MMA is about much more than the action in the cage. The best fighters, or at least the most popular ones, understand that what happens outside the Octagon is just as important as anything that takes place within.
Fighters are entertainers. As we've learned, they are competing for ever-tightening entertainment budgets, not just with boxers and other athletes, but with blockbuster movies like The Avengers. To make MMA competitive with the best video games and television shows, you have to do more than show up and fight.
We are here now. Entertain us. These are the 25 who've done it best. Disagree? Entertain me in the comments!
"Big Country" Roy Nelson is fat. In the world of MMA, stocked almost entirely with guys who have abs and look like ugly underwear models, this is enough to qualify as "different." It's his acknowledgement of his own physical limitations that makes him "colorful."
Whether pitching Burger King as a sponsor or growing out a mullet to court the redneck demographic, Nelson is constantly searching for the right angles to make the most out of his enormous belly welly. I appreciate the laughter—and hope it deadens the pain of being mocked.
Silva isn't a hilarious buffoon like others on this list. In fact, it's not clear if they've invented humor in Brazil yet. Instead, Wanderlei is like a character out of a particularly gruesome horror film. One destined for at least six sequels. Someone get Wes Craven on the line.
Even his nickname fits the bill. "The Axe Murderer" looks the part. Wanderlei, please know I write this with nothing but respect, love and the slightest trickle of urine running down my leg.
A lot of people won't remember this Japanese star, who competed for years in Shooto, Deep and Pride. But I always loved the obvious joy he found in entertaining the crowd. From the perpetually goofy look on his face to the botched wrestling moves he'd try to execute after every win, Mishima was a walking, breathing, vaguely gay party machine.
Love that man.
Harold Clarence Howard is the perfect representative for a class of early UFC competitor that can only be described as "Angry Hillbilly's." He had a saying that I also would like to toss out to the commenters out there:
"If you're coming on—COME ON."
Did I mention Howard had anger issues? That he went on to (allegedly) drive his truck into a casino is merely icing on a ridiculously tasty cake.
"King" Mo Lawal is such a great character that pro wrestling had to reach into our little world and steal him away. What's great about Mo is that he has absolutely no filter. Some fighter pander to the fans. Not our Mo. "F@ck the fans," is literally his motto, which just makes us love him all the more.
Want to see someone brutally take people down on Twitter? Mo is a must-follow.
Things get pretty meta pretty darn quick in Josh Koscheck's world. Koscheck tries to pretend he's a nice guy playing a cocky jerk in order to entertain UFC fans. I contend he's really an obliviously cocky jerk, pretending to be a nice guy who acts like a jerk on TV.
Either way, it sure is fun to root against the guy.
Newton was such a loveable goofball in his day. With his rainbow afro wigs and Dragonball Z poses, it took his retirement for Josh Barnett to seize the throne as MMA's biggest nerd.
Newton, like Barnett, was every bit as entertaining inside the cage as he was before and after the fight. His bouts with Matt Hughes, Pele and Kazushi Sakuraba should be on every fan's must-see list.
If you've ever listened to a Matt Horwich interview and understood what the hell he was talking about, you are either a bonafide genius or a mental case. Please seek help immediately—because we both know you're no genius.
Whether it's the Bible or the multiverse, there's never a dull moment when Horwich is around. Except, of course, for the 15 minutes he'll inevitably spend in the ring on his way to a decision.
Jackson has two distinct characters: "loveable idiot" and "angry street fighter." I'm not sure which I enjoy more.
Although he's come under fire from other African-American fighters for playing towards stereotypes, no one can deny he's seen success with these gimmicks. He's a legitimate pay-per-view draw and a budding movie star.
The former middleweight champion was one of a kind. Evan was a man who wanted to explore the world. A vagabond who often lived in squalid conditions even while starring on the international stage, Tanner had two sides.
He was a startlingly intelligent man, a sensitive man even. But when he fell under the spell of alcohol, a very different Evan emerged. A fascinating, and ultimately tragic man, he journeyed into the desert one day and never came out.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This one, of Kimo carrying an enormous wooden cross to the cage, is worth at least a million. And that's being stingy.
The only thing better than his iconic entrance? A 2009 hoax that saw the MMA world give loving tribute to the man after his death. The problem? He was very much alive.
"Mayhem" has made a career out of his colorful persona. He's perhaps the perfect fighter for his time. Twitter, reality television, ironic silliness—Mayhem is the 2012 in a nutshell.
Unfortunately, he's found the biggest platform of his career at a time it seems his physical skills are deteriorating. It's a great gimmick. I just wish it was attached to a better fighter.
Tito Ortiz seemed like a work in progress for much of his MMA career. He had a great pro wrestling character lurking within him, but it never quite crystallized.
There were, however, moments of brilliance. His cocky taunts and profane t-shirts made Ken Shamrock furious—and both men rich.
