UFC president Dana White is often quoted as saying that “fighting is in our DNA,” but even within the sport of mixed martial arts, there’s no doubt that some competitors stand out more than others as having been put on this planet specifically to do just that.
What sets these stars apart from their peers is their willingness to fight anyone at any time, regardless of their opponent’s size, skill level and reputation.
These are the fighters that are willing step up to take fights on short notice, that barely bat an eyelid at a late change in opponent, that will fight more frequently than their counterparts, and will continue to compete long after others have found their breaking point.
In this article we’ll celebrate 10 such stars, focusing in on fighters that are still actively putting it all on the line in the present day, not just because they want to, but because they need to. It’s who they are. It’s in their DNA.
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10. Michael Bisping
Michael Bisping has recently been telling anyone who will listen that he’d fight anyone at any time, from Muhammed Ali to Godzilla, and his record backs up his boasts.
At the present time Bisping is tied for second in the record books for the most UFC fights of all-time, amassing 26 Octagon appearances in the space of 10 years, competing at both middleweight and light heavyweight.
Bisping himself has admitted that he’s always had a chip on his shoulder, leading to an unquenchable thirst to prove himself against the best. That’s included aspiring to fight the man he’s looked up to most – Anderson Silva, widly considered one of the greatest of all time. After years of calling him out, Bisping finally fought him earlier this year and won by unanimous decision.
Bisping has also continually pushed for a title shot, and he didn’t give a second thought before agreeing to fight for the belt at UFC 199, despite being on a movie set when he was given the opportunity on less than two weeks notice to take on the champion Luke Rockhold, who had already soundly beaten him a couple of years earlier.
‘The Count’ was rewarded for that ballsy decision when he produced a huge upset victory over Rockhold, knocking out his rival in the first round to become the new middleweight champion.
9. Neil Magny
Neil Magny might not be the most famous fighter on this list, but when you look at his track record it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the others listed here.
Magny joined the UFC after a stint on TUF Season 16 less than three years ago, yet he’s already amassed 14 fights in the promotion. That includes five UFC fights a year in both 2014 and 2015, making him the most active fighter on the entire roster during that period.
What’s most impressive is that he won 9 of his 10 fights during that run,, and when a seven fight unbeaten run came to an end against Demian Maia, he then accepted a short notice fight just a few weeks later which got him back in the win column.
Magny’s willingness to fight at the drop of a hat has proven to be a successful strategy, enabling him to rise from relative obscurity to No.7 on the official welterweight rankings.
8. Mark Hunt
For Heavyweight star Mark Hunt, fighting is in his blood, and there’s nothing else he’d rather do.
That fact can be proved beyond any reasonable doubt by a single incident where he fought tooth and nail just to be given a chance to compete in the UFC after they inherited his contract after buying up PRIDE.
At the time Hunt had suffered five losses in a row and so the promotion weren’t interested in him, with Dana White confirming they offered ‘The Super Samoan’ 0,000 just to “make him go away.”
It would have been easy to just take the money and run, but Hunt refused, telling him, “no way, (expletive) that (expletive). I love fighting. It’s who I am.”
The UFC relented, and Hunt has gone on to enjoy a successful five years in the promotion, even fighting for the title on short notice in 2014. He continues to compete in the Octagon to this day at 42 years of age, is on a two-fight winning streak, and recently reaffirmed that he’s willing to fight anyone at any time – even offering to step in as a late replacement against pound-for-pound great, Jon Jones, before agreeing to take on Brock Lesnar at UFC 200!
7. Nick And Nate Diaz
Nick and Nate Diaz have at times taken the idea of fighting any place, any time too literally over the years, as in addition to having successful careers in the sport they’ve also been known to get into brawls both inside and outside the cage.
Nick has continually sought out fights with the best the sport has to offer, including going up against the best welterweight of all-time, Georges St. Pierre and middleweight legend Anderson Silva, while his younger brother Nate famously stepped up to fight Conor McGregor in his prime on less than two weeks notice, despite the fact he was partying on a yacht in Mexico when he got the call.
What really cements the brothers place on this list though is the fact that they’ve also gone up against everyone from Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller, KJ Noons, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor in unsanctioned, spontaneous scraps over the years.
Perhaps the most classic example of this was when Nick Diaz lost by decision to Joe Riggs all the way back at UFC 57 in 2006, then initiated a wild brawl with his opponent at a local hospital where they were both getting treated for injuries later that same night!
6. Wanderlei Silva
There’s no doubt that ‘The Axe Murderer,’ Wanderlei Silva was born to fight, and it’s something he’s indulged in as often as possible throughout his long career.
Over the years he’s amassed almost 50 career fights, including competing in bareknuckle vale tudo bouts and one-night tournaments, while fighting many of the biggest names in the sport’s history, from middleweight right up to heavyweight.
Silva was also an integral part of the Chute-Boxe fight camp in Curitiba, who were infamous for their brutally hard sparring sessions, meaning that he was essentially going to war most days of the week against some of the most legendary names in Brazilian MMA.
Silva has continued to prove his willingness to fight at any time in the twilight years of his career, both inside and outside of the cage, including initiating an infamous brawl with his bitter rival Chael Sonnen on the set of TUF: Brazil season 3 in 2014.
