The Search for a Star Never Stops… But They’re Hard to Find… Check Out Ten Prospects Who All Failed to Live up to the Hype…
The list of genuine stars in MMA is very short. Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey would be on the top tier of most famous fighters. Then behind them, you’d have Chuck Liddell, Georges St. Pierre and Jon Jones. After that the list of actual stars very quickly depletes. With the level of competition and the power of the promotions, it’s one of the toughest sports in the world to stand out in.
Promotions like the UFC, ONE and Bellator are constantly on the lookout for a new, young and exciting star. There have been a few who’ve come good but most of them will be pushed too quickly and/or too soon. That’s what happened with most of these guys on the list below.
This isn’t a definitive list of the biggest failures in MMA. Nope, we’re simply presenting different fighters who had the ability to be someone special and now will never be the superstar their promotion was looking for.
10. Brandon Thatch
A former training partner for Georges St. Pierre and Nate Marquardt, Brandon Thatch was seen as the next big thing when he signed for the UFC. A massive welterweight, he won his first two fights by brutal 1st round knockouts. In 2015 it all went wrong for the Colorado native.
He fought former lightweight champion Benson Henderson in the main event of UFC Fight Night 60. It was a great fight but he’d lose by submission in the fourth. That loss didn’t hurt his reputation but the next three did. He was beaten by Gunnar Nelson, Siyar Bahadurzada and Niko Price and then released by the promotion. The star fell from the sky.
9. Michael ‘Venom’ Page
Bellator tried to play it smart with Michael ‘Venom’ Page. They let him build up his record by fighting a bunch of nobodies. That’s the boxing model and it makes sense. Let a fighter gain experience so that he’s ready for the big challenges. The trouble is that MMA doesn’t follow the same rules.
For a start, when you’re fighting for a promotion it’s much harder to dodge big fights. The warning signs were there when showboating striker Page put on a boring performance against Paul Daley. He won that but got crushed by a genuine elite welterweight in Douglas Lima. Bellator really wanted him to be a star but he got found out in the end.
8. Tai Tuivasa
You might think this is a bit harsh but it’s clear that Tai Tuivasa is not the second coming of Mark Hunt. The Australian has massive charisma and charm. Between his hilarious walk-out music choices and his ability to do a ‘shoey’ anytime and anywhere, he quickly got pushed by the UFC.
The trouble is he seems to have reached his ceiling as a mid-tier heavyweight. He scraped a narrow decision against Andrei Arlovski, before getting stopped by Junior Dos Santos. There’s no shame in that, as both those men are former heavyweight champions, albeit past their prime. A decision loss to Blagoy Ivanov has definitely dented his star power though. At heavyweight, you never know, but it looks like he’s not elite.
7. Todd Duffee
When Todd Duffee first signed for the UFC, you would have thought that the promotion had a struck gold. A 6″4, 240lb heavyweight who hits like a truck, what wasn’t to like? He knocked Tim Hague out in just 7 seconds on his UFC debut back in 2009 and that put a lot of hype behind him.
Unfortunately, the hype was misplaced. After smashing Mike Russow for three rounds in his second fight, he got caught with a lucky shot at the end of the round and was knocked out. That triggered a wave of inconsistency. He’d be released and brought back, win one and lose one. Injuries prevented him from making the impact he wanted.
6. Papy Abedi
Papy Abedi signed for the UFC in 2009 after success on the regional scene. The Swedish-based, Congolese fighter looked like a powerhouse but it would all end in tears. He fought Thiago Santos on his debut but after starting strong would end up getting finished.
In the end he’d be released after 1 win and 3 losses for the world’s biggest MMA promotion. It was disappointing but it just goes to prove that just because you can bully an average fighter, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to do the same to the elite.
5. Mackenzie Dern
You might think that we’re being harsh on Mackenzie Dern by putting her on this list. After all, she’s still unbeaten in her MMA career. There’s no doubt though that she’s not become the star that the UFC was hoping that she would be when they first signed her. They thought that she was going to be the next Ronda Rousey.
A former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion, she’s 7-0 in MMA, with 2 UFC wins. However, she missed weight by a ridiculous 7lbs against Amanda Bobby Cooper. Her lack of dedication saw her get asked to leave the MMA Lab by head coach John Crouch, because of a lack of dedication. Now she’s currently on hiatus due to pregnancy.
4. Darren Till
Darren Till could still become a champion one day but there’s no doubt that he was pushed way too hard too quickly by the UFC. It was crazy how fast people jumped on board the hype train. Now back-to-back losses for the first time in his career have severely dented his progress and hopes of becoming an international star.
It’s still bizarre how he was the favourite going into his championship fight with Tyron Woodley. After getting schooled by the former welterweight king, he was then crushed by Jorge Masvidal in front of a UK audience in London. It’s been a savage few months for the Scouser.
3. Paige Vanzant
One look at Paige Vanzant shows you why she’s so popular. A former model and a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, the flyweight is one of the most profile MMA fighters in the US, despite having never held a championship title. Her fellow fighters criticised Reebok for handing her an individual sponsorship deal basically because she’s hot.
The problem with Vanzant is that she hasn’t been able to back it up in the cage. 5 wins and 3 losses is not a good look for the Oregon native. A move to professional wrestling is likely in the future.
2. Aaron Pico
When Aaron Pico signed for Bellator it was viewed as a massive coup for the second biggest promotion in the US. There were loud whispers that Scott Coker had just got his hands on a potential superstar. Then he got smashed out in the first round. No problem, it’s all a learning curve and he came back to win four fights in a row by KO/TKO.
Sadly, for Pico, his chin and fight IQ have not been up to elite standards. He’s been knocked out in his last two fights. The first against Henry Corrales was because he decided to brawl like Cody Garbrandt. Never go full Cody. And the second was because his jaw is made of glass. He may yet win a championship, but his star is definitely dented.
1. Sage Northcutt
Speaking of jaws, Sage Northcutt had to get his reconstructed after Cosmo Alexandre decided to reconstruct his after brutally knocking out the American karate fighter on his ONE Championship debut. Northcutt looked like a brilliant signing by the UFC. With his Adonis-build and sweeter-than-sugar personality, he was billed as the next generation of fighter.
It’s all be a bit too much too quickly for the Team Alpha Male man though. His professional record is patchy and there’s a reason why the UFC was happy to let him leave. His debut with ONE was heavily promoted and ended with him getting brutalized. Dana White even suggested this sport was too tough for him.