As a fan of sports or music, everyone loves to find that hidden jem. Whether it be a local band who blow the roof off a bar one night and make you a fan for life, when they hit it big you can tell all your friends that you were there from the beginning. Or watching that kid in college who possesses a butter smooth jumper and a devastating first step, or the college QB who looks like the next big thing and can make every throw. It is just fun to watch prospects develop, and see as they potentially grow into a star in their industry. I as a MMA fan feel privileged enough to have watched the rise of Junior Dos Santos. From that night back in October of 2008 when I watched him upset Fabricio Werdum with a massive uppercut, I was a fan of the kid. I told all my friends who watched MMA casually that this guy was going to be a someone someday. I would always make sure when people would come over for a night of drinking and MMA, to watch this kid fight, he could be a champion someday. So when he beat Cain Velaquez last month, I was more fired up afterwards than after any of the hundreds of fights I had seen before. He was my guy, and I was there from the beginning (well of his UFC career anyway). I saw him live up to his promise as a fighter.
Over the past three years in MMA we have been fortunate enough to see some excellent prospects rise to the top of the food chain. Jon Jones, Cain Velasquez, JDS, Frankie Edgar, Lyoto have all risen up through the ranks as uberprospects and fulfilled their potential by becoming champions. But for every prospect that makes it big, there are dozens and dozens who don't. In this piece I will be looking at some fighters who looked like they could potentially be elite fighters and potentially champions (or the greatest of all time), but for different reasons they never lived up to expectations.
Roger "El Matador" Huerta
The very first mixed martial artist to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated back in May of 2007, Roger Huerta looked like he could be the future of the 155 lbs division. He was explosive, well rounded and was rarely boring to watch. He entered the UFC in 2006 with a 15- 1 - 1 record, and proceeded to ring off 6 wins in a row. During that run, he had two classic fights, one a 3 round war and Fight of The Year candidate over Leonard Garcia and the other a spectacular come from behind submission victory over Clay Guida in the 3rd round at TUF 6 finale. He looked to be on his way to a title shot when he met up with Kenny Florian at UFC 87. Unfortunately for Huerta, Florian would be too much for him, as the TUF veteran outpointed El Matador on his way to a unanimous decision.
After this loss to Florian, Huerta surprised Dana White and the MMA community by stating he would be taking a break from his MMA career to pursue acting, after landing a role in the Tekken live action shitbomb of a movie. This would derail really any hype Heurta had, and pissed off Dana White, not a good combination at all.
Heurta would find out the hard way that being in a craptastic video game movie was not the path to Hollywood stardom, and he would return to the Octagon a year later to face Gray Maynard at UFN 19 and fulfill his UFC contract. In a back in forth fight, it was looking very close until the third round, when Maynard took Heurta down, got him in a crucifix and locked on a deep kimura.
As you can see in the gif, Heurta managed to hit a sweep and survive the round, but would drop a split decision to the Xtreme Couture fighter, ending his run in the UFC.
Being one of the biggest free agents in MMA, Heurta signed with Bellator and was announced that he would be entered into their season 2 lightweight tournament. It was essentially agreed on that Heurta would run the table, and get to fight then champion Eddie Alvarez for the title. He would go on to defeat Chad Hinton via kneebar in his first round matchup, and would face Pat Curran in the second round. The fight with Curran wouldn't end well tho, as Roger dropped a controversial split decision to the eventual season 2 tourney winner.
Fortune would smile on Heurta tho, as Curran got hurt prior to his fight with Alvarez, and Heurta stepped in to fight the champion in a non title match. During that fight, Alvarez was simply the better fighter, battering Heurta for two rounds before the doctor stopped the fight in between the second and third rounds.
He reappeared in MMA when he fought War Machine earlier this year, being stopped due to a rib injury at UWF 1, making him 1-5 over his last six fights. For a man who once looked like the future of the LW division, he has fallen far.
