10MMA Fighters that change the way we think:


 Big UFC event on Saturday night featuring 4 solid matches that should be serve entertaining. 

 If you follow this blog, you know that I am a fan of the UFC and love the Martial Arts in general.  Yes, it probably all started watching Bruce Lee movies when I was a kid, and even though that’s a clichéd story, it holds true for many people including numerous successful professional fighters. 

 I wanted to take a retrospective look at the infant sport of “MMA” and take a look at athletes who pushed boundaries and changed the way we viewed the sport.  This is not about who is better than someone else in a particular fight.  Let’s keep perspective here.  It’s only about fighters that changed the way we think about the sport forever. 

 In the Spirit of Bruce Lee, who changed the way people thought about fighting philosophy, (and even Martial Arts movies for that matter), here are a list of fighters that changed the way WE think about the sport of “Mixed Martial Arts.”

They effectively changed our perceptions about the game by being pioneers of some sort.   The following are the list of 10 fighters, more or less in chronological order.

Royce Gracie



 Grappling & Submission Wrestling

There from the very beginning in the Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC], Royce was the one to the who introduced the “Ground Game” and submission style grappling to most of the world.    While not the best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guy ever, he helped redefine the UFC by allowing us to see that you can be very effective on the ground.  Before that, most people thought that once you were rolling on the ground with a person bigger than you, that it was all over. 

 In essence, yes, it can be all over, but with you submitting that bigger individual.  Royce Gracie showed us that a smaller guy could somewhat neutralize a bigger guy by taking the fight to the ground, wrapping himself like a snake around that guy, until he got hold of a limb to dislocate or disjoint. 

 No where was this more prevalent than when he fought Aki Bono, the sumo wrestler.  Once the heavy giant sumo wrestler was on the ground, it was only a matter of time before Royce found one of his limbs, got an armbar and submitted the man who outweighed him by over a 100 pounds. 

  In essence, Royce Gracie changed the way we viewed the role of grappling in a fight. 

Mark Coleman:

Mark Coleman

 The Ground And Pound!

After Royce Gracie introduced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the sport sported some dull matches where people stuck inside the guard of somebody spent most of their time trying to escape out of that position. 

 Mark Coleman showed that he was comfortable staying there, keeping his balance, and punching the hell out of the Jiu Jitsu guy lying on his back.

 Effective Ground and Pound.  If you were in someone’s guard, you had to escape that position.  Not with Mark.  Heavy handed and strong, Mark showed that he could punish you with a barrage of punches and elbows even from being inside someone’s guard.  The “Godfather of the Ground and Pound” as he is known,  changed the game forever.

 Mark Coleman changed the way we looked at being in someone’s guard forever.  In fact, because of his ability to pound someone while on the ground,  a new vernacular was introduced to the Lexicon of MMA vocabulary: “The Ground and Pound!” 

Mark Coleman was a true pioneer.  Enter…. “The Ground & Pound!”

Chuck Liddell:

Chuck Liddell




 Keep The Fight Standing Regardless!

 One of my favorites in this category, the haymaker throwing chuck forever changed our perception.  Before chuck, an unspoken consensus had risen that all fights must go to the ground and that’s just the way it had to be. 

    By displaying excellent take-down Defense, Chuck repeatedly blocked attempts from Wrestlers and Jiu Jitsu guys alike, forcing them into a striking battle which often resulted in Chuck emphatically knocking them the fuck out.  And by the way, if they did succeed in taking him to the ground, the average time Chuck spent down there before escaping to get back on his feet:  16 seconds!!   Amazing! 

 Chuck would find a way to escape and get back on his feet where he could continue to rain down bombs on people. 

Chuck displayed exemplary take-down defense, and masterful escapes to keep the fights standing up in a kickboxing match.  Twice he knocked out Olympic-Caliber wrestler Randy Couture; Twice he knocked out grappler Tito Ortiz; and twice he knocked out Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master Renato Sobral. 

