There are very few people who can hold down an undefeated record through an entire career in combat sports.
Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 record defines the modern “undefeated great” in fight sports. It’s a once-in-a-generation accomplishment. Almost all fighters fall eventually.
In the UFC, that includes the best fighters to ever step in the Octagon. Undefeated champions don’t happen often, and when they do, they fall in spectacular fashion. We discussed one case of this exact thing in our article detailing Holly Holm’s shock upset of Ronda Rousey.
But there are many interesting cases of when a fighter loses their undefeated record.
Jones is arguably (probably) the greatest fighter in UFC history. The current light heavyweight champion has only tasted defeat once in his career. That came in a controversial disqualification loss to Matt Hamill in December 2009.
When he faced Hamill — a deaf three-time collegiate wrestling champion — Jones was 9-0. By then he had picked up wins in his first three fights in the UFC and was building a reputation as a can’t miss prospect.
In the process of battering Hamill with some ground and pound, Jones threw and landed multiple “illegal 12-6 elbows” (elbows thrown downward in a straight line). That resulted in the referee awarding Hamill the victory.
“He definitely didn’t lose this fight, and I definitely didn’t win,” Hamill said on his website after the fight. “But I guess the rules are there for a reason. It is what it is. I went into this fight feeling like my record was actually 9-1, so with this so-called win, I will now consider my record 9-2.”
UFC President Dana White has actually suggested he may work with the Nevada State Athletic Commission (the commission which oversaw the fight) to overturn the result a decade later. It’s a move that would bump Jones back to the ranks of the undefeated.
For his part, Jones has said he enjoys not having the stress of the “undefeated champion” tag hanging around his neck.
“Personally, it takes a lot of stress off me to not be this undefeated champion,” Jones said at a UFC 239 media event. “But I do see the good in it. Floyd Mayweather. Boxing has Floyd Mayweather. He means a lot to the sport of boxing. I see how my legacy means a lot to the sport, and if Dana wants me to be undefeated, I don’t think too many people would argue with him.”
Greats with early losses
Not every “first loss” comes in dramatic fashion after a fighter becomes established as a top star or highly touted prospect.
In fact, many fighters suffer defeats very early in their careers.
Conor McGregor lost in just his third professional fight, suffering a kneebar loss just 69 seconds into his fight with Artemij Sitenkov. He lost again three fights later when Joseph Duffy scored a submission win in just 38 seconds.
Of course, then McGregor went on to win 15 straight fights, become UFC featherweight champion and an international megastar before he would taste defeat again.
One of the best female fighters in history, Cris Cyborg, lost her very first professional fight by submission in less than two minutes. She then became the most feared striker in the sport, won 20 consecutive fights and became UFC champion before eventually losing her title to Amanda Nunes.
Nunes, who has a case as the best woman to ever fight in the Octagon, is another who lost her professional debut. In Nunes’ case, it was a 35-second armbar loss — just to keep the trend of great fighters losing early fights by quick submission going.
Lyoto Machida ran his record to 15-0 when he defeated Rashad Evans to become UFC light heavyweight champ.
Machida’s style was unique. In a pool of fighters with wrestling, jiu jitsu or boxing backgrounds, Machida had a legitimate karate background. And he’d figured out how to utilize the martial art effectively in MMA, no easy task.
Some corners of MMA fandom took issue with Machida’s style, accusing him of being a “point fighter” rather than going for the finish. That said, he absolutely destroyed Evans, leaving him crumpled against the cage in one of the most dramatic knockouts in UFC history.
UFC commentator Joe Rogan declared we were all living in the “Machida Era.”
Machida won a controversial decision over “Shogun” Rua in his next fight, leading to an immediate rematch.
Two fights after the “Machida Era” began, it was over. Rua removed the judges from the equation with a first-round knockout. The once-unbeatable karate master found himself relegated to the status of mere mortal.
Once the mystique was gone, Machida suddenly became very beatable. He has a 10-7 record since suffering the loss to Rua.
Maybe it’s better to suffer your first loss early when you can learn to deal with the adversity of defeat.