Sports without narratives are boring. Even the most exciting sports like mixed martial arts can be greatly enhanced with a relevant story or personal conflict. It gives fans something to invest in aside from pure athletic competition. It is the reason professional wrestling still exists; people love following stories, and stories are nothing without characters. Protagonists and antagonists, good guys and bad guys, babyfaces and heels, whatever you want to call them, these roles are inevitably played, either knowingly or not, by athletes in every sport and MMA is certainly no exception to this.
With its roots being so closely tied to professional wrestling, many MMA fighters gladly accept these archetypes and will embrace either side with gusto. Sometimes this can endear these athletes with the fans, but almost equally as m Vitouch, it can vilify them. Being a villain is not necessarily a bad thing either, as fans will still pay to see you compete. They will just be hoping you lose in spectacular fashion.
I have to admit, I tend to root for the bad guys in most situations. Not in real-life issues, mind you, but in essentially trivial things like sports, I like a good old fashioned heel and the UFC certainly has more than a few amongst its ranks. Some of these fighters embrace the role and play it up more than others, while some of them are just straight-up bad people.
20. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey is arguably the biggest star in the UFC. With equal fighting skill and marketability, she has been a promoter’s dream so far. One of the things that makes Rousey such a draw is her unforgiving attitude towards her opponents. This attitude was showcased when she was a coach on The Ultimate Fighter opposite rival, Meisha Tate. She certainly made no friends during the filming and since then has seemed to embrace to bad-girl role, trash talking her opposition and declining to shake her opponents’ hands after the fights. Love her or hate her, it is undeniable that she moves the needle with every fight, something most fighters, male or female cannot say.
19. Wanderlei Silva
For a long time, Wanderlei Silva could do no wrong in the minds of MMA fans. As a PRIDE veteran and MMA pioneer, Silva was a respected, if not revered fighter. This all began to tumble downhill when Silva was matched up against Chael Sonnen as opposing coaches of The Ultimate Fighter: Brasil 3. Sonnen and Silva attacked each other verbally throughout the season, which eventually culminated in an all out brawl during filming. In the lead-up to their fight, both fighters were tested for performance-enhancing drugs. Well, both fighters were supposed to be tested, but when commission officials showed up to Silva’s gym to collect a sample, he made a deft escape through the back door in an effort to elude the testers, resulting in a lifetime ban by the California State Athletic Commission and being branded a cheat by fight fans everywhere.
18. Brock Lesnar
Like an unfortunate case of Siamese twins, professional wrestling and MMA will forever be connected at the hip. While many MMA purists despise this fact and feel that any connection to pro wrestling damages the integrity of the sport, many fighters, including some of the legends in MMA have at one time or another performed as wrestler such as Sakuraba, Ken Shamrock, and Bob Sapp. Without a doubt, the most famous wrestler to transition to MMA is Brock Lesnar. His meteoric rise to the top of the WWE card is only paralleled by how quickly he gained the UFC heavyweight title. In only his fourth professional fight, Lesnar knocked out UFC legend Randy Couture to become the baddest man on the planet. While his subsequent post-fight speech made wrestling fans everywhere, realize why he is a Paul Heyman guy.
17. CM Punk
Another wrestler to make the jump from WWE to UFC is CM Punk. Although he has yet to even fight, Punk has garnered his fair share of hate from both fans and fighters alike. The fans hate him mostly for the same reasons they hated Brock Lesnar. Most hardcore MMA fans just don’t like the fact that he is a former professional wrestler, with no fight experience, who is more popular than essentially the rest of the roster. The fighters don’t like him, also because he has zero fight experience, and because he has a contract with the UFC that is certainly worth more than the vast majority of existing fighter contracts, and will be getting a cut of the pay-per-view revenue, something typically only given to champions and top-tier talent.
16. Anderson Silva
I gotta admit, this was a tough one to include. Anderson Silva was my favorite fighter for a long time. Anderson knocked out dudes with front kicks to the face, with jabs while moving backwards, sometimes he looked like a jedi. He could do things no other fighter could. As good as he was at fighting, he was equally enigmatic. Choosing to speak almost entirely through his manager, Ed Soares, Anderson always seemed to be hiding his real personality, and sometimes his behaviour was flat-out strange.
Against Thales Leites, whom Anderson outclassed in all areas of the fight, he seemed timid and content to merely dance around the outside and throw the odd jab or leg kick. For five rounds, the most talented man in the UFC put on perhaps the most basic and boring performance I can remember. Dana White and much of the media put him on blast, and Silva’s unapologetic attitude did nothing to endear him to fans. More recently, following his fight with Nick Diaz, he tested positive for two separate anabolic steroids further maligning him in the eyes of fans.
