It’s June and the eyes of the poker world are trained on Vegas, and the World Series of Poker. The eyes of the fight world rarely leave Vegas, and the overlap between the UFC and the WSOP has always been there.
Ever since the Octagon entered public consciousness, the biggest names in UFC have tried their luck at the most visible event on the US poker calendar.
The most successful WSOP year for UFC notables was likely 2010 when a duo made waves across a pair of events.
Mike “Quick” Swick is now retired, but back then he was a few fights removed from a loss in a title-eliminator fight to face Georges St. Pierre. He may have missed out on the UFC welterweight championship, but he finished tenth of 2,521 in event No. 42 ($1,500 buy-in NLH). Swick cashed for $34,748. Swick had also previously cashed in a NLH event at the 2007 WSOP.
Also in 2010, iconic UFC ring announcer, and PokerStars ambassador Bruce Buffer, put together a nice little run of his own in the main event. Buffer finished 478 out of the 7,319 players in that year’s field, cashing for $27,519.
In addition to a nice profit on the tournament, Buffer took home the classic prize of a WSOP bad beat story with his final hand — pocket aces cracked by quad 8s. He did make the final table that year anyway … kind of. Buffer kicked off the final table festivities with a dramatic introduction as only the veteran voice of the Octagon can:
Buffer was on a recent episode of PokerStars’ Poker in the Ears podcast where he discussed his time playing on the L.A. poker circuit.
“I’ve had some incredible feelings at the poker table,” Buffer said. “The adrenaline, the rush, the self-satisfaction, it’s awesome. My Dad taught me one thing too, he said, ‘win like you’re used to it and lose like it doesn’t bother you.’
“You have to be able to shake it off, learn from it and move on.”
In 2008, Forrest Griffin celebrated becoming UFC light heavyweight champion in a big upset by jumping straight to the WSOP main event 12 hours later.
Unfortunately, the UFC Hall of Famer’s Cinderella story was confined to the Octagon as the first time he’d ever played real money poker he was two seats to Johnny Chan’s right.
Another fellow UFC Hall of Famer was also in the 2008 field as Chuck Liddell earned some TV time at a featured table.
Liddell made an inexplicable call with a 6-2o only to hit two pair on the turn and score a knockout (what else is new for “The Iceman”?). Then he picked up another nice sized pot on his next televised hand after hitting a straight.
Then came Phil Helmuth’s over-the-top military style entrance and Liddell shoving on a straight draw that saw his main event run come to an end on Day 1.
At least he got three dramatic hands on the ESPN broadcast.
Add Georges St. Pierre to the list of UFC greats at the WSOP table as the welterweight GOAT and then-champ played in 2012 and 2013 but was unable to last a full day in either outing. In 2013, his pocket kings fell to an A5 hitting two pair on the flop, almost entirely draining his stack before he busted on the following hand.
One of the most tactical men to ever step in the Octagon, he admitted his faults following the loss: “I am known as a very disciplined fighter, but also a very undisciplined poker player.”
In 2018, it was then-interim welterweight champ Colby Covington’s turn to try to cash in on his big talk.
“I love playing poker,” Covington told BJPenn.com while discussing his WSOP plans. “I want to be the first two-sport world champion in poker and fighting, and eventually pro wrestling and WWE. Three-sport world champion but first things first, we got the UFC, and then I’m going out for the poker main event. I love playing Texas Hold ‘Em. I love playing tournaments and big cash games, high-stakes cash games. I look forward to getting out to Las Vegas and winning some money.”
While Covington wasn’t able to accomplish his goal last year, he does have a listed $40,442 in live earnings.
With the ties between poker, the UFC and Las Vegas, it’s unlikely we’ll see an end to fighting superstars doing battle on the felt in the heat of the summer any time soon.
And why not? If anyone knows about a puncher’s chance, it’s a literal puncher.