It's one of the most time-honored truisms in MMA: "Styles make fights."
Fans may differ on what exactly defines a truly great cage fight—some lean towards evenly matched contests in which either combatant may emerge victorious, others enjoy the spectacle of seeing a mismatch unfold before their very eyes. Whatever the inclination may be, few would argue that it all boils down to the iconic moments that linger in highlight reels for years to come.
There are a few elite fighters that have a habit of delivering those moments with startling consistency.
They don't make this list simply because of their sound technique or orthodox execution. Sure, they may have spent countless gym hours drilling the classic 1-2-3 combination, but they know that it's about something more exotic than rigid performance.
Instead, these select fighters embrace their inner showmanship and infuse their technique with tons of style and panache.
Each time they set foot in the Octagon, fans wiggle closer to the edges of their seats in anticipation of the wild techniques sure to be executed. Let's take a look at who's willing to push the boundaries with reckless abandon.
When we see him next: Against Martin Kampmann - August 28th - UFC on Fox Sports 1
Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condit is a case-in-point example of a fighter living up to his chosen nickname.
Quite honestly, his sheer ferocity in the cage would be enough to make him a fan favorite. With a bottomless gas tank, Condit surges forward with combination after combination—former opponents crumbled under his assault.
But there are plenty of fighters who smother their way to victory. Condit, on the other hand, does it with style.
In addition to his feverish pace, he strings together pinpoint kickboxing combinations using hands, feet and knees.
Take, for instance, his fight against world-class judoka Dong Hyun Kim—Condit beautifully swept Kim into a vulnerable situation from his guard position. Shortly thereafter, he executed a sublime flying knee to finish the fight.
Even under pressure, he manages to tie together strikes in just the right way. In a recent title shot against UFC welterweight champion, Georges St. Pierre, he threw a combination head kick that served as the climactic moment of the entire fight.
In victory or defeat, Condit's unique blend of ferocity always excites.
When we see him next: Defending the UFC Featherweight Championship against Chang Sung Jung - August 3rd - UFC 163
Put simply, José Aldo is one of the most ruthless champions currently fighting under the UFC banner.
His style is one of brutal destruction. Infamous for his savage leg kicks, Aldo starts the swinging motion at his hips and ends with enough torque to ruin any premiere fighter's night.
Just ask Urijah Faber.
Aldo's strikes are crisp and flashy, with a reliance on blinding speed. Plenty of MMA highlight reels are punctuated by his double flying knee knockout against Cub Swanson.
His style of cranking up the intensity when he smells blood is undeniable—Aldo lights up contenders with hook flurries broken up by wicked kicks.
Fans are always assured that he'll use his full arsenal to stop any contenders.
Division: Light Heavyweight
When we see him next: Defending the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship against Alexander Gustafsson - September 21st - UFC 165
When I wrote that UFC light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones, is likely to become the most dominant fighter in MMA history, I did so with emphasis on the traits that put him in such a position—training, physical gifts, and sheer athleticism are certainly his tools for success.
But "Bones" also grasps the importance of style; he's a whirling dervish of lethal limbs.
He ended Brandon Vera's night with a downward elbow powerful enough to break eye sockets—Lyoto Machida was put to sleep via a standing guillotine.
Even in his conquest of the light heavyweight throne, he didn't pull any punches against then-champion Shogun Rua—Jones threw elbows, knees and even front kicks to the face in order to claim the title.
As he grows more comfortable with the cage, he'll likely continue to demonstrate why his unpredictable style is such a treat to watch.
When we see him next: Taking on Chris Weidman for the UFC Middleweight Championship - December 29th - UFC 168
Fight fans should be thankful for the news—Silva's showboating and recklessness are iconic staples of this sport. Whether you want to call them tactical or arrogant, the antics exhibited by "The Spider" have resulted in countless jaw-drop moments over the last several years.
Rich Franklin was perplexed when Silva planted his feet, dropped his hands and still managed to evade all strikes coming his way. Forrest Griffin never expected a single counter strike to drop him after his best offensive flurry. Stephan Bonnar gave everything he had shortly before Silva threw the only critical blow of their bout: a crippling, fight-ending knee to the chest.
When Silva returns, he'll need to analyze the right approach to reclaiming his belt from Weidman, but for the sake of sheer entertainment and style, I hope he doesn't forget how to wow his fans.
When we see him next: Taking on Benson Henderson for the UFC Lightweight Championship - August 31st - UFC 164
That photo of Anthony Pettis balancing on one hand while whipping his foot towards Donald Cerrone's face really speaks volumes, doesn't it? Now consider that it wasn't out of the ordinary for "Showtime".
Anthony Pettis practically oozes style.
He may not have the fight résumé of Anderson Silva or Jon Jones, but his willingness to push the limits is right there with both of them. He fights like a man who's at ease with the notion of getting punched in the face—perhaps that's where his willingness to put himself at risk comes from.
The Brazilian martial art of Capoeira is pure poetry in motion, a lovely aside to combat sports without the need for bloodshed. But for Pettis, it's a source for creative inspiration.
He's no stranger to throwing wild spinning kicks in the middle of a heated battle. If the fence is nearby, he'll gladly use it to dish some additional damage.
In that regard, Pettis may have delivered one of the most famous kicks in combat sports history: his aptly named "Showtime kick". As Benson Henderson backed away, Pettis leapt towards the fence and used it to gain additional height and momentum for the ensuing kick. Henderson's body collapsed to the canvas moments later.
During his recent bout against Donald Cerrone, Pettis showed that the Showtime kick was no fluke—he used the fence again to deliver a unique variation on the conventional knee to the face.
Whether he's throwing mesmerizing Capoeira kicks or using the fence as a technique to gain additional reach, Pettis is constantly reminding fight fans why his style knows no rival.
Perhaps his next fight will feature the rumored 540 hook kick?