10 Tough Debuts

10 - 6

By Jake Rossen Dec 15, 2008
Former NAIA collegiate wrestler Bobby Lashley made his MMA debut the right way this weekend: in near-obscurity.

Lashley, a broad-shouldered refugee of the highly intellectual pursuit of professional wrestling, defeated unknown, unheralded Josh Franklin in an untelevised event Saturday in Miami. Despite notoriety from his WWE tumbling days, Lashley did the smart thing and stuck only the proverbial toe in the shark-infested waters of prizefighting -- both he and his opponent sported 0-0 records.

Lashley had -- if you’ll pardon the inane use of the expression -- a fighting chance. He won the bout in 41 seconds.

Not all combat athletes have been so lucky. Lured by big paydays and sadistic promoters, debuting fighters have often been used as chum for some of MMA’s most experienced punishers.

Even in the highly unethical world of boxing, there appears to be no record of rookie pugilists taking their first fight against Mike Tyson -- at least, not after he had been established to be responsible for more concussive brain injuries than a construction site.

In many cases, we’ll never know if a slower introductory pace would’ve carved out bigger, better careers. Some unfortunate fighters who opted for the hard road their first time out:

10. Pawel Nastula vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pride Critical Countdown, 6/26/05)

Nogueira is, as Frank Mir recently pointed out, not a terrible lot of fun to fight. He’s never been knocked out, never been submitted and appears to have the constitution of a snapping turtle. I anticipate him living for hundreds of years, wearing down opponents with glacial indifference to their attacks until he latches on to a leg or arm.

Or, as Mir said: “He’s like a cockroach. But in a good way.” Exactly.

Nastula was no slouch, having earned a Gold Medal in the 1996 Atlanta Games in judo -- but Nogueira was already a veteran of 29 fights by the time they met in ’05. It took a little while -- Nog is rarely in a rush to do anything -- but he eventually folded Nastula up and tucked him in.

9. Muhammed Lawal vs. Travis Wiuff (Sengoku, 9/28/08)

While most first-timers tend to crumble under the pressure of an experienced opponent, credit NCAA wrestling champion Lawal with embracing it. Dancing out to face Wiuff -- who’s logged more fights than Junie Allen Browning surrounded by a camera crew -- the debuting fighter stopped Wiuff with strikes in under a round.

Perhaps Lawal cemented his own fate: By coming out in a king’s crown and robe, losing isn’t much of an option.

8. Karam Ibrahim vs. Kazuyuki Fujita (K-1 Dynamite, 12/31/04)

I’ve written about Ibrahim’s depressing performance against Fujita so many times that Ibrahim would be justified in telling me to get over it already; problem is, I can’t.

The Egyptian, who won the Greco-Roman Gold Medal in the 2004 Olympics, is a heavyweight with the agility of a featherweight. He makes Kevin Randleman look arthritic in comparison. His promise in MMA appeared to be unlimited.

Too bad he fought Fujita, completely ignored his wrestling base, and traded strikes with that giant block of cement until he got caught, never to fight again -- sacrificed at the altar of New Year’s Eve ratings in Japan.

7. Dong Sik Yoon vs. Kazushi Sakuraba (Pride Total Elimination, 4/23/05)

By the spring of ’05, fabled “Gracie Killer” Sakuraba was beginning to lose the veneer of technical superiority he had displayed for so long -- but he was still plenty capable of roughing up opponents with little ring experience, a trait he put on display against judoka Yoon in the first round of a Pride tournament.

Sakuraba, who rarely scores standing KOs, put Yoon the mat and finished him with strikes. The bout had alleged political overtones, with Sakuraba representing Japan against Yoon and Korea; fair play wasn’t apparently part of the equation.

6. Masaaki Satake vs. Mark Coleman (Pride Grand Prix, 1/30/00)

An impressive kickboxing career can prepare you for many things, but unless your name is Maurice Smith, it can’t prepare you for Mark Coleman.

Satake, a tenacious and successful striker in K-1, made his mixed-style entrance by being tossed into a 16-man open-weight tournament. If that weren’t crippling enough, he was seeded against Coleman, who -- despite coming off consecutive losses in the UFC -- was still plenty capable of wrenching Satake’s head clean off and tossing it aside.

That’s more or less what he did, using a neck crank to mimic on Satake’s spine the stress of a head-on vehicle collision. Satake went on to accrue seven more losses before finally taking the hint.

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