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The 10 Genuine Good Guys in MMA

Scott HarrisFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2016

The 10 Genuine Good Guys in MMA

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    Demian Maia
    Demian MaiaJason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    The headlines of the day usually force MMA media to emphasize the bad actors of the sport.

    So what a breath of fresh air it is, then, when coverage can turn to MMA's good guys. These humble, respectful, charitable men and women don't get nearly the attention for being good that the bad apples get for being bad. As a result, some people forget that the positive people roundly outnumber the negative.

    In some small way, this slideshow will attempt to identify and acknowledge the real good guys of MMA ("guys" in this case being used in a gender-neutral context). These are the 10 genuine good guys, listed in no particular order. For simplicity's sake, we'll stick to active UFC fighters only.

    And lest you think that good guys can't finish first in a fight, note the records contained herein. Some of the best fighters in the world today are good guys.

    So what makes a fighter particularly "good"? Admittedly, a large part of it is based on public comments and persona, which skews it toward the more famous end of the spectrum and perhaps provides an incomplete sample size. But that's OK in my book. If you're only a good person behind closed doors and not in public, then how good, really, are you? Not to mention that until we all know every fighter personally, it's pretty much going to have to be this way.

    The flip side to that coin is for those who "say all the right things" but don't exactly reek of authenticity. Smiling for the cameras is all well and good, but if there's the sense you only mean it when the cameras are rolling, well, that's not going to get it done. We did our best to disqualify those types from this list.

Honorable Mentions

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    Georges St-Pierre
    Georges St-PierreChris Pizzello/Associated Press

    These are good guys who didn't quite make the top 10. They are listed in no particular order. Again, the list is restricted to active UFC fighters only.

    • Georges St-Pierre (he could shoot way up a list like this if he does indeed return to action)

    • Lauren Murphy

    • Chan Sung Jung

    • Mitch Clarke

    • Uriah Hall

    • Fabricio Werdum

    • Roy Nelson

    • Stephen Thompson

    • Andre Fili

    • Sam Alvey

    • Rory MacDonald

Josh Samman

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Josh Samman has been a pro fighter since 2007. But he only recently entered the big time and, not long after, the hearts of MMA fans.

    His run to the semifinals on The Ultimate Fighter 17 (he lost to eventual season champ Kelvin Gastelum) first propelled the middleweight into the spotlight. In 2013, Samman's life was turned inside out when his girlfriend tragically passed away in a freak car accident. He was determined to return to the cage as soon as possible, but a hamstring injury kept him sidelined.

    When he finally returned a year after the accident, he scored a performance of the night bonus with a spectacular knockout of Eddie Gordon.

    Almost as importantly, the experience introduced Samman to audiences, and it turned out they kind of liked each other.

    It also turned out that Samman is a pretty good writer. He had long-written fan posts for the Bloody Elbow site, and turned that into a paid regular gig. He now contributes to several MMA sites and wrote a book, The Housekeeper: Love, Death and Prizefighting, in which he recounts his battles with substance abuse as well as his personal tragedies.

    If someone out there doesn't have a soft spot for Samman, they probably don't know how he is.

     

     

     

Beneil Dariush

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    Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Humble in victory, classy in defeat, Beneil Dariush has endeared himself to fans everywhere. 

    And that's not much of an overstatement. His fans are almost literally everywhere.

    Dariush resonates with demographics that may not always find much common ground to celebrate. Dariush was born and raised in Iran and is Assyrian by ethnicity. Most Assyrians (Dariush included) are Christian. 

    In addition, Dariush trains at Kings MMA, the elite gym led by Rafael Cordeiro that contains top UFC competitors like Fabricio Werdum, Rafael dos Anjos and Lyoto Machida.

    "My fanbase, it seems like this so far: In America, I got the Christian fanbase. In Brazil, I have a big fanbase, just because they love MMA, and I train at Kings MMA, mostly Brazilian guys there," Dariush explained in 2015 to Clinton Bullock here at Bleacher Report MMA. "[I have fans in] Iran, because I was born there, and the Assyrian community, because that’s my nationality. That’s my fanbase right now."

