CENTER]Sherdog’s Top 10: Deceptively Dangerous
Most any MMA loyalist has been there before, watching a major fight card in a room full of casual viewers and listening in disgust as everyone sides with the guy that looks like he came straight off the set of “300.” So what if his opponent has the abs of a baker and looks like he just woke up from a nap, you say. Nobody listens. Moments later, Fedor Emelianenko has dominated yet another foe. Everyone in the room is shocked; everyone but you, that is.
This is a list devoted to the fighter who does not fit the traditional MMA archetype, the guy who consistently demonstrates that looking like a Calvin Klein underwear model does not guarantee success once the cage door closes. In a sport where tattoos, mean mugs and T-shirts that look like tattoos are the norm, these guys break the mold, whether it be through appearance, demeanor, habits or all the above. They are Sherdog’s Top 10: Deceptively Dangerous.
10. Mike Russow
When Russow and Todd Duffee squared off at UFC 114, it was a case of polar opposites colliding. Duffee, fresh off a buzz worthy seven-second knockout of Tim Hague, was the type of blown-up heavyweight who could potentially drive pay-per-view buys. Russow, meanwhile, at 6-foot-1 and a not-so-svelte 253 pounds, looked considerably less impressive. For the better part of 12 minutes, the matchup played out as it appeared it should, and, then, suddenly, a pair of straight right hands sent Duffee’s head bouncing off the canvas.
“The fans were looking at this … ’cause you’ve seen so many boxing events where you see this young, ripped-up guy who’s the next up-and-coming guy fighting some big flabby dude, and they’re, like, ‘This is a setup. This guy’s supposed to win,’” UFC President Dana White told Sherdog.com after the improbable outcome. “But you can’t do that with MMA.”
A Chicago Police officer, Russow has in all likelihood heard the tired donut jokes from the hecklers. He has also had the pleasure of shutting up the doubters in most of his fights. Currently, the 35-year-old possesses one of the quietest 11-fight winning streaks in the game today. All appearances aside, Russow does come prepared.
“I have a belly, I’m fat and some people see that, but I’m always in good shape,” Russow told UFC.com prior to his victory over John Olav Einemo at UFC on Fox 2.
Russow has made a habit of winning ugly thus far in his UFC career, but in the end, winning is really all that matters.
Continue Reading » Leg Lock Connoisseur
9. Masakazu Imanari
Imanari is a kindred spirit with Shinya Aoki when it comes to off-kilter habits outside the realm of fighting -- their bizarre 2009 coach-school girl photo-op is a testament to that. While he might not be as universally recognized as Rousimar Palhares for his leg locks, the man can definitely snatch some limbs. At no time was this more evident than at Deep 22 in 2005, when he gruesomely dislocated future WEC featherweight champion Mike Thomas Brown’s knee with a submission. In addition, some would say Jorge Gurgel never moved quite the same after falling victim to an Imanari heel hook in 2003.
Had “Ashikan Judan” been doing his leg lock routine in the UFC all this time, he would have already achieved more than just a loyal cult following and very likely forced more than a few athletic commission-mandated suspensions. Though he lacks the stump-like build of Palhares, Imanari attacks the leg with a flamboyant ferocity, and 10 of his 16 submission victories have come by some variation of leg lock.
Like Aoki, Imanari is very limited as a standup fighter, making him much less imposing on the feet. Still, it is no secret where the slender Tokyo native wants to take a fight and what he wants to do once he gets there. As he recently told Bloody Elbow, Imanari loves leg locks “because it hurts the opponent.”
Continue Reading » The Thinker
8. Joe Lauzon
Lauzon is not your typical mixed martial artist. Before he shocked the world by knocking out Jens Pulver in his UFC debut, Lauzon was a full-time network administrator at Charles River Analytics in Cambridge, Mass., and a part-time fighter. In other words, Lauzon is just as capable of presiding over a Geek Squad powwow at Best Buy as he is of choking out someone in a grappling session. A computer science major at the Wentworth Institute of Technology, “J-Lau” did not begin training martial arts until he was a junior in high school.
Inside the cage, Lauzon does not perform like an introverted cubicle dweller. The 27-year-old’s aggressive style has earned him seven post-fight bonuses in just 12 UFC appearances. His most recent bonus came in unexpected fashion, as he rocked Melvin Guillard on the feet before finishing him with a rear-naked choke to earn “Submission of the Night” honors at UFC 136. His most recognized nickname of “J-Lau” is one of the worst in MMA today, but he prefers that to “Creepy Joe,” a moniker given to him by B.J. Penn during Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Based on facial features alone, Lauzon seems to fit better in a high school yearbook than a cage. “The only part of him that isn’t really athletic is his face,” Urijah Faber once told Yahoo Sports.
The Bridgewater, Mass., native has always made it clear he has other interests outside of fighting. While his Twitter account might be filled with numerous video game references, his game inside the Octagon is all-out action, all the time.
