Top 5 Heels in the UFC
Being a world-class bastard is an effective business strategy in the fight world. We like to see fighters viciously shut big mouths as much as we like to see them keep talking, depending on the person. Part of the fun of watching a fight is projecting ourselves onto the fighters, so heels give us the chance to either live large or beat the daylights out of someone who is.
Here's a list of the top five bad guys (and gals) currently fighting in the UFC. Going back in history would be far, far too time consuming.
Ronda Rousey tops the list because she's changing the idea that villainy is a business strategy. Rousey isn't just a heel; she sells her boorishness as heroism.
She talks incessantly about loving the hatred of the masses, bragging about being booed in several other countries. She compares herself to Mike Tyson and Muhammed Ali. She threatens, bullies, cries, insults, snubs and belittles at every opportunity, both middle fingers raised at anyone who isn't on the "Rousey Train."
She doesn't do it for publicity, although she certainly gets it. She does it because she's mean and arrogant, and the new narrative is that meanness and arrogance are OK if you're good. In fact, they're part and parcel of being good, not just a sad side effect of young fame.
UFC sees dollar signs marching around Rousey and toes her line to obscene lengths.
They play up her Olympic medal to the point of deceptive advertising. Dana White insists Rousey is the greatest star the promotion has ever had, despite 20 years of bigger names and more consistent pay-per-view draws. After her snubbing of Meisha Tate at UFC 168, Joe Rogan chalked the poor sportsmanship up to loyalty, giving her bad behavior a shiny veneer.
Media and the UFC talk about how Rousey is imbalanced because she's better; that greatness requires the kind of self-absorption that makes them irredeemably immature. If Rousey were to literally spit in the face of an opponent, half the world would cheer the incident as warrior mentality.
She's not only made us watch, she's made people redefine what they think a winning attitude is. Heroes used to be heroic, but with Rousey, heroes don't have to compromise. Heroes, according to the Rousey narrative, can be snotty, entitled and childish not in spite of but because of their status as top of the pack.
If the Academy gave awards to fighters, Chael Sonnen would take home the "Best Performance" Oscar every year.
Sonnen brings remembrance of a young Muhammed Ali, which is surely what he's aiming for. At no point during any of his outbursts do we actually assume he feels any malice because there is none except the pressure of doing it right. His eyes smile through every act.
Sonnen defines heel in the classic sense of the word, the money-generating sense. He flaps his gums to gin up ticket sales and create demand. We pay either to see someone teach his big mouth a lesson, or we pay to see our favorite rascal get away with his antics one more time.
What separates Sonnen is the technical approach he has. He works hard to be a heel, enough to shove his script wherever it needs to be or branch out his attacks if things are boring.
"I'm the man of the hour, too sweet to be sour," he said after his UFC Fight Night 26 win against Mauricio Rua. He said it apropos of nothing, immaterial of the question being asked by Joe Rogan. Sonnen will even jump across sports lines just for the fun; his barbs against LeBron James were so outrageous, we could've wondered if Sonnen was jealous about the commercial appeal of a major main-stream attraction.
Other fighters struggle with acting the villain without being the villain. Sonnen owns what a perfect bastard he is. It's not a personality style. It's as important to what he does as wrapping his hands before working the heavy bag.
Josh Koscheck grates because he doesn't care if he's being a heel. The welterweight genuinely seems to relish pain and humiliation. He treats it more like psychological warfare, and he wants blood.
Sonnen belts his rehearsed publicity bits into the rafters, but Koscheck will whisper pure malice right in your ear, even if he gets punched for it. Publicity is the name of the heel game, but to Koscheck it's less important than just making you suffer.
His first appearances on The Ultimate Fighter showed a cruel streak as the welterweight played "pranks" on teammates and enemies, usually with no provocation and mostly crossing the line between prank and sabotage.
The insults he made against Hall of Famer Matt Hughes bordered on downright racist. He talked trash with Tito Ortiz, a fighter he would never face in the Octagon and against whom trash-talk would yield nothing.
The Human Blanket is far from his days at the top, having dropped to No. 15 in the UFC welterweight rankings and even hinting at retirement in a text to UFC president Dana White following UFC 167.
Despite losing three fights in a row, White claims the UFC will keep Koscheck around, perhaps in part because his reputation as bad guy is immortal. The UFC loves villains, and Koscheck always looks only a step away from kidnapping someone's family to "get into their head."
No. 5-ranked UFC middleweight Michael Bisping would be intolerable if he didn't prove so relevant time after time.
"The Count" has all the trademarks of a Victorian-comic-opera villain minus the cane and mustache. He trades barbs meaninglessly, starts fights, mocks opponents and spits at rivals' cornermen. His accent makes the jabs worse for some Americans; not only is he smug, he's smug and British.
His irritating persona fuels fights even when it isn't strategically necessary. Despite his lack of any title, fighters from up and down the middleweight class call Bisping out as though he were a 10-year champ.
Succession has to take his fights into consideration because fighters want them for their own sake. The division revolves around two things: the middleweight title and the compulsion to punch Bisping in the mouth.
Furthermore, he doesn't look full of hot air as much these days. After the Nevada State Athletic Commission's ban on TRT, his combativeness has an air of legitimacy instead of complaint. Now Bisping's endless mouthiness paints him as almost like a victim considering his vocal opposition to TRT and PEDs.
Bisping has never quite been able to jump into the inner middleweight circle. He lost chances to fight Demian Maia and Tim Boetsch due to injury and lost to perennial contenders Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort, three fighters the NSAC granted TRT exemptions during their time in the UFC.
Heels are supposed to be insufferable and rude, which Bisping nails. But they're not supposed to be in the right about anything, even something that's only part of their game, such as TRT considerations.
Rashad Evans is a hated man who doesn't understand why he's hated, despite his behavior. You could almost think he isn't paying attention to himself.
Since his days disrespecting opponents and generally acting cockily on The Ultimate Fighter, the No. 3 ranked light heavyweight draws boos to every fight he's in.
He got in a fight with former friend and year-long trash talking partner Jon Jones, badmouthing every notable fighter from Tito Ortiz to Lyoto Machida, often going beyond the usual pre-fight hype and getting personal with his jibes. In a back-and-forth with Phil Davis, Evans made some untoward mentions of sexual abuse, using Davis' Penn State background as an inappropriate joke.
Despite all this, he seems shocked that fans have some bad things to say about him. Twitter hurts his feelings despite his claims that boos makes him fight better. Sonnen mastered the game, but Evans is a heel, despite—or maybe because of—the fact that he doesn't seem to understand it.