MMA's Greatest Personalities

Ben Szwediuk@@dukemedia_ukContributor IMarch 31, 2013

MMA's Greatest Personalities

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    George St-Pierre is arguably the most outstanding athlete in mixed martial arts. He is also one of its greatest champions, having defended his welterweight crown for the eighth consecutive occasion with a characteristically efficient points victory over Nick Diaz.

    GSP is, quite rightly, hugely admired for his achievements. However, it has escaped the attention of no one—least of all the man himself—that relative to that other dominant force in the UFC, Anderson Silva, he is loved very little.

    The reason for this lack of affection is quite simple: personality. The French Canadian's character out of the Octagon mirrors that of his style in it—he is affable, polite, ruthlessly politically correct for someone with so violent an occupation and never gives any more of himself than is required.

    Each and every interview given or opinion offered is the verbal equivalent of the sort of methodically planned points victory with which he routinely tops cards. He, quite simply, lacks the intensity of his—largely less successful—colleagues.

    Such grindingly predictable efficiency is bound to alienate the masses who prefer flawed exuberance—the sort of fighters with the imperfections with which one can empathize—those who willfully put themselves at risk to thrill the fans who fork out hundreds of dollars to watch them in combat.

    So follows a tribute to five of the sport's current great personalities—those men whose intensity inspires interest both inside and out of the cage.

Wanderlei Silva

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    Many of the great characters of the generation who inspired a devotion to the Pride Fighting Championship—which still lingers in some quarters—have fallen by the wayside. Retirement or irrelevance is now the lot of the majority of those who starred in MMA in the early 21st century.

    This is not true, however, for the man who could rightly claim to have ruled that era. Though not nearly the dominant fighter he was at his peak, Wanderlei Silva still represents a dangerous proposition for anyone in the UFC's middleweight or light heavyweight divisions.

    In his pomp, there was no more intense a figure, as he rolled his knuckles and flashed a portentous smile toward the camera as his name was bellowed across the arena's loud speaker.

    And no one could be have said to have attacked with more brutal abandon than the Brazilian bezerker, for whom his jaw was not so much a weakness to be covered but a range finder to enable him to overwhelm his opponents with a flurry of brutal hooks.

    Of course, Silva has suffered for this almost primal intensity; the record is now more patchy, and the jaw's relatively mediocre in its capacity to absorb punishment. Never-the-less, Silva's style remains relatively untainted.

    There have been slight concessions—a moderately more patient approach yielded good results against both Michael Bisping and Cung Le—but when the the fight is brought to the legendary brawler, he still replies in kind, as he did in a stunning recent win over Brian Stann.

    And whoever steps into the cage with the former Pride champion—as the door closes and those knuckles are rolled—will shiver slightly at the force of nature that stands before them.

Nick Diaz

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    Outside the cage, he is a symphony of studied provocation. No one has made belligerent contempt for one's opponents and critics more of an art than Nick Diaz.

    Of course, his inclusion was at the expense of younger brother Nate, but there is little doubt that it is Nick who laid the path for his sibling and whose relentless barrage of pointed derision is the more finely honed.

    The same is true in the cage—the pace and intensity the Stockton native brings to the Octagon is unmatched—and, knowing this, even the best do not dare fight him head-on.

    Carlos Condit ran from him and GSP smothered him, but both acknowledged—by virtue of their deeds—that he could finish them in seconds whether standing or on the floor. Both consciously settled for points decisions, albeit—in the case of Condit—somewhat controversially.

    Both of these former opponents may ultimately be more successful professionals, but neither excite and enrapture fight fans in the manner of the 209's most famous son.

Leonard Garcia

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    If it is possible to "ride high" on a four-fight losing streak, that is exactly what Leonard Garcia is doing right now. Despite the fact that he is not viewed by the UFC as a means to marketing to a particular demographic (the company already have a number of high profile Latin-American fighters), the former WEC title challenger has been retained.

    Ordinarily, fighters are unlikely to be kept on by Zuffa after as few as three losses, so to remain after a fourth—even if the decision was among the worst in the sport's recent history—demonstrates how out of the ordinary Garcia is as a fighter.

