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The Could-Have-Beens of Mixed Martial Arts

June 17, 2012 All MMA News, Blogs  Comments 

Have you ever watched an old UFC Pay-Per-View, seen a fighter that stood out but never reached their potential? The reasons could be many: injuries, age, family issues, and addictions, lack of discipline or jail. I write this on the back of hearing of Drew Fickett’s loss and reflecting how attitude and alcoholism overshadowed his talent. Fickett may never have reached a UFC title but holds several wins inside the octagon including submissions over Josh Koscheck and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Kurt Pellegrino. Drew succumbed to addiction and his attitudes have left him financially crippled. While I am not an alcoholic, I come from a family decimated over the years by the bottle and have seen the wreck it makes of lives. The challenges Drew faces are greater than that of the ring. I hope Drew stays in his treatment program. Realistically he has likely burned his bridges with many people in the sport and redemption may never come, hopefully he can get himself together in time to make some money before his athletic time comes to an end.

Another fighter that comes to mind is Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson. Johnson is the only fighter I know of that moves up a division because he struggles to make weight, only to miss it again by a huge margin. I know that Johnson came out and said the UFC doctor advised him to rehydrate after losing feeling in his legs on his weigh in for the Vitor Belfort fight. Even if that statement is true, how can a professional fighter misjudge their weight cut so many times? I find it amazing that a man with a history of cutting weight to 174lbs for collegiate wrestling background has failed to make weight on four separate occasions in fifteen fights. His lack of discipline and attitude toward his continued breaches of contract win him no favours for a potential UFC return.

Paulo Filho is a fighter who had a great record of 22-4-2, which disguised serious drug dependency issues. Filho has attended rehabilitation, reports vary as to whether it has worked and now Paulo has financial troubles. Filho is still only thirty four years old and yet is a retired fighter. Sadly Paulo will be remembered for what could have been, given his impeccable grappling credentials and never having been stopped before. Filho also had issues making weight, missing weight against Chael Sonnen in defending his WEC middleweight belt. Had Filho been able to kick his drug habit and make weight, barring further issues he would likely be competing today in the UFC at a high level.

How about Ricardo Arona, Filho’s team mate? At thirty three years old, Arona has been inactive since 2009. It’s been almost three years of Arona’s prime spent on beaches surfing. Arona holds wins over Wanderlei Silva in his prime as well as current heavyweight star Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson. With a record of 14-5, his losses are well known fighters. Fedor Emelianenko, Rampage Jackson, Ninja Rua, Wanderlei Silva and Sokoudjou are the only men to have bested Arona. A comeback seems unlikely, at least at the level that Arona is capable of. When an athlete takes such a long sabbatical, it is rare that they can return at such a high level again. Only true champions of their professions can achieve that.

Roger Huerta was once the poster boy of MMA. Young and dynamic with a compelling back story of poverty and abandonment, Huerta found support from educators who helped Roger off the streets. Roger started his MMA career with an impressive 20-1-1 with his highlight being the submission of forcer Strikeforce lightweight champ and perennial contender Clay Guida. Since that highlight, Huerta has won just one of six fights. Granted the names of competition are either of top opponents or notables: Gray Maynard, Kenny Florian, Pat Curran, Eddie Alvarez and notable War Machine (formerly known as Jon Koppenhaver). The slide for Huerta has been fast and brutal. Time will tell whether this is a sign of a man pushed too fast. To finish Guida suggests he has the talent, the question remains whether the commitment is there.

Speaking of War Machine, he is currently incarcerated for the second time. War Machine is serving a year sentence for assault on a co-worker which left the man with ruptured knee ligaments. War Machine’s raw talent is questionable but his grit was put on display in the finale of the Ultimate Fighter 6 in a bloody war with fellow cast mate Jared Rollins, who interestingly has never fought since despite earning a contract in a losing effort. War Machine never learned when to keep his mouth shut. A rant suggesting the tragic death of Evan Tanner was a suicide prompted his release from the UFC. Another rant expressing a desire to see Barack Obama killed cost him a spot in Bellator in 2009. His second prison sentence forced his removal from the Bellator 63 tournament. A career as a porn star ended due to a violent outburst. Whenever War Machine gets something going in his life, he self-sabotages. We will never know what War Machine could have achieved had he been able to get his personal demons under control.

This sport attracts fighters from broad backgrounds. The fighters above are just a handful of fighters that may look back in regret. There are many more. Mark Kerr for his personal issues and Ken Shamrock for his years spent in professional wrestling are other high profile names. They are just a few which jump out at me. For a fighter such as Court McGee, fighting became his saviour from drug abuse. The key to success at a high level seems to be having those people around you who can support you in the hard times, strong coaches, managers, family and relationships to ground a fighter. Competing in this sport requires nothing less than total commitment for success. In any athletic pursuit your window of opportunity is short. Unfortunately for these fighters, wisdom will likely come too late.

By Alex Durward

Why not tell us what you think about this story and get your thoughts featured in this week’s edition of MMABay Radio? Email Mailbag@mmabay.co.uk, start the subject with the word ‘RADIO MAILBAG’ and we’ll talk about our favourites on the next show.

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