They had all the momentum in the world — and then it fell apart. Whether it was due to poorly-timed losses, fan-unfriendly fighting styles, or both, these UFC fighters have reached a holding pattern in their careers, and will need a few dramatic performances to break out of it…
After kicking his UFC career off with five-straight submission victories, Demian Maia began drawing comparisons to Royce Gracie Himself. A 21-second knockout loss at the hands of Nate Marquardt put the reins on his hype, and a bland stretch of five consecutive decisions — including his debacle of a loss to Anderson Silva and his most recent defeat by Mark Munoz — snuffed that hype out for good. It’s not just that Maia’s been relegated to the middle of the pack. With all the heat generated by outspoken middleweight contenders like Chael Sonnen, Chris Leben, Michael Bisping, and now Jason Miller, Maia is barely a blip on the radar these days.
(Photo props: Ed Mulholland)
From 2004-2009, Torres racked up 17 straight wins (15 by stoppage), won the WEC’s bantamweight title and defended it three times in breathtaking fashion. Not only was he one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport, he was also one of the most consistently entertaining. Back-to-back stoppage losses to Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez changed all that. Torres re-located his training camp to Tristar gym in Montreal and re-emerged as a more cautious, measured fighter who jabbed a lot. It was the right choice for his fight record, as he won his next two matches against Charlie Valencia and Antonio Banuelos, but it was clear that we weren’t watching the same mulleted buzzsaw that we knew and loved. Then, at UFC 130, he got outwrestled by undersized up-and-comer Demetrious Johnson. No more win streak, no more fan-favorite cred — Torres is back at square one.
In 2004, he became the UFC’s heavyweight champion. In 2008, he was the comeback fighter of the year. In 2011, he’s…well, he’s the best UFC heavyweight that you never hear about anymore. Violent losses to Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin in 2009 and 2010 made fans wonder if Mir could still hang with the heavyweight ruling class. His last two victories should have improved his stock, but didn’t, owing to his inability to finish a thoroughly gassed Roy Nelson, and the general crappiness of his bout against Mirko Cro Cop. The UFC’s focus has officially turned to the next generation of heavyweights, from Velasquez and Dos Santos at the top, to Schaub and Mitrione racing up the ladder, and Mir has become a forgotten man in the division.
Going to the judges in nine straight outings is no way to gain favor with the fans or your bosses. In a sport where killer instinct and gnarly stoppages are handsomely rewarded, Fitch is easily the most under-appreciated elite fighter working today. The UFC has done everything they can to put off giving him another title shot, and they even nixed his rematch against BJ Penn when a more interesting option presented itself. No matter who Fitch gets next, it probably won’t get him any closer to the welterweight belt. Title shots tend to go to fighters who fans love, or love to hate. Fitch is neither, really. He’s just there, lying on top of you, throwing short punches and chewing his mouthpiece.
Here’s the deal: Ryan Bader is still young enough in his career that he can bounce back from his current two-fight losing skid. On the other hand, this is a guy who went from knocking on the door of a title shot to becoming Tito Ortiz‘s first victory in five years, all in a matter of months. Even if Bader keeps his spot in the UFC by winning his next fight, it’ll be a long, hard slog back up to the top of the light-heavyweight division. And when he gets there, who’s to say Jon Jones won’t still have the belt around his waist, ready to ragdoll the dude all over again?