The 20 Biggest Badasses in MMA History
Some men are born to be fighters, and some men are born to be absolute warriors of the most vicious caliber. While the true bad asses of MMA are few and far between, the last (near) 20 years have produced a handful of amazing talents.
We’re talking about the one in a million kind of combatants. Those who leave our jaws planted on the floor in awe. Those who refuse to succumb to pressure or extreme challenges… those willing to walk through Hell to ensure a victory.
Many talented fighters have come and gone over the years, but this specific piece is meant to serve as a reminder of who the truly terrifying competitors are. The unbreakable warriors we’ll still be discussing in a few decades…
“The Axe Murderer” mowed down foes in Pride for years. From about 2000-2005, Silva was the most feared man competing for the promotion.
From his compact but muscular physique to his gnarly cranial tattoo to that crazy pre-fight fist twist, straight down to the otherworldly aggression he showcased in the ring, Wanderlei was an absolute nightmare.
The man once rode an 18-fight unbeaten streak, and he bumped off some impressive competition during said span, including Quinton “Rampage” Jackson twice, Kazushi Sakuraba thrice, Dan Henderson and Hidehiko Yoshida.
That Mohawk of “The Iceman’s” is more than iconic, it’s intimidating. This is a guy who looks like he’s entering the cage with the hope of killing a man.
In truth, he’s a damn enjoyable guy to be around, but inside that cage, particularly during his prime years, Chuck Liddell was a fighter to be avoided.
While Wanderlei was ruling the roost in Japan, Chuck was doing the same thing stateside. In Chuck’s first 25 fights, he dropped just five bouts. In the between time, he was taking home heads, namely those of guys like Renato Sobral, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Kevin Randleman and Alistair Overeem.
They didn’t call this guy “Ice Cold” for no reason. The man made Fedor Emelianenko look like a circus clown, he was that cold. No emotion whatsoever, Igor showed up, did his job, and left the same low-key figure he entered.
Prior to the major advancements of the sport, Igor was recognized as a top pound-for-pound competitor. The man once amassed a 37-fight unbeaten streak. If that’s not an astonishing accomplishment, I don’t know what is.
Mirko Cro Cop
Mirko Filipovic will go down in history as the most memorable kickboxer to cross over to mixed martial arts. His early success in Japan is something that cannot be wiped from the annals of history, and no one is about to forget some of the man’s amazing knockout finishes.
The Croatian enjoyed some serious success early in his career, and explosive finishes over the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Igor Vovchanchyn, Josh Barnett and Aleksander Emelianenko will ensure that Mirko tops many “favorite fighter” lists for years to come.
The fact that the man moved like a terminator only added to his unique aura.
Part of what made Fedor such a bad ass was the fact that he never needed to project that outward macho aggression. He walked as a quiet, respectful man, who happened to be able to kill you with his bare hands…probably with relative ease.
The Russian enjoyed a run at heavyweight that few ever dream of let alone accomplish. For nearly 10 years, Fedor went unbeaten, picking up a 14-0-0-1 record for the Pride promotion: the promotion considered to house the finest heavyweights on the planet circa 2004.
“The Last Emperor” was, and always will be one of the greatest mixed martial artists to compete as a professional. And whether he behaved aggressively or not, he was (and likely still is) without doubt one of the baddest men alive.
There’s confidence, and then there’s Anderson Silva, super bad-ass confidence. I’m not sure this man even believes he can be beaten. And with good reason, he’s brutalized just about every guy to stand opposite him in a cage over the last six years.
Yeah, yeah, Chael Sonnen put forth an impressive showing during their first encounter. But let’s not forget who walked away from that fight victorious.
“The Spider” finishes foes any way he desires, and he typically prefers shocking knockout finishes, which makes him a thrill to watch. The longtime champion has proven he’s the biggest bad ass on the planet today, and he’s done so by racking up 16 consecutive victories inside the UFC’s octagon.
