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Tag: Rulon Gardner

The Five Best MMA Fighters Who Only Fought Once

(Photo via Susumu Nagao)

By Mark Dorsey

One unfortunate aspect of MMA is that far too many fighters continue to compete long after they should have hung up the gloves. It’s hard to watch once-great athletes tarnish their legacies and put themselves at risk for dementia pugilistica. That’s why it’s so refreshing when fighters decide to retire at the right time. Even rarer are the ones who taste success just once before walking away. Here’s our tribute to a few legendary fighters who were literally one-and-done.

Rulon Gardner has faced more hardship throughout his life than most men could ever survive. As a kid, he was punctured in the abdomen by an arrow during show-and-tell at school. As an adult, Gardner survived crashing into a freezing river in his snowmobile after getting lost; he wasn’t rescued until almost two days later, by which point he had suffered hypothermia that would later cost him a toe. Gardner also survived a motorcycle crash and a small plane crash that plunged him into Lake Powell, Utah, and forced him to swim for an hour in order to reach safety.

Despite these tremendous survival stories which could earn any man a made-for-TV movie, Gardner is best known for wrestling the most dangerous man to ever don a wrestling singlet. In one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history, Gardner defeated Aleksandr Karelin in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. What made the upset so incredible was that Karelin, the three-time defending gold medalist, was undefeated for 13 years going into the match. Hell, Karelin hadn’t even given up a single point in six years. Yet somehow, Gardner, a pudgy farm boy from Wyoming, managed to shut down Karelin’s offense, making him an unlikely Olympic Gold Medalist.

After winning Bronze four years later at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Gardner left his wrestling shoes on the mat in a symbolic gesture of retirement. However, the competitive urge persisted and Gardner was convinced to compete in an MMA match at Pride Shockwave 2004. His opponent in that classic freak-fight was Hidehiko Yoshida, a judoka and a fellow Olympic gold medalist. Yoshida was a serious submission threat who entered the fight coming off a win over Mark Hunt and a draw against Royce Gracie. However, Gardner had been training with Bas Rutten which paid off, as he managed to win a rather boring unanimous decision victory over Yoshida. Gardner controlled the match and showed that he had a promising combination of raw skills and incredible strength. However, despite his potential as an MMA fighter, Gardner never competed in the sport again. In an interview with Ariel Helwani, Gardner admitted that he didn’t have the killer instinct for MMA because he didn’t really enjoy hitting people or getting hit.


Classic Freak-Fight: Olympic Gold Medalist/’Biggest Loser’ Contestant Rulon Gardner vs. Hidehiko Yoshida

(Props: russinapanzer)

The 1980 Miracle on Ice still gets more recognition, but Rulon Gardner‘s legendary Greco-Roman triumph over Alexander Karelin at the 2000 Summer Olympics was just as unlikely. One of the most intimidating figures in sports history, Karelin had been undefeated for 13 years, and hadn’t even given up a point in six when he met Gardner in Sydney. The American managed to shake loose a point from the Russian Experiment while shutting down Karelin’s offense, and went home with a gold medal. It was just one of many brushes with death that the former farm-boy managed to survive.

Gardener retired from wrestling four years later after taking a bronze medal in Athens, but he wasn’t done competing. On New Year’s Eve 2004, Gardner competed in his first and only MMA match at PRIDE Shockwave 2004, where he won a unanimous decision against 1992 Judo gold-medalist (and PRIDE/Sengoku veteran) Hidehiko Yoshida. The second round of that fight is above. Gardner never competed in another MMA match.

Somehow, Rulon has managed to gain 200 pounds since then. That’s the bad news. The good news is, he can currently be seen as a contestant on the eleventh season of The Biggest Loser, which premiered last night on NBC. Hey, if it worked for Fat Gina Carano, why not an Olympic legend? After the jump: A video feature on the historic Gardner vs. Karelin match, and Gardner’s intro package from TBL