The aftermath of a UFC career isn’t often pretty. Some fighters are like Rich Franklin or Randy Couture--they’ve saved their money and invested, or they have a marketable skill to fall back on--but these fighters? Nah. Not them. The fact is that for many MMA fighters, those few fleeting moments in the Octagon are as high as they’ll ever climb. Success in the UFC can mean money and fame, and all of the things that come with it. But there’s a price to pay, too, and sometimes that price can be very high indeed. Remember that at the end of the day, these guys are getting paid to punch other people in the face. Long-term planning isn’t often on the table for a fighter, and it’s easy to see why. Once the glamour is gone and the crowd is no longer chanting your name, being a professional fighter can be a lonely business. Guys hang on too long. They look for one more payday or one more moment where the lightning strikes, and they feel like the baddest man on the planet for just a few moments.
There are lots of stumbling blocks once a fighter falls out of the UFC. There are drugs and depression and domestic violence. There’s the ache for action and the desire to dominate. In one way or another, these next 15 fighters all fell victim to their worst impulses. Some paid with their professional reputations; some paid with their freedom; and some paid with their lives.
Let’s get started!
15 Ken Shamrock
Remember when Ken Shamrock was considered ‘the most dangerous man in the world?’ In the early days of the UFC, Shamrock was a buzzsaw with a marketable physique and legitimate grappling skills. He fought Royce Gracie to a draw when that was a serious accomplishment, and was the company’s first SuperFight champion. So what happened? Knee injuries caused changes to his explosive grappling-based style, and he continued to fight well past his prime, losing multiple high-profile fights to former protege, Tito Ortiz. After being released from the UFC, Shamrock dropped fights in multiple promotions against no-name talent like Robert Berry, Jonathan Ivey and Mike Bourke. While Shamrock hasn’t officially announced his retirement, he hasn’t fought since February of 2016, when Gracie dusted his old foe via knee strike and punches. If that was truly the end for Shamrock, he finished his career losing nine of his last 11 fights.
14 Joe Son
An unforgettable image from UFC 4: Joe Son has Keith Hackney trapped in a guillotine choke. Hackney moves to side mount, where he lays a beating on Son’s family jewels, battering him with multiple punches to the groin before escaping the choke and forcing the South Korean native to tap out with a choke of his own. It’s an infamous moment in combat sports, and made more so when you know that Son tortured and repeatedly assaulted a California woman in 1990. While serving time on an unrelated charge, prosecutors conclusively matched a DNA sample from Son to the incident, which led to his conviction. A month into his sentence of life in prison with a possibility of parole, Son killed 50-year-old sex offender Michael Graham in the cell they shared. Son is currently serving a sentence of life without parole in Salinas Valley State Prison, where--hopefully--someone is punching him in the cajones on a daily basis.
13 Rousimar Palhares
Former UFC title contender Rousimar Palhares is like the ex-lover who keeps skulking around you and your new flame: His biggest fault was that he couldn’t let go. Literally. Palhares, a talented Brazilian grappler with a penchant for leglocks, was released from the UFC after holding onto a heel hook long after his opponent tapped out. It was the second incident of this type, with a suspension for steroids sandwiched in-between. After winning the World Series of Fighting welterweight title and racking up a series of wins against quality opposition, Palhares again came under fire for failing to release submissions in bouts against Jon Fitch and Jake Shields. WSOF stripped him of the title and released him, while the promotion’s matchmaker urged him to seek help for his mental health. Since then, Palhares has fallen further into the margins of the MMA world, fighting twice and losing each time to lightly regarded opponents.
12 Corey Hill
Corey Hill’s devastating injury against Dale Hartt in December 2008 didn’t just break his leg--it crushed his dreams. After using alternative facts to inflate his amateur fighting record, Hill parlayed a strong showing in The Ultimate Fighter, Season 5 into a long-hoped-for professional fighting career. But during Hill’s fourth professional bout, the lanky lightweight threw a low kick at his opponent. Hartt checked it--and the bones in Hill’s leg shattered, resulting in one of the most gruesome injuries in UFC history. Hill rehabbed hard and won his comeback fight only 13 months later. But he was never able to make it back to the UFC, fighting in smaller promotions and ending his career on a five-fight losing streak. Unfortunately, his story gets even darker: Hill died after complications from fungal pneumonia at age 36 after one of his lungs collapsed and he suffered a heart attack. His family had to make the heart-rending decision to remove him from life support after tests showed no brain activity.
