Commentary

The 10 most embarrassing MMA performances

Climbing into the cage and engaging in hand-to-hand combat for three five-minute rounds is no easy task -- unless your opponent wants nothing to do with you for those 15 minutes. Sherdog takes a look at MMA's 10 most hollow displays of valor.

Originally Published: April 28, 2008
By Jake Rossen | Sherdog.com

Immortality was granted to Kalib Starnes at UFC 83, but for all the wrong reasons.

In front of a career-record audience of more than 20,000, Starnes looked more cyclist than fighter, backpedaling against Nate Quarry and doing the equivalent of a day's roadwork on the canvas. The apathy to engage was so severe that the normally stoic Quarry began mocking him in the closing moments, faux-sprinting around the ring and shrugging his shoulders to an inflamed crowd.

(You thought the $44.95 was a sting for that fight? Try a couple of grand for a 10th-row seat.)

In a sport in which self-preservation is understood to mean tapping or ducking, Starnes' performance is likely to earn him the title of MMA's Roberto Duran, a fighter forever reviled for what is perceived to be a gutless display of inaction. Like Duran, it's unlikely he knew how much he was soiling his reputation until it was too late.

The same goes for these other athletes, who for whatever reason -- injury, illness or just plain cage fright -- saw their stock plummet after hollow displays of valor.

In ascending order of audience ipecac:

10. Matt Ghaffari (vs. Naoya Ogawa, Aug. 8, 2002)

Olympic silver medalist Ghaffari had a very imposing lineage to live up to: All of the collegiate-style wrestling champions that had entered MMA were physical specimens who seemed to chew nails and grapple cattle before stepping on the mats. Even in losses, they were hellacious competitors.

Ghaffari, in contrast, climbed into the ring for a bout with judo Olympian Ogawa looking like an animate yam, 350 pounds of engorged subcutaneous fat agitating with his every step. Slowed by central obesity, he ate several low kicks from Ogawa and finally a punch that had him cradling his eye socket and shunning any further engagement, rendered as battered as his pre-fight meal in less than two minutes.

Ghaffari's woeful performance depresses, but it's par for wilting Olympic athletes who frequently find themselves without meaningful income after years sacrificed pursuing a medal. He's on the motivational-speaking circuit now, but I'd wager this fight isn't an anecdote he's too eager to share.

9. Cristian Quezada (vs. Marcelo Goncalves, Sept. 15, 1997)

Fatigue has beaten more men than strikes ever will, but it's usually a precursor to heavy offense that forces the referee to intervene.

Brazilian Quezada preferred to skip the preamble and head right for the finish line: After spending nearly seven minutes on the bottom of Goncalves in the opening round of an International Vale Tudo tournament, he slipped into a standing clinch and then spontaneously decided he'd had enough, tapping Goncalves' back and prompting the infamous Fight Finder footnote of "Submission: No Apparent Reason."

8. Hugo Duarte (vs. Mark Kerr, Oct. 11, 1998)

[+] EnlargeMark Kerr
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.comIn the mid-1990s, fighters were literally running scared from Mark Kerr, top.
There was a time when fighting Mark Kerr was cause for State Farm to revoke your life insurance policy. He was inhumanly strong, athletic, skilled enough to plant your head through the ring's support beams -- and, we now know, possessed of more pharmaceuticals in his system than a Walgreen's terminal.

Brazilian luta livre specialist Duarte might have shown mettle in signing a contract to fight Kerr at the nadir of his destructive power, but it didn't take long for him to realize he'd be better off trying to submit a wild boar. After two rounds of punishment, Duarte began to slink his way out of the ring, prompting frequent restarts. When the referee grew tired of that, he began barking complaints (in Portuguese).

Unable to find sanctuary, Duarte finally resorted to feigning unconsciousness, dozing on the ring apron -- and briefly opening his eyes to make sure the referee was paying attention.

Kerr took the victory: TKO via thespian.

7. Travis Lutter (vs. Anderson Silva, Feb. 3, 2007)

Anderson Silva and Travis Lutter
Sherdog.com "Ultimate Fighter 4" winner Travis Lutter, right, squandered a chance to lift the middleweight title from Anderson Silva by coming into the fight pitifully out of shape.
A perfect example of the right talent in the wrong body: Lutter, who had impressively battled his way through a season of "The Ultimate Fighter" to earn a shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva, was expected to take his good fortune with humility.

