If you were raised on the action movies of the ’80s and ’90s, you were taught to fear men who wore leather jackets and sported facial scars just as you were cautioned to avoid jocks, bros and the like in the hallways of high school. When boxing was the king of combat sports – of all sports, for that matter – you could (generally) tell you were looking at a fighter, be it Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya or Joe Frazier. They just had a certain look to them.
But this is the new age, and MMA is the king of new-age sports. Sure, some fighters dotting the UFC’s Octagon look precisely how you’d imagine them to, but in a sport where looks and a six pack mean about as much to winning a fight as a high GPA does to getting friends, you truly never know what someone is capable of – nor can you tell one by their interests – until you’ve seen him or her in action.
These are the 10 nerdiest fighters in MMA (in order), along with the sound and inarguable logic behind how they would take you out in the unlikely event you found yourself opposite them in the cage.
10. Niklas B?ckstr?m
Nerd Qualifications: Niklas Backstrom certainly looks the part of a classical nerd; he’s tall, lanky and socially awkward, to the point where his MMA team in Stockholm playfully ribs him because of it. Among his favorite pastimes, Backstrom enjoys playing his friends in the Xbox version of the EA Sports UFC game, but even that has no business landing him on this list.
No, that honor belongs to the fact that Backstrom would rather visit the historic Vasa Museum – by himself – than hit the local dating scene. In this video, Backstrom tries and fails miserably to explain why his two favorite things are, in fact, his two favorite things.
“I like old stuff,” Backstrom says. “I can’t explain why. I like fighting too, and I can’t explain why.”
How He’d Take You Out: Backstrom needs work on his striking – he was knocked out in vicious fashion in front of a hometown crowd in his last outing – but he’s one of the most aggressive and creative submission fighters on the UFC’s roster.
If you attempted to fight Niklas, he’d be on your back like white on rice, and you would see just how fast an elite grappler can put you to sleep.
9. John Dodson
Nerd Qualifications: Depending on which manner of MMA fan you ask, John Dodson is either one of the most funny and entertaining, or the most annoying and ridiculous, athletes on the UFC’s roster. His bright smile and back-flipping ways have certainly made him a unique figure in the cage, as has his diminutive height – he stands 5’3″ tall – but all of that plays second fiddle to his nerdy personality.
Dodson cites the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as his inspiration for beginning Tae Kwon Do at a tender age with his brother. He also says he had no interest in the party scene during his high school or college years, choosing instead to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a real-life ninja.
In fact, Dodson competed – and lost – in the popular obstacle course known as American Ninja Warrior not too long ago, something that, according to him, made him more nervous than stepping into the cage against trained killers. (Video)
How He’d Take You Out: If you ever found yourself tangling with this Ninja Turtle, he’d blitz you faster than Michelangelo, knocking you into the middle of next week and adding you to his impressive KO highlight reel.
8. Benson Henderson
Nerd Qualifications: Ben Henderson has gone from being one of the most maligned UFC fighters – on account of a series of controversial Split Decision victories – to a fan-favorite for his recent David and Goliath-style upset win over Brandon Thatch in February. He’s also a Jesus freak and all-around nice dude, and the ladies think he’s pretty handsome.
But that outer sheen covers up the nerdy core beneath, as Henderson is an avid and lifelong connoisseur of everything Marvel Comics. Now, that in and of itself is not quite as nerdy as it used to be, what with the Marvel Cinematic Universe setting annual records at the box office.
What is considerably nerdier, however, is exactly which comics the man known affectionately as “Bendo” makes sure he subscribes to; you won’t find Spider-man or Captain America in Henderson’s collection, but you will find X-Force and any issue with an appearance by Shatterstar, who first appeared in an issue of New Mutants back in 1991. (Video Evidence)
How He’d Take You Out: Bendo is significantly tougher than Shatterstar, so if you forced him into a melee, he’d take you down and manhandle you for a grueling 25 minutes before you succumbed due to a mixture of exhaustion and embarrassment.
