UFC 121: Brock Lesnar, Fedor Emelianenko and the 10 Scariest Fighters In MMA
At UFC 121, Brock Lesnar will defend his heavyweight title for the first time since choking interim champion Shane Carwin into submission and unifying the belts at UFC 116. Opposite Lesnar will be Cain Velasquez, who is no shrinking specimen himself.
If memory serves me, the No. 1 contender wears even bigger gloves than either Lesnar or Carwin—too many X's to remember.
When those two behemoths meet, it will be a clash between two of the more relentless mixed martial artists plying the trade today. In fact, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has stacked the card with ferocious competitors.
Former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields will be making his UFC debut. Shields will be fighting at welterweight against Martin Kampmann, himself no stroll in the park.
Additionally, Diego Sanchez will return to 170 pounds and take on Paulo Thiago in another welterweight pairing. Tito Ortiz, Mark Hamill, Brendan Schaub, Gabriel Gonzaga, Court McGee, Patrick Cote and Gilbert Yvel will all see the inside of the cage on Saturday night.
Notwithstanding the all-star cast of MMA characters, nobody will carry a bigger "yikes" factor than the Minnesota Mountain—no matter how you slice it, Brock Lesnar is one scary dude.
But is he the scariest fighter in the sport today?
The Rules of This Game
As I see it, there are two kinds of relevant scary.
There is scary good, personified by a superstar like Georges St-Pierre. This version won't intimidate anyone in the "this guy might hurt me if I'm not careful" sense, but it will keep you up at night if you suffer the misfortune of wanting to beat it in competition.
Then there is scary dangerous, personified by a guy like Tank Abbott (from antiquity), Kimbo Slice (the modern-day Abbott) or Demian Maia (the grappling equivalent of the other two). This version isn't a particularly daunting challenge because it's one-dimensional, but that one dimension is mortifying should you stumble into it.
Of course, there's a third version, personified by the Junie Allen Brownings, Paul Daleys or (if you want to get extreme about it) Lee Murrays. That's the clinically psychotic, self-destructive form that might hit you when you're not looking...or storm a bank with an assault rifle.
But we needn't worry about this version for obvious reasons.
What follows is the 10 fighters who have combined scary good and scary dangerous with the most terrifying consequences.
No. 10—Melvin Manhoef
Admittedly, Marvelous Melvin lists badly toward the scary dangerous side of the equation—Manhoef has never been mistaken as an especially well-rounded practitioner of the sport. The Dutch dynamo has 24 career wins and 23 came via the knockout.
The other W was a unanimous decision.
In fact, the next time I see Melvin engage in an exchange on the ground will probably be the first time.
But some studs have a natural gift for filling an arena with the tangible anticipation of a knockout.
I imagine that feels very much like fear if you're locked in a cage with Manhoef.
No. 9—Nick Diaz
OK, so maybe a tinge of the clinically scary crept into my calculus—sue me, it's a combat sport.
Nick Diaz definitely has a smattering of the self-destructive volatility in his approach to MMA, but he's managed to walk the fine line well enough that it hasn't totally overwhelmed him. To the contrary, it seems he's finally been able to harness it and use it to fuel his in-cage accomplishments.
His recent dismantling of K.J. Noons in San Jose was followed by a kinder, gentler Diaz at the post-fight press conference. We're still not talking raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens here, but it was still progress.
As for the other two types of scary, the Stockton Bad Boy has those in spades.
So much so that deciding which considerable arsenal—striking or grappling—is Diaz' biggest challenge on most nights.
No. 8—B.J. Penn
Oh, it hurts me to relegate the Prodigy to these nether regions of the list, but I can't pretend the last two fights with Frankie Edgar didn't happen.
You can ignore one loss (within reason) because everyone loses eventually and even the greatest fighters can go through motivational lulls or lapses in concentration—they are human, after all.
Unfortunately, two miserable defeats in a row to the same opponent demand consequences and one of them is a diminution in aura. Whereas B.J. Penn once rubbed elbows with the truly terrifying scrappers in the sport due to his ability to suffocate an antagonist on his feet or on the ground, using whatever body part was available, he can no longer be held in such esteem.
The back-to-back perplexing losses to a seemingly-inferior-but-not Lightweight Champion leave only one conclusion—Baby J no longer strikes the same fear into the 155-pound division's collective heart.
But count Penn out at your own risk.
No. 7—Junior dos Santos
JDS has fought 13 times and lost once.
He's won eight of those bouts by knockout and two more of the Ws can be attributed to the Brazilian's punching power—Mirko Filipovic submitted after repeated blows left him unable to see while Joaquim Ferreira submitted due to exhaustion, which sounds an awful lot like he got tired of the punishment.
He was also 18-0 in his aborted kickboxing career.
I mention this because dos Santos is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira while also listing Anderson Silva as a training partner in that discipline.