    It also doesn't help that Dariush is a darn good fighter. The 27-year-old lightweight is now 13-2 overall and 7-2 in the UFC. If there's an easier guy to root for than Dariush, I don't know who it is.

Sara McMann

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Sara McMann is a serious competitor. You don't win an Olympic silver medal, as McMann did as a wrestler, without a pretty wide competitive streak.

    And yet, somehow, she always seems to have a smile on her face. Not one of those I-don't-know-what-else-to-do-with-my-face kinds of smiles, either. It's genuine.

    Her warm demeanor is even more noteworthy when placed in the context of her background, which has seen her lose her brother and boyfriend to tragedy.

    "I think it helps me define the life I want to live and what I want, just being exposed to mortality," McMann once said to Marc Raimondi, then of Fox Sports. "It also helps me prioritize. Part of the lack of desire for money and fame is the desire to spend as much time with my family as possible, creating the memories that really matter to you. People on their death bed don't say I wish I had more money and fame."

    McMann also has a master's degree in mental health counseling and has been active in several charitable projects, including Habitat for Humanity. Despite the bad that has happened to her, it seems McMann is hell bent on doing good wherever she goes.

Daniel Cormier

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Part of what made Jon Jones' repeated failures in recent years so gut-wrenching was Daniel Cormier.

    Jones poked and provoked Cormier at every opportunity. Cormier returned fire, but trash talking—the nasty kind of trash talking, anyway—is not his forte. He's just too nice of a guy.

    So it was a shame when Jones-Cormier 2 was canceled in July after Jones was flagged for a United States Anti-Doping Agency violation. It was a shame for fans and a shame for Jones. But maybe most of all it was a shame for Cormier, who begged UFC brass to let him fight Jones anyway. He'd a sign a waiver; anything. Just let him fight this guy!

    It shows the character of the UFC's light heavyweight champion, who went on to beat late replacement Anderson Silva at UFC 200. In his capacity as champ and as an analyst for Fox Sports, Cormier is a top-notch ambassador for the sport. 

Elias Theodorou

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    Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

    I don't know if you've heard, but social media is a big-time game-changer.

    Plenty of fighter accounts stick to the basics: training pics, motivational slogans, sponsor shout-outs, some fight promotion and boom, we're done. Nothing wrong with that, one supposes.

    Then there are other accounts. Fewer in number, but perhaps greater in impact. It is social media that fighters use to be, what's the word I want here, social.

    One such practitioner is middleweight Elias Theodorou. And he's proved himself to be one of the friendliest faces in the MMA Twitterverse.

    The Canadian uses Twitter to interact with fans and media, joke about the news of the day and make tongue-in-cheek comments about his hair (he does have good hair, though). He does it all with an openness and a wit that you don't find too often in a fighter account—or, for that matter, a fighter.

Demetrious Johnson

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Demetrious Johnson might be the best overall fighter in MMA today. Sure, his quickness and footwork help. Yeah, his deep grappling base is a perfect foundation for an ever-burgeoning striking and submission game.

    What really makes Mighty Mouse go, though, is his mind.

    His foot speed is something to watch, but it's the speed of his brain that really makes things feel unfair sometimes. He always seems two moves ahead, sometimes more.

    All the flyweight champ does is win and represent himself and his sport with grace and dignity. If that's boring sometimes, well, so be it. 

    This is a guy, after all, who initially declined to train MMA full time, preferring the security of his full-time job at a recycling plant. This is a guy who speaks frequently about the importance of family.

    He's also a guy who hasn't lost in almost five years. No one else has ever worn the UFC flyweight belt. With other divisions and top fighters in turmoil, it's reassuring to see that the flyweights and their leader remain a bastion of stability, even if it does get a little boring sometimes.

Sean O'Connell

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Sean O'Connell is the most interesting UFC fighter you've never heard of.

    When he's not hitting other people in a cage, O'Connell hosts a sports talk radio show in Salt Lake City. He also penned a novel.