11 Tim Sylvia
It’s almost unfair to put Tim Sylvia on this list. Almost. The two-time UFC champ was simultaneously one of the most unpopular fighters inside the cage and one of its nicest outside of it. Sylvia defeated Ricco Rodriguez--a win NO ONE saw coming--to claim his first world title, and then dropped Andrei Arlovsky to reclaim the belt a couple of years later. After losing the title again--this time to UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture--Sylvia fought twice more in the Octagon before requesting his release from the promotion. A pair of embarrassing losses ensued: in 36 seconds to Fedor Emelianenko and a one-punch, nine-second KO by former boxing champion Ray Mercer. Unable to control his weight, Sylvia began showing up for fights well in excess of 300 pounds. Once he was finally able to get down to 271 pounds for a bout against Juliano Cautinho in January 2015, an MRI result prevented Sylvia from being licensed. He subsequently announced his retirement.
10 Kevin Randleman
Former UFC champion Kevin Randleman might be better known nowadays for nearly killing Fedor Emelianenko with a belly-to-back suplex during a match in the Pride 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix quarterfinal. Grappling with the Russian, Randleman waist-locked his opponent and lifted him high into the air before driving The Last Emperor headfirst into the mat. Emelianenko shook off the effects and ended up submitting Randleman, which seems to be a microcosm of the Ohio native’s MMA career: explosive and successful, but only up to a point. After defeating Pete Williams for the UFC heavyweight title, the wrestler dropped the strap to Randy Couture two fights later. Fighting mostly in Japan, Randleman became known as an entertaining fighter and professional wrestler, but finished his career on a four-fight losing streak. Like Corey Hill, Randleman left the world too soon, dying of a heart attack after being admitted to the hospital for pneumonia. He was just 44 years old.
9 Tank Abbott
As far as anyone can tell, Tank Abbott is alive and doing fine. So why’s he on this list? Pretty easy: Abbott traded in his tough-guy reputation for a guaranteed contract with Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling, where he became a punchline--as the ‘biggest fan’ of knockoff boy-band gimmick 3 Count. But while many fans recall Abbott’s interplay with 3 Count, they may not know that WCW writer Vince Russo pitched Abbott--then mired in the mid-card--as a short-term transitional world champion at 2000’s Souled Out Pay-Per-View since top stars Bret Hart and Jeff Jarrett were sidelined with injuries. The suggestion was outlandish enough that Russo actually lost his job because of it. After his release from WCW, Abbott tried to make a comeback in the UFC, but failed miserably, dropping four straight fights and finding himself unemployed again. Most fans last saw Abbott in 2008, when he headlined an EliteXC card, losing to Kimbo Slice by knockout in 43 seconds.
8 Hermes Franca
Lightweight contender Hermes Franca almost had it all. The charismatic Brazilian made the most of a second chance in the Octagon, reeling off nine straight victories to leap from the WEC back to the UFC and a shot at lightweight kingpin Sean Sherk. But after a tough five-round loss, Franca was popped for steroids. After an uneven showing in his post-steroid era, Franca was booted from the promotion after a KO loss to Tyson Griffin at UFC 103. In December 2010, Franca was arrested and charged with seven counts of sexual abuse and two counts of unlawful sexual penetration by one of his BJJ students in Jupiter, Florida. Franca pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and served 42 months in prison. Post-sentencing, Franca tried to make a comeback as a fighter, finding little success. His last bout was a first-round KO loss to Fanil Rafikov (who?) at a Dec. 2015 card in Kazakhstan.
7 Kimo Leopoldo
No one who saw Kimo Leopoldo’s entrance at UFC 3 would ever forget it. The 6’3” Hawaiian burst into the arena carrying a large wooden cross. But though Kimo had taken up his cross to follow Jesus, Royce Gracie would prove to be a burden too heavy to bear. Even in a losing effort, Kimo showed enough heart and fire that a new star was born. Kimo reeled off three straight victories in smaller promotions, then came back to challenge Ken Shamrock for the UFC SuperFight title, only to be stopped by an ankle lock in less than five minutes. Kimo continued fighting, but was popped for steroids after another loss to Shamrock at UFC 48. He again tested positive for Stanozolol in 2006, which scrapped a highly anticipated matchup with MMA legend Bas Rutten, and was also arrested at one point, charged with drug possession and impersonating a police officer. Later, many news outlets incorrectly reported that Kimo had died at age 41. Instead, it’s just his career that’s left without a pulse, having dropped four of his last five fights with three losses in a row.
