5 MMA Fighters Who Did More with Less
MMA fans have been spoiled in recent years with the likes of Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Brock Lesnar and Anderson Silva. In the good ole days, we were satisfied when two guys stepped into the cage and just swung for the fences.
Now we’re seeing front-kick knockouts, flying triangles and athletes springing themselves off the cage, throwing cinema-like spinning kicks that actually connect on their opponent’s chin.
These athletes have incredible, natural physical gifts and have begun to take over the sport. Not only that, but they have truly changed the direction that it will head in years to come.
No longer is technique alone good enough to be the best. To be the best, fighters will need that rare combination of technique and natural ability.
But it hasn’t always been that way and for many fighters, it wasn’t anywhere near this easy. These five fighters had to make use of what they were given, and in some cases it wasn’t all that much when compared to some of their opponents.
5. Sean Sherk
At just 5’6”, Minnesota fighter Sean Sherk is one of the shorter fighters in the lightweight division. His short frame contributed to him having just a 67” reach, making it very tough for him to stand and trade with the lankier fighters in the division.
His size disadvantage in the lightweight division was noticeable, but when you consider that Sherk spent the vast majority of his career fighting in the welterweight division, it’s easy to see why he was a lock to make this list of fighters who did more with less.
Sherk possesses an incredible 36-4-1 career record with his only career losses coming at the hands of arguably the top two fighters in the history of each of his two weight classes: BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar, Matt Hughes and Georges St-Pierre.
4. Fedor Emelianenko
Many still believe that Fedor Emelianenko is the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. But it certainly didn’t have anything to do with him being naturally gifted.
At first glance, Fedor Emelianenko looks like a guy who opted to turn down a payday in order to fight for the more immediate reward of a meatball sandwich and a pint of vodka.
His chubby physique and seeming lack of concern about the fight itself made him both an intimidating and extremely difficult opponent to prepare for.
Not only that, but at around 235 pounds for most of his career, Emelianenko regularly competed against opponents who were sometimes 30-40 or more pounds heavier than he was.
Though he has fallen off in recent years, it’s hard to deny that Fedor overcame many obstacles on his way to earning the title of being one of the greatest MMA fighters ever.
3. Forrest Griffin
The original winner of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Forrest Griffin dazzled fans by putting on one of the most exciting fights we had ever seen when he battled Stephan Bonnar in the finals to win that crown.
Though the fight itself was highly entertaining, upon closer examination, it was one of the most non-technical fights that has ever “blown up” in the MMA world.
Both Bonnar and Griffin threw wild haymakers and utilized very little technique in their war. Needless to say, at the time, both fighters had a long way to go before they would be competing with the top competitors in the division.
But for Griffin, that was just the beginning. Over four years later, he had overcome his unpolished technique to defeat Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and become the UFC light heavyweight champion.
"I never said I was that good. But there’s nobody in this sport at 205 you put me in with, and I won’t make it a fight,” Griffin famously told Joe Rogan in the cage after his loss to Tito Ortiz at UFC 59. “That’s just the way I am. I’m just a dog. I fight. Period. I’m not that technically good. I’m not that great. But I’m gonna fight and I’m in good shape. That’s it. That’s all you need.”
2. Nick Newell
Some fighters on this list made it because they overcame the adversity of being shorter or not as heavy as their opponents, but only one of them literally has less than his opponents.
A condition called congenital amputation caused Nick Newell to be born without a fully developed left arm. His forearm and hand are missing on that side, causing an obvious and significant physical disadvantage for this 26-year-old fighter.
Yet somehow, Newell has been able to triumph despite his disability. Not only is he the winner of over 300 wrestling matches between high school and college, but Newell has also put together an impressive 6-0 record as an MMA fighter.
He may never be elite, but Newell has already accomplished more in his short career than the vast majority of MMA fighters ever will.
1. Royce Gracie
If you looked at the competition going in, it was almost laughable to believe that a fighter the size of Royce Gracie could even compete with someone with the physique of a Ken Shamrock or professional boxing credentials of Art Jimmerson.
Gracie took the world by surprise when he not only won, but completely dominated both the first and second UFC tournaments, submitting every opponent with relative ease.
Gracie utilized his family’s technique of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to control and frustrate his opponents who were simply not prepared for this level of skill.
He wasn’t strong enough or skilled enough on the feet to knock out the opposition, but when Gracie got the fight to the ground, it was seemingly only a matter of time before the other poor sap would be crying “Uncle!” at the top of his lungs.
Gracie would go on to win each of his first 11 mixed martial arts contests in the UFC before fighting to a memorable 36-minute draw in a rematch with Ken Shamrock at UFC 5.
By that time, the pure Jiu-Jitsu technique had become less effective as his opponents began to understand the ways to combat it, but for a time, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu essentially ran the entire sport of mixed martial arts.
Some might say that Gracie did more for the sport than any other fighter could have possibly done. While the others were typically muscular, gladiator-like mammoths or barroom brawlers, Gracie brought a level of legitimacy to the competition that had never been seen before.
He showed that the smaller man can be successful if he knows how to use what he does have instead of worrying about what he doesn’t have.