Some fighters win by losing. Stephan Bonnar earned an Ultimate Fighting Championship contract in defeat and Chris Lytle has enjoyed a career resurgence since adopting an entertain-at-all-costs approach. Here are nine fighters who exited the cage beaten but better for it in 2009.
9. Carlos Condit
World Extreme Cagefighting’s last welterweight title holder Carlos Condit was a cool veteran going into his April 1 UFC debut against Martin “The Hitman” Kampmann, but that didn’t calm his Octagon jitters.
The bout saw “The Natural Born Killer” fight from pillar to post, but the effort wasn’t enough to get the judges on his side. The New Mexican dropped a split but took take solace in the “Fight of the Year” praise heaped on his debut performance.
8. Jake Ellenberger
Just as Carlos Condit fought to the brink in his UFC debut, so did Jake Ellenberger—against Condit at UFC Fight Night 19 in September. An experienced unknown, the International Fight League veteran arrived emphatically by blasting Condit early in the first round. He nearly stopped Condit and was ramping up toward the kind of breakthrough seizing of the moment that stirs conversation amongst fans.
But Condit hung tough and the referee allowed the bout to continue. Ellenberger displayed a solid game for 15 minutes, demonstrating even in a split decision loss that he is a serious competitor at 170 pounds.
7. Clay Guida
(Guida and his hair fight Kenny Florian valiantly at UFC 107.)
Being knocked down by a kick in the head would stop most fighters in their tracks. Not Clay Guida. The Chicagoan hit the mat at “The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale” in June courtesy of Diego Sanchez’s shin and got up faster than he fell, preferring retaliation to recovery.
After 15 minutes, the judges awarded Sanchez the contest, but Guida burnished his reputation as a must-see fighter.
6. Alan Belcher
“The Talent” shined in a decision loss to Yoshihio Akiyama at UFC 100 when he pushed off the cage to propel himself higher and faster for a Superman punch. It’s that kind of dynamic offense that earned the Mississippi native $100,000 for “Fight of the Night” and inspired weeks of heated discussion about the controversial decision.
5. Brett Rogers
Brett Rogers’ first career loss came on national television against the consensus number one heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emelianenko., who knocked “The Grim” out only after the underdog laid heavy leather on Emelianenko’s face. Rogers lasted longer against Fedor than Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski did combined, which bodes well for him when he faces other Strikeforce heavies.
4. Takeya Mizugaki
World-renowned Japanese bantamweight Takeya Mizugaki came into the WEC with little fanfare. He was a late replacement for Brian Bowles and had never appeared on a WEC broadcast, but after 25 minutes of close-quarters combat with then-Bantamweight Champion Miguel Torrest, MMA fans knew everything they needed to about Mizugaki. The fighter took every shot Torres threw at him and became the first man to go the distance with the champion, ending a four-fight, four-finish WEC run.
Mizugaki cried after he dropped the unanimous decision, but did more for his career in a a five round loss than he did with the 11 wins prior.
3. Urijah Faber
(Faber on the attack during Brown vs. Faber II.)
Urijah “The California Kid” Faber is known for a laid back demeanor. His shrug-things-off personality translated to the cage against Mike Thomas Brown when the former featherweight champion broke his hand early on and still came after the titleholder on all cylinders. In the final stanza, he threatened Brown with a deep choke, proving dangerous to the bitter end, when he succumbed to a unanimous decision.
2. Josh Thomson
(Thomson takes it on the chin in his second go-’round with Gil Melendez.)
Josh “The Punk” Thomson flies under the mainstream MMA radar and a 15-month injury layoff didn’t help his Q score. The former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion dared audiences not to remember him with a 25-minute “Fight of the Year” nominee versus the man he first captured the belt from, Gilbert Melendez.
He fought with his best attributes—strategy, athleticism and pin-point execution—at times before throwing them out the window for a slugfest. The style excited onlookers but earned him a unanimous decision loss. The fight told the mainstream fight world more about Thomson than he’s been able to say for the past five years. A trilogy fight will only improve Thomson’s standing in the sport.
1. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
(Rua gives Machida all he can “randle.”)
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua solved Lyoto Machida riddle at UFC 104 with muay Thai. The 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix Champion defused his fellow Brazilian’s elusive and explosive Shotokan karate style with stalking leg and body kicks. Machida slowed as the damage piled on with Rua pulling away late as a result. He believed to be on the verge of victory until the judges announced a unanimous decision for the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.
Many believe Rua should be wearing the belt now and the fight rekindled memories of a time when “Shogun” was one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
FIGHT! Fans: What do you think of our list?