Instead, he showed up overweight and unable to strip off the excess mass in time for officials to make it a formal title bid. Robbing himself of what he had worked so hard to attain, Lutter proceeded to nearly beat Silva in the first round before folding into a wheezy, ill-conditioned heap in the second.

How someone with such a rarified opportunity can squelch it with a halfhearted training regimen remains a mystery. Lutter's ability deserves a better cardiovascular vessel.

6. Dan Severn (vs. Kimo Leopoldo, Oct. 11, 1997)

While both men can share the blame for their awkward man-dance in front of Pride's inaugural crowd, the bulk of distain should fall on Severn's shoulders.

An accredited wrestler, he chose instead to put his rudimentary striking skills on display for 30 migraine-inducing minutes, forcing commentators Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten to regard the fight as a master class on how not to hit someone.

The fight was a draw, with Severn blaming the ring for his performance. Unless it was on hydraulics, the only guilty party is the Beast himself.

5. David "Tank" Abbott (vs. Scott Ferrozzo, Sept. 20, 1996)

While Abbott's athletic potential has long since drowned in a pool of vodka-cranberry concoctions, he could usually be counted upon for a fierce assault for as long as his shrunken lungs could manage.

Not the case against the equally bulbous Ferrozzo: As fans in Georgia crowed, Abbott spent the majority of the 15-minute bout trapping Ferrozzo against the fence and shutting down strikes without meting out any of his own.

Abbott's knee was shot; a valid excuse, but a disappointing sight for fans who expected a little more tread out of the Tank.

4. Gilbert Yvel (vs. Don Frye, Sept. 24, 2001)

If his career full of disreputable actions is any indication, Yvel took the UFC's marketing tact of "no rules" and never bothered seeking further clarification.

Against a returning Frye, he was all too eager to perform amateur optometry, sticking his fingers in Frye's sockets until the referee finally had to wave off any further penetration.

Yvel appeared annoyed by the premature stoppage, which only added to the audience's astonishment -- and Yvel's status as MMA's Andrew Golota.

3. Bob Sapp (vs. Jerome LeBanner, Dec. 31, 2004)

[+] EnlargeBob Sapp
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.comBob Sapp, left, has endured several tear-inducing beatings throughout his MMA career.
It takes a big man to cry and an even bigger one to do it in front of thousands of people.

Sapp had no compunction about begging his corner not to send him out for more punishment against human weapon LeBanner, who was busy pounding him during the standup portion of a hybrid K-1/MMA contest on New Year's Eve.

Sapp eventually finished the fight -- a draw -- but it was startling to see a combat athlete reduced to near-tears between rounds.


Pop in a random Pride disc and you're likely to find multiple examples of fighters swinging long after lungs have collapsed and eyes have swelled shut.

It was particularly noxious to see pro wrestling hero Takada splayed out in the missionary position for the majority of his fight with destructive striker Filipovic. Rather than risk breaking an orbital against the power of the kickboxer's swinging shins, Takada opted to flop immediately to his back and remain there for virtually the entire 15 minutes, rising only to meet the end of a round.

The narcoleptic cowardice resulted in the crowd in Tokyo booing its icon, unheard of in that formal and rigidly patient culture.

1. Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn (May 17, 1996)

John McCain and Cablevision President Leo Hindry didn't euthanize MMA in the mid-1990s all by themselves. These two gave them a hand.

By the time UFC 9 had rolled around, SEG had proven it could survive -- even thrive -- in the absence of everyman avatar Royce Gracie. But political woes diluted the UFC's debut in Detroit; under pressure from politicos, fighters were cautioned not to strike with a closed fist.

It was a facetious order, as fighters that did (virtually all of them) would only be fined a nominal sum for the infraction.

For reasons known only to himself, Ken Shamrock took that decree literally and refused to engage with Dan Severn for practically the entire 30-minute duration; Severn responded by staying at least five feet away from Shamrock at all times.

The result was the UFC's Hindenburg, a main event so putrid that buy rates evaporated with the very next show.

Jake Rossen is a contributor to Sherdog.com.

Jake Rossen is a contributor to ESPN.com. His byline has appeared in the New York Times, Wired.com, and numerous other outlets. He began covering mixed martial arts in 1998.