The UFC has attracted martial artists from all manner of disciplines over the years. From Karate to freestyle wrestling and everything in between, champions have come in all shapes, sizes and styles. What is rare, however, are fighters who come lacking in martial arts experience prior to their debuts.
Some of the fighters in this list ultimately did change up their styles and levels of expertise. Regardless, there was a time in their careers where a lower volume of training compared to their peers set them apart. These inexperienced combatants had everything from dangerous and surprising tactics that trained fighters had no preparation for to superhuman athleticism.
In having less experience to fall back on, these five fighters revealed hidden depths and approaches no one was ready for. Some times, less really can be more.
#5. Former UFC middleweight fighter Nate Quarry
Nate Quarry’s first professional fight came at the relatively late age of 29. A member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses growing up, Quarry (12-4) was banned from taking part in any competitive sports. Quarry only discovered MMA at age 24 and was excommunicated from his family as a punishment for beginning training.
Quarry exhibited an unorthodox blend of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai in the octagon. What he lacked in experience, he more than made up for in athleticism and aggression.
Quarry debuted for the UFC with a TKO win over Lodune Sincaid in April 2005. Quarry’s dangerous and unconventional striking netted him several stoppage wins in the UFC and even had Kalib Starnes running for his life at UFC 183. Quarry’s late stage training and subsequently volatile approach to striking and grappling made him a dangerous man right up to his retirement in 2012.
#4. Former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar
A colossal box office draw for the UFC, WWE’s Brock Lesnar (5-3-1) wasn’t exactly the most technically skilled of fighters. At 6’3 and clocking in at well over 265lbs when not fighting, the gargantuan Lesnar had hulk-like strength in spades.
A wrestler in high school and college, Lesnar had to play catch-up when it came to striking and submissions. Having spent most of his 20s in WWE, The Beast was inexperienced in most aspects of the game. This was shown up almost immediately by Lesnar’s nemesis, Frank Mir. Tapping Brock out in the first round of their UFC 81 clash, Mir went out of his way to lampoon the former WWE champ for the next year.
What Brock Lesnar lacked in expertise, he more than made up for in ruthless aggression. Explosively strong and surprisingly light-footed for his size, Lesnar exhibited unpredictable striking and ground and pound.
Lesnar hammered home just how dangerous his unwieldy style could be when he scored a TKO victory over UFC heavyweight champ Randy Couture. The evolution of Lesnar’s power was on full display when he retained the gold against Mir in a brutal encounter at UFC 100. Had Lesnar trained from an early age in the likes of boxing and Muay Thai, it’s unlikely his scary approach to striking would have developed the way it did.
#3 Former UFC Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin
Rich Franklin, a high school maths teacher turned UFC middleweight champion, had an unconventional road to MMA glory. Franklin (29-7-1) was almost 25 when he made his professional fighting debut in 1999.
While he had practiced Karate from a young age, Franklin never considered a life in the fight game growing up. When MMA piqued his interest, Franklin began preparing to fight in a 12’x15’ backyard shed and by watching training videos. This minimalist approach eventually helped Franklin develop an eccentric style that he built further over the next seven years.
By the time he picked up a TKO over MMA legend Ken Shamrock in 2005, Franklin’s punching power was widely feared. Franklin gradually moved into more conventional training in disciplines such as BJJ, wrestling and kickboxing. Despite this, his innovative approach to striking remained his signature in the octagon.
#2. Current UFC heavyweight fighter Derrick Lewis
By his own admission, Derrick Lewis (25-7-1) is seriously lacking in martial arts expertise. Taking up boxing at age 17, Lewis would eventually receive training from two-time world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medallist George Foreman. Despite showing promise in pugilism, Lewis decided to commit to MMA full time after decimating Nick Mitchell in his first professional fight.
Adopting a minimalist approach, Lewis has been known to spend just 30-60 minutes in the gym training each day. Fond of pad work and cardio machines such as the treadmill and Stairmaster, the enormous Lewis rarely lifts weights or spars. Beyond taking tips from YouTube videos, he lacks expertise in any of the major martial arts successfully employed by MMA fighters over the years.
Inhumanly strong and unpredictable, Lewis’ lack of knowledge in martial arts styles has led to the formation of his own one. With lightning fast knockout power and some of the most bizarre takedown escapes ever caught on camera, Lewis is supremely dangerous. The number 2 ranked UFC heavyweight, Lewis is gearing up for a UFC heavyweight title match with old foe Francis Ngannou later this year.
#1. Former UFC middleweight champion Frank Shamrock
Widely lauded as one of the most complete mixed martial artists ever, Frank Shamrock was a different beast in his early years. Adopted by Bob Shamrock after a rough childhood spent in foster homes and juvenile prisons, Frank did not initially pursue martial arts. At 22, he revealed to Bob Shamrock that he intended to drop out of college.
Understandably disappointed, Bob Shamrock only let Frank move back in with him on one condition: he begin training in submission wrestling with Ken Shamrock.
Starting at a relatively late age, the inexperienced Frank Shamrock set the world on fire less than one year later. Debuting for Japanese MMA promotion Pancrase in 1994, Shamrock took on MMA heavyweight pioneer Bas Rutten. In one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history, Shamrock upset the three-time King of Pancrase with a decision victory.
Shamrock’s eccentric grappling and approach to locking in submissions proved hit and miss over the next year. While he did take down Pancrase founding father Minoru Suzuki, Shamrock was submitted by Manabu Yamada and Masakatsu Funaki. Improving with every bout, Shamrock won the King of Pancrase title in 1996.
What Shamrock lacked in experience at the time was more than made up for in intensity and athleticism. Shamrock’s prodigious performances led to his total immersion in martial arts for the next six years. In that time, Shamrock went from an unorthodox grappler in Pancrase to a well-rounded striker and blackbelt submission wrestler who took the UFC by storm. Experienced or inexperienced, Frank Shamrock frequently proved himself to be one of the best to ever do it.
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