Who Were the Best MMA Heels of the 2010s? B/R Staff Debate
While MMA remains a bountiful source of inspiring human-interest stories, making it easy to find fighters to admire or even emulate, you'll also find individuals who make your blood boil.
You know the type. They're the ones you love to root against.
Instead of admiring them, you might go as far as even hating them. In place of emulation, you'd settle for not being anything like them at all.
Colby Covington, for example, sure can fight, but he seems to be even better at getting under people's skin.
UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman shouldn't have any problem at all drumming up support for his first title defense against Covington at UFC 245 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
With Covington headlining one of the final UFC events of 2019, what better time could there be to recall the best heels of the last decade?
That's what the Bleacher Report MMA crew of Jonathan Snowden, Tom Taylor, Lyle Fitzsimmons and I (Kelsey McCarson) got together to discuss this time around. Read through our takes, and be sure to leave us your own in the comments.
Jonathan Snowden: Jon Jones wanted to be a babyface. The son of a minister, he clearly saw himself as a champion of Christian values and fair play, a throwback to the old days when clean-cut athletes wore suits, smiled for the cameras and generally said all the right things when the red light was on.
The problem? We no longer live in that world. Coverage of an athlete doesn't stop when they turn the lights off on the Octagon and everyone leaves to celebrate their wins or lick their wounds. There was a deluge of stories about Jones that told another tale altogether—one at odds with the official image the champion was trying to portray.
Fans can tolerate a lot from their favorites. But hypocrisy is near the top of the list of things that almost never slide. We want to know the real athlete, not a public-relations persona invented to sell us on an image a thousand miles removed from the truth. That means, until Jones embraces his dark side, there will always be a distance between fighter and fans that is nearly impossible to bridge.
Tom Taylor: My pick for the best heel of the last decade? The reflection of perfection. The man who gets all your attention. The man with the biggest arm. The man with the greatest charm.
Sonnen was a bit of a trailblazer in terms of heelhood in the UFC. There were certainly others before him—guys like Tito Ortiz—but none that spoke as well or as much. The "Gangster from West Linn" had something virulent and venomous prepared—and yes, most of it was definitely prepared ahead of time—every time he was in front of a microphone.
We heard his most infamous trash talk ahead of his two fights with Anderson Silva, during which time he not only disparaged his opponent, but the entire country of Brazil. It was absolutely ruthless stuff that often crossed the line, like the time he accused Silva's countryman Antonio Rogerio Nogueira of trying to feed a carrot to a bus, but it definitely served its intended purpose. For better or for worse, it made people interested.
There was a lot more to Sonnen's shtick than trash talk, of course.
He totally discredited Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a legitimate part of the MMA toolkit, despite winning and losing via submission.
He refused to accept any of his losses, and still doesn't to this day. His Sherdog and Tapology pages will tell you he retired with a 30-17-1 overall record, but he'll tell you he's "still undefeated, still undisputed."
While he's softened a bit over the years, replacing much of his trash talk and saber-rattling with pearls of wisdom and earnest lamentations about never winning a major MMA title, there's no question that, in his heyday, he was one of MMA's greatest heels.
Nick and Nate Diaz (AKA the Diaz Brothers)
Lyle Fitzsimmons: It used to be simple. Villains wore black. Heroes wore white. And support for the respective camps was never in question. But then old-school WWE ruffians like Roddy Piper and Steve Austin were able to operate on the margins of virtuous behavior—turf typically reserved for bad guys—while dripping in adulation.
Fast-forward a generation to MMA's Nate and Nick Diaz.
The bratty NoCal brothers are unapologetically hardcore in words and deeds, second-to-none in bird-flipping and censor-baiting, and teamed up a few years back to trigger an infamous incident in Nashville that led to the dissolution of the UFC's biggest promotional rival.
Back in the day, such antics would have had mothers frantically shielding children's eyes. In the 2010s, though, the authentic BMF heels consistently rank among the most talked-about and clicked-about fighters in the sport, prompting howls from modern mothers—clad proudly in their Affliction T-shirts.
Kelsey McCarson: Jones, Sonnen and the Diaz brothers are all top-class MMA heels. But has there ever been one as highly decorated, absurdly rich and super popular as Conor McGregor?
Since bursting on the scene in 2013, McGregor has grown into one of the most-watched fighters on the planet. He's not only a celebrity in the MMA community, he's a legitimate crossover superstar the likes of which are rarely seen in fighting sports.
What's amazing about that is he basically stole the playbook from boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. Sure, both guys have tons of fans, but they are equally despised by just as many people because of how they carry themselves when they're not engaged in fisticuffs.
The troubling thing about McGregor is that his behavior has only grown worse over the last few years. He pretty much turned full-scale villain in the eyes of many when things in his life outside of MMA spiraled in a way that can only be sorted out in a court of law.
That's not a great look for McGregor. But neither is the fact that there's nothing beyond his fighting ability at the present that's all that admirable about the guy.
Still, the McGregor story isn't over. Maybe he rights the ship, turns over a new leaf in 2020 and gets back to grabbing headlines for only what people pay him to do. The thing that makes him a heel, though, is that even if that happens, at least half of the people who purchase his PPVs are still going to be hoping to see the Irishman get wrecked. If that's not the definition of a heel, then I don't know what is.