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UFC 151 Fight Card: Jon Jones and the 25 Most Exciting Fighters in MMA History

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterJanuary 11, 2017

UFC 151 Fight Card: Jon Jones and the 25 Most Exciting Fighters in MMA History

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    When you see Jon "Bones" Jones in the UFC Octagon, it's important that you get your bathroom break out of the way while Bruce Buffer is still in the middle of introductions, because what follows are 25 consecutive don't-blink moments; 1,500 seconds during which something truly amazing might happen.

    Jones is liable to do anything. Spinning back elbows, judo throws, suplexes only seen in pro wrestling—Jones is physically capable of pulling off even the most bizarre ideas. But that's just the start. Any reasonable athlete can take instructions from a stunt coordinator and do some incredible things.

    What's exceptional is the way Jones melds his physical skill with his creative and artistic side. He's not just a jock, he's a jock who's mentally flexible enough in the cage to even consider letting loose his inner Van Gogh. 

    Jones is an artist who paints in blood. It's his opponent's, but it doesn't have to be. Other fighters, like Diego Sanchez, paint their masterpieces mostly with their own fluid—and it's just as remarkable.

    What follows are 25 of the most exciting fighters of the last 19 years of professional mixed martial arts. They come from diverse backgrounds in wrestling, jiu jitsu, boxing and even street fighting.

    But they have one thing in common.

    When they stepped into the cage, fans knew they were going to get one heck of a show.

25. Don Frye

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Don Frye is often credited with being one of the sport's first multi-faceted fighters. That's true in more ways than one. Not only did he combine judo, boxing and wrestling, he also brought an entertainment factor to the forefront.

    With his iconic mustache, gravelly voice and take-no-prisoners style, Frye was a walking caricature. It's no surprise that pro wrestling came calling and he eventually left MMA for a turn as a flamboyant villain on the Japanese mats. Frye, it seems, was born to entertain.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    When Frye was standing toe-to-toe with Yoshihiro Takayama and throwing haymakers, both men seemingly grabbing invisible hockey sweaters. Marty McSorley would have been proud.

24. Melvin Manhoef

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Melvin Manhoef is a throwback to the old school. He's a single-dimensional fighter, a guy who isn't and never will be particularly skilled at the grappling arts. 

    Melvin Manhoef may be a great dancer, a hell of a cook or an expert in 19th century French literature. I couldn't really tell you for sure. But in the cage, he's good at exactly one thing: punching and kicking another man until he falls down in a puddle of his own fluids.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    There were times during his fight with "Cyborg" Santos that fans watching at home had just an inkling of what it must have been like to see gladiators fight to the death in the Coliseum. It was horrible and wonderful, and you couldn't look away.

23. Phil Baroni

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Before there was Jersey Shore, there was Phil Baroni. Forget Snooki and the Situation. Baroni was all we needed to represent the muscle-bound, fake-tanned, big-mouthed east coast meat-heads who make almost any vacation spot nearly unlivable during summer months.

    Baroni, the self-proclaimed "New York Bad Ass," didn't even officially represent Jersey, but he did in his heart. No one looked tougher, talked louder or did less with his prodigious talents.

    The best part about watching Baroni is that he would either knock his opponent out in devastating fashion or lose and look close to tears.

    Either way, it was a win for fans at home. 

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    It has to be Matt Lindland's tribute video to Baroni that featured embarrassing shots of Phil in his underwear, rocking the shortest pair of "jorts" in history. In a war of words between the two, that was game, set and match.

22. Randy Couture

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Ask any MMA fan lurking in a message board or in the comment section of any major site—wrestlers are boring. Give us stand-and-bang strikers any day of the week. Who better to satiate our need for blood? 

    And yet, one of MMA's most enduring rivalries was between a striker and a grappler. And that grappler, Randy Couture, was consistently entertaining. Whether he was getting his leg kicked off by Pedro Rizzo or gulping from the fountain of youth to battle Antonio Nogueira, Couture was rarely less than scintillating in the cage.

    By contrast, nemesis Chuck Liddell, a college wrestler who liked to throw haymakers, was dull as dirt. His counter-punching style led to many a dull fight, with opponents eventually running into his powerhouse punches just to make something, anything, happen.

