Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Since entering the UFC, no man has had a more seemingly difficult schedule than Brazil's Paulo Thiago, who continues his difficult stretch of opposition with a fight against Dong Hyun Kim at UFC on FUEL 6 in Macau.
When Brazilian Special Forces officer Paulo Thiago first came into the UFC he was essentially brought in to be another bounce-back opponent for Josh Koscheck, who was looking to sustain some success following a loss to Thiago Alves. Koscheck had already memorably destroyed Yoshiyuki Yoshida in December 2008, and had a fairly quick turnaround to face Thiago in February 2009. Thiago had won the bulk of his regional fights by submission, but his striking left much to be desired and the odds of a dominant Koscheck win were high.
Instead, in one of the biggest upsets of 2009, and merely moments after UFC analyst Joe Rogan had criticized Paulo for his awkward looking striking, Thiago landed a hard uppercut right into the ducking head of Koscheck, sending Josh into unconsciousness and a shocking KO loss. Koscheck definitely woke up, but only after his head crashed hard against the mat. This unlikely result still marks the only time Koscheck has been knocked out and it remains Thiago's only KO win.
Unfortunately for Thiago, having been thrown to the wolves in his first UFC fight and coming out the victor, the UFC has seen it fit to give him a steady diet of wolves whether he wins or loses.
These are the list of opponents he's fought post-Koscheck, and the rankings of both Thiago and his opponents, using the USA Today/SB Nation MMA Consensus Rankings. All betting odds are courtesy of bestfightodds.com.
Now on the surface it may seem like Thiago fighting multiple unranked fighters makes my proclamation that he's fighting tough opposition, but with the exception of Volkmann (who moved to 155 lbs two fights later) and Mitchell, every opponent he's faced has been ranked in the top 20 of the SB Nation MMA Consensus Welterweight Rankings at some point in their UFC careers.
What's even more astonishing is not just the opposition he's actually fought, but the fights they were ready to give him.
Alves was Thiago's original opponent before Alves withdrew due to injury and Thiago fought Jacob Volkmann at UFC 106 instead. Josh Koscheck was replaced by Mike Swick, and Paulo Thiago was injured both occasions they tried to give him Hendricks and Pyle.
- Thiago has fought two former title challengers - Fitch and Koscheck, and was scheduled to fight former title challenger Thiago Alves as well as rematch Koscheck. Diego Sanchez also challenged for the lightweight belt, and his wins over Thiago and Kampmann (as disputed as the latter fight is) vaulted him into the top 10.
- Mike Swick was previously in a #1 contender fight against Dan Hardy. Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks are facing off in a likely #1 contender spot.
- Before Mike Pyle's loss to Rory MacDonald, Pyle was ranked as the #17 WW, above Thiago at #20.
Keep in mind that Thiago has not once been in even an unofficial "#1 contender" spot, and is just 1-3 in his last 4, yet he's consistently matched up with credible fighters, even ones above his caliber. The only time they've willingly "thrown him a bone" without injury replacements was the David Mitchell fight in Brazil.
It's unlikely Thiago ever becomes a high-level contender again, but when he does leave the UFC (hopefully not any time soon) he should be remembered as an unlikely success story, having gone from 4.5-to-1 underdog in his debut to one of the most battle-tested fighters in UFC history.