Getting to the elite of the MMA world is only achieved by a select few, and more often than not, these gifted athletes set out on their winning ways immediately from the outset. It’s not uncommon to hear of fighters who have won their first ten or more professional fights when you get to the big leagues, but for some, the first day on the job isn’t as smooth sailing as they would have liked. With UFC 277 taking place this weekend taking place at the American Airlines Centre in Dallas, Texas, highlighting the hotly anticipated rematch between Amanda Nunes and Julianna Peña for the Women’s Bantamweight Championship, now is the perfect time to have a look at ten legends who showed that it’s possible to come from a place of adversity and grow into a world class athlete after losing their professional debut fight.
The Lioness has spent nearly half of her entire professional MMA career as a UFC champion, and a good chunk of that as double champion. Her resume includes standout wins over every single previous Bantamweight and Featherweight UFC Champion that came before her, and her stellar record has laid Nunes’ claim to be the greatest women’s MMA athlete of all time stand undoubtedly without question. It is incredible to believe then, that not only did Amanda Nunes lose her professional debut, she did so in 35 seconds, tapping out to an armbar against fellow Brazilian Ana Maria. Amanda’s trademark fiery attitude and aggressive fight style were already on show here which led to her downfall. Quickly learning from this, after losing her debut she went 9-3 over her next 12 fights before amassing her unparalleled win streak, defeating the who’s who of women’s MMA along the way.
Forrest Griffin rose to fame most prominently as the winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Season One, putting on a thriller against Stephan Bonnar that was one of the critical moments in thrusting MMA into the mainstream and beginning the rise to the popularity of the UFC that we see today. Prior to his time in the spotlight, however, Forrest debuted as a fresh 22 year old against now UFC Hall-of-Famer, Dan Severn, in a Heavyweight bout that saw Griffin lose by comfortable decision. Given Severn boasted a professional record of 47-6-4 at the time, as well as a huge size advantage, it’s little surprise that Griffin wasn’t able to overcome the wrestling powerhouse on the day. Undeterred, Forrest climbed the ranks throughout his career, capping it off with a UFC Light Heavyweight Championship win against Rampage Jackson and an eventual induction to the UFC Hall of Fame.
Debuting as a young 18 year old in 2005, Renan Barão’s first ever fight did little to suggest what was to follow. Beginning his professional career at a regional Brazilian fight organization against fellow debutant Joao Paulo Rodrigues, things weren’t smooth sailing for the eager fighter. After three rounds, Rodrigues was awarded the unanimous decision, which lit a fire under Renan Barão as he wasted no time in returning, coming back only a month later to pick up his first win by way of TKO. This win would pave the way for one of the most legendary undefeated streaks in the sport’s history; with Renan going undefeated over 9 years and 33 fights (32 wins, 1 no contest). ‘The Baron’ peaked as the UFC Bantamweight Champion where he reigned as undisputed king over 2013 and 2014, and reached as high as number three on the pound for pound rankings.
Always the entertaining fighter, Cub Swanson has put on a myriad of wild shows, picking up multiple fight of the night honors, and was recently inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame for his high paced 2016 scrap against Doo-Ho Choi. The UFC mainstay has been fighting in the world’s premier MMA organization for 11 years, and in his prime picked up wins over standouts Jeremy Stephens, Dustin Poirier, and Charles Oliveira. Primarily known for his stand up game, submission defense has long been an exploitable hole of Swanson’s game, as seven of his twelve defeats have come by way of tap out. This was on show right from the beginning, as Cub’s pro debut was a short affair, tapping out to a rear naked choke just 15 seconds into the very first round against his opponent, fellow UFC alumni Shannon Gugerty. Fortunately for Cub, he avenged this loss two years later, finishing Gugerty by TKO to extend his record to 6-1 at the time.
The ex-UFC title contender Jon Fitch had a bumpy start to his pro MMA career. Coming from a background of collegiate wrestling, Jon debuted against fellow future UFC fighter Mike Pyle in 2002. Mike himself had previously just lost his own MMA debut, in a mismatched catchweight bout against Rampage Jackson where there was a 30 lbs difference between the fighters. Jon’s fight against Pyle was not to last long, with Fitch tapping out to a rear naked choke halfway through the first round. Undeterred, Fitch continued to develop, moving city and joining American Kickboxing Academy to develop all facets of his MMA game. This worked a charm, as Fitch turned around and picked up a 16 fight win streak, with 8 of those coming in the UFC to work his way up to a title challenge against Georges St-Pierre. Whilst unsuccessful at achieving UFC gold, Fitch’s career was full of success, eventually winning the WSOF Welterweight Championship (later coming to be known as the PFL Welterweight Championship). Jon Fitch retired from MMA with a record of 32-8-2 (1 No Contest).
