One Trick Ponies: The 5 Most One-Dimensional Fighters in MMA Today
There was a time when a mixed martial arts fight was a proving ground to see which style of fighting was superior. All the fighters were specialists in their art form and by definition, one-dimensional.
Enter Carlos and Helio Gracie. Not content to spend their time lazing on beautiful Brazilian beaches, they were busy improvising on traditional Jiu Jitsu to develop a no-holds-barred fighting style incorporating ground fighting and strikes.
This new art form, known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was put to the test in the Vale Tudo martial arts tournaments held at Brazilian circuses in the 1920s. There were no rounds or time limits and head butts, hair pulling and soccer kicks to the head of a grounded opponent were all allowed.
Helio Gracie competed in 19 professional fights during his career. His first match, in 1932, was against a professional boxer named Antonio Portugal. Helio submitted him in 30 seconds. Early on it was obvious that boxing alone wasn’t going to cut it in MMA. Come on, did you really think James Tony had a chance against Randy Couture at UFC 118?
Antonio Inoki, a professional wrestler turned MMA fighter/promoter, hosted some of the first mixed martial arts matches in Japan in the 1970s. These matches pitted fighters with different skill sets from all dominant disciplines of combat, such as boxing, karate, judo, Capoeira, kung fu and sumo. And although it appears that some of the matches were staged ala professional wrestling, it was obvious that the man with more than one combat specialty had a distinct advantage.
Case in point: For the majority of his career Ray Sefo was a dominant kickboxer who held five world titles. Transitioning into MMA in 2005, he racked up two wins before meeting Valentijn Overeem in Strikeforce: Fedor vs Silva. It was soon apparent that Sefo was a fish-out-of-water on the mat. He flopped ineffectually before being submitted in one minute and 37 seconds.
So how can a one-dimensional fighter even compete in today’s super competitive world of MMA?
Here are five MMA fighters that have managed to be successful and even contend for major titles while remaining steadfast specialists who can be called one trick ponies.
5. Paul “Semtex” Daley
Semtex (28-11-2) is a polarizing top ten ranked British welterweight fighter with devastating punching power, attested to by 20 KO’s.
Daley is number five on this list because he does have a modicum of a ground game. With two submissions to his credit he can handle lesser opponents on the ground, but the vast majority of his wins are due to his thunderous striking power, hence his nickname Semtex, a form of plastic explosive.
Unfortunately, his popular image is that of a poor sportsman after he landed a notorious punch to the head of Josh Koscheck after the bell at UFC 113. Daley was thoroughly outclassed and frustrated by Kos, being repeatedly taken down and held on the bottom for most of the fight. Adding to the tarnish is his penchant for missing weight, most recently coming in 6 pounds over the welterweight limit against Jordan Radev at BAMMA 7.
4. Ben “Funky” Askren
Looking like a tumbleweed with legs, Askren rolled his way to a phenomenal collegiate wrestling career record of 153-8. His wrestling accolades are literally too numerous to list. Cheered on by fanatical rooting sections coiffed in large afro-style wigs, Askren became a four-time All American and continued on to wrestle for the US in the 2008 Olympics.
A year later Ben was fighting in his first MMA tournament. He easily took down his opponent, Josh Flowers, and TKO’ed him at a minute and 25 seconds of the first round. Since then, “Funky” has won seven fights with his superior wrestling.
At Bellator 40, he won the welterweight strap by holding Lyman Good down and rolling around on the mat with him for 25 grueling minutes. He has said he is capable of taking down any welterweight in the game today and it should be mentioned that Askren holds the rank of Brown belt in BJJ.
If Askren can pass his next stiff test in defending his Bellator belt against (22-4) Jay Heron, he will come one step closer to being the most successful one-dimensional MMA fighter of today. And if he ever develops a striking game, well I shudder to think the havoc he could wreak at 170lbs.
3. Cody McKenzie
Cody is a charismatic UFC lightweight division fighter who came out of season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he clashed with the opposing team’s coach, Josh Koscheck. After several testy incidents with the Alaskan-born McKenzie, Koscheck finally got the chance to exact his revenge when his No. 1 pick, Marc Stevens, was set to meet McKenzie in the octagon. 17 seconds after the opening bell, Stevens was asleep via—what else?—a patented McKenzie guillotine choke.
The Alaskan constrictor has won 11 fights in a row by guillotine choke. Even though his opponents knew it was coming, they couldn't avoid it.
Unfortunately for McKenzie, his last two opponents got wise and both handed him defeat in what can only be looked at as appropriate revenge; two rear naked chokes.
He who lives by the choke, dies by the choke.
2. Shinya "Grand Master of Flying Submissions" Aoki
This Japanese beanpole is not what one thinks of when imagining an MMA fighter. Absent are the muscled physique and imposing presence. He looks more like Olive Oyl than Bluto. In Aoki’s case, looks are completely deceiving; just ask one of his 28 vanquished lightweight opponents, 18 by submission.
At Dynamite!! 2009, facing Sengoku Lightweight Champion Mizuko Hirota, the human octopus refused to let go of a ruthless hammerlock submission that snapped Hirota's arm at one minute and 17 seconds of the first round. He then hovered over Hirota, who was writhing in pain, and gave him the finger before running around the ring and offering the same gesture to the very reserved Japanese audience. Kind of like a Japanese Nick Diaz.
His list of incredible submission victories includes being the first fighter to submit an opponent with a gogoplata and a gogoplata from the top.
His standup game? Nonexistent. Against Gilbert Melendez at Strikeforce: Nashville, Aoki spent 25 embarrassing minutes scooting around the ring on his ass, being totally outclassed on his feet.
1. Masakazu Imanari
Japanese-born MMA fighter Imanari (23-9-2) is the world’s premier leg lock specialist. With eight of his 14 submission wins coming by some form of leg lock or toe hold, Iminari is the sports foremost foot fetishist. His Japanese nickname "Ashikan Judan" which translates to "10th Dan of Leglocks" which means, if you value your knee ligaments don’t get in the ring with this guy.
His style is unique. Masakazu relentlessly pursues his opponent’s legs, often looking ridiculous in the process. With his arms down he can be seen walking casually away from his opponents, when he suddenly dives at their legs. After latching onto his standing opponents legs with a scissor lock he then attempts a twisting crippling submission. Several of his unfortunate opponents can be seen writhing in pain after a fight, their feet facing in directions that nature never intended.