MMA's Durable Dozen: The 12 Most Indestructible Fighters in MMA History
Half of the battle, they say, is not how much you can dish out, but how much you can take, and if you’re a fighter of any kind, that is one of the central questions that is going to be addressed, sooner or later.
Sure, you may be great at being the hammer, but how will you handle being the nail?
For sure, on a long enough timeline, everyone spends time under the “hammer,” so to speak. These are the combative sports we are talking about, and no matter how talented, eventually everyone starts taking some hard shots.
So, who are some of the most durable, indestructible fighters in the history of MMA?
There is a difference between the two terms, you know: A fighter might be incredibly durable over the course of his career, rolling with punches instead of taking them flush and walking forward like a mountain, but that doesn’t make him indestructible.
And an indestructible fighter isn’t always a durable one, as even the most indestructible fighters end up falling when enough punishment is ladled out upon their head, and thus their careers end up declining far sooner than most would expect, while the durable fighters enjoy a kind of longevity that speaks to a rich life, sans afflictions like Pugilistica Dementia, Parkinson’s disease, etc.
Well, I think that when making a list like this, it is only fair to include both.
Truth be told, ranking this list was damn hard, for obvious reasons. So, to account for my choices (and all writers must be able to account for their choices) I have tried my best to reason it all out as plainly as possible.
Before we open the door and you, the reader and critic, take a seat among these 12 men, I would like to acknowledge those who didn’t make the list; Chris Lytle, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Chris Leben, Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz and countless others.
It’s not that I believe these men are not noteworthy, because I have made note of them; it’s just that I wanted to limit this to 12 fighters, simple as that.
No. 12: Wesley "Cabbage" Correira
Yes, Wesley “Cabbage” Correira has some losses via KO/TKO on his record, so he is not one of the durable, but in his prime, he could take continual amounts of major punishment and simply keep coming, time and again.
Proof of this is witnessed when he fought Tim Sylvia at UFC 39.
Correira didn’t just take some hard shots here and there, he took some full scale beatings that seemed so long at some points (and when each punch is landing flush, five seconds can seem like five minutes) that you just had to blink in disbelief.
And that wasn’t the only time he took major bombs and kept on going. If you were to sit a prime Correira next to a prime Roy Nelson and have them both eat the exact same punches of the exact same degree of power, I think Nelson folds before Correira.
No. 11: Leonard Garcia
Here’s another guy who just takes a beating and keeps on grinning, time and again.
Leonard Garcia isn’t the most technical fighter in the world, but he swings for the fences nearly every time. It’s a good thing he’s got a serious chin, because while swinging so hard, he holds nothing back for defense, and get’s his clock routinely cleaned.
But said clock never seems to really get stopped. Those second and minute hands just keep on moving, just like the man himself.
Eventually, all of this is going to catch up with him, and he’s going to start falling face-first to the floor. I only hope he’s got the good sense to hang up his gloves before any permanent damage occurs.
He’s given us plenty to cheer about, so I’d say he’s earned any kind of respite he feels like.
No. 10: Nick Diaz
Far more durable than he is indestructible, Nick Diaz has developed a style that allows him to roll with punches as best he can, unless he decides to run right into them in order to start a firefight, and we’ve seen Diaz literally head-butt the fists of his opponents in order to get into a grove.
But that doesn’t make him indestructible, just fun as hell to watch.
What Diaz has in abundance is the will to take a punch in order to land one and the cardio to allow him to take just as much as he’s willing to dish out; and that is as close to a winning formula as you can get without possessing one punch knock out power.
Diaz is one of those guys that would meet you for a fight in the basement of a burning building during the apocalypse, and that kind of mentality has seen him get up from being knocked off his feet on more than one occasion.
Sometimes Diaz reminds me a bit of Felix “Tito” Trinidad in that he get’s knocked down, get’s right back up and lets his hands go. Both Diaz and Trinidad didn’t have great chins, but chins that were good enough to compliment their sheer force of will and when you throw in great cardio, you have one seriously exciting and durable fighter.
No. 9: Clay Guida
Clay Guida is one of those rare people who fights like a wolverine that’s drank a keg of Monster energy drink, always pouring a hundred percent of himself into every round.
He also happens to be a glutton for punishment, and while he might not possess the nearly iron chin of a man like Mark Hunt, Guida can get carpet bombed with ground-and-pound or blasted off his feet by a head kick from Diego Sanchez and get right back up and keep going forward as if all the blood pouring out of his face is really just rain.
Guida is a fighter who seems to be both durable and indestructible in equal measures and that is what lands him on this list.
No. 8: Roy Nelson
Roy Nelson has always been a bit of an eye sore to me: a good fighter who just doesn’t take the sport serious enough to really do what it takes in order to become as great as he could.
So, we get a comedy routine instead, with some fisticuffs thrown in, and many are fine with that. Personally, I think it sucks because I honestly believe Nelson could be much better than he is.
But, his choices are his own, and so while I may never get to see the best Roy Nelson possible, I am entertained by seeing him fight admirably while tending the gate, and I will never dispute that when he goes against fighters who clearly belong above him, he has a durability that is shocking.
