One Bad Fight: The Steep Decline of an MMA Fighter

With fan favourite Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson on this weekend’s UFC 291 card, I wanted to touch on the “one bad fight” myth that some fans speculate on. The one loss that forever changes a fighter, and that leads them into a string of bad performances, usually followed by a very swift and gloomy exit from the UFC.

Of course, Ferguson’s one bad fight, in the eyes of the fans, was his UFC 249 war against one-half of this weekend’s main event, Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje.

The thuds of Gaethje’s gloves drowning out the instructions and cheers of both teams in the Apex is still one of the most eery fights I have personally ever seen, but a lot of people believe Gaethje was simply just the man to expose an already fading Tony Ferguson, who seemed to be slowing down in both the Pettis and Cerrone fights respectively, a year before he ever stepped into the cage with the “human highlight reel.

James Vick, now often remembered by newer casual fans of the sport as just a meme that circles on Twitter every once in a while, was once a 13-1 lightweight prospect, standing 6’3 with wins over fighters like Joe Duffy and Francisco Trinaldo, often remarked as the “dark horse” of the 155-pound division… and then he ran head first into a newly evolved Justin Gaethje. Fresh off of a brutal 2 fight-losing skid which had him reassess his fighting style and essentially be reborn as a new, even deadlier fighter, to the surprise of Vick, who was quickly knocked out cold against the fence, and has not won a fight since, going 0-5 in his last 5, being finished in 4 of those bouts.

Other high-level fighters fit the criteria for this MMA curse, with one of the first that springs to mind being team alpha male’s brash and colourful killer Cody “No Love” Garbrandt, who on his rise in the UFC went on a 6 fight winning streak, snatching the crown from widely regarded bantamweight GOAT Dominick Cruz in, quite literally, a once in a lifetime performance that had most of the MMA media crowning Garbrandt as the king of a new breed of bantamweights that were about to barge their way into the top 5.

One of those bantamweight, of course, was none other than TJ Dillashaw, and we all remember how that went.

Fast forward to 2023 and Garbrandt is  2-5 in his last 7, with many fans waiting for the moment he starts to rip the tape off of his gloves in a post-fight interview.

The tale of Cody Garbrandt is often discussed in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, but no fighter fits the description of the “one bad fight” myth more than former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, who at his highest was being regarded as the man to dethrone GSP as Welterweight GOAT, and at his lowest, was face down in a boxing ring with a “DUDE WIPES” sponsor on his shorts after eating a vicious right hand from former Disney and youtube star Jake Paul.

Coming up through the strike force circuit, Woodley picked up a few good wins against names like Paul Daley, Tarec Saffiedine and Andre Galveo before “The Chosen One” even had the UFC logo on his gloves. He then signed to the UFC and fought a murderers row of competition, starting with Jay Hieron and then Jake Shields, Josh Koscheck, Carlos Condit, Rory MacDonald, Dong Hyun Kim, Kelvin Gastelum, Robbie Lawler, Wonderboy x2, Damian Maia and finally finishing rising star Darren Till in the second round after landing a clean pull counter and then latching up a d’arce choke.

Just looking at that resume, it isn’t hard to see why people were starting to discuss him overtaking GSP for the GOAT status, but then, as the tale usually goes, he was scheduled to face Kamaru Usman at UFC 235, a fight that gave the champ his first loss in five years, and a fight that would change the trajectory of his career forever, going 0-4 in his next four fights for the company before being released.

Free agency wasn’t kind to Tyron Woodley either. He took a spot in the corner of long-time friend and training partner Ben Askren for his boxing match against Jake Paul, and had to watch his friend get brutally finished in one round by a “YouTube boxer.”

Seeing a good friend lose devastatingly, and also seeing the money to be made in the crazy world of influencer boxing, Woodley was booked to fight Paul in a fight that many had considered a “redemption fight.” Time to KO the loudmouth that has been disrespecting the MMA fan base for the past year, and finally earn the respect and love from the MMA community that Tyron had deserved long before he was scheduled to fight Jake Paul.

The fight went the distance, with Paul getting the nod, and many fans voicing their frustrations with Woodley, stating that he had the same problem against Paul that had caused him to lose the last 4 fights of his MMA career: being too gun-shy.

After a Paul vs Tommy Fury bout fell through, Tyron was once again given a shot at redemption, a rematch with Jake Paul, this time, MMA fans were sure that Tyron wouldn’t be hesitant, that he would address his past mistakes and come in throwing that T-Wood right hand, finishing Jake Paul and bringing balance to the world of combat sports. But fate didn’t have that in the cards for Tyron, and instead, he was violently KO’d by the very same shot he had put UFC champions down with, a big right hand.

Watching Woodley regain consciousness, camera lights flashing in his face on the end of another loss, the sour taste of reality starts to set in once again, that a fighter’s career can change in the blink of an eye.

Usman was the man to “take Woodley’s soul” in the cage, and after taking the belt from T-Wood, went on to defend it 5 times, before being KO’d by a last-minute head kick from underdog Leon Edwards.

It is yet to be seen if the “One Bad Fight” curse has claimed another victim in Kamaru Usman, he was given the immediate rematch against Edwards but came up short once again, losing by decision, with fans quickly taking their opinions to social media, stating he “didn’t look the same anymore.”

The fight game is unforgiving and cruel at times. Usman was just a few wins away from being regarded as the greatest welterweight of all time, the same position Woodley was in just a couple of years before, but this time with even more merit, even more, high-level names under his belt, and just like Tyron, his story hit a brick wall as he lay unconscious in front of millions of people, a moment that I’m sure will be in the UFC’s promo reel until the end of time.

As the world of MMA ticks on and we watch more and more fighters go from being on top of the world to being buried in the mud, one thing is for sure, and that is that the achievements of MMA legends such as Anderson Silva and George St Pierre only look more impressive as today’s elite fighters scramble to break the records set by them, and come up short almost every time.

The highs. The lows. The best sport on planet Earth.

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