Five Fights That Changed A Fighter For The Worse

Five Fights That Changed Fighters For The Worse

There have been a number of occasions where a fighter puts on an epic fight, but doesn’t walk out of the octagon the same man, or fighter he was going in.

This can range from world champions that couldn’t recover once losing their throne, it could be a talent with loads of hype that just got shattered and continued to be shattered in their fights coming.

This is a piece on the fighters that either weren’t capable of becoming Cinderella men.

In this top five list, we go over five fighters that never recovered from a loss they suffered, though they were expected to.

So, let’s get into it!

Continue reading to see five fights that changed fighters for the worse:

5. Mauricio Rua vs Jon Jones

Not many people were picking Jon Jones to defeat an absolute assassin in Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua back in March of 2011 at UFC 128. Jones was filling in on short notice for his teammate, former champion Rashad Evans, who was initially slated to challenge ‘Shogun’ for his UFC light-heavyweight championship at that same event.

Once that fight fell through, as Evans was forced out of his title shot via injury, the UFC replaced him with Jones immediately following Jones’ dominant victory over fellow top contender Ryan Bader at UFC 126 just six weeks prior.

Jones was even asked at the press conference leading up if he honestly believed he could win this fight.

But what Jones had in store for the PRIDE & UFC champion was far more than he could handle.

‘Shogun’ had a couple hiccups once he arrived in the UFC, but he’d just won the belt, and many of us were believing he’d found his groove and was about to go on a long, dominant tear through the light-heavyweight division.

Jones absolutely beat ‘Shogun’ down the entire fight, handily we might add, as he did whatever he wanted to the Brazilian legend en route to a third-round TKO victory.

‘Shogun’ was 19-4 as a professional going into this fight, and following this defeat, he’d go 3-5 over his next eight outings, being finished in three of those encounters. He did rebound from this, somewhat, as he went 5-1-1 over his next seven bouts, but it wasn’t the ‘Shogun’ we’d known from before.

Since this streak however, he’s since lost his last two bouts, bringing his record to 27-13-1.

And, to this day, Jones still has yet to taste defeat.

4. Kelvin Gastelum vs Israel Adesanya

This quickly became hands down one of the greatest fights in the history of our beloved sport. It showed true heart and grit, along with incredible skills and finishing instinct from both athletes, though it did go the entire 25 minutes, just barely.

This bout was for the interim UFC middleweight championship, with the winner to face then champion Robert Whittaker in their fight following.

Gastelum nearly knocked the former kickboxing champion out with a head kick of all things, even being 5’9” facing a 6’4” opponent.

Adesanya came close to securing a guillotine, and triangle choke, again, of all things; and Adesanya nearly stopped Gastelum with strikes a number of times in the fifth round.

This fight showcased everything a fan could ask for.

Going in, Gastelum was 5-1 in his last six bouts, 15-3 as a professional, two of those defeats coming via split decision (one against future champion Tyron Woodley), and four of those recent five victories came over world champions (Johny Hendricks, Vitor Belfort, Michael Bisping, Jacare Souza).

Not to mention he was The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner, going 4-0 on the show with three finishes, it appeared the future would be very bright for the Arizona native, who was still just 27 years of age.

However, this battle truly took a piece of his soul, because he hasn’t at all been the same fighter since.

Did we mention the only defeat in his last six fights at this point came to former middleweight champion Chris Weidman? Anyway, Gastelum has since gone 1-4, making it 1-5 in his last six bouts.

His only win in that time came against Ian Heinisch, who’s 3-4 in the UFC currently, going 1-4 in his last five himself. Gastelum just hasn’t shown the same grit and pure violence he used to show since, and honestly, neither has the champion.

Adesanya, though he’s gone 6-1 since, only losing to Jan Blachowicz in a light-heavyweight title fight, he hasn’t been as dangerous as he once was. It seems he’s plateaued a bit. That may be courtesy of Yoel Romero however, rather than Gastelum, considering Adesanya handily KO’d Whittaker in his next fight.