Continue Reading » Prodigious Ability
7. B.J. Penn
Genetics are both a blessing and a curse for Penn. The Hawaiian’s unique combination of natural athleticism and unnatural flexibility has enabled him to have one of the most illustrious careers in the history of the sport. His lack of serious muscular definition has always made him a target when he failed to meet expectations in his fights. The truth is Penn’s physique was never awe-inspiring, no matter the weight class. Even at 155 pounds, his most effective weight, “The Prodigy” was not going to steal any Men’s Health magazine covers from Sean Sherk.
In capturing championships at both lightweight and welterweight, Penn proved that popcorn muscles are overrated. At his best, Penn’s boxing was crisp and his jiu-jitsu top-notch. When he chose to use them in unison, he was nearly unstoppable. Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Sherk, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez, to name a few, have all fallen prey to Penn’s considerable skill set. Penn has not overcome every obstacle in his way. Twice he has fallen short against uber-athlete Georges St. Pierre, and, in a 2009 interview with Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole, he voiced some of his frustrations regarding the welterweight champion.
“He looks like that every day. That’s cheating,” Penn said. “There is a reason why there are rules against using steroids. The rest of us, we get fat, then we train and get skinny and the cycle goes over and over again. He looks the same way all the time.”
Penn may never have understood the GSP fitness regimen, but he has done just fine for himself doing things his own way.
Continue Reading » Belly of the Beast
6. Roy Nelson
When Nelson defeated Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson before a record audience on Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” he celebrated the win by asking for some Burger King. Coming from the man with perhaps the most famous midsection in all of MMA, it should not have been a surprise.
“Big Country” is adored by the beer league softball types who no doubt feel a kinship with a fighter whose gut and athletic prowess exceeds their own. Meanwhile, others view Nelson’s physique as gross negligence and are irritated by what they perceive as a waste of potential. UFC President Dana White has been on the fence regarding the ample-bellied heavyweight. Nelson’s attitude drew the ire of White on the reality show, but he has also expressed respect for the former International Fight League champion.
“You wonder what he could do if he really, really trained and got into it,” White mused following UFC 143, where Nelson was battered by Fabricio Werdum.
Nelson himself takes it all in stride. He recently vowed to drop to light heavyweight if he got 100,000 additional likes on his Facebook page during a two-week period. For now, however, prepare to hear Weird Al Yankovic’s rendition of “Fat” at least one more time: Nelson is expected to appear in a heavyweight bout at UFC 146. May the belly rubbing continue.
Continue Reading » Regular Guy
5. Kenny Florian
In his analyst’s chair, Florian is thoughtful and articulate without being condescending. He appears likeable and personable, giving off enough of a “regular guy” vibe that it is sometimes easy to see Florian as just another MMA fan. Then, there is that uncanny resemblance to comedic actor Ben Stiller.
None of the aforementioned attributes necessarily go hand-in-hand with being feared in caged combat, however, and after he was overwhelmed by Diego Sanchez at “The Ultimate Fighter 1” Finale, the expectations were not all that high for the rest of Massachusetts native’s career.
Of course, Florian competed at middleweight out of necessity. Once he was under contract with Zuffa LLC, he eventually moved to 155 pounds, and it was there that he began to physically resemble the high-level athlete he truly was. While “KenFlo” could never quite get over the championship hump, he proved himself talented enough to earn three title shots in two divisions -- twice at lightweight and once at featherweight. The damage Florian has done with his elbows inside the Octagon stands in stark contrast with his genial disposition outside of it. Recently, a back injury has put Florian’s fighting career in doubt.
“My health isn’t worth it,” Florian told the Sherdog Radio Network’s Beatdown Show. “I’m someone that when I want to do something, I want to do it 100 percent.”
Whether he comes back or not, his 100 percent turned out to be a lot better than many initially imagined.
Continue Reading » Gumby
4. Jeremy Horn
Horn walks into a bar, and the resident tough guys barely even blink. Horn steps into a mixed martial arts cage or ring, and he commands instant respect. Having a grand total of 115 fights on your official ledger -- although the true number is closer to 160 -- tends to have that effect.
Fighting professionally since 1996, Horn has beaten the likes of Chuck Liddell, Chael Sonnen (three times) and Forrest Griffin and gone the distance in defeat with the likes of Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Randy Couture. Horn’s chin was the stuff of legend -- it was not until his rematch with Liddell at UFC 54 that the man known as “Gumby” would be knocked down and out in a fight. To this day, only “The Iceman” and Matt Lindland own TKO victories over Horn.
As he made his way through the less-than-glamorous club and bar fight scene, many an opponent would regret agreeing to a fight the Omaha, Neb., native, even though his skin-and-bones frame sure looked ripe for the picking at weigh-ins. Even at 36 years old, Horn is still successful when he fights, as a 9-3 record since 2009 can attest. Finding fights these days tends to be a lot tougher; no one wants to tarnish his record against the cagey veteran.
“Jeremy can still beat the guys in the UFC,” Monte Cox, his manager, recently told Sherdog.com. “Jeremy has to find new motivation after 15 years and 100-some fights; and how long can you train for something? But he’s still dangerous, and he has all the tools.”
Continue Reading » Second Choice
3. Royce Gracie
In the mind of Art Davie, Royce Gracie was not even the top choice from his own family. The year was 1993, and Davie, along with Rorion Gracie, had put together an eight-man tournament to be broadcast on pay-per-view. Weight classes were non-existent. Rules were limited. It was not an event for the weak of stomach.
That is why Davie assumed that Rickson Gracie, who was older and stronger than Royce, was the natural choice to represent the renowned family in what would come to be known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s initial offering.
Sending all 175 pounds of the less-menacing Royce through the bracket would prove to be an even greater testament to the virtues of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, however. If someone had lined up all eight competitors side-by-side and taken bets on who would emerge victorious prior to UFC 1, only insiders with an intricate knowledge of BJJ might have wagered on Royce. That night, the future UFC hall of famer rolled through the competition, baffling his opponents with his grappling acumen. It would be a recurring theme for the next couple years, as Royce went unbeaten in his first 12 UFC fights, with a draw against Ken Shamrock at UFC 5 the only blemish on his record.
UFC analyst Joe Rogan has called Royce “the man who revolutionized martial arts,” a sentiment with which many fans would agree. Not bad for a guy who was not even supposed to be there when the UFC got started.
Continue Reading » Submission Savant
2. Shinya Aoki
Tennis bad boy Andre Agassi used to pitch cameras with the catchy, dual-purpose line, “Image is everything.” In mixed martial arts, having just the right look can add extra zeros to one’s bank account. No one exemplifies cultivating a badass persona like “Kimbo Slice,” who, with some clever marketing assistance, managed to dupe a decent amount of curious fight fans into believing he was one of the world’s best fighters. Thanks in no small part to Seth Petruzelli, that myth has long since been debunked.
The antithesis of this ideal is Aoki, Dream and Shooto champion and submission specialist extraordinaire. Of course, by the time you stop looking at his Skittles-themed pants and realize that the Japanese standout’s rubber guard is one of the most dangerous weapons in the sport, he has likely already elicited a tapout from yet another unsuspecting opponent.
The notorious rainbow paints are only the beginning. It would be difficult to guess that the Tokyo native, slender, unassuming and armed with less-than-marginal striking ability, is one of the world’s top lightweights. Aoki’s eyesight nearly kept him from competing in Shooto, but he chose to undergo LASIK surgery so he could remain with the promotion, hardly the type of story to strike fear in prospective opponents.
At no time in his MMA career did he appear less threatening than during an open workout with Masakazu Imanari at Deep Official Gym Impact on March 2, 2009. There, Aoki dressed up in a schoolgirl outfit, while Imanari was presumably his gym teacher. Can you imagine “Kimbo Slice” pulling that off? Not likely, but the YouTube sensation has never finished someone with a mounted gogoplata, either.
Continue Reading » Imperial Architect
1. Fedor Emelianenko
Give a novice MMA fan a picture of “The Last Emperor” and a picture of a heavyweight with an action-figure build like, say, Cheick Kongo. Then, ask him to match the fighter with the appropriate record. Based on looks alone, it is entirely possible that the resume of the man recognized by many as the greatest pound-for-pound competitor of all-time would be assigned to Kongo, an imposing specimen who has been a solid middle-of-the road heavyweight in the UFC.
Forget for a moment the recent three-fight losing streak that has robbed Emelianenko of some of the mystique that he spent the better part of a decade building. Here is a man who was essentially unbeaten -- save a hokey doctor’s stoppage loss to Tsuyoshi Kosaka -- from May 21, 2000 to June 26, 2010. During that time, the stoic Russian defeated the likes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Mirko Filipovic and Mark Hunt, to name a few. And he did it all while sporting a doughy physique that belied his killer instinct.
Emelianenko did not need washboard abs to accumulate what was essentially a 33-fight unbeaten streak, and his relatively placid demeanor added to the illusion that he would be an easy out on fight night. The reality is pre-fight theatrics and intimidation tactics have never been Emelianenko’s thing -- he always preferred to let his hands do the talking in the ring. Since his losses to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson, more people have called for a move to 205 pounds.
Emelianenko appears to be set in his ways as an undersized heavyweight, and that is just fine with his legion of loyal fans -- not only does his build make him deceptively dangerous, but it also makes him more appealing to the layman.
Honorable mentions: Igor Vovchanchyn, Jens Pulver, Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz, Miguel Torres, Kazushi Sakuraba.
I didn't have to read the full article since I'm at work and my break is over, but posted it here since I"m sure a few of you will find this interesting. Enjoy.