By Thomas Gerbasi
99 percent of UFC fighters will tell you that there are no moral victories in this game, and they’re probably right. A loss means half the paycheck that the winner gets, a move one step further away from a title shot, and a trip back to the drawing board.
But in some instances, a loss can enhance a fighter’s reputation, get him another big fight, or just make you say ‘I don’t care if he lost, I’d pay to watch him fight again.’ So when our new web producer here at Zuffa, Laura Gilbert, suggested an addition to our usual list of “Highly Unofficial Awards”, it was too good of an idea to pass up.
So we will kick off the unofficial awards season today with the “Best” Losses of 2009.
10 - Alan Belcher L3 Yoshihiro Akiyama – UFC 100 – July 11
UFC 100 was the sport’s biggest stage ever, and Alan Belcher and Yoshihiro Akiyama earned Fight of the Night honors on that stage. That should say it all, especially on a card with Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Georges St-Pierre, Thiago Alves, Dan Henderson, Michael Bisping, Jon Fitch, Mark Coleman, and Jon Jones on it. But what Belcher’s disputed split decision loss to Akiyama really did was elevate ‘The Talent’ from prospect to contender. Hanging with (and arguably beating) a world-class fighter like that for the second fight in a row (after beating Denis Kang at UFC 93) let the world know that Belcher was ready for prime time, a face made even more evident as he ended the year last weekend with a blistering knockout of Wilson Gouveia. Belcher looks like he’s here to stay, and the Akiyama fight was just the beginning.
9 - Tim Credeur L3 Nate Quarry – UFC Fight Night - September 16
Tim Credeur was the first man from the state of Louisiana to receive a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and as he battled his way up the ranks, he was known as ‘the ground guy.’ But they don’t call him ‘Crazy Tim’ for nothin’, and after making it to the UFC following a stint on The Ultimate Fighter, Credeur began throwing his hands with more abandon. And that’s fine against some folks, but you don’t want to trade with Nate Quarry if you don’t have to. That’s just what he did though, and he may have gotten knocked down and busted up, but he never stopped swinging until the final bell sounded. Sure, he lost a decision to Quarry that night, but he also made sure no one was ever just going to call him ‘the ground guy’ anymore.
8 - Mark Coleman TKO by 3 Shogun Rua – UFC 93 – January 17
After nearly three years away from competition, Mark Coleman’s odds of returning to form at the age of 44 and beating Mauricio Rua in the rematch of their 2006 PRIDE bout were slim and none, and slim stayed back at home in Columbus, Ohio. But shockingly, ‘The Hammer’ put on a performance that had fans in Dublin screaming for him by the time the third round rolled around. That was because he put it on the favorite and seemed to be one full gas tank away from finishing Rua on a couple occasions, and while it was Rua who pulled off the late TKO victory, Coleman proved he still had ‘it’, a fact confirmed when he beat Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100. Now it’s on to Randy Couture in February for the Godfather of Ground and Pound.
7 - Cheick Kongo L3 Cain Velasquez – UFC 99 – June 13
I caught some heat from readers for including this fight on my half-year list of best fights, and after watching it again I can see why some people would take issue with that selection, but what I will stand by is that Cheick Kongo’s performance made that fight. He rocked Velasquez on a number of occasions and seemed on the verge of taking over or ending the fight, but was never able to finish things. Subsequently, it was Velasquez who dominated the bout, but Kongo never gave in when most fighters would have, and he never stopped trying to win. There are guys with Kongo’s skill set out there, but I don’t know if many have his heart.
6 - Wanderlei Silva L3 Rich Franklin – UFC 99 – June 13
With a few rare exceptions, you could put any loss from Wanderlei Silva on the “best” losses list because even when “The Axe Murderer” falters, he does so after he’s left everything of himself in the Octagon or (back in the PRIDE days) the ring. But after years of taxing wars, many wondered whether the beloved Silva had seen better days after losing four of his last five bouts leading up to his UFC 99 battle with Rich Franklin. Of course, you have to mention that those losses came against Mirko Cro Cop, Dan Henderson, Chuck Liddell, and Quinton Jackson, but still, four losses are four losses. Unfortunately, the Franklin fight saw Silva lose again, but during that three round war, fought at 195 pounds, the Brazilian icon showed why he has a guaranteed spot waiting for him in the Hall of Fame as he turned back the clock for the night. In February, he makes his middleweight debut against Michael Bisping, and if you’re not excited about that fight, you’re not a fan of MMA.
