For a few UFC fighters, there are some terrible moments that just won't die
Former UFC welterweight Frank Trigg has a running joke with Zuffa matchmaker Sean Shelby, who also happens to be heavily involved in putting together the UFC's highlight reels. It's a familiar routine that often plays out via text message right before the UFC runs it's pre-event video package of great moments from fight cards past, all set to The Who's "Baba O'Riley."
"Before it starts I say, 'Sean, are you about to hurt my feelings again?'" Trigg told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com).
It's not exactly a serious question, because Trigg already knows the answer. He knows that, just as surely as clips from the classic fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar will make it into the highlight reel, so will he. It's just that he'll be on the wrong end of one of those memorable UFC moments. He'll be getting carried across the cage like a bag of fertilizer by former 170-pound champ Matt Hughes. He'll be getting slammed on the mat and then choked into submission at UFC 52, right before Hughes is lifted up in triumph to the sound of soaring guitars and a wailing Pete Townsend.
"I can't even listen to that song anymore," Trigg said. "It was seven years ago."
Seven years, and yet Trigg can never get too far away from it. His 2005 loss to Hughes in their rematch for the welterweight title remains one of the UFC's favorite highlights. Before every single event the live crowd is treated to this particular walk down memory lane, which has a way of keeping the wound open for fighters like Trigg, who are in it for all the wrong reasons.
"That was my million-dollar fight. If I'd won that fight, I'd be a millionaire," Trigg said. "It is what it is. I lost the fight. It still stings [to watch the highlights], but I can't do anything about it now."
At least he's not alone. For every one of those fantastic knockout clips, there's a fighter who winces as the crowd cheers. Every time we see another joint-bending submission, there's someone still absently rubbing his not-quite-right elbow.
Even champions aren't immune. Ben Henderson might have the UFC lightweight title around his waist, but the night he lost the WEC championship in a main event bout against Anthony Pettis was also the night he got enshrined in Zuffa's highlight hall of fame, thanks to the action movie-style kick that floored him in the final round. The "Showtime kick" became one of ESPN's top plays almost immediately, and before the night was over it had already been replayed dozens of times and seen by thousands of people. For Henderson, it meant seeing the worst moment of his career turned into a spectacle for public celebration.
"I'm still not over it," Henderson told me earlier this year. "I won't lie to you. I still get teary-eyed thinking about it. It affects me deeply to this day. It will affect me for the rest of my fighting career, for a long, long time."
After all, it's not as if the UFC is going to stop showing it any time soon. Even though it happened in the WEC, it's still been added to the same "Baba O'Riley" highlight reel that features Trigg getting slammed. Henderson still has to see it whenever he attends a live event. For fighters, moments like those are sore spots that never fully heal. But, according to Henderson, that kind of pain can be a great motivator.
"I will not let that moment, those few seconds define my career," said Henderson. "I was able to bounce back from that the same way Matt Serra over [Georges] St-Pierre has not defined his career. It was a highlight, replayed thousands of times. How many times did St-Pierre have to see that? It's the same thing for me. I've had to see that kick hundreds and thousands of times. I have to talk about it over and over and over. But I'm using it. I'm using it to make myself better."
It's the same for UFC welterweight Dan Hardy, who knew he was in for some unpleasant reminders of his past when he showed up in Montreal for the fight between two of his old foes at UFC 154 this past weekend. The minute he walked into the UFC's host hotel, he said, he saw the throng of autograph seekers waiting for Carlos Condit with pictures of his one-punch knockout of Hardy clenched in their hands.
"Just right away, as soon as I walked in from the airport, I was surrounded by these photos of me with my eyes in the back of my head," Hardy said. "You never get to the point where you feel nothing when you see it, because it always takes you back to that moment."
That may be the part that fans don't quite grasp. To them, these are moments we all saw and shared and lived through, but then put behind us and moved on. But it's a lot tougher to move on when it was your chin getting tagged, your eyes rolling into the back of your head. It would be like an accountant showing up to work and seeing people in the parking lot holding up copies of the biggest tax return mistake he'd ever made, the worst math errors circled in red pen.
But maybe, Hardy said, something about that is helpful too, even if it's not pleasant.
"I'm not bitter about it anymore," Hardy said. "But I was annoyed about it, because I'd never been knocked out before. I was really confident, and in my fights since then I'm still really confident that I can take a shot. But it can happen to anyone. I've always said that, since I like to stand and trade punches, eventually I'll get hit with a good one and that was it. Now I have to look at it from a positive point of view, because that fight changed me so much. If that hadn't happened, my career might never have got back on track. If I'd lost that fight by decision, I might have been annoyed but not to the point where I would have changed as a result of it."
And just in case he's in any danger of forgetting the moment that eventually forced him to change, the UFC's video production team will be right there to remind him, over and over and over again for many years to come.