Brandon "The Truth" Vera
There was a point in time where Brandon Vera was seen as the next big thing in MMA. He had a strong wrestling base, sharp Muay Thai and entered the UFC with a 4 - 0 record with 3 KO's. He would enter the UFC against Fabiano Scherner, who he would defeat via crushing knees in the second round. After the fight, Vera called out Chuck Liddell (despite him being in the HW division) and essentially told the crowd he would simultaneously hold both the Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight title. For someone just completing his first fight in the UFC, this was big talk.
Vera would continue with a meteoric rise by finishing Justin Ellers, Assuerio Silva and former champion Frank Mir all in the first round. Prior to his defeat of Frank Mir at UFC 65, Dana White had announced the winner of Mir/Vera would face off against the winner of Tim Sylvia and Jeff Monson for the UFC HW championship. So what did Vera decide to do? He held out for a better contract. Cause you know, Dana White loves that. So instead of Vera getting his shot, it went to Randy Couture, who would defeat Sylvia.
Vera returned at UFC 77 against Tim Sylvia, and would lose the first fight of his career via unanimous decision. After the Sylvia loss, he would meet Pride veteran Fabricio Werdum at UFC 85, losing via TKO (which Vera argued was a poor stoppage).
After these two loses, Vera moved down to Light Heavyweight, but could never replicate the success he had prior to his contract hold out. He would win his first LHW fight, but would then drop a split decision to Keith Jardine. He has continued on, putting together a paltry 4 - 3 - 1 NC (when Thiago Silva tested positive for PEDs) and is literally a borderline cut candidate should he lose his next fight. After starting off so well, Vera's career has fizzled out.
Brett "The Grim" Rogers
Rogers first gained the attention of MMA fans in the short lived Elite XC organization. He was a big powerful heavyweight, with dynamite in his hands who finished all 5 of his fights via strikes. He would finish all three of his Elite XC opponents via KO or TKO, and famously called Kimbo Slice "garbage" in a post fight press conference. After Elite XC folded, Rogers moved over to Strikeforce, where he would KO Abongo Humphery in the second round. This would set up a matchup with former UFC Heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. Rogers would shock the MMA world when he KOed the former champ in just 22 seconds. With this KO, Rogers was propelled into a fight with the recently aquired Fedor Emelianeko.
When he met the Pride legend in November of 2009, few gave Rogers a chance. But, he came out ready, and looked fairly solid before eating a huge overhand right from the Russian superstar, where Fedor would jump in for the finish
Despite this loss, he looked impressive enough that Strikeforce put him into a Heavyweight title fight with the returning Alistair Overeem. This also would not end well for The Grim, as the Dutch kickboxing sensation would manhandle him and finish him in the first round.
The Arlovski fight seems to be the highlight of Rogers' career, as he has gone 1- 4 since that victory, and was released from his Strikeforce contract after being charged for spousal abuse. Rogers at one point looked to be one of the best heavyweight prospects in the world, and now seems to be relegated to fighting in regional shows.
Built like a superhero, Duffee burst onto the MMA scene at UFC at UFC 102. Coming into his UFC debut a year after stopping former Pride and UFC vet Assuerio Silva, few people took notice of the fight coming into the event. It took all of 7 seconds for all that to change. Duffee tied the UFC record for fastest KO when he clipped Canadian Tim Hague and put him away quickly. The Sherdog boards exploded, telling anyone who would listen that this kid was the future of the division, and would be the next big thing.
He would be matched up against veteran Mike Russow at UFC 114, moving immediately from the preliminary card to the PPV. Over the course of 2 and a half rounds, Duffee battered the 14 fight veteran. Late in the the third, in what is the MMA equivalent of a Hail Mary, Russow hit Duffee with a hard straight right hand, ending the hype train early.
