Despite being billed as the world leader in mixed martial arts, the UFC is not immune to losing control of its bowels.
For the purposes of this list "worst" is defined as fighters signed who predictably failed because their history of success was either limited, didn't exist, or could have been objectively foreseen. Therefore, "busts" don't count. Denis Kang was a fantastic signing at the time: it just so happened his future wasn't in the UFC.
Shockingly, the list isn't as extensive as I thought when you cut out the busts and TUFers who never made it. So without further ado, a comprehensive list of how (to quote Mel Brooks) the UFC is not above rising below vulgarity.
Sean Gannon (UFC record 0-1)
There's only one reason Gannon found his way into the UFC. It was because of this video.
As everyone knows Kimbo was a big deal underground many years ago. And here it was...like a dream depicting the impossible: Kimbo had lost.
Even in retrospect, this wasn't a good signing. After all, Gannon looks mostly awful here. Against a Kimbo armed with sweat pants and the cast of Young Guns (who seem to decide what the rules of underground combat are from second to second), he still ends up with Hasim Rahman face.
Bad signing or not, there's usually a semblance of logic, no matter firmly nestled in absurd scheming.
In this case, it's the UFC heavyweight division and Gannon's UFC debut was only two PPV's removed from Andrei Arlovski vs. Justin Eilers.
Elvis Sinosic (UFC record 1-6)
The King of Rock n' Rumble, they call him. Would my dear readers forgive me for the cheap reference of calling him the King of Rock n' Tumble? No? Ok, then I apologize.
To be honest, I kind of feel bad about putting Sinosic on this list. If he had been left alone in his homeland in Australia, he would have been decent. But Sinosic belongs on this list thanks to the UFC. Sinosic is what people in the 'work' business call the professional loser; fighters you bring in who you don't have to pay under the table to lose to your superstars because they do a good job of losing honestly.
So what was the logic?
Sinosic did have a pretty big win when he made his UFC debut. It was over Jeremy Horn, who at the time, was kind of a big deal. This landed him a shot at Tito Ortiz' title for Tito's 3rd consecutive title defense at UFC 32. He'd go on to lose to Evan Tanner and Renator Sobral before finding his way on the outside looking in.
Bringing him back was a function of building up Forrest Griffin, who was fresh off his TUF Finale win. He would be brought back a second time to build up Michael Bisping. Luckily for Elvis, his memory lives on as a fighter light on talent, but big on heart. Even luckier...his exploits live on even in the darkest corners of the universe...like inside a Nicholas Cage needs to pay the rent film.
Renzo Gracie (UFC Record 0-1)
It's important for me to emphasize here that a bad signing, and a bad fighter being signed are not one in the same.
Renzo is not only not a bad fighter, but was pretty active even as he got older, and found continued success. While his MMA run from 2000 to 2005 was a paltry 1-6 (the lone win being against Michiyoshi Ohara in a bout that makes a Francis Carmont fight look like the Battle of Blackwater), he rebounded it all with 3 wins: Pat Miletich, Carlos Newton, and Frank Shamrock. The Shamrock bout was its own disaster. He had presumably retired. Then he got the call to flesh out Matt Hughes' retirement tour for UFC 112 in 2010.
Renzo's signing made perfect sense from a promotional standpoint. Bringing the UFC to Abu Dhabi was big business, and what better way to entertain a new market than with the Gracie name? But he still falls into the category of "failure was foreseen" given his age, and time away from the cage (and to be fair, he wasn't doing awful against Hughes early on). The fact that he's on this list is by no means an indictment on Renzo whose legacy is well established. Even on the streets.
Royce Gracie (UFC Record 11-1-1)
Another great falls on the UFC's promotional sword. In 2006 the UFC decided to bring Royce back against Matt Hughes. It didn't end well.
Unlike Renzo, Royce was a year removed from a draw with Hideo Tokoro: a LW known for being an action fighter, but not necessarily a threat to anyone in his own division. Sure wikipedia says "draw" due to "lack of judges", but 'victory' doesn't exactly describe Royce's performance.
Gilbert Yvel (UFC Record 0-3)
However, if there's any one fighter who doesn't deserve the spotlight for known limitations as a fighter, but no limitations when it comes to impulse control, there are few better candidates.
For neophytes, go to wikipedia and search Gilbert Yvel. Scroll down his MMA record until you get to 2004. Notice how he lost to Atte Backman? Yep. You read it correctly, and hopefully now you're watching it correctly.
Yvel was a special kind of crazy. Even in this instance you'd think his civilization switch would turn back on, seeing the ref staring at the lights thanks to Gil's fist. Instead of looking concerned, or repentant, he then throws a kick to the downed, and now only barely awake ref's liver.
This wasn't the first time Yvel had done something dirty and classless. Hardcore fans are fond of recounting the time Yvel can-openered Don Fyre's eyelids.
Maybe Yvel earned his shot back into the UFC. I just think when you have a history like Gilbert, you need more than a win over an aging Pedro Rizzo to get back into the spotlight.
Gabe Ruediger (UFC Record 0-3)
Was Gabe Ruediger a bad fighter? No.
Did Gabe melodramatically blow away his TUF opportunity? Yes.
Did the internet turn his TUF disgrace into a moment of levity? Yes.
Is that him teaching Paris Hilton how to box? Yes.
Jonathan Wiezorek vs. Wade Shipp (Combined UFC Record 0-1)
I don't know if they're the first, but it's very rare to be distinguished by your peers as being involved in a fight with a winner in which neither guy would be brought back.
The only reason I'm not saying much here is that both guys went on to have solid records. Still, it's hard not to remember how awful this fight was on an otherwise great card (ufc 47).
Wiezorek tried to win by charging forward like his knees couldn't bend to allow for backward motion, and Shipp ended up being gassed out as a result. Both guys were cut for their Anguirus imitations.
Tiki Ghosn (UFC Record 0-4 )
You could be forgiven for signing him for UFC 24. Could you be forgiven for signing him at UFC 40 against Robbie Lawler? Sure why not. He was 3-0 at leading up to the fight. He lost by KO. Even if the jumbotron revealing his head bouncing off the canvas while his eyes rolled over to wink at his occipital lobe to be evidence on the contrary that the fight was stopped "because of a cut"...could you forgive the UFC for signing him to fight Chris Lytle two years later? Not in my opinion.
James Toney (UFC Record 0-1)
It's a discussion that has cooled down over the years. I wonder if it had anything to do with the UFC not taking over boxing? Maybe.
In any event, Toney was brought in to settle this faux-dispute once and for all in 2010. Some of my colleagues don't consider this a "bad signing". After all, it was integral for the growth of the sport. The UFC did great business in selling not only the event, but the sport.
I'll concede that it spread the word. For a promotion, this was anything but a bad signing. However, as a relevant fight for the division, it was anything but. Couture predictably won of course. But I don't agree with the idea that Toney vs. Couture "sells the sport".
Is James Toney a mixed martial artist? Was this fight critical to the division? Did it establish a narrative at the bottom or top of the heavyweight heirarchy? If the answers to these questions are 'no', then how is this an example of 'selling the sport'? I know it's typical to assume that the casual fans are just a bunch of dumb fratboys, but I think sports fans in general are smarter than that. They know when they're seeing two athletes reflect the competition they're accustomed to versus seeing a distraction within the competition. If I want to watch hockey, I'm not gonna tune in to see the Chicago Blackhawks play the high school varsity squad who still take cues from hours of Mutant League Hockey (ahh, the memories).
Sounds pretty elitist. I'm not immune to the freakshow. Which is why this bout could have at least been entertaining. It wasn't.