7. Ronda Rousey
Nerd Qualifications: You may be shocked to see Rousey’s name on this list, but it certainly belongs here. After all, when she isn’t hamming it up with her Furious 7 co-stars or breaking arms in the Octagon, Rousey is busy checking in with her clan in World of Warcraft.
Yes. As in, she still plays on the regular. You know, because being the most badass woman on the face of the planet isn’t awesome enough.
If playing WOW were the only mark of nerdery on her record, Rousey might not have made the list, but this is the age of the Internet, and you can’t hide anything from the Internet. Eagle-eyed members of the collective anonymous recently unearthed Rousey’s moderator account from an old Pok?mon forum, last active when she was 16. There’s also this video of her discussing her Pok?mon obsession quite candidly.
Finally, Rousey has mentioned on more than one occasion that her favorite show to watch growing up was none other than Dragon Ball Z, and that she frequently imagined herself as the team’s first pink Saiyan.
How She’d Take You Out: Ronda has a short fuse, so it might not take much to get her into a fighting mood. If you made the mistake of provoking her, she’d Judo toss you onto your head and snap all the tendons that make up your elbow joint in even less time than it takes her to defend her belt. (Her last two title defenses lasted a combined 30 seconds, btw.)
6. Rory MacDonald
Nerd Qualifications: Rory MacDonald is only 25 years old, and he’s already established himself as one of the best fighters around. He’s commonly regarded as the prot?g? of UFC legend and Canadian superstar Georges St-Pierre, and while he seems nice enough, his particular brand of quiet, monotone nerdiness has earned him unfavorable and half-joking nicknames such as “The Canadian Psycho” from fans.
As for what makes him nerdy, you could point to his hipster-inspired wardrobe and black-rimmed glasses, the analytical way he breaks down opponents as if they were complex math problems waiting to be solved or his almost meek personality when the cameras are on him. But what really pushes him into the realm of nerdery is his recent obsession with the world of crypto currency, BitCoin in particular.
Okay, so investing in the potential currency of the future might not be the nerdiest thing in the world, but if you can get past his awkward and somewhat off-putting personality, you should listen to the way this dude breaks down martial arts techniques; he’s a legitimate fight nerd.
How He’d Take You Out: One does not simply presume to know how Rory MacDonald would take one out; suffice it to say, they’d never find you. Ever.
5. Tamdan McCrory
Nerd Qualifications: As far as I know, Tamdan McCrory has absolutely no habits, hobbies or mannerisms that make him inherently nerdy, though he is witnessed above in what we assume is his natural habitat. He’s a badass cage fighter with as much technical savvy on the ground as he has knockout power on the feet.
Admittedly, what has landed “The Barn Cat” – yes, that’s his actual nickname – at the top of his list is what amounts roughly to profiling. He’s got a funny nickname, a dry, weird sense of humor and has a healthy dose of nerd rage contained in the quiet fury within.
All in all, McCrory is a mundane-seeming dude with anything but mundane fighting skills.
How He’d Take You Out: After a so-so career in the UFC at the tender age of 23, McCrory took a five-year hiatus from the sport for reasons he has yet to elaborate on. When he finally returned late last year, he did so as a heavy underdog in the weight class above what he used to compete at, in the world’s clear number two MMA promotion.
And he knocked that fool out in 21 seconds. Think that was a fluke? He finished the next one in 66 seconds, and it looks like “The Barn Cat’s” return tour is just getting started.
If you tried to bully this nerd, there are not words in the tongues of men, beasts or barn critters the world over for what would happen to you. And you’d deserve every second of it.
4. Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson
Nerd Qualifications: Come on. With a name like “Mighty Mouse,” you had to know the UFC’s Flyweight champ was going to end up on this list.
Another shrimp of a man, Johnson stands 5’3″ tall and is arguably the fastest and most technical fighter in the world. He’s never lost in his natural weight class of 125 lbs, and he probably won’t for a long, long time to come, if ever.
Johnson is a pro athlete and a family man, but the white picket fence and nice-guy veneer covers up a dark secret: DJ is one of the most competitive and aggressive Xbox players in the world. He specializes in the realm of the shooter, pwning noobs in COD and Destiny, but he also shines in – appropriately enough – fighting games, his lightning-fast reflexes apparently giving him an unfair advantage over less equipped nerds.
