On November 12, 1993, the Ultimate Fighting Championship hosted an eight-man, style vs. style tournament to decided what martial art was best in actual combat. An undersized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt would eventually win the tournament, submitting three opponents in five minutes.

From this no-holds-barred competition, a combat sports revolution was born. Mixed martial arts began as a competition between styles and arts, but it has grown into an art of its own, incorporating aspects of wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a myriad of other traditional arts.

There have been many great fighters who have competed in MMA, but I often wonder how other athletes could have done in MMA had the sport been around when they were in their prime or had they decided to go down that path. Let’s look at 10 athletes who could have found great success in MMA competition.

No. 10: Jim Brown

Jim Brown is one of the greatest athletes of all time and he excelled in every athletic endeavor he chose to take part in. Brown had a unique blend of size, speed, strength and toughness that led him to a Hall-of-Fame NFL career. Had MMA been around in Brown’s day, he would have been a very dangerous heavyweight. His athleticism and natural aggression would have translated well into the sport.

No. 9: Stephen Neal

Stephen Neal was a tremendous NFL offensive lineman, but he was an even better amatuer wrestler. Neal was a two-time NCAA national champion, a four-time All-American and a Dan Hodge Trophy winner. In addition to that, he was a U.S. freestyle champion, a Pan-American champion and a world champion. In 1999, Neal won the FILA Outstanding Wrestler Award, which is given to the best wrestler in the world.

With Neal’s combination of size, speed, strength, balance and technique, he would have made a seamless transition into MMA had he gone down that path.

No. 8: John Smith

Wrestlers have always done well in MMA, especially in the lower weight classes. John Smith would be no different. Smith is a former two-time NCAA champion, a two-time Pan-American champion, a six-time world champion and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Smith dominated international competition, compiling a 100-5 record. At 135 pounds, no one would be able to outwork this man.

No. 7: Giorgio Petrosyan

If you are a kickboxing fan, then you’re aware of Giorgio Petrosyan. But if you are not, go look him up on YouTube right now. Although he is still only 28, Petrosyan is one of the greatest pound-for-pound kickboxers of all time, if not the greatest. “The Doctor” has compiled an impressive 76-2-2 (1 NC) record since turning pro at age 16. Very few, if any, fighters in the lightweight division would be able to handle his technical excellence on the feet. If Petrosyan can learn to stop the takedown, then no one would have a chance.

No. 6: Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali is the greatest boxer of all time, and it is easy to imagine that he would have had similar success in MMA had that been an option when he was in his prime. Ali had spectacular footwork and head movement. If you think Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida are hard to hit, go back and watch Ali dance around the ring. Between his speed, his reach and his mastery of the sweet science, he would have easily found himself at the pinnacle of the sport.

No. 5: Chuck Norris

All joking aside, this former action star is one of the greatest martial artists of his generation. Chuck Norris is a 10th degree black belt in Chun Kuk Do (the style he created), a ninth degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, an eighth degree black belt in taekwondo, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a black belt in judo.

From 1964 to 1974, Norris competed on the competitive karate circuit and compiled a career 183-10-2 record. Norris retired from the sport as the World Professional MIddleweight Karate champion. As a pioneer in martial arts cross-training, Norris could have found great success in MMA.

No. 4: Gene LeBell

Gene LeBell is the “Godfather of Grappling” in the United States for his role in bringing the art of judo into the world of television and movies. LeBell is a two-time AAU National Judo champion in the heavyweight and overall divisions. LeBell also is a 10th degree red belt in judo and a ninth degree black belt in jujitsu. LeBell was a great competition grappler and has become the greatest judo teacher in America. Just imagine what he would have done in the sport of MMA.

No. 3: Cael Sanderson

Cael Sanderson is one of the greatest wrestlers to have ever graced the mat. Sanderson was a four-time Utah state high school champion, a four-time NCAA national champion, a four-time NCAA Outstanding Wrestler and a three-time Hodge Trophy winner. He was an undefeated 159-0 in his collegiate career.

After his spectacular college career, Sanderson went on to win bronze in the Pan-American games, silver in the World Championships and gold in the 2004 Olympics. Sanderson has the grit, determination and the will to win that would have catapulted him to the top of the MMA world.

No. 2: Dan Gable

Wrestlers have appeared on this list in several spots, but none would have been better in MMA competition than the great Dan Gable. Gable was a two-time NCAA national champion and an Olympic gold medalist. During the 1972 Olympics, he did not surrender a single point.

That utter dominance over international competition would have translated seamlessly into MMA. Gable would have been unstoppable at both featherweight and lightweight.

No. 1: Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is perhaps the greatest martial artist of all time, and he had one of the most beautiful combative minds ever. Lee understood martial arts at its core and understood the shortfalls within each individual art. Lee was a true pioneer, and had it not been for him and his theories on fighting, we may not have MMA today.

Lee, like Norris, created his own martial art and was an avid cross-trainer working with masters of various styles, including LeBell. With his speed, strength and understanding of effective movement, Lee would have been great in competition.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.

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  • Cody

    Why disregard The Gracie’s and Mitsuyo Maeda?

  • Mathew Kimbrell

    The name that I don’t see would have probably been one of the best MMA legends of all time…. Dan Hodge. Golden Gloves Winner. Undefeated college wrestler, 2 time Olympic wrestler and silver medalist. Long time professional wrestler. He had the physical abilities, the diverse skills, the toughness, and the entertainment factor.