Looking at fighters today, we know that they are more then just a person that gets into a cage/ring wanting to beat someone up. We know that they are not just some tough guy/gal off the street trying to prove how a much of a badass they are. The fighters are highly trained, highly disciplined, and highly motivated. A fighter is frequently broken down by the style in which he prefers to fight. Some come from a wrestling background, or a karate background, and some are getting out of the gate as being well-versed in every aspect of fighting. There is another aspect to these combatants that is often over-looked. That aspect is, what kind of combatant is the person stepping in to compete? Is he a true fighter, athlete, or competitor at heart?
This is strictly my opinion, but I feel that Mixed Martial Artists generally fall into three categories. As stated above, the categories are fighter, athlete, and competitor. The fighter is the person that has a fire in them that can truly only be quenched through fighting. There is an intense spark in their eye that can be seen while they engage in combat. They love to be in that moment, and thrive off of exchanging strikes and trying to make the other guy know that win, loss, or draw, they were in fight. The athlete is the person that has natural a speed, quickness, strength, and ability to translate their talent into any sport they choose to participate in. Often times the athlete has a background in another physical sport such as wrestling, football, etc. and has made the switch to MMA as a venue to display their athletic prowess. The competitor is the person that enjoys MMA as a way to test themselves. They are not necessary the stud wrestler in college looking for another sport. They are not the people that would push back if shoved at random. They like to see what they are made of, and traditional sports were not in the cards for them. With this being established, which fighters fit into which category?
Let’s start with the Fighter category; in this spot I see guys like BJ Penn, Nick and Nate Diaz, Donald Cerrone, Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez just to name a few. The Diaz brothers truly have the “anytime, anywhere” mentality when it comes to fighting, whether it be in the cage or in the streets. BJ Penn loves to “just scrap” and has proven to fight anyone at any weight class, simply for the sake of the enjoyment of fighting. Besides stating that he likes getting paid, Cerrone fought 4 times last year, stepping up to any challenger even when he was not originally scheduled for the event. Although I am not fans of both of these guys, Sanchez and Melendez bring it in every fight and one can tell they are not trying to win based off of points, they want to finish it in devastating fashion. In the case of the Fighter category, these guys seem like they not only want to stop their opponents, they would not lose any sleep if they truly hurt them.
In the Athlete category, I place names like GSP, Brock Lesnar, Matt Hughes, Brandon Schaub, Phil Davis, and Ryan Bader as some examples. GSP and Brock Lesnar are extraordinary athletes that excel in a combat sport. GSP is so naturally talented that he has quickly become arguably the best wrestler in MMA with no wrestling background that can be traced back to college or high school. Lesnar was a stud wrestler in college, and was athletic enough to provide a decent showing when trying out for the NFL. Schaub was a professional football player, and allowed his natural gifts to flourish in MMA. Like Brock Lesnar, Davis and Bader were collegiate stand-outs in wrestling, and have found a great deal of success in MMA based off of athleticism alone. This category is really defined as guys that can, and have, stood out in other sports and have found success with MMA. However, it seems like that natural fight in them is hard to bring out, as if a push is needed to see them want to act a violent manner in the cage. GSP, Lesnar and the likes have shown flashes of that violence, but with the Athlete, it seems like when backed into a corner or if the fight does not go their way, in-ring confidence fades much quicker as opposed to the guys in the Fighter category.
With the Competitor category, I see a lot of blue collar workers like Forrest Griffin, Rich Franklin, The Miller brothers, Brian Stann, Kenny Florian, Joe Lauzon, and Michael Bisping. Besides Florian with soccer, none of these guys that I would place here stand out as a natural athlete, or have the natural violent tendencies as defined in the Fighter category. Granted there are some flash T/KOs and subs here, most of these guys are gamers that rely on a will to get the win, or an even greater will to not lose. They lack almost always lack at least one if not a few things that the other categories possess; speed, strength, KO power, or killer instinct. What they lack in those departments they make up for in an incredible work ethic and determination that carries them through their careers. Griffin is slow and not known for his vicious KO power, but was proclaimed by many, Randy Couture included, as being the hardest working guy in the gym. Rich Franklin had no real martial arts training or excelled at any other sport, but was a natural competitor that shined because of his desire to win. These are the guys that can have a difficult time ending a fight on their terms, but have succeeded as a result of hard work and grit.
With these categories being said, I also feel that there are some hybrids in the mix. Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, Rhonda Rousey, Rory MacDonald and Chuck Liddell are fighters I feel dip into both the Athlete and the Fighter categories. Guys like Chris Leben, Miguel Torres, Martin Kampmann, and Roger Huerta I see as having the qualities of a Fighter and Competitor. Gray Maynard, Clay Guida, Jon Fitch, and Johnny Hendricks seem to relate to both the Athlete and Competitor styles. As I was writing this and thinking about it more, there were all sorts of anomalies, gray areas, and even sub-categories, but I still feel that the main three that are the topic of this post are the most prevalent to categorize fighters these days. Who would you place into what categories? What other categories do you think some of these fighters fall into besides the three mentioned here?