The cage door closes. You hear it lock shut with a solid metal clang. Suddenly the baying of the crowd dims to a murmur. The only noise you clearly hear now are the doubts in your own head, eating away at you:
What’s going to happen?
Am I going to win?
Will I get hurt?
With your feet exploring the unfamiliar canvas, inexplicably different to the mats in your gym, you find yourself looking over at your opponent. This is a guy you have trained to beat. A guy you have sweat, bled and strived towards facing for weeks. But now that he is in front of you, you’re terrified. He looks just as well-prepared as you, just as ready. Can I win? Will I win? In what feels like an instant, the referee is calling you to the centre of the cage. You lock eyes with your opponent and something clicks. He is just as scared as I am. The referee tells you to separate and come out fighting. Here you go, this is it. No more time to think.
It’s the third week of fight camp for my sixth amateur MMA bout. I am beyond tired – my body already feels broken, with bruises picked up in places I didn’t even know existed, my sleep schedule is messed up and I’m short and ill-tempered with everyone at work and at home. I’m flitting between a 9-5 job, through an hour long queue of traffic to the gym I train at then back to my girlfriend’s flat for maybe an hour to ourselves a night. Put simply: I am completely exhausted.
Great fights are a thing of beauty. Watching Jon Jones and Gustaffson locked in a battle of skill, witnessing Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua push the limits of human endurance and seeing Fedor and Cro Cop deciding who the best heavyweight of their era was – MMA as a whole thrives on these battles.
But a great battle requires two men to last through the rounds, elevating it to legendary status. Sometimes, the stars do not align and a quick KO, Sub or injury robs an audience of the spectacle. But that is the nature of MMA: Random chance.
Yet, if MMA is so capricious, then what do we have to rely on when it comes to entertainment? The answer: entertaining fighters. I’m talking about fighters you could watch a thousand times and not get bored. Fighters who, win or lose, put their hearts and bodies on the line for their family, fans and the love of the sport. Presented below is my list of 5 of the most entertaining UFC fighters to have ever graced the cage with their blood-soaked, battle-worn bodies.