The Most Intense Fighters in MMA History
Intensity can take many forms and quantifying a list of MMA’s most intense fighters can be a highly subjective exercise.
What is intensity?
Is it ferocity? A relentless pace coupled with brute force visiting serious violence on an opponent? Does a fighter’s character or personality outside the cage have any bearing on how “intense” he is?
These were just some of the questions posed against every fighter on this list. Those questions, it turned out, were ultimately whittled down to the feelings a man arouses in his opponent. Those feelings are generally fear, pressure, and stress. Ultimately, an “intense” fighter carries with him bad intentions.
Here’s the top 15 of all time.
source: SB Nation
Bringing up the rear is the now-retired Chris “Lights Out” Lytle.
Though Lytle's not quite deserving of that nickname (he only has five KO/TKO wins in his 54-fight MMA career), his stacks of decision wins belie the intensity of his fight game.
Since his TKO loss to Thiago Alves in 2007, the Indiana native went on to rack up eight fight-night bonuses in ten fights. Five of those were considered “Fight of the Night”, in what were always bloody, brutal affairs.
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A man who is deserving of his nickname, “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler’s intense presence in the cage brings with it power and speed.
He’s a vicious striker, with 16 of his 19 stoppages coming by way of TKO or KO.
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The original zombie, Chris Leben is a battle-hardened warrior who pushes a pace few can match.
With one-punch knockout power, he’s a man not afraid of standing in the pocket and staying there. His fights rarely go the distance and he has a “do or die” attitude only a man who feels no pain can have.
And that’s probably because he’s strung out on painkillers.
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A difficult entry to place on this list because, for all his smack-talk and street-thug demeanor, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson can often appear like a cartoon character.
More often a disgruntled bear, it’s easy to confuse his churlishness for intensity, which is probably why he was cast as B.A. Baracus in The A-Team movie.
Still, he’s willing to stand toe-to-toe with any man and dare him to trade punches. It’s how he fights, and as petulant as his complaints of fighters who like to “hump his leg” seem, the fact is, this man is a brawler.
And he’s one of the most legit, powerful brawlers in the UFC who has to be treated with extreme caution.
Thiago Silva is a member of the legendary Chute Boxe Academy—home of some of the most violent men in MMA history. Wanderlei Silva, Evangelista Santos, and Mauricio Rua all come from this school.
Like them, Thiago was carved out of the “gym wars” that were often a nightly occurrence at the Academy and he’s carried that tradition with him as he’s evolved his own MMA game.
He’s a man who wants to kill his opponents and he respects no one who enters the cage with him.
Dutch fighter Melvin Manhoef thinks he’s a dog.
He’s had this affliction for most of his career. And not just any dog. More like a pit bull, or any kind of dog used to guard, say, a junk yard.
He walks into his fights sporting spiked dog collars and chains hanging down from his neck, all while bouncing around like a dog—contorted face and all.
That’s bound to creep out anyone. So, too, is his record of 23 KO/TKO finishes of his 24 wins in a 34-fight MMA career. Wow.
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Another man who treads the fine line between fearless warrior and petulant child, Michael Bisping’s football hooligan spirit is bound to make Queen and country proud.
He spits on his opponents and squares uncomfortably close to their faces, wearing a look of both hate and delight in the damage he’s going to do to them. That alone is pretty intense.
You almost want to tell him, “Calm down Michael, it’s only a fight.”
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Deep into the top ten is, perhaps, an odd choice: the serene, always amicable Fedor Emelianenko.
Never raises his voice, rarely makes eye-contact with his opponents, carries a warm gentle smile with him always...you could say Emelianenko is the poster boy for anti-intensity.
But you’d be wrong.
For when the cage door closes, the bell rings, and you realize there’s nowhere to escape, “The Last Emperor” will come at you like a sociopathic Terminator.
His opponents often compare the look in his eyes as the fight gets underway to that of a maniac, one who eats punches at will, completely unfazed, and delivers back twice as hard.
