Top 5 MMA promoters who can fight

(From left to right) MMA promoters Antonio Inoki, Masakatsu Funaki, Chatri Sityodtong, and Khabib Nurmagomedov are life-long martial artists. (Image courtesy: @thatprowrestlingnova, @takada_fightfan, @yodchatri, and @khabib_nurmagomkedov on Instagram)
(From left to right) MMA promoters Antonio Inoki, Masakatsu Funaki, Chatri Sityodtong, and Khabib Nurmagomedov are life-long martial artists. (Image courtesy: @thatprowrestlingnova, @takada_fightfan, @yodchatri, and @khabib_nurmagomkedov on Instagram)

Last Wednesday, during Ariel Helwani's The MMA Hour, a hypothetical fight was discussed: Chatri Sityodtong vs. Dana White. The bout between two of the world's most well-known MMA promoters has been hotly discussed since it was first brought up a few months ago.

Helwani mentioned the fight during his 30-minute segment with ONE Championship CEO and founder, Chatri Sityodtong. Though the legendary Thai entrepreneur dismissed the idea as something his marketing team was merely having fun with, he did share some interesting thoughts:

Chatri further expounded on his statement by pointing out the major difference between him and the always controversial UFC president:

“I think he’s a fan, so I have differences. I come from the martial arts community. I come from the martial arts background. And how I treat my athletes, they are my peers. I come from the community. It’s very, very different.”

Watch Chatri's full segment in this video:

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Though Chatri's opinion on White can be contested, what he said about himself being part of the martial arts community is true. The Harvard Business School alumnus has been training in Muay Thai for thirty-seven years and is currently a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brownbelt.

We are, however, not interested in writing odds on who would win this hypothetical bout. This whole topic got us more interested in the idea of an MMA promoter knowing how to fight as well.

As someone who sells fights, it sure does provide helpful insight if you understand what it's like to get punched or choked out. Even car salesmen have to have some kind of knowledge about how cars work, right? Today we list down the top five MMA promoters who can fight.


#5. MMA pioneer and UFC president Dana White

The brash genius behind the meteoric rise of the UFC into mainstream consciousness may know a thing or two about fighting. Regardless of what Chatri said about White's combat knowledge, there's some evidence to prove that he can fight. He does have a boxing and grappling gym at home, after all.

White has also publicly told the story of how he had a full-blown fist-fight with former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz on a plane.

Watch him talk about the fight on the Conan O'Brien show:

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Aside from this, a boxing match between the legendary MMA promoter and the former champion was officially scheduled to happen back in 2007. According to White in an interview with TMZ, it was Ortiz who threw down the gauntlet, but then backed out at the last minute:

"He challenged me. [I] trained for it, I brought in like real guys, I spent serious time really training for this fight, and I was absolutely gonna do it. He blinked. I absolutely would've won that boxing match."

Now, this isn't factual evidence that Dana can truly handle himself in a fist-fight. It's all stories. However, if you are willing to fight a former MMA world champion in a sanctioned boxing match, well, you must have some skills.

#4. Japanese MMA icon and Pancrase co-founder, Masakatsu Funaki

The sport of MMA owes a lot to Japanese pro wrestling legend Masakatsu Funaki and yet, not a lot of people know about him.

Funaki co-founded Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling, a fight organization that predated the existence of both the UFC and PRIDE FC. The two fight leagues owe a lot to what Funaki, together with fellow shoot wrestler Minoru Suzuki, started back in 1993.

Deriving its name from the Greek combat sport Pankration, Pancrase heavily borrowed from pro/shoot-style wrestling but with no worked finish. Therefore, they were fighting for real. It was one of the first televised iterations of mixed martial arts before the UFC fully established it as a sport.

One of the most successful fighters from the first Pancrase event was Ken Shamrock, who beat Funaki via arm triangle choke. Due to his monumental win, Ken got a call from the UFC months later to fight in their first event. The rest, as they say, is history.

