By Adam Martin
Tomorrow night in Georgia, former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold returns to the Octagon for the first time since having his face kicked into space by Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 8 last May. Although Belfort was coming off a blistering head kick KO of Michael Bisping at UFC on FX 7, many were still picking and betting on Rockhold to defeat “The Phenom” in his UFC debut, and the betting line surprisingly closed as a pick ‘em.
Things didn’t go Rockhold’s way that night, to say the least. In hindsight it’s not such a bad loss considering what Belfort did to iron-chinned Dan Henderson in his next bout, but it was still incredibly disappointing for the highly-touted Californian to be knocked out in less than five minutes when — on paper at least — the fight with Belfort should have been much more competitive.
Of course, Rockhold isn’t the first UFC fighter who fell short of expectations in his Octagon debut. The question is, will he rebound in his second fight, or fall deeper into “bust” territory? Read on for our list of eight other fighters who didn’t live up to the hype in their first UFC appearances, and let us know if we’ve left out any notable disappointments.
(Photo via Getty)
After the IFL collapsed, the promotion’s former heavyweight champion Ben Rothwell made his way over to the UFC and debuted against fast-rising contender Cain Velasquez at UFC 104. Although Rothwell’s aura of invincibility had been cracked by Andrei Arlovski’s limbs at Affliction: Banned the previous summer, there was still hope that he could get back to his winning ways and make a run for the UFC heavyweight title.
But against Velasquez, it was clear that Rothwell was thoroughly outclassed by a far superior mixed martial artist, and “Big Ben” suffered the second true knockout loss of his career. In hindsight, it’s not surprising that Rothwell couldn’t hang with Velasquez, the current UFC heavyweight champion, but at the time it was a harsh reality check for those hardcore MMA fans who believed in Rothwell after his IFL run.
Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto
(Photo via Tracy Lee/Yahoo!)
For years, North American fans were hoping and praying for Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto to make his way over to the WEC and fight the other top bantamweights in the world. “KID” never fought in the WEC, but after the UFC swallowed up the promotion and transferred their fighters over to the Octagon, the Japanese superstar got his shot at the big show and took on Demetrious Johnson at UFC 126.
But although Yamamoto was a 2-to-1 favorite over Johnson, he was outwrestled by Johnson and ended up losing a very disappointing three-round decision. Yamamoto then followed that up with two more losses to Darren Uyenoyama and Vaughan Lee, and when you think about how bad he looked in all three bouts, it’s clear Yamamoto wasn’t the same guy who was knocking dudes out left, right and center in Japan. Not even close.
(Photo via MMAWeekly)
Anthony Pettis had just won the last-ever WEC championship with his highlight-reel showtime kick against Benson Henderson at WEC 53 and had earned his way into a UFC title fight against the winner of UFC 125’s Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II. But when Edgar and Maynard fought to a draw, UFC president Dana White told Pettis to take another fight and at the TUF 13 Finale he took on veteran Clay Guida in a fight most expected him to dominate.
But despite Pettis’s flashy striking and Guida’s love of standing and banging with his opponents, “The Carpenter” was able to use a smart wrestling gameplan against Pettis, scoring takedowns and sitting in top control long enough to get the judges’ decision. It was a poor performance by Pettis and he had to win three more fights before he finally got his UFC title shot, but when finally got his crack at the belt he made the most of it, with a submission win over Benson Henderson at UFC 164.
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Jake Shields had won 14 fights in a row and was coming off a gigantic win over Dan Henderson to retain the Strikeforce middleweight championship when the UFC decided to sign him and put him on the fast track to a title shot. For his first fight, Shields would take on top contender Martin Kampmann at UFC 121, and the winner would earn a fight against UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Despite Shields being a sizeable favorite heading into the match, Kampmann and Shields grappled back-and-forth for 15 minutes, and at the end of three rounds it was tough to say who had won. Although many thought Kampmann did enough to secure the victory, Shields ended up getting his hand raised by split-decision. But while the fight went down as a win on his record, it didn’t help him win any fans in his Octagon debut, as his bout with Kampmann was a total snoozer — something that nearly all of Shields’s UFC fights have ended up being.