International MMA: Top 10 Countries With Fighting Talent
There has never been a better time for mixed martial arts on an international level. New leagues are growing in places where the relatively young sport has previously had no presence. The world's largest MMA organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has been producing more overseas shows and has considered having foreign editions of its famous Ultimate Fighter reality series.
With the rise of MMA across the world, it is worth taking a look at which countries have been producing the most talented fighters.
Notable Fighters: Hector Lombard
Major Promotions: None
While Bellator Middleweight Champion Hector Lombard is the first Cuban MMA fighter to become famous on an international level, don't expect him to be the last. Lombard made his way into MMA after a background in Olympic Judo; Cuba has the fifth highest amount of medals in that sport of all time and the second highest medal count in boxing as well. With this wealth of fighting talent to draw on, more Cuban MMA fighters are likely to follow as the sport grows.
Notable Fighters: George Sotiropoulos, Tony Bonello
Major Promotions: Australian Fighting Championship, Cage Fighting Championships
Top 10 UFC Lightweight George Sotiropoulos and King of the Cage Cruiserweight Champion Tony Bonello are just two of the many skilled MMA fighters that are beginning to arise from Australia. With the UFC beginning to hold annual fights in the land down under, expect more Aussie fighters to emerge on the international scene.
Notable Fighters: Fedor Emelianenko, Sergei Kharitonov, Alexander Shlemenko, Oleg Taktarov
Major Promotions: None
Ever since Oleg Taktarov won the tournament at UFC 6, it has been known that Russia can produce talented fighters. Former Pride Heavyweight Champion and Grand Prix winner Fedor Emelianenko has been considered one of the best in the world and remains a top-10 heavyweight along with fellow Russian Sergei Kharitonov.
Alexander Shlemenko won Bellator's Middleweight tournament last year to prove that Russians can excel in weight classes other than heavyweight as well. Regularly producing Olympic-level wrestlers and boxers, it is surprising that a country as large as Russia hasn't produced even more talent than it already has.
Notable Fighters: Manny Gamburyan, Karo Parisyan
Major Promotions: None
Despite its relatively tiny population and lack of a local MMA scene, Armenia has still managed to produce international-level talent. Manny Gamburyan is a title contender in the UFC's featherweight division and Karo Parisyan is a former WEC Welterweight Champion.
If there were more opportunities in Armenia for martial arts, there would likely be even more names to add to the list of world-caliber fighters.
Notable Fighters: Alistair Overeem, Bas Rutten, Gegard Mousassi, Semmy Schilt
Major Promotions: M-1 Global, SLAMM!! Events, It's Showtime
The Netherlands has been known as the home for world-class kickboxers, and it can add MMA fighters to that resume as well. Holland, as the country is aslo known, currently has two champions in major promotions: Alistair Overeem is Heavyweight Champion in both Dream and Strikeforce, and Dream Light Heavyweight Champion Gegard Mousasi has previously held the Dream Middleweight and Strikeforce Light Heavyweight belts.
Other Dutch fighters include now-retired former UFC Heavyweight and Pancrase Openweight Champion Bas Rutten and former Pancrase Openweight Champion Semmy Schilt, who is a superstar in K-1 kickboxing.
Notable Fighters: Georges St. Pierre, Mark Hominick, Carlos Newton
Major Promotions: Maximum Fighting Championship, Warrior-1 MMA, King of the Cage Canada
Canada's George St. Pierre is a contender for pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, and he isn't the only talent coming out of that country. Numerous Canadians are making their way up through the UFC ranks and Mark Hominick will soon be fighting for the Featherweight Championship.
One of the first Canadian athletes to break into MMA was Carlos Newton, a former UFC Welterweight Champion. With UFC events in Canada breaking attendance records, expect more Canadian champions in the future.
4. United Kingdom
Notable Fighters: Paul Daley, Brad Pickett, Michael Bisping, Ross Pearson, James Wilks
Major Promotions: British Association of Mixed Martial Arts, Bushido Challenge, Cage Warriors
It came as a surprise to many when the UFC held a UK vs USA edition of the Ultimate Fighter and British fighters swept the competition. It's a sign that a country that has excelled in Olympic Boxing is now catching mixed martial arts fever as well.
