The UFC’s old-school ‘As Real As It Gets’ tagline was always supposed to differentiate it from the world of pro-wrestling. However, the sport of MMA still holds close ties to its more theatrical cousin.
Over the years, we’ve seen numerous UFC fighters embrace an outspoken ‘heel’ character, largely to build interest in their fights.
And while some fighters’ attempts at this have fallen flat, others have shown so much charisma and villainy that they’ve quickly become fighters that fans love to hate.
With this in mind, here are five UFC fighters who embraced a heel persona.
#1 Chael Sonnen
It’s almost impossible to talk about fighters who embraced a heel persona in the UFC without starting with the self-proclaimed “bad guy."
Chael Sonnen was largely a non-descript fighter for a long period during his time with the UFC and WEC, essentially coming across as just another wrestling-heavy contender with a vanilla personality.
However, that all changed in 2010.
Sonnen climbed the ladder in the UFC’s Middleweight division and positioned himself as the top contender for Anderson Silva’s UFC Middleweight title.
And from there, he unleashed a level of trash-talking persona that was, at the time, unmatched in UFC history.
Modeling himself on old-school pro-wrestlers like Ric Flair and Billy Graham, Sonnen began to slam Silva at every possible opportunity and didn’t stop there.
He took shots at Silva’s coaches, the Nogueira brothers, as well as the entire country of Brazil – making him instantly the UFC’s biggest heel.
And incredibly, legal issues surrounding a money laundering charge – as well as a positive drug test – only added to his new American Gangster image.
While Sonnen failed to win his feud with Silva, losing both of their fights, his new persona made him an instant star for the UFC. He went on to headline plenty of shows in both the UFC and Bellator.
Whether The American Gangster was tongue-in-cheek with his trash talk remains tricky to say, but it definitely worked for him – and made him a fighter who the fans loved to hate.
#2 Jorge Masvidal
A veteran of MMA dating back to 2003, Jorge Masvidal always had a certain edge about him. In fact, in his early days, he was a renowned street fighter in Miami.
But for the most part, his personality never truly shone through during his early years in the UFC. Gamebred was seen as a tough fighter with a fun style to watch, but that was about it.
Like other fighters, though, Masvidal decided to flip the script and embrace his inner heel.
After his loss to Stephen Thompson in late 2017, he took over a year away from the UFC. And when he returned, he was almost unrecognizable.
Masvidal had grown out his hair and beard and was now labeled ‘Street Jesus’ by some online fans. And Gamebred quickly embraced the persona, stating that while he wasn’t God, he was “baptizing people with his hands."
And after he knocked out Ben Askren with a flying knee in just seconds – and mocked him in the aftermath of the fight – his heel turn was absolutely complete.
These days, Masvidal looks like the UFC’s version of Scarface, wearing gaudy robes, constantly talking trash, and embracing his persona as the “baddest mother****** in the UFC."
And with a number of top-selling pay-per-views under his belt, it’s a personality switch that’s definitely worked for him.
#3 Colby Covington
Like Chael Sonnen, Colby Covington was an entirely non-descript fighter in his early UFC days.
Despite his fantastic fighting skills – centered around his excellent wrestling – Covington struggled to make the fans care about him.
But noting the success of other fighters who apparently “turned heel," Covington switched things up in 2017 by embracing his inner villain.
And these days, Chaos is probably the most hated man in the UFC.
Like Sonnen, Covington began his villainous turn by verbally hitting out at Brazil, in this instance following his wins over Demian Maia and Rafael dos Anjos.
But Chaos didn’t stop there.
Looking to capitalize on the fractious political climate in the US, Covington embraced Trumpism to the hilt.
Covington regularly sported MAGA-labeled clothing, unleashed xenophobic rants at the likes of Kamaru Usman, and even headed to the White House to meet the then-President after he won the interim UFC Welterweight title.
All of this had a massive effect on his crowd reactions, with fans attending UFC events booing vociferously whenever Covington was shown on screen.
Whether Covington is a fighter who the fans love to hate – or whether the fans would rather him simply disappear – is still a fair question based on his reactions.
However, there’s no disputing the fact that he’s now one of the UFC’s premier heels – and has ridden that horse all the way to the bank.
#4 Michael Bisping
Like plenty of pro-wrestling heels, Michael Bisping’s toughness, tenacity and sheer desire to succeed eventually made him a firm favorite with UFC fans, a spot he occupies to this day in his new role as a commentator.
However, at his peak, The Count was arguably the UFC’s most hated villain, with fans – particularly in the US – booing him at every possible turn.
It wasn’t always that way for Bisping. The British fighter emerged from TUF 3 as a likable character, only to earn the ire of American fans after a questionable decision win in London over Matt Hamill.
Bisping then used his naturally quick wit to embrace a trash-talking persona. When he coached a British fighters team against Dan Henderson’s US team on TUF 9, his slide into villainy was complete.
The Count earned even more heel points after beating Jorge Rivera in a foul-filled fight before spitting on him afterward. He further embraced this persona during another TUF coaching stint, this time against Jason Miller.
However, unlike other UFC villains, it was always largely clear that Bisping’s act was tongue-in-cheek.
And by the time he was a long-tenured veteran who would simply attempt to climb the ladder each time he was knocked off, it became just as easy to love him as it did to hate him – despite his bad guy image.
#5 Josh Koscheck
A contestant on the inaugural season of TUF, Josh Koscheck quickly established himself as a big-time villain thanks to his feud with Chris Leben on the reality show.
And when he entered the UFC proper in mid-2005, it immediately became clear that Koscheck was going to be a fighter that the fans loved to hate.
Koscheck even embraced a less-than-exciting fighting style, using his incredible wrestling skills to “blanket” fighters in a way that often frustrated live crowds, who were only just beginning to understand the nuances of MMA.
However, Koscheck’s peak as a heel undoubtedly came between 2009 and 2010.
Not only was he accused of feigning injury following illegal blows in fights with Anthony Johnson and Paul Daley, but he also unleashed some serious trash talk against UFC Welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre – arguably the most beloved man in the UFC.
Koscheck eventually parlayed his heel persona into a spot as a TUF coach against GSP and excelled in his role as villain, entering into a bizarre confrontation with a medic and behaving like a bullying jock.
A serious eye injury would largely derail Koscheck’s UFC career shortly after, but at his peak, there was no better heel in the UFC.