In the UFC, not only wins and losses are important, the manner of fighting in the octagon can also be decisive. Over the years, we’ve seen big-name champions win victories and then be criticized by the fans. However, there is another side – these are fighters who were defeated, but performed in such a way that they won the love of the crowd.
About five such losing fighters will be discussed further.
Rory McDonald vs Robbie Lawler at UFC 189
Getty Images/Global Images Ukraine. Rory McDonald
Rory MacDonald has always been popular, but he gained incredible respect after the war in 2015 at UFC 189 against then Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler.
The two fought as the opening act for Conor McGregor but ended up outshone everyone else on the card. The audience saw a bloody mess, where each of its participants gave his all to this massacre. In the fourth round, Red King rocked Lawler hard with a head kick, but Ruthless somehow managed to survive, and the round ended with a wild sterdown that drove the crowd into a frenzy.
But, unfortunately for McDonald, in the fifth round, Lawler turned everything upside down to the roar of the crowd when a backhand hit the already broken nose of the Canadian, who could no longer withstand punishment and collapsed, thereby ending the fight.
Despite the loss, McDonald became a much bigger star after this performance than he had been before. But he failed to truly capitalize on his incredible popularity as this war took its toll and made Rory a mere shadow of the fighter he once was.
Brian Ortega vs Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 266
Getty Images/Global Images Ukraine. Brian Ortega vs. Alexander Volkanovski (right)
In 2021, Brian Ortega tried to take the UFC Featherweight Championship from Alexander Volkanovski. The two fighters were head-to-head coaching rivals in season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, and at UFC 266 they had a truly epic war in which T-City came incredibly close to defeating the champion, but just fell short.
In a frantic third round, Ortega dropped Volkanovski and then grabbed the opponent with his trademark guillotine from the mount, only for “Alexander the Great” to free himself from it, find a way to get out from under the opponent and himself be at the top. Being on top, Volkanovski began to break Ortega with ground and pound and came close to finishing the contender, but Brian survived.
Moreover, despite Ortega losing hopelessly on points, he had a daring fifth round, hitting the champion repeatedly with his punches. Ortega missed a whopping 214 significant punches in five rounds, but the crowd did not want to consider him a loser. Ortega earned more respect than ever in this fight and has since grown in popularity.
Mauricio Rua vs. Lyoto Machida at UFC 104
One surefire way to win over fans is to lose by a highly controversial decision. This is exactly what happened to light heavyweight legend Mauricio Rua in 2009.
The former PRIDE champion faced reigning UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in a fight where few gave him a chance to win. At the time, Dragon was a 16-0 fighter with a style no one else could match.
But Shogun took a different approach than any of Machida’s previous adversaries. Instead of headhunting, he aimed to smash the champion with low and mid kicks, degrading his opponent’s ability to shuttle to land his punches. After five rounds, few in the audience doubted the victory of the challenger, whose nickname was loudly chanted by the fans in the fifth round. Incredibly, the judges thought otherwise and awarded the victory to Machida.
Few agreed with this decision, and it was clear that “Shogun” completely captivated not only the audience, but also the UFC management, including Dana White. Seven months later, Rua would knock out Machida in a rematch to take the title.
Nate Diaz vs. Leon Edwards at UFC 263
In 2021, ahead of his fight with Leon Edwards, one of the most popular UFC fighters, Nate Diaz, did not really need to win over the crowd, he already had a huge army of fans.
Diaz was predicted to lose without much chance of success, but instead, the Stocktonian, after losing the first four rounds, caught Rocky in the fifth round with a deuce, and his legs staggered. Fans couldn’t help but roar when they saw Diaz, instead of losing by decision, frantically pounced on Edwards, who was in survival mode.
Diaz still couldn’t do enough to finish off his opponent and ended up losing on the judges’ cards. But Diaz, nevertheless, retained his reputation and popularity, although he did not win the fight, he won a moral victory among the fans.
Diego Sanchez vs Gilbert Melendez at UFC 166
In 2013, Sanchez kept talking about himself for a long time after the end of the UFC 166 tournament. His opponent Gilbert
Melendez was younger, suffered less damage in his career, and was also a better boxer. However, this did not stop Nightmare from constantly moving forward, throwing bombs and growling at Melendez like a wild animal.
By the third round, a bloodied Sanchez was on the way to defeat, but he pulled the fans over to his side, slashing and dropping Melendez with an uppercut. El Niño recovered and was able to do enough to win the fight and later get a shot at the UFC lightweight belt, but that night it was Sanchez who left the cage with huge fan sympathy. Perhaps this is the best example of a UFC fighter who won over the crowd despite losing.