Like any sport, the UFC thrives on having star power in the wings. Sometimes, in the interest of buyrates, winning (though essential) isn’t enough, the fighter has to be able to generate interest on all fronts.
Often times, the gift of the gab shines through, allowing fighters over the years such as Conor McGregor, Chael Sonnen and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson to have great pull with audiences. Other times, it’s the gift of jab that has everyone talking, as has been shown by Francis Ngannou’s immense knockout power over the years.
Other times, a reputation from afar is good enough to get eyes on the product. Whether they fought in another promotion to great success or hail from another field entirely, some UFC signings come in with a lot of fame to their name. Everyone’s curious to see if they can live up to the hype from the get go and sometimes… they don’t.
Here are three major UFC signings who lost their debut fight:
#3. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Shogun Rua
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua came marching into UFC 76 as a decorated veteran of the sport. The pride of PRIDE Fighting Championship, Rua was the number one ranked light heavyweight in the world by multiple publications following his final PRIDE appearance, a first-round KO victory over Alistair Overeem at Pride 33.
Following the UFC’s buying out of PRIDE in 2007, Rua began training for his debut fight against The Ultimate Fighter season one winner Forrest Griffin.
Rua was deemed the favorite heading into their UFC 76 clash. In an eyebrow-raising display, Rua burnt out quickly against the considerably more durable Griffin. Struggling with knee complications, the exhausted Rua eventually submitted to Griffin’s suffocating rear naked choke in round three.
For Griffin, this was a nice feather in the cap. For Rua, it was a jaw-dropping upset given his prodigious status in the sport at the time. Following two operations on his knee, Rua returned at UFC 93 where he defeated Mark Coleman via TKO in round three.
Rua eventually got some payback on Griffin at UFC 134 in August 2011 with a KO win less than two minutes into round one.
#2. Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold
Welcome to Brazil, Luke.
Luke Rockhold was a hot prospect following his run as the ace of Strikeforce’s middleweight division when he debuted for the UFC in 2013. Rockhold faced former light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort in his debut.
Belfort was in the midst of his miracle journey with TRT at the time. Rockhold, meanwhile, was fresh off a severe shoulder injury that had hindered the closing stretch of his 2012.
Rockhold was KO’d by Belfort’s deadly spinning heel kick two-and-a-half minutes into the first round. For all the hype and all the accolades, many were left aghast at the brief and painful nature of Rockhold’s first UFC clash.
While he never got revenge on Belfort, Rockhold moved on to eventually win the UFC middleweight championship from Chris Weidman at UFC 194. As great as that was for the BJJ maestro, his time with the title was cut short via a 10 days’ notice Michael Bisping. Rockhold’s title loss at UFC 199 remains one of the biggest upsets in the promotion’s history.
Rockhold never regained the title and eventually moved up to light heavyweight, citing weight cuts as the cause of his frequent injuries. His luck didn’t change much however as Jan Blachowicz stopped him with a vicious KO in the second round of their UFC 239 battle.
Rockhold hasn’t fought since, but at least he has that modeling career to fall back on.
#1. Former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar
WWE’s Next Big Thing was looking to apply the old moniker to his new career: MMA. Fresh off a tumultuous run in New Japan, Lesnar cashed in on his high octane mix of power, speed and size to take the fighting world by storm. After a round one TKO demolition of Min-Soo Kim at Dynamite!! USA in June 2007, Lesnar made the jump to the UFC.
As a former pro wrestler, The Beast was greeted with instant controversy and derision from several circles. His credentials as an accomplished collegiate wrestler apparently weren’t enough to sidestep the criticism. Meeting arch rival Frank Mir for the first time at UFC 81, Lesnar came out all guns blazing.
Employing his superior strength and explosiveness, Lesnar took Mir down and nailed him with some brutal ground and pound offense. Sensing a nearing victory, the aggressive Lesnar perhaps got a little too confident. Failing to mind his surroundings, Lesnar left a leg open for the resourceful Mir to take advantage of. Trapped in a kneebar with three-and-a-half minutes of the first round to go, Lesnar submitted.
While he would make a hero’s comeback in his next two fights, the defeat to Mir had to sting given the animosity between the two. Lesnar would eventually get some payback at UFC 100 when he stopped Frank Mir in the second round via TKO.