    He also lays claim to some of the funniest weigh-in antics this side of Tom Lawlor.

    He also helped build and maintain a Catholic home for abused girls in Zambia.

    "He’s the kind of guy who does stuff," wrote Ben Fowlkes of MMA Junkie, "not the kind of person who worries about whether he’s good enough to do that stuff.

Tyron Woodley

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    One story tells you all you need to know about where Tyron Woodley's head is really at.

    It's January 2015, and Woodley is well over a year away from the welterweight title he currently holds. His engagement with Kelvin Gastelum held the co-main event slot at UFC 183, a card known for hosting the Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz novelty fight and not much else.

    The day before the fight, Gastelum missed weight for the second time in the UFC. As a rule, that meant 30 percent of Gastelum's purse transfers to Woodley.

    Woodley turned it down.

    The bout ultimately ended in split-decision win for Woodley. According to UFC 183 disclosed salaries, that meant an extra $9,000 for Woodley—nothing to sneeze at if you're on a UFC fighter's salary.

    But Woodley gave the penalty fine back to Gastelum, citing his own hard knocks as a fighter.

    “It just looked like he had a cinderblock dropped on top of his head, and I just wanted to let him know … this is a sport to me,” Woodley told reporters at the time. “I don’t have to hate the person to try to knock them out. That’s a part of the fight game. I just let him know that I was frustrated with the situation. ... He’s not going to get his win bonus. Dana White has probably yelled at him. His coach has probably yelled at him. He’s probably pissed off about himself. So I just can’t find it in my heart to do that right now."

    If it's not unprecedented, it's certainly unusual. It's also not the only positive thing Woodley has ever done. But it's a pretty tidy summary of this quiet guy quietly making a difference for those around him, when he had every reason not to.

Holly Holm

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    Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    The Preacher's Daughter isn't the world's most exciting nickname. But in the case of Holly Holm, it's highly accurate. We didn't really need another Pitbull anyway.

    The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native, who famously walked into the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym while looking for a place to stay fit during the soccer offseason, is indeed the daughter of a pastor. That's not what lands her on this list, though.

    Always humble, always open, always seeming just a little bewildered by the notion that anyone would find her remarkable, all Holm has done is work her way to the top of women's boxing and now women's MMA.

    Yes, she lost a couple after that massive Ronda Rousey upset. But one imagines she'll be back. Her work ethic is just too good, seemingly powered by an ego that never told her she was above learning and listening and sweating and things like that.

    If you don't want to take my word for it, take it from former Holm training partner and decorated Marine Brian Stann on The MMA Hour (h/t MMA Fighting):

    I said when they talked about her coming to the UFC, 'If there is a woman I've met I want my daughters to be like, it's Holly.

    [...]

    I certainly felt - and I said this in my interviews and breakdowns - there is definitely a way she can win. And if there is a person who could catch Ronda and defeat her if she's not focused, it was Holly. She is absolutely every bit a role model you want, not just for women, but for any person. I truly mean that.

     

     

     

Demian Maia

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    Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    Gentleman.

    That descriptor has attended Demian Maia his entire pro career, first as a jiu-jitsu champion and now as a UFC welterweight contender.

    He's just a nice guy, plain and simple, and a consummate sportsman, always respectful no matter what.

    Maia explained his philosophy a few years ago, per Five Ounces of Pain:

    I wanted to prove that you didn’t need to be a violent guy to win in an MMA competition. You can use your technique and if you put on good technique then you can win very clean fights.

    [...]

    Jiu-jitsu is what I believe in because the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been founded on the mentality to get the victory without hurting yourself by controlling your opponent without hurting him too much. 

    It’s about getting the submission instead of kicking and punching. For me, it’s the nicest way to win. It’s nice to win that way in a sport that is as aggressive as MMA. To be able to walk away with a victory without a scratch to me or my opponent, for me, it’s priceless.

    How can you not love this guy?

    There are plenty of great MMA ambassadors out there, regardless of gender or ethnicity or whatever else. Ultimately, though, they may all be looking up at Maia.

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