Even today at the age of 39, Silva’s desire to compete still burns brightly, despite expressing concerns about the possibility of brain damage, and has led to him to sign new deals with both the Bellator and Rizin’ promotions, the latter of which will see him compete in an openweight tournament later this year.
5. Dan Henderson
Dan Henderson has been competing against the best fighters in the sport for almost two decades, and continues to do so despite now being the oldest active competitor on the UFC’s roster at 45 years of age.
Hendo’s eagerness to fight was abundantly clear from the very start of his UFC career, with the first four events that he competed at all being tournaments, which saw him competing 2-3 times a night – and for the record, he emerged victorious in all nine fights during that period, winning three tournaments along the way.
Henderson’s fight record reads like a who’s who of the sport, and he’s competed against no less than eight former or current UFC champions spread across three different weight classes, including the likes of Anderson Silva at middleweight, Daniel Cormier at light-heavyweight and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at heavyweight.
He also fought and defeated arguably the greatest heavyweight of all-time, Fedor Emelianenko too, en-route to compiling one of the most impressive records in the sport.
4. Donald Cerrone
Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone is a unique individual in the sport, whose love of fighting and constant pursuit of the next adrenaline rush means that he’d probably fight on every event if the UFC would let him.
While most fighters take less fights as they get older, Cerrone is the opposite, having fought four times a year from 2013-2015 – a relentless run that included an eight fight winning streak, despite competing against some of the biggest names in the lightweight division.
Cerrone once accepted a fight with veteran campaigner Jim Miller on just a week’s notice, but the most memorable example of his ‘any time, any place’ attitude came when he defeated Myles Jury by unanimous decision at UFC 182 in early January, 2015, then immediately accepted a late replacement fight with former champion Ben Henderson that was scheduled for just two weeks later, which he’d emerge from victorious.
While Cerrone gets plenty of opportunities to put fist to face in the cage, he’s also been known to get into the occasional scuffle outside of it too. That includes an infamous incident in 2010 in which he brawled with Marcus Sursa backstage at an Evolution Combat Sports show, which forced the 205lb Sursa to withdraw from the main event that night due to a cut.
3. Conor McGregor
McGregor is known for having the gift of the gab, but actions speak louder than words, and despite already being a multi-millionaire superstar in the sport, he’s continues to demonstrate that he’s willing to fight anyone at any time.
When Jose Aldo was forced out of their much hyped featherweight title fight at UFC 189 in July of 2015 due to an injury, McGregor didn’t even pause for a second before accepting a dangerous late notice opponent in Chad Mendes on less than two weeks notice.
After defeating Mendes and then Aldo to become the 145lb champion, McGregor had a lot to lose, yet continued to show his fearlessness by deciding that he wanted to immediately move up to challenge the dominant lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos next.
This was an unprecedented move, and the Irish sensation upped the ante again when RDA also pulled out injured on short notice by agreeing to fight Nate Diaz at welterweight – two divisions above his natural weight class.
While he’d lose to Diaz, McGregor is now campaigning for a rematch at 170lbs, against both the UFC and his coaches wishes, and is also entertaining the idea of fighting one of the best boxers of all-time, Floyd Mayweather Jr in the ring.
2. Kazushi Sakuraba
A true living legend of the sport, Sakuraba is unquestionably one of the most fearless fighters ever to compete in MMA.
The Japanese star has proven time after time that he’s willing to go up against anyone, and despite being a natural middleweight he’s fought in every division from welterweight right up to heavyweight over the course of his almost 20 year run in the sport.
He secured his place in history by becoming the first man to defeat another legendary competitor Royce Gracie, as well as others from the Gracie family, but he’s also fought the likes of Wanderlei Silva (three times), Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira to name but a few, despite being significantly smaller than all of them.
Sakuraba’s desire to fight hasn’t dissipated with age, even although he’s suffered numerous brutal losses and been ravaged by injuries. As such, the 46 year-old Sakuraba couldn’t resist returning to fight at the first ever Rizin event in December of last year against the much younger Shinya Aoki, and despite suffering another defeat there’s talk that he’s still not ready to hang up his gloves just yet.
1. BJ Penn
BJ Penn’s motto is “Just Scrap,” and the perfectly sums up one of the most unique characters the sport has ever seen, who, even up to the present day, still sets the bar when it comes to his willingness to fight anyone at any time.
Penn’s entire career seems to have been built upon pushing the boundaries of what he’s capable of, and that’s ensured his place in the record books, as despite his frame being far more suited to 155lbs, Penn became the first man to win both the UFC lightweight and welterweight titles, ending Matt Hughes 13 fight winning streak to claim the latter.
That wasn’t enough for ‘The Prodigy’ though, so he moved up to middleweight and defeated both Rodrigo and Renzo Gracie in his native Hawaii during a spell outside of the UFC. Then Penn blew people’s minds by taking an openweight bout with Lyoto Machida, who tipped the scales at 225 pounds for the fight, and lasted the full three rounds.
Upon returning to the UFC, Penn continued to test himself against the best regardless of their weight, fighting Georges St. Pierre twice at welterweight, as well as a number of other stars that had a clear size advantage over him, such as Nick Diaz, Jon Fitch and Rory MacDonald.
Late in his career Penn also dropped down to featherweight, and though he’s attempted to step away from the sport several times, his desire to ‘just scrap’ keeps pulling him back into the Octagon.