Compared to other sports, MMA is neither lucrative nor glamorous. Becoming an established MMA fighter takes a tremendous amount of courage, fortitude, and determination amid the extraneous distractions of life. What kind of person chooses to subject themselves to the rigors of fighting for a living? Are all fighters depraved? Are they insane? What character traits do fighters share that compel them to brawl professionally when there are much easier paths to take in life?
It’s impossible to pinpoint what a fighter is “supposed” to act like -- there’s amazing variety among UFC fighter personalities. Not every fighter is a belligerent twit. Not every fighter is a pompous braggart. Conversely, not all fighters are humble, saintly role models. There’s a wide spectrum of personality types -- ranging from teddy bear to complete jackass -- fighting in the UFC today.
This list will examine the most extreme personalities in the sport. We’ll identify the nastiest bullies alongside the most delightful of sweethearts who do their work in the Octagon. Many fighters defy expectations and are, in fact, extremely righteous people despite their brutal careers. Others are just as fuming and fierce as they appear to be in the cage. Some fighters are quick to take credit for their martial prowess and even quicker to diminish the accomplishments of their colleagues, while others are appreciative, no-nonsense professionals. Let’s expound upon the darlings of the UFC and expose the ruffians:
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21 Jerk: Luke Rockhold
Luke Rockhold’s brand of jerkiness is more subtle than some of the others on this list. He hasn’t committed any serious crimes or done anything reprehensible in public. He’s just a prick.
It’s difficult to dislike Rockhold as a fighter. He’s well-rounded, aggressive, and wields an impressive array of snazzy kicks. When he talks to the media, though, it’s easy to understand why his reputation for sleaziness precedes him.
Rockhold seems to bicker with every opponent he’s ever been paired with; in his last fight with Michael Bisping the verbal sparring got especially petty and infantile. The American Kickboxing Academy fighter is also equipped with a slew of excuses for every loss he has suffered -- He repeats that he only lost to Vitor Belfort because Belfort was on TRT, for instance. Rockhold skulks, broods, and whines his way through press obligations. It’d be a gainful PR move to just mute the dude and let his performances talk for him.
20 Sweetheart: Stipe Miocic
Heavyweight champions in combat sports are blanketly reputed for being brazen and pugnacious. Being “the baddest man on the planet” comes with the burden of public belief that you’re a thick-headed savage. UFC Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic defies these expectations: He’s a kind, humble sweetheart despite his violent pugilism.
Miocic works as a firefighter and paramedic in his native Ohio when he’s not gearing up for a fight — work he chooses to do despite being afforded a healthy wage by the UFC . The 34-year-old never stirs controversy with his words and offers only respect to his opponents; plus he shows immense gratitude and graciousness during his post-fight interviews. He shows glimpses of animalistic brutality when he’s at work, but he’s very humane away from combat.
Maybe Miocic would be more popular if he were more caustic. He could probably dial up his trash talk if he decided to generate buzz. Instead, Miocic is happy to be an inconspicuous, mild-mannered badass.
19 Jerk: Paul Daley
Paul Daley is not overtly villainous, but his career will forever be marred by his actions at UFC 113 in 2010.
The Brit established himself as an exciting banger with a wicked left hook after his first two UFC outings. His third fight with the organization was against veteran Josh Koscheck. A win over Koscheck would establish Daley as a bona fide force. It didn’t go that way.
Koscheck smothered Daley throughout three rounds; keeping Daley’s left hook at bay by grinding Daley up against the cage and implementing his wrestling. Daley was so flustered after the fight that he took a flagrant shot at Koscheck well-after the final bell had rung. The loser had to be subdued by the referee. As a result, the UFC released Daley and he hasn’t returned since.
Depite that everlasting smudge, Daley has resurrected his career with less lustrous promotions. He’s still wild, cheeky, and prone to talk smack, but he hasn’t crossed the line he did against Koscheck. However, Daley’s lack of professionalism is exemplified by his inability to make weight: Recently Daley suffered a stretch of missing weight in six of his last 14 fights.
