MMA is a sport rich with self-expression. The uniqueness and individuality of the athletes is sometimes equally as important as fighting skill when it comes to marketing oneself and attaining title shots and lucrative contracts. The ring entrance is a fighter's first and often most opportune time to make a statement to their fans and opponents. Intimidation, entertainment, martial arts tradition; any and all of these can be a component of the entrance. Regardless of the intended purpose, sometimes it is the most captivating part of a fight. Today, most current MMA organizations have reduced televised fighter entrances, showing only the main event walkouts, in favor of advertising space, making them something of a rarity.
For some of this list, we'll venture outside of the UFC, and take a look back at the heyday of Japanese MMA and organizations like PRIDE FC and Dream, where many of the legends of the sport made their names. Japanese MMA was also filled with pageantry, much like professional wrestling. Elaborate and high-budget fighter entrances were the norm and some of these that you are about to see are my personal favorites. Seeing these will make you value them all the more. It's perhaps the only sport that grants you such an opportunity to showcase an athlete. There are team entrances in some other sports, but the individuality of them nowadays is practically non-existent. Entrances like Ray Lewis's in the NFL or a team entrance like the Miami Hurricanes emerging from the smoke is the stuff of legends. Here, we'll take a look at the sport that has the most opportunity to do something special.
10 Frankie Edgar
Starting off the list is one of the greatest lightweights of all time, Frankie “The Answer” Edgar. The former UFC lightweight champ, and current featherweight contender’s signature walkout sets the tone perfectly for his particular brand of violence. Edgar is nothing, if not consistent and his walkout is no different. The lights go down, the slow, deliberate beats of Biggie’s “Kick in the Door” hit, and “The Answer” makes his way to the octagon. He doesn’t saunter out either. When Edgar reaches the audience, he nearly sprints to the octagon, leaving his cornermen and security crew in the dust.
9 Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey destroys her opponents, plain and simple. Her four UFC fights (all title defenses) have lasted, collectively, a total of 17 minutes and 20 seconds, with only one of those fights going past the first round. Like I said, Ronda Rousey destroys. She knows it, and sets the tone perfectly with her walkout to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” She dresses in all black, hood up over her head, mean-mugging the camera, her opponent, or whomever decides to get in her way. Ronda is all-business on fight nights, and she lets everyone know, the minute she makes the walk to the octagon.
8 Conor McGregor
Aside from the newly signed CM Punk, there may be no more polarizing of a figure in MMA than Conor McGregor. I included McGregor on this list for one walkout in particular; his second UFC fight, in Boston, at Fight Night 26. His fight, against Max Holloway, was the second last bout on the preliminary card. For most preliminary fights, the entrances aren’t even shown on the broadcast in favour of ad space. But for McGregor, who had made such a huge splash in the media, they turned out the lights prior to his entrance, something typically reserved for main-event bouts only. The overwhelmingly pro-Irish crowd in Boston was on board from the get-go. Couple that with the Sinead O'Connor and Dropkick Murphry's remix, and you have a perfect recipe for Irish violence.
7 B.J. Penn
B.J. Penn might be my favorite fighter ever. Throughout his career, Penn constantly demonstrated his willingness to live by the motto "just scrap" and fight anyone, regardless of how out-sized he was by his opponents. As a natural lightweight, oftentimes, Penn would have to pack on the pounds to make the 170 lb mark for many of his fights, while his opponents were cutting tremendous amounts of weight. In the spirit of his Hawaiian ancestors, Penn is also a true warrior. The point is really driven home when you watch "Baby Jay" make his way to the cage to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "Hawaii '78" and "E Ala E." The soothing ukulele and haunting vocals create a truly unique and special feel each time B.J. Penn makes his way to the cage.
6 King Mo Lawal
King Mo has had a lot of ups and downs in his MMA career. Regardless of his wins and losses however, he is always one of the most entertaining athletes in the sport. His surprising candor during interviews and tremendous showmanship have endeared him to many MMA fans, and his ring entrances may also play a role in that. When King Mo makes his way to the cage, you can guarantee that there will be four things happening. Loud rap music will be playing. He will be wearing a crown. He will be surrounded by beautiful women, and one of those women will be holding an umbrella over his head. At Strikeforce: Nashville, he even had a girl sprinkling rose petals on the ground in front of him. It's crazy, it's fun, and it suits King Mo Lawal perfectly.
