Guest post by Evolve MMA, Asia’s premier championship brand for martial arts. It has the most number of World Champions on the planet. Named as the #1 ranked martial arts organization in Asia by CNN, Yahoo! Sports, FOX Sports, Evolve MMA is the top rated BJJ gym in Singapore.
Martial arts have given us many inspirational role models over the years as their popularity worldwide increased. Martial arts have always been more than fighting systems: it’s a way of life that teaches you how to become the best version of yourself.
This article will take a look at some of the most inspiring martial arts in history and examine their stories.
Ten Most Inspiring Martial Arts Role Models
Ready to find out which martial artists have had the biggest impact on the world? Let’s jump right into our list:
1) Bruce Lee
Ancient martial arts were extremely tribalistic. Martial artists would often only train in whatever fighting system that was popular where they were from while looking down on all other styles. As a result, many of these fighting systems started losing their effectiveness as more practical modern fighting systems like Western boxing were developed.
Bruce Lee was decades ahead of his peers and realized how backward it was to consider one fighting system superior to another. Lee didn’t believe there was any such thing as the “perfect” martial art. He believed the best approach to martial arts training was to “be like water.”
This means being willing to incorporate techniques from any martial art as long as it is effective. This mentality led to the creation of Jeet Kune Do, the first modern martial art to incorporate techniques from a diverse selection of martial arts.
Fast forward a few decades after Lee’s death and mixed martial arts was born. These days, you’ll rarely find a martial artist who believes one style is better than another. Cross-training in different martial arts is now the norm and Bruce Lee’s philosophy towards martial arts has a lot to do with that.
Lee was more than just a martial artist. He was a revolutionary philosopher who broke many barriers during his time.
2) Muhammad Ali
People who aren’t familiar with Muhammad Ali’s story might think his incredible popularity worldwide was due to his incredible boxing skills, but that’s only half of the equation. Sure, Ali was one of the best heavyweight boxers to ever live and his ability to come back from adversity and emerge victorious was second to none.
However, Ali became a household name because of who he was, not what he did for a living. At the time, racial tensions were at an all-time high in the U.S. and many other Western countries with minorities demanding to be treated with respect and dignity.
Ali wasn’t a man who could be oppressed and he challenged the status quo loudly at a time when most people were scared to speak up. He put himself at risk with his refusal to bow down and even ended up being stripped of his heavyweight title and going to jail for it.
Ali would not be broken, though. He stuck to his principles and earned the adoration of the entire world for it.
3) Royce Gracie
Hardcore BJJ players often blush when Royce’s name is mentioned. One of the sons of the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he’s the reason BJJ has become so popular worldwide. Most people had no idea who Royce was heading into his first fight at the inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship, but everyone was trying to figure out what his fighting style was by the end of the event.
Royce was the smallest man at the tournament, walking in at about 180 pounds. No one had any answers for him or his BJJ during the first few tournaments. He took all of his opponents down and submitted, and won three of the first four UFC tournaments. He probably would have won all four if an injury didn’t force him to withdraw from UFC 3 after making it to the quarter-finals.
BJJ schools started popping up everywhere after Gracie’s historic run during the first few UFC tournaments. It instantly made BJJ one of the most popular martial arts on the planet.
4) Anderson Silva
No one has made cage fighting more entertaining than Anderson Silva. In his prime, his technique was levels ahead of the competition as he mixed up techniques from various martial arts like Muay Thai, Wing Chun, and BJJ. His defense was so good, it would feel like you were watching a movie during his fights as he evaded strikes with precise movements that resembled the scene of Neo dodging bullets in the Matrix movie.
Silva is the longest-reigning champion in MMA history, holding on to the UFC’s middleweight title for almost seven years. His unorthodox techniques and his open-mindedness towards martial arts separate him from other martial artists. Anderson Silva is the embodiment of the type of martial artist Bruce Lee would have been if he had a chance to compete in modern mixed martial arts.
5) Samart Payakaroon
Samart Payakaroon is widely regarded as the best Muay Thai fighter ever, despite his unintimidating appearance. Payakaroon’s unique understanding of Muay Thai is what gave him the edge against opponents.
Samart started training in Muay Thai as a child with his older brother and started fighting shortly after he started training. He went on to win over 200 Muay Thai fights and had similar success in boxing where he compiled a 21-2 record.
6) Ronda Rousey
No one has impacted women’s MMA as Ronda Rousey did. She transitioned to the sport after a successful run at the 2008 Olympic Games, where she won a bronze medal in Judo. Before that, she had won virtually every Judo tournament in the U.S. and many International Judo Federation tournaments.
We’re not here to talk about her many accolades in Judo though. It’s the way she took over the MMA world during her reign that puts her on our list.
After going 3-0 as an amateur, Rousey signed with Strikeforce where she won all six of her fights via first-round armbar. Her biggest fight was against Miesha Tate as it ended up being the most successful MMA card headlined by women at the time. The fight was so entertaining, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s president Dana White switched his tune about women fighting in the promotion afterward.
Rousey was awarded the UFC’s women’s title when Strikeforce was bought out by the UFC, and she successfully defended the belt six times with most of her victories coming via first-round armbar. She eventually lost the title to Holly Holm and lost her comeback fight against Amanda Nunes.
There’s no question about it; women’s MMA wouldn’t be where it is today without Rousey.
7) Manny Pacquiao
Pacquiao might not sport a 50-0 record like Floyd Mayweather, but that doesn’t make his story any less inspiring. From being born into poverty to running from home as a child, life threw every obstacle you can imagine at Manny Pacquaio, but he always got back up.
Pacquiao’s first obstacle as a boxer was getting knocked out by Rustico Torrecampo, but he came back better than ever and won his next 15 bouts.
The most impressive part of Pacquiao’s life is how he transitioned from boxing to politics when it was time to hang up the gloves. He is now a congressman in the Philippines.
8) Marcus Almeida
Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida is arguably the best BJJ player ever with over 128 wins in competitions and only 13 losses. He’s won over 25 gold medals in international competitions with a few silver and bronze medals sprinkled in.
Almeida eventually transitioned to MMA and has amassed a record 4-0 record fighting with ONE championship all of his fights ending in the first round, mostly via submissions.
9) Angela Lee
Angela is a martial arts prodigy who started training at the age of six. She’s trained BJJ, Wrestling, Taekwondo, Pankration, and Muay Thai, making her one of the most well-rounded women in MMA. Angela won the ONE Women’s Atomweight Championship in 2016, and she’s successfully defended the belt five times. She has also inspired a whole new generation of young girls to pursue their dreams and take up martial arts.
10) Demetrious Johnson
Evolve Fight Team’s “Mighty Mouse: is another one of the most inspiring martial artists worldwide. While being the smallest man on our list, no one would ever question his heart. Besides being the most well-rounded fighter in MMA, DJ has faced his share of adversity and always came out on top.
He managed to stay at the top of the flyweight division for years despite the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s attempts to sabotage his career. He came back stronger than ever after losing to Adriano Moraes and went on to avenge his loss, becoming the ONE Flyweight World Champion.