The 15 Most Unlikely Fighters in MMA History
Most MMA fighters come from traditional backgrounds like college wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, Judo or professional boxing. They start when they are young and train for years—competing on the amateur level and then fighting for a few years in the smaller organizations before getting a shot with the UFC.
Even in the early days of MMA, fighters would be experts at one discipline and then slowly learn all the other aspects of fighting as their career and the sport progressed.
There are always exceptions to the rules, however. The following athletes are a select few who made unlikely transformations into MMA fighters with little or no martial arts backgrounds.
Frank Shamrock had a difficult childhood, bouncing around foster homes and juvenile detention centers. He was finally taken in by Bob Shamrock, who also had adopted an older boy named Ken Kilpatrick, aka Ken Shamrock.
In 1994, Frank was 22 years old and considering dropping out of college, but his adopted father wouldn't let him move back in with him unless he joined Ken in learning submission wrestling. He agreed, and it turned out to be a pretty decent decision.
With less than a year of training, Frank made his MMA debut in December 1994 in Tokyo, Japan for an organization called Pancrase. His opponent was three-time King of Pancrase and future UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten. Frank pulled a huge upset in that fight, winning a decision.
He would go on to win championships in Pancrase, the UFC, the WEC and Strikeforce, retiring in 2010.
Junior Dos Santos
The current UFC Heavyweight Champion was featured in a UFC Primetime for his last fight against Cain Velasquez that revealed that the Brazilian had a very late start in the sport. Dos Santos worked as a dishwasher in Brazil and only started training in MMA at the age of 21, making his debut first as a kickboxer with only three months of practice.
Despite being a late bloomer, dos Santos climbed the MMA ranks and debuted for Zuffa in 2008 at UFC 90 against Fabricio Werdum. He won that fight and his next seven, winning the belt and surprising a lot of people.
Nate Quarry grew up in a strict Jehovah's Witness household that did not permit him to play organized sports, let alone learn a martial art. As a result, Nate didn't start training in MMA until the age of 24 and didn't have a pro fight until the age of 29.
He quickly made up for lost time, however, winning five of his first six pro fights and earning a spot on The Ultimate Fighter Season 1. Nate's first fight in the UFC came in April of 2005. He won three fights in a row by knockout before losing in a Middleweight title fight to Rich Franklin. Two years after that fight, he made a nice comeback fighting in the UFC six more times.
Nate retired from the fight game in early 2012.
Mitrione was a star defensive tackle for Purdue University before entering the NFL as a free agent in 2001 with the New York Giants. He played four years in the league with the Giants and the Vikings before re-occurring foot injuries forced him into retirement in 2006.
Mitrione had grown up practicing Shotokan Karate and even had a few professional kickboxing fights when he was a teenager, so he decided to give MMA a chance and began training with UFC veteran Chris Lytle.
Without a single professional MMA fight, Mitrione was cast on Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter in 2009. He would go on to lose in the quarterfinals of the show, but earn the chance to fight at the Finale show, a fight he won against Marcus Jones.
Mitrione has been in the UFC ever since, compiling a 5-1 record.
Instead of building a fight resume, Amir Sadollah was busy earning a degree in surgical technology as a young adult, a career he eventually abandoned. He started training in Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai as a way to stay in shape, but eventually started getting serious about fighting and had several kickboxing matches.
In 2008, Sadollah appeared on The Ultimate Fighter Season 7 without having a single professional MMA fight under his belt, and miraculously went on to win the entire show.
He currently holds an 8-3 record in the UFC.
Rich Franklin grew up practicing karate, but never considered fighting as a career until later in life. He earned his BA in mathematics and a Master's in education from the University of Cincinnati and then put his degrees to use as a high school math teacher.
During this time, his martial arts training began with watching instructional videos and training with one of his friends in a lawnmower shed in the backyard. Franklin began to fight after only four months of training and made his professional debut in 2000. He went on to win the IFC light heavyweight championship before making his UFC debut.
Franklin knocked out Evan Tanner for the UFC middleweight championship in 2005, defending his title twice before Anderson Silva took the belt away from him.
Rich Franklin might have one of the most impressive fight resumes in the sport, having competed against top-level UFC talent for years. He will face Cung Le at UFC 148.
Kimbo Slice grew up playing football, even earning a partial scholarship to the University of Miami. He made the practice squad of the Miami Dolphins at one point, but that's about as far as his football career went. Starting in 2003, YouTube videos started popping up of street fights involving Slice, and he became an overnight sensation.