15. Chael Sonnen
The man they call “The American Gangster” would be honoured to be on this list. Sonnen has embraced the bad guy image throughout his career and really blossomed into it during his feud with Anderson Silva. Chael is one of the all-time great trash talkers in the sport, and he took no prisoners when it came to Silva, his family, and his country, and for a long while, Sonnen was public enemy number one in Brazil. After the Silva feud, he moved on to feud with Jon Jones as opposing coaches during a season of The Ultimate Fighter. Sonnen’s team dominated the competition, and following each win, Sonnen would embellish the fact that it was one more win for the bad guys.
14. Rampage Jackson
Who would have thought that a 200 plus pound fighter that owns a world famous power-bomb knockout of Ricardo Arona would have temper issues? Especially if that man’s nickname is “Rampage”? Jackson has made a career out of building up intense feuds and rivalries with other fighters like Rashad Evans and Wanderlei Silva. In these scenarios, Jackson was all too willing to play the role of the bad guy, but unfortunately sometimes, it bled into his everyday life like in 2008 when he was arrested on suspicion of multiple hit-and-runs in his truck, with his face on it.
13. Jason Mayhem Miller
Miller has had more ups and downs in his career, to be fair, mostly downs. but the once lovable host of MTV’s “Bully Beatdown” has gone through something of a downward spiral these past few years. At the beginning of his career, he was one of the more entertaining characters to come out of the Japanese MMA scene, but things started to go weird when Mayhem was arrested naked, inside a church, after having allegedly trashed the place. Several other run-ins with authorities in recent past have further damaged both his image and psyche.
12. Nick Diaz
Nick Diaz is my favorite fighter of all time. He’s not the most exciting fighter; there are certainly more dangerous and explosive guys out there. But I love Nick Diaz because he does not give a hoot in hell what you or anyone else thinks about him. That includes UFC president, Dana White, the entire fan base, Georges St-Pierre, or even the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Diaz says what he wants, does what he wants, and often times pays the consequences for it. These traits have endeared him to me over the years, but to many others, have made him a prominent villain.
11. Matt Hughes
If you just look at the accomplishments in the cage of Matt Hughes, you’d be right in assuming that he was one of the most influential and important fighters in the history of the UFC. What his record doesn’t tell you however, is that he is also one of the most notorious bad guys in the sport. This may come as a surprise to many fans, because he never really had a big, bold personality that you think most heels have. Matt Hughes was always sort of presented as a no nonsense good ol’ boy from the farm. Talk to most fighters from that era however, and a different picture was painted. Perhaps the best example comes from Sean Mccorkle who posted an online review of Hughes’ autobiography. One comment he makes on a chapter is:
“Matt talks about growing up on a farm, and what repulsive little brats he and Mark were growing up. To this day, he thinks their childhood “mischief” like breaking **** all the time, being disobedient to their parents, and being cruel to animals is funny. After reading chapter one, you’ll find yourself thinking, “Somebody should have beat those kids asses.”
10. Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock is another one of those guys who has managed to stick around for one reason or another and its pretty mind boggling. The 51-year-old Shamrock just headlined a Bellator show and was knocked out by fellow dinosaur Kimbo Slice. Shamrock looked pretty much about how you’d expect a 51-year-old to look in the cage, which is to say, very, very, awful. Shamrock’s run as a villain started about as early as you could start. He was positioned as Royce Gracie’s first real rival, and parlayed that heat throughout his career as both an MMA fighter and professional wrestler. After numerous allegations of fight fixing, during his career in Japan, and a falling out with the UFC, Shamrock found himself a nomad in the sport with little sympathy coming his way.
9. Rousimar Palhares
When most people are released from the UFC, it is because they have hit a major losing streak. Not for Rousimar Palhares however. This dude was let go by the UFC because he kept injuring other fighters. Palhares is the owner of some of the most devastating leg locks in MMA, and he has a tendency to hold those submissions a little too long. It first started at UFC 111 when he was suspended 90 days for continuing to crank on a submission after the ref had called off the fight. This happened again in his fight against Mike Pierce. Couple those incidents with a positive test for performance enhancing drugs, and you get the perfect recipe for an MMA villain.