Not only was Funaki an influential promoter of both Japanese MMA and the sport in general, he's also a tremendous fighter. Boasting over 50 pro fights, Funaki has the rare distinction of being the only fighter to hold submission wins over both Ken and Frank Shamrock as well as Bas Rutten.


#3. Japanese wrestling and martial arts legend Antonio Inoki

Funaki inspired a lot of pro-wrestlers like Kazushi Sakuraba and Kazuyuki Fujita to jump into mixed martial arts and further establish the sport in Japan. It was, however, Antonio Inoki who gave him the idea in the first place.

Inoki is famous for his 1976 special rules match with boxing's greatest, Muhammad Ali, in Nippon Budokan Arena in front of thousands of people.

Massive intrigue was generated when the greatest boxer in the world, Ali, showed interest in taking on wrestling's best. Though the fight was heavily publicized with over a billion projected viewers, it ended as a bizarre disappointment.

Due to both fight camps not coming to an agreement with the ruleset, Inoki was forced to fight in the weirdest way possible. The catch wrestling icon and former Karate fighter was only allowed to throw kicks if one or both of his knees were on the ground.

The fight was a 15-round dance with Ali running around the ring and Inoki lying on his back kicking the living daylights out of Ali's legs. The fight ended in a draw and Ali was hospitalized due to blood clots in his legs caused by Inoki's kicks.

Watch this well-written analysis of the fight in this YouTube video by The Modern Martial Artist below:

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Though it was a disappointment, the fight was the first superfight to resemble an MMA bout, inspiring wrestlers like Funaki to dabble in the concept.

Aside from this fight, Inoki was known to beat fighters from different disciplines, using his catch wrestling and karate backgrounds. During his illustrious career, Inoki promoted MMA alongside pro wrestling in promotions like NJPW, Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye and Inoki Genome Federation.

One of the most famous fighters to come out of Inoki's promotional exploits was former UFC champion, Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida.

#2. Asian MMA spearheader Chatri Sityodtong

This man is the reason why we have this list in the first place. As was already said, MMA promoter Chatri Sityodtong is a lifelong martial artist. Starting training in Muay Thai at a very young age, Chatri not only knows how to fight, but also lives by the martial way. It's a philosophy he instills in the fighters signed under his ONE Championship banner.

It's been said that the most dangerous people are the ones who can cause absolute violence and chaos but choose not to. If this statement is true, then Chatri is the perfect example. The ONE founder has an indimidating air about him that's cloaked under a mild-mannered, soft-spoken personality.

Sityodtong famously founded ONE Championship with the idea of bringing martial arts home where it belongs. Asia has always been synonymous with the mystique and prestige of martial arts and ONE celebrates this in the most honorable way.

This philosophy, together with Chatri's strong martial arts background, influenced how ONE treats its athletes. It's one of the most glaring things that separates the Asian promotion from other fight leagues today. Chatri might be the most capable promoter when it comes to understanding fighters' lives on a more personal level.


#1. Eagle FC founder and former UFC champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov

As if there's any question on who's going to be at the top of this list. To say that undefeated former MMA champion and Eagle FC promoter Khabib Nurmagomedov can fight is like saying water is wet.

Not only can 'The Eagle' fight, he's made the best MMA fighters look like amateurs inside the cage with him. Not a lot of things can be said about Khabib's fighting career that haven't been said already. The Dagestani MMA legend won and defended the UFC belt in one of the most dominant runs the company has ever seen.

His career as a promoter, however, is still budding at the moment. His exploits with Eagle Fighting Championship have been gaining traction as of late. The Russian fight league recently signed former UFC vets Kevin Lee, Renan Barao, Rashad Evans and 'Big Foot' Silva.

Khabib definitely has the knowledge and wisdom to not just sell fights, but promote martial arts philosophies as well. His successful MMA career and life as a martial artist are testaments to that. That's why he's at the top of our list

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Edited by John Cunningham
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