Names in the Game from the Magazine

Names in the Game from the Magazine

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Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world. It garners more attention and new fans daily. The emergence of so many new athletes sometimes makes it hard for fans to notice some of the fighters on the verge of making it to the next level. MMAWeekly.com takes you deep inside the sport and presents you with some of the upcoming New Blood.

SAM SICILIA

Sam SiciliaRECORD: 11-1
KEY VICTORY: Cristiano Marcello
WEIGHT CLASS: 145 lbs.
AGE: 26
COUNTRY: United States

With just one loss and one decision victory in 12 fights, Sam Sicilia carried a lot of momentum into his stint on The Ultimate Fighter: Live reality series. Of his 10 victories prior to the show, Sicilia had finished nine of his opponents. Despite all of his success prior to the reality series, TUF still represented a huge step for the fighter from Washington.

He handled the pressure well, quickly knocking out a training partner of UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz to gain entry into the fighter house. Cruz then served as his coach on the show. Just as quickly as he made a splash to gain entry in the fighter house, however, he tasted the sour side, losing a controversial split decision on TUF. Had it not been for that loss, Sicilia would have been considered a favorite to make the finals of the show.

He made amends on the TUF Finale, taking out one of the series’ early favorites, BJJ whiz Cristiano Marcello. He once again showed off his striking prowess, disposing of Marcello with an assault of knees and punches midway through the second round.

Currently riding a seven-fight winning streak, Sicilia is stacking the cards ever more in his favor by dropping from lightweight to featherweight, hoping to enhance his strength and power. If he can continue improving on the skills that have led him to an 11-1 start, Sicilia will soon be in the UFC featherweight title mix.

ERIC KELLY

RECORD: 8-0
KEY VICTORIES: Jens Pulver, Mitch Chilson, Bae Young Kwon
WEIGHT CLASS: 145 lbs.
Eric KellyAGE: 30
COUNTRY: Philippines
NICKNAME: The Natural

In Asia, Eric Kelly isn’t that much of a “New Blooder,” but he is to the rest of us around the globe. That’s changing quickly, as Kelly’s rise through the ranks is happening at the same time that mixed martial arts in Asia is finding a new gear. He has earned his props fighting for two of the top promotions in the region, holding the URCC Featherweight Title, while also impressing One FC crowds.

Kelly has a strong submission game, but he has also shown that he packs power with his striking skills. Kelly submitted his first six opponents, and he TKO’d former UFC lightweight Champion Jens Pulver in his most recent bout.

Kelly has been caught in the middle of fighting for both URCC and One FC, which is a good place to be, as both promotions are fighting to keep him under their respective banners. The dual promotion career, however, did cost him a title shot. While he holds the URCC Featherweight Title, Kelly was offered a shot at the One FC belt as well. Having an obligation to defend his URCC belt a short time after his scheduled One FC bout forced him to forego the title shot to ensure his health for the URCC fight.

Still, it’s not a bad position to be in for a fighter barely three years into his professional career. A native of the Philippines, Kelly is sure to be in one spotlight or another as the sport continues its ascendancy in the Asian market.

STANISLAV NEDKOV

RECORD: 12-0
KEY VICTORIES: Luiz Cane, Kevin Randleman, Travis Wiuff
WEIGHT CLASS: 205 lbs.
AGE: 30
COUNTRY: Bulgaria
NICKNAME: Stucky

Stanislav NedkovStanislav Nedkov has already realized one dream—to fight in the UFC. Now, with his Octagon debut under his belt, Nedkov is on a quest to earn UFC gold.

Nedkov—a black belt in jiu-jitsu and two-time Bulgarian National Freestyle Wrestling Champion—didn’t have an easy road to the UFC. Only the second Bulgarian fighter to enter the UFC’s ranks, he fought the majority of his pre-Octagon days in Bulgaria and Japan. The world didn’t really take notice of Nedkov until his fights in the now-defunct Sengoku promotion in Japan. Nedkov had already amassed eight professional victories, but when he TKO’d veteran Travis Wiuff and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Kevin Randleman, pundits and fans took notice.

Nedkov notched one more victory prior to his UFC signing, but his debut would take more than one year due to opponent injuries. One fight, a planned bout against Steve Cantwell at UFC 120, was scratched just 48 hours before the two were slated to lock horns.

Once he fi nally made it under the brightest spotlight in the sport, Nedkov lived up to his billing. An athlete who had primarily focused on the grappling arts as a young man, Nedkov opted to display his striking skills that have become just as much a part of his repertoire as his grappling. He TKO’d Luiz Cane—a BJJ black belt known for packing power in his punches—in the opening round of their fi ght, immediately serving notice that he would be gunning for a spot in the upper echelon of the light heavyweight division.

Nedkov is expected to return to the Asian scene in November to fight in the UFC’s first event in China. Barring injury, he is slated to face another tough test in Thiago Silva. Should he get past Silva, Nedkov will be on the fast track to fighting a top contender with an opportunity to prove he belongs in UFC title talks.

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CAIN VELASQUEZ

Name: Cain Velasquez Professional Record: 2-0 Height: 6’2” Weight: 230lbs Discipline: Wrestling Notable Wins: Jesse Fujarczyk

Who is Cain Velasquez? Most fans aren’t familiar with Velasquez, who has just two professional fi ghts under his belt. But what he lacks in experience, he makes up for with his ability to adapt and learn quickly. Coupled with his excellent physical conditioning and wrestling prowess, Cain Velasquez could be the next big thing.

Velasquez trains at American Kickboxing Academy, home to fi ghters such Mike Swick, Josh Koscheck, and Jon Fitch. For the last eighteen months, Cain has been refi ning his kickboxing under the tutelage of former world champion Javier Mendez, and been training with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo black belt Dave Camarillo.

Velasquez has been involved in combat sports for the past thirteen years, in his primary discipline of wrestling. Velasquez was a two-time state high school wrestling champion at heavyweight in his home state of Arizona. He was a four-time high school All American wrestler at heavyweight, which included placing all four years at the US Jr. National Wrestling Championships, in both Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling.

Velasquez’s collegiate wrestling career peaked when he attended Arizona State University his junior and senior years. In both years, Velasquez was named the PAC-10 Wrestler of the Year and PAC-10 Heavyweight Wrestling Champion. He went on to compete in NCAA Wrestling Championships, where he placed fi fth in the heavyweight division his junior year, and fourth his senior year.

After college, Cain shifted his focus to mixed martial arts, and moved to California to train at American Kickboxing Academy. Velasquez made his professional debut on the undercard of Strikeforce – Tank vs. Buentello. With only one month of training, the former Arizona State wrestler defeated Jesse Fujarczyk in less than two minutes. Approximately fi ve weeks later, Cain bested Jeremiah Constant during the second season of BodogFIGHT, utilizing his amazing conditioning to outlast and fi nish his opponent with strikes.

Velasquez was scheduled to fi ght PRIDE veteran Roman Zentsov on a BodogFIGHT pay-per-view last April, but a broken hand forced him to pull out of the match. Now fully healed from his injury, Velasquez is ready to return to action and show the world how quickly he is progressing as a well-rounded fi ghter.

Cain Velasquez recently signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and will make his Octagon debut in March. Having been given a great opportunity so in early in his career, Velasquez looks to make an impact in the biggest organization in the US.

SHANE CARWIN

Name: Shane “Monster” Carwin Professional Record: 8-0 Height: 6’4” Weight: 265lbs Discipline: Wrestling Notable Wins: Sherman Pendergarst, Rex Richards

Shane Carwin is a monster; quite fi tting of his nickname. This former NCAA Division II National Wrestling Champion is one of the best heavyweight prospects today. A protégé of UFC and PRIDE veteran Ron “H2O” Waterman, Carwin holds an undefeated record of 8-0 and has demolished his previous opponents with a relentlessly aggressive style.

“I’m defi nitely not looking to lay and pray. When I get on top, it’s defi nitely a punishing attack with my ground and pound, and the same thing with throwing knees, elbows, strikes…I tend to smother my guy at all times and not give him time to breath and react,” said Carwin.

The sometimes stagnant heavyweight divisions in MMA need a boost, and Shane Carwin could very well be the answer. The Colorado native recently earned his fi rst professional championship when he impressively defeated UFC veteran Sherman Pendergarst to claim the Ring of Fire heavyweight title. It took Carwin just over ninety seconds to dispatch his opponent, fi nishing Pendergarst with strikes.

“It felt great. I put a lot of training and effort [into the fi ght]. To win over a quality opponent in Sherman, and get the belt for Ring of Fire in my fi rst championship opportunity felt awesome,” exclaimed Carwin.

Carwin currently fi ghts out of T’s KO Fight Club, and trains with the likes of former Ring of Fire Featherweight Champion Christian Allen and UFC veteran Nate Marquardt. Under the tutelage of Ron Waterman and boxing coach Trevor Wittman, the newly crowned champion hopes to bring the spotlight back to the heavyweight landscape and make an impact.

“I think people want to see heavyweights that are big, but also athletic,” commented Carwin. “I think I can bring some consistency and athleticism [to the heavyweight division]. I feel I can compete at that top level with those top-tier guys. I’m excited for my chance to get those shots when they come.”

2008 could be a breakout year for Shane Carwin. With so much potential, the sky’s the limit for the Monster. “I want to move into those upper shows and go against some of those top guys, just to see where my game’s at. I thrive on competition and I absolutely love the sport and have a passion for it; I have a passion to be in the cage. Hopefully there’s big things coming for me in 2008, and I’ll be seen in the national spotlight. I defi nitely hope to keep the fi ghts exciting.”

WAGNNEY FABIANO

Name: Wagnney Fabiano Santos Professional Record: 9-1 Height: 5’6” Weight: 145lbs Discipline: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Notable Wins: John Gunderson, Matt Fiordirosa, Bao Quach

Wagnney Fabiano considers himself as “a strategic, calm, dedicated, and focused fi ghter.” Others consider him one of Canada’s best-kept secrets. The Team Nova Uniao fi ghter is an accomplished grappler, and holds championships in Grappler’s Quest and NAGA tournaments in the US. Fabiano is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Wendell Alexander and Andre Pederneiras. The 32-year old fi ghter was victorious in the 2005 Brazilian Abu Dhabi Trials, a crowning achievement for any grappler.