That is, the task might not get any simpler if one of his opponents eventually tries to take Junior to the ground.
Considering the massacres he's put on Fabricio Werdum, Gilbert Yvel, Gabriel Gonzaga and—most recently—Roy Nelson, that's a truly horrific possibility for his future prey.
No. 6—Jon Jones
True, Jon Jones seems like a friendly, good-natured dude—outside the cage.
Inside the Octagon, he still doesn't seem all that menacing...until he gets his hands on you, of course. Then things can get ugly very quickly, from any angle and from a variety of source limbs or techniques.
Brandon Vera had his faced fractured by one of Bones' merciless elbows. Vladimir Matyushenko found himself in an inescapable mounted crucifix. Stephan Bonnar got a judo clinic and most of Jones' opponents must duck or wear a spinning elbow or backfist at some juncture.
Stand with him and you're on the wrong end of an 84-inch reach with breath-taking quickness plus Anderson Silva-esque accuracy. Got to the mat and he's an accomplished wrestler, not to mention that quickness again.
Though the 23-year-old lacks many of the formal hardware that his contemporaries boast, he more than atones with real-life exploits.
No. 5—Mauricio Rua
If not for the transition from Pride to the UFC and from Japan to America, there's a very good chance we're saving our most reverent MMA discussions for Shogun.
This beast was a holy terror when he first broke on the scene overseas. He was literally a blur of soccer kicks, Muay Thai knees and various other lethal-but-pinpoint strikes. Rua was threatening to exhaust the light heavyweight division until a freak injury against Mark Coleman derailed the express train. Then came the absorption by the UFC after a trio of wins had re-established his rising star, and it wasn't until his knockout of Chuck Liddell that we saw a shadow of the Brazilian's former self.
Well, we've seen a bit more of it in subsequent engagements, and Shogun looked vintage in his rematch with Lyoto Machida that saw him become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.
This and my man still has a year to go before his 30th birthday.
No. 4—Fedor Emelianenko
My favorite part about that highlight clip is that it begins with Emelianenko's loss to Fabricio Werdum.
In the aftermath of the Last Emperor's seismic defeat, many details were lost in the shuffle. Chief amongst them was the fact that Emelianenko actually dropped Vai Cavalo with his heavy hands before recklessly flopping down into the triangle armbar.
In other words, doubt him if you must, but don't be surprised if you end up wishing you hadn't.
Emelianenko still seems to have the quickness, power, ferocity of attack, and stoic calm that made him a living legend.
And now, he's coming off a loss.
That sentence alone should be enough to give you goosebumps.
No. 3—Anderson Silva
Anderson Silva's star has lost a little luster in recent years because of his complete ownership of the middleweight division and what the malaise has apparently done to the Spider's noodle. There's a bad pun in there somewhere about filling it with cobwebs, but let's just move on.
Say what you want about his most recent performance against Chael Sonnen—whether you believe the UFC Middleweight Champion was competing with an injured rib or not, he ultimately defended his belt from a chemically enhanced insurgency.
And he showed brief glimpses of his former, devastating self at times against both Sonnen and Maia—the blackest mark on his recent resume.
Regardless, Silva's prowess on both his feet and back—not to mention from inside an adversary's guard—keep him amongst the best and most terrifying names in the game.
No. 2—Brock Lesnar
There is simply no denying that fear is a constant companion for those who must face Brock Lesnar in the cage. It might not keep his opponents up at night and it might not rob them of bodily functions, but the profound threat of a man his size and possessed of his quickness must gnaw on them constantly.
Somewhere in the recesses of their skulls.
How could it not?
Watch the Vanilla Gorilla move, and it's hard to believe his size. Focus on his size, and it's tough to believe he can make it past a brisk jog, let alone pivot around a victim like lightning with balance. Put the package together and you have something the sport hasn't seen, something that's currently clubbing the elite of the 265-pound division into obeisance.
Frank Mir's been pulped and Carwin's been squeezed.
If the big fella can bull-rush his way through Velasquez and JDS, then I'll have to make a new list.
No. 1—Jose Aldo
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Jose Aldo is one frightening little man.
Junior's profile is growing in the wake of his pummeling of Uriah Faber and hot-knife-through-butter exhibition against Manvel Gamburyan, but it's still impossible to overstate how dominant the Brazilian has been. It's not just that he beats everyone in his path—he literally destroys them.
The California Kid was hobbling around like the California centenarian for about a week after Aldo spent most of their 25-minute bout hacking away at Faber's legs. Meanwhile, the Anvil was the one who got flattened when he met Aldo and it took less than seven minutes.
That's on his feet—the World Extreme Cagefighting Featherweight Champion is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which means you pick your poison and it's usually fast-acting.
Which is why Jose Aldo is the scariest mixed martial artist in the sport today.
All 145 pounds of him.