    Which goes to show you: Never listen to anything people say on MMA message boards. Ever.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Nothing will ever top Couture dropping a lumbering Tim Sylvia like the biggest, dumpiest tree in all of Ohio. Except for Ray Mercer dropping a lumbering Tim Sylvia. Or Fedor dropping a lumbering Tim Sylvia. Basically, I love watching Tim Sylvia fall down.

21. Rumina Sato

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    Why He's Entertaining

    There's a segment of the MMA fanbase that would take one look at Rumina Sato's record and call him a can. This is why using Wikipedia or Sherdog to frame arguments is a bad idea if you're actually not very familiar with a fighter.

    Because, take it from me, Rumina Sato was awesome. A submission machine, he looked for a finishing hold at any and every opportunity. Even when failure meant almost certain death, Sato would go for broke, and often the only thing that broke was his face after his opponent pounded him out. But it was always a thrill show; the grappler's version of a puncher's chance.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    It has to be the flying armbar. There is only one flying armbar, and Charles Taylor will always be on the receiving end. Sorry, Charles.

20. Chris Lytle

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Some people criticized Lytle for sacrificing the integrity of his sport in favor of a nominal cash bonus. In other words, Lytle would rather look amazing in a loss than stink out the joint in a win. 

    OK, I'll admit it: "Some people" in this case was me. But when he called it quits, Chris Lytle had hundreds of thousands of extra dollars in his bank account because he always went out to entertain. Was that so wrong?

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    In Lytle's 20th, and final, UFC appearance, he decided not to take Brit Dan Hardy to the mat. Sure, he might have had a significant advantage there, but that was never what Lytle was all about. Instead, the two men stood and traded, with Lytle attacking the body like the classically trained boxer he once was. 

    It wasn't the smartest display, but Lytle was Lytle to the very end. That's what earned him 10 "Fight or Submission of the Night" bonuses.

19. Yoshiki Takahashi

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Takahashi, with apologies to Shannon Ritch and Gary Goodridge, was MMA's most accomplished punching bag. The Pancrase veteran was never particularly good at anything martial, but boy, was he ever game. 

    Ken Shamrock remembers Takahashi as his most spirited training partner in Japan. The man simply would never quit. It was an attitude that served him well...until it failed him utterly.

    Against Bas Rutten, he failed to tap out when caught in a deadly leg lock. A broken leg didn't stop him—he even kicked Rutten with the injured limb. 

    As a result, however, he sat out more than a year in his fighting pride. There's such a thing as too much courage. It's a shame Takahashi couldn't have gifted some of his courage to a fighter who was lacking.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Early Pancrase fights were very technical and thoughtful grappling exhibitions. The term human chess was invented for these fights, showcasing the very best of the new era of catch wrestling. 

    Takahashi, though, was bringing something else with him to the ring. And veteran Masakatsu Funaki showed him, in no uncertain terms, that he was more than capable of fighting fire with fire.

18. "Krazy Horse" Charles Bennett

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Krazy Horse is a walking stereotype. A former drug dealer, he's got the hair, the grill and the cocksure attitude worthy of any rapper's posse. He's also violence incarnate. Whether beefing with Chute Boxe backstage at Pride or taking on the world's top martial artists with little more than moxie and a talent for face punching, he's the gift that keeps giving.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Watch his fight with Jeff Curran. Then pick your jaw up off the floor and watch it again.

17. Tank Abbott

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    Why He's Entertaining

    In a sport filled with the vestiges of a martial arts tournament at your local YMCA—you know, the bowing, the black belts, the outward display of respect and good sportsmanship—Tank Abbott was a breath of fresh air.

    Tank didn't pull a Gary Goodridge, pretending to represent an esoteric Asian martial art. Tank was exactly what he said he was: a street fighting, heavy drinking, tough SOB. 

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    I'm not sure what was better: Tank's knockout of John Matua in just seconds, or the look on announcer Jeff Blatnick's face later that night when Tank asked him to get the highlight off the screen because "I’m starting to get sexually aroused right now."

