There are some guys in the UFC that you want to like, but they just make it so hard. Maybe they’ve been around a long time and represent and era gone by, or sometimes offer up nuggets of wisdom in interviews that you appreciate, and it makes you like them.
But then other times they’re out there making excuses, offering backhanded compliments to opponents who thrash them, or speaking with such delusion that it leaves you flabbergasted. As a result, you reconsider anything that you like about them, and you’re left with indifference. Or worse.
It’s a fine line to walk to be a fan favourite who speaks his mind or a guy that people just don’t like.
Here are some of the dudes on the UFC roster that are trying to walk that line at the moment.
Co-headlining UFC 140, Frank Mir will battle Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the second time. He’s also a prime example of a guy who you want to like, but he makes it pretty hard a lot of the time.
Stylistically, he brings the “martial arts” to mixed martial arts. He’s a karate black belt, a slick jiu-jitsu player and has devoted his life to improving as a martial artist. He also has the great backstory, as he was almost killed in a bike accident, only to return to become a champion years later.
However, sometimes when he talks, it oozes with a mix of arrogance and silliness that can be hard to take. He often has good insight into his fights and the sport in general, but his act can wear thin when he gets too cocky.
He’s not an awful dude, but if he dialed it back a little he’d probably gain some fans.
Another guy fighting a Nogueira at UFC 140, Tito Ortiz was once one of the most popular men in the sport. However, five straight years of losing, making excuses and being in the news for anything other than winning a fight hurts any man’s credibility, and Tito exemplifies that.
Tito’s biggest issue has always been his mouth, as he puts on good fights and is one of the nicest guys out there with fans. But you put a microphone in front of him and you’ll get some of the most epic foolishness ever heard. It becomes tiresome.
He regularly trumpets the fact that he came back from a surgery nobody ever does, says he’s a top-10 challenger again, and has even gone so far as to name himself "The People’s Champion."
All this came after a single win, which was erased a few weeks later by a violent stoppage loss.
Tito seems to be a genuinely good guy at heart, but he doesn’t do himself any favours by talking so much.
Rashad Evans has all the tools to be a champion again, and to be a well-liked guy in the process. Unfortunately, the hole he dug himself on The Ultimate Fighter and ever since is probably too deep now, and he’s going to be the heel for the rest of his career.
He’s a great wrestler who has become one of the best mixed martial artists in the world, with great boxing and power in his hands to support his technique.
However, his commitment to lay-and-pray in his early days, plus his capacity to go about his career with a swagger many felt he never earned when he was new to the sport, has really hurt his image.
Another guy who seems like a genuinely good dude when people aren’t relentlessly booing him, he’s just never going to overcome the image of a guy with an attitude problem that he earned early in his UFC career.
BJ Penn is a guy that you want to love, but it can be hard.
The scrappy Hawaiian has one of the best attitudes about fighting in the world—“Just scrap” being his mantra—and hates opponents who come to lay on top of him or hold him against the cage. He’s also fought in more weight classes than some guys have pro fights, and always fights tough.
But at the same time, BJ makes you wish he would fulfill his potential. Labeled "The Prodigy" for his freakish jiu-jitsu game, he’s always done just enough to get by. He’s rested on the laurels of his exceptional boxing and ground game without really pushing himself. Rarely is he in shape and motivated, usually choosing one such option for a fight and riding it to a win or a close loss.
There’s also the history of excuses he makes after a loss, some of which are made for him by his legions of fans.
From “losing by decision isn’t really losing” to “the other guy was only there to stall and not really fight,” and anything in between, there’s always a reason that BJ didn’t really lose.
Solely on his in-cage merits, you have to respect and appreciate the guy for all he’s done. Sometimes it’s tough to really like him though.
Another guy who makes liking him tough sometimes is Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, a man stuck with one foot in the sport and one foot out of it as he decides what to do in his life after fighting.
He doesn’t really seem to want to compete in MMA anymore, openly talking about his film career and boxing as more viable options than his current life, and when you throw in his antics outside the cage, he can definitely rub people the wrong way.
From his infamous “motorboat” incident, to other lewd acts with reporters that got less publicity, to a full-on police chase through Vegas that has been mostly swept under the rug, Rampage has a laundry list of offenses that could cause fans to turn on him.
Most haven’t, as he remains a pretty popular guy on account of his goofiness in interviews—perhaps never displayed more clearly than in his UFC 135 pre-fight press conference with Jon Jones—but he’d be all the more popular if he’d go back to slamming guys unconscious and winning titles instead of making bad movies and complaining about life as a fighter.
MMA’s penultimate antihero, there is no middle ground on Nick Diaz: you either love him or you hate him. He speaks his mind, has no filter between his brain and his mouth and is about as brash as any man in the sport.
For some, that’s a guy they can get behind. He plays by his own rules and puts on fights that bring people out of their seats.
If you’re not into trash talk, middle fingers and outrageous statements though, Diaz is a tough sell.
He’ll spend a lot of time complaining about being stuck in the fight life and not getting paid enough, or that he’s going to go to boxing and make a living there. In reality, the happiest he’d be is off on his own in California doing triathlons and teaching jiu-jitsu.
Chances are he’d make a lot of people who don’t like him happy too if he left MMA for those pursuits.
They’ll have to wait a few more months at least, though, as he’ll fight Georges St-Pierre for welterweight gold at UFC 143.