In the wake of Jorge Masvidal silencing Ben Askren with a flying knee, we look at the instances in which personal insults proved to be a fighter's undoing.
All it took was five seconds for Jorge Masvidal to put an emphatic exclamation point on his years-long feud with Ben Askren. With one perfectly timed flying knee, the “Game-Bred Fighter” said more than endless dialogue between the two ever could, and put an end to the undefeated record that had granted Askren such supreme confidence over 19 straight fights. All anchored by his catchphrase of “boom, roasted” the afroed fighter known as “Funky” had badgered Jorge for weeks on end and, according to Masvidal, crossed the line when he challenged “my manhood & my ethnicity.”
An integral part of combat sports since the heyday of the poetically gifted Muhammad Ali, the ability to turn a fight from a simple contractual obligation into a battle of seismic proportions is crucial to financial success in the fight game. In the years that have elapsed since Ali declared Sonny Liston to be a “big ugly bear” or boasted that he was going to do something to Joe Frazier that “might be illegal,” fighters have heeded his example and advanced the art of the insult as a promotional tool. However, using smack talk as a means of adding an air of anticipation to a bout is a dangerous game and comes with one important caveat: you need to be able to back it up. In the wake of Masvidal rendering Askren unconscious in record time— besting Duane “Bang” Ludwig’s previous record— it’s time to take a look back at other times when overconfident fighters have been hoisted by their own petards.
Michael Bisping Vs Jorge Rivera
Michael Bisping and Jorge Rivera pose up during a Press Conference ahead of UFC 127, February 23, 2011 - Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Hailing from Millford, Massachusetts, Jorge “El Conquistador” Rivera was the epitome of a journeyman fighter. Tough as nails but never a top contender, his tenure in the UFC stretched all the way back to The Ultimate Fighter Season 4 before he’d make his first appearance with a winning effort against David Loiseau at UFC 44 way back in 2003. The owner of a patchy record both in and out of MMA’s top promotion, it seemed that any chance of reaching the upper echelons of the sport had all but elapsed. But at UFC 127 in 2011, Rivera had one last chance to stake his claim as a man with upside potential when he faced off against “The Count” Michael Bisping.
Through fostering a personal animosity, Rivera inveigled his way into a situation that he really should never have been in. Sparked by a series of parodical videos that lampooned the British fighter via an off-base impersonation, Bisping was coerced into accepting a bout. Yet in a promotional radio interview that took place just weeks before the fight, El Conquistador foretold his own fate:
"You knock me out and shut me the up? Everything is cool," Rivera told MMAjunkie.com Radio, "It’s no problem. That’s what I get for running my mouth."
Ridiculed by Bisping during the press conference as he welcomed him “to the big leagues” before claiming that "after this you'll be back to the undercard, believe me," the ensuing fight saw Bisping dismantle his would-be adversary within two rounds and even land a blatantly illegal knee on his downed opponent for good measure. In one of his more distasteful moves, Bisping allowed emotions to get the best of him and spat at Rivera’s cornermen as they hurled insults at one another.
Tito Ortiz Vs Chuck Liddell III
Once perched at the very top of the UFC’s pecking order, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell were the crown jewels in the company’s promotional machine during the early Zuffa days. Although they’d once maintained a firm friendship, things soon turned bitter between the organization’s breakout stars and would result in a title eliminator bout between the two at UFC 47. After he was left in a heap by "The Iceman," the increasing bad blood between Ortiz and Liddell’s close friend and the organization’s president Dana White gave an extra level of intrigue to their rematch at UFC 66 but he dispatched Tito in clinical fashion yet again. Fast forward to 12 years later, the two would be booked to square off against one another for Golden Boy Promotions and Chuck was as confident as ever:
"When I fight, I’m not an emotional fighter," Liddell said. "He’s a very emotional fighter, I’m not. I’m very calculating, and I’m a vicious fighter. I am really trying to hurt you bad when we fight. But, as soon as it’s over, I hope you’re OK. Him, maybe not – just kidding. But I’m going to try to hurt him."
Three days on from making those hubristic comments, Chuck would be knocked out with 47 seconds left in the 1st round. Following on from the loss, let’s hope that he sticks to his retirement and doesn’t renege on it any time in the future.
Ronda Rousey Vs Bethe Correia
A bonafide trailblazer for women’s MMA, it took the rise of “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey for Dana White to cast aside his vehement belief that there’d "never be" females in the UFC and set up the bantamweight division. Upon capturing the title in the inaugural bout at UFC 157 against Liz Carmouche, the eventual WWE star became a genuine phenom and tore through the women’s division with her trademark armbar and explosive judo-based offense. Save for her ongoing feud with Miesha Tate, the early stages of Ronda’s time in the spotlight was all business and she abstained from participating in the well-worn routines of the media circus. But after gradually rising through the rankings and dispatching many of Ronda’s training partners, Bethe “Pitbull” Correia had other ideas. Throughout the pre-fight press obligations, Bethe made things intensely personal and cast allusions towards the untimely death of Ronda’s father via suicide:
"That's not a superhero. She is not mentally healthy, she needs to take care of herself," remarked Bethe. "She is winning, so everybody is around her cheering her up, but when she realizes she is not everything that she believes she is, I don't know what might happen. I hope she does not kill herself later on (laughs)."