16. Frank Shamrock

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Frank Shamrock is like the Bizarro Tank Abbott. More skill and craft than violent fury, the result was often the same—some poor schmuck looking around for his teeth. Shamrock was able to do harm from anywhere. He knocked out Enson Inoue with a knee. He arm-barred Kevin Jackson. He slammed Igor Zinoviev so hard that the former Extreme Fighting star never fought again.

    When Shamrock returned after his first retirement, he was a different fighter. No longer able to dominate physically, Shamrock ramped up the trash talk and breathed new life into a sport that could sometimes be promotionally dull.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    In his grudge match with Phil Baroni, Shamrock taunted an overmatched "New York Bad Ass" with the universal sign for "time to go to sleep." And then he put Baroni to sleep. Talk about calling your shot.

15. Clay Guida

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    Why He's Entertaining

    OK, so Guida didn't live up to enormous reputation in his last fight with Gray Maynard. Instead of an "Octagon Warrior," he looked more like a particularly cowardly caveman, running for his life as Homo sapiens came calling.

    One fight, however, does not erase a career built on being an exciting fighter. Guida's six "Fight of the Night" wins speak for themselves. I'm not quite ready to give up on the Greg Jackson-trained fighter, but I'm officially putting him on notice. Time to turn it up a notch, Guida.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Clay Guida may be at his most entertaining when he's on the wrong side of a beating. Maybe it's the way his hair flies around every time he takes a good lick. Maybe it's the fact that you can always count on him to pick himself back up and head right back into the breach.

    Take, for example, his epic bout with Diego Sanchez. Guida gets kicked square in the face, but pulls himself together long enough to make it interesting. Courage under fire—it's what makes Clay Guida a special fighter.

14. Gilbert Yvel

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Gilbert Yvel is the sport's most lovable scumbag. Who else could punch out a referee, eye gouge a beloved legend and simply shrug his shoulders and be forgiven like nothing ever happened?

    Kenny Florian once screamed, "I FINISH FIGHTS!" Well, Yvel finishes fights. Every single one of his 38 career fights ended by either knockout or submission. Yvel may be a lunatic, but he's certainly an effective lunatic.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    This may make me a horrible person, but I've watched his knockout of the Finnish referee more than once. Not ever—more than once today. My favorite part isn't the left hook that drops him. It's the little dismissive kick he lands for good measure. That's some fine thuggery. 

13. Igor Vovchanchyn

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    Why He's Entertaining

    I don't know what Igor Vovchanchyn thinks. About anything. He's a mystery to me. And I like it that way.

    I don't care what music a fighter listens to, what movies he sees, if he loves his family or if he even has a family.

    None of that matters. Igor Vovchanchyn speaks loudly with his fists. Words are just wind.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    It has to be Vovchanchyn outclassing a game Paul Varelans, showing the world that the young Russian striker was ready for UFC-level competition.

12. Royce Gracie

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Yes, it's true he crushed more cans than any 12 recycling centers, but who else was there? The truth is, Royce Gracie fought the best guys he could find—and finished them all in style.

    Could most modern fighters have done the same? Probably, although Jon Fitch might have spent three rounds analyzing Art Jimmerson's one-gloved jab on his way to a split decision. But Gracie is the one who did it, creating a sport in the process.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Gracie shaming Ken Shamrock into admitting he tapped out at UFC 1 is a classic and priceless moment. To his credit, Ken admitted he lost. Men were men in my day, whippersnappers.

11. Chris Leben

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Chris Leben is not a television character. Sure, he came to our attention via reality television, but that was the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Guys hadn't figured out yet that you could play to the cameras and amp up the "crazy" in an attempt to secure a run in the big show.

    No, Leben's brand of crazy is seemingly all natural. And he can never turn it off. That's wonderful and a little sad. For my purposes as a voyeur, though, it's mostly wonderful.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    That memorable night on The Ultimate Fighter spent bragging, drinking, crying, sleeping on the lawn, getting sprayed with a hose, putting his hand through glass and rampaging through the house is one that won't soon be forgotten.

