Sometimes, the MMA fighters, they get a bad rap. All these years later, there are population segments for whom the human cockfighter image still works just fine, thank you very much. And even in the more enlightened circles, there are still enough gorilla meathead stereotypes for everyone to go back for seconds.
Does MMA itself help perpetuate these stereotypes, intentionally and otherwise, with its high-volume violence and law-abidement issues and ponderously horrible choices in fashion, body art and theme musics? Yes. It does.
But serious fans know about the cerebral side of the sport, and that plenty of combatants are actually highly intelligent people. Some even have really impressive side jobs away from the cage.
So here are the top 10 brainiest fighters who are currently active in the sport but also follow pretty demanding intellectual pursuits outside the gym. They are ranked based on the perceived rigor and/or educational prerequisites of those pursuits. It's not the only measure of intelligence or education, but it's a pretty good one. Stereotype: exploded. WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE, BRO.
Retired UFC bantamweight and all-round super-smart dude Nick Denis.
- Nick Denis (Former doctoral student in biochemistry, current really interesting blogger, retired from MMA in 2012)
- Georges St-Pierre (UFC welterweight champ, avid chess player, paleontology buff, all-around smart dude)
- John Cholish (Retired from UFC, Wall Street commodities trader)
- Chael Sonnen (UFC contender, former real estate broker and Oregon State Senate candidate, current funny and intelligent MMA commentator)
- Raquel Pennington (Medical student, Invicta bantamweight, current contestant on The Ultimate Fighter)
- Rhadi Ferguson (PhD in education, Strikeforce Challengers veteran)
- Dan Hardy (Former art student, generally intelligent-seeming person, semi-retired from MMA)
- Aaron Stark (Mensa member, vineyard manager, retired fighter with stints in International Fight League and other promotions)
- Carlos Newton (Studied medicine, reportedly now works as architect, retired in 2011)
- Seth Kleinbeck (Was family physician and fighter at same time, retired from MMA)
- Shane Carwin (Mechanical engineer, retired from MMA)
- Brian Stann (Decorated Marine, MMA and college football broadcaster, now retired from UFC)
- Joe Lauzon (current UFC lightweight, former IT network administrator)
- Cole Konrad (retired former Bellator heavyweight champ, now an agricultural commodities trader)
Rich Franklin (left) faces Vitor Belfort.
Division: Middleweight/Light heavyweight
Now that he's undeniably over the continental divide of his fight career, 38-year-old Rich Franklin probably spends a lot more time gazing at those two diplomas on his wall than he does those UFC middleweight belts.
One of the degrees is a bachelor's in math, the other a master's in education. Now, a master's degree in education is not exactly on par with a master's degree in, say, physics, but it's still grad school. And if you're Rich Franklin, it's probably looking more valuable by the day.
Don't give me the fish-eye, Mizugaki. I'm just trying to write a slideshow, homie. Plus, I'm trying to honor you, sir, by celebrating your mechanical engineering degree, conferred by Japan's Kanto Gakuin University.
Photo credit: FoxSports.com/The Ultimate Fighter
Division: Light heavyweight
Promotion: ONE FC
When he graduated from Princeton in 2006 with a degree in economics, Jake Butler's path appeared set. He had the smarts. He had the credentials. He had the corporate hair. And as such, Butler's career path, known to us peons as Wall Street.
There he went and there he stayed for two years with a big equities firm. But he soon learned he had honed his true self on Princeton's wrestling mats, not its classroom. So the team captain went back to the training gym, and a new path, this one to Asia's ONE FC, soon emerged.
He's probably making less money, but he's 3-0 now and making a name for himself as a solid light heavyweight prospect. And hey, I'm sure he calculated that the equities firms will probably be there for him on a slightly longer-term basis than professional fighting.
Want to feel old? Jeff Monson is now 42 years of age. The barrel-bodied Monson is still kicking along, though, mainly in various European promotions. And while he gets plenty of notoriety for his tattoo and anarchist beliefs, the soft-spoken heavyweight also has a bachelor's and master's degree in psychology.
In between training to become a world-champion grappler, Monson found time to work as a child and family counselor. Here's hoping he's still willing and able to do some good whenever he permanently hangs up the fingerless gloves.
Terry Martin hasn't fought since last December, but he's not retired yet. Ergo, he more than belongs on this list.
Martin has a master's in psychology, but is now going for his doctorate. The victim of a drive-by shooting as a teenager, Martin has spent plenty of time working with inner-city kids and advocating for and encouraging education.
Promotion: Legend MMA
Cro Cop came out of retirement earlier this year and is apparently set to fight Aleksander Emelianenko and possibly Satoshi Ishii later this year.
In 2003, the always-thoughtful former Croatian special forces police officer was elected to the fifth assembly of the Croatian Parliament, representing the capital city of Zagreb. It was during his term in parliament that he won Pride's Open-Weight Grand Prix. Not a bad run for the heavyweight legend.
I don't know what Frequency Response Analysis using Component Mode Synthesis is or means. And even if you told me point blank, I still wouldn't know.
But Tor Troeng knows (Nike sponsorship opportunity). The self-described math researcher is a project assistant in mathematics and mathematical statistics at Sweden's Umea University, and that frequency thingy linked above is his handiwork.
Hey, all I know is, when you have the words "mathematics" and "researcher" in your job title, you might just be a little brainy. I mean, look at that photo. He should get patches tattooed on his elbows.
Promotion: Universal Reality Combat Championship
Angelito Manguray may be a better lover than a fighter. Or at least a better healer.
Now in his 40s, he's dropped three straight while fighting in and around his native Philippines. But at least he doesn't have to worry about getting a tooth knocked out, as he's a practicing dentist in his spare time.
Apparently Manguary trains early in the morning and evening, and sees patients on a regular 9-5 schedule.
Division: Women's flyweight/bantamweight
What has Rosi Sexton not accomplished? On top of owning black belts in taekwondo and jiu-jitsu, Sexton has run up a 13-3 record.
I'm sure you guessed that there was more. First, she has a mathematics degree from Cambridge. Then, she got a doctorate in theoretical computer science from Manchester University. I don't even know what theoretical computer scientists do.
But she didn't stop there; apparently she has a thing for credentials, and for doing lots and lots of stuff. She also is trained in and now practices as an osteopath, which in Europe is basically a cross between a doctor and a chiropractor.
So that's it. There's your champion and easily the brainiest fighter today in MMA.
Scott Harris likes to talk about MMA and braininess. For more, follow him on Twitter.