Incensed by her opponent’s flagrant disrespect, Rousey dispatched Correia within 34 seconds of Round 1 and effectively spelled the end of her time as a top-tier MMA fighter. Having said that, it also marked the last time that Ronda would ever find herself in the win column after a bout in the Octagon…
Ronda Rousey Vs Holly Holm
Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm during the UFC 193, November 15, 2015 - Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Spurred on by arrogance rather than any real malice, Rousey would soon feel the bitter sting of eating her words when she squared off against Holly Holm. A seasoned kickboxer with a stand-up game that far outweighed that of the Olympic medallist in judo, everyone expected Rousey to follow her tried-and-tested game plan and take her to the ground but it appears that she underestimated her opponent. Split by a six-year age gap, Ronda’s pre-fight rhetoric all hinged around the fact that the older Alberquerque, NM fighter simply didn’t have the fortitude to stand at the top of the mountain:
"I think that she’ll really enjoy her life a lot more [if she loses]," she told HollywoodLife.com. "The life of a champion, I think, isn’t for everybody. And I think that the life of a contender, it’s a lot nicer in a lot of ways. A lot of these girls don’t realize until they’re the contender, and they get all that extra pressure put on that they don’t really want that life."
After a highly competitive opening round, Holly Holm created the distance that she needed to unleash a fearsome head kick on Rousey and it was academic from there. The first loss of Rousey’s entire career, she would fight only once more against Amanda Nunes before bowing out of MMA for good.
Justin Gaethje Vs James Vick
Although the stakes may not have been as high as some entries on this list, there were few things more satisfying than watching Justin Gaethje completely dismantle Michael Vick and prove that all of his pre-fight talk was nothing but bluster. At every juncture on the way to the fight at UFC Lincoln, the comically named "Texicutioner" derided Justin as a "B-level fighter" that he would expose and even went so far as to call him the "Homer Simpson" of MMA. In the face of being labelled a "clown," Gaethje decided not to rise to the torment and simply declared that "he lit a fire under my ass."
In the end, it took only 90 seconds for Vick to be left unconscious and left with a huge slice of humble pie to eat for dessert when he arose from his slumber.
Kamaru Usman Vs Tyron Woodley
For a period of almost three years, brash technical wizard and occasional rapper Tyron Woodley was at the top of the UFC’s welterweight pecking order. Buoyed by impeccable wrestling skills and jaw-jacking knockout power, there was a time where the American Top Team stalwart seemed capable of living up to his moniker of “The Chosen One” and was making a beeline for pound-for-pound greatness. Or at least he was until he ran into the immovable object known as Kamaru Usman at UFC 235.
In the weeks leading up to the fight, Tyron seemed completely nonplussed by the prospect of squaring off with the Nigerian American and felt that he had nothing on opponents that he’d already cast asunder:
"I just wanted Usman to tell me how he’s going to beat me," Woodley said. "‘Cause like I said before, Dong Hyun Kim is a judo master who wasn’t a striker. You look at guys like [Stephen] Thompson. Thompson was knocking out ... Robert Whittaker fell victim to him, a lot of guys did. And [Usman] doesn’t bring that specialty in any category… he just hasn’t shown me that he provides the recipe or the cure to beating me that everyone else supposedly has."
In spite of his insistence that he could beat him at every tenet of the sport, Woodley was thwarted by Usman after five hard-fought rounds and lost his coveted UFC Welterweight Championship. With a prospective rematch on the cards in the coming months, it’ll be interesting to see if he’ll go into his next camp with a renewed focus and place less time on trying to unnerve the newly crowned king of the division.
Cody Garbrandt Vs TJ Dillashaw
When a UFC Bantamweight Championship fight between Cody “No Love” Garbrandt and tenured but slightly-injury-prone veteran Dominick Cruz was announced, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of fans and pundits thought that The Dominator’s analytical and unorthodox approach would be too much for the hotheaded young upstart to handle. But after spending his youth watching Dominick lay waste to the competition in WEC, Cody overcame the odds and beat Cruz at his own game with plenty of panache to spare. Following his victory, the Team Alpha Male fighter was placed on a collision course with his former friend and sparring partner turned mortal enemy, TJ Dillashaw. Deserting from their Sacramento, CA camp in order to work with Duane “Bang” Ludwig, their relationship gradually devolved from an “amicable” departure and into something far more fractious.