5 Yoshihiro Akiyama
Yoshihiro Akiyama is an absolute star in Japan. A fighter, singer, dancer, model, Akiyama is clearly a born performer and the Japanese audience supports him. He was, and still is, one of the biggest drawing fighters in Japan. The judo standout and longtime mixed martial artist, has a knack for showmanship and is the owner of potentially the most beautiful fighter entrances of all time.
Akiyama's walkouts always include the same things. You will hear Andrea Bocelli and Sarash Brightman's "Con te Partiro," Akiyama will be wearing his gi, and he and his coaches will stop part way to the ring, get on their knees and bow in unison.(a tradition in judo before a class begins) Alone, these three elements make a pretty spectacular entrance, however when he fought Kazushi Sakuraba at K-1 Premium 2006 Dynamite, he had over 100 young judo students join him which made for a powerful spectacle.
4 Kazushi Sakuraba
The man known as "The Gracie Hunter" will forever be remembered as a pioneer of the sport, and one of the all-time greatest fighters from Japan. Sakuraba is also one of the most popular profession wrestlers in Japan and certainly knows the impact a memorable entrance can have. He owns one of the most eclectic collections of ring entrances in MMA. In my opinion however, none are quite as memorable as his Super Mario themed entrance for his fight at the 2003 PRIDE Grand Prix against Kevin Randleman. In addition to the8-bit graphics, and the original Super Mario theme music, Sakuraba walked to the cage sporting the iconic video game character's cap and mustache. Even Randleman, the man he was about to fight, could do nothing but laugh and applaud the Japanese legend.
3 Jason "Mayhem" Miller
Nowadays, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, is mostly known for wild antics, numerous bizarre confrontations with the law, and a disappointing UFC career. Before all of this however, Miller was quite the star in the Japanese MMA scene, fighting big names on what, at the time, was the grandest stage in the world. He was always something of a wildcard, but that helped him gain notoriety and endeared him to the Japanese audience, both as a dangerous grappler, and over-the-top personality which was showcased perfectly during his entrances.
My favorite took place at Dream 9 where he fought Jacare Souza for the middleweight title. Miller enlisted the services of about 25 Japanese women dressed in school-girl outfits, who flanked him on either side, and proceeded to join Mayhem in a semi-choreographed dance all the way to the ring.
2 Anderson Silva
The man who many people would call "the greatest of all time" also has one of the greatest ring entrances of all time. Long before his reign of domination in the UFC, Anderson Silva was a rising star in the Japanese MMA circuit. The always playful and hardly serious Silva has made a name for himself as somewhat of a joker, even infamously being knocked out by Chris Weidman during one of those "clowning" moments. Suffice it to say, the man knows how to have a good time, even in a fight. One of the first glimpses of Silva's playful attitude came at Pride 21 when the then 9-1 Silva fought Alex Stiebling. With "Don't Stop Til you get Enough" blaring through the arena, and in full Michael Jackson regalia (fedora, shiny track suit), Silva danced, shucked, jived, and moon-walked his way to the cage, showing off his fancy footwork which would later lead to some of the most memorable performances in MMA.
1 Tom Lawlor
Tom Lawlor is probably the least-known fighter on this list, but for my money is the most entertaining fighter outside the cage. Lawlor is a life-long professional wrestling fan and he makes no efforts to hide it, even going so far as to appear in Ring of Honor as a cornerman/manager to tag team champs Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly. Whenever he gets the chance, Lawlor will put on a show. At weigh-ins he has dressed as Dan Severn, Art Jimmerson, and Steven Segal, to name a few. His entrances are just as entertaining.
At UFC 113 in Montreal, complete with the stars and stripes getup, he recreated Apollo Creed's entrance from Rocky IV. My favorite entrance of all time came at UFC Fight Night 20 when Lawlor did the complete Hulk Hogan walkout. Feather boas, hand gestures, sleeveless shirt that eventually got ripped off, Lawlor pulled out all the stops for this one. Despite having a UFC record of 5-4 and maybe not being the most exciting fighter, I consider Tom Lawlor to be a guy who you can't miss, because he brings so much fun to a sport that sometimes takes itself too seriously.