10. Bas Rutten

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Only Bas Rutten could wear the tightest, smallest Speedos and do a gymnastics routine after every win and still somehow look intimidating. Rutten had so much potential and charisma that his main rival, Pancrase founder Masakatsu Funaki, took it upon himself to teach Rutten grappling in order to create a new star for the company.

    Injuries ended Rutten's career early, but not before he was able to come to America and win the UFC title. That forever secured his legacy as one of the sport's most legendary fighters. A run as the amazingly entertaining color commentator on Pride broadcasts allowed Rutten to stay close to the sport—and we are all better for it.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    You have to wonder, on that fateful day in September 1996, if Funaki regretted taking Rutten under his wing—because Rutten smashed him, and his face, in one of the most violent matches in Pancrase history.

9. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Forget the "Rampage" Jackson you've seen over the last couple of years; the one point fighting and making bad movies. We will, when it's all said and done, agree as a fanbase that the last two years never happened.

    I'm talking about the Rampage from Pride. The hilarious guy who loved nothing more than slamming a dude right on his head. With his trademark chain and his "Rampage howl," this was a fighter made for Japan. He made the most of it, becoming a minor celebrity in a culture that celebrated its combat sports icons.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Many would point to his power-bomb of Ricardo Arona, one of the most incredible slams the sport has ever seen. But I preferred his consistently hilarious interactions with announcer Bas Rutten. The two had great chemistry and never failed to entertain.

8. Mauricio Rua

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    Why He's Entertaining

    There's nothing funny about Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. He's a cypher, unknowable, incapable of human emotion. Shogun simply came to the ring, did his thing and then returned to parts unknown.

    He's on this list because "his thing" was unleashing unspeakable violence on opponents. No one did it better than the ultimate product of the Chute Boxe style.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    There has never been a fight as good, from bell to bell, as Rua's instant classic with Dan Henderson at UFC 139. If violence were an orange, this is the pulpy juice; a fight worth savoring and enjoying with a healthy breakfast.

7. Urijah Faber

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Urijah Faber, true to his parent's hippy roots, was a free spirit in the cage. He did what felt right, even if what felt right was an ill-advised spinning back elbow that left him wide open to a Mike Brown haymaker.

    That moment changed Faber forever. Gone for good was the wild child, in his place a disciplined wrestle-boxer just like so many others in the sport. But those of us around for the WEC days will always know the other Faber, the one willing to risk it all to do something cool in the cage.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    No one got to witness it, but just hearing Faber describe his encounter with a street gang in Bali is wildly entertaining—and terrifying.

6. Joachim "Hellboy" Hansen

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Joachim Hansen may never fight in the UFC. Heck, "Hellboy" doesn't want to. I'll let him explain in his own colorful way:

    I would rather have bleeding hemorrhoids than fight for the UFC.The Japanese MMA audience is the best in the world. They make magic! I would rather have one true Japanese MMA supporter than one million fake mainstream supporters that will turn their back on you as soon as you lose a fight. I don't care about things that are mainstream.

    It's really a shame, because at his best, there is not a fighter in the world capable of combining slick standup and superb submissions into a ballet of pain the way Hansen did.  

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Hansen's fights were 15-minute collections of amazing moments. One of my personal favorites was his 2005 classic with Caol Uno.

5. Carlos Newton

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Carlos Newton was a complete goofball, mimicking Dragon Ball Z characters after his fights, wearing an afro wig to the cage and generally being silly. But when the cage door closed, the silly Newton disappeared and a killer emerged.

    Newton was deadly on the mat, one of the most entertaining submission artists of all time. Many fans think that only strikers can be entertaining, booing when the action hits the mat. Newton spent a career fighting that perception, transforming many meat-heads into grappling fans with his technical skill and grace. 

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Newton thought he had Matt Hughes beat at UFC 34. But when Hughes lifted Carlos off the mat, in mid-triangle, all bets were off. It was the UFC's first photo finish and a highlight that will live forever.

4. Anderson Silva

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Allow me to quote, well, myself:

    Anderson Silva is more than just the best fighter in mixed martial arts history, though he is surely that as well. Silva transcends fighting, is bigger than the cage they use to contain him. More than a fighter, he's an artist.