After the losing to Russow in May, he was suddenly cut from the UFC for what Dana White described as an attitude problem. Uncle Dana did leave the door open, saying that Duffee could fight his way back into the UFC. So instead of taking a fight to help get his career on track, Duffee excepted a late notice fight with K-1 and Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem at Dream's New Years Eve show. As expected, Overeem crushed Duffee with a vicious hook
Since that loss to Overeem (in which Overeem inexplicably won the Dream HW title) Duffee hasn't competed in MMA since. The closes he has come to a fight since last NYE is being in Never Back Down 2 direct on DVD.
Karo "The Heat" Parisyan
The former WEC welterweight champion was once considered to be one of the most talented welterweights on the face of the planet. The judoka had a very well rounded MMA game. He made his UFC debut in a loss to GSP, and then won the WEC title from MMA veteran (and stone cold pimp) Shonie Carter. After his victory over Carter, he came back to the UFC, where he would rack off 5 wins over notables Chris Lytle, Nick Diaz and Matt Serra. Most fans got to know Parisyan when he almost came to blow with Nate Diaz during Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter. He would drop a decision loss to then undefeated Diego Sanchez, but most fans still considered it was only a matter of time before Karo would challenge for a title. He would win 3 in a row before being stopped by a vicious knee from Thiago Alves at UFN 13.
After the loss to Alves and while training for a scheduled UFC 88 match up with Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Parisyan would seriously hurt his back, which put him on the shelf for 4 months. He would return in January, where he would be the first to defeat "The Stun Gun" Dong-Hyun Kim in a controversial split decision. After the fight, the decision was changed to a No Contest due to testing positive for a cocktail of painkillers, including hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxymorphone. He would receive a nine month suspension from competition, setting his career back even further.
Parisyan was set to make his comeback fight at UFC 106, but the day before the weigh ins, he would pull out of the fight, drawing the ire of Dana White, who proclaimed that he would never again fight in the UFC. News would follow that Karo was battling an addiction to pain killers, and was having some serious issues in his personal life.
After coming back and earning a victory in Australian run promotion ImpactFC, Parisyan was brought back to the UFC to fight Dennis Hallman at UFC 123. He looked lethargic in his return fight, and Hallman took advantage, defeating him in under 2 minutes. Since that loss, he has dropped two more fights, essentially ending his time as an upper echelon MMA fighter.
Once known as the only man to ever defeat Urijah Faber, Tyson Griffin was 8 - 0 in his MMA career prior to dropping a decision to future champion Frankie Edgar in Edgar's UFC debut. After this loss, he would reel off 4 wins, including a Fight of The Year with perennial contender Clay Guida and looked to be well on his way to getting a title shot. When he met Sean Sherk at UFC 90, many thought that with a victory he could earn a shot at BJ Penn's Lightweight title.
Sherk and Griffin would put on a Fight of the Night winner, with Sherk scoring the decision win, derailing Griffin's title hopes. Even with the loss, Griffin had won FOTN 3 times in his first 7 UFC fights, and had the fans support. After the Sherk loss, Griffin would put together 2 wins (including another FOTN against Rafael Dos Anjos, he would lose to prospect Evan Dunham in a close split decision. Following the loss to Dunham, Griffin was matched up with former Pride superstar Takanori Gomi. Coming in as a heavy favorite (-300) against a Gomi who was a shadow of his former self, Griffin would suffer a huge upset when he got clipped with a fastball right hand.
After the Gomi loss, he dropped another decision to another prospect in Nik Lentz. With the UFC folding the WEC and creating the featherweight and batamweight divisions, Griffin would be one of the first 155 pounders to make the drop down in hopes of revitalizing his career. His first fight at 145 since 2005 would be a successful one, as he took a decision from former featherweight title challenger (and TUF veteran) Manny Gamburiyan. His next fight against WEC vet Bart Palaszewski he would fail to make weight, coming in at 148 lbs. The 3 pounds didn't seem to matter, as Griffin got blasted early in the 1st round, making him 1 - 4 in his last 5 fights and having his name kicked around as a potential UFC cut.
Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort
Vitor Belfort maybe the most polarizing fighters in MMA history. For any longtime Vitor fan will tell you with much frustration that you never really know what Vitor is going to show up at any fight. Bursting onto the MMA scene as a 19 year old, he would win the UFC 12 tournament in devastating fashion, winning both of his fights in a total of 2 minutes. He would crush fan favorite Tank Abbott a couple of months later, and was seen as the future of the sport. He represented the ability to blend multiple styles, with his black belt under Carleson Gracie in BJJ, as well as his excellent boxing, he was one of the first true mixed martial artists.
He was defeated by MMA legend Randy Couture in his 4th fight in the UFC, causing a bit of a derailment in the hype train, but Vitor rebounded with a quick armbar victory over Joe Charles, and then followed that up with what is the most recognizable highlight in his career when he KOed future Pride champion Wanderlei Silva in 44 seconds.
After this victory, Belfort would head overseas to begin fighting for Pride, making his debut against Japanese legend Sakuraba, dropping a unanimous decision at Pride 5. After this defeat, he would win his next 4 fights before coming back to the UFC in 2002 to face Chuck Liddell at UFC 37.5. He would lose this fight via unanimous decision, dropping his record to 10 - 3. He would bounce back a year later, with a win over Marvin Eastman, and would earn a rematch against Randy Couture for the UFC Light Heavyweight title. He would win his one and only championship when he stopped Couture in the first round when a seam from his glove opened up a vicious cut over Randy's eye.
They rematched immediately at UFC 49, where Belfort would be stopped in the third round due to a doctor's stoppage after eating some vicious ground and pound from Captain America. After this fight, Vitor hit a rough patch, going 2 - 4 over the next year and a half (including 2 losses to Alistair Overeem and a loss to Dan Henderson) bouncing around between the UFC, Pride and Strikeforce. During this time, he also received a suspension for testing positive for steroids after his loss to Dan Henderson at Pride 32. He would then move over to Cage Rage in England, where he would win their Light Heavyweight title, before signing with upstart promotion Affliction and dropping down to 185 lbs.
He would win his first two fights at 185 pounds before Affliction folded and he re-signed with the UFC for a third time. After a KO victory over former champion Rich Franklin, he would sit on the shelf for a over a year waiting for a fight with Anderson Silva. The fight wasn't worth the wait, as Belfort was KOed in highlight reel fashion by the champion. He has since bounced back with a victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama but considering how much promise he showed earlier in his career, it is safe to say that Vitor will never achieve the heights MMA fans had for him when he came on the scene as The Phenom.
Once considered the future of the Light Heavyweight division, Sokoudjou exploded onto the scene when he crushed Antonio Rogerio Nogueira back at Pride 33, knocking the BJJ black belt out in just 22 seconds. He would follow it up with a victory of Pride Middleweight GP finalist Ricardo Arona in just under 2 minutes, and it seemed like the sky would be the limit, as he had defeated 2 top 10 fighters in this first 2 fights under the bright lights. He moved over to the UFC with the fold of Pride to face fellow prospect Lyoto Machida in 2009. It became evident as their fight wore on, that if you were gameplanning to defeat Sokoudjou, all you had to do was survive the early onslaught and wait for him to get tired. Machida would submit him in the second round with an arm triangle, setting back the expectations a bit. He would follow up this defeat by stopping Kazuhiro Nakamura with a leg injury between rounds, but then Luis Cane would take him into the second round, finishing him with strikes.
After the Cane loss, Dana White had seen enough and cut Sokoudjou loose. After 1 fight in Affliction (a loss to Babalu Sobral) he would enter the Dream Super Hulk tournament, making it all the way to the finals. Prior to the finals matchup, he lost to Gegard Mousasi via TKO, He was then finished in the Super Hulk tournament final by Ikuhisa Minowa. He has continued to alternate a handful of wins with a handful of losses, compiling a 12 - 10 record and going down as one of the biggest busts in MMA history.