18 Sweetheart: Demian Maia
Demian Maia is universally well-liked and respected among the MMA world, which is a feat considering his style is not the most “fan-friendly.”
Maia, a fourth degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and perhaps the best grappler in UFC history, is an ideal ambassador for his martial art. He’s cordial, articulate, and respectful towards all of his opponents. Maia became fluent in English shortly after signing with the UFC in 2007 so he could communicate with a wider portion of his fan-base. He doesn’t shy away from press engagements and he never speaks ill of his colleagues. In fact, he agreed to train grappling with Neil Magny after choking out the younger fighter in 2015.
The Brazilian backpack has reported in several post-fight interviews that he takes no pleasure in hurting his opponents; which is why BJJ is the perfect martial art -- he can induce surrender without inflicting damage.
Maia has enjoyed a resurgence since dropping down to welterweight: He has won six in a row including three by submission finish. He should be in line for a title shot in 2017. Let’s hope the 39-year-old veteran gets a shot; he’s certainly paid his dues.
17 Jerk: Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey’s stretch of dominance gave her a false sense of invulnerability. Through bullying and lambaste, she managed to intimidate every woman who stood across from her in the Octagon. They lost before they ever entered the arena. Rousey’s behavior is never vile -- it’s just insidious and mean-spirited. She’s utilizes psychological warfare to immobilize her foes.
To the relief of many, Holly Holm cracked Rousey’s code. Rousey, however, proceeded to recite a laundry list of excuses that led to her downfall and vowed to never lose again. She shriveled upon defeat when she had an opportunity to show class and sportsmanship.
Rousey hasn’t been engaging with the press ahead of her fight with champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 207. Maybe she wants to hone in on training instead of assailing Nunes’s character. I’m excited to see if a rejuvenated, more humble Rousey emerges after her year away from fighting.
16 Sweetheart: Lyoto Machida
Honor, respect, and pride are critical facets of being a true karetaka. As a life-long karate practitioner, Lyoto Machida fully represents his martial art.
Machida claims that he inherited samurai blood and must thereby abide by bushido code through being serene and honorable. The former Light Heavyweight Champion demonstrated his credo on many occasions: He always showed respect for his opponents and never clowned around. Furthermore, he has held back from raining down follow-up shots on a down-and-out opponent on multiple occasions -- perhaps the most salient example of this is when he flattened Mark Munoz with a head kick and refused to uncork another punch on Munoz until the ref stopped the fight.
As his English has improved, the Brazilian has become even more approachable. He was forthright with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency about a potential accidental breach of their rules, and was hammered with a cruel two-year ban despite not being caught with a tainted sample. Hopefully Machida can provide a few more highlight knockouts before his career ebbs further.
15 Jerk: Quinton Jackson
“Rampage” hasn’t made headlines for outrageous behavior in recent memory. His past, though, is speckled with shady, obnoxious incidents.
Perhaps Quinton Jackson’s most notorious faux pas was groping and motorboating MMA reporter Karyn Bryant in an on-camera interview several years ago. Besides that abhorrent display, Jackson has been known to be confrontational with the media. He denounced Joe Rogan four years ago for “talking sh*t,” when Rogan was providing didactic commentary on Jackson’s fight. Furthermore, Jackson plead guilty to a hit and run charge in Newport Beach shortly after losing the light-heavyweight belt in 2008.
What’s more: Jackson has a nasty trash talk arsenal when he feels compelled to use it. It was on full display during The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights in 2009; wherein Jackson smack-talked Rashad Evans and his team endlessly. It was entertaining theater, but it wasn’t exactly flattering for Jackson. Yet another questionable tendency of Jackson’s is his follow-up punches on knocked out opponents -- he crushed Ricardo Arona and Wanderlei Silva with several punches after both men had been clearly out cold.
“Rampage” can cut a helluva promo and he’s an entertaining fighter and personality. He’s just not the sweetest guy
14 Sweetheart: Cain Velasquez
Although Cain Velasquez catches plenty of flak for missing years of his career due to injury, his personality is unique among MMA big-shots.
