(Renan Barao: Started from the bottom, now he here. / Photo via Getty)
By Adam Martin
At the UFC 165 post-fight presser last month, UFC president Dana White showered praise upon UFC interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao, calling him one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport and remarking that the media hadn’t given enough credit to his eight-year, 32-fight undefeated streak, which has remained pristine since May 2005.
Barao has only tasted defeat once, and it was in the first fight of his career. The fact that he’s rebounded with the longest current undefeated streak in mixed martial arts — despite the fact that his first loss could have ruined his confidence forever — is absolutely amazing to me, as many young would-be prospects have crashed and burned in their debuts, never to be heard of again.
It got me thinking: What other mixed martial artists lost their first fight but then went on to have great success? I expected to bang out a list of ten fighters, but once I started doing the research, it blew my mind that some of the best fighters to ever compete in the sport, and a number of currently top 10-ranked fighters, actually lost their very first fight.
And so, I compiled a list of the top 24 MMA fighters of all time who lost their first fight. The list is based on accomplishments in the sport, overall skill level, and potential. Enjoy, and if I somehow missed somebody notable, please leave a comment below and explain why he or she should be included.
Honorable mentions: Matt “The Wizard” Hume (5-5), Wesley “Cabbage” Correira (20-15), Ryan “The Big Deal” Jimmo (18-2), Rodrigo Damm (11-6), James Te Huna (16-6)
- 1 24. Travis “The Ironman” Fulton (249-49-10, 1 NC)(Photo via ThunderPromotions)
- 2 23. Akihiro Gono (31-18-7)(Photo via MMAWeekly)
- 3 22. Ikuhisa “Minowaman” Minowa (55-35-8)
- 4 21. Shonie “Mr. International” Carter (50-28-7, 1 NC)
- 5 20. Brian “Bad Boy” Ebersole (50-15-1, 1 NC)(Photo via Tracy Lee/Yahoo!)
- 6 19. Alexis “Ally-Gator” Davis (14-5)(Photo via Invicta FC)
24. Travis “The Ironman” Fulton (249-49-10, 1 NC)
(Photo via ThunderPromotions)
On July 26, 1996, at the age of 19 years old, Travis Fulton fought Dave Strasser in his MMA debut at Gladiators 1 in Davenport, Iowa, losing the fight via first-round submission. He then went on to win 249 fights, the most wins in mixed martial arts history. Fulton also holds the record for most fights (309) and most knockout wins (91) in MMA history.
Mind = blown.
Was Fulton a can crusher? Yes, yes he was. Or, should I say, yes he is, as he beat some nobody in his native Iowa just this past March. But you don’t win 249 MMA fights by accident, and Fulton deserves a place on this list based on volume alone.
23. Akihiro Gono (31-18-7)
(Photo via MMAWeekly)
Akihiro Gono was just 19 when the Japanese icon made his MMA debut in his home country against Yasunori Okuda in the first round of the Lumax Cup: Tournament of J’ 94, way back in April 1994. Like many of the fighters of the time, Gono wasn’t ready to defend submissions, and he tapped out to a first-round toe hold.
Gono may have lost the fight, but he would go on to have a very solid career that saw him compete in the UFC, PRIDE, Shooto, Pancrase, Sengoku, and finally Bellator, which would be his final stop.
In May 2012, after a solid 18-year run as a fan favorite, Gono fought for the last time against current Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler at Bellator 67, losing the fight via first-round KO.
22. Ikuhisa “Minowaman” Minowa (55-35-8)
Some will laugh that Minowaman is on this list, but he deserves to be after amassing a respectable 55-35-8 record during his cult-legendary career as a journeyman, where — like the great Fedor Emelianenko — he was notorious for fighting and beating larger opponents in the UFC, PRIDE, Dream and Pancrase, amongst other promotions.
However, he was also notorious for losing to some of them.
The first of his 35 losses came to Yuzo Tateishi via decision on March 30, 1996, at the Lumax Cup: Tournament of J ‘96 in Japan. It was the first of many career losses for Minowa, who started off his career 2-9-2 in his first 13 fights. To his credit though, he rebounded to eventually leave the sport with a winning record, and became a big star in PRIDE because he always put on exciting fights and feared no man.
The name “Minowaman” is always one that makes the hardcores’ hearts beat whenever anyone brings it up. Not bad for a guy who at first glance looked like he would contribute nothing in the sport.
21. Shonie “Mr. International” Carter (50-28-7, 1 NC)
(NOTE: The graphic in the video say his record was 3-1 but that tally likely referred to his amateur fights.)
Back on February 15, 1997 in – surprise, surprise – Iowa, a 24-year-old Shonie Carter got into his first professional MMA fight, the first of many for him.
It didn’t last long, however, as he was KO’ed by future five-time UFC vet Laverne Clark at Monte Cox’s Extreme Challenge 3, just nine seconds into the first round in what was the MMA debut of both men.
It became a classic KO in regional circuit MMA history.
Despite that early career loss, Carter then went on to have an unexpectedly awesome career where he attained 50 wins, including 26 by stoppage. He even made it to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and, in total, he fought six times in the UFC — one more than Clark, who knocked him out in that first battle.
One of those 26 aforementioned stoppage wins I mentioned — and one of the best KOs in UFC history — was his spinning back fist knockout of Matt Serra at UFC 31. Serra, who at the time was considered to be below Carter in the ranks, later defeated Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69 to win the UFC welterweight title. Carter, on the other hand, never quite made it to the top of the sport, to say the least, but at least he built a memorable persona as a stone-cold pimp.
20. Brian “Bad Boy” Ebersole (50-15-1, 1 NC)
(Photo via Tracy Lee/Yahoo!)
Brian Ebersole’s first MMA bout took place on February 24, 2000 against Chris Albandia at TCC – Total Combat Challenge in Chicago. He lost the fight via decision.
He was just 18 years old.
However, despite the loss, Ebersole has gone on to have an awesome journeyman career that has seen him compile an excellent record of 50-15-1, 1 NC.
Ebersole finally made it to the UFC in 2012, upsetting Chris Lytle at UFC 127 and then winning three more in a row before a split decision loss to James Head at UFC 149 ended his win streak. He has sat out the past year with injuries.
But things are looking up for Ebersole, as he will finally make his return to the cage at UFC 167 against Rick Story. It’s a difficult matchup on paper, but it’s winnable. And even if he loses, the fans get to see the Hairrow — well hopefully, anyways — or at least one of those fancy cartwheel kicks. Make it happen, Brian.
19. Alexis “Ally-Gator” Davis (14-5)
(Photo via Invicta FC)
On April 7, 2007, at UCW 7 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, two unknown Canadian women fought each other. One was Sarah Kaufman, who would later go on to win the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion and who will be making her UFC debut this Saturday at UFC 166, and the other was a 21-year-old Alexis Davis, who would eventually make it into the UFC as well.
On that night, Kaufman was the better woman, as she finished Davis via strikes in the third round. And Kaufman would demonstrate her superiority once again, defeating Davis via majority decision in March 2012 at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey.
However, Davis looks to be on the rise, and she certainly showed her potential in defeating Rosi Sexton in her Octagon debut at UFC 161. If her and Kaufman ever meet for a trilogy match, it’s possible Davis might finally get a win over her rival.