MMA fighters and fans of the sport are well aware of the dangers associated with going toe-to-toe with a professional fighter. As one of the most dangerous yet most watched combat sports on the planet today, MMA fighting has continued to grow in popularity since its inception and rise to prominence in the early 1990s. Often known for its brutality and extreme, no-holds-barred fighting, various MMA competitions have sprung up all over the globe and it is now a sport which has thousands of fighters and contracted professionals.
Many think that the hard, tough persona exhibited by MMA fighters means that they’re only good for one thing – fighting. There are however, some MMA fighters who can claim to have knockout careers inside and outside the cage- many world-famous MMA fighters have brains as well as brawn and are more than capable of taking care of themselves outside the cage. There are famous personalities within the sport who are graduates of some prestigious colleges and are well-educated to undergraduate and even postgraduate level – a far cry from the meathead stereotype lumped on the shoulders of many professional MMA and combat sport athletes.
The smarts that these fighters have will serve them well in their careers after fighting. Some have already retired and are using their brain to make a living. You can only get punched and kicked so many times before the body suffers from wear and tear. One organ that cannot be replaced is your brain and these fighters have some bright ones.
Here are 15 MMA fighters that are a lot smarter than you think.
15 Shane Carwin
This now retired mixed martial artist is widely considered to have been one of the hardest punchers in the sport. You may not expect someone with such a pedigree to be educated to degree level, but this hard hitter has two. Carwin’s mother had the goal of getting her two sons a college education, a wish that saw Carwin attend the Colorado School of Mines and Western State College where he received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a bachelor's degree in environmental technology. He stayed in the engineering profession upon graduating and pursued his MMA career on the side, leading up to his professional debut at WEC 17: Halloween Fury 4 in 2005.
14 Takeya Mizugaki
This bantamweight MMA fighter began his career in Japan in 2005, fighting in the respected Japanese promotions Shooto and Cage Force. During this time Takeya Mizugaki was still in full time education - he saw that MMA was taking off around the globe and wanted to try his hand at the brutal sport. He took part in a number of cage fights while studying for his master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, and when he graduated from Kanto Gakuin University, he decided to turn MMA into his profession and made the move to the U.S. where he’s been recognized as a dangerous fighter.
13 Jeff Monson
The gruff-looking heavily tattooed frame of Jeff Monson is a two-time winner of the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship and is definitely someone who you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley. This American-Russian mixed martial artist is a heavyweight in every sense of the word and a veteran competitor in the sport of MMA. Nicknamed "The Snowman” - because like a snowball he’s white, compact, and seems to get stronger and larger the more he competes – by his competitors in the 1999 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship, Monson’s career could have taken a very different turn had he not found success in MMA.
A holder of a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in psychology, Monson has actually worked as a mental health professional in crisis evaluation and child and family counselling for Cascade Mental Health in Lewis County, Washington – a career he put to one side after his success at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club.
12 Rich Franklin
Rich "Ace" Franklin is a former UFC Middleweight Champion. Now retired from the sport, Franklin is vice president of the Asian mixed martial arts company ONE Championship and dedicates his time to his other businesses, in addition to his acting career. Much of his life today revolves around MMA, a sport he stumbled on by chance after seeing a flyer for a local fight. If he hadn’t attended this fight and got bitten by the fighting bug, Franklin may still be a math teacher at Oak Hills High School in Cincinnati, putting his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and his master’s degree in education to good use.
11 Terry Martin
Martin has led a checkered existence. He joined a street gang at the age of 10 and miraculously survived a drive-by shooting at the age of 15 – instances that caused him to turn his back on this gang culture and immerse himself in education. After receiving his high-school diploma, Martin went on to pursue further education and received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s in clinical psychology. Having beaten some notable names in MMA, Martin is still competing, made more remarkable due to the fact that he’s looking to get his PhD from the Adler School of Psychology's Chicago campus. It may not be long before we see Dr. Martin step into the cage.
10 Peggy Morgan
The American mixed martial artist Peggy Morgan, is renowned for being a cast member of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate in 2013. But it’s her writing style that has helped this fighter’s popularity reach new heights. She balances her fighting endeavors with being an adjunct literature and composition professor at Southern New Hampshire University – using literary skills that are evident when reading her articles and blog posts.
9 Tor Troeng
Tor Troeng, now a retired Swedish mixed martial artist previously fighting for the UFC, started his martial arts training in his native country at the age of 9 and began to train specifically for MMA at 19. His decent record of 16 wins in 24 fights is, some may think, eclipsed by his other pursuits away from the cage. Troeng went to Umea University, where he earned a master’s degree in engineering physics – an education he put to good use by becoming a project assistant in mathematics and in mathematical statistics at the same university.
