MMA may be a developing sport that is blossoming before our very eyes but for some nations combat sports are ingrained in their culture.
From deepest Africa to the Australian coast, fighting is a part of life, but which countries have taken raw, unpolished brawlers and sharpened their tools to create real genuine fighters?
Australia is definitely one of the fastest growing fighting nations in the world. Every year that goes by, we see more and more Australian faces, culminating in Robert Whittaker coming out of thin air and blitzing through one of the toughest divisions in the UFC. Their fighters look young, hungry and dynamic. Tyson Pedro, for example, does some exciting things for such a big guy; he’s the only true prospect in a sparsely populated light heavyweight division.
If you like a big, thug coming through the ranks, keep an eye out for Tai Tuivasa. Yet to fight in the UFC, but rest assured his fights will not end by decision. This transitions nicely onto the king of the ‘walkaway knockout,’ Mark Hunt.
The ‘Super Samoan’ has bombs for hands which could detonate at the twitch of a glove. Australia feels like it’s a country that is developing at a similar rate to the UFC itself. Progression is clear for all to see and Australians could swamp MMA in the next five years.
It may seem questionable ranking Japan 9th as they have their own promotions and some of their very best fighters choose to remain in their homeland. The fact of the matter is, there is not a single Japanese fighter in the top 10 of any of the UFC weight classes, and that makes for grim reading.
A country proud of its rich cultural background with so much historical impact in the MMA world will be disappointed that their fighters are currently struggling to make a mark on the UFC.
Kyoji Horiguchi is an impressively technical fighter released by the UFC despite being 26, and a title challenger. Shinya Aoki is a demon grappler but fighting in an organization like Rizin means he is facing more straightforward competition. Otherwise, there are talents such as Teruto Ishihara and Ulka Sasaki who need to string some wins together in order to be viewed as legitimate threats.
Perhaps it is harsh to judge Japan on their lack of influence in the UFC, but the cruel truth is that it’s all that matters to the majority of fans, these days. The heritage and legacy of Japanese MMA is being lost in the modern sphere. A shame.
8. South Korea
South Korea have a habit of churning out extremely exciting and unpredictable talents. They might not have quite the same depth as some of the other nations, but their best fighters are very competitive.
Featherweight Chan Sung Jung (or ‘the Korean zombie’ to his dedicated fans) has somewhat of a cult following due to his ridiculous finishes, which include the only submission via twister in the UFC.
Further down the same division is the ‘the Korean Superboy’ Dooho Choi; he put on a fight of the year with Cub Swanson, and despite losing, the insane brawl won him a legion of fans. Then there’s Dong Hyun Kim, with a record of 13-4 inside the octagon. He’s only lost to the upper echelon of the welterweight division and has notable wins over Nate Diaz and Matt Brown. When a Korean fighter is on a card, don’t blink because you could miss fireworks.
7. The Netherlands
The Dutch are universally renowned for having some of the best and most brutal kickboxers on the planet. Naturally, this means that the fighters from Holland are usually fear-inducing strikers who love to trade shots. Alistair Overeem, is widely considered the most technical heavyweight to grace the octagon. It’s a real shame kickboxers like Semmy Schilt and Rico Verhoeven haven’t tried their luck at MMA because there’s no doubt they would put on some vicious striking clinics for the fans.
Then there’s Germaine de Randamie; she has a grand total of zero fans at the moment, for being the champion that ran away from Cyborg. However, she is still a decorated Muay Thai and kickboxing champion and her record demands respect.
Finally, there is the enigma that is Gegard Mousasi. The most laid back man to ever raise a fist. But that shouldn’t take away from his skill set. He is perhaps the most well rounded and experienced middleweight in the business. The UFC middleweights will be sighing with relief and wiping their brows now that he is Bellator’s problem.
Canada has always been the fighting nation that has never quite reached its potential. If you saw the Mayweather v McGregor press conference in Toronto you will be aware just how MMA mad the Canadians are. Yet only a couple of names have really broken into the realm of world-class.
Obviously Georges St. Pierre is an undeniable icons of the sport. One of only a handful to consistently bring in large pay-per-view figures. Rory MacDonald was to be the saviour of Canadian MMA after GSP abandoned them. His resume is littered with big names and he looks destined to reign as champ in Bellator.
Outside of those two, Misha Cirkunov fights under the Canadian flag and should be able to climb the ladder of the brittle light heavyweight division. Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Nordine Taleb and Elias Theodorou are fated to exist in the 10 to 15 slots of their respective divisions. However, a country that so obsessively follows the sport will be puzzled by the lack of top five contenders.