Demolitions of Chris Leben, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Forrest Griffin, Rich Franklin and Nate Marquardt should serve as rock-solid proof that this man is a monster of unrivaled epicness.
“Shogun” must have been born with an endless supply of Energizer batteries lining his torso, because this guy just refuses to quit. Even when dead tired, the man moves like a battered cyborg, plodding forward, firing punches, elbows, knees and kicks.
Rua has the killer instinct of a lion, and even if he happens to be completely exhausted, he’ll still swarm and turn the lights out. Clean out. Just ask Lyoto Machida, Alistair Overeem, Chuck Liddell and Ricardo Arona.
Expect zero mercy from this man. He’s just too bad ass to display anything other than an animalistic aggression.
Melvin Manhoef is likely the most dangerous man to never compete inside the octagon. Why it never happened is beyond me, but what isn’t, is the fact that Manhoef continues to wreck craniums in rings and cages across the map.
A 17-year veteran of the sport, “No Mercy” has turned countless foes into highlight-reel victims. Amongst his finest accomplishments are memorable stoppages of Mark Hunt, Kazuo Misaki, Evangelista Santos and Ian Freeman.
26 wins, 24 stoppages? Yeah, I’d call that impressive... and bad ass.
Alistair is a bit of a late bloomer. I think years of battling to cut 20-plus pounds from an already elongated frame probably stole away quite a bit of his natural power. Now that the man has ditched 205 and runs around looking like the Dutch version of the Incredible Hulk, it’s a different story.
Overeem’s monstrous frame is a thing to fear, but so is his recent run in MMA. “The Reem” hasn’t lost a fight since 2007, and he’s picked up a couple nice wins in that same stretch, having toppled Mark Hunt, Todd Duffee, Fabricio Werdum and Brock Lesnar.
Junior dos Santos
I find it amusing that the nicest guy competing today also happens to be one of the most feared bad asses to wander the world. The guy’s a true charmer away from competition, but he’s the present and future of the heavyweight division once the cage door closes.
A single mental slip early in his career is a thing nearly forgotten: this man has thoroughly dominated nine quality foes while fighting for the UFC. Amongst his victims are Fabricio Werdum, Mirko Filipovic, Gabriel Gonzaga, Roy Nelson, Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir.
Now that’s a résumé.
Cain stands as one of today’s top-flight heavyweights. This man is special, capable of squashing foes with his fists or his wrestling. When you hear the cliché “new breed” being tossed about, you should be thinking of Cain, because he actually is one of the new breed of competitors.
Velasquez has already trampled an assortment of quality competition, including Ben Rothwell, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
A feared fighter from a feared camp, Cain has only fallen once, to the current champion Junior dos Santos. He’ll have his chance at revenge on Dec. 29.
This blue-collar bad ass has been around since the 1990s, and he’s been beating up respectable opposition the entire time.
Once recognized as a wrestler primarily, Dan’s taken to head hunting, with some great success. The man’s fearless approach to competition is a rare find, and his ability to put away opponents who are, theoretically, superior, never fails to amaze.
“Hendo” has been a part of some amazing wars, and he’s sent some respectable guys into la la land with that “H Bomb.” Fedor Emelianenko, Rafael Cavalcante, Michael Bisping, Renato Sobral and Wanderlei Silva are just a few men to find themselves on the wrong side of this beast’s fists.
Thiago Silva probably won’t ever win a major promotional title. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a terrifying menace in the cage. The cut-throat motion and the heavy hands have become his trademark, and that trademark isn’t likely to be forgotten anytime soon.
Silva recently went to war with Stanislav Nedkov in a thrilling back-and-forth affair, and he’s also bumped Keith Jardine, Houston Alexander and Tomasz Drwal from relevancy.
There’s still a bright future for this kid.
Now might be a good time to do some extensive Pancrase research. Bas Rutten was one of the original bad asses. We’re talking about the days of Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock’s immense popularity, but we’re not talking about those men.
