Friday 5ive: Five of the Most Underwhelming UFC Debuts

Cage Nation Patch MMABy: Albert Cameron – Happy Friday, Fight Fans! With word that Phil “CM Punk” Brooks will be down and out from his training for his first UFC fight, it’s easy to imagine that we’ve all had the same thought: He’s not going to fight. That leads to thoughts about what his UFC career would be like, if he does indeed fail to fight; a man who signed with the UFC, picked verbal beefs with actual fighters, got into a UFC video game, and didn’t throw a single punch. Of course, we’re all hoping that Brooks’ surgery goes well and that he does compete if he is so inclined to do so.


That line of thinking got me postulating about other disappointments in the UFC; fights that we were looking forward to happening and then when it came time, it completely let us all down. It needs to be said, while these fights and their outcomes may have been let downs, these guys still got in the cage. These men still taped their hands, put on their gloves, and threw hands in the cage. For that reason, they have my respect as men and athletes.


Note: the criteria for this Friday 5ive is that the fighters could not be making their professional debuts and had to have had some sort of notoriety going into the fight. Also, this is just a list of some of the UFC’s debut disappointments, not a definitive list.


N0. 5: Igor Zinoviev (vs. Frank Shamrock); UFC 16: Battle in the Bayou – Last week I talked about the promotion Extreme Fighting getting forced out of New York at gun point. It’s hard to imagine a promotion, carrying that kind of stigma, would have a very long future. Extreme Fighting wasn’t a bad promotion and had some pretty solid names come out of their cage (Mario Sperry, Ralph Gracie, Conan Silva, and more), thee name to come out of Extreme Fighting was their middleweight champion: Igor “Houdini” Zinoviev. Eventually, Extreme Fighting went belly up. Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG; former owners of the UFC) hired Extreme Fighting promoter John Piretti and gave a shot to their middleweight champion vs. their middleweight champion: “The Legend” Frank Shamrock. By all accounts, Zinoviev had everything that Shamrock had: submission skill, punching power (Zinoviev even stopped fighting legend Enson Inoue in the first round via strikes in Japan), and a gas tank. On paper, it should have been the “Thrilla in Manilla.” …except, it wasn’t; it wasn’t even close. Within seventeen seconds of the fight, Shamrock had shot for a double leg and completely liberated Zinoviev from the confines of gravity. When the two came crashing back to Planet Earth, Zinoviev was out and Shamrock had decimated the mystique of Extreme Fighting’s middleweight champion. It has never been confirmed, but the story goes that Zinoviev’s clavicle had turned to dust and the injury was career ending. Zinoviev did not fight again after that, but did go on to coach the International Fight League’s Chicago Red Bears.


No. 4: Jason Thacker (vs. Chris Leben); Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale – I was torn about including this one on the list, namely because no one gave Thacker a snowball’s chance in hell to win that fight. What I expected out of Jason “Strange Brew” Thacker was anger or rage. Both Thacker and Leben were cast mates on the maiden voyage of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series; Leben was a very strong personality and presence, Thacker was bullied by Leben. It’s a well-known fact that Chris Leben urinated on Jason Thacker’s bed early in the series; we all saw it, gagged, and then moved on. Jason Thacker found out about his bed’s bladder bath the same time we did, months after it happened. Kudos to Jason Thacker for standing up for himself; a man had wronged him and he was going to stand up for himself. No matter how bad of a beating he may take, he was making a statement that he is a man who won’t be pushed around without a fight. When it came time for the bell, Thacker took his beating, but he didn’t look like the man who was pissed off that he’d slept in piss. If Leben is going to beat you, that’s one thing, but at least express something that even closely resembles anger or hostility. After the stoppage, Jason Thacker went into obscurity. There was a very heart wrenching story about his post-Ultimate Fighter life. Personally, I wish the man nothing but peace and blessings.

No. 3: Sean “The Cannon” Gannon (vs. Branden Hinkle); UFC 55: Fury – If you’ve sat back recently and wondered how Kimbo Slice ever made it into legitimate Mixed Martial Arts, we can thank Sean “The Cannon” Gannon. Gannon, a Boston City police officer at the time, ponied up a duffel bag full of cash and bet Kimbo Slice that Slice couldn’t beat him. A police officer who is a trained martial artist, gambled on himself in an illegal street fight. Gannon was one of the few contestants on the Kimbo Slice show to actually win, and that distinction actually got him a fight in the UFC. Calling a spade a spade, Kimbo Slice is a very physically imposing individual that has dropped more than a few people. Remaining conscious during such an onslaught was a big feather in Gannon’s cap. When UFC 55 rolled around, Gannon got his shot against Branden Lee Hinkle. Hinkle put a stop to the fight in the first round and Gannon never fought after that. We have to ask ourselves, are there two men out there that can beat the world’s most celebrated Street Fighter, or is comparing street fighting to MMA really apples to apples?

No. 2: Keigo Kunihara (vs. Marcio Cruz); UFC 55: Fury – I’ll cut to the chase: the reason that Keigo Kunihara is on this list is because when he fought Marcio Cruz at UFC 55, it actually looked like he did not know how to throw a punch. Prior to fighting Cruz, Kunihara had a TKO victory over Timothy Mendoza at King of the Cage 27; did his fist just fall onto Mendoza’s face enough to rock him? Was Mendoza’s chin made of brittle glass and that sip of water from his corner just did him in? It’s astounding to believe that anyone could get to the main stage of the UFC and throw punches like he’s a green belt under Napoleon Dynamite. This fight happened Circa Ultimate Fighter 1 and all of those guys knew how to throw punches; Jason Thacker knew how to throw punches! Strange Brew! Strange Brew could throw a punch! The fight in the second round by rear naked choke and even Joe Rogan made mentioned that Kunihara’s striking was suspect.

No. 1: “The Texas Crazy Horse” Heath Herring (vs. Jake O’Brien); UFC Fight Night 8 – Hindsight being 20/20, we know now that fighters that transplanted from PRIDE FC to the UFC did not do as well as we’d hoped. Around the time of the great PRIDE acquisition, the UFC was looking to cash in on those transplants to bolster divisions and improve the quality of contenders; the heavyweight division in particular was in need of a booster shot. “The Texas Crazy Horse” Heath Herring had signed, he was going to make the jump from the memory of PRIDE into the octagon of the UFC. Herring, an admitted heavy hitter of the PRIDE FC heavyweight division, was surely prime contender material. Before he could be granted contendership status, he had to win a tune up fight or two. Enter: Jake O’Brien. I remember watching the fight, telling my girlfriend (now wife) “watch this! It’s going to be quick!” …then saying “the first round is always the feeler round, he’s going to get started in the second!” …then saying “Heath! It’s the third round! F$%#ing do something!” There is no shame in defeat, as long as you came to fight. There is no shame in a defeat like the one Herring lost to O’Brien, with one catch: the promos that Herring cut for the UFC leading into his fight with O’Brien. I don’t remember the verbage exactly, but the line “I was brought in to save the UFC Heavyweight division,” sticks out like a sore thumb. The self-proclaimed savior of the UFC Heavyweight division had dropped the ball and his career didn’t pick up speed after that.


That’s it for this week’s Friday 5ive; thank you for reading! As always, Friday is Podcast and Friday 5ive day, your Friday won’t be complete without listening to the Cage Nation: Prize Fight Podcast!


Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!