    A smiling, friendly, ball of nervous energy outside the Octagon, but inside, he attacks with more abandon than any fighter in the upper echelons of the sport today.

    Constantly sporting a grin, the bantamweight consistently marches forward, throwing hooks with such untempered ferocity that he regularly loses his footing—much to the chagrin of his despairing "tactician" coach, Greg Jackson—inspiring some of the greatest battles in the history of both the WEC and UFC.

Michael Page

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    Michael "Venom" Page is the greenest of the fighters on this list, but is, by far, the most exciting long-term prospect.

    The Englishman possesses an atypical background, having served an extensive apprenticeship in points kickboxing and karate in which he has won several world championships. Page takes his base from the relatively rare form of Lau Gar kung fu in which he has been instructed by his father since the age of three.

    This background not only gives "Venom" the most unconventional and dynamic striking styles—which has seen him dubbed "The English Anderson Silva"—but also an extraordinary confidence that is at odds with his inexperience in the sport.

    Walking into the cage, "Venom" raises his hand in the shape of a cobra poised to strike and then attacks in kind. Unafraid to try the most outrageous techniques, the welterweight prospect marked his debut with a stunning tornado kick KO in UCMMA.

    He went on to mark his Bellator debut just weeks ago with a one-punch knockout in the 10th second of the fight. Far tougher tests will lie ahead for Page, but if he continues to deliver as he has thus far, adulation is sure to follow.

Viacheslav Datsik

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    There are several features which are consistent among the other fighters on this list, the main one being that all are currently active in the sport. The other is that—while they may not be universally liked—their intensity in combat draws fans and retains the interest of detractors.

    This last fighter, however, is not likeable, not hugely gifted. He is—short of considerable legal fortune—unlikely to fight again, having his last bout in 2006. However, if there is one thing the "Russian Tarzan" possessed in his career it was "intensity". Viacheslav Datsik was, with little doubt, one of the most extreme fighters—and people—ever to have competed in mixed martial arts.

    Bizarre dancing and posturing marked his exploits both into and inside the cage. Wild and clumsy telegraphed techniques were his staple, as well as goading his opponents—even as they beat him.

    He was once disqualified for starting (and losing) a fight with a referee, but can claim to have knocked out Andrei Arlovski on his MMA debut, before he went on to become UFC heavyweight champion.

    After his last fight, Datsik went on to take his bizarre behaviour into the political world where he became a devoted neo-Nazi, railing against Christians and Jews while embracing neo-paganism, even claiming to be the living entity of a pagan God.

    Datsik was jailed in Russia for armed robbery, but escaped the mental institution in which he was detained before—it was claimed—rowing to Norway to claim asylum. Eventually, Russia's extradition request was successful, and he is now serving five years in his homeland for his various offenses.

    And, so, his fighting career appears at an end. Datsik, it seems, was too intense for society in general, let alone mixed martial arts, and his antics would unlikely be tolerated should he attempt a future return. But he left the most bizarre and indelible of memories and will remain an infinitely more entertaining figure than George "Rush" St-Pierre.

Honourable Mentions

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    Of course, any such list of so-called "intense personalities" will bring about a number of worthwhile candidates who didn't make the cut. The first is Nate Diaz who had to make room for his elder brother, Nick, and in whose footsteps he largely follows with regard to manner, skill set, and, often, putting on extraordinary fights.

    Among the other candidates who missed out include Greg Jackson stablemates Diego Sanchez and Clay Guida.

    The pair should be noted for the fact that they were among the most intense players in the game only a few years ago, whereas their inclusion on any pay-per-view card is now usually met with a regretful sigh. One speculates, largely due to Jackson's influence.

    Several of the great Pride era fighters are neglected, most significantly Kazushi Sakuraba who—in addition to defeating the Gracie family at will—put his health on the line a decade after his star had dimmed in order to entertain his home fans.

    And, finally, one must pay tribute to near legendary lightweight fighter Genki Sudo.The "Neo-Samurai" is probably the finest Japanese fighter of the era to never compete in Pride.

    Known for ring entrances which would have shamed the WWE, and a fighting style which produced some of the classic matches of the era, Sudo retired to practice Buddhism and further his BJJ knowledge. He is also now a wrestling instructor and actor, despite only being 35.