    Sure the canvas is often spattered with blood and the other man's deflated dreams, but that doesn't diminish his art. It amplifies it. After all, Picasso didn't have to dodge punches while he painted his masterpieces.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Silva showed a good sense of humor when he invited his nemesis Chael Sonnen to a barbecue at his home after their second fight. But the ultimate Silva moment has to be that crazy front kick he used to put Vitor Belfort's lights out.

    Not only was it an amazing moment, it was made all the more amazing when he credited B-movie star Steven Seagal with teaching him the kick.

3. Diego Sanchez

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    Why He's Entertaining

    I think it's safe to say, at this point in his career, that Diego Sanchez will never be a UFC champion. And I'm OK with that. Diego Sanchez is more than a mere champion. Dave Menne was UFC champ, and no one has recognized him on the street since, well, ever.

    Diego's legacy is bigger than that. He means more. Sanchez is MMA's Arturo Gatti. He steps into the cage not to win, but to deliver a fight. It's in his DNA. Even when caution is his goal, he can't help but engage to his fullest. 

    From his cross-wielding, "Yes!" shouting introduction to the 15 minutes of glorious violence his presence seems to virtually guarantee, Sanchez is excitement personified. When he finally walks off into the sunset, the sport will be a poorer place for it.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Sanchez first came to my attention with his insistence that he could best connect to the power of the universe by doing yoga in a thunderstorm. That was wacky, but wacky isn't why Diego Sanchez is No. 3 on this list. So, give me Sanchez's three-round drubbing of Nick Diaz. That was Diego at his very best, completely dismantling one of the best in the world. 

2. Wanderlei Silva

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    Why He's Entertaining

    Wanderlei Silva is violence incarnate. I'll leave it to The MMA Enyclopedia co-author Kendall Shields to explain why something about Silva makes you want to hide under the covers and pretend the world is a nice place and not a place that could produce a man like Wanderlei Silva:

    Wanderlei Silva is terrifying. With his tattooed head shaved bare, his dead-eyed stare, and his mouth hanging ever so slightly agape, his presence in the corner before a fight is so threatening that even the most routine movement—his trademark wrist-roll warm-up, for instance—takes on an air of menace. And that's before the bell rings, before the wild-man rush across the ring, the thunderous looping punches, the head kicks, the knees, the soccer kicks, the stomps. Before any of that has even started, Wanderlei Silva is the scariest man in a scary, scary sport.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Rampage Jackson, collapsed in the ring ropes, a victim of Silva's brutal ministrations, is one of the most frightening images in the history of combat sports. Is it any wonder Rampage hasn't been right since? Silva knocked all the sense out of his head with one of the most incredible and violent beatings I've ever seen.

1. Nick Diaz

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    Why He's Entertaining

    He's Nick Diaz. What more needs to be said?

    Nick Diaz is the Rolls Royce of entertaining fighters, even though he's stuck driving a Honda. He's a monster inside the cage, capable of swarming a man like a particularly annoying mosquito, pitter-pattering away with arm punches that don't look like much, hitting with the force of a spaghetti-armed sledge hammer.

    Of course, lots of guys bring the pain in the cage. That's why the UFC uses that incredibly tone deaf song after all these years. But Diaz is more than a willing warrior in the Octagon. He brings that fighting spirit to every thing he does.

    Some would call him anti-social. He hates press conferences, media obligations and any of the trappings that come with a big fight. He hates hugging it out at the end of a fight. He isn't afraid to beat a man down if he steps into the cage and gets out of line, even if that man is older than dirt.

    He's Nick Diaz. There can be only one.

     

    Most Amazing Moment

    Diaz has had so many classics. His fights with Karo Parisyan, Diego Sanchez and Takanori Gomi are among the best of all time.

    As great as those bouts were, the fight that stands out to me, the moment that really announced to the world that Nick Diaz was a fighter who mattered, was his scintillating battle with UFC refugee Paul Daley in Strikeforce. No fight better encapsulates what Nick Diaz is all about, coming from the brink of defeat to finish one of the scariest strikers in the welterweight class.

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