Glancing at Velasquez, you’ll see a hulking juggernaut plastered in insipid tattoos. The word “meathead” might come to mind. His impeccable violence in the Octagon does nothing to dispel the notion that he’s merely a primitive beast who knows nothing except violence and cracking skulls. While his personality doesn’t exactly ooze with charm, Velasquez is a very grounded and cordial man once you hear him speak.
The 34-year-old heavyweight works very hard to maintain his excellence, but he’s averse to accepting praise. With haste, Velasquez always gives full credit to his coaches, training partners, and family for cultivating him as a fighter. It’s admirable to hear such an imposing badass be so appreciative of his surroundings; and so off-put by the adulation that comes with being an elite fighter. Velasquez prefers to allow his performances to exude his machismo. If only he could find a way to fight more consistently.
13 Jerk: Matt Hughes
Matt Hughes was a pioneer for the UFC. The plucky grappler was the preeminent welterweight on the roster for many years. He never said or did anything under the limelight that was too questionable. His reputation took a nosedive only when Hughes released his autobiographical book Made in America: The Most Dominant Champion in UFC History in 2008.
In his book, Hughes shamelessly recalls abusing animals as a kid, beating up his father, cheating his way through school, fat-shaming aspiring fighters at his gym, and even sexually assaulting an eighth grade girl. That’s just a a sampling of the savage behavior he details in his book. Mind you, Hughes shows no remorse for his swinish behavior and even seems to revel in his exploits.
I’m not sure if Hughes is delusional and thinks his behavior is appreciable, or if he’s just a proud antagonizer. Either way, the contents of his book are almost farcical. If you’re a fan of Matt Hughes, scope out his autobiography and have your perception shattered.
12 Sweetheart: Junior dos Santos
Junior Dos Santos is most beloved for his merciless, powerful hands and booming knockouts. Thankfully, the towering heavyweight does not carry the bluster or gall you might expect from such a dynamo. JDS is chill and down-to-earth.
Learning to speak English fluently was a canny move for the Brazilian -- it allowed English-speaking fans to soak in JDS’s ethos. His good spirit is evident whenever he takes the microphone. Without English, perhaps his cheerful character would be veiled or lost in translation. Instead, he is widely cherished for his gentleness. Again, our estimation of his personality would be part guesswork if he didn’t speak English with nuance -- perhaps Jose Aldo and Anderson Silva should take notes.
JDS endeared himself to American fans quickly during his meteoric rise upon entering the UFC. He rattled off nine straight wins to begin his UFC career and seized the heavyweight championship in 2011. Quickly he established himself as an asset to the company; thanks to his visceral performances and cool temper. Though JDS has cooled off in recent years, he remains a perennial contender and a fan-favorite.
11 Jerk: Jon Jones
Jon Jones’s rap sheet seems to gain a new confounding entry every year. His missteps would be more palatable if Jones had been honest from the beginning that he’s neither pure nor angelic. Remember: Jones pained himself as a goody two-shoes when he first attracted attention in the UFC. The truth is that he’s a troubled egomaniac who seems to find scandal at every step.
The list of infractions is hefty: Jones was charged with a DUI in 2012; he tested positive for cocaine before his fight with Daniel Cormier in 2015; he allegedly wrote a homophobic slur-laden message to a Twitter user in 2014; he has a propensity for eye-poking his opponents; he tested positive for a banned substance before UFC 205 which resulted in Jones being removed from the event and the card fizzled; etc. Not to mention he talks mad trash to his opponents.
It’s good that Jones has seemed to embrace his fitting role as a heel in recent times. If he can ever return to action, I hope he’s learned from his transgressions and can take the craft of fighting more seriously. Jones has ridiculous talent; it would be shameful to see it all squandered on superfluous b.s.
