I’m a big believer that if you want to look at a fighter’s potential, you should look at his first 12 fights. If a fighter produces a strong record against fairly good competition in this early period of his career, then he has a good chance to achieve greatness in MMA. If a fighter either has a lackluster record in these fights, or doesn’t face very good opponents, he’s probably not going to make it very far. It’s possible for a fighter who stumbles out of the gate to rally and become a good fighter, but true title contention is probably out of reach.
How did the men who are current UFC champions fare in their first 12 fights? Take a look…
- Junior dos Santos: 11-1
- Jon Jones: 11-1
- Anderson Silva: 11-1
- Georges St-Pierre: 11-1
- Benson Henderson: 11-1
- Jose Aldo: 11-1
- Dominick Cruz: 11-1
- Demetrious Johnson: 11-1
Sure, Jones’s loss was by disqualification. Call him 12-0 if you want, but I think my point stands. You can compare him to Fedor Emelianenko, who also started his career 11-1, and whose loss was also of a very controversial nature. By the way, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Dan Henderson, and Mauricio Rua all started 11-1.
What does this mean? First, fighters who eventually become champions almost always produce a very good record early in their careers. Second, almost every all-time great fighter loses at some point in their first 12 fights, and these losses are often to an opponent who doesn’t make sense in retrospect. Does anybody think Jose Aldo would lose to Luciano Azevedo right now? What about Anderson Silva losing to Luiz Azeredo? Would Benson Henderson lose to Rocky Johnson? How about Junior dos Santos and Joaquim Ferreira?
This is a trend that bodes well for aspiring contenders like Johny Hendricks (11-1 in his first 12 fights), Cain Velasquez (10-1), Daniel Cormier (10-0), and Chris Weidman (9-0). Naturally, it’s no guarantee that any of them becomes a UFC champion, but I’ll bet at least one of them does. It also means I’m not yet ready to jump off the relatively empty Matt Mitrione (5-1) bandwagon.
And of course, there are fighters who won a UFC championship despite a record of something like 9-3 (Couture), 9-2-1 (Penn), or 10-2 (Ortiz, Jackson). It’s just food for thought.