Fabiano has trained with many talented fi ghters throughout his career, including BJ Penn, Renato “Charuto” Verissimo, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, and his younger brother Leo Santos, a renowned grappler in Brazil. “I admire Wendell, Andre Pederneiras and Renzo [Gracie]; I feel they are special people,” says Fabiano.

Wagnney moved from his birthplace of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Toronto, Canada, where he has resided for more than nine years. He made his professional MMA debut in 2000, after four amateur fi ghts and many years of cross-training in boxing and wrestling.

Wagnney signed with APEX Fighting Championship after three professional bouts. In the second fi ght of a long-term contract, Fabiano suffered his fi rst loss to Jeff Curran, via a controversial split decision.

“90% of the people who saw that fi ght felt like the decision was wrong,” explained Fabiano. “He [Curran] even came to my dressing room after the fi ght asking for forgiveness, saying he did not like winning in such a way. I have nothing against Jeff Curran. I’m really not bothered by that fi ght because in my mind I won. Do I want to fi ght him again? I want to fi ght anyone they put in there against me, if it’s him, then so be it.”

APEX Fighting Championship never put on another show after that evening, and Wagnney was left without a promotion to fi ght for. Enter the International Fight League. Wagnney had been an acquaintance of IFL Toronto Raptors coach and former UFC Champion Carlos Newton for nearly half a decade. An opportunity to replace Ivan Menjivar on the team roster presented itself, and Fabiano took advantage of it. Undefeated in the league, Fabiano submitted his last fi ve opponents on his way to become the IFL&#
8217;s fi rst 145-pound champion.

“To tell you the truth, nothing has changed,” replied Wagnney humbly. “I’m going to have to keep training hard as always. There will always be someone to try and take my title from me. Now I’m going to have to train even harder.”

With his recent impressive performances, Wagnney Fabiano is at the top of his game. 2007 was a great year for the fi ghter, and his potential has likely gotten the attention of larger organizations. However, Fabiano dismisses the possibility of fi ghting for another organization in the near future.

“The WEC and UFC are considered the best events in the world right now, but the IFL isn’t far behind at all. I’m with them now and throughout the year and I’m very happy where I am,” said the IFL Champion graciously. “They treat me very well and put on a world class show. I’m very happy with them and am not thinking about going anywhere else.”

During the off-season, the IFL made many changes. One of the most signifi cant changes was the elimination of Fabiano’s Toronto Raptors team. Fortunately for the Brazilian standout, he was picked up by Renzo Gracie’s Pitbulls, the defending IFL Team Champions. Wagnney Fabiano Santos is expected to return to the ring on April 4, 2008.

“I just want to say that I hope 2008 will be as good as 2007. I will work to make it even better. Thank you for everyone’s support!”

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Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world. It garners more attention and new fans daily. The emergence of so many new athletes sometimes makes it hard for fans to notice some of the fi ghters on the verge of making it to the next level. MMAWeekly.com takes you deep inside the sport and presents you with some of the upcoming New Blood.

WAGNER PRADO

RECORD: 7-0
KEY VICTORY: Luis Eduardo da Paixao
WEIGHT CLASS: 205 lbs.
AGE: 24
COUNTRY: Brazil
NICKNAME: Caldeirao

On any given day at Team Nogueira in Brazil, the mats could be filled with fighters such as Anderson Silva, Junior dos Santos, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. For a fighter like undefeated light heavyweight prospect Wagner “Caldeirao” Prado, training alongside legends is something that he is honored to do on a daily basis.

Prado started fi ghting full-contact Muay Thai when he was 19 years old. Within a few years, MMA caught his eye, and he couldn’t resist the challenge. Three years later, Prado made his pro MMA debut, beating two fi ghters in a one-night tournament. It was right into the fire for the young fighter, who then parlayed that opportunity into an appearance on the popular Brazilian variety show Caldeirao do Huck, where he met his future coaches and training partners.

“I’m fortunate enough to train with my idols,” says Prado. “Training side by side with them is the best thing for me. I’m training with the best to become one of the best.”

Prado is quickly joining those ranks, amassing an undefeated 7-0 record with six (T)KOs. For a young man who has only been fighting for a few years, he’s ahead of the learning curve.

“I have evolved a lot in a short period of time, but I know that I still have much more to learn, and I am working hard for that,” says Prado. “Currently, besides my boxing, Muay Thai, and BJJ practices, I have been concentrating on my wrestling and strength and conditioning, which are new to me. I have had great results, so the tendency is to keep improving.”

While Prado’s own improvement has continued to develop, he’s also watched the sport of MMA develop in his home country. Since the UFC’s return to Brazil in 2011, the country has MMA fever.

“This whole expansion has taken me by surprise—it’s been very fast,” says Prado. “MMA and the UFC are in style in Brazil.”

Not only are Brazilians watching the UFC, the UFC continues to watch the best young talent come out of Brazil, and Prado’s name is high on the list.

A devastating striker with knockout power in both hands and a rapidly improving ground game have made Prado an easy sell to audiences all over the world.

“My biggest dream is to be the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, and thank God, I’m on the right track, but I’ll go up one step at a time,” he says. “I’m working toward achieving my goal, and one day I’ll be there.”

SEAN SANTELLA

RECORD: 10-3
KEY VICTORIES: Bryan Lashbomb, Tuan Pham
WEIGHT CLASS: 125 lbs.
AGE: 27
COUNTRY: U.S.A.
NICKNAME: Shorty Rock

Sean “Shorty Rock” Santella was doing pretty well as a bantamweight, making his way up the MMA ladder by earning an 8-3-1 record. However, now that the 125-pound fl yweight division is becoming more prominent, Santella is ready to break out.

“I had a good run at 135 pounds, but I couldn’t really compete with those guys who have 20 pounds on me,” Santella says. “I’ve waited for the UFC to add the fl yweight class for so long.”

Now that the division is going to be a fi xture in the UFC, Santella is excited for the possibilities. Since dropping to 125 pounds earlier this year, Santella has added the Cage Fury Flyweight Title to his collection of accolades, but he’s got his eyes set on the same prize as most other fighters—the bright lights and bigger paydays of the UFC. He knows that he’s got to pay his dues to get there, but Santella feels that he is right on the cusp of a call from UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby.

Joining AMA Fight Club in Whippany, NJ, with UFC fi ghters Jim Miller, Frankie Edgar, and Charlie Brenneman, Santella has the training to go along with the skills to be successful in the Octagon—it’s just a matter of getting the opportunity.

“It’s a waiting game, but I’m going to fight regardless. I love to fi ght,” says Santella, whose record now stands at 10-3-1, with back-to-back victories in 2012. “When they call, I’m going to be ready. But on the same end, I’m not going to sit around. I’m going to keep fighting the best guys I can, so I’ll be ready when that call does come.”

Until then, he’ll do what he does best—train and fi ght—and get tossed around by some of the best fighters in the business.

“I’m excited every morning when I get up to go train, knowing I’m going to get my ass kicked by the best guys in the world,” he says. “It’s kind of sick, but it puts a smile on my face.”

KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV

RECORD: 17-0
KEY VICTORY: Kamal Shalorus
WEIGHT CLASS: 155 lbs.
AGE: 23
COUNTRY: Russia
NICKNAME: The Eagle

Khabib Nurmagomedov is not a name that easily rolls off the English-speaking tongue, but it is a name that fight fans, regardless of their linguistic abilities, should get used to. Nurmagomedov is a Russian fighter who has distinct abilities in his country’s national combat sport of Sambo, which relies heavily on grappling skills. He is a National and World Sambo Champion, and he has carried those skills into his MMA career.

In just three years, he amassed a spotless 16-0 record fighting in Russian and Ukrainian promotions. Nurmagomedov scored six submissions, but he proved his fists are just as worthy as his ground prowess, with six knockouts on his résumé.

Fighting in a ring in Russia and stepping into the Octagon under the bright lights of the biggest MMA promotion in the world is another story. But it’s a story that Nurmagomedov knows well.

Following his success in Russia, Nurmagomedov made the move to the United States, training in New Jersey, primarily at K-Dojo with a host of other Russian fighters, but also alongside numerous UFC veterans and fellow New Blooder Sean Santella at AMA.

All of his training helped lead to a successful Octagon debut at the inaugural UFC on FX event in Nashville, TN, in January. Taking on seasoned fighter Kamal Shalorus, Nurmagomedov had to go deep into the fight, but his submission skills paid off with a third-round rear naked choke submission.

Successfully handling the move from the ring to the Octagon, Nurmagomedov continues to forge his way in foreign territory. He will face the toughest test of his career in the form of Gleison Tibau at UFC 148 in July, where a victory would put him several rungs up the lightweight ladder.

It may be a bit early to talk titles for Nurmagomedov, but with his background, and the way he’s handled the move to the UFC, it’s also not completely out of the question. Keep an eye on this Russian fighter—and remember the name because you will be hearing it a lot.

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Glittering light twinkles from the left side of the cabin, piercing past the seats in the emergency row, past the No Smoking and Fasten Seat Belt signs, and directly into my ocular cortex, yanking me from a sleepy little valley town called Burbank, where I was in my dream. I now realize that… *BING*… “We are now in our final descent to the Las Vegas area,” and I should do the tray table thingie and put the seat three and a quarter inches back up. Then hit the tarmac, hit the lobby, stroll past the baggage claim (checking baggage is for chicks) and materialize in front of an anonymous hotel, which I will not name in order to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. It’s UFC 100 weekend, and FIGHT! Magazine is in VEGAS.

“HEY! BULLY BEATDOWN!” some random guy screams as I stroll through the casino with security guard/hetero lifemate/ FIGHT! Magazine funnyman Ryan Loco, who ushers me towards the center bar. As I push past the chubby Middle Americans playing video poker, I come upon a scene that is unlike any other I have witnessed in quite a while: a brash cacophony arising from a group of people in a mosh-pit-like structure engaged in intense conversation, laughing and out-talking one another, all of them taking notice of me nonchalantly. I have my baseball hat pulled tight over my eyes, and am uncharacteristically shy, since that rabid fan made me feel self-conscious about my z-level celebrity status.

