While there is a great deal of justifiable pride to be found in the fact that MMA is the safest combative sport on the planet, when the core of our attraction to the sport is uncovered, we cannot deny the truth.
MMA is a violent world, and violent men take it by force, and that speaks to us on many levels.
No matter how fluid the fighters become in all aspects of the game, no matter how artistic their performances, this is still nothing more than legalized assault, no matter how celebrated or endorsed it becomes.
And when it really boils down to it, we love that.
There is something about a fighter who is so violent in a specific realm of MMA that he or she sets themselves apart from the rest of the pack—and all of the pack are carnivores in a violent jungle.
If we take this a step further, if we are being honest, we can understand why fans of the sport still cheer the loudest when a fist fight breaks out in the middle of a grappling match.
As beautiful and fluid and cringe-inducing as the world of submissions can be, there is still something absolute and total to be found in the striking world; the ultimate imposition of will that speaks to the purity of motive and clarity of intent found only in combative sports.
Submissions speak to the cerebral; we understand what happened and why because our sense of empathy demands we realize a dangerous situation…say when Frank Mir was cranking that kimura on Antonio Nogueira in their rematch.
Striking speaks to the gut; when we see a man stunned and out of time, his situation is alarming because everything else around him is moving with a speed and rhythm appropriate to the moment, while he is suddenly victim to the moment.
And that is why, for many, the difference between submissions and striking is much like the difference found when an acrobat does their business with a net below as opposed to the times they go without.
So in the spirit of restrained admiration, this list of violent strikers is offered, because of how they exist and attack—without restraint.
One of the few unapologetic brawlers in the history of the sport, Abbott was violent for the sake of violence.
He enjoyed seeing his opponent suffer and writhe as consequence to his violent attentions and he always sought to hurt the man across the cage from him.
For Abbott, the true joy in fighting was the havoc he could wreak and the damage he could do.
One only need watch his early bouts in the UFC to know he would have rather lost a fight that saw him hurt his opponent badly, instead of winning a quick fight that saw his opponent walk out of the cage with anything less than horror in his heart.
While he never possessed much of a ground game and he never got as far as he dreamed he could go, Phil Baroni did prove able to deliver the kind of violent finishes that hint to how great he could have been had he taken the sport seriously.
Baroni had brutal one-punch power that could send even a sturdy-chinned opponent to walking in post-holes, even if he barely clipped them.
What was really noteworthy was how violent a finisher he was.
When he caught Dave Menne with a few grazing shots, he backed the former UFC middleweight champion against the cage and unleashed a brutal barrage of punches, nearly each one landing flush, just as fast as Jose Aldo.
If Baroni caught you, he was going to run you down, back up, and run you over again, and again, and again, until the ref stopped the fight or you were a lifeless lump on the mat.
As WMMA’s answer to Wanderlei Silva, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos is like a tornado in the cage, pounding her opponents bloody with a song in her heart, and she knows the tune word for word.
There is something terribly honest about how she fights, almost as if she has given herself over to the belief that employing anything less than violence most high is an insult to herself, her opponent and the sport.
While much has been made of her choices of the past, if there is one thing that is terribly clear, it’s that while in the cage, Cyborg treats fighting like a religion, and to it she is faithful.
While Dan Henderson may come across as a casual man who simply responds to aggression with aggression, one only need watch him attack when he looks like he has his man hurt.
Henderson doesn’t just attack; he unloads as if he’s had a lifelong vendetta against his opponent, throwing as hard as he can.
When watching Henderson land his blows, each one seems as if it is thrown with the intent of seeing his fist explode out of the other side of his opponent's head.
Another man who fought with a ferocity that belies his calm exterior, Fedor Emelianenko didn’t simply attack his opponents; he mauled them in such a manner that he seemed more elemental than human.
Once he had an opponent hurt or at a disadvantage, Emelianenko was a tidal wave of destruction, showing no quarter until the precise moment the round ended or the bout was stopped.
Until then, he was pure, calculated violence without a hint of hesitation or conflict of purpose.
A simple man in a violent sport, Emelianenko fought as if the ends justified the means, taking out his opponents as soon as he could and as violently as possible.
The term: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” fits Emelianenko wholly, and he played the game oh so well.
One of the more capable strikers in the game, Melvin Manhoef fights with a level of violence that is calculated and almost beautiful in its execution.
Everyone who gets into the fight game knows it is also a game of pain and Manhoef is one of its finest students, at least when it comes to striking.
He gives exactly what he expects to get, and he honestly seems to enjoy seeing his opponents wrecked because he loves to look at his handiwork—and what craftsman doesn’t?
Singers love to sing, dancers love to dance, and fighters like Manhoef like to fight…violently.
Of all the men on this list, Gilbert Yvel is second to none, save perhaps Tank Abbott, when it comes to being violent for the sake of being violent.
Yvel was a man who also seemed to have no self-control, committing some terrible fouls—including punching a referee and then kicking him while he was down.
Yvel is one of those very rare fighters who, once upon a time, had the skill and physical tools of his current-day counterparts—men like Junior dos Santos and Mark Hunt.
The difference is that even back then, Yvel was needlessly violent. In his case, it was almost as if his violent nature was like a dog that needed to be fed and he was all too happy to let loose of the leash and let it run wild in the ring.
Even as a young man in the sport, when Mauricio “Shogun” Rua came into the scene during his Pride days, he was a serious wrecking machine.
Perhaps it was all the time he spent in Chute Boxe, training alongside such animals as Wanderlei Silva and Jose "Pele" Landi-Jons—where fighting for anything less than a finish was simply unacceptable—that made him such a violent fighter.
But no matter what the catalyst, Shogun was nearly as violent as “The Axe Murderer,” which is saying a great deal, indeed.
If there is one fighter on this list that reveled in the glory that comes with utterly destroying an opponent with brutal power shots, it would have to be Chuck Liddell.
The moniker of “The Ice Man” was incredibly fitting for him; when he let his hands go, if he hurt you, he was aiming to rip your head off your shoulders with each punch he threw in order to finish the fight.
And if you landed flat on your back, out cold, you had better pray the ref was faster than he was, because he was coming to close the show by bouncing your head off the canvas as many times as possible.
Chuck Liddell wasn’t just violent; his fights were a celebration of violence, each and every one.
Perhaps no one in the history of the sport has been as violent in their attack as Wanderlei Silva; none so committed to annihilating their opposition that they freely and happily step into dangerous territory without a care for their own safety.
He has soccer-kicked, head-stomped, hammer-fisted and kneed more opponents into hospital visits than perhaps any fighter in MMA history and with Silva, you know it is a matter of policy, not prejudice, that compels him.
I shudder to think how differently his post-Pride record would look if the UFC allowed knees and kicks to the head of a downed opponent.