The UFC’s inception in 1993 enticed droves of hungry and talented amateur and collegiate wrestlers to step into the octagon. Flocks of hard-nosed and experienced mat wizards tried their hands at a new and intriguing sport, coined mixed martial arts by the late Jeff Blatnick, an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling in 1984 and one of the UFC’s first color commentators.
Many of the pioneer wrestlers of the sport, like former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson, former two-division UFC champion Randy Couture and former nine-time UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes, each lent a valuable hand in forging a blueprint that’s used by future amateur and collegiate wrestlers to infiltrate and dominate the sport.
But not every prosperous amateur wrestler who’s dabbled in MMA has duplicated or even come close to matching the heights reached by Henderson, Couture and Hughes, among others.
For every Henderson, the UFC gets a number of esteemed grapplers like Shane Roller, a three-time NCAA All-American who just simply couldn’t seem to utilize his takedown ability within the realm of a cage fight.
Roller certainly doesn’t stand alone in that category, though. Truth be told, UFC president Dana White has awarded priceless opportunities that never materialized to several former Division I wrestlers. Just to name a handful, fighters like C.B. Dolloway, Dave Herman and Jason Brilz, just haven’t mastered the art of wrestling in MMA.
Here’s a look at the 10 most prominent functional wrestlers in MMA today.