Nonetheless, he’s still a dominant champion, and Gastelum has fallen off as hard as any prospect in the past, as he now sits with a record of 16-8 (1 NC).

3. Tony Ferguson vs Donald Cerrone

This is the only entry on this list where both parties were never the same following their encounter back in June of 2019 at UFC 238. It was a back-and-forth war that showed each man at their best.

But, after the second round was over, Cerrone blew his nose, forcing his right eye to swell up terribly. This would be the reason for the TKO stoppage, showing the former interim champion victorious.

In fact, this was Ferguson’s 12th win in a row, and Cerrone was on a three-fight win streak coming in, having gone 4-1 in his last five, only losing to new UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards up at 170 lbs in that time, a fight he won two rounds of on all three judges’ scorecards.

However, following this bout, Ferguson’s fifth match up with then UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov fell through, and he faced Justin Gaethje in yet another interim title bout.

Long story short, since Ferguson defeated Cerrone, improving his UFC record to 15-1, he’s since lost his last four-straight, falling from 25-3 to 25-7.

Then we have Cerrone, who of course lost this fight, along with going 0-5 (1 NC) since, making his winless in his last seven bouts, falling from 36-11 (1 NC) to 36-17 (2 NC) before retiring earlier this year.

2. Renan Barao vs TJ Dillashaw I

Dillashaw, Five Fights That Changed A Fighter For The Worse

Renan Barao was the no. 1 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world going into his fourth title defense against a relatively unproven late replacement in TJ Dillashaw. He was initially slated against longtime top contender Raphael Assuncao, before the fellow Brazilian withdrew from the title shot with an injury about three weeks out.

Dillashaw was just beginning to climb the rankings, and he had only won one-straight fight at that point. That one win came over Mike Easton, who was on a two-fight losing skid, and went on to lose twice more, without winning again, before retiring.

With a record of 9-2, not many people were picking the California native to defeat the 32-1 assassin of a champion in Barao.

But it turned out to be easy work for Dillashaw, who dropped the champion in the opening round, en route to a five round beat down, seeing him victorious via TKO in round five.

Going into the fight, Barao was on a 32-fight unbeaten streak, having only ever lost his first fight by decision, and he was devastating everyone he fought with relative ease. A BJJ black belt with nasty Muay Thai, 22 finishes under his belt, and a 9-0 record throughout his initial WEC & UFC run, securing six finishes in that time, Barao’s ranking of no. pound-for-pound on the planet was justified.

He just ran into the wrong opponent on the wrong night and never recovered from it.

Since this encounter, Barao has gone 2-7, and has looked like a shell of his former self in merely every fight since.

Barao would miss weight for two of his final three bouts with the UFC, and exited with a record of 34-9, going out on a five-fight losing streak.

Three of those opponents have since been released from the UFC for losing.

It’s almost too bad Assuncao pulled out, because he remained atop the division for years to come and never got his shot. Not to mention, Barao’s reign probably wouldn’t have come to an end so soon.

Barao was just 27 years old at the time of this fight, younger than Dillashaw in fact. He was expected to rule the bantamweight division for at least the next five or so years; defeat Dominick Cruz when he came back, and then everyone after that.

TJ Dillashaw really took years off Barao’s life at UFC 173.

1. Rory MacDonald vs Robbie Lawler II

Five Fights That Changed A Fighter For The Worse

Rory MacDonald was a true prodigy of the sport from such a young age, very BJ Penn or George’s St-Pierre-like. We knew right away once we saw him fight, we had a truly special talent on our hands.

The Canadian prospect started out his professional career at just 16 years of age, improving his record to 9-0 over the coarse of four years before signing with the UFC at age 20. A quick submission victory would ensue in his promotional debut, before being matched up with four-time WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit.

MacDonald completely out-classed Condit throughout the first ten minutes of the contest, before fatigue set in and he started to get beat on in the third. He lost the fight via TKO at 4:53 of the third round, though the stoppage was early.

But he’d truly impressed everyone with this performance.