I quietly make a witty comment to Loco, which I can’t remember, but is comedy gold, trust me. He immediately retorts with something of equal comedic value. Then I ask him, “Why are we here?” To which he replies, “Dumbass, this is the FIGHT! Magazine writers.” Oh yeah, I’m here to represent FIGHT! Magazine at the UFC Expo.

“Oh,” I said, not putting together that THESE were the writers, photogs and graphic designers of a great publication. I guess it’s akin to people saying to me, “You look bigger on TV.” If I had to say one snide comment to the entire staff of the magazine, I guess it would be, “You look smarter in the magazine.” Because what I am witnessing is the absolute cutting loose of an obviously overworked team of bright people.

It’s as if I had walked directly into a nuclear wasteland inhabited by the mutant-zombie remains of FIGHT! staffers who were now after my brains.

“HEY MAYHEM! You crazy bastard,” someone yells, making me instinctively put my hands up and my chin down. Loco defl ects some of the drunken traffi c, and we start making our rounds throughthe zombie mosh pit. “How much of your stuff do you really write, man?! Really? Come on,” one chisel-faced zombie attacks. “All of it, dude. I’m not good at grammar, but I can write,” I fire back. I guess I look dumber than I write. Appeased, the zombie responds, “Damn, man, you are good.” Which makes me feel as if I’d gone to the warmth and safety of a fallout shelter.

 

We continue for a bit, meeting another editor/brain eater that wants to argue with me about something trivial, in a deep southern drawl. Since I love to argue, and since I’m from the South, I oblige him for an inordinate amount of time. And after I feel I’ve sufficiently “won,” I move on to watch a faux argument between a heavily tattooed staffer and the rest of the team, which, in my relatively sober state, I find very entertaining. In the midst of this arm flailing and loud talking, I realize that, although I’ve been to Vegas quite a bit, the staff, well, they don’t get out much. These writer types are pretty much out of their minds. Worn out by the intensity of talking to people whose sole job it is to put words into print, I make my escape to rest up and prepare for the UFC Expo the next day.

WAKING UP IN VEGAS

Pass out, wake up, rush out the door, stumble through the cab line …”MAYHEM MILLER!” a random fan yells. Damn! I’m getting recognized more now. I wonder how this expo thing is going to be. I’m a bit hyped up by my Iced Americano (soy milk and two Splenda), so I make conversation with the cabbie, who allegedly made a fortune in real estate and lost it all on craps, a story that I believe, because the guy seems bright. Now he has to drive a cab, but he has a surprisingly positive attitude about it. I tip him five bucks and offer the advice, “Don’t gamble it, man.”

Shuffling out of the cab, I head toward the entrance of the Mandalay Bay Events Center, trying to escape the searing hot desert sun that is piercing through my black shirt and making me sweat, even though I shaved off my strip-of-doom haircut for the summer.

“Hey Mayhem! Quick picture man!” Smile. Snap. Flash. Damn, I didn’t even get into the convention center yet. I think this may end up being crazier than expected. I am right. Before I can even get into the main convention hall, I am bowled over by people rabidly asking for autographs. “Take a picture … sign this shirt … sign this program … sign my kid!” Whoa, I think. This is a UFC expo. I don’t even fight in the UFC. What the hell?

“I love your MTV show!” Ugh, I’m just the MTV guy now, getting slowly crowd-surfed to the FIGHT! Mag booth, where the calm face of the Editor-in-Chief is waiting with some of the staff from last night, who are all completely alive and very chipper. I sit at the booth and keep high energy for an hour, signing enough chemically treated paper to make the EPA cry. A line forms down the block. Smile. Snap. Flash. Smile. Snap. Flash. Headlock a kid. Snap. Flash. Make a crazy face. Snap. Flash. Bite someone’s ear. Snap. Flash. Wow, I’m actually famous, even if it is for a goofy reality show. Wow. “See you tonight at the pre-party?” From behind his man bangs, peering through his stoic eyes, FIGHT! Editor-in-Chief Donovan Craig snaps me out of my narcissistic daydreaming. “Huh? Oh, yeah. For sure.”

FOG MACHINES AND LASER RAYS

So it’s now Friday evening, and the entire FIGHT! staff is assembled around a table with bottles resting in a small bowl. All patiently await the debauchery to ensue. The quiet before the storm. The Top Forty begin to pump in the swanky nightclub, the lights pulsate, beautiful women take notice as the bottles pop and the FIGHT! staff explodes into a raging party. The energy that I defl ected the night before I now feed off of, crazily jumping on the couches, laughing from deep in my belly, screaming to the sky like some ancient tribal chief in a circle of warriors drumming to the gods of our publishers. It’s at this point that the spirits of literary achievement possess me, and my shell of a body thrashes about the club. I hang onto only bits and pieces of memory. Holding two bottles. Three girls with me. Laughing with a writer. Scaring everyone. “Hey! Bully!!” Swinging on a stripper pole. In the back alley convincing the bouncers I can stay. More girls. More laughing. More craziness. Thinking, “These writer guys go hard!” Then remembering, “I am one of these writer guys.” I feel like giving each and every staffer a giant hug, but instead I’m ushered out by my female companions, who for some reason I don’t argue with. The rest of the night is a blur.

LUNCHTIME IN DISNEYLAND

I liken Vegas to Disneyland for adults. When you first get there, you are on an emotional high, sprinting from the Teacups to the Space Mountain, and begging Mom to give you money for those damn ears. By lunchtime, you are a wreck. Your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shoes are all muddy, you are too exhausted to eat your corn dog, the Mickey ears are hanging half off your head and you just want to plop down on the dirty community picnic table. One more day of the expo, then th
e FIGHT! party at the Hawaiian Tropic Zone to watch UFC 100. As I scan the faces of the team members, I realize that it’s lunchtime at Disneyland. Everyone watches the fights with the same expression that we had when sitting on the rides and watching the animatronic children sing, “It’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all…” Unaffected and unenthusiastic, all of us attempt to muster some excitement. But I don’t need any more excitement. I already have what I unwittingly came to Vegas for. I have the smug satisfaction of realizing that I’m not just a reality show douchebag, I am a writer, and for the best publication in mixed martial arts. As I am smugly feeling satisfied with myself, someone breaks into my daydream with, “Hey, you are that Bully Beatdown guy!” Thanks for reminding me, pal.

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The most common question I get from interviewers and fans is, “How or why did I get into MMA?”

I believe MMA got into me, for there is no disturbing reason as to why my job is to beat people up. I didn’t have a tough upbringing – I had quite the opposite, actually — and I don’t have any anger issues. Unlike some fi ghters, there was no daily violence that made me feel the need to know how to defend myself or infl uenced me to hurt other people. And to top it off, my parents have been married for more than 40 years!

I grew up in a nice, quiet town in Massachusetts and never needed for anything. I am one of six kids, and every day we were reminded that our comfortable lifestyle could only be achieved through hard work and that nothing worth anything ever comes easy. We were told we were not better than anyone else, and we were never allowed to say we were “rich.”

Although most people in our town are quite affl uent, I grew up very different from my friends. We were one of the few Latino families in town. Both my parents were born in Peru, South America, where although the rich are very rich, the poor can be desperately poor. Poverty cannot be ignored in Latin America because it is blatant. When I visited as a child, there were children much younger than myself working in the streets to help support their families. You may walk out of an elegant high-rise and buy a chocolate bar from a child who is barefoot and fi lthy as you get into your chauffeured car. You will pass shantytowns built with cardboard boxes as shelter for entire families on your way to the beautiful beaches and an old lady begging for food on your way to a country club. Our parents not only told us about this, but showed this to us. We were taught to appreciate everything we had because there are so many others who have so much less. Acting “spoiled” was a kiss of death in our household.

Although we are no doubt American, we have a very strong Peruvian infl uence in our daily lives. We were raised Roman Catholic, and as with many Latin families, religion is very prominent in our life. I consider myself bicultural and trilingual, and our culture is built on very strong ties with family. Enmeshment is normal for us as we share and experience one another’s pain and triumphs. We are very loving and warm with one another, and to this day my mom embarrasses me with Spanish lovey-dovey nicknames like “amorsito” (lovely) and “mi hijito querido” (my dear little son).

Coming from Peru, my dad was a fanatic about soccer, boxing, and the martial arts; and naturally, we became fascinated with them as well. I can still recall word for word his stories about watching Garrincha and Pele play in the South American Championships. He remembers Garrincha making the whole stadium laugh as he literally danced around the other players and made soccer pros look as if they never played soccer in all their lives. He would easily get the ball, dominate it, and cut right through the players. He either scored or passed the ball to Pele for the goal. My dad believed that Garrincha was an even greater player than Pele. And despite his deformed legs, he had talent, style, and fl air that could make you cheer, laugh, and even cry. He was a ballet dancer on the soccer pitch and played to entertain the fans. Sadly, he had a talent for self-destruction, and drinking got the best of him. In my father’s opinion, Garrincha could have been even greater than Pele, but he made wrong choices and did not take the game or the incredible opportunity given to him seriously enough. Pele was once asked, “How do you play so well?” I will never forget his reply. He said, “They gave me sneakers, a ball, and beautiful fi elds to play in. How can I not play well?” He was an all-time great, a legend, yet that answer made me realize how humble he is and how he knew to appreciate the opportunity given to him. He worked hard, played to win, and made the effort to always keep his image clean. These stories taught me that entertaining the crowd with great techniques and a little fl air will get them to remember you. It also taught me that talent will only take you so far, and that there is no substitute for hard work. Also, to take opportunities seriously and never let the party life get the better of you, as it did Garrincha. We will never know how far he could have gone with his career.