Are there Genki Sudo haters out there? I'm sure there are. Someone can't wait to take the wind out of even the most noble sails. I'm equally sure that anyone who hates Genki Sudo is a truly horrible human being, and most likely, a sex offender to boot.
Sudo's epic entrances were matched only by his post-fight assertion that we, the global community, were all one. Hating on Genki Sudo? That's worse than watching Whitney or listening to Nickelback records. What the hell is wrong with the world?
How to describe Wallid Ismail? He's rage externalized. An angry man with a hilarious accent, like 67 on the Rorion Gracie scale, Ismael may not even know he's funny. I hope to heaven he doesn't. It's so much more enjoyable to imagine him earnest and furious while I take years off my life with a busted gut.
Bas Rutten was always a colorful personality, but his inner comedian really came out after he retired and joined Stephen Quadros in the Pride commentator's booth. "El Guapo" was hysterical, especially when the action slowed down a little.
But nothing can top his self-defense instructional, Bas Rutten's Lethal Street Fighting, for pure comedic effect. I don't just mean nothing Bas Rutten has done can top it. Nothing. Ever. In the history of the world. As a culture, we have peaked.
Ken Shamrock may have been the only fighter in history to make a heart attack scare hilarious:
The former UFC Superfight champion, making his return to competitive MMA after years in the WWF, beat Fujita standing throughout the fight just as he had Alexander Otsuka in his PRIDE debut. This was Shamrock at his best.
Unfortunately, he wasn't prepared for Fujita's iron head. He unloaded on the Japanese wrestler for the better part of six minutes, unloaded so hard and strong that his body finally gave out. Shamrock's heart was beating wildly.
He felt weird enough to stop the fight, yelling to his cornerman Pete Williams that he couldn't continue. "Petey My Heart!" he exclaimed, bringing an end to a one sided bout and leaving Fujita perplexed, undoubtedly concussed, yet still the winner.
Which Bob Sapp was funnier? The one in racist Japanese commercials? Or the one who seems intent on taking dives all over the world?
It's a shame that his current sham of a career will distract from the fact that Sapp is, without question, the biggest MMA star in history. His cultural cache in Japan was off the charts. Someday, perhaps, a UFC fighter might match his stardom and name recognition in our own popular culture. But that day isn't here yet.
Everyone remembers Kazushi Sakuraba's feud with the famous Gracie family. Fewer recall his sly sense of humor and his elaborate pro wrestling-themed ring introductions.
Whether paying tribute to pro wrestling icons the Great Muta and the Road Warriors or verbally tearing Rickson Gracie a new one, Sakuraba was the gift that kept giving.
His top moment? The casual racism and cultural insensitivity inherent in his Super Mario getup. (Saku was suggesting African-American fighter Kevin Randleman resembled Donkey Kong.)
Shonie Carter is an American institution. From his soothingly deep voice, to his thong, to his top hat and tails, Carter is a diverse entertainer.
We always knew he had a screw loose, but it wasn't until his star turn on The Ultimate Fighter's fourth season that we knew quite how unhinged the Chicago-based fighter really was.
A lot of fighters struggle to entertain themselves during the reality television show. Carter had no such issues. Even today, if you say please, if you bring it, he will bling it.
Did you know Brock Lesnar used to be a pro wrestler? Few people do. In fact, I should probably put "Exclusive" in this slide's headline.
But indeed, Lesnar is a former WWE champion. He brought some of that showmanship with him into the Octagon, getting in Frank Mir's face and becoming the first UFC fighter to ever tell an audience he was going to mount his wife post-fight.
It's hard to picture this, but it is true. Don Frye was kind of dull when he was a UFC champion. Not in the cage. He was dynamic as could be there. But it wasn't until he went to Japan as a pro wrestler that he really developed his performance chops.
Today, Don Frye has a schtick. It involves alcohol and saying outlandish things, so of course, I approve. I've had some classic interviews with Don, but my favorite Frye moments were the "Dear Don" segments in the gone but not forgotten IFL promotion. Enjoy one above.
David "Tank" Abbott was the UFC's original bad boy. In a promotion built on respectful martial artists, he was a breath of fresh air. Sure, he was horrible, possibly a sociopath—but a hilarious sociopath!
Abbott mocked an opponent's convulsions after he hammered him with right hands. He made fun of Dan Severn. And, in his most amazing moment, admitted his own fighting prowess made him aroused. A great man.
Forrest Griffin was the sport's funniest fighter until the next guy came along. He's a true treasure and still one of the most entertaining guys in the UFC.
The first fighter to write a decent MMA book (I'd apologize to Randy, Chuck and Tito, but first, they should apologize to me for their lousy books). Forrest has a self-depreciating charm that will be hard to replace when he moves on the the "serial killer" stage of his life.
No one compares to Chael P. Sonnen. He's the funniest, most outlandish and most sophisticated interview in all of mixed martial arts. Sonnen can riff on politics and mainstream sports just as easily as he can destroy his opponents with words. A Renaissance man and one of the most creative people, not just athletes, in all of our popular culture.