The Luckiest Fighters in MMA History

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2014

The Luckiest Fighters in MMA History

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    If success in MMA hinges greatly on hard work and dedication, it seems almost farcical to assume that good fortune plays a major role in the outcome of any high-profile fight.

    But for some, like the fighters on this countdown, their careers were made or salvaged because of providential breaks.

    In the most opportunistic instances, these fighters enjoyed lopsided matchups, benefited from favorable calls from judges or referees or received forgiveness for typically unforgivable offenses.

    Here's a glimpse at the luckiest fighters in MMA history.

Honorable Mentions: Leonard Garcia and Yoshihiro Akiyama

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    Leonard Garcia

    At the turning point of his career, two fights before joining the UFC and just 1.5 months after getting lumped up by George Roop in a draw, Garcia took a controversial split decision from "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung at WEC 48.

    In an unforgettable slugfest, the Zombie outstruck Garcia, 106-71, including 89-64 in the significant strikes department. 

    Eight months later and in his UFC debut, Garcia stole a split decision from Nam Phan at The Ultimate Fighter Season 12 FinalePhan outstruck Garcia, 116-70, including 102-64 in the significant strikes category.

    Garcia then dropped five straight fights in the UFC before finally getting his walking papers in 2013.


    Yoshihiro Akiyama

    Considered a marquee signing in 2009, Yoshihiro Akiyama may have delivered in terms of entertainment thus far in his stint with the UFC, but the judo ace hasn't lived up to his label of middleweight title contender.

    Akiyama, who's still under contract as a welterweight with the company, won his promotional debut in contentious fashion over Alan Belcher at UFC 100 before dropping his next four fights. Belcher allowed three takedowns but landed 76 significant strikes to Akiyama's 55.

    Sexyama did, however, manage to garner Fight of the Night bonuses in his first three UFC bouts, which apparently kept him employed with the promotion.

    The 39-year-old Akiyama, who last fought in a loss to Jake Shields at UFC 144 in 2012, will face Amir Sadollah at UFC Fight Night 52 in September. 

5. Tim Sylvia

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    In the 6.5 years since Tim Sylvia last fought for the company's heavyweight belt, no weight class in the UFC has evolved quite like the heavyweight division.

    So Sylvia, in essence, hit his prime and climbed to the top of the UFC's heavyweight division at the ideal time in history, years before well-trained and highly skilled savages like Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum came into the mix.

    After knocking out a pudgy and outmatched Wesley Correira in his UFC debut, Sylvia became heavyweight champion in his very next fight with a KO of an equally messy Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41.

    Roughly three years later, Sylvia hit his prime when he TKO'd Andrei Arlovski at UFC 59 to again become heavyweight champ. 

    Sylvia defended his belt twice against a pair of struggling fighters after UFC 59, besting Arlovski again at UFC 61 before topping Jeff Monson at UFC 65. 

    At the time of Sylvia's win over Monson, who didn't fight again in the promotion after the loss, the UFC's other champs were Chuck Liddell (light heavyweight), Anderson Silva (middleweight), Georges St-Pierre (welterweight) and Sean Sherk (lightweight).

    Aside from his wins over Arlovski, Monson and Rodriguez, Sylvia's only other UFC wins came against Gan McGee, Tra Telligman, Assuerio Silva and Brandon Vera.

    Here's the star-studded list of heavyweights who have held the UFC belt since Sylvia: Randy Couture, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Shane Carwin (interim), Junior dos Santos and Velasquez (twice).

4. Matt Serra

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    Matt Serra earned his welterweight title shot against Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69, and when he got it, the longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt capitalized on a fortunate series of events in the bout's opening minutes.

    Many pundits still considered Serra on the downside of his career, even after he won The Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback (Season 4) to earn a crack at St-Pierre and the welterweight strap.

    A supremely confident Serra, however, believed in himself and his heavy hands, knowing that he had a right hand that could flatten any welterweight.

    Midway through the first round, Serra clipped GSP with one of his patented looping right hands behind the ear to wobble the seemingly unflappable Canadian champ.

    Serra smelled blood and overwhelmed St-Pierre with a barrage of punches that eventually forced referee John McCarthy to stop the bout at the 3:25 mark of the opening round.

    A little more than a year later, GSP proved too much for Serra in their rematch, TKO'ing the New York native in Round 2 with repeated knees to his midsection in a lopsided welterweight title fight at UFC 83.

