Top 10 Wrestlers in MMA: Is Brock Lesnar No. 1?
The art of wrestling in MMA is akin to the art of dribbling in basketball. With one, you will find the other. Recently (and by "recently," I mean in the last 17 years), MMA has become the ultimate proving ground for wrestlers.
Other than perhaps the Olympics, there is nowhere else for wrestlers to find the same competitive edge that amateur wrestling brings them.
Wrestling is a very integral part of MMA. In addition to being able to dictate where the fight takes place, which puts a fighter at a huge advantage, good wrestlers also have tremendous top control, which can help them throw punches from postured positions.
The following 11 fighters are those who have learned to use their wrestling to their distinct advantage. Sure, there are more than 11, but as far as these competitors go, they're the best of the best.
Honorable Mention: Jonny "Bones" Jones
Jon Jones, in addition to having a slick amateur wrestling résumé (Greco-Roman National Champ, Juco National Champ), has some of the best clinch grappling you will find in MMA.
In addition to the above cred, he is a master at top position and ground n' pound.
Don't believe me? Observe the fight-ending blow in his bout against Brandon Vera. Not only was it a vicious elbow, it also broke Brandon Vera's orbital bone in three places.
NOTE: I didn't choose the god-awful music in that video.
10. Ben Askren
Ben Askren has hit the MMA world like Brock Lesnar slamming Heath Herring in Round One of their fight. But before his MMA career, Askren was a very successful collegiate wrestler.
Although he was the runner-up in his freshman and sophomore seasons at the University of Missouri, he was the National Champion in the 174-pound weight class for two years.
Although he didn't fare as well in the Olympics, he has continued his collegiate success with his venture into MMA.
Along with an outstanding nickname ("Funky"), Askren has brought all elements of a successful wrestling game plan into MMA with him.
In addition to a good takedown offense, Askren has phenomenal top control. That is evidenced by his knack for pinning opponents during his wrestling career, and by his three submissions in MMA.
9. Phil Davis
As great of an athlete as Phil Davis is, he is a good Mixed Martial Artist, but an even more phenomenal wrestler.
Davis was the 2008 National Champion while wrestling for Penn State. When he made his transition to MMA, he used his grappling to his advantage.
As evidenced in his fights with Brian Stann and Alexander Gustafsson, he is almost unequaled on the ground.
With a blue belt in BJJ and some amazing takedowns, it's not out of the realm of possibility to see him as the best wrestler in MMA someday.
8. Mohammed Lawal
Although his overall ability seems to be overshadowed by his ridiculous entrances (complete with crown), "King Mo" is a phenomenal wrestler.
Along with his immense size and Lesnar-esque speed, King Mo has some great driving takedowns, and he used them to full effect in his five-round smothering of Gegard Mousasi in their April fight.
He also has a great résumé, winning the National Championship four years in a row and going undefeated in college.
7. Joe Warren
Another Mixed Martial Artist with a fantastic amateur résumé, Joe Warren is possibly the best wrestler in the entire featherweight division.
His official résumé includes gold medals in the Pan-Am Championships, the World Championships, and the World Cup in Greco-Roman wrestling. If that isn't enough, he was also an All-American in high school.
His transition to MMA has been highly successful. His outstanding wrestling is a big contributing factor.
6. Jake Shields
To me, Jake Shields is perhaps the most underrated wrestler in MMA. Whether it is due to his number of submission wins (10) or his number of unfinished fights (12), it's wrong.
Shields does have a very impressive amateur wrestling résumé. Along with his outstanding high school career, he amassed two All-American seasons at Cuesta College.
As for using it to his advantage in MMA, he excels at the higher level, too. Dan Henderson, Shields' latest victim, is one of the more decorated wrestlers in MMA.
Despite being the better wrestler on paper, Hendo wasn't so in the cage, and that's all that matters.
Analysis of Shields' last win aside, this man knows how to wrestle, and it has earned him a spot on this list.