With seven more seconds, which he should have been granted mind you, he was about to have beat a former multi-time world champion with a ton of hype himself. Condit was 24-5 at the time with 23 finishes for instance.

Nonetheless, MacDonald would win his next five straight bouts before losing a hard-fought split decision to Robbie Lawler.

It was a very close fight, and MacDonald could have justifiably gotten the nod, but a big third round for Lawler seeing him drop MacDonald had two of the judges going the other way.

MacDonald would rebound with three more wins, having defeated two-division title challenger Demian Maia and future welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in two of them, improving his record to 18-2 in the process.

The third win over the last ever Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine would grant him a shot at the UFC welterweight championship, a rematch against Robbie Lawler who’d since claimed the title, and was looking to make his first defense of it.

MacDonald was a huge favorite going into this fight, despite having lost their first. Most of us thought the technician in him would be able to figure Lawler out and claim the title, as literally all of us imagined he would one day do.

MacDonald was Georges St-Pierre’s protege, he had all the knowledge in the world with him, not to mention having Firas Zahabi as a head coach. Aspirations for him were always incredibly high.

When these two met for the second time at UFC 189, an absolute war ensued. It’s widely considered one of the greatest fights of all time, and certainly one of the greatest title fights of all time.

After four rounds of battle MacDonald was exhausted, though he nearly knocked Lawler out in the third, and was up 3-1 on all three judges’ scorecards. He sucked it up and went right back to it in the fifth, until Lawler lands a splitting cross onto MacDonald’s nose and shatters it, forcing the Canadian prodigy to fall and get stopped exactly one minute into the fifth and final round.

But hey, there was still time for him to become a UFC champion, right? He was just 25 years old going into this world title rematch with Lawler, turning 26 later that month.

Like Barao, MacDonald still had seemingly all the time in the world to rebound.

There was still a lot of hope for him to achieve great things, and he did, but his career really just did not pan out the way any of us expected it to.

MacDonald would suffer a second-straight defeat to eventual two-time title challenger Stephen Thompson in another five-round battle, a fight he lost all five rounds of, before leaving the UFC for Bellator to debut in 2017 against fellow UFC veteran Paul Daley.

MacDonald submitted the Englishman in the second before taking the welterweight championship from multi-time Bellator 170 lb champion Douglas Lima in another very hard-fought bout. It was 2-2 going into the fifth, and MacDonald got his leg absolutely battered courtesy of the former Muay Thai champion.

However, he was able to muster up the strength in the fifth round this time and out-wrestle Lima throughout it en route to becoming a world champion at 28 years old.

He’d move up to 185 lbs for his next bout to challenge Gegard Mousasi for his Bellator middleweight championship and got beat down pretty badly, suffering a second round TKO defeat. A draw would follow in his first title defense back down at welterweight, before defending it in his next outing via unanimous decision.

However, his title reign would come to an end in his second fight with Douglas Lima, who handily won all five rounds of the rematch to reclaim his throne.

Since then, MacDonald has gone 2-4 prior to retiring in August of 2022 at PFL 8, where he was knocked out in the first round by 9-2 talent Dilano Taylor. No disrespect to Taylor, he’s a good fighter, but this is not someone MacDonald would’ve had an issue with at his best.

Sadly, it is time.

MacDonald has been through so many wars, and though he only turned 33 years old last month, he’s taken so much damage, and he’s been fighting for 17 years, just over half of his life. The man has a fiberglass nose because of Robbie Lawler.

Going into that fight with a record of 18-2, MacDonald has since gone 5-8-1, finishing his career off with a record of 23-10-1.

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author avatar
Brady Ordway
I became a fan of combat sports when I was 12 years old. I was scrolling through the channels and landed upon Versus, where WEC was televised. Urijah Faber fought Jens Pulver for the second time that night. That's the first fight I ever saw, and I was immediately hooked. So eventually, I began covering the sport in the fourth quarter of 2018, and have since started writing about animals as well. If you'd like to see those pieces, be sure to check out!