Every now and then a special breed of fighter emerges. A man both profoundly tough and always dangerous, this man is a scarce find. But these special exceptions to the rule are out there, and this is a tribute to the toughest of the tough, the true killers who always hunt for the finish, even when everything’s on the line and nothing’s in the knees.
To launch this piece with anyone other than Martin Kampmann at the forefront of discussion feels certifiably improper. Have no doubt, there are men who happen to be just as tough as Martin Kampmann.
But to point to anyone and say definitively, without the shadow of a doubt, that Chris Leben, or Nick Diaz or Mauricio Rua is the tougher guy...this kind of intangible is practically immeasurable. It’s a wild X-factor that you have or you don’t.
Martin Kampmann has it.
Time and again “The Hitman” has displayed a wild ability to recover from potentially fight-ending blows and compromised positions. He refuses to quit, and if you cannot render the man completely immobilized—a feat only three men have accomplished—there is a constant threat that lingers.
Jake Ellenberger roughed up Kampmann early in their meeting at The Ultimate Fighter 15 finale, but that didn’t stop him from keeping his fight IQ in the target range. He struggled, survived and eventually throttled Ellenberger, forcing referee intervention.
Thiago Alves looked to be about 45 seconds away from exiting the Octagon victorious, but Kampmann capitalized on a single err in judgment and snatched victory from the grip of defeat with a tight guillotine choke.
While the judges don’t always side with Kampmann, even when it appears he’s clearly won the contest, he brings his heart into the cage with him and lets it pump plasma all over the canvas. He did it when tangling with Diego Sanchez and Jake Shields. He’s proven to be a guy that simply cannot be overlooked.
No matter how the fight unfolds, one guarantee is affixed: Kampmann can never be counted out of a fight.
Brown’s the least consistent fighter on this list, no doubt about it whatsoever. However, he’s not a guy who rolls over, and he’s not a guy who’s ensured to leave the loser if he enters a bout’s final frame down on the cards. He’s simply never out of a fight.
Knockout power leaves him a constant live dog, and a will to win guides him through some seriously tough times. Brown’s durable, and the only hole in his game is a lack of submission savvy. If he’s capable of patching that up, you’re looking at one of MMA’s finer late bloomers.
Frank’s certainly run into a few trains that simply were inescapable. A prime (given the context of his career) Shane Carwin brutalized the former champion, and there’s no shame in that: If Carwin drops a flush one on the chin, nine of 10 foes sleep.
Brock Lesnar also put Mir to sleep in a memorable affair at UFC 100. And recently, the current champion Junior dos Santos thoroughly outclassed Frank.
What’s the common link between these men? Huge, one-punch power.
While these losses probably have many scratching their heads, I’m certain Mir detractors would have a hard time disproving the threat the man presents.
A healthy Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira turned the man into a walking punching bag and looked to be seconds away from redeeming the loss he suffered at UFC 92. Mir went down after a series of punches from Antonio left him noticeably loopy.
But moments later, he completely recovered, and made history before the four-minute mark of round one had passed by becoming the first to submit the legendary “Big Nog.”
During their first encounter, Brock Lesnar was well on his way to transforming Mir’s face into a hamburger patty replica. Mir survived the barrage and secured a tight kneebar to spoil Lesnar’s UFC debut.
Mir looked to have fallen back on old habits in recent memory, apparently neglecting cardio work. He’s appeared lethargic and less explosive than what we've become accustomed to seeing just a few years ago.
He was pushed fairly hard while battling a fading Cro Cop and an out-of-shape Roy Nelson. Still, Mir was able to fight through these circumstances and secure wins. In the case of the Cro Cop fight, he even found a way to finish with a knockout-producing knee.
He’s not all too consistent, but when his brain isn’t bounced off the inside of his skull repeatedly, Frank Mir is capable of turning the tides at any moment.
Diego “The Nightmare" or “The Dream"—or whatever nickname he’s currently embracing—Sanchez looks like a lot like an attention-hungry eccentric.
But he’s not. That’s just Diego Sanchez, a very distinctive individual.
Sanchez has a chin that keeps him out of trouble most cannot avoid. He typically arrives on fight night with a gas tank that most fail to match, and he’s well rounded enough to end a fight anywhere.
The recipient of a few wins that he probably didn’t deserve, Diego’s fully equipped tool belt and unbreakable fighting spirit often overcome any ire that he may inadvertently (completely undeserving, as well, I should note) draw from the audience.
Diego’s not a judge, he’s just a warrior who shows up to do a job, and he does it 99 percent of the time.
Most feel he came up short when battling Martin Kampmann. Many feel he didn’t deserve to pick up a "W" after the fight with Clay Guida.
Opinions in the end mean nothing: The verdict has been dealt and the books read as they read. Sanchez still dug deep in each fight and worked remarkably hard to secure victory.
BJ Penn put on a highly entertaining show when pounding on Sanchez at UFC 107, but even a prime (at least, according to many pundits) Penn couldn’t literally stop the man. The cage’s higher powers were forced to call a halt to the affair after a beautiful high kick opened up a massive gash on Sanchez’s forehead.
After falling behind on the cards against Jake Ellenberger, Sanchez pulled out all the stops and completely outworked “The Juggernaut” in the final round of their UFC fight on FUEL TV. It wasn’t a winning performance, but it was a reminder that Diego never seems to go away.
He’s always there, and he’s always capable of shocking the world.
