One of the things that makes MMA such a compelling sport is the fact that it is an amalgamation of dozens of martial arts. However, there are some fighters who are so skilled in one particular discipline that despite their status as mixed martial artists, they can be considered specialists. Here are four such martial artists:
Ben Askren – Wrestling
Olympic Wrestler Ben Askren from the Evolve Fight Team is a fighter whose name has dominated recent headlines. He was recently traded from ONE Championship to the UFC in a blockbuster, never-seen-before move. Askren was the Bellator MMA Welterweight World Champion prior to joining ONE Championship, where he quickly accomplished the same feat.
Askren, 34, is undefeated in MMA. His record stands at 18-0 with one no contest, largely thanks to his unwavering pressure and dominant wrestling skills.
Prior to competing in MMA, Askren was a prolific wrestler at the high school, collegiate, and international levels.
In high school, Askren was a two-time state champion in his native Wisconsin, but he continued his wrestling career at the University of Missouri. There, he was a two-time NCAA National Champion, as well as a two-time national runner-up. In his junior and senior seasons, Askren went undefeated with a staggering 87-0 record over those two years.
Internationally, Askren qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics after winning at the U.S. team trials. This was especially impressive given that he qualified in freestyle despite competing in folkstyle for the bulk of his career.
In addition to his long list of accolades, Askren’s height is another factor that has established him as one of the best wrestlers in MMA. His tall and lanky build allows him to move in ways many shorter, stockier wrestlers in his weight class cannot. Likewise, his unorthodox “funky” style allows him to do things many traditional wrestlers cannot. This style, coupled with his dominant position control, has caused Ben Askren to be one of the best wrestlers in MMA.
Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke – Muay Thai
Muay Thai World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke from the Evolve Fight Team is a generational talent in the art of Muay Thai. Dejdamrong’s Muay Thai training began at a young age when his father introduced him to the sport. From then on, he would play fight with neighborhood friends in the streets. He even took instructions from his childhood P.E. teacher at school.
At the age of 12, Amnuaysirichoke moved to his trainer’s home and began a much more arduous training regimen. He would practice kicks ceaselessly on a cloth cover tied around a tree and spar with the oldest, biggest partners he could find.
During a career that spanned over two decades, Dejdamrong amassed a record of 282-65. He also won numerous accolades. He became a 3x Muay Thai World Champion, a Thailand National Champion, an Omnoi Champion and a Shell Rimula Tournament Champion.
After moving to MMA later in life, Dejdamrong continued finding success thanks to his Muay Thai background and he became the inaugural ONE Strawweight World Championship.
Dejdamrong’s lightning speed and creative striking allowed him to excel in the realms of both Muay Thai and MMA. His patented aggression provided fans with technical, exciting, and legendary fights inside both the ring and the cage.
When all is said and done, Amnuaysirichoke will go down as one of the greatest Muay Thai fighters to compete in MMA.
Demian Maia – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Demian Maia is perhaps one of the greatest grapplers to ever live, let alone compete in MMA. He first began training in BJJ at 19, soon joining the legendary Fabio Gurgel at Alliance in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Maia became a black belt in four years and seven months, one of the quickest times in which anyone has reached the rank.
The Brazilian was a standout competitor in the world of competitive BJJ, winning countless tournaments as a colored belt. This trend continued into his career as a black belt.
Maia is a three-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Olympic Confederation (CBJJO) World Cup champion, a CBJJ Brazilian National Team Champion, and an ADCC gold (2007) and silver (2005) medalist.
In addition to his many medals and championships, Maia has also competed against some the greatest grapplers ever, including Ronaldo “Jacaré” Souza, Rafael Lovato Jr., Romulo Barral, Marcelo Garcia, Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, “Xande” Ribeiro, Saulo Ribeiro, and many others.
In MMA competitions, Maia fights for the UFC. With a professional record of 25-9, 12 of Maia’s wins have come by way of submission. Six of these 12 submissions have also earned Maia “Performance of the Night” honors.
Whenever you talk about the greatest grapplers in MMA history, Demian Maia is sure to top the list.
Lyoto Machida – Karate
In MMA, the Gracie family is touted as a martial arts dynasty due to the family’s long and storied relationship with BJJ. Similarly, the Machida family is a dynasty in the art of karate.
Lyoto Machida, 40, grew up training in karate from the age of three. His father, Yoshizo, was a master of Shotokan karate, and he was the head of the Brazilian branch of the Japan Karate Association.
At 13, Machida received his black belt. Along the way, he won dozens of amateur karate tournaments, most notably the 2001 Pan American Karate tournament. In a surprising twist, Machida once faced his brother, Chinzo, at one such karate tournament.
After transitioning to MMA, Machida relied on – and succeeded largely because of – his karate base. He combined the traditional, rangy style of a sideways karate stance with his tendency to fight southpaw.
Machida used these tactics and his karate style to amass a 24-8 record in MMA, with 10 knockouts to his name.
Among these knockouts are wins over the legendary former UFC World Champion Randy Couture, top contenders Ryan Bader and Mark Muñoz, and the fight that earned Machida the UFC Light Heavyweight World title, a win over Rashad Evans.
Most recently, Machida returned from a prolonged USADA suspension and knocked out Vitor Belfort with his trademark front kick.
Since then, Machida has signed with Bellator MMA. He will look to reassert his storied karate supremacy with a win over former champion, Rafael Carvalho, in Hawaii.
In a sport as versatile and layered as MMA, a fighter who can go above and beyond one particular discipline of martial arts gains an unmatched advantage.
Ben Askren’s wrestling, Demian Maia’s BJJ, Lyoto Machida’s karate, and Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke’s Muay Thai are all examples of this advantage.