Professional wrestling and mixed-martial-arts have one crucial factor in common: the ability to sell a “fight” or a “match.” Everyone has heard the old wrestling saying, “talking fans into the building.” Well, that’s exactly what MMA fighters do. The only difference is the payoff in MMA is a legitimate fight with an outcome that is not predetermined. In many cases the build-up to get to the eventual showdown in MMA is as real as it is in professional wrestling. Anyone who has watched a number of MMA fights have witnessed two guys who talked prior to the bout as if their goal was to literally kill each other, embrace after the fight and talk about how their vicious pre-fight verbal exchanges were only done to “sell the fight.” It’s an art-form, and one that not everyone has the ability to execute.
In pro wrestling often guys are more “steak” than “sizzle.” Sometimes guys are more “sizzle” than “steak.” The guys who make the most money and achieve the most success are the one’s who have the right combination of both. The same goes for MMA. In pro wrestling you have guys who are basically all steak and almost no sizzle. Guys like Dean Malenko and Jeff Hardy. Great in the ring — not so get on the microphone. Then you have the opposite. You have guys who are almost all sizzle and no steak. Great on the microphone — not so great in the ring. Guys like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan. Then you have guys who have the perfect combination of both. Guys like CM Punk and Chris Jericho. The MMA counterparts to guys who fall under the Malenko and Hardy category are fighters such as current UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez and current UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. They are as good as it gets in the cage, but their post-fight interviews leave a lot to be desired.
With this Saturday being the UFC’s 20th anniversary event, it feels like a good time to take a look back at some of the colorful characters in MMA history who at one time or another would have made a seamless transition into the world of professional wrestling. So today we are going to take a look at some of the MMA fighters who at one time or another fit in the Punk and Jericho category. They can “talk people into the building” and then deliver (or in their prime could deliver) once the bell rings. Below are a list of guys who have the perfect combination of steak and sizzle.
#10. Rashad Evans
Anyone who saw the pre-fight build to the Rashad Evans vs. Jon Jones, or especially the Evans vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson fights knows that “Suga” belongs on this list. For the most part, Evans is a lighthearted, fun-loving individual. When the right opponent strikes the right nerve, however, “Suga” is anything but sweet.
Evans and Rampage had one of the most memorable and successful seasons in Ultimate Fighter history due to their heated rivalry. The Evans-Jones dynamic was one of a friendship and training-partner association turned ugly. When the situation calls for it, Evans can talk trash with the best of them. When the bell rings, he’s as good as it gets. Evans is a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and winner of season two of The Ultimate Fighter, with a pro-MMA record of 18-3-1.
#9. Frank Shamrock
Few people understand the psychology behind a personal issue more than Frank Shamrock. The adopted brother of UFC Hall Of Famer and former WWE Superstar Ken Shamrock has been in some vicious rivalries throughout his legendary MMA career.
The best example of Shamrock’s promotional work can be seen in a match he had with “The New York Bad Ass” Phil Baroni late in his career. Shamrock knew that Baroni was almost the prime example of all sizzle and no steak, so he made sure the build-up to the fight delivered as much as humanly possible. And it did. During the actual fight, Shamrock did everything imaginable to put on a show in the cage, as he dominated Baroni with ease en route to a rear-naked-choke submission finish in the second round. Anyone who watched the fight remembers the moment Shamrock blasted Baroni with a punch, and then did the “you’re going to sleep” hand-signal, ala CM Punk before hitting a GTS. Shamrock followed that hand-signal up with another big punch that put Baroni on the floor.
As far as steak is concerned, Shamrock is considered the original mixed-martial-artist, blending all forms of martial arts into one. He is the first ever UFC Middleweight Champion (which technically became the UFC Light Heavyweight Title) and pretty much single-handedly put the Strikeforce promotion on the map. Shamrock retired with a pro-MMA record of 23-10-2.
#8. Tito Ortiz
In the early days of the Zuffa-owned Ultimate Fighting Championship, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was basically the entire promotion. His rivalry with The Lion’s Den was the stuff of legend. He would defeat members of the Lion’s Den and then wear a trademark t-shirt after the fight. After defeating Guy Mezger to avenge his first career loss, he wore a shirt that infamously read, “Gay Mezger is my bitch.” He had the post-fight gravedigger routine, complete with the double-bird to the losing corner, a spot that ignited his feud with Ken Shamrock.
The Ortiz-Shamrock rivalry can be pointed to as the one feud that dug UFC out of the dirt, dusted it off, and got it ready to become the mainstream sports attraction that it is viewed as today. UFC 40 in November of 2002 was the first Zuffa-owned show that delivered an impressive pay-per-view buyrate. The two would go on to fight each other a total of three times, with Ortiz smashing Shamrock each time, and the two of them smashing PPV and television ratings records along the way.
Ortiz had another classic rivalry with “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell, who for all intents and purposes, became the guy Ortiz passed the UFC torch to. The two would fight twice, with the first fight being delayed and giving Randy Couture a chance to become a household name. They coached an epic season of The Ultimate Fighter after their previous two battles, only for Ortiz to be accused of fearing Liddell so much that he refused to fight him again when he had to pull out of the fight half-way through the reality-show season due to injury.
Tito Ortiz is a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion with a pro-MMA record of 16-11-1.
#7. Michael Bisping
Michael Bisping has all the makings of a great late-1990s-style Bret Hart heel. He’s arguably the most hated UFC fighter in the United States, yet in his home country of England, where he almost single-handedly put UFC on the map as a mainstream attraction, he is beloved from one end of the country to the other.
Bisping won season three of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, a season where he had his first major rivalry with the deaf-MMA fighting star Matt Hamill. Bisping accused his coach on the show that season, Tito Ortiz, of showing favortism to Hamill. The two would meet after the show at UFC 75 live on Spike TV in one of the most debated decisions in modern-day UFC history. Bisping picked up that controversial decision that night and continued on to ignite bigger and more vicious rivalries as his career moved forward.
Bisping and Jorge Rivera had a rivalry that will go down as one of the best ever. The pre-fight antics from both sides was a fight-fans dream. The two hated each other so much that they got into a scuffle at the weigh-ins prior to the bout. That was only the beginning. After Bisping defeated Rivera via second-round TKO in their UFC 127 showdown, he spit in the Rivera corner and ended up getting suspended by the UFC as a result.
Bisping would go on to another heated rivalry with the star of MTV’s Bully Beatdown, Jason “Mayhem” Miller. The two coach opposite each other during The Ultimate Fighter season 14, with plenty of antics from both sides throughout the show. Bisping defeated Mayhem in their fight at The Ultimate Fighter 14 live finale via third-round TKO.
Michael Bisping is a former winner of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, with a pro-MMA record of 24-5.
#6. Frank Mir
Frank Mir would transition into the world of professional wrestling without breaking a sweat. He has an ability to get under the skin of his opponents unlike anyone in the history of the sport. His pre-fight interviews come off as cocky and arrogant, yet when the bell rings, he can back those words up. Anyone who witnessed his epic two-fight rivalry with Brock Lesnar knows exactly what I’m talking about. The guy just has a way about him that irritates the hell out of people. It’s the perfect recipe for a classic pro wrestling heel.
Mir’s most recent performance, a loss to former UFC Heavyweight Josh Barnett, was also a cool little grudge match. He had a rivalry of sorts with Wes Sims during the early days of the Zuffa-owned UFC, and has made for a great coach on The Ultimate Fighter reality show. He has done work as a broadcaster for the UFC and the WEC, because the guy quite simply put has a sharp tongue. He can talk with the best of ’em.
Mir is a former UFC Heavyweight Champion who holds a current pro-MMA record of 16-8.
#5. Josh Barnett
Josh Barnett is one of few people on this list who has actually had a successful career in pro wrestling already. Barnett has worked as a top star in the New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) organization, to the delight of millions of Japanese pro wrestling fans. He’s one of the few people who has trained under the legendary Billy Robinson. His style in the cage would actually transition easily into the world of professional wrestling. He uses a lot of slams and wrestling holds, and is one of the best submission grapplers in the history of heavyweight mixed-martial arts.
Barnett is a former UFC Heavyweight Champion who has an amazing ability to cut a promo and sell a fight. Much like Mir, Barnett is a legitimately successful heavyweight who can hold his own in the verbal part of the sport. He has been around as long as any current MMA fighter still competing today, and remains at the top level of the sport.
Barnett holds a pro-MMA record of 33-6, and is still very much in the UFC Heavyweight Championship picture.
#4. Ken Shamrock
“The World’s Most Dangerous” man holds the rare distinction of being the only person on this list to have competed, successfully I might add, in WWE. He had a great run in the 1990s during the early stages of the infamous “Attitude Era.” At the time, Shamrock was considered one of the best MMA fighters on the planet. Not anymore.
Since his WWE run, Shamrock has been turned into what is basically viewed by fans as a tomato can. Shamrock was used by the UFC to launch legitimate star-level fighters into superstar status. UFC built Tito Ortiz into a mega-star on the back of Shamrock and used Shamrock to give a rub to former UFC Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin in the live finale of the first season The Ultimate Fighter reality show.
Since leaving the UFC, Shamrock has been getting knocked by fighters who will probably never reach the UFC level in mixed-martial-arts. Following his third knockout in five fights after leaving the UFC, Shamrock has remained relatively quiet in the MMA world. Well, unless you consider some random “Twitter Wars” with the UFC president Dana White. Shamrock has popped up in the wrestling headlines a few times recently, appearing to be lobbying for a gig in WWE once again. Whether or not that materializes into one final run, remains to be seen.
Ken Shamrock hasn’t fought since 2010, and holds a pro-MMA record of 28-16-2.
#3. Josh Koscheck
Josh Koscheck knows the game as well as anybody in the business today. He has all the makings of a true pro wrestling heel. His feuds with the likes of Diego Sanchez (the originator of the “Yes!” chant we hear in WWE on a regular basis today), Paul Daley and Georges St-Pierre have resulted in blockbuster success for the UFC. The Daley rivalry was only one fight, but a fight that resulted in the lifetime UFC ban of Daley. Koscheck defeated Daley with ease via unanimous decision back in 2010, but angered him so much to the point that Daley took a swing at Koscheck after the fight was over.
Koscheck knew going into his feud with the beloved Georges St-Pierre that he was going to be the bad guy in the eyes of the public. Many fighters in this position will still try and get the fans on their side. Not Koscheck. He knows the game better than that. If they’re going to dislike him, he’s going to do everything in his power to make them hate him with a passion. He did just that on his season as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, where he and GSP were the opposing coaches. After the season, he went into GSP territory, getting boo’d as if he were the devil himself by thousands of Canadian fans.
Josh Koscheck is a former two-time UFC Welterweight Title contender who currently holds a pro-MMA record of 17-7.
#2. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is the modern day MMA version of the great Muhammad Ali. Few fighters can touch Jackson in the charisma department, and even fewer can cut a promo as well as the wild brawler known as “Rampage.”
Jackson grew up in Memphis a big pro wrestling fan, and admittedly idolized WWE Hall Of Famer The Junkyard Dog. Where do you think his trademark chain came from? He has dabbled in the pro wrestling world as a former “guest host” of WWE RAW and a current member of the TNA roster. He has admitted many times in the past, including in an interview with yours truly, that he would like to enter the world of pro wrestling on a legitimate basis when his legendary MMA career concludes. He’s got all the tools to succeed in pro wrestling, in my opinion, as well as he has in the fight-world.
Rampage has had some fierce rivalries in MMA. His three-fight series with Wanderlei Silva will go down in history. His feud with Rashad Evans on season ten of The Ultimate Fighter is about as good as a pre-fight show gets. His recent war of words with Jon Jones helped cement “Bones” as a legitimate MMA superstar. Rampage gets it.
Quinton Jackson is a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion who currently holds a pro-MMA record of 32-11.
#1. Chael Sonnen
Chael P. Sonnen. The American Gangster. Prior to Sonnen’s bout with Nate Marquardt at UFC 109 in early 2010, few had any idea who the guy was. Hardcore MMA fans knew Sonnen as a great amateur wrestler who often had boring “lay-and-pray” style fights. Since then, the last possible word you would use to describe Sonnen is “boring.”
Sonnen put himself on the map during his infamous rivalry with arguably the best fighter in the history of the sport: Anderson “The Spider” Silva. Sonnen shocked the world with his pre-fight trash talking of Silva, as he literally held nothing back during the promotion of their first meeting in 2010, when Sonnen earned the shot at Silva after his unexpected victory over Marquardt. Sonnen realized that few knew who he was, and that even fewer gave him a chance at beating Silva. Basically, Sonnen knew that nobody cared about him as a title contender. So what did he do? He made them care.
Sonnen pulled out every insult in the book, and ripped off more pro wrestlers’ old promos along the way, to the point that everyone was shocked at what was coming out of his mouth. When the fight came on August 7, 2010, even more were shocked at what they saw. Sonnen became the first man to win a round against Silva in the champion’s previous 11 fights inside the UFC octagon. You could almost feel the disbelief floating through the air during the first meeting as Sonnen would drop Silva standing, and beat the living hell out of him on the ground for four straight rounds. In the fifth round, everything was going the same way, until Silva proved why he’s considered the best of all-time. Silva, with just over one minute remaining in a 25 minute fight that he was being dominated in, pulled off a triangle choke and forced Sonnen to tap out. The two would meet again in July of 2012 in a fight that outside of the milestone UFC 100 event, sold more pay-per-views than any fight in UFC history.
Sonnen knows how to sell a fight, and more importantly, how to sell himself to the public. His verbal abilities are so superior that when UFC landed their FOX network television deal, FOX executives quickly jumped on the bandwagon and hired him to serve as an analyst and host for multiple programs. Sonnen has made headlines in the pro wrestling world with rumors of his interest in buying WWE, as well as his friendship with top WWE Superstar CM Punk. When Sonnen hangs up the gloves and ends his MMA career, it’s almost a guarantee that every pro wrestling promotion from one end of North America to the other will be begging for his services.
Chael Sonnen is a former two-time UFC Middleweight Title contender, a former UFC Light Heavyweight Title contender, and currently holds a pro-MMA record of 28-13-1.
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NOTE: The above item is an eWrestlingNews.com opinionated editorial, and should not be confused as a factual news item. Readers can contact the author of the above editorial, Matt Boone, via Twitter @MBoone420 or by posting your immediate feedback in the “Comments” section below.