entered the UFC in March 2010, he was already past his sell-by date, and had spent the last three years crushing cans and losing fights. His Octagon debut against Kenny Florian at UFC Fight Night 21 was an opportunity to remind the world of his abilities — and it ended with Ken-Flo’s arm around Gomi’s neck. Gomi still had some good performances left in him, but it was clear that his days as an elite fighter were over.
- Anthony Pettis. This one was just heartbreaking. Pettis had all the momentum in the world after showtime-kicking Benson Henderson’s face into the fifth row at WEC 53, and he was expected to get a lightweight title shot against the winner of Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard at UFC 125. Unfortunately, that fight went to a draw and an immediate rematch was booked, which meant Pettis would have to take another fight if he wanted to stay busy. He wound up fighting veteran Clay Guida at the TUF 13 Finale in June 2011, and lost all three rounds thanks to Guida’s relentless wrestling. Pettis was bumped from the top of the lightweight contender food chain, and is still waiting for his shot at the belt.
- Igor Zinoviev. Not only was Zinoviev’s UFC 16 headlining fight against Frank Shamrock his first UFC appearance — it also ended his career. Shamrock’s knockout slam broke the Russian’s collarbone, and he never returned to the cage.
- Sean Salmon. They didn’t even put the poor bastard on the poster for UFC Fight Night 8 — and yet, every Rashad Evans highlight reel from that night forward featured Sean Salmon getting his ass head-kick falling-tree KO’d in brutal fashion. After a subsequent 51-second submission loss to Alan Belcher, it was clear that Salmon didn’t really deserve to be in the UFC in the first place, let alone headlining a Spike TV card.
Coming Up Next…