Also, he totally drops a Shao Khan reference in this quote pulled from an episode of The MMA Hour.
Until the UFC’s recent and much-maligned sponsorship agreement with Reebok, Johnson was the sole UFC fighter to be sponsored by Xbox ONE, and I’ll be damned if I said the green didn’t suit him.
How He’d Take You Out: DJ is so fast and so creative that it strains the imagination to predict exactly how he’d choose to get the job done. Either way, it would be fast, and it would probably hurt. Oh, and you’d probably never even see him.
3. Joe Lauzon
Nerd Qualifications: With his large ears and wide-eyed stare, Joe Lauzon is one of the most interesting-looking fighters in the world, in that he doesn’t look like a fighter, at all.
For a long time, that was certainly the case, as Lauzon only moonlighted as a backyard wrestling champion from the mean farms, err, streets of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. For his day job, he was an IT specialist that spent just as much time troubleshooting computers as shooting for takedowns.
In addition to his IT responsibilities, Lauzon is a self-admitted Xbox Live addict, playing often during his downtime. As a recent father, he’s had to focus more of his attention on his professional fighting career, which is bad news for his opposition.
How He’d Take You Out: Lauzon is one of the most aggressive fighters in the history of MMA. He’s weirdly strong (I know because I’ve trained with him), deceptively fast and has finished all but one of his professional wins. He’s also the all-time leader in post-fight bonuses awarded by the UFC, putting him ahead of legends such as Anderson Silva, Frankie Edgar and Jon Jones. (Seriously, check out the list.)
If you ever challenged Lauzon to a friendly backyard wrestling match, he’d slam you on your head, and if you were still conscious upon hitting the ground, he’d maul you far worse than an Alaskan Grizzly. (And they wouldn’t even make a documentary about it.)
2. Josh Barnett
Nerd Qualifications: Josh Barnett is one of the longest-tenured fighters still competing at a high professional level. This is a man who’s seen the inside of the legendary Pride ring in Japan, where he also had a successful career as a WWE-style pro wrestler.
When he isn’t smashing rival heavyweights in the ring, Barnett can be found moshing – yes, moshing – at local hardcore shows with all the other greaseballs. If that weren’t enough, Barnett is a competitive tabletop gamer, with his nerd game of choice being Magic: The Gathering. And when I say competitive, I mean he’s super into it, appearing in web-streamed tournament specials like this one.
What’s great about Barnett is that he makes no bones about his nerdery, nor should he. He flaunts it openly and says it brings him more joy than victory in the cage. His “Warmaster” moniker could easily be his Dungeon Master name rather than his cage-fighting alter ego, and fans love him for it.
He can next be seen taking on “Big Country,” Roy Nelson, at the UFC’s Japan show in September.
How He’d Take You Out: If you had the unfortunate privilege of being locked in a cage with Josh Barnett, it would be bloody, and he’d make it hurt. Barnett could knock you out, but he prefers to take his opponents down and apply particularly vicious submission holds, such as ankle locks and neck cranks, forcing you to submit … or die.
1. Roxanne Modaferri
Nerd Qualifications: At first glance – hell, at second through sixth glances as well – Modaferri looks as much like a fighter as Rebel Wilson does a Victoria’s Secret model, but the woman known as “The Happy Warrior” can scrap.
She’s also about as nerdy as they come, sporting a look that could land her a role as Science Geek #1 on any Disney Channel original series. With a degree from the University of Massachusetts in Japanese Linguistics, Modaferri has spent a great deal of her time in Japan, both to complete her studies in the realm of academics and martial arts. She’s huge into Otaku culture, anime and everything Asian, and she’s a total hippie.
Oh, and she’s a self-described Jedi Knight.
How She’d Take You Out: If it came to blows with Modaferri, you’d get your licks in, but she’d inevitably out-grit you en route to a come-from-behind victory.
Previously by Steven Kelliher
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