10 Sweetheart: Sage Northcutt
Sage Northcutt is a caricature of a nice, naive boy. He’s always smiling, and never flinging mud at his opponents. It’s confusing seeing such a seemingly sweet kid take a crack at professional fighting, but his effervescent personality will be an asset if he can ever become a legit fighter.
The infectiously happy-camper has been heavily promoted by the UFC, but Northcutt has failed to meet expectations so far: the 20-year-old is 3-2 in the UFC against low-level competition. While the buzz surrounding Northcutt has been tempered, he has maintained his relentlessly happy-go-lucky outlook.
Is it possible that he’s contriving a cloying persona make himself more marketable? Who knows? Who cares? The fact remains that Northcutt is exceedingly polite. His attitude and good looks alone should afford him a decent living no matter what becomes of his MMA career.
9 Jerk: Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor is enchanting for many reasons. But let’s be honest: Being a great guy is not one of McGregor’s true appeals.
The Irish sensation has been a boon for the UFC, and his ascendency has brought widespread attention to the sport. His flamboyance, showmanship, and emcee skills are mesmerizing. That said, he’s far from a sweetheart.
Constant, provoking trash talk is a calling card for McGregor. He’s etched fame for being saucy and belittling his opponents. He’s extremely vain -- he’s a money-grubber. Furthermore, “The Notorious” is quick to flaunt his riches. “Humble” and “nice” could not be used to describe McGregor.
Given how entertaining McGregor is, I don’t really care that he’s a jerk. Being a jerk is something that he’s embraced. It’s part of his shtick. He’s the most charismatic and loveable jerk in the sport. He’s definitely a jerk, though. No question.
8 Sweetheart: Brian Stann
Brain Stann possesses a rare combination of intelligence and charm. Those traits compliment his leadership skills and valor, which in sum amount to overall badassery.
Stann’s numerous accolades speak volumes of his character: He earned a Silver Star as a lieutenant leading his platoon during a six-day battle while serving in Iraq; he enjoyed a prosperous MMA career despite not training formally until age 26; and he’s been skillful and absorbing as a NCAAF and UFC commentator. Furthermore, Stann is a devoted family man who says he cherishes time with his daughters more than anything else.
His military background surely has informed Stann’s cool demeanor and articulate observations. Few, if any, members of the MMA community begrudge Stann. He seems to get along with everyone and has a knack for gaining a meaningful rapport with the fighters he interviews.
Perhaps Stann’s crowning accomplishment is spearheading Hire Heroes USA, an organization that helps veterans find jobs and assimilate into society. All told, Stann has been a successful venturer no matter his pursuit. There are few men of his caliber in the world. Earlier this year he declared interest in running for a political office; another task I have no doubt he will flourish in.
7 Jerk: War Machine
War Machine had decent MMA chops: He was 14-5 as a pro. It’s too bad that his behavior outside the realm of pro fighting is as violent as his name would suggest.
Born Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver in 1981, War Machine should never have been afforded the opportunity to learn martial arts. He’s a nasty, erratic, and violent man. Apparently training MMA was not enough to satisfy War Machine’s penchant for fighting.
In 2008, War Machine pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery after choking a man unconscious in a Las Vegas parking lot. His mean streak escalated in 2010 when he pleaded guilty to a felony assault conviction stemming from two separate bar fights in San Diego. He served a year in jail for his brutality, but War Machine wasn't done being destructive.
With his relationship with adult film star Christy Mack tattered, War Machine viciously assaulted Mack in 2014; leaving her 18 broken bones and a ruptured liver among other injuries. He is currently awaiting trial at High Desert State Prison in California for his senseless, cruel crimes.
6 Sweetheart: Daniel Cormier
He’s no saint, but Daniel Cormier is one of the nicer gentleman in the UFC today.
Cormier has an effusive, almost presidential personality that is difficult to find fault in. Being a UFC analyst for Fox Sports is a great fit for Cormier’s exuberance and knowledge of the sport. He carries himself with swagger, but his confidence rarely flares up. Petty squabbles are rare for DC -- he is well-respected by his colleagues and he gets along well splendidly with a majority of them. Generally, DC treats with opponents with reverence.
