The idea of an MMA fighter being well-rounded – with the ability to fight in all areas, both standing and on the ground – dates back to the UFC’s ‘Dark Ages’ of the late 90’s. Nowadays you simply can’t succeed in the UFC with a one-dimensional game – world-class grapplers like Sergio Moraes have been knocked out standing, while amazing kickboxers like Pat Barry have found themselves outclassed on the mat.
Sometimes, however, a fighter has come into the UFC as a one-dimensional – albeit brilliant – grappler and then gone on to develop deadly striking skills worthy of the best kickboxers to step into the cage. The following five men certainly belong on that list.
#1 Rafael Dos Anjos
The current top contender for the UFC Welterweight title, Rafael Dos Anjos came into the UFC back in 2008 with a reputation for some nasty submission skills – 6 of his 11 wins were via tapout, and he held a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Unfortunately for him, his striking wasn’t up to snuff – he was violently knocked out by Jeremy Stephens in his UFC debut, and lost a decision to Tyson Griffin in his next fight despite almost catching a submission early on.
RDA meandered through the next few years of his UFC career, winning some but also losing some – usually when he found himself outgunned standing and unable to take his opponent down. It wasn’t until he moved to the Kings MMA gym in 2012 – lead by vaunted trainer Rafael Cordeiro – that things began to change.
Dos Anjos had always had power in his strikes, but suddenly he was developing an aggressive, stalking Muay Thai game that allowed him to swarm his opponents with punches and kicks – making it even easier for him to set up his takedowns. By the end of 2014, he won 8 of his last 9 fights – including a knockout of former champion Benson Henderson – to set him up for a title shot against Lightweight champ Anthony Pettis.
Despite being an underdog going in – as well as a supposedly inferior striker – Dos Anjos used his newly-learned skills to destroy Pettis over five rounds, most of which took place standing, to win the title. And despite eventually losing his belt to Eddie Alvarez, he remains one of the most dangerous strikers in the UFC – most recently outpointing the legendary Robbie Lawler over five rounds. Not bad for a guy who was just a grappler when he debuted.