It’s hard not to like Glover Texeira. The amiable Brazilian has a penchant for putting on entertaining fights time and time again, and is always in a positive spirit when talking about the sport or his opponent. Having made his debut back in 2002 as a 22 year old in Brazil, Glover was on the wrong end of a second round TKO to kick off his career. Two years of sitting on the sidelines followed, and after coming up short again against Ed Herman to go 2-2 in his first four fights, Glover went on an incredible 20 fight win streak, with 18 of those wins coming by stoppage. Along the way, Glover joined the UFC and beat names such as Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Ryan Bader, only finally being stopped in his tracks going for his first tilt at UFC gold against a prime Jon Jones. It has been a long journey for the 42 year old, but a worthwhile one, as Glover finally achieved the unlikely accomplishment of becoming UFC Light Heavyweight champion in his second attempt in 2021. After 21 fights and 9 years in the UFC, Glover became the second oldest ever UFC champion, earning the respect of fans across the globe. Teixeira was most recently seen losing his belt in a fight of the year candidate against Jiri Prochazka, in a wild back and forth fight he was less than a minute away from winning on the judges’ scorecards.
Prior to his pro MMA debut, Jacare was already a three time world champion in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and was regarded as one of the greatest BJJ practitioners on the planet. It did not take a lot to work out Souza’s game plan. Debuting against Jorge Patino who at the time was 18-5-1 (1 NC), Jacare did manage to get the fight to the ground twice very early on, albeit to no success. Whilst showing some promise in the standup, some questionable defense led to Ronaldo being caught with two successive overhand rights to send him crashing to the canvas after only three minutes. It proved to be a huge learning experience for the BJJ wizard, as he then went on to win his next ten fights all by finish. Later in his career, Souza became the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, and was a perennial top 10 contender in the UFC’s Middleweight division, before recently retiring with a record of 26-10 (1 NC).
Once considered the most feared female fighter on the face of the planet, it wasn’t always this way for Cyborg. Before amassing a devastating 21 fight unbeaten streak (20 wins, 1 no contest) with 17 finishes along the way, Cyborg was unfortunate enough to run into a kneebar submission in less than two minutes in her pro debut. There was no resting on her laurels, as a quick return home to line up a series of four fights in a year in Curitiba, her city of birth, led to four wins with three quick finishes. This was the beginning of a phenomenal career, seeing Cyborg win Featherweight titles in Strikeforce, Invicta, UFC, and most recently, Bellator, where she is the current reigning champion having recently made her fourth title defense.
The former UFC Heavyweight Champion has been a mainstay at the top of competition for the better part of two whole decades, with his first fight in the UFC coming in the year 2000 when he was just 21 years old. Now age 43 and in his second stint in the UFC, Arlovski holds the record for most wins of all time in the Heavyweight division, with 23 UFC wins under his belt. ‘The Pitbull’ has fought almost everyone of note to ever compete in the UFC Heavyweight division, picking up wins over names such as Fabricio Werdum, Tim Sylvia, Frank Mir, and Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva. The rise to fame did not come without stumbling blocks, and Andre’s debut ended in a knockout loss to Viacheslav Datsik, who is known for his political notoriety in Russia just as much as his MMA career. After losing early on, the rest is history, as Andre became one of the pioneers in helping the UFC achieve popularity early on in his career, and is still fighting today, currently on a four fight win streak in the UFC.
Holder of the unenviable record of having lost both his UFC debut and his pro MMA debut, it is incredible to see how far dos Anjos has come since those early days. According to Rafael, his debut loss came under questionable circumstances, with the hometown fighter Adriano Abu receiving preferential treatment from the officials during the fight. Dos Anjos has been on record at various points in his career, claiming that the mother of his opponent was a financial backer of the organization, and the bell was rung after three minutes in the first round instead of five in order to save his opponent from an unfavorable position. A split decision loss for dos Anjos left him undeterred, and a quick turnaround saw Rafael taste victory for the first time just two weeks later. Entering the UFC with a record of 11-2 saw dos Anjos fall by KO to Jeremy Stephens, and a middling run of four wins and four losses in his first eight fights failed to set the world alight. In 2012, something clicked though, and dos Anjos went on a tear, picking up 10 wins in his next 11 fights, beating out Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, and to cap it off, Anthony Pettis, to achieve the UFC Lightweight belt in 2015. The veteran with 32 fights in the UFC to his name is still active to this day, most recently coming up short against Rafael Fiziev in another attempted run towards UFC gold.
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