Kayla Harrison is a relative anomaly when it comes to mixed martial arts. The 155-pound two-time gold medalist judoka and American fighter announced recently she is resigning with the Professional Fighting League, spurning Bellator and UFC. Harrison’s biggest problem on signing on with the UFC came down to money and weight class.
The UFC doesn’t have a 155-pound division for women. The promotion has had a hard time finding 145-pound fighters to challenge champion Amanda Nunes, who hasn’t defended that belt since she submitted Megan Anderson during UFC 259 in March of 2021. But betting on stars who made their names outside the UFC has been a mixed bag at online casinos.
Here’s a look at some major names who flirted with the UFC and how they fared, whether they signed with the promotion or not.
You Want To Go To the UFC? Fedor Says No, No, No
Fedor Emelianenko was known as the best heavyweight in the world for a long stretch of time. Once the promotion Emelianenko was fighting for, Affliction, went out of business in 2009, UFC President Dana White put all of his resources into setting up a superfight between him and current champion Brock Lesnar. White reportedly offered a $2 million contract plus a share of revenue from pay-per-views he participated in.
However, Emelianenko’s team wanted any bout to be a cross-promotion with another fighting organization. White refused the term and Emlianenko never made it to the UFC. Emlianenko started his career 31-1 before age caught up with him. He would finish 36-5 and is still regarded as one of the all-time great heavyweight, despite never fighting for White.
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Funky Had a Short, but Memorable Run
Ben “Funky” Askren had all of the major accolades before he found his way to the UFC welterweight division. The American was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at the University of Missouri before transitioning to MMA and winning the welterweight championships in Bellator and ONE Fighting Championships. After running up a 18-0 record outside the UFC, Askren was traded to the UFC in November 2018 in exchange for Demetrious Johnson.
Askren debuted at UFC 235 against former champion Robbie Lawler and scored a controversial submission win. It was ruled Lawler had gone unconscious, but the stoppage was debated. Askren’s next fight, at UFC 239, will forever be shone on UFC highlight packages and may have been one that ended his career.
After a contentious buildup to a fight with Jorge Masvidal, Askren was knocked out in a UFC record five seconds by a flying knee. He would only fight one more time, a submission loss to Demian Maia on Oct. 26, 2019 before retiring.
Chandler Leaves No Doubt if he Belongs
Michael Chandler signed with the UFC in 2021 following 26 MMA fights outside of the promotion. Chandler, who was an All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri, was also a three-time lightweight champion in Bellator. Debuting at the highly anticipated UFC 257 on Jan. 23, 2021, Chandler knocked out Dan Hooker in the first round and immediately asked for a title shot.
White and the UFC matchmakers gave him what he wanted. Chandler would rock champion Charles Oliveira in the first round before being knocked out himself 19 seconds into the second round of their title fight. Chandler also had an entertaining fight of the night against Justin Gaethje at UFC 268.
Cruz Set Precedent for Division
Dominick Cruz is known now mostly for commentary, but he made his name fighting in the bantamweight division of World Extreme Cagefighting. Before the UFC and WEC merged in 2010, Cruz had compiled a 17-1 record and was the final WEC bantamweight in the promotion’s history.
Cruz didn’t let go of the division when he moved into the UFC. He would defend the title twice before vacating due to injuries. Then five years after Cruz was forced to give the title away, he climbed backed to the top of the mountain. He beat T.J. Dillashaw on Jan. 17, 2016 to reclaim the belt in a split decision.
He would defend the title against former WEC rival Uriah Faber before losing it to Cody Garbrandt. Cruz, who is still active, is on a two-fight winning streak and has improved his overall record to 24-3. All three of his losses are in championship fights, with losses to Henry Cejudo, Faber and Garbrandt.
Roberto Villa is the CEO, Founder, Executive Writer, Senior Editor of FightBook MMA. Has a passion for Combat Sports and also a podcast host for Sitting Ringside. He’s also a former MMA fighter and Kickboxer.
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