We’re talking about “El Guapo,” the animal who beat the likes of Tsuyoshi Kosaka, Masakatsu Funaki, Frank Shamrock and Maurice Smith. It’s a shame that Father Time caught up to this colorful character: he may still be taking heads to the delight of crowds across the globe.
This WWE import’s career didn’t last long. But when Brock did compete, all eyes were glued to the cage. The man’s hulking frame looked as though it was created in a factory, and if the man’s unimaginable width didn’t put the fear into fighters, that phallic tattoo probably did.
In all seriousness, Lesnar looked like a freight train during his early career goings. This monster broke Heath Herring’s face, thrashed perennial contender and former champion Randy Couture, beat Frank Mir within an inch of his life, and made one of the greatest comebacks in MMA history when he survived a five-minute-long hellacious attack from Shane Carwin, only to submit him in the second frame of their heavyweight title affair.
Lesnar wasn’t unbeaten in the cage, but his record could possibly look a bit more impressive if it weren’t for a horrific disease known as diverticulitis.
Randy falls into that same nice-guy category that Junior dos Santos fits comfortably in. Like JDS, Couture always showed up to wreak havoc on his opponents.
Randy may not have looked like one of the most dangerous men on the planet, but he was. He proved it time and again, winning titles at heavyweight and light heavyweight. “The Natural” defied the odds too many times to count.
He was supposed to be run over by Vitor Belfort at UFC 15, but that didn’t happen. He was considered a long shot at taking the title from Tim Sylvia, but he did so without much resistance.
Tito Ortiz was recognized as the younger, stronger opponent when he collided with Randy, and Randy spanked him, literally. Hell, even Chuck Liddell was supposed to cruise through the face of Couture at UFC 43, but that didn’t happen, either.
“DC” is in an interesting spot. He’s got the frame to compete at light heavyweight, where he’d likely see some big success, but he currently campaigns as a heavyweight, where he’s done nothing but impress.
After just three years as a professional, Cormier has already abused the likes of Jeff Monson, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and former UFC heavyweight champion, Josh Barnett. The sky is the limit for this unbeaten prospect, and I see more major accomplishments in the man’s future.
Speaking of Josh Barnett, it’s hard to deny the man’s skills and impact on the sport. Barnett’s traveled the globe and pounded on elite fighters under numerous different banners.
Barnett made easy work of Sergei Kharitonov and Brett Rogers while fighting for Strikeforce, put Pedro Rizzo to sleep while competing for Affliction, picked up wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Hunt and Aleksander Emelianenko while competing in Pride, and took the title from Randy Couture at UFC 36.
Those are amazing feats, and while Barnett’s best days are behind him, his place as one of the sport's greatest heavyweights is not in question.
Frank Shamrock was one of the very first fighters to take cross-training to extreme levels. His efforts in the gym paid off, big time. An arrogant man by nature, Shamrock backed up all his posturing.
The man earned some massive wins in Japan, including victories over Bas Rutten and Masakatsu Funaki, and he saw great success stateside once signing with the UFC.
Shammy earned a title for the promotion and went undefeated during his stint, putting away a young, hungry Tito Ortiz, Jeremy Horn, Kevin Jackson and Igor Zinoviev.
Frank’s war with Enson Inoue at Vale Tudo Japan 1997 remains one of the most entertaining fights in history.
Frank Shamrock was one bad-ass dude!
Here’s my random pick of the day. Ryan Gracie wasn’t a world beater, but he had the potential to be, and he was definitely the Gracie member we’d always wanted to see compete: a bullish fighter with absolute destruction on his mind.
The man was a killer, and I’ll forever be convinced that if he’d managed to get his life and training together, he could have and would have emerged a serious top 10 threat.
If you need a reminder of the savagery the man was capable of delivering, revisit his bouts with Tokimitsu Ishizawa, Kazuhiro Hamanaka and Shungo Oyama.
Follow Matt Molgaard on Twitter.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!