5. The United Kingdom
Spread over both the UFC and Bellator, the UK is represented well by some bruising athletes. Generally, Brits tend to keep fights on the feet and are yet to have genuine Jiu-Jitsu practitioners or wrestlers of note.
Jimi Manuwa is in the top five of the UFC light heavyweight division, and like Paul Daley at Bellator, lives by the motto, one shot one kill. Big power punches with malicious intent. However, coming through the ranks are unorthodox, awkward karate based fighters like Michael Venom Page and Marc Diakese; a new breed of fighter that can do remarkable things with their limbs.
Michael Bisping is the godfather of British MMA. As the first British UFC champion, Bisping has paved the way and inspired a generation of fighters. His larger than life personality and staying power in a notoriously fickle sport should make him a huge star in England. Alas, the sport hasn’t quite exploded yet. A solid group of English fighters that need some support especially in the lower weight classes.
No one wants to fight a Russian; they’re normally hard-nosed grinders who are infamously difficult to put away. Iron chinned, bearded, muscle-bound athletes who almost always give their flashier opposition a tough time. Khabib Nurmagomedov is the perfect example of this. Insanely strong for his size, rugged and if he wants to take you down, you have very little to say about it. The guy wrestled with a bear as a child which gives you an insight to the insane Russian fighting mentality.
At the moment the rankings don’t show too much talent, but there is still exciting heavyweight prospects Alexander Volkov and Ruslan Magomedov, frightening knockout artist Mairbek Taisumov and Bellator title challenger Andrey Koreshkov. They’re English might be a little shaky, but when they step in the octagon you know the Russians are on the war path. Resilient, strong and ruthless.
Fighting, in general, is revered and adored in Mexico; it runs through their veins. Their passionate fans who have cheered and worshipped boxers like Oscar De la Hoya and more recently Canelo Alvarez have slowly been filtering into MMA. Luckily they have a couple of names to throw their considerable support behind. Cain Velazquez, one of the greatest heavyweight champions to compete has had his injury troubles, but when fit he is a raging bull that never tires.
What will be even more encouraging is the talent in the lighter divisions. Yair Rodriguez’s athleticism is off the charts, with his wheel kicks, cartwheel kicks and whatever other kick you would care to invent. ‘El Pantera’ is a walking highlights reel that is making waves in the UFC. Then there’s the 23-year-old baby-faced assassin Brandon Moreno who has been coming from behind and submitting some of the best in the business.
Finally, Cynthia Calvillo is undefeated in all her bouts which have all featured on the main card. A sign that Dana White is desperately pushing her promotion. Mexico has stars aplenty. The culture of icons continues.
Not far behind the US are the Brazilians. Whilst the US provide the stability, consistency and core, Brazil has gifted fans with some of the most talented rogues in MMA history. The birthplace of Jiu-Jitsu, Brazil has delivered us masters of the art like Damian Maia, Fabricio Werdum and Jacare Souza. Each have made the ground a perilous place to be for any fighter.
Brazil also represent women’s MMA amazingly with top-tier talent in Amanda Nunes, Cris Cyborg and Claudia Gadelha.
Their ranks consist of flashy strikers like José Aldo, frightening specimens such as Vitor Belfort and the man many consider the greatest of all-time Anderson Silva.
The US may make up the bulk of MMA, but the Brazilians pepper the divisions with jokers in the proverbial packs. They ensure anything can happen at any moment in true Brazilian style. The hostile atmosphere when the UFC visits Sao Paolo is testament to the visceral nature of fighting in Brazil. They love it and they breed monsters year after year.
1. United States of America
The US dominate the UFC and Bellator rankings with by far the most active fighters. They have champions littered all over the divisions. They fatten up the divisions with veterans and talent alike. The giants of MMA. As a nation, the fans have transferred their historic love of boxing and wrestling to the new sport on the block, MMA. There are almost too many names to even consider listing such is the talent pool in the US.
The top American fighters tend to be a hybrid of boxer and wrestler. An effective combination that has bred champion after champion. They’ve delivered us the likes of Demetrius Johnson, Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier.
As well as harboring celebrated mavericks like Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey and Robbie Lawler. As well as providing us with hope for the future with young front runners like Cody Garbrandt, Max Holloway and AJ McKee.
The US leads the way and is the powerhouse of MMA.