The term “mixed martial arts” was first used in 1993 to describe what took place at the first UFC event. Since then, the sport has taken off, rivaling in popularity other sports like professional boxing and professional wrestling. MMA became so popular that just about every guy thought that they could do it, even athletes.
It seems like a natural transition, going from one sport to another. Professional athletes—especially football players, boxers, and wrestlers—are already in great shape, and they’re used to physical contact, so mixed martial arts should come easy. But it turns out that this isn’t necessarily the case. MMA isn’t like street fighting, where the strongest, toughest guy wins. It requires a high level of skill, which can only be acquired through years of rigorous training.
There have certainly been examples of athletes making a successful move into MMA. For example, Herschel Walker, a two-time Pro Bowl NFL running back, won his only two fights in Strikeforce by TKO, and Matt Mitrione, former Defensive Tackle for the New York Giants, is currently ranked 14th amongst all Heavyweights in the UFC. But for every success story there seems to be far more failure stories. Time and time again athletes have entered the octagon only to leave with bloodied faces and bruised egos (or, in the case of Johnnie Morton, on a stretcher). It kind of reminds me of Jon Favreau’s character from Friends, the rich guy (Pete Becker) who was dead set on becoming the ultimate fighter but ended up in a full body cast.
Here’s the list of the top 15 athletes who failed in MMA.
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15 Sean O’Haire
Three-time WCW World Tag Team Champion Sean O’Haire had considerable success in professional wresting, being named Rookie of the Year in 2000 by the Wrestling Observer. But that wouldn’t be the case for his MMA career, as he finished with a 4-2 record. His most devastating loss came at the hands of Eric “Butterbean” Esch in 2006. Butterbean, who weighs over 400 lbs, landed several hard hits to O’Haire’s head, bringing an end to the fight in a matter of seconds.
14 Giant Silva
Before getting into mixed martial arts, Giant Silva, who got his name because he is 7’2” and weighs close to 400 lbs, was a professional basketball player (he played for Brazil’s national team at one point) and wrestler in the WWE. Silva briefly trained with the Gracie family and fought in Pride, but he found himself woefully underprepared and lost his first fight to a much smaller opponent. He would go on to lose all but two of his eight professional mixed martial arts fights.
13 Marcus Jones
Marcus Jones had a fairly successful career in the NFL, playing in 85 games for the Tampa Buccaneers and recording 24 sacks. After being waived by the Buffalo Bills following a knee injury, he tried his hand at MMA and was picked to be a part of the Spike TV show The Ultimate Fighter. While he wasn’t exactly a pushover in the octagon, he also wasn’t that much of a threat. He would eventually get knocked out by Matt Mitrione, a much more successful athlete-turned-MMA fighter, in the finale of The Ultimate Fighter, marking his third knockout loss in just nine fights.
12 Ray Mercer
Some would say that Ray Mercer, a former professional boxer with an impressive 36-7 record, had a successful, albeit short, career in MMA. He gained notoriety in 2009 after pulling out a surprise knockout victory against former UFC Jeavyweight champion Tim Sylvia in less than ten seconds. So then why, you might be asking yourself, is Mercer on this list if he beat a big name UFC fighter? Because before his victory against Sylvia, Mercer lost to Kimbo Slice in Slice’s first MMA fight and we all know how Slice’s career turned out.
11 James Toney
You’d think James Toney, a former boxing world champion with a record of 76 wins and 10 losses, would be able to hold his own against any fighter, but that proved not to be the case when he gave MMA a shot. In his only fight against legendary UFC fighter Randy Couture (probably not a good person to start with), Toney, who was sporting a sizeable belly (he was 42, after all), looked overwhelmed and overmatched, losing in the first round by way of submission.
10 Art Jimmerson
Unless you were a devout fan of the UFC from the very beginning, chances are you don’t know who Art Jimmerson is. Jimmerson was a good amateur boxer and decent professional boxer (although he did lose his last nine fights). In 1993, wearing one boxing glove, he entered the octagon at UFC 1 against, of all people, Royce Gracie. Well, you can imagine how that ended. Within a couple of minutes, Jimmerson’s MMA career was over. In 2011, he said he’d like to fight Kimbo Slice (they could market it as the battle of the failed athletes-turned-MMA fighters).