8. Alistair Overeem
Alistair Overeem is one of the most dangerous strikers the UFC heavyweight division has seen. The former K-1 kickboxing champ spent most of his career in Japan where he suspiciously grew from a skinny middleweight, to a monstrous heavyweight who had to cut weight to make the 265 lb limit. Almost everyone in the Japanese MMA scene was on some sort of mystery supplement, so you can’t really blame him too much for that. Once he made his way to the UFC however, he was exposed to much more mainstream media. Now, I’m not sure if it his is personality, or just a weird phenomenon from his Dutch/British accent, but many fans in North America seem to think he comes off as arrogant and disrespectful.
7. Bryan Caraway
Bryan Caraway is the weird third wheel in the Rousey versus Tate rivalry. As Meisha Tate’s longtime boyfriend and fellow coach on The Ultimate Fighter he has somehow stumbled into the ire of Rousey and her camp, an unenviable position, to be sure. As a male fighter being antagonized by a female champion, his options were understandably limited. In a separate incident, fan favorite, Pat “Bam-Bam” Healy failed a post-fight test for marijuana, resulting in a loss of over $100,000 in prize money. Much of this went to Carraway, who was then put on blast publicly by fans and fighters, most notably Nate Diaz, for accepting the funds.
6. Michael Bisping
Michael Bisping is another one of the all-time great trash talkers in MMA. Like many athletes on this list the Brit also came to the forefront of the UFC while serving as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter opposite American legend Dan Henderson. Garnering a significant amount of heat during the filming of the show and after, many MMA fans wanted to see Bisping get his just desserts, and those people got exactly what they wanted at UFC 100 when Dan Henderson uncorked two of the nastiest right hands in MMA history, shutting the Brit’s mouth for a time.
5. Josh Koschek
Josh Koschek is one of those guys who just knows how to generate heat. He first made a splash on The Ultimate Fighter reality show as one of the original villains. He spared no prisoners within the TUF house, and famously pestered fellow castmate Chris Leben to no end. Koschek ended up winning the show and kept that heat rolling throughout his UFC carreer. A master of pre-fight trash talk, and post-fight call-outs, Josh Koschek always made sure people tuned in to his fights. If not to see him win, then to certainly see him get his ass kicked.
4. Tito Ortiz
Somehow, Tito Ortiz is still a relevant name in MMA. I don’t know how, but the guy who washed out of the UFC years ago is essentially one win away from being a champion in Bellator, but its not really doing him any favors. Tito was one of the guys who really helped put MMA on the map, and he did it as one of the first villains, positioned against fan-favorite and fellow legend Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. The two were perfect foils. Tito, was the brash, young, Mexican-American bad boy, while Liddell played the part of the all-American fighter. Tito really embraced that role inside and outside of the cage. This, coupled with domestic violence allegations when he was with Jenna Jameson really cemented his reputation a villain in the MMA world.
3. Vitor Belfort
Few fighters have been able to stay in the headlines the way Vitor Belfort has. As one of the first UFC tournament winners, Belfort has been considered elite, throughout his career. He was a favorite for many fans in the early days, but recently, has been cast in the role of the villain more often than not. During the infamous Testosterone Replacement Therapy days of MMA, there was no more infamous a user than Belfort. Fighting almost entirely in Brazil, he was able to avoid the majority of testing. Now that TRT has been banned from the sport, Belfort resembles the incredible shrinking man more than anything else.
2. Jon Jones
A lot of the fighters on this list play up the villain image to help their career. I believe that most of them are probably pretty decent people in real life, they just realize the value of a gimmick. Jon Jones however, might not be one of those guys playing a character. In fact, for Jones it was quite the opposite. He tried his damnedest to present himself as the squeaky clean, young champion that the UFC and other companies can get behind. And they did. Nike, Gatorade, and Reebok all made deals with Jones to sponsor him inside and outside of the cage. Things were really looking up for Jones, but his behavior didn’t quite match his image. After drunkenly wrapping his Bentley around a tree, testing positive for cocaine, and allegedly injuring a pregnant woman in a hit-and-run, Jones has promptly lost his major deals, and has been stripped of his UFC championship and suspended indefinitely.
1. War Machine
This one is a no-brainier. Of all the people on this list, War Machine is the only one serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison. Jon Koppenhaver had a fairly lackluster UFC career, but after legally changing his name to War Machine, and having a brief adult film career, he was definitely one of the more infamous characters to come out of the UFC. You could always count on War Machine to say some ridiculous things in interviews and social media. He was the butt of many jokes in the MMA world, and had three separate assault charges. Then he went full heel. After a domestic dispute with then girlfriend and adult film star Christy Mack, leaving her with 18 broken bones, missing teeth, and ruptured liver. He now faces life in prison.
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