5 - Paul Buentello L3 Stefan Struve – UFC 107 – December 12
Sometimes when a UFC veteran comes back to the organization after a long absence, the thrill is gone, and sometimes so is the skill, with the fighter never being able to recapture the magic he had the first time around. So when it was announced that ‘The Headhunter’, Paul Buentello, was coming back to the UFC to face 6 foot 11 prospect Stefan Struve, some feared the worst because if there’s any fighter you want to see succeed, it’s the affable Buentello. Thankfully, after a rough first round, it was the Buentello of old, punching hard and deceptively fast, standing toe-to-toe and putting on a performance that had the fans at the FedEx Forum roaring. The majority decision that night didn’t go his way, and even fans in the airport the next day were arguing about the decision, but one thing was clear at the end of those 15 minutes – the old Paul Buentello was back home where he belonged.
4 - Jake Ellenberger L3 Carlos Condit – UFC Fight Night – September 16
Diehard fight fans knew that UFC newcomer Jake Ellenberger was no joke when he entered the Octagon for the first time in September, but at the same time, he was considered a sizeable underdog to former WEC welterweight boss Carlos Condit. Then the bell rang and Ellenberger almost finished Condit three times in the first round with two knockdowns and a guillotine choke attempt. To his credit, Condit rebounded in the next two rounds, but each stanza was still close, and if you gave Ellenberger a 10-8 round in the first, the Nebraskan should have walked away with the decision. Instead, a split verdict in favor of Condit was rendered, but Ellenberger gained stature among casual fans in defeat, and there will be plenty of people rooting for him now as he returns to the Octagon in a little over two weeks against Mike Pyle at UFC 108.
3 - Clay Guida L3 Diego Sanchez – TUF9 Finale – June 20
If this fight ended after its frantic 60 second opening, it would have still found its way onto the top ten list for the year. But thankfully, we got 15 full minutes of action from these two lightweights, and while it was Sanchez earning the three round split decision and a subsequent title shot against BJ Penn, who can forget the sight of Guida’s fists and hair flailing as he stood toe to toe with the ‘Nightmare’, or ‘The Carpenter’ rising after taking a flush kick to the chin in the first round? This was one of those time capsule fights for Guida because a hundred years from now, if you wanted to see what the Illinois native was all about, you would look at this fight, because win or lose, he always brings it, and with guys like that, the final result is a mere footnote.
2 - Jon Jones LDQ1 Matt Hamill – TUF10 Finale – December 5
If you’ve been around the fight game for any length of time, you know that you usually can’t pick out winners and losers based on physical damage. Matt Hamill proved this adage correct as he made his way out of the Octagon earlier this month with a dislocated shoulder, a deep cut across the bridge of his nose, and a dejected look on his face that wouldn’t have anyone believe that he actually picked up the win bonus in his bout against Jon Jones. But he did, as Jones was disqualified for an illegal elbow strike that finished off what would have been one of the year’s biggest wins for Jonny Bones. Jones is currently appealing the DQ verdict in the hopes of removing the lone ‘L’ from his record and getting the bout ruled a no contest, but regardless of the final outcome, Jones certainly had no one calling him a loser that night.
1 - Mauricio Rua L3 Lyoto Machida – UFC 104 – October 24
Leaving STAPLES Center on October 24th, it was safe to say that I had seen one of the closest championship fights in recent history, as Lyoto Machida successfully defended his light heavyweight crown via unanimous decision over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. At Octagonside that night, I saw it 48-47 for Rua, but had no issue with Machida getting the nod since some of the rounds were brutally tough to score. Yet the next morning, you would have thought the world was about to end considering the fan outrage at the verdict. It was like nothing I had ever seen in MMA, and it surprised me, especially given how close the fight was (In fact, on second viewing on television, I thought Machida edged it out 48-47).
What this outrage meant though, is that “Shogun” was back. Whether you thought he won or lost the fight, you had to admit that the Brazilian powerhouse was finally back to the form that had terrorized PRIDE fighters in Japan for years. And with many calling him the uncrowned champion after 25 minutes in the Octagon with Machida, it’s clear that this fight was as close as a fighter can get to a victory without getting his hand raised. In 2010, Rua gets his chance to reverse the verdict, but for now, he’ll have to settle with having the “best” loss of 2009.
Honorable mention - Keith Jardine vs Quinton Jackson, Steve Cantwell vs Luiz Cane