Joe’s not quite as rugged as most of the other men on this list, but his offense is so unbelievably vicious that he’s got to be recognized as dangerous by any man who signs to toe the line with the man.
Sleep on Lauzon’s skills, and you’ll find yourself in Jens Pulver, Melvin Guillard or Jamie Varner’s shoes: woozy and one loss deeper into your career. Joe always seeks the finish, no matter who serves as his opposition, and no matter whom the books label a favorite.
When a fighter’s picked up 22 victories in his career, and every single one of those wins has occurred inside the distance, you know he’s a guy that cannot be counted out of a fight. “J-Lau” may not be the favored fighter, depending on who he’s scheduled to fight, but it never matters to him, and that’s what’s special about Joe.
He’s a killer, plain and simple.
Chris Leben turns fights around like it’s the cool thing to do. It’s become such a habit, it’s almost as though he intentionally takes a beating simply to prove he can survive and reverse the scenario.
Yoshihiro Akiyama looked close to snatching his first legit victory inside of the Octagon until Leben pulled a triangle choke out of thin air.
Aaron Simpson was clearly getting the best of Leben before a series of punches from Chris found their mark in the later moments of the second round, and Simpson was sent sprawling face first across the cage.
He turned things around against Terry Martin, he helped to spoil the surging Jorge Santiago’s first UFC run, and he’ll likely pull a few more surprises from the bag in the future.
“The Crippler” is never a safe bet on paper, but he’s always dangerous, and he’s never out of a fight until officials intervene.
Nate’s a born fighter. Born fighters don’t tend to quit, and they never lose track of their ultimate goal of being the man to have his hand raised at the end of a competition. You don’t see a born fighter broken mentally, and you don’t see a born fighter panic and stumble into a fight-finishing assault.
Nate’s not a perfect fighter, and he doesn’t win every fight, but he cannot be ruled out of a fight, no matter how hairy things get for him.
Kurt Pellegrino was effective in showing a young Diaz plenty of resistance and looked like a man gearing up to earn a decision victory over the younger Diaz brother. That is, until an opening made itself known and Diaz identified it: a beautiful cage-push with the foot, one swift motion and two middle fingers later, Diaz was declared the winner.
Melvin Guillard also looked to be an opponent with the tools to put Diaz away. After dropping the Stockton rep however, the tides took a turn. Seven minutes later, Diaz was the owner of another submission victory.
Even in defeat, Nate will not relent in his attack, and that’s what makes him a special fighter. One half of the notorious Diaz brothers, Nate’s a natural warrior, and you just can’t make any assumption when a natural warrior enters the cage.
“Shogun” isn’t exactly an old fighter. That said, at just 30, the Brazilian’s finest days are well behind him. Numerous injuries and some grueling wars have led to the decline of the former Pride champ.
The fact that he’s avoided becoming a non-factor and still presents a significant threat to everyone he faces speaks volumes about the man.
The junior Rua brother was cut from the exact same cloth that the Diaz brothers were cut from. This guy is a monster with a heart that’s as big Brazil, and he represents his home country well.
Whether going to war with Brandon Vera, Dan Henderson or Lyoto Machida, Rua never recognizes himself as out of the equation until the fight is over. He proved to be a remarkably talented fighter while competing under the Pride banner, but since signing with the UFC, he’s shown that he’s also a near-unstoppable machine who will not easily admit defeat.
Just about everything I said about Nate Diaz applies to the elder of the two brothers, Nick.
One need only look at the man’s history to know what he’s capable of.
If you’d like to hear it straight from the mouths of his victims, hit Twitter and look up Paul Daley, Takanori Gomi, K.J Noons or Evangelista Santos, then send them a message. They may not have the friendliest things to say about Nick, but I doubt any would deny the spirit he possesses.
209, mother f...
Frankie Edgar’s future in the world of MMA looks wonderful. Even at 31 years old, “The Answer” has plenty of time left in the sport, and he’s still an improving fighter.
Frankie’s longevity can be attributed to his ability to avoid excessive punishment. Up to the point in which he fought Gray Maynard for the second time, Edgar hadn’t really absorbed too much in terms of brutal punishment.
Gray changed that. And although Maynard tested his fortitude on more than one occasion, he failed to break the former champion and was eventually broken himself. A predictable, or obviously susceptible, fighter doesn’t make that kind of scenario a reality.
When you consider the fact that Edgar’s not only exhibited a big heart and tremendous resilience, he’s also shown the world that his resolve is second to none. It’s hard to deny the man’s worth as a fighter.
Edgar’s been successfully competing in a weight class he probably never should have even flirted with. Knowing that he not only racked up a winning record as a professional but also seized gold at the highest stage of competition, proves that no matter who, when or what weight class, Frankie’s a guy that can’t be counted out of a fight.
Ranking anyone above Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in this specific piece would be outright delusional. The former champion built a legacy on heart and submission skill.
During his Pride days, Nogueira was frequently victimized for lengthy stretches (most notably against the hulking competitor Bob Sapp who subjected “Big Nog” to the scariest pile driver in MMA history) before rallying to secure fight-ending submission holds.
Even after making the transition from Pride to the UFC, Nogueira put his pliability on display. The guy’s desire to win is second to none, and he proved that in his encounters with Heath Herring, Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia. Each man had their moments while toeing the line with Nog, and each man left the Octagon after suffering a loss.
If there’s anyone you’ve got to recognize as a viable contender, against any man, it’s Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
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