(L) The late Curt Hennig shows why they called him “Mr. Perfect”; (R) Jean-Claude Van Daaaamn, that’s a sweet haircut
When you think about it, it only makes sense that MMA and mullets would get along famously. From its roots in vale tudo, no-holds-barred fighting has been about the combination of styles into an all-encompassing mixed martial art. Similarly, a truly successful mullet is a harmonious blend of two or more haircuts. Outside the cage or ring, the influences are there, as well. Martial arts films of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s were an enormously formative influence on future mixed martial artists, as was the kissing-cousins relationship between professional wrestling and MMA. Along with showmanship and stylistic aspirations, chop-socky cinema and pro wrasslin’ brought with them a serious penchant for bi-level hairstyles.
With the relationship between the warrior’s hairstyle and the warrior’s sport firmly established from the beginning, it is no surprise that the history of modern mixed martial arts features a wealth of spectacular mullets, and now that the unexpected runaway success of the Netflix documentary “Tiger King” has brought the world’s greatest haircut back into the public eye, there could be no better time to immortalize them. What follows are the five greatest mulleted fighters of all-time. The list was compiled by the MMA Hall of [email protected]#$%^g Awesome committee, using a complicated secret formula that took into account the career of the fighter, as well as the aesthetic excellence of his or her trademark mullet. Thus, the higher names on the list might not own the most impressive records or the most splendid plumage, but they managed to embody the best of both worlds, just like the mullet itself.
As a final note, the committee took into account primarily those things that a fighter accomplished while flying the flag of Mulletania. Vitor Belfort, for example, has an all-time great legacy in the sport, but only wore the mullet for a few glorious years and was penalized as a result. The mullet is a jealous mistress and does not smile upon those who fear long-term commitment.
Vitor Belfort: “The Phenom” already had an impressive legacy at heavyweight and light heavyweight by 2013, when he authored one of MMA’s most remarkable career reinventions by dropping to middleweight and felling Top 10 contenders Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson with a new arsenal of spectacular head kicks. His detractors claimed it was all due to testosterone replacement therapy, while Belfort himself credited faith, family and good genetics. Of course, we know the truth: It was the mullet.
Belfort’s restless pursuit of new hairstyles never before seen by God or man meant that his love affair with the world’s greatest haircut was short lived, and by the time 2014 rolled around, it had already mutated into a hybrid Mohawk/mullet that barely even qualified. Perhaps not coincidentally, he never again reached the heights of that incredible three-fight tear.
Amanda Nunes: At this point, there are two kinds of people in the world: people who believe Nunes is the greatest female fighter ever and those who are wrong. The two-division champ’s incredible résumé includes first-round knockouts of the previous greatest featherweight of all-time (Cristiane Justino) and the previous greatest bantamweight of all-time (Ronda Rousey), as well as two wins over the greatest flyweight of all-time (Valentina Shevchenko). Add to that her knockouts of Holly Holm, Germaine de Randamie and Julia Budd, plus her rear-naked choke of Miesha Tate, and Nunes has stoppage victories over every other woman who has ever held an Ultimate Fighting Championship or Bellator MMA title in either of the two divisions in which she competes.
Unfortunately for the purposes of this list, the “Lioness” only embraced the true glory of her mane in the early years of her career, so her unparalleled dominance in the cage is held back by her questionable commitment to the mullet. If Nunes wishes to appear in the Top 5 next time, she knows what to do.
Keith Hackney/Harold Howard: If there were a Mixed Martial Mullet Hall of Fame, and it had a “pioneer wing,” these two would not only be in it, but their names would be over the door. Both debuted at UFC 3, bringing some sorely needed splendor to the still-new promotion. They represented the perfect duality of the mullet. Hackney’s was the neatly blended and carefully brushed coiffure of an 1980s action movie hero, equally at home at the hockey rink or the business office in the back of that hockey rink, while Howard’s blond mane was so wild, untamed and distinctive that he was legally allowed to present it in lieu of a passport when traveling to or from his native Canada.
While neither man spent long in no-holds-barred fighting, both left their mark. Howard, of course, blessed the sport with one of its first immortal sound bites—“If you’re comin’ on … come on!”—while Hackney, like some kind of time-traveling vigilante from the future, famously unloaded a stream of punches to the cup of Joe Son at UFC 4—an act that would only be vindicated years later when Son turned out to be one of the most despicable criminals ever to pass through MMA.
No. 5: Ricky Simon
Easily the youngest of the fighters on this list at 27 years of age, Simon may not have hit his competitive peak yet. Assuming his commitment to the mullet remains strong, he could be a fast riser on this list, as his hair game is nearly unmatched in the annals of major MMA. Those who have seen him ply his trade, whether in the Octagon, during his victorious appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series or his stints in Legacy Fighting Alliance or Titan Fighting Championship, know that Simon flies the flag proudly. His is not a borderline mullet, but a true, flowing, lovingly grown work of hair art.
Simon’s mullet exists in perfect synergy with his fight style, which is characterized by a frenetic work rate—even for a bantamweight—with punching flurries melting seamlessly into his scrambling-heavy grappling game. Combined with his unshorn locks, the effect is like a small, mulleted tornado. It is enough to bring a tear to even the most jaded aficionado of mixed martial mullets and clearly a hit with squares as well, as attested by his two “Fight of the Night” bonuses in five UFC appearances. Disturbingly, a mullet-less Simon was seen in the cage at UFC Fight Night 171—a choice he attributed to his wife’s distaste for the hairstyle. However, love makes people do crazy things, and Simon has plenty of time to right the ship. May he keep