3. Benson Henderson

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    He worked tirelessly to become a No. 1 lightweight contender, but Benson Henderson still needed a stroke of luck in his first promotional title fight at UFC 144 to nip Frankie Edgar.

    Henderson outstruck Edgar, 100-81, including 87-68 in the significant strikes category, but Edgar landed five takedowns to Henderson's one.

    Despite the back-and-forth nature of the fight, judges Howard Hughes, Chris Lee and Sal D'Amato scored it 48-47, 49-46, 49-46 in favor of Henderson. 

    In their rematch less than six months later at UFC 150, Edgar and Henderson again engaged in a barnburner, and Bendo again walked away with a controversial decision win.

    Edgar landed 70 strikes to Henderson's 67. Edgar also hit two takedowns and stuffed Henderson's only shot.

    Still, the bout's judges, Tony Weeks, Dave Hagen and Mark Van Tine, scored the fight 46-49, 48-47, 48-47, giving Henderson the nod.

    Many believed Henderson again got a break from the judges in his title fight against Gilbert Melendez at UFC on Fox 7, although the stats supported the split-decision win for Bendo.

    On the verge of another title shot, Henderson's good fortune came to a halt when he got TKO'd in controversial fashion by underdog Raphael dos Anjos in his last bout at UFC Fight Night 49.

2. Vitor Belfort

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    A string of fortuitous events began for Vitor Belfort in his rematch with Randy Couture at UFC 46.

    With the light heavyweight belt on the line, The Phenom took out Couture with a left hand early in the first round. Belfort's punch grazed Couture's eye, causing a corneal abrasion that ended the bout and momentarily gave the Brazilian the belt.

    Roughly eight months later, though, Couture TKO'd (doctor stoppage) Belfort at UFC 49 to regain the light heavyweight title.

    Belfort got his second gift from the MMA gods in the fall of 2012, not long after the UFC 151 light heavyweight title bout between Jon Jones and Dan Henderson fell through at the last moment.

    The UFC called on Belfort to step in and challenge Jones for the belt at UFC 152. Belfort, who hadn't fought in the UFC's light heavyweight division since 2005, nearly pulled off a first-round armbar before getting worn down and submitted by Jones (Americana) in the fourth round.

    While using testosterone replacement therapy, The Phenom won his next three fights via head-kick KO, a string of wins that at the time secured him a title fight with middleweight champ Chris Weidman.

    But Belfort pulled out of his first scheduled title fight with Weidman (originally scheduled for UFC 173) because of his issues with TRT. 

    Fortunately for Belfort, the Nevada State Athletic Commission granted him a license to compete exclusively in Nevada in July.

    Moments after he was licensed, the UFC announced that a TRT-free Belfort will challenge Weidman for the middleweight strap at UFC 181 in December.

    Note: Belfort experienced a horrific personal tragedy in 2004 when his sister became the victim of a kidnapping and murder in Brazil.

    But because this countdown's dedicated solely to fighters who have experienced extraordinary luck in their careers, not in their personal lives, Belfort made the cut.

1. Diego Sanchez

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    Even in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, fans couldn't believe that Diego Sanchez snapped his two-fight losing skid with a split decision over Ross Pearson in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 42.

    Pearson surrendered no takedowns, landed his only takedown attempt of the bout and outstruck Sanchez, 51-33, including 21-12 in the fight's final round, but he still came up short on the judges' scorecards.

    Three fights prior to his win over Pearson, Sanchez again left the Octagon a lucky man, this time getting the judges' blessings in a split decision over Takanori Gomi at UFC on Fuel TV 8.

    Gomi stuffed three of Sanchez's five takedown attempts. The Fireball Kid also landed 81 total strikes to The Dream's 68, but like Pearson, Gomi fell short on the scorecards.

    Two years before the Gomi fight, Sanchez robbed a then-motivated Martin Kampmann with a unanimous decision at UFC on Versus 3.

    Kampmann denied Sanchez on 14 of his 15 takedown attempts and outstruck The Jackson's MMA stalwart, 79-51, including 33-10 in the first round.

    Without a flawed system and unpredictable judging, the 32-year-old Sanchez could easily have lost each of his last six fights.

    Still, The Dream, who has pocketed seven UFC Fight of the Night bonuses, is set to scrap for the 22nd time in the Octagon against Norman Parke at UFC 180 in November, which makes him the luckiest fighter on this countdown.


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