Mixed martial arts has had its share of superstars over the years, and many of them are now well-recognized by hardcore fans and casuals alike. However, while these men and women have been credited for the amazing rise of MMA over the past decade or so, there have many others who have given fans memorable moments they will never forget. Moments that helped to push MMA into the mainstream.
Now, mixed martial arts has taken its rightful place as the most popular combat sport in the world. Let’s reflect back to the beginning and recognize some of the most skilled MMA fighters who never quite received the recognition or respect they deserve.
1) Dominick Cruz
Currently sporting a 22-2 record, Cruz is one of the most talented fighters that has ever stepped inside a cage. He holds wins against the likes of Demetrious Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw. Cruz is extremely well versed in all the different facets of mixed martial arts and his only two losses come against elite competition.
Hardcore MMA fans are well aware of how skilled Cruz his, but there are many new fans who only know him as a guy that hosts MMA shows.
2) Joseph Benavidez
Here is another MMA fighter who has displayed elite level skills throughout his career, yet he isn’t exactly one of the biggest stars in the sport. He holds a 27-5 record with four of his losses coming against two of the best fighters in the history of the 135-pound division.
Benavidez is good enough to beat anyone in his weight class, and he’s earned himself a few title shots during his career. Unfortunately for him, he has not been able to secure gold when he’s had the opportunity. That is probably one of the reasons why many fans barely know who he is despite the fact he’s been around for a long time and he’s always been one of the best.
If Demetrious Johnson and Dominick Cruz never existed, Benavidez would likely have been the first two-division champ in the UFC. That’s how good he is, but only the most dedicated fans know this.
Benavidez’ story is far from over though, the veteran has once again worked himself into title contention and he will be getting another shot at UFC gold pretty soon.
Still, Benavidez is one of the most underrated fighters in UFC history.
3) Clay Guida
Without a doubt, the brass at ZUFFA certainly love Clay Guida. He’s one of those guys that helped to build the sport. Guida has a contagious energy about him that makes it impossible for you to take your eyes off him when he fights.
He’s constantly moving forward, going for takedowns, scrambling or pounding away at his opponents. His fighting style made him one of the most entertaining fighters in UFC history, earning him nine performance awards and a Fight of The Year award in 2007 for his epic battle against Roger Huerta. If you have not watched that fight, you’re missing out on some good action.
Guida has earned the respect of hardcore MMA fans many times over, but his career path seemed to hit a downward slope as the sport became mainstream. While Guida’s entertaining fights helped bring in the mainstream audience, he does not get the credit he deserves for his role in all this.
4) Jon Fitch
There are two main things that kept Jon Fitch from becoming a huge mixed martial arts star during his prime. Many fans did not enjoy his wrestling-heavy style and he was unlucky enough to be stuck in the same division with Georges St. Pierre during his prime in the UFC.
Fitch never really got along with the UFC’s brass, so he certainly wasn’t getting a push from them either.
Fitch looked unstoppable during his first seven fights in the UFC, dominating all of his opponents. It earned him a shot at GSP, but Fitch ended up falling short. He went on to dominate all he faced afterward before losing to Johny Hendricks and Maia, but he never earned a second chance at GSP.
Regardless of any criticism people have about his fighting style, he remains one of the best welterweights in MMA history.
5) Brock Lesnar
You might be surprised to find Lesnar here, but give us a chance to explain. Sure, Lesnar has had steroids allegations surrounding him ever since his failed attempt to get in the National Football League, but his accomplishments inside the cage or on the wrestling mat cannot be taken away from him.
After a successful career as a WWE superstar, Lesnar dove into mixed martial arts. Many were expecting the big brute from fake wrestling to be quickly put in his place when he squared off against real fighters, but that is not what happened.
Lesnar won the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s heavyweight title a little over a year after his MMA debut. He successfully defended it two times before losing it to Cain Velasquez (who remains one of the top heavyweights in the world). He did all this while battling a life-threatening condition called mononucleosis. Who knows what his MMA career would have been like if he didn’t get sick.
Lesnar’s accomplishments will likely not be surpassed anytime soon, yet most MMA fans still view him as a sideshow attraction and not a real MMA fighter.
Guess what everyone, he is a real fighter. As real as it gets!
Notable mentions: Miesha Tate, Frank Shamrock, Raphael Assunção, Yves Edwards and Jake Shields.