After deciding to pursue a career in the fight game, Bas Rutten took Slice under his wing, and after fighting a few cans, he was given a chance to be on The Ultimate Fighter 10.
Slice lost his first fight on the show to Roy Nelson, the eventual season winner, but was given another chance to fight in the Finale. He won his first UFC fight against Houston Alexander in 2009 and fought one more time against Matt Mitrione before being cut from the promotion.
Kimbo is currently pursuing a career in professional boxing.
Travis Browne has only been competing as a professional mixed martial artist since early 2009. He grew up playing traditional team sports and was good enough to even play a little basketball in college. After college, he started a K-9 training business and took up Muay Thai as a way to stay competitive. In 2007, he started training in Jiu Jitsu.
Browne had aspirations beyond just training in martial arts, however, and fought for the first time in 2009 at Cage of Fire. He won that fight and his next seven, earning him a chance to fight in the UFC.
Browne is currently 3-0-1 in the UFC.
Most people remember Donald Cerrone from his great WEC fights, but not too many people know the story of how he started off in the fight game.
At 20 years old, Cerrone had his first fight, a Thai Kickboxing match, only two weeks after he started training in the discipline. He won that fight and another 27 consecutive kickboxing bouts before making the transition into MMA. Three years after that first kickboxing match, he made his MMA debut, winning his first seven fights by submission before earning a chance to fight in the WEC fight in 2007.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Brendan Schaub is another fighter who made the transition from football. He played football and lacrosse at Whittier College in California before transferring to the University of Colorado and making their football team as a fullback and tight end.
After college, Schaub played in the Arena Football League with the Utah Blaze and also played on the Buffalo Bills practice squad.
When he realized that football wasn't working out, Schaub found Nate Marquardt's gym in Denver and started training full-time. He quickly excelled, becoming a Golden Gloves boxing champion and earning a purple belt in Brazilian Jui-Jitsu.
Schaub compiled a 4-0 MMA record before appearing on The Ultimate Fighter Season 10. After losing to Roy Nelson in the Finale, Schaub is 5-1 in the UFC.
Tim Sylvia took karate as a child and even wrested in high school, but after graduating, he was more focused on a semi-professoinal football career than MMA. When Sylvia was introduced to MMA, he started training with former UFC fighter Marcus Davis, learning boxing and grappling. After less than a year of training, he started fighting in no-holds barred amateur events in Rhode Island.
In 2000, after attending UFC 28 with some friends, Sylvia knew he had found his calling. He sold all his possessions and moved to Iowa to train with Team Miletich.
Sylvia started fighting professionally in 2001 in the IFC. He would go on to become a two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Sylvia is still fighting and hopes to make his UFC comeback in the near future.
Sean McCorkle is another fighter who didn't find MMA until later in life. McCorkle played basketball in junior college, and afterwards, he started his own business. Looking to stay in shape, Sean started training in Jiu-Jitsu and ended up meeting UFC veterans Chris Lytle and Jake O'Brien, who encouraged him to pursue a career in MMA.
In 2005, he made his professional debut. McCorkle would go on to win his first nine fights before getting a shot in the UFC against Mark Hunt in 2010. Surprising everyone, Sean submitted Hunt in the first round.
McCorkle lost his next two UFC fights and was released from the promotion. He is 6-0 since being released and hopes to earn another shot with the UFC in the future.
Krazy Horse Bennett is one of the more colorful characters in MMA, so it should come as no surprise that his path into MMA was not a traditional one.
Bennett dropped out of high school and had been in and out of jail for some drug charges.
Fresh out of jail in 1999, Bennett saw an ad in a newspaper for an MMA gym in his hometown of Oscala, Ga. He went down there and started training, impressing everyone with his speed and his strength.
Bennett made his MMA debut in September 1999 with less than a year of training. Since that time, Charles has fought in over 51 MMA bouts, including in organizations such as Pride and King of the Cage.
He has also been in and out of jail on assault charges.
Ben Rothwell started training in MMA in 1999 at the age of 17. With only one month of training, he fought in a four-man heavyweight tournament.
Two years later, Rothwell made his pro MMA debut at the age of 19. Since that time, he has fought in over 39 professional MMA bouts. He has been fighting in the UFC since 2009.
Mayhem Miller is a weird guy. He first started training in Jiu-Jitsu after his friend beat him a sparring match when he was 16. At the age of 17, instead of going to prom, Miller took a date to his MMA debut fight. He never had an amateur career.
He currently has 32 fights on his pro record and is as much known for his television personality on shows like Bully Beatdown and The Ultimate Fighter as he is for fighting in organizations like Strikeforce, Dream and UFC.
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