Once defended by Cody after Conor McGregordeclared him "a snake in the grass," they’d soon be embroiled in one of the hottest rivalries of 2017/2018. Forced to coexist as opposing team coaches on The Ultimate Fighter, Cody would regularly erupt at the slightest remark from TJ and painted him as the antagonist of the story in many people’s eyes. Exacerbated by claims that he had a video that showed him knocking TJ out in training and that he’d ended Chris Holdsworth’s career with a cheap shot, Garbrandt’s vehemence that Dillashaw was a "bitch" was all for nought after he was TKO’d by his nemesis in round 2 at UFC 217. Even after this humbling defeat, Cody continued to prod at TJ and labelled him as "classless" while citing his victory over Cruz as evidence of that he was more capable than Dillashaw. When they eventually met in the cage at UFC 227, Dillashaw doled out an even more disheartening beating to Cody and left him motionless on the canvas before round one was out. Now that TJ’s been handed a two-year suspension for the use of the banned substance known as EPO, Garbrandt has been quick to label his foe a “scumbag” and refuses to let up the trash talk as he implored him to "call me when the suspension is up!"
Joanna Jedrzejczyk Vs Rose Namajuna
Rose Namajunas celebrates her win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk during UFC 217, November 4, 2017 - Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Much like Ronda Rousey before her, UFC Strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk became so infallibly dominant that journalists eventually began to dispense with spelling her surname and simply referred to her as "Joanna Champ." Never one to steer away from mind games, Joanna was emboldened by her undefeated record of 14-0 and the widespread adoration that she received from fans the world over. Faced with the difficult task of besting of "Thug" Rose Namajunas, she resorted to what some would see as foul play in an attempt to rankle her UFC 217 opponent. Levelling accusations of mental instability at her due to a history of schizophrenia in her family and the sexual abuse that she’d experienced at a young age ensured that she was "broken already."
But in the face of all of these derisory remarks, Rose remained calm and opted to "really try to understand what mental illness is" even as Joanna declared that "the boogie woman is coming for you." When UFC 217 rolled around, Rose maintained her composure once more and left her on the Octagon floor within 3:03 of Round 1. As of 2019, Joanna is yet to avenge this loss even after a valiant effort in April of 2018.
Chael Sonnen Vs Anderson Silva
The quintessential trash-talker, Chael Sonnen arguably paved the way for the modern MMA landscape in which a way with words can be the skeleton key to all of your matchmaking dreams. In fact, he even turned himself into a pantomime villain for an entire nation. During a relentless campaign that spanned two comedy-laden years, "The American Gangster" would let everyone that would listen know that UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva "absolutely sucked" and aimed to end his multi-year reign at UFC 117. After a hard-fought battle in which he dominated "The Spider,
Sonnen was forced to tap out to a masterfully applied triangle choke. But if we thought that’d result in Chael easing off on the offensive, we had another thing coming. During his campaign to get a rematch, Sonnen ramped up the intensity in every way possible. Between claiming that he’d pat his wife "little lady on the ass and tell her to make me a steak, medium-rare," telling a farfetched story about Silva’s Nogueira brothers’ teammates trying to feed a bus a carrot and painting Brazilians as a primitive culture where kids still "played in the mud," it’s no surprise that Anderson made short work of him in the rematch with a TKO in round 2.
Conor McGregor Vs Khabib Nurmagomedov
Khabib Nurmagomedov takes down Conor McGregor during UFC 229, October 6, 2018 - Harry How/Getty Images
If any man ever parlayed his gift of the gab into cold, hard cash, it’s Conor McGregor. The patron saint of combat sports to some and an overhyped court jester to others, his flashy style and clairvoyant ability to predict a fight’s outcome made him the highest-earning fighter in UFC history and made every fight into a global event. After years of back and forth between the two, Conor’s return to the MMA world would see him fight "The Eagle" Khabib Nurmagomedov in what was one of the most anticipated fights of all time. Over a year removed from his blockbuster foray into boxing against Floyd "Money" Mayweather, Conor declared that he’d came back to the sport for "the love of it" and to rid it of "a little rat, a little weasel." Born of Conor’s decision to storm the UFC 223 media day and reproach Khabib for intimidating his teammate Artem Lobov, the incident would end with Conor hurling a dolly through a bus window and getting arrested with a $50,000 bail for his efforts.
In what Dana White declared as the "darkest presser" in UFC history, the pair’s first public square off since the bus incident led Conor to declare Khabib a "dead man walking" and a "backwards c***t." Yet for all of Conor’s claims that the undefeated Dagestan native to be a "phony," their showdown at UFC 229 saw Khabib extend his record to 27-0 after submitting Conor in Round 4. In the aftermath, the wounds refused to cauterize as Khabib dove into the crowd to assault Conor’s training partner Dillon Danis before two of his teammates clambered into the Octagon in order to cheap shot McGregor from behind. A dark blemish on the sport’s reputation, it’s a testament to how much things can get out of hand when trash talk is taken to new heights.