9 Michael Westbrook
Michael Westbrook is one of many former football players to try a career in mixed martial arts. Westbrook practiced MMA throughout his playing career, and after his brief, yet moderately successful tenure with the Washington Redskins, he decided to finally give it a go. In his three professional fights, he won, lost, and had a no contest, probably not the outcome he was hoping for.
8 Bob Sapp
You probably recognize Bob Sapp from his role in the Adam Sandler movie The Longest Yard (he’s the “He broked-ed my nose” guy). Sapp, who is an absolute beast of a human being (thus the nickname “The Beast), was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1997. After football didn’t work out, he took up wrestling and eventually mixed martial arts. Sapp fought for Pride and was something of a fan favorite in Japan because of his stature, but, unfortunately, he turned out to be not much of a fighter. Near the end of his career especially, Sapp was pretty much a guarantee victory for his opponents.
7 Johnnie Morton
Johnnie Morton, a former wide receiver in the NFL who famously called out Jay Leno for ragging on his winless Detroit Lions, perhaps had the worst MMA career of anyone on this list. Although he came out swinging, he would end up being knocked out (rather brutally) by Bernard Ackah in under a minute. Morton was out cold and had to be taken out of the ring on a stretcher with a neck brace. If that’s not bad enough, it was later revealed that he had tested positive for steroids.
6 Wes Shivers
Wes Shivers, who is a towering 6’8” tall, had a short career in the NFL, appearing in only three games for the Tennessee Titans. After working as a police officer for several years he quit the force to pursue his dream of being an MMA fighter. Like Marcus Jones, he made his debut on The Ultimate Fighter, losing in his first fight by decision. Although he has a good professional record (8-1), he’s never fought anyone notable. In fact, his first fight was with an opponent who was considerably out of shape.
5 Tony Halme
Finnish wrestler Tony Halme was known amongst WWE fans as “The Viking” or “Finland Thor.” On top of being a professional boxer (Finnish Heavyweight Champion) and politician (member of Finnish parliament from 2003-2007), Halme was also an MMA fighter. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very good one, and he posted a career 0-4 record. His most notable loss came to Randy Couture in 1997.
4 Yoji Anjo
The best thing that Yoji Anjo can say about his mixed martial arts career is that he didn’t lose all of his fights. But he also didn’t win any. Out of his six career fights in MMA, three of which were in the UFC, his best outcome was a draw. Before getting into MMA Anjo was a successful wrestler in Japan, having once fought The Iron Sheik.
3 Manny Yarbrough
Manny Yarbrough, who unfortunately passed away just last month, was more of a promotional stunt than a legitimate MMA fighter. To say that Yarbrough, a former wrestler and football player at Morgan State University, was big would be an understatement. He was enormous, at one point weighing nearly 900 lbs, big enough to make him the Guinness World Record heaviest living athlete at the time. His record in MMA was 1-2, with his most memorable loss coming against Daiju Takase, who, at just over 200 lbs, was significantly smaller than Yarbrough. Takase won in the second round by avoiding the grasp of the sumo-trained Yarbrough and getting in a position to land undefended punches.
2 Jose Canseco
After publishing a tell-all book in 2005, Jose Canseco’s name became synonymous with steroid use in Major League Baseball. He was quite the ballplayer, too, with 462 career home runs and an MVP, among other accomplishments. But his success on the field wouldn’t translate into success in the octagon, as he went on to have a short-lived MMA career. He lost his only fight in embarrassing fashion in 2009 to Choi Hong-man by submission in the first round and his career was over in a little over a minute.
1 Kimbo Slice
The first name that probably came to your mind when you saw this list was Kimbo Slice. Slice, a former football player at University of Miami who made the pre-season squad for the Miami Dolphins, made quite the name for himself a few years back by beating the snot out of a handful of out of shape no names in backyards and parking lots. Apparently Slice thought that his amateur victories made him a real fighter, and he made the move into MMA, where he quickly learned that the competition was much better than out on the street. After winning his first fight against former boxer Ray Mercer (which was an exhibition), Slice would go on to have a lackluster career in MMA, to say the least.
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