Unfortunately, for Chuck, his style of throwing haymakers took a setback when people started figuring out that you could beat him if you were well versed in a disciplined classical Western-Boxing style of punching.  Nevertheless, he is recognized as the most popular fighter in current UFC history, and it’s a well-deserved title. His mohawk and overall look reminded you of a White-supremacist who had just broken out of prison.  That “Scary” look only worked in his favor in establishing him as a legend who knocked people out. 

He is a true pioneer in changing the way we thought about MMA cage fighting.

Chuck Liddell changed the way we thought about having to go to the ground in every fight.  He showed that you could keep the fight standing against an Olympic level Wrestler and knock him out.  He is an unquestionable pinoeer in changing  MMA observer’s perceptions about the MMA fighting game.

 Mirko “Cro-Cop” Filipovich:

You KNEW this was coming, right?






Head Kicks!

  Much like Chuck Liddell, Crocop had excellent takedown defense but more precision and technical striking than Chuck. (Though he wasn’t as skilled in escaping as Liddell.)    His left head-kick routinely knocked people out.  Prior to “Cro-Cop”, you didn’t see a whole lot of effective head-kicks. 

 Headkicks were considered a waste of time and effort, and if you managed to land one, it would have been considered lucky. Certainly, there was the famous Pete Williams head kick against in a gassed-out &  fatigued Marc Coleman in overtime, (and a few others), but they were considered somewhat of anomaly. People often thought of head-kicks as a general waste of time and effort.  Mirko “Cro-cop” changed all of that.

 Mirko Crocop took it to another level . He knocked people out consistently with a vicious left kick to the head that the opponents KNEW was coming at some point.  That was the scary part.  People knew that this was his main weapon and Crocop still pulled it off.  In a flash, he could swing hat left leg  a like an extra long, extra  heavy baseball bat.

 In his fight with Wanderlei Silva, Wanderlei KNEW that at some point Crocop was going to try that head-kick, and yet, cropcop still connected knocking hout Wandereli out-cold for a solid two minutes. 

 Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovich forever changed the way we viewed the effectiveness of head-kicks in a professional fight.


Wanderlei Silva: 


Wanderlei Sliva


 Clinch Work.  Vicious barrage of knees in the clinch.   

 At a time, where a lot of fighters liked to loiter and waste time in the clinch, Wanderlei’s usage of his vicious knees knocked people out in devastating fashion.  Employing subsequent hard knees to the forehead, he laid people out flat on the mat as he walked away.  Your perception of the clinch game had been changed forever after you’d watched a few Silva fights.

 Wanderlei’s handwork was primarily a barrage of hook punches that were thrown like bombs.  He didn’t really employ the “Sweet Science.”  You weren’t going to see a jab, cross, hook, uppercut, 4-punch combo from Wanderlei.  He threw hard kicks, hook punches, and once he got in clinch/trapping range, the opponent came to know his knees intimately.

Sporting a frightening looking face and a vicious fighting style, he lived up to his nickname of “The Axe Murder.”

 Wanderlei Silva changed the way we thought of what proper aggressive Clinch-work ought to look like.


Anderson Silva:








  Precision technical striking. 

  While he was not a pioneer of sorts, he helped define what beautiful precision striking would look like.  He is light years ahead of anyone else in the game when it comes to striking, punches and kicks.  His nickname of “Spider” could easily be changed the “Matrix” because that’s what he looks like.  As though he is in the matrix where everyone else moves in slow motion around him.

 Watching/reading interviews with people such as Dan Inosanto, I often read things such as “I’ve never seen anyone who was as fast and precise as Bruce Lee.”  It made me wonder what it’d look like to watch someone strike with such quickness and precision.  I wondered what accurate, precise, powerful striking flowing in harmony would look like.  

 Watching Anderson Silva fight against former champ Forrest Griffin gave me an idea of what such quick & accurate striking looks like.  Silva made Griffin look like an inexperienced clueless high school kid thrown in the ring to be eaten by the lion. He toyed with Griffin, kept his hands down, dodged punches and throw few shots, all of which connected.