Of course, Jon Jones brought out the thornier side of DC. Their press conference brawl in 2014 showed that Cormier is not unflappable. Jones, in fact, elicited numerous raucous sound bites from Cormier throughout their year-long spat. Besides succumbing to Jones’s crap-stirring salvos, Cormier has few blemishes on his behavioral report card.
5 Jerk: Rousimar Palhares
Rousimar Palhares, despite recent struggles inside the cage, is a breathing nightmare; an ogre of a man. The Brazilian golem is pitiless when he locks in a submission hold. Even when he’s not at his peak, losing a position against Palhares can spell a trip to the hospital and months of medical suspension.
The UFC served Palhares a 90-day suspension in 2010 after he failed to let go of a dangerous submission hold (heel hook) against Tomasz Drwal. The leg-lock specialist garnered a reputation for holding onto submissions after his opponents tapped; which is unsavory and repelled many fighters from challenging Palhares.
Palhares was released from the UFC in 2013 when he, once again, failed to release a heel hook on Mike Pierce. The brute got a chance under a prominent spotlight in The World Series of Fighting, and won the promotional welterweight championship before old habits caught up to Palhares: He was suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for two years for failing to relinquish a kimura on Jake Shields. There’s a screw loose in his head, folks.
Karmic justice has been served since Palhares’s suspension. He’s been viciously knocked out twice in bush-league European promotions in 2016. Maybe it’s best if he never returns to form.
4 Sweetheart: Benson Henderson
I’ll admit, Benson Henderson’s preachiness can induce cringes. He’s a zealous Christian and he never fails to espouse the merits of Jesus during his post-fight interviews. Despite his piousness, “Bendo” is a solid dude by all accounts.
During his run as the UFC lightweight champion and beyond, Henderson never smeared his opponents verbally, and he rarely conjured excuses for poor performances. He took his losses to Anthony Pettis and Rafael dos Anjos with the level grace befitting of a true, good Christian.
Henderson’s ego was always kept in check by his faith in God -- he showed genuine servile gratitude as an agent of his lord. No one has to agree with Henderson that all of his accolades are in the interest of a higher power, but his humility is nonetheless admirable. Showing gratitude is more endearing, usually, than being a pompous jerk.
3 Jerk: Charles Bennett
Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett has cemented his place in MMA lore for his wild antics and explosiveness inside the ring in PRIDE. Despite middling success in combat (he’s a career 30W-30L fighter), Bennett intrigues with his impudence and volatility. His personality, however, has complicated his personal life.
Bennett has been arrested roughly 20 times since 1997; with charges ranging from aggravated battery to cocaine possession to grand theft. Clearly “Krazy Horse” leads a troubled life when he’s not fighting.
MMA seems to be a perfect outlet for Bennett’s wild streak, but his troubles with the law and drug problems have hampered his career prospects. Under proper guidance, it’s possible that such an athletic anomaly could have thrived as a fighter. Instead, fans are left with an eccentric and inconsistent fighter who never refined his entire MMA skillset. He’s still can’t-miss television, but merely as a freakish sideshow. Bennett’s career could have amounted to much, much more.
2 Sweetheart: Georges St-Pierre
Georges St-Pierre’s fighting style became safer and less magnificent as he aged, but that didn’t change his status as a role model and Canadian icon.
GSP’s humility did not waver under the scrutiny of being an MMA champ. The Quebec native embraced the role of angelic hero, and he consistently maintained his manners throughout his career. Being a high-flown gentleman was not an act for GSP: He is naturally magnetic, nice, and respectful.
The future Hall of Famer possessed an obsessive work ethic and very strict discipline. His studious, clean habits outside of the Octagon reaped GSP great rewards inside it: He retired in 2013 with a career record of 25-2 and nine consecutive welterweight title defenses. As the biggest pay-per-view draw in MMA during his heyday, GSP purveyed professionalism and class throughout his entire career, leading fans all over the world to cheer him on and live vicariously through him.
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