Above, in gif form, is an absolutely beautiful flashback to the halcyon MMA days of yore, when a young, virtually unknown Judoka named Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (aka "the African Assassin") took Pride Fighting Championships, and the mixed martial arts world, by storm.
For his 2007 Pride debut, the huge 16-to-1 underdog (who was coming off a first round KO loss to current UFC LHW title challenger Glover Teixeira in the WEC) required only 23 seconds to shock and awe Lil’ Nog (Antonio Rogerio Nogueira) into unconsciousness with a left hook, in only Sokoudjou’s fourth professional MMA bout. It was, and remains, unquestionably one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, with Sokoudjou currently the only fighter to ever KO, or stop, Lil’ Nog.
In his next contest, at the ripe age of 23, at Pride’s final event (the appropriately titled Kamikaze) on April 8th of 2007, he bettered that incredible accomplishment, laying waste to top-tier middleweight (185 to 204 lbs. in Pride) and perennial contender Ricardo Arona with a right uppercut in less than two minutes. The sky appeared to be the limit for the young, talented, dreadlocked upset machine.
However, after joining the UFC, following Zuffa’s purchase of the embattled Pride organization, he was unable to recapture his magic, losing his debut to eventual LHW champ Lyoto Machida by arm triangle. Despite his incredible Pride run, it was a case of "too much, too soon," for the young, relatively inexperienced MMA fighter, with the jumps in levels of competition finally catching up with him. From there, after a victory over fellow Judoka and Pride transplant Kazuhiro Nakamura, he would be upset by Luiz Cane (TKO) and subsequently cut from the UFC’s roster.
Following another submission loss (this time to Renato "Babalu" Sobral, by Anaconda choke, in short-lived promotion Affliction’s sophomore PPV), he would have a brief two-fight resurgence in Dream’s (Pride’s spiritual successor) Super Hulk freak-show tournament (quickly toppling "giants" Jan Nortje and Bob Sapp), before losing to Gegard Mousasi in Strikeforce/M-1 and then Ikuhisa "the Punk" Minowa in the Super Hulk finals (both by TKO).
From there, the Team Quest product would alternate mini-win and loss streaks over the next several years, to varying levels of opposition, losing his most recent fight in May of 2013 to unheralded heavyweight Evgeny Eorkhin in Russia by TKO. While he is still relatively young for a fighter (29) and still on the plus side of the win column (14-11), at this point in his career, taking into account the decreasing level of competition and his still unsatisfactory results, it’s safe to state that Sokoudjou will never recapture the ferocity and success he initially burst onto the MMA world with.
For all his talent (a second dan Judo black belt and 2001 U.S. Open Judo Champion), KO power and initial MMA upsets, Sokoudjou’s legacy is unfortunately one defined by unfilled promise and great expectations that were never met. Has there ever been another MMA fighter to start off so red hot, racking up such name victories over incredibly high-level opponents in brutal fashion as a virtual unknown, only to drop off so dramatically?