Into my teens, our parents enrolled us in many different sports. However, probably due to my father’s infl uence, the ones that were most exciting to me were soccer and martial arts. My father was a black belt in Judo and loved the technical aspect of the art. My dad worked a lot, but when he was home, we loved to listen to his stories and his jokes.

He told us about having to use Judo for defense a few times — at least one time was to protect my mother. He never claimed that he was the strongest one, but it was the technical strength he had in Judo that made him the winner each time. From hearing my father’s training stories and from incessantly watching Bruce Lee movies, the martial arts seemed magical to me. Our father told us about the great Judoka Kyuzo Mifune, who used to train himself to always land on his feet — by sleeping on a railing high off the fl oor. Mifune would throw opponents with ease and often defeated them despite a huge size disadvantage. His movements were always precise, effi cient, and elegant. These stories inspired me, mostly because my father marveled at and respected Mifune for his talent and his desire to perform his art well. He was the “little” guy who persistently worked on perfecting his technique up until his death. He was a 10thdegree grandmaster, which I consider to be equivalent to an “infi nity black belt.” Mifune was the master of masters. My father believed that passion and hard work defeats all, and Mifune certainly was a great example of this. He was my dad’s hero, like Royce Gracie (a modern-day Mifune) was a hero to me. I believed that technique would win over strength or size. I became obsessed with drilling BJJ movements and fi nding the easiest and most effi cient ways to fi nish an opponent. This mind-set helped me in my training and helped me obtain my black belt in 5 years.

The other sport my father loved was boxing. Having four other brothers made boxing night a family night. There was excitement in the air all day anticipating the matches while we made our bets on who was going to win. My father always rooted for the Latin boxer, and if that boxer was the underdog, all the better. He was 100% supporting that guy regardless of how many people told him that he would lose. I remember watching the epic fi rst bout between Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez. My father was convinced from beginning to end that Chavez would win the fi ght. Throughout the majority of the fi ght, however, Taylor was winning with fast punch combinations, beautiful footwork, and head movement. Being the relentless optimist, my dad told me that Chavez was just warming up. He was certain that Julio’s body shots would slow Taylor down in the end. Being a surgeon, my dad always paid attention to the little details. Body shots were not as exciting to watch, but my dad told me that Chavez kills the body fi rst and then takes the head out. I was sure that my dad was too overly optimistic and biased, because from what I could see, Taylor was winning just about every round. My dad just kept nodding his head and told me to pay attention as Taylor would surely fade. Every shot Chavez landed got an “ooh” and an “ahh” from my dad and made him sit up a little straighter while either raising his fi sts in the air or rubbing his palms together. As kids, we would laugh at this spectacle. Who am I kidding? We still laugh at this spectacle.

Taylor’s speed and athleticism impressed me much more than Chavez’ did, but by the last
round Chavez was defi nitely doing better by landing more shots. He was running out of time, however, until he landed a devastating combination that hurt Taylor in the 12th round. He then followed up with another brutal combination that put Taylor down and forced the referee to stop the fi ght. Chavez remained undefeated, and my father got off the couch and jumped up and down, saying “I told you! I told you!” I remember being in awe of Chavez after that performance. My father pointed out that Chavez landed fewer punches but made every one of them count. He said Taylor had to break because Chavez’s pressure and will to win was just too great. I was only 13 years-old, but I realized that fi ghting had a real strategy. Having the patience and discipline to keep going and break an opponent down has stayed with me to this day.

A real fi ghter’s will and faith should never be broken as long as there is time on the clock. When I fi ght, I always prepare to fi ght until the very last second of the last round. I learned through my father’s analysis of each fi ght that you must fi ght with your technique, your brain, and your heart. As a family, we would cheer when our favorites won and would also jump up and down with our fi sts in the air, saying “I told you! I told you!” when our guy won. We talked about the fi ghts over and over late into the night, and I believe that at early ages we learned to see boxers, not just as fi ghters, but as intelligent and analytical athletes.

My father’s stories and lessons really motivated me tremendously. His infl uence helped mold me into who I am as a man and as a fi ghter, fi ghting for the UFC. Each fi ght helps me understand more and more about my will, determination, persistence, ambition, and much more. I consider my father a very intelligent and accomplished human being. I am proud of my father, and if he thought these athletes were great, then I want him to think the same about me. I always dreamed about having someone tell stories about me the way my father did about others. These athletes made millions of spectators laugh, cheer, and even cry with their performances. Who wouldn’t want to do the same? My father’s stories and the example that he set for my family taught me that passion, determination, and hard work will make you a man. I am hoping it will also one day make me a champion.

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While women’s mixed martial arts is still a novelty to some fans, thanks to recent national exposure, including coverage by ESPN and televised bouts under the Strikeforce banner, female fighters are making their mark in MMA. Here are five of the feistiest females in the sport.

5. GINA CARANO

Known as the face of women’s MMA, Carano took the fighting world by storm with her good looks and solid Muay Thai skills, reeling off seven consecutive victories before losing to Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos for the Strikeforce Women’s Lightweight Championship. Carano has struggled to make weight in the past, and what she does after her first loss will help define what kind of fighter she really is in the eyes of the MMA community.

4. SATOKO SHINASHI

This 100-pound submission specialist is well versed in judo, sambo, and jiu-jitsu. Of her 29 victories, 23 have come via submission. What she might lack in devastating punching power or heavy kicks is soon forgotten as she attacks available limbs from impossible angles.

3. CRISTIANE “CYBORG” SANTOS

With a record of 8–1, Cyborg has continuously improved her game with aggressive stand-up and a serious work ethic. Her lone loss was via kneebar back in 2005 in her MMA debut. Since this time, the Brazilian powerhouse has popped off seven consecutive victories (five TKOs), including dominating Gina Carano to become the first women’s champion in Strikeforce history.

2. TARA LAROSA

The 125-pound New Jersey native is a seasoned veteran of the fight game, compiling a record of 18–1. With a background in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, karate, and judo, Larosa has secured wins over talented competitors, including Amanda Buckner, Kelly Kobold, and Valerie Coolbaugh. Her exciting stand-up skills and slick submissions make her a fan favorite and an electrifying presence in the sport.

1. MEGUMI FUJII

Regarded by many fans as the best poundfor- pound female fighter in the world, this 114-pound dynamo dominates with quick takedowns, sick submissions, and a background in sambo, judo, and BJJ. Fujii’s perfect record of 19–0 (16 by submission) makes her one of the most intimidating female fighters to step into the cage.

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While UFC featherweight Eddie Yagin recently earned a Fight of the Night bonus check for $65,000 at UFC 145, the 33-year-old Hawaiian has seen his share of hard times.

Eddie YaginThe first time Eddie Yagin applied a submission, it wasn’t in hopes of a win bonus—it was in an effort to survive.

“This guy was picking on someone every day,” Yagin says. “I guess it was my turn. He was yelling at me and cussing and saying, ‘Wait until they open these bars.’ All I could say to him was, ‘Yeah, I can’t wait until they open these bars.’”

Yagin was just 19 years old, and he was locked up in a Hawaiian prison after being busted for selling narcotics.

“I was young and dumb, and my dream was to be like Tony Montana from Scarface,” Yagin says. “I didn’t have any mentors or anything.”

There he was, still a teenager and just 5’5”, trying to seem tough and avoid the massive Samoan inmate who had taken control of the jail’s population.

“He was in the very first cell,” Yagin says. “I was in the seventh or eighth cell. They opened the cellblock the next morning. He was obviously the first guy to come out, because they open the cells in order. By the time they opened mine, he was in front of my cell. Right when I got out, he swung at me, and I ducked. I was a lot faster than him, but he was a lot bigger. Fortunately, I already knew a little bit about mixed martial arts because I had seen Royce Gracie and the UFC.”

This was the late 1990s, and MMA wasn’t nearly as mainstream as it is today. But Yagin had a friend who collected tapes from around the world, and they would watch the fights on his buddy’s VCR. Yagin quickly became a fan of the sport, and it would ultimately prove valuable during his darkest days.

“I ducked his punch, and I jumped on his back,” Yagin says. “I put him in a rear-naked choke. I was like a backpack on him. He would run across the room and slam my back against the bars to try and knock me off. But every time he got close to the bars, I would turn so it wouldn’t hit my spine. It was just hitting my shoulders. He kept trying to slam me into the bars, but then I saw him loosen up a little bit. I postured up and stretched out, and he turned purple. He fell to his knees and then onto his face. Everyone got quiet. I stepped on his head as I walked back to my cell.”

Even Tony Montana would have been proud. Yagin, however, was not. Instead, he realized it was time for a change.

“Every time I got into a fight like that, I hated it,” Yagin says. “I hated that feeling. I hated what I just did. I broke the law, and I hurt somebody. I didn’t like that feeling, so I asked myself, “Why am I fighting and getting in trouble?’ I decided I could fight and get paid for it and maybe be something in my life.”

Yagin never looked back.

“I learned my lesson,” Yagin says. “That experience changed my life forever.”

Once he completed his six-month sentence, Yagin began training in earnest. He made his professional debut in 2000, and he went undefeated through his first eight fights. As a Hawaiian, he found it difficult to get opportunities to fight on the mainland, and that made getting the attention of big-time promotions almost impossible. He eventually relocated to Las Vegas, where he put himself through school and became a member of the carpenter’s union. Work left him with little time to focus on his fighting career, and he suffered through a stretch of four fights that saw him handed three defeats and a draw.

It was then that Yagin came to a crossroads. Was he meant to fight? Or was it time to give up his dream?

“I told myself, I don’t need to make any excuses,” Yagin says. “I didn’t need to tell people I lost because of this or that. I lost fair and square. I decided to take a break and focus on my construction job and give my bosses 100 percent of my life to see where it would take me. Of course, every single day I went to work, I still had that fire burning in me. I wanted to fight.”

After a two-year break from the sport, Yagin had a change of heart. Yagin had taken part in massive Las Vegas construction projects, including The Palms and City Center, but Sin City’s economy was taking a nosedive, and Yagin saw the writing on the wall. This was his opportunity to take one last shot at a dream.

“I was living in Vegas, and I lost my construction job,” Yagin says.