 His performance was reminiscent of Boxer Roy Jones Jr. in his prime.   While Silva is great all around (he submitted and choked out world-class wrestler Dan Henderson), it’s his striking that is a thing of beauty to watch everytime he sets foot in the Octagon.  He is so far ahead of everyone in his weight class that he cleaned out the 185 pound division in the UFC, and bored after doing that, he is now fighting in the light heavyweight 205lb class.  He is widely recognized as the best “Pound for Pound” fighter along with the following athlete, GSP.

 Anderson Silva changed the way we view precision striking forever.  He set a standard of what it accurate, fast, flowing striking ought to  look like.


Georges St. Pierre:






 The Modern Day Athlete

 GSP, as he is now known, showed us to face of the new modern day complete package Athlete-fighter.  Long gone are the days of brawlers, fat guys with beer breath, and karate guys who looked like they’d never sparred in their lives.  GSP is a raw natural athlete who is well skilled, adapts efficiently, and learns quickly. 

 While having started with a background in Karate & striking, his grappling skills have improved so astronomically that he started to embarrass career wrestlers.  He starts training with the Canadian Olympic wrestling team, and then,  they ask him to try out to represent Canada in that sport (which he refuses.)  The guy is that good. 

 In his 2nd fight with Matt Hughes, George St. Pierre  knocked out Hughes with punches and a vicious left kick.  In their 3rd fight, GSP took Hughes to the ground, outwrestled him at his own game, and completely outclassed Matt Hughes on the ground to submit Matt Hughes.  (Keep in Mind that Hughes is a career wrestler.)  When you realize that GSP came to MMA with minimal grappling skills, you develop an appreciation for the athlete (And hard worker), he must be to make such strides so quickly. 

 While GSP did not introduce any new styles or techniques, he showed us a glimpse of what can happen when superior super-athletes become involved in this sport.  Combining his superior athletecism with hard work, GSP has dominated top level competition.  He does not squeeze out wins, but completely outclasses top level compettion, twice destroying Matt Hughes, displaying absolute dominance over top level contenders, BJ Penn, Jon Fitch, and Thiago Alves. 

Strong, Agile, Explosive, he shows us what’s to come in the future of the sport.   

Lyoto Machida: 



Incorporating &  Introducing Elements of a New Style: Karate!

 Let’s face it.  Most modern MMA fighters follow a simple boring formula because it’s safe and they figure it’s tested.  Few guys step outside the box and look to venture into incorporating various elements of various Martial Arts.  They’ll do some Muay Thai, some wrestling and Jiu Jitsu and that’s 90% of the fighters out there.  Some may venture out and work with an actual “Western Boxing” coach who teaches them some proper hand combos and even uppercuts.

 Few MMA fighters are willing to venture out this boring formula.  View are willing to explore, and incorporate new things.  Few are progressive.   Granted the formula works, but it’s potential is also more limited.  A great athlete can venture outside this formula and gain greater skills by incorporating other techniques from other Martial Arts.

 With his Karate background, Machida ventured into breaking that boring mold.  With Kicks that came from all sorts of various angles, a different stance, and precision that’s 2nd only to Anderson Silva, he knocked people out while confusing them.  You have to respect Machida for this.  Most of his opponents have trouble preparing for him because they can’t even find sparring partners who resemble his style. (And yes, we can all agree that Shogun Rua beat him.)  There is something to be learned from Machida’s refusal to blend in, and ordering from the same menu every other fighter does. 

  He deserves credit for changing our minds.  Before Machida, everyone thought you had to go to a nice Muay Thai school to fight in the Octagon or MMA in general.   Lyoto Machida changed that.   

 One can only hope that future talented fighters will venture out and use elements of Kung-fu, Kali, Silat, or other Filipino martial arts, (and various other arts out there) incorporating them into their overall game.   There are still many arts out there that begged to be explored. 