It’s a way of fighting that left Emelianenko with three straight losses at the end of an astounding 28-fight unbeaten run, all but ending his career. In his remaining fights, as he bowed out of the world of MMA, Emelianenko was a much more careful, calculating figure. That’s okay—his first-round knockout of Pedro Rizzo in his final match was just as satisfying as all the stompings he’d delivered throughout his career.
An old school fighter, Don Frye is from an era of brawlers when intensity was often the key to victory.
He blended a lethal combination of boxing and wrestling beautifully and went out to seriously damage his opponents. Frye once said that he’d often remind himself of a sad, difficult moment in his life, such as the death of his dog, and bring those emotions into the cage.
He must have been thinking of something especially heartbreaking when he took on Yoshihiro Takayama at Pride 21 in 2002.
Just check out that fight on YouTube and you’ll see the epitome of intensity.
Diego “The Nightmare” Sanchez has the most grotesque stare-down in the history of MMA.
His contorted face, bared teeth, and squinted eyes, conjure up a monster straight out of your worst nightmare.
That “look” can verge on the comical, if it weren’t for the knowledge that, as soon as the bell goes, he’ll come at you with the ferocity of a blood-crazed maniac.
His record speaks for itself. His last three fights—all soaked in blood—all scored “Fight of the Night”.
Nick Diaz needs to hate his opponents before getting into the cage with them. He works himself up for a fight in a way that leaves you questioning his emotional health.
Of all the fighters who bring that intensity, you know there’s no acting with Diaz. His love/hate relationship with the sport is palpable, which leaves a question mark over his psychological well-being.
Any fighter looking to unsettle Diaz will always come out worse off. His manager Caesar Gracie said it best: you can’t out-crazy Nick.
What’s more, he brings that guy-on-the-edge attitude with him into the cage. He taunts and humiliates his opponents while maintaining a relentless pace from bell to bell. It helps that, as a part-time tri-athlete, he’s honed the best cardio in the whole of MMA.
Like Don Frye, Kimo Leopoldo came from an era of brawlers where intensity was the key to victory.
Only, he took things much further than Frye.
In his early days, Leopoldo would walk into the cage carrying a cross on his back, in a juiced-out version of the Passion play, where Jesus rises from the dead with the wide-eyed stare of a crack-head and pounds the shit out of you.
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Admit it. If there was one fighter you were waiting for on this list, it's Wanderlei Silva. Most of you would expect him to be number one.
He’s a fighter who built his reputation on his intensity – his fearless tactic of bringing a fight to his opponent like no other.
Silva only has one speed: kill.
What’s more, he has the most piercing stare-down in the whole of MMA. The fact that he looks like a Neanderthal just adds to that intensity. It’s why they call him the “Axe Murderer”.
With devastating stomps, knees, and soccer kicks, he’s built a reputation for seriously wanting to damage his opponents. He is not a man to be taken lightly.
Junior Dos Santos
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As we round out this list, we come across one of the meanest heavyweights in MMA.
Junior dos Santos is not an easy man to place. He’s one of the most affable fighters in the UFC and a true ambassador for the sport.
He’s also a “scary, scary dude,” as Joe Rogan would say, and the string of knockouts that led him to the title is testament to that.
His pre-fight ritual involves walking to the center of the cage and “slashing” at his opponents with his hands—declaring his intentions in the fight. He wants to knock your head off and that's all he really knows how to do.
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Cain Velasquez is a freak athlete. With one decision win in his 11-fight career, this elite wrestler is a knockout artist on par with the likes of Junior dos Santos.
What sets him apart from dos Santos, however, is his cardio. Velasquez moves at the pace of a man several weight classes below him. Few fighters can keep up.
He pushes forward and beats you up with every intention of making a statement with every fight. Just look at the horror show he visited upon Antonio Silva in his last fight. Yeah.