“I came to San Diego with everything I had in a U-Haul. I didn’t know anybody who lived in San Diego. I just got on Craigslist and looked for a room to rent. I was just going house to house with a U-Haul attached to my car and looking for a place to stay.”

Eddie Yagin

Success wasn’t instant for Yagin. As a featherweight, opportunities to fight for big money were still few and far between. But he remained focused on his goals, and after a 7-1 stint on the regional circuit, including winning the Tachi Palace Featherweight Title, he earned a shot in the UFC. He stumbled in his debut, dropping a lackluster decision to Junior Assuncao, but he bounced back with a split-decision win over longtime veteran Mark Hominick in a bout that earned him UFC 145’s Fight of the Night.

“After that fight, I definitely felt like I got the recognition I had been seeking after all these years,” Yagin says. “I’m a veteran of the sport, but after just one UFC pay-per-view, a lot more people saw me fight. I was also very happy with the bonus check. I was so close to just giving up and retiring, because I felt like maybe I needed to do something else with my life. I fought for my dream, and now I’m doing what I really want to do with my life.”

Yagin’s next big opportunity takes place on December 8, when he meets German striker Dennis Siver at UFC on FOX 5. A win will catapult Yagin up the rankings and certainly earn the “The Filipino Phenom” contender consideration. Yagin welcomes such attention and said his eyes are placed firrmly on the UFC Featherweight Title.

But Yagin’s goals don’t solely consist of championship belts. Instead, he also wants to inspire others to avoid the perils he endured in his youth.

“I want to try and inspire kids and people as much as possible—change other people’s lives and give back as much as I can,” Yagin
says. “I know how it is to live a hard life, and I want kids to believe in themselves. Just because they don’t have anybody there for them doesn’t mean they can’t be successful and strive for success. It doesn’t have to be fighting. It can be anything in life. I just hope I can inspire people and help kids reach their goals and dreams, no matter what they are.”

In the cage, Yagin prefers to stand and bang, but he has earned five of his 16 career wins via choke. Of course, none of them came
with quite as much on the line as the choke he secured in a Hawaiian jail. While it’s an experience he can laugh about now, it’s one that had a profound impact on his life.

“A lot of people don’t know what I’ve been through and how hard I’ve fought to survive in my life and succeed, “Yagin says. “It’s been a rough road, but I never gave up. I kept fighting for my dreams. I never let anything kick me or put me down. I just kept going. No matter how hard I hit the ground and struggled, I got up and dusted myself off.”

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It’s every sports franchise worst nightmare—dealing with the gut-wrenching news that their All-Star player has been injured and is out for the season. Suddenly, the team’s championship dreams have all but disappeared and their die-hard fans are flooding suicide hotlines for support.

The only thing that could make this situation worse is if the savior of the organization was hurt while snowboarding at a premier mountain resort or racing his brand new Harley Davidson. Just ask the Chicago Bulls or Cleveland Browns, who lost their stud players Jay Williams and Kellen Winslow Jr. following motorcycle accidents.

No sport, including MMA, has been immune to players suffering injures off the field, or in the case of mixed martial arts, outside the gym or cage. When a fighter goes down, it can affect an entire event.

In an effort to prevent these misfortunes from taking place, the UFC has followed the lead of other major professional sporting leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB by creating a “dangerous activities” clause to a fighter’s bout agreement. Once the fight is made official and the athlete has signed the agreement, they are now contractually held to not participate in activities like snowboarding or water skiing. If they have not officially signed to fight, they’re free to participate in any hobbies they want to without repercussions.

“We have a code of conduct, and part of the code is the ‘dangerous activities’ clause,” says Marc Ratner, the UFC’s vice president of regulatory affairs. “We don’t want these fighters racing motorcycles, climbing mountains, doing rodeos…or anything else where they can get hurt. We’ve studied all the other sports when it comes to good conduct and moral clauses, and this one is in almost every other sport, so it was time for us to look into it.”

UFC president Dana White has been an advocate of the policy from day one. “We handle it situation by situation,” White says. “I get it, these are young, aggressive guys, but I would prefer MMA to be the only dangerous activity they do, but I can’t police everybody.”

Even the superstars are not exempt.

“If I hear Anderson Silva or Georges St-Pierre are doing something nutty,” White says, “I’m going to put in a phone call and say, ‘Come on, Georges.’”

After main events and entire cards were blown up or lost entirely in 2012, it makes sense that the UFC is trying to discourage their athletes from taking risks outside of the sport. After all, MMA is already hazardous enough. Although, it seems a bit ironic that men who fight in a cage for a living and are awarded bonuses for knocking out their opponents in emphatic fashion are prohibited from horseback riding or pick-up basketball games.

But when UFC Bantamweight Champion Jose Aldo was scratched from his UFC 153 title fight due to the serious injuries he suffered from crashing his motorcycle, it proved the exact point the UFC was making.

Extreme In & Out

UFC lightweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone could be the poster boy for the UFC’s new policy. Known for his love of extreme sports, including wakeboarding, rock climbing, and bull riding, he was one of the first fighters to voice his displeasure with the new restrictions added to UFC contracts. image descHowever, the policy didn’t really deter him, as a video surfaced of him performing crazy wakeboard stunts. He also Tweeted pictures of his rock climbing adventures.

Then, like a devastating right hook to the head, a 40-foot fall woke him up.

“I was showing Leonard Garcia what would happen if you slipped, and as I did, I actually fell,” Cerrone says. “I didn’t set the gear up correctly, and then pop, pop, pop, pop. Four of my five anchors ripped out, and by that time I had so much slack in the rope that I basically bounced of a rock that flung me out, and I smashed into the ground.”

What would have happened if that last hook didn’t hold? “I would have been hurt pretty bad,” he says, in the understatement of the year.

News of his fall traveled quickly.

“We heard about a fighter who fell while rock climbing,” says Ratner. “That’s the exact stuff we don’t want our fighters doing. We don’t want them jeopardizing their careers for fun.”

Social media alerted Dana White to Cerrone’s accident.

“That’s pretty much what happened with Cerrone,” says White. “I saw something about him rock climbing on Twitter and hit him up and said, ‘Come on. Are you crazy, kid?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ laughing and joking about it. Then he had the rock climbing incident, and he hit me back and said, ‘You’re right, I’m wrong. I’m done.’”

“I told Dana, no more of that BS while I’m in training camp,” says Cerrone. “I realized I have to limit how hard I go with my activities.”

While the UFC can’t follow their fighters 24/7 and watch their every move, they have attempted to educate their athletes on the risks associated with participating in dangerous activities.

And not all sports are considered “dangerous.”

UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson routinely takes part in jiu-jitsu tournaments, and the UFC doesn’t seem to mind.
“The UFC has never given me any problems about participating in jiu-jitsu tournaments,” says Henderson. “I told them during my contract negotiations that I would be doing jiu-jitsu tournaments and asked if that was cool. They said as long as it’s not the day before the fight, you’re good to go.”

However, other activities like rock climbing, horseback riding, and motorcycle racing will result in a meeting with the big boss.

“If we hear about a fighter doing something crazy, we will bring them in to talk with Dana to see if a suspension is necessary,” says Ratner. “I believe he would give them a warning, but if a fighter continues to do dangerous activities, it would be cause for termination. It’s just that simple—but a talk with Dana is usually all it takes.”

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In mixed martial arts, every fight starts standing. With just two feet on the ground and two sets of limbs to do your dirty work, the striking realm of fighting is the meat and potatoes of combat arts. Grappling makes MMA unique, but it is the lure of a standing knock out that is embedded in our DNA. It is not just boxing. It is not even kickboxing or Muay Thai, but a new art form all together germinated from the need to punch and kick effectively while still defending against takedowns in a cage or ring. It’s an evolution in striking ability that is equal parts science, art, and balls.

 

Compiling a list of the most dangerous strikers in the world is like picking a nerd at MIT to do your homework, you can’t go wrong but on principle you pick the best. As always, specific criteria anchors this list of professional concussion givers with a mixture of enough subjective opinion to nullify any argument based on said criteria. Confused? Good. Let’s get started!

 

CRITERIA

 

Element of Danger

 

To be on this list, the fighters needs to insight fear in whoever is standing across the cage from them. They do not have to necessarily be a one-punch KO fighter (it helps), but the damage they can do on their feat must be impeccable.

 

In the Present

 

This is a current list of active MMA fighters at the tops of their game. Sorry Bas Rutten, Igor Vovchanchanchyn, Semmy Schilt, Chuck Liddell, and Maurice Smith, you are not eligible. My apologies to Cro Cop, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, and Mark Hunt that this list was not made five years ago. And where the hell has Cung Le been?

 

KO Power

 

While this is a striking list and not purely a knockout list, who would we be fooling if the perfect result to perfect striking was not represented? The more knockouts, the better. If decision wins are the name of your game, we’ll see you on another list.

 

Creativity

 

Striking is an art where the fighter’s fists, elbows, knees, shins, and feet act as the paintbrush. The more diverse the attack, the higher up the list you go.

 

It Factor

 

The little something that cannot be quantified—a fighter’s ability to bounce back from punishment, come up big when it matters most, or leave fans on the edges of their seats are represented as well.

 

33. Miguel Torres

 

Before the mulleted mauler was the WEC Bantamweight Champion, he was knocking out guys on the sawdust floor of shady bars throughout Indiana. He prefers to use his pugilistic skills to get the fight on the ground so he can lock in a triangle, but he has KO power in those lanky arms.

Wham Bam

At WEC 47, Torres throttled Manny Tapiain the second round of their title fight, knocking down the challenger twice before finishing the assault on the ground.

 

32. Hector Lombard

 

Judo’s answer to Mike Tyson, Lombard is built like he could squat a Caterpillar then rip it apart using only his gi and a can opener. The judo Olympian has steam rolled fighters on three continents, losing only his two fights in Pride. True, we can’t name one all-star fighter he has knocked out, but beating up everyone else you face has to count for something.

Wham Bam

With his car apparently double parked out front of the Monroe Civic Center, Lombard blasted Jay Silva in a mere six seconds at Bellator 18, one of the fastest knockouts in MMA history.