Michael Bisping was the first UK fighter to win the Ultimate Fighter competition and he remains a Top 10 middleweight years later. Ross Pearson and James Wilks have since also made it into the UFC via the television show.
Meanwhile plenty of other British fighters are rising through traditional routes to the top. Brad Pickett, a former Featherweight Champion in now-defunct UK promotion Cage Rage, is a top-10 fighter in the UFC bantamweight division. Likewise, former Cage Rage Welterweight Champion Paul Daley is the next contender in line for Strikeforce's own Welterweight title.
Notable Fighters: Yushin Okami, Shinya Aoki, Hatsu Hioki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Michihiro Omigawa
Major Promotions: DREAM, Sengoku, DEEP
Since mixed martial arts first started it has had a home in Japan. The Japanese have long excelled at martial arts, ranking No. 1 all-time in Olympic Judo gold medals and also winning many in wrestling as well. Thus it is no surprise that they are exceptional MMA fighters.
A list of all the notable Japanese fighters would take up far too much space, but the truth is that the average fan may not recognize many of them. This is because Japan hosts some of the largest organizations in MMA and so many Japanese fighters do not bother to fight overseas. This not only makes them less well-known worldwide, but also makes it harder to gauge their true level of international talent.
Nonetheless there are some Japanese fighters who are undoubtedly among the best worldwide. Yushin Okami is considered one of the top middleweights in the world and is the #1 contender for the UFC Middleweight Championship.
Many Top 10 Lightweight lists include Dream Lightweight Champion Shinya Aoki and former Shooto Welterweight Champion Tatsuya Kawajiri. Hatsu Hioki holds both the Shooto Lightweight and Sengoku Featherweight belts, and fellow top featherweight fighter Michihiro Omigawa just recently debuted in the UFC. As the UFC and MMA in general continues to grow across the globe, expect to see more Japanese fighters competing overseas.
Notable Fighters: Mauricio Rua, Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, Fabricio Werdum, Junior dos Santos
Major Promotions: Bitetti Combat, Jungle Fight, Brazilian Fight League
With the fifth largest population of any nation, it isn't surprising that there would be some Brazilians who can perform well in MMA. But any MMA fan knows Brazil's history in the sport runs deeper than that. The nation's own martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been a dominant force in MMA since the beginning and new fighters continue to adapt and fuse it with other techniques to become among the best in the world.
There are too many talented fighters from Brazil to name them all. The largest MMA organization in the world, the UFC, boasts three Brazilian champions: Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio Rua, Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva, and Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo. Silva and Aldo are also names mentioned when discussion turns to who is pound-for-pound best in the world.
Meanwhile, Junior dos Santos could be added to the ranks of UFC champions, as he is one fight away from being a heavyweight title contender. There are of course also talented Brazilian fighters in other organizations. One such fighter is Fabricio Werdum, the first of two Brazilian fighters to have recently beaten Fedor Emelianenko, a fighter once considered the best in the world by many.
The UFC wants to hold a show in Brazil soon and with good reason: it doesn't look like there will be an end anytime soon to the large number of top Brazilian fighters in every weight class in MMA.
1. United States
Notable Fighters: Cain Velasquez, Frankie Edgar, Dominick Cruz, Rashad Evans, Jon Fitch
Major Promotions: Ultimate Fighting Championship, Strikeforce, Bellator Fighting Championships
Full disclosure: the writer of this article is an American. But it cannot be disputed that the United States produces the most top MMA talent of any country in the world. A look at any collection of Top 10 in the World lists will likely see a majority of the slots occupied by American fighters.
This shouldn't be a surprise. America has the third largest population in the world. It is also home to the largest mixed martial arts promotion, the UFC, and is home to other prominent promotions as well like Strikeforce and Bellator. In traditional martial arts competition at the Olympic level, the US has the third most medals in Taekwondo, the most in Freestyle Wrestling, and the most in Boxing. There is clearly a large base of talent upon which to draw for American mixed martial arts.
There are obviously dozens of world-class MMA fighters from the United States. Current American UFC champions include Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez, Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar, Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz. Meanwhile Rashad Evans is a top contender for the light heavyweight title, as is Jon Fitch for the welterweight championship.
With American organization UFC extending overseas two things are guaranteed: Americans will continue to compete at the top-levels of MMA across the world, but will also be met with an ever-growing base of competitors from nations all over the globe.