5. Josh Koscheck
Josh Koscheck isn't a lot of things. He isn't polite to the home crowd. (Need I remind you, Montreal fans?) He isn't a good PR guy. He definitely should never fight in Germany.
But he is among the best wrestlers on the planet.
On top of a college wrestling career that makes Lesnar's pale in comparison, Koscheck is also a fantastic fighter who has used his outstanding wrestling to carve himself a path to the top of the division.
There are no delusions about Koscheck's game plan. He is going to get the fight to the ground.
Unlike what his aberrations against Dustin Hazelett and Yoshiyuki Yoshida would suggest, Koscheck is strictly a ground-and-pound artist.
So, respectful as he may or may not be, there is one thing that Josh Koscheck is. And that is a great wrestler.
4. Randy Couture
Although he is both 46 years old and overrated, Randy Couture is a great athlete and wrestler.
His Greco-Roman wrestling is some of the best MMA has ever seen, and his dirty boxing ways have revolutionized stand-up tactics.
As far as takedowns go, Couture isn't well versed. Sure, he can do a double leg when the time comes, but Randy's great wrestling is really evident when you see him holding a man much bigger than him up against the cage and pummeling him.
And that's Randy's gameplan. Wear down first, takedown later. He isn't going to amaze you with high flying suplexes, a la Jon Jones, but as was said before, that isn't his game.
3. Brock Lesnar
I know what you're thinking: If Brock Lesnar isn't second, then who can possibly be in front of him? Well, relax, we'll get to that.
As far as taking down fighters, Lesnar isn't Josh Koscheck. Not that he can't take them down, but he elects not to. Case in point: Heath Herring.
Instead of shooting immediately, which is what Lesnar should do at all costs on Saturday, he actually traded with Herring.
When an awkward-looking right hook sent Herring across the Octagon, Lesnar—with the speed of a man much smaller then him—ran across the Octagon and launched himself into Herring.
That kind of impact would have killed someone else. Instead, it only mildly shook Herring, who, by that time in his career, was used to getting hit hard.
From there, Lesnar used his incredible weight to smother his opponent en route to a unanimous decision.
And that there is what Lesnar does. He waits for his opponent to make the big mistake, then he pounces. Rather like a lion. Then he uses his top control and weight to control said opponent, with some hard shots thrown in.
In his career, it has worked wonders, with two of his wins achieved primarily through ground 'n pound.
2. Chael Sonnen
If not for his unfortunate tendency to take as much damage as he inflicts (even on the top), he would make a strong case for the top spot.
He really is that good.
In his three UFC wins, he hasn't deviated from his game plan once—the game plan being takedown, inflict and receive damage, get up, repeat.
And that is the name of Sonnen's game. He isn't going to shock anyone with a Muay-Thai knee or a switch kick.
In his win over Nate Marquardt at UFC 109, Sonnen showed fantastic takedowns (although that habit of falling into guillotines is going to come back and hurt him) and was even better at keeping Marquardt under him.
With a shockingly good amateur résumé, and an upcoming fight against an opponent who is historically bad against wrestlers (Anderson Silva), how can you not like Sonnen's wrestling game right now?
1. Georges St.-Pierre
Georges St.-Pierre is one of the rarest athletes the world of MMA has ever seen. How often does a fighter come along who excels at every aspect of the game? GSP may be the first one since Frank Shamrock.
Although he never even competed in wrestling as an amateur, GSP holds the title of best wrestler in MMA simply because no one uses it as effectively as he does.
Not only can he time his shot to coincide perfectly with an opponent's strike flurry, he can inflict massive damage when he is in a top position.
A great example of this is his fight with B.J. Penn, who is a phenomenal grappler in his own right.
Instead of standing up with the world-renowned MMA boxer, GSP instead decided to start a grappling match with the world-renowned Jiu Jitsu practitioner.
Instead of aiming blindly into a submission like many wrestlers are guilty of doing, GSP uses all of his talents—BJJ included—to succeed. When he puts them all together, there is no one better.
And that includes wrestling.