 

31. Dominick Cruz

 

No one on the list fights with more creativity than Cruz. Opponents and fans alike are left mesmerized by Cruz’s crazy combinations. It’s not every day that you see a flying uppercut, left kick, right knee, left hook combo. Now, if he can just harness the KO power of his earlier days.

Wham Bam

Before Cruz was a household name, he KOed Kenneth Aimes in the first round of Total Combat 27. The KO impressed the right people, and less than three months later, Cruz was a permanent fixture in the WEC.

 

30. Chris Leben

 

The only object harder than Leben’s fists is his skull. One of the last people in the world that fighters should ever get into a brawl with is “The Crippler.” Even more dangerous after taking a 2×4 to the head, Leben seems to always come up biggest when he is hurt the most. He is not that pretty or creative, but you are never safe with Leben in the cage.

Wham Bam

At UFC Fight Night 11, Leben was in a firefight with Terry Martin. After losing a point in the first round and likely behind on all scorecards, Leben needed a miracle. Instead, he received a bevy of hooks to his chin causing him to stumble like a drunkard through an alley. On his last leg, Leben launched a left hook that landed flush on Martin’s chin in a win that stopped a two-fight losing streak and solidified Leben’s status in the UFC.

 

29. KJ Noons

 

One of the few lightweight boxing converts, Noons has managed to progress nicely, rounding out his game while still maximizing the Sweet Science. A winner of the Best Striker Award at the 2005 Pride Fighting Championship auditions, the Hawaiian turned heads right away and has continued to reign as one of the only pure strikers at 155 pounds.

Wham Bam

No other knockout articulates Noons’ progression better than his third-round pasting of Edson Berto at 2007’s Sho XC. Aweary and debilitated Berto shot yet another desperate takedown that Noons timed perfectly, landing a knee and putting Berto out cold. Just a boxer, eh?

 

28. Pat Barry

 

You know you’re dangerous when your legs are more feared than your fists. Pat “HD” Barry is one of the UFC’s most credentialed heavyweight kickboxers, having fought in K-1 and the WCL. Barry is still getting his bearings in the striking heavy UFC heavyweight division, but few pugilists have more promise that Barry.

Wham Bam

It took Barry three—count’em THREE—leg kicks to put Dan Evenson on the deck in his UFC debut at UFC 98 in Las Vegas, resulting in the rare, yet out of this world, TKO by leg kicks.

 

27. Melvin Manhoef

 

Lists like this are invented for fighters like Manhoef. He may never be a top 10 fighter or wear UFC gold, and he probably doesn’t even know what a wrestling mat smells like, but you have to respect the power in each limb. The Suriname-born, Dutch-trained kickboxer’s blitzkrieg style of fighting is more suited for ancient Roman gladiatorial battles. And yes, I would pick Manhoef over the rabid lion.

Wham Bam

Giving up more than 100 pounds and facing a man who had never been knocked out in MMA, it took Manhoef all of 18 seconds to finish Mark Hunt with a right hook at K-1 Dynamite!! 2008. The following day, cats chased dogs.

 

26. Rich Franklin

 

Whether he’s an oversized middleweight or an undersized light heavyweight, “Ace” gives everyone trouble in the stand-up department…unless your name is Lyoto, Anderson, or Vitor. Honing a disciplined stand-up game, Franklin is capable of picking you apart for three rounds with punches and kicks or knocking you straight silly with one punch.

Wham Bam

Guess where we’re going with this? At UFC 56, Franklin defended his title for the first time with a straight left to the jaw of original Ultimate Fighter cast member Nate Quarry, putting him both to sleep and on highlight reels for decades to come. If the overhand right is known as the “Dan Henderson,” the straight left is the “Rich Franklin”from UFC 56 and on.

 

25. Gegard Mousasi

 

The f
ormer Dutch Amateur Boxing Champion is not opposed to crushing a few eye sockets. Of his 30 wins, more than half have come via (T)KO, using an assortment of strikes, kick, and elbows. If he has a free appendage, you can bet it’s headed to his opponent’s face.

Wham Bam

At 10 seconds into their Deep 22 Impact fight in 2005, Tsuyoshi Kurihara simply went to sleep. Of course, he was aided by a Mousasi knee. Lights out, nighty night.

 

24. Rashad Evans

 

Like so many before him, Evans came into fighting a wrestler and walked out a KO machine. Under the tutelage of kickboxing coach wunderkind Mike Winklejohn, “Suga” now complements his Michigan State Spartan wrestling chops with fast hands and a victory dance that makes the ladies swoon.

Wham Bam

Some guys just look awesome when they get knocked out, Sean Salmon being the king of that castle. With all due to respect to the veteran Salmon, when Evans connected with that head kick at UFC Fight Night 8, he buckled backward like his brain stopped working and his bones turned to Jell-O at the exact same time.

 

23. Lyoto Machida

 

This guy was born to strike. Crafted and forged to be a stand-up fighter, Machida encapsulates the striking version of a Rubik’s Cube. With a karate heavy, in-and-out striking movement, Machida is able to frustrate his opponents into making mistakes and capitalizing with quick punches to the head and kicks to the body. We are still waiting for the legendary Crane Technique.

Wham Bam

“If do right, no can defense!” In a battle of undefeated fighters, Machida faced Greg Jackson product Rashad Evans at UFC 98. After spending the first round confusing and discouraging the champ, Machida flurried together a string of punches to Evan’s head, winning the UFC title and causing MMA fans the world over to dig up their Karate Kid VHS movies to re watch the final scene as practice.

 

22. Wanderlei Silva

 

While not the “Axe Murderer” we all grew to love in his stint with Pride, the old dog is still chucking his fists of fury at anything and everything that crosses his path in a cage. In true Chute Boxe fashion, Silva is most dangerous with his fists…and kicks…and knees…and stomps and soccer kicks if they were still allowed. If it were possible to strike another man with your neck, he would figure out how.

Wham Bam

In his second shellacking of the esteemed “Rampage” Jackson, the then light heavyweight blasted his foe with knee strikes while walking backwards, consequentially heaving an unconscious Jackson head first out of the ring. It was a sight that still gives Freddy Kruger nightmares.

 

21. Quinton Jackson

 

Why kick, knee, or elbow when you can punch really, really hard? He should be named Captain Hook for the way he is able to counter with hooks to the head and body and finish with a deadly uppercut. Honestly, Rampage is so gifted athletically he could stick with nothing but women’s self defense classes at the local YMCA and still have enough knockout ability to cash big enough checks to put all his kids through college.

Wham Bam

It was a legacy cementing fight for Chuck Liddell. Up until the main event of UFC 71, “The Iceman” had avenged two of his three career losses, with the only man holding the lone blemish standing in front of him. The fairytale did not even get to, “Once upon a…” before Jackson landed a crushing left hook at 1:53 into the first round, ending Liddell’s title run and nearly taking his soul. Liddell went 1-4 after that.

 

20. Maximo Blanco

 

Here is a man that is dangerous everywhere, whether he is punching and kicking standing up, dropping face-smashing ground-n-pound, or illegally soccer kicking you in the face. If you were a Venezuelan boy wrestling on scholarship in Japan and got picked on for not speaking the language, you would find an outlet too. Just thank all of heaven and earth that he didn’t choose mercenary work. I doubt America could have afforded him.

Wham Bam

At Sengoku 12, Blanco wanted to clarify to fans that he could both punch AND kick. He blasted Chang Hyun Kim into a corner with strikes, kicked him in the head, and punched him again just to make sure Kim forgot what he had for breakfast that morning.

 

19. Takanori Gomi

 

This little rascal has fallen upon some hard times as of late, but he still packs dynamite in both hands. Another punch-heavy-nearly allergic-to-kicks striking style, Gomi’s hooks come with lightning quick speed, and he is even a member of the prestigious fraternity of men who have knocked down Nick Diaz. But that fight never happened according to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Wham Bam

At Pride: Bushido 7, Gomi was getting picked apart by Luiz Azeredo, frustrating and stymieing the offense of the soon-to be Pride champion. Once he remembered he was Takanori freakin’ Gomi, he landed just two punches to the kisser of Azeredo, laying him out cold. The four punches he landed after the referee attempted to tear Gomi off the unconscious Azeredo don’t count.

 

18. Vitor Belfort

 

What can we say? When the guy decides to turn it on, there isn’t a middleweight in the world whose light he can’t turn off. “The Phenom” has a highlight reel long enough for a fourth Lord of the Rings movie in his 15-year fight career, and he’s still only 34 years old.

Wham Bam

Oh, the memories. He recently gave Rich Franklin, Matt Lindland, and Terry Martin a reason to go to church on Sundays by giving them a taste of what the other side may look like. However, it’s his 30-foot sprint across the Octagon teeing off on Wanderlei Silva’s head like it was the ninth hole at Augusta at UFC 17.5 Ultimate Brazil that people remember.

 

17. Marlon Sandro

 

Remember when fight fans complained that Nova União fighters were boring? Me neither. Sandro, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt, gave up making his living scrapping on the mat when he realized knocking them unconscious was way more fun than takedown, pass, mount, armbar. Teammate Jose Aldo is technical and ferocious, but Sandro is the Nova União second coming of violence.

Wham Bam

When Masanori Kanehara signed the dotted line to fight Sandro at Sengoku 13, even he must have thought it wasn’t going to end well. In all of 38 seconds, Kanehara was literally vaulted into the air by a Sandro uppercut and face planted himself on the canvas. For all we know, he’s still there.

 

16. Cain Velasquez

 

They don’t call it the American Kickboxing Academy for their judo skills. The AKA product came in an All-American wrestler and came out as one of the most well rounded strikers in the heavyweight division. His athleticism and work ethic leave his ceiling higher than the nosebleed sections at UFC 129.

Wham Bam

With dozens of Mexican flags waving in attendance in the Honda Center at UFC 121,Velasquez showed Brock Lesnar what good ole’ fashioned American humble pie and leather taste like.

