June 12, 2007
by Jake Rossen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"I would rather lose an exciting fight than win a boring one" is a fighter sentiment I can get behind.
Granted, it's important to figure out whose Kung Fu is best, even if it turns out to be a particularly plodding style. But without unrefined, spastic and occasionally reckless fighters, the combat sports game would be as boring as an Andy Rooney anecdote. Or baseball.
Skill is appreciated, but not compulsory for the list. The following selections are limited to active participants that make audience enjoyment a priority, even out of the ring: though Genki Sudo (Pictures) is a one-man circus, he's proclaimed retirement.
Ten who consistently make it worth suffering through sponsor plugs and stuttering commentators:
10) Gabe Ruediger (Pictures)
Status: Ultimate Fighter 5 castaway; imbiber of inappropriately timed sweets.
I've witnessed precious little of Ruediger's in-ring theatrics, but I don't care. His labored swagger on season five of The Ultimate Fighter has been a series' highlight. (Considering this is the same outlet that presented Chris Leben (Pictures)'s pillow urination as Must See TV, do your own math there.) Episode after episode, Ruediger is seen sporting a prodigious belly, inviting concern that he won't be able to drop enough flub in order to make 155-pounds in time.
True to form, Ruediger's questionable dieting habits -- including an ice cream cake IV drip -- led to a weight cut that held more melodrama than a Sidney Sheldon novel. Fainting repeatedly and sauna-sick, he was eventually unable to shed the final three pounds.
No small wonder, since he was chewing everything in sight -- including the scenery.
Best Moment: Collapsing naked next to the pool, a dehydrated Ruediger mumbles incoherently before being dragged around like an errant corpse.
9) Nick Diaz (Pictures)
Status: Ornery Stockton, Calif. native with limited social skills; "nobody's bitch."
Youth invites a certain brand of hubris, and nowhere is that on better display than in the disposition of Diaz; his face etched in a permanent scowl, the jiu-jitsu prodigy is fond of belittling opponents verbally and taunting them. Mounting and punching Drew Fickett (Pictures), he was heard to utter, "You like that, huh?"
Fickett, predictably, did not.
Best Moment: Disgruntled after losing a decision to Joe Riggs (Pictures), he instigates a fight with Riggs in the hospital, cracking him in the jaw (while allegedly still hooked to an IV drip) as horrified medical staff look on.
8) Bob "The Beast" Sapp
Status: Godzilla's heir apparent in Japan.
Some observers have equated Bob Sapp (Pictures)'s fighting skill to that of an upended turtle combined with the cardio conditioning of Joe Camel. In spite of -- or possibly because of -- such limited resources, Sapp's bouts are usually pithy symphonies of sudden and horrible violence. Either his massive frame envelops and crushes his outsized opposition, or his lungs constrict and he's used as a human focus mitt. There's not much middle ground.
Best Moment: Horribly fatigued between rounds against the formidable Jerome LeBanner (Pictures), Sapp pleads with his corner not to send him back in the fight, his eyes growing saucer-wide at the thought of an impending mauling.
7) Karo Parisyan (Pictures)
Status: Gruff judo player; one-man airline.
In most instances, grappling isn't the stuff screen legends are made of. Jiu-jitsu and wrestling are games of inches, with athletes preferring practicality over camera-ready moves. It's precisely why every MMA movie made to date has sucked like a Hoover ... and why David Mamet has his work cut out for him.
Judo is different. Practitioners enjoy grabbing limbs and forcing flight plans on opponents. Nowhere is the art expressed as beautifully in MMA as with Parisyan, who makes even the most difficult application of leverage seem effortless. His grappling is dynamic, dangerous, and brimming with enough energy to make even the most apathetic observer hit the Rewind button.
Best Moment: Tossing Dave Strasser (Pictures) in the air like an abused child and then transitioning immediately into a Kimura.
6) Shinya Aoki (Pictures)
Status: Rainbow-thighed master grappler.
The submission game is pretty much set in stone by now: find undefended limb, apply pressure, collect check. That Japanese star Aoki can consistently find fresh ways to torque ligaments and reroute blood supplies is massively enjoyable. That he does it while displaying Urkel's physique and Joseph's missing Technicolor leotard is some kind of subversive genius.
Best Moment: Facing Norwegian badass Joachim Hansen (Pictures), Aoki strangles him using his shin.