10 Fighters Who Put the 'Art' in Mixed Martial Arts

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2013

10 Fighters Who Put the 'Art' in Mixed Martial Arts

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    Mixed martial arts is a compilation of perfect and imperfect fighting styles, some more useful than others.

    But whether or not an MMA practitioner possesses crisp boxing, swift submissions, slippery transitions or world-class muay thai, it's up to him to put those skills into motion.

    When fighters do that, their artistically combative ways take over, so much so that overly dominant performances begin to occur.

    Granted, it's a short list and many other names deserve to be mentioned, but here are 10 prominent MMA fighters who truly put the "art" in mixed martial arts.

Cung Le

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    Simply based on one perfectly crafted art, Cung Le makes this list without hesitation.

    His ability to sling spinning back kicks with ease against some of the best strikers in the world speaks not only his physical capabilities, but to his persistence and evolution as a kickboxer.

    Le's knack for punishing opponents with one swift turn of his leg and hip has given him the rare opportunity to use the popular kung fu techniques often seen in movies inside the cage against real danger.

Ronda Rousey

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    Not only has Ronda Rousey secured each one of her career victories by way of armbar, but she's been able to roll with some of the best male submissions specialists in the world today.

    That type of success inside and outside of the cage isn't necessarily related to her natural strength as a woman. Instead, Rousey's impressive ability to make people tap comes from her artistic view of the sport.

    She hasn't mastered jiu-jitsu by any means, but she's learned enough to make her time competing worthwhile.

    The scary part is that Rousey is only getting better. The UFC spotlight should reveal that over time.

Jon Jones

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    Many people feel reluctant to put Jon Jones on the same level as Anderson Silva and other MMA greats based on his age and relatively fresh exposure in the sport.

    However, even at the age of 25, Jones has become the UFC light heavyweight champion with four straight title defenses, and he's already recorded the most submissions in the division's history.

    Now, while part of Jones' success can be traced back to his rather advantageous physical demeanor, it isn't everything.

    Jones has matured so quickly as a mixed martial artist, specifically in the striking department, that he can land standing elbows, wing side kicks to an opponent's knee and completely defend himself with relative ease.

    "Bones" is just starting to paint his picture.

Junior dos Santos

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    Junior dos Santos is a true MMA phenomenon.

    He has bewildered many minds of the sport by gaining all of his success via elite boxing—the sort of boxing that can keep wrestlers at bay, grapplers at a distance and other strikers wondering why they entered the cage in the first place.

    In any case, despite his recent collapse to Cain Velasquez at UFC 155, dos Santos is quite possibly the best pound-for-pound boxer to ever grace the Octagon canvas.

    It's a true art when you think about it because "Cigano" has perfected the craft so well that he doesn't need to incorporate anything else (unless he fights Velasquez again).

    That's rarely seen in MMA today.

Demian Maia

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    Even if his career ended tomorrow, Demian Maia would go down as one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialists to ever compete in the UFC.

    There's truly something to be said for a middleweight who finishes his first five UFC fights by way of submission.

    The bottom line is that Maia was never the biggest guy, at 185 pounds. He needed to perfect his craft in order to stay offensively and defensively sound within a division offering heavy hitters and technically sound strikers.

    He has only secured one submission since 2009, coming in his most recent welterweight bout opposite Rick Story at UFC 153, but rarely do we see a fourth-degree black belt in BJJ come along and do what Maia has done.

Jose Aldo

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    Jose Aldo's legs are like ravenous pitbulls that always seem to escape the dog chain mid-fight.

    Once they find a nice cozy spot to affix to on an opponent's leg, Aldo's kicks stick like butter on hot cement.

    In response to his artfully-crafted kicks, similar to Lionel Messi's, the rest of the young Brazilian's game has improved. He's a better puncher for them, and a better defender.

    So no matter how prepared a fighter is to meet the UFC featherweight champion inside the Octagon, just remember that one kick can send an opponent heading for the hills.

Anderson Silva

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    There's never been a fighter quite like Anderson Silva. 

    Capable of literally doing anything at any point inside the cage, Silva has turned world-class skills into an unforgettably glorious career.

    From front heel kicks to stunning last-second submissions, "The Spider" truly does possess the characteristics of an eight-legged freak.

    Whether it's his innate ability to weave a web of illusion for an unsuspecting foe or his primal instinct to pounce on injured prey, Silva is a quintessential artist of combat.

Fabricio Werdum

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    Fabricio Werdum may have the best guard of all time.

    His ability to limit damage off his back and successfully sink in submissions, as if he were taking a breath, has left the Brazilian with an unbeatable ground game.

    Werdum is so comfortable on his back that he opts for the position. As a matter of fact, he often purposely lies down in an effort to lure opponents into his creative world of grappling.

    And even though he'll go down in history as the only man ever to submit Fedor Emelianenko, the second-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is capable of cutting any fighter's night short.

Lyoto Machida

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    Few fighters are capable of defending themselves as well as Lyoto Machida does.

    But what makes his skills as a karate practitioner more impressive is the fact that his counter-striking is borderline unstoppable.

    Although capable of doing so, Machida rarely has to push the action inside the cage. His footwork and hand movement are so elite that he literally sits back and waits to return fire.

    Besides his title fight with Mauricio Shogun Rua at UFC 104, Machida has never been hit more than 24 times during a fight in his UFC career.

    This art of defensive striking, defined by elusiveness and quickness, has given the Brazilian a distinct advantage over the rest of his competitors.

Nate Diaz

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    Many people wouldn't consider Nate Diaz a good candidate for a list of this nature. He's rather brash, in-your-face and doesn't possesses a signature move that can be considered an art.

    Instead, Diaz makes this list because of his skills at gaining the upper hand. 

    Whether it's his timely transitions, willingness to limit his striking in favor of quantity over quality or his reluctant confidence as a submission specialist, the maturing lightweight should never be counted out of a fight.

    So even though Diaz doesn't utilize spinning back kicks, standing elbows or powerful leg kicks, he does in fact possess the timely art of precision.

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