 

15. Shane Carwin

 

Five fi ghts in the UFC, four first-round knockouts. Carwin is batting .800, and that is still lower than it should be, considering the shots he rained down on Brock Lesnar would have permanently paralyzed a bull elephant. While not always the prettiest punches in the world, no one can deny their effectiveness.

Wham Bam

At UFC 96, Gabriel Gonzaga looked like he might be the first one to blemish the spotless record of the NCAA Division II wrestling champion…that is of course, until Carwin remembered he was C
arwin and torpedoed a right hand across the jaw of Gonzaga.

 

14. Anthony Pettis

 

Who said 2nd grade Taekwondo classes were useless? “Showtime” has arguably the most diverse arsenal of striking attacks outside of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Spotty takedown defense early in his career turned him into a submission machine on his back, but he was later touched by the wrestling hand of Ben Askren, allowing him to keep his fights upright.

Wham Bam

Before you start bombarding the editor with hate mail, yes, it was not a KO, but how can you not include this? In the final minute of the final round in the fight of the final card for the final WEC title belt, Pettis jumped off the cage wall, kicked champion Ben Henderson, and sealed his reputation as the most electrifying fighter in the world. Now you can bombard the editor with hate mail.

 

13. Mauricio Rua

 

The last guard of the original Chute Boxe crew that we grew to know and love for their violent beat downs in the Pride ring is still alive and well, and he is one of the few to have tasted what a Pride and UFC title is like. Few have a more dynamic and dangerous fighting style. He made his biggest impression smashing opponents in Pride with everything from punches to knees to soccer kicks to hammer fists to whatever limb he had to throw on any body part of his opponent. Making Shogun fight in an organization that doesn’t allow soccer kicks and foot stomps is like watching Rocky V after watching Rocky IV. It looks the same, but something is missing.

Wham Bam

After pounding out a quartet of unsuspecting Japanese fighters, Rua turned his sights to already veteran fighter Quinton“Rampage” Jackson, who just tw months earlier defeated Shogun’s brother Murilo. Defending their family honor, Shogun felled Rampage in the corner with punches and then soccer kicked him until the referee had seen enough. A beautiful and violent finish from a fighter than manages to meld the two adjectives perfectly.

 

12. Robbie Lawler

 

No one looks for and finds that one-kill punch better than “Ruthless.” The Miletich trained bruiser is vicious in his delivery and holds enough power in his fists to run a Russian submarine for eight months. There is never a time in a fight—when Lawler is on his feet—where he is not capable of endinga fight.

Wham Bam

With all due respect to what he did to Frank Trigg, the comeback KO is the best. Melvin Manhoef needed just 11 kicks to Lawler’s right leg to get him limping. Lawler needed only one punch to put Manhoef down and one more to turn his lights off. The fact Lawler isn’t in a wheelchair now is a miracle.

 

11. Junior dos Santos

 

At only 26 years old, it’s scary thinking dos Santos is still approaching his physical prime in punching power. His vicious uppercuts have been known to make George Foreman giggle and Junior’s opponents forget where they parked their car. His last KO victim, Gabriel Gonzaga, has been taking the bus ever since.

Wham Bam

In an effort to give fans a highlight reel knockout in the opening PPV bout of UFC 108, journeyman Gilbert Yvel was put on the platter for Cigano to victimize. Both Yvel and dos Santos fired left hooks at the same time in the first round. Junior’s landed, Yvel’s didn’t.

 

10. BJ Penn

 

Despite having some terrific wrestling and world championship caliber jiu-jitsu, Penn prefers the Sweet Science, and aren’t we glad he does. Almost a pure boxer, “The Prodigy” combines heavy, fast hands to counter those who dare trade with him, while sporting one of the best chins in all of MMA. This is like putting Panzer tank armor on a Ferrari. Don’t forget that a ton of his best submission wins are by first, bludgeoning his opponent until they don’t want to fight anymore, and then mercifully finishing with a rear-naked choke. I guess Penn really is a softy at heart.

Wham Bam

In only his third professional fight, the 22-year-old Hawaiian needed all of 11 seconds to punch Caol Uno unconscious. If only Uno hadn’t wasted the first five seconds trying to do the flying running man, Penn might hold the KO speed record.

 

9. Thiago Alves

 

This stocky Brazilian is one of the only beacons of light for strikers in the wrestling heavy UFC welterweight division. A Muay Thai specialist, Alves is brutal with his leg kicks, power punches, and a knee strike that has been paying his bills since he first started fighting. “The Pitbull” has even started strategizing and game planning lately, looking to be a little more Apollo Creed and a little less Clubber Lang.

Wham Bam

At UFC 85, 24-year-old Alves took on a 34-year-old Matt Hughes in a passing of the torch type of fight. Except the torch was Alves’ knee and he passed it into Hughes’cranium.

 

8. Eddie Alvarez

 

The fighting pride of Philly knows how to make his hometown proud. His boxing centered striking style is equal parts exciting and dangerous. Against Roger Huerta at Bellator 33, Alvarez simply decided to add vicious uppercuts and debilitating leg kicks to his arsenal. It is still up in the air if Alvarez has decided to solve America’s budget crisis.

Wham Bam

After surviving a knock down, Alvarez escaped the mount of Tatsuya Kawajiri and released an onslaught of punches, dropping the “The Crusher” at DREAM 5. Apparently, referee Yuji Shimada doesn’t care for Kawajiri much and demanded Alvarez hammer-fist his head 3,792 times before calling the fight.

 

7. Paul Daley

 

You know those Brits are a fan of the gentleman’s fisticuffs, virtually explaining why Paul Daley chooses to ignore standard MMA training methods like guard work and…well, anything other than throwing really, really hard punches. But why change what isn’t broken? Of his 27 wins, 22 have come by way of strikes, leaving upcoming opponent’s gameplans rather straight forward and simple, if not fool hardy.

Wham Bam

Whenever someone fights Scott Smith, that fight always ends up on some kind of “Best Of” list. Daley threw five left hooks in a matter of five seconds at Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu 2, the last of which sent Smith face first into the Rockstar logo at the center of the cage canvas. I wonder if Rockstar pays more for that?

 

6. Nick Diaz

 

What’s worse than getting hit with a baseball bat? Getting hit a 1000 times by a Whiffle Ball bat. Diaz throws enough punches per round to wear Manny Pacquiao out, barraging his opponent with a smothering attack that uses a pace only a marathon runner could maintain. His pitter-patter style is not the most visually pleasing for boxing trainers, but the results speak for themselves. The bad boy from Stockton rarely has to dust off his BJJ black belt anymore, preferring to settle his disputes with his hands.

Wham Bam

It was a while ago, but we haven’t forgotten. In what was supposed to be a coronation for Miletich fighter Robbie Lawler at UFC 47, but it turned into Diaz’s shining moment. The shortest hook in history somehow had enough power to drop Lawler face first and send a message that Diaz was no longer just a grappler.

 

5. Dan Henderson

 

Still baffling to this day is the fact one of the most credentialed American wrestlers in the sport all but abandoned the skills he spent his life developing to instead play Rock’em Sock’em Robots. The patented right hand has kept neurologists raking in the dough since its power was best owed upon him.

Wham Bam

If you were to ask him which knockout he liked the best,
he would say it’s his left hook over Wanderlei Silva at Pride 33, butt his is my damn list. At UFC 100, on the biggest stage Zuffa ever put on, Michael Bisping managed to piss off Henderson so much that the American knocked out the Brit and then attempted to shatter the Octagon flooring by smashing Bisping’s head through it.

 

4. Jon Jones

 

Jones’ deep bag of stand-up tricks is diverse and dangerous, including such non standard staples as flying knees, spinning elbows, spinning back fists, and spinning back kicks. He is essentially Muay Thai’s version of the teacup ride at Disneyland. King Jon uses flying knees to set up clinches to set up spinning elbows. Not exactly Striking for Dummies.Wham Bam Jones has only one stand-up KO in the UFC, but he made it look easy. Jones beat up champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 in what was more of a coronation than a title fight. Rua, normally the guy delivering the jaw-dropping ass kickerey, fell apart at the hands of Jones, finished mercifully by a body shot/knee to the head combo.

 

3. Jose Aldo

 

Number three on this prestigious list and the kid is only 24 years old. In eight WEC appearances, Aldo has seven KOs. Luckily, he doesn’t get paid by the hour. A wicked mixture of diverse techniques combined with incredible power and cage savviness make this featherweight a crowd favorite after just a few fights. Who says MMA fans aren’t educated?

Wham Bam

Why throw one flying knee when you can throw two? Against Cub Swanson at WEC 41, Aldo was showcased as the possible next contender for the title that was up for grabs between Urijah Faber and Mike Brown. Aldo answered the call with an eight second knockout by double flying knee opening up one of the nastiest gashes on Swanson’s forehead that we have seen in awhile. That’s what you call a résumé builder.

 

2. Alistair Overeem

 

If you could take Play-Doh and mold the scariest MMA striker, you’d make a copy of the Dutch monster. The K-1 World Grand Prix Champion has enormous power to go with a fine array of kickboxing techniques, including a vicious uppercut, jaw shattering knees, and a tank of a right hand.

Wham Bam

One knee, that’s all it took. In what was more of an execution than an MMA contest, K-1 Dynamite!! 2009 saw the immovable object (Kazuyuki Fujita’s iron jaw) tested against the unstoppable force (any limb Overeem chose to hurl at it). In just more than a minute, “The Demolition Man” treated Fujita’s head like a piñata and landed a knee that echoed to Mars.

 

1. Frank Dux

 

April Fools. Turn the page before the ghost of JCVD gives you the Dim Mak.

 

1. Anderson Silva

 

Is anyone really surprised? “The Spider” has made it look easy, wowing audiences with his ballet of brutality, boasting a 13-0 record in the UFC with eight coming by way of strikes, but the stats do not do the man justice. The Brazilian makes the middleweight division look like a cheerleading squad, running roughshod over top 10 fighters easier than a bull running through a china shop made of popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue. His striking is so far superior to his contemporaries that he is actually getting bored defending his belt against the best in the world. Seriously, on his feet, he has resorted to making up moves to keep himself entertained long enough to put another scalp on his pelt.

Wham Bam

Where do we begin? In the UFC alone, we have seen him front kick Vitor Belfort’s head nearly over Steven Segal’s ego, knee Rich Franklin’s face into abstract art, and knock the hard-headed Forest Griffin clean out with a JAB. However, his greatest knockout came after his exploits in Pride but before he steam rolled through the UFC. Across the pond in Cage Rage 14 against veteran Tony Fryklund, Silva, in the prefight interview, said he had not trained anything special for his championship fight and that he was going to stick to the basics. Apparently, “the basics” involved an inverted elbow strike while standing, which knocked out Fryklund in the first round. Two months later, he was fighting in the Octagon. Somehow, I doubt the upelbow strike is in the fundamentals section of his How-To DVDs.

0

They say you can’t truly know a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Despite the fact that I could never fit into a pair of Phil Davis’ loafers, I slipped on the NCAA Wrestling Champion’s metaphorical sneakers for one full day as he prepared for his upcoming fight against Wager Prado at UFC 153 on October 13.

10:42 A.M.

I wasn’t about to interrupt an NCAA Wrestling Champion during wrestling practice. Imagine disrupting a pit bull chewing on his favorite bone. So, I wait. Practice is well underway at Alliance Training Center in Chula Vista, California. The wrestling mats
swarm with dozens of fighters of varying sizes. UFC veterans Jeremy Stephens and Jake Shields work pummeling drills in the ring. UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz, undaunted despite coming off a knee surgery, works a double-helix bag, with a massive knee brace immobilizing his left leg. Clearly, Phil Davis has surrounded himself with good people.

Phil Davis

Phil moves from training partner to training partner, working drill after drill. The man has likely worked each exercise thousands upon thousands of times during his career. And yet, here he is, meticulously practicing a double-leg takedown with the attention of a newbie pulling his fi rst pair of wrestling shoes out of the box. Bellator Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler is running practice, a standout All-American wrestler from the University of Missouri. That’s how it is in a camp with good chemistry, everyone learns from everyone. Iron sharpens iron. Check your egos at the door.

UFC light heavyweight Brandon Vera is the majority owner at Alliance MMA, the single toughest building in the San Diego area, and judging by the clientele, it singlehandedly keeps the San Diego tattoo industry flourishing. It houses tons of mat space, a weight room, ring, cage, and some of the best fighters in MMA. Busta Rhymes’ insanely fast rapping accompanies the sounds of Chandler’s yelling and bodies hitting the mats. It’s an environment that Phil understandably desired.

While Vera is the owner, Cruz is the general. In 2008, Cruz and Davis crossed paths at a wrestling clinic in Pennsylvania, a few weeks after Davis won his National Championship for Penn State. Wrestling is to Pennsylvania what high school football is to Texas. Phil is a hero in his neck of woods. Combine that with the kinesiology degree he earned at Penn State and you’re talking about a young man who doesn’t need to take knees to the grill for a paycheck. But he did, and here he is. Vera needed a wrestling training partner, Davis needed an MMA gym. Cruz took the initiative and invited the Pennsylvanian to train full time. It was a perfect match.

Phil Davis

12:10 P.M.

“There’re a lot of better things to do with your time than wrestle with Phil Davis,” says Phil’s training partner, who is shuffling off the mat, out of breath. “I drew the short straw.” Practice is over, and I finally get some face time. The first thing you notice about Davis is an unwaveringly pleasant demeanor. His laidback character is surprising for a man who cashes his checks after breaking another human being. I’ve seen more stressed out individuals lounging on a beach in Hawaii. He approaches life the same way he approaches fighting, something to be enjoyed.

Phil has errands to run, and I wasn’t invited. While he has no problem allowing me to follow him around for nearly 12 hours, he knows how to handle life in the spotlight and maintain his privacy—a skill he learned while in the spotlight wrestling for Penn State. I could tag along today, but under his terms.

3:15 P.M.

“Errands are done. All I’ve got are sprints and mitt work, and then we’ll get some dinner…on the house,” Davis says with a smirk. Before I can show any gratitude for what I think is a free dinner, Davis quickly jumps in, “House, being you.” You try saying no to Phil Davis.

4:00 P.M.

We hop in Phil’s car—a place where he spends hours a day shuttling from practice to practice—and drive to a local high school to meet with Chad Macias, a man I mistakenly address as Phil’s strength and conditioning coach. “I hate that term,” Macias blurts out. He considers himself a kinetic physiologist, and his work goes far beyond sprints and pushups.

Macias, decked out in black and white Jordans, cargo shorts, and tattoos, explains why he is different. “The guys in my field, I’ve forgotten more than they know,” he says. During Phil’s sprints, Macias is keeping time, taking Phil’s heart rate from a monitor strapped to his chest, and logging the information on his notepad. When the sprints are done, he takes a blood sample from Phil—a human being turned science experiment.

Without stating too much of the obvious, Phil is an incredibly gifted athlete, “In the top two I’ve worked with,” according to Macias. Looking at his physical frame is one thing, watching him move it is something else. Aside from wrestling, Phil ran crosscountry and played tennis in high school. How good was he, you ask? “I beat Chandella Powell’s butt,” jokes Phil, referring to the former UFC ring girl. “The Ultimate Insider flew her out, and we played against each other. She was All-State or something, and I smashed her!” Phil being Phil.

5:14 P.M.

After driving on seven different freeways going no less than 80 miles per hour, we arrive at Alliance East, the sister gym to the original Alliance Training Center that is owned by Dominick Cruz, whose WEC belt sits on the front desk. Just above it and painted on the wall reads Muhammad Ali’s famous quote, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as Champion.”

The disparity between Cruz and Davis is intriguing. Davis’ casual character is only highlighted by Cruz’s intensity. Cruz paces the gym, held back only by his massive knee brace. He looks out of place when he’s not in a cage punching another highly trained fighter. Davis, with his trademark pink t-shirt, looks like he should be skating on a half pipe, sipping on a Mountain Dew. It’s a discrepancy Phil acknowledges. “You could book Dominick a fight for December 2014, and he’ll put that guy’s picture on the wall and stare at it, screaming and shadowboxing.” Two incredible fighters, two very different men.

Phil Davis

Phil has only lost one fight—the headliner of UFC on Fox 2 against former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans. Phil lost a unanimous decision, snapping his undefeated record at 9-0. After a loss, practice is a little different, training a little more intense—even for a guy like Phil. The positivity and glow in a fighter’s eyes after a job well done is replaced by a solemn dedication to right a wrong. Training is no longer business as usual.

6:38 P.M.

Boxing coach Adrian Melendez finishes working with Phil—10 rounds of mitts then the heavy bag—and tries to explain the loss, always an impossible job for a trainer. It starts with phrases like “Everything that could go wrong, did” and ends with “It won’t happen again.” They are comments stemming from equal parts confidence, questions, and doubt—a question that rarely has an answer.

One answer did surface. In the Evans fight, Phil was apprehensive in the striking game against a seasoned stand-up fighter. Although Evans was a collegiate wrestler, his boxing focus has made him a feared striker, while Davis’ focus has been submissions.

The hole in Davis’ game is only amplified by his ability in the other areas of martial arts, namely, wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His natural ability, combined with the tutelage of Lloyd Irvin, quickly turned Davis into a real submission threat. He tapped out Tim Boetsch with a one-armed Kimura, which he dubbed “The Mr. Wonderful.” “Ooooooh man. I have turned into a ninja on the ground lately. The better I get on my feet, there’s a ratio of 2 to 1. If I’m a 10 on my feet, I’m a 20 on the ground.”

It’s this fast progression many fans of the sport forget. After one loss, it’s easy to assume a prospect was touted higher than his ability. Phil puts it into perspective. “I first punched a guy in the face in 2008, and just over three years later, I’m fighting the number two guy in the world.” Imagine stepping into your first day of law school and three years later you’re testifying in front of the Supreme Court. Phil understands where he is and where he needs to go, even if others do not.

7:23 P.M.

After experiencing Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (the Phil Davis version along the freeways of San Diego), I get my final sitdown of the day. The standard questions come up. Are you a violent guy? “Punching a guy in the face is like weaving a basket,” Davis replies. He says he would fight teammates Brandon Vera or Alexander Gustafsson again for the belt—a statement that seems coldblooded had it not come from Phil’s mouth. Phil wears pink for breast cancer awareness at no charge every time he fights. There’s a heart in there somewhere.

His opponent Wagner Prado has not come up once, a symptom of Phil’s mentality in training. “Sometimes I feel like you’re barely fighting your opponent. At best, he’s in front of you for 25 minutes, and you’ve prepared for two or three months. I’m preparing
myself for this fight. He may very well get injured before the fight, I hope he doesn’t, but it happens. I’m not preparing to beat any one guy. It doesn’t make sense to prepare to beat a person. When I’m the best, I’ll beat anyone.”

Phil finishes his seventh Sprite. Seventh. Whether his taste for the lemon-lime beverage came before or after he appeared in a nationwide advertising campaign with Sprite is anyone’s guess. We finish dinner, Phil picks up the tab (I knew it all along), and he leaves me with one more gem. “My career is not going to end after this fight, win or lose. I will still fight again, barring
something crazy or some serious injury. You just have to train for yourself. I don’t want to train for some guy and harbor some kind of hatred for him. He [Prado] is stoked. It’s his first fight in the UFC. He told all his boys he’s fighting Mr. Wonderful. All his friends are going nuts right now. It’s a good feeling. No reason to hate the guy. He’s having the time of his life.”

And that’s exactly what Phil is doing. Today, he trained three times, ran errands, and answered some random reporter’s questions, all with a smile. On television and in the cage, the glitz and glamour of a UFC fighter seems incredibly appealing. In the trenches, the weeks and sometimes months leading up to a fight, a training camp can dull the image quickly. Wake up, eat, train, rest. Wash, rinse, repeat. For a guy who could have done nearly anything with his life, MMA fans should be happy to have him. He sure is happy to be here.

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