6 Tony Halme
You might know this entry better as the WWE’s Ludvig Borga. While Halme may have been a tough guy, it didn’t take Randy Couture long to Finnish him, choking out the pro grappler in just 56 seconds. That’s right--C.M. Punk lasted longer in the Octagon than Halme. The loss dropped the Finland native to 0-4 for his MMA career and sent Halme out of the UFC just as quickly as he entered. Halme was more successful as a professional boxer, where he amassed a 13-6 record. He also became a member of Finland’s parlaiment and wrote several books. Unfortunately, in the mid-2000s Halme’s life began to spiral out of control. In 2003, he was cited for firing an unlicensed firearm and possession of illegal steroids, and in 2006 he was convicted of driving while impaired. Halme battled alcohol abuse, and was involuntarily hospitalized in 2006 due to delirium from drinking too much. In 2009, he told an interviewer that his short-term memory was shot, even though he was trying to write his sixth book. Three days after his 47th birthday, Halme committed suicide.
5 Evan Tanner
Evan Tanner should not be on this list. By all accounts, he was one of the good guys, a hell of a fighter who rose to the UFC middleweight title, and the first American to win the Pancrase Neo Blood Tournament, back when that was a big deal. He fought (and won) at heavyweight, light-heavy, and middleweight. Tanner taught himself Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu through mail-order VHS tapes. He overcame his alcoholism to return to the UFC after a two-year layoff, and even though his return was unsuccessful, he could have--should have, damn it--had many more productive years as a fighter, coach, or analyst for the UFC. Tanner was a fighter with a poet’s heart. He was a warrior, a writer, and a dreamer. He went into the Mojave Desert west of Los Angeles for a camping trip, and ran out of water. Tanner’s body was found on September 8, 2008. The official cause of death: heat exposure. He was 37 years old.
4 Brian Bowles
A former WEC world champion who couldn’t stay healthy or away from performance-enhancing drugs, Bowles also managed to run afoul of the law several times during his career. Just a good ol’ boy, never meanin’ no harm … unless you were standing across from him in the Octagon. Bowles defeated the seemingly unstoppable Miguel Torres to claim the WEC bantamweight crown, but dropped the title to Dominick Cruz. Once he lost the title, Bowles never seemed the same. After a felony arrest for drug- and firearms-related crimes in tiny Arcade, Georgia, Bowles was cut from the UFC. Bowles spent some time in the Jackson County Detention Center, but there’s not much to go on for the disposition of his case. In July 2016, coach Freddy Assuncao told an MMA reporter that Bowles is training for a comeback.
3 Josh Grispi
Grispi made waves in the WEC, starching quality opposition like Mark Hominick and Jens Pulver, but ‘the Fluke’ couldn’t sustain his success on the larger stage--cage, if you prefer--of the UFC. Four straight losses saw Grispi cut from the promotion, and then things got really bad. Grispi was arrested for repeated domestic abuse of his wife, animal cruelty, and a host of other charges. In the worst example, Grispi had trained his pit bull to attack his wife at his command. When his spouse finally escaped to a neighbor’s home and was able to call for help, the responding cops also found 20 marijuana plants and 15 grams of cocaine in the Grispi home. One of the responding officers called Grispi’s actions “... the worst case of domestic violence I’ve ever seen.” Grispi’s trial was scheduled for November 2016 in Brockton, Massachusetts, though no outcome has been announced through the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office.
2 War Machine
You knew this one was coming, right? The dirtbag known as Jon Koppenhaver had multiple run-ins with the law, and was in and out of jail prior to assaulting adult actress Christy Mack. But before that, War Machine had rejected a fight offered by UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and then recklessly accused Evan Tanner of going into the desert to commit suicide, even though medical examiners proved that was not the case. He was subsequently released from the promotion, and moved on to fight for promotions like Bellator before assaulting his girlfriend. In August of 2014, Mack suffered 18 broken bones, including a broken nose, teeth, and ribs. War Machine was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Following his suicide attempt in October 2014, War Machine’s trial has been postponed twice, and is now slated for February 2017.
1 Lee Murray
Look, British fighter Lee Murray is a certified badass. He is an MMA fighter and a career criminal now serving a 25-year sentence in a Moroccan prison. Prior to becoming a fighter, he was convicted of marijuana and cocaine possession and rumored to be a drug dealer. He knocked out Tito Ortiz in a London street fight in 2002, and he was stabbed nearly to death at a glamour model’s birthday party in 2005. Oh, and did I mention that he’s the mastermind responsible for the 2006 Securitas depot robbery in Kent, England, that netted the equivalent of more than $100 million, a criminal act that involved kidnapping and multiple hostages? Yeah. Lee Murray is not really the sort of guy you’d want to mess with. Murray was eventually caught and held accountable for his crimes. That didn’t stop him from trying to get free, though. In 2010, prison authorities found saw blades hidden in a plate of cookies (the Brits call them ‘biscuits’) that they say Murray was planning to use to saw through his cell bars.
Dishonorable mentions: Kimbo Slice, Chris Leben, Jesse Taylor, and a host of others. Did we miss one? Hit me on Twitter: @bobbymathews.