And then I get disappointed again; if Nelson took this all as seriously as he could, his durability could be the thing that helps him gain a title.
Nelson has a way of covering up and rolling with punches that is deceptive: many just watch the punch that is being thrown, and then when memory recalls, mistake the blow for landing cleanly on Nelson’s chin with no hint of defense or rolling with the blow.
That is not the case for Roy Nelson.
Nelson is a cagey fighter who knows how to roll with blows, and that serves him well as a first line of defense, because when the top tier guys mow through that, like Junior dos Santos did, Nelson’s next line of defense is a very sturdy chin.
Pretty great combination, really.
No. 7: BJ Penn
BJ Penn makes this list for all the wrong reasons, and I am woe to put him here, but the truth is simple and clear for anyone with the honesty to declare it: As long as he fights at welterweight, he’s going to become known less and less for being a pound-for-pound great and more and more for being a man who can take a serious beating at the hands of men bigger than himself and keep on coming back to the division for another beating, and another, etc.
Penn has a very solid chin, and where most fighters can draw upon a deep well of cardiovascular conditioning to help drape them in the veneer of durability, Penn simply takes the punishment because that is in his nature. If he’s not kicking ass, then he seems to think he’s supposed to be getting his ass kicked.
At least that’s how it looks to me.
Here’s to hoping that Penn moves to lightweight, with serious conviction, and get’s into the best shape of his life, because if he can do those two things, he can beat anyone who steps into the land of 155.
No. 6: Frankie Edgar
If anyone ever asks you what three qualities Frankie Edgar possesses that allowed him to take such a pronounced beating from the hands of Gray Maynard, you can reply simply: “Heart, durability and chin.”
Edgar is a simple fighter when it comes to why he lands on lists like this: he takes one hell of a beating, and comes back from it stronger than ever.
Yes, he’s in great shape, and yes, that helps him bounce back from a pounding, but above all, he’s got the chin and the will to win, and that is really the story of Frankie Edgar.
He will not wilt under pressure and he will not quit.
No. 5: Diego Sanchez
As crazy as Diego Sanchez is, perhaps it is to his own benefit, because when you’ve seen the beatings the man has taken at the hands of BJ Penn, Martin Kampmann and so on, it’s clear that whatever is working for Sanchez is coming from a very “special” place.
Sanchez has been pounded on continuously by some serious heavy hitters, and still he keeps coming forward, unmoved by the swelling and the blood and sometimes, when you can push all that aside, you can still win the fight, as he proved against Kampmann, who looked like he should have won, if you judge such things by a fighters face.
This is one of those rare cases where a fighter is so damn determined and durable that he seems nearly indestructible, even when he’s not.
No. 4: Mark Hunt
I am not sure just how durable Mark Hunt is, but aside from being KO’d by Melvin Manhoef, Hunt has possibly the strongest chin in all of MMA history, at least when it comes to taking brutal strikes.
There are various clips of Hunt taking shins across the chin and upside the head from some of the most devastating strikers of our time, and one of the memories I have of Hunt is the savage kicks to the head he took from Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic, time and time again.
And he never really even flinched.
Hunt and David Tua must be long lost cousins or something.
No. 3: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Possessing both a rock solid chin and an overall durability that is nearly legendary, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira sits near the top of this list for too many reasons to count.
During the prime of his career, he was basically unstoppable, and even when he found himself getting blasted on the ground by some of the most savage ground-and-pound ever witnessed, at the hands of the iron-fisted Fedor Emelianenko at Pride 25, Big Nog took shot after massive shot, eating them square and full, and never wilted.
Granted, like all fighters, Big Nog has begun to falter in the twilight of his career, but in his prime? The man was both durable and indestructible.
No. 2: Fedor Emelianenko
If there is anyone out there who says they follow the sport of MMA and don’t think Fedor was just about the damn near perfect blend of durable and indestructible, then clearly they never saw Kevin Randleman slam Fedor into the canvas, head-first, like a tent peg.
Fedor may have been at one time the most durable and indestructible fighter on planet earth; he was just that solid and well trained.
Then, there are others who argue that he was the closest thing to an irresistible force and an immovable object all rolled into one.
Whatever the case may be, in his prime, Fedor was the most durable, indestructible heavyweight in the history of MMA, bar none.
No. 1: Dan Henderson
There are very few fighters in the game today that have not only been around since nearly the beginning, but who have faced some of the greatest fighters of more than one generation, and Dan Henderson has not only done all of that, but he’s never been finished via KO or TKO, ever.
He’s been clubbed by Fedor Emelianenko, Wanderlei Silva, Rich Franklin, Shogun, Babalu and Rampage and none have managed to lay him low. To say his chin has been tested time and again is an understatement, to say the least.
Durability? Henderson has that as well; fighting very hard for 25 minutes several times, be it in tournament format or recently, as an elder statesman of the sport against Shogun Rua in a Fight of the Year performance.
He’s scrapped with middleweights, light heavyweights and heavyweights, and none of those men have been able to put him away via KO/TKO and even though he’s been knocked loopy a time or two he’s always managed to pull it all back together.
Dan Henderson is the real Iron Man.