8 Carlos Newton
Carlos Newton is certainly an educated man. One of the original MMA pioneers, Newton is perhaps most well-known for his unique fighting style - a fighting style which saw him use a mixture of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, judo, wrestling and boxing, in addition to "Dragon Ball Jiu-Jitsu”. His life away from the octagon and his academic background is equally, if not more impressive.
Newton began studying geriatric medicine at Toronto's York University, before switching his attentions to architecture – a field in which he is currently working in full time. Newton is also multilingual and can speak several languages, including Japanese, fluently.
7 John Cholish
As a Wall Street commodities trader, you wouldn’t think that this dashing man in fancy suits used to spend his days bashing people up in UFC. But Cholish now spends his days at Marex Spectron, brokering commodities of natural gas and crude oil on the institutional platform – no doubt a far cry from his former days as a mixed martial artist. To be fair Wall Street could be a fight of its own, but in a much different nature.
6 Jake Butler
Stepping away from the money on Wall Street as an employee of Thor Equities is for many of us, not a decision to be taken lightly. But after graduating from Princeton with a degree in economics in 2006, Butler became fed up of the same monotonous routine and decided instead to turn one of his passions into a reality. He made the journey to Southeast Asia in 2008, a journey which saw him signed by Singapore-based promotion ONE FC and fight under the watchful eye of self-made multimillionaire entrepreneur Chatri Sityodtong.
5 Sam Hoger
Before competing in the first series of The Ultimate Fighter in 2005 and then subsequently signing with the UFC, Hoger was studying for two political science degrees at Louisiana State University and also gained his MBA at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. It was during his time studying at Louisiana that he founded the Brazilian Jujitsu Club, after which the “Alaskan Assassin’s” career in the sport took off. His Machavellian tactics didn’t make Hoger a popular fighter but he was mightily effective, winning 10 out of his 14 fights before retiring in 2010.
4 Nick Denis
“The Ninja of Love” took some heavy blows during his time on the road to becoming KOTC Canada Bantamweight Champion, semi-finalist in the Sengoku Featherweight Tournament and his Knockout of the Night victory in his debut fight in the UFC. After a knockout loss to Marlon Sandro in May 2009 – his first loss in MMA – Denis began using his academic background – he had gained a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Ottawa – to research the effects of concussions. He subsequently retired from the sport, stating that he was worried about CTE - a progressive degenerative disease that commonly manifests in people who have had a severe, repeated blows to the head.
3 Rosi Sexton
After more than a decade as a top MMA fighter, “The Surgeon” boasts an impressive record, but it’s her pursuits away from the MMA scene that set her apart from the rest and make her a truly remarkable individual. Let’s start with her academic accomplishments. Rosemary Ann Sexton PhD – PhD because she received her doctorate in Theoretical Computer Science from the University of Manchester – also has a BA in Mathematics from the prestigious Cambridge University, a BSc Osteopathy, and an MSc in Mathematical logic- too many to discuss so listing them will have to do.
She’s also an accomplished musician, having played at the Royal Albert Hall and has become an Associate of the London College of Music Examinations. Sexton’s MMA career ended in 2014 after she retired from the sport, but MMA aside, Sexton’s bio is truly extraordinary. She currently resides in Manchester, England where she’s a practicing osteopath.
2 Rhadi Ferguson
The cousin of Kimbo Slice – the king of mutual combat street fights – Ferguson’s career took off at the age of 35, but he soon made up for his late start. Ferguson has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and accomplishments in Judo, but his academic achievements are perhaps some of his most noteworthy successes. Rhadi Bullard Ferguson began climbing the academic tree when he attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. on a football scholarship. It was here he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, before continuing at the university and earning a master’s degree in Teaching. In 2009, Rhadi Bullard Ferguson became Dr. Rhadi Bullard Ferguson, after he received his Ph.D. in education from Capella University.
1 Seth Kleinbeck
Seth Kleinbeck, nicknamed “Mass Destruction,” is a fierce competitor in all walks of life. After leaving the Marines on a medical discharge, Kleinbeck chose instead to become a doctor and study medicine at the University of Arkansas’ college of medicine. It was in his final year of study that he began to compete and train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and found that he was rather good at the martial art. Today, Kleinbeck balances his love for martial arts and treating his patients and has grown his small-town medical practice in Hazen – a career that’s seen his feet remain firmly on the ground whilst his cage fighting endeavors continue to prosper.