 Honorable Mentions: 

Randy Couture: 

For being a competitive fighter at age 45 fighting men 20 years his junior.  Randy brings his best to every fight and fighting at such an age, he changes the way we think what a 45 year-old man can do.  Randy should also get a nod for being a good strategist who studies his opponents very carefully before a  fight.  Like a football or basketball scout, he watches a lot of film on his opponent looking to take advantage of their weakness.   He is recognized as a legend in the sport and continues to inspire many people. 


 Fedor Emelianenko  :


Sheer Dominance

   Changed the way we think about a dominant fighter.  When you look at Fedor’s photo, you may think he is a guy who office worker behind a desk who dabbles in a bit of weight training.  Powerful, agile, explosive, Fedor is a dangerous guy who can transition from standing to grappling and back, he is 30-1 in his fighting career (and that loss was a bit of a fluke)  and seems to find a way to win against everyone.   

 He has forever changed our perception of a dominant fighter and a super athlete.  He also shows us that athletic prowess doesn’t mean you have to look like a chiseled “Bodybuilder”.   He is perhaps most famous for his icy-cold demeanor, which resembles more of a guy bored at a corporate meeting, rather than a man about to step into fight.  


Frank Shamrock:

 In many ways, Frank Shamrock is the forgotten fighter.  No one really thinks of him in discussions these days, but he was one of the pioneers.  In the early days of the UFC, he showed us the representation of a well-rounded fighter.  Long before days of guys like GSP and Anderson Silva, Frank Shamrock stood as the guy who could submit you with a leg-lock or knock you out with a punch.   There weren’t many guys who were that balanced in the early days of the sport taking on formidable competition.  

 A brash smack-talker, and ultimately a good guy, Frank knew how to sell fights.  Unfortunately, due to being under-paid in those days, Frank walked away from the UFC as a champion in his prime.  He relinquished his title and walked into a bit of obscurity.  He remains the forgotten fighter who doesn’t get his due. 

 Nevertheless, he changed our perception by showing us  a glimpse of what a well-rounded fighter would look like in the late 1990s of the UFC.

A few special nods should be thrown out to some guys.  While they didn’t change the way we think forever, they showed glimpses of interesting things.  BJ Penn showed us what dexterity and extreme flexibility could do, while Rampage Jackson showed an alternative way of getting out of someone’s guard by employing his “Power Bombs” which would destroy anyone if they were on any sort of hard surface. 

I ran this list by my brother who is also a fellow MMA fan.  He added two names, Tito Ortize & Marco Ruas.   Tito Ortiz should get a nod for being so efficient with his weight-cutting.  Able to make weight-cutting a science, Tito could step into the ring heavier & stronger than his competition.   Marco Ruas during one particular fight in the very early days of the UFC showed most fight-fans what damage leg-kicks could inflict.  In his match against a giant man named the Polar-bear, Marco chopped him down like a tree with effective leg-kicks.  It was memorable that if you saw that fight back then, you’d never forget it.

Lastly, special acknowledgment to Ken Shamrock for representing an early somewhat well-rounded fighter, even though his stand-up is terrible by modern standards.   I am torn on the Ken Shamrock issue, as part of me feels he ought to more than just a special nod.   By modern standards, he is not well balanced, but back in the beginning, he did represent what a well-balanced fighter ought to look like. 

Ken Shamrock




  There you have it. 10 Fighters who changed the way we viewed the sport of MMA forever, plus some special nods.   Remember this is a list for men who changed our way of thinking and our perceptions.  For example, you may be a fan of Matt Hughes personally, but while dominant for a good period, he remains a great grappler and rather mediocre striker who hasn’t really done anything  to introduce  a new aspect to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.  There are even great champs from the mid 90s period such as Bas Rutten and Don Frye, but they don’t make this list as pioneers of something new.  

 While you may not be a fan of some of the guys mentioned above, you do have to admit that they brought something new to the fighting game.  Whether it was the “ground-and-pound” of Mark Coleman, or keeping the fight standing through the entire fight ala Chuck Liddell, these men changed our perceptions forever. 

 As the Sport grows, there will inevitable be more phenomenal athletes who will change our perception in new ways to come.

 If you think I missed anyone who should be in the list above, feel free add the name and  discuss why: