Worst To Best: Brawlers

MMA UK’s resident MMApedia, JB, has contributed to the new “Worst To Best” series. Take a look!


Despite what we all claim while sipping brandy, reading Tolstoy and stroking absurdely large cats we all love a good brawl. After all, the brawler goes in there with the most visceral and yet peerlessly stupid tactic imaginable: I’ll let him hit me so I can hit him!

As absurd as it is it seems to work for some fighters. Some fighters manage to use their frankly inhuman toughness to break their opponent’s will only to knock them out or submit them after taking brutal amounts of punishment. Today we’re going to look over some of these fighters to find the toughest sluggers imaginable and the Glass Joes who should really take a long look at their records and have a little think.

Now, to lay some ground rules down here, this will be based on where the fighter is at now but will take their career history into account as well. If the fighter switched styles to or from brawling at some point the effect this had on their career will also be accounted for.

Honourable Mentions

 “Ice Cold” Igor Vovchanchyn – I decided to include his nick name not only because it kicks so much ass but also because it perfectly describes Vovchancyn’s demeanor in the ring. Much like Fedor but without the ground game, timing and strategy Vovchanchyn was iconic back in the day for knocking people absolutely silly with the biggest, most ridiculous punches ever thrown (not counting pub brawls in Ireland). He’s perhaps best known for being massacred by knees courtesy of Mark Coleman, being ragdolled by “Rampage” Jackson or nearly losing his head against Alistair Overeem but I choose to remember him for the delivering the greatest KO in MMA history.

Unfortunately he’s kept off the actual list due to inactivity and also because he’s not a pure brawler in the same sense as the other guys on this list.

Tank Abbott – The man some say started it all, Tank Abbot became massively popular after his stint in the early days of the UFC, sporting some great knock outs and some terrifying defeats at the hands of people exploiting his open, take-one-to-give-one strategy. Seriously, it feels almost pointless to talk about this guy, everyone seems to have seen one of his fights! Let’s celebrate his legacy with a grainy montage set to some terrible music.

Tank will have to be content with an honourable mention though due to his inactivity and the obsolete version of his brawling; it kind of worked back then but it certainly doesn’t work now.

Don Frye – This guy get’s an honourable mention for no other reason than his fight with Takayama. Best brawl ever? Is Criminal Minds the funniest show on TV? The answer to both those questions really have nothing to do with anything so let’s just watch, shall we?

So why isn’t he on the list? Like the other two here he’s fallen out of relevancy in later years but has left one hell of a legacy.

Now, with those out of the way we move on to the actual list.

The Worst: James Thompson – Looking at this English giant you’d probably say he has all the tools he needs to be a great brawler. Then again, you’d probably say the new Star Wars movies were good so you’re not to be trusted anyway. Thompson is big and strong, this is true. He could probably knock you out cold whenever he wanted to, I’ll concede that. Problem is that he’s got a glass jaw and a gas tank filled with sugar and marmite, which you’d once again think would deter him from just rushing straight in and getting knocked out in mere seconds, but once again you have to go and praise CSI: Miami for it’s storytelling in the next breath so jog on.

The face every child makes when told the truth about Santa. Bad timing Big Dan.

Ok, this might sound pretty damn harsh – how bad could he really be at brawling? The answer?

Pretty bad.

How brawling has served him: after amassing a couple of wins in the minor leagues Thompson entered Pride FC in 2004 where he spent some time opening cans. After that he lost 11 of his next 15, most of which came by knock-out. I guess the answer is not well at all.
The Bad: Jorge Gurgel – I call him the man with the worst gameplan in the world for a reason. This man is a black belt in jiu jitsu and yet for about four years we haven’t seen him show it, instead opting to trade with every opponent he faces leading to some pretty bad losses in fights he very well could’ve won had he decided to strike properly instead of going in guns blazing. The problem here is that while Gurgel is pretty tough he’s nowhere near as tough as he’d need to be for this to be a viable strategy. He also doesn’t have the kind of knock-out power necessary and his striking tends to be sloppy even by slugger standards. To his credit he knows what pays the bills so it’s not shocking to see him go for this style as most fans find it entertaining but to me it’s just sad. This guy could have, and indeed had, much more success with a gameplan that didn’t involve getting punched in the face and if there’s ever been a fighter who’s above brawling it’s this guy. The guy’s trained Dustin Hazelett for god’s sake!

Bet you never thought you'd see this again

How brawling has served him: since moving more and more into the style in 2006 Gurgel has garnered two Fight of the Night honours, been cut from the UFC and lost four out of his last five fights. That one win was against Conor Heun. Yeah. His last fight also saw him try to brawl with KJ Noons, an accomplished striker. Guess I spoiled how that went, huh?


 The Good: Takanori Gomi – This one was tough to call but I had to give it to Gomi for two reasons, the first one being that he has almost everything he needs. He’s got a rock solid chin, tons of speed, decent wrestling and grappling and arguably the heaviest hands in the sport pound for pound, all of which helped make him the concensus #1 Lightweight in the world at one point. However, the second reason is his will, which is unfortunately the first to break. As soon as Gomi ran into a brick wall he started to fade and bouncing back from losses has always seemed difficult for Gomi since he lost his aura of invincibility.
Believe me if he hits you on the chin you’re going down, just ask Tyson Griffin, but if you can avoid the brawl and make him miss Gomi rarely has a plan B and will likely break. The Gomi of yesterday was easily one of the best brawlers of all time but when the losses came rolling in he showed weaknessess that made me question how suitable he really is as a brawler and how much better he could be as a technical striker.

Even as early as that a technical striker like Sakurai was doing pretty well until he made the mistake that let Gomi win the fight. While Gomi can be an awesome brawler I feel that by mixing his strategy up a bit and by working on his mental game – which as we all know is 90% of the fight – he can once again become great. He has all the tools after all.

How brawling has served him: Former Pride FC Lightweight champion and baddest mofo on the planet in that division between 2004-2006. Has since been figured out by his opponents, first by Marcus Aurelio, followed by Nick Diaz until he was completely destroyed by Kenny Florian. He’s recently spoken of rethinking his training so hopefully we’ll see the Fireball Kid rise again.

The Great: Chan Sung Jung – I remember seeing this kid for the first time in Sengoku’s Featherweight tournament fighting Masanori Kanehara and being amazed not only by the racially motivated robberry he suffered at the hands of the Japanese judges but also by his amazing tenacity. No matter where you take the fight this young Korean slugger will come right back at you; you punch him and he’ll punch you twice as hard, never slowing down. His ground game is also rock solid often using his crazed striking offense to set up a submission and certainly not being a slouch off his back if you should happen to knock him down.

He gained international fame through yet another prime-time robberry that may or may not be attributed to racism as much as just plain insanity after his amazing, underline amazing, fight against Leonard Garcia at WEC 48: Aldo vs Faber earlier this year, which still kind of, sort of makes him undefeated so well done Jung!

Now that's a burgeoning bromance if I ever saw one

 So what makes this guy such a good fit for the brawler style? Well first of all he never stops attacking. Ever. He rolls with punches like crazy and combined with his insane chin it’s earned him the nickname “The Korean Zombie” which sums up his style. He also hits like a freight train and has very solid submissions once on the ground. He overwhelms his opponents until they can’t keep up and are forced to either make a desperate move or just lay down and wait for the end. Few fighters can pull that off consistantly and few are so entertaining doing it. Just enjoy this awesome highlight video and see for yourselves.

Considering that this kid isn’t more than 23 years old the sky is truly the limit for him. He made me a fan back in Sengoku and if his fight against such a tough guy like Garcia is any indication we’re in for a treat everytime he fights.

How brawling has served him: A record of 12-2 where every win is by stoppage and both losses are questionable speaks for itself. Keep up the good work!

 The Best: Chris Leben – Narrowing it down to the top spot was no easy feat so in the end I just asked myself the question “Who comes to mind as soon as someone mentions the term ‘Brawler’?”. The answer, quite simply, is the guy who goes toe to toe against anyone; who knocks you out when he himself is on the verge of being knocked out; who takes high profile fights on ridiculous notice out of a passion for combat and who just won’t go away.
Chris Leben embodies brawling. When he’s in the cage it’s always just a matter of time. Many complain that he’s one dimensional (despite him constantly showing decent submission skills off his back) and always comes in using the same strategy, which I rebuke with the old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Leben has been in there with the best, hell the only guy to knock him out that I can recall is the current champ and pound for pound contender Anderson Silva, and more often than not performs well when he can draw his opponent into a brawl, something he usually accomplishes.


What Leben has to his advantage isn’t just a titanium chin, nukes for fists or a resolve that will break all but the most stoic of fighters but also something more subtle and insidious: He has an incredibly punchable face. Every opponent who gets in there with him seem to at some point or another get a sudden urge to just beat his face into mush and whenever this happens there’s always an overhand left waiting for them.

While his personality can be grating and his style anything but cerebral we can all do with some Chris Leben every now and then. In a way he embodies toughness and it’s always fun to see him fight. OK, maybe not when he’s fighting Bisping.

How brawling has served him: Chris Leben is currently one of the most popular fighters in the UFC despite never holding a title. He’s got an extensive knock-out reel and despite a rocky career at times he’s never at risk with the company due to his exciting fights. While he may not have the record that Chan Sung Jung has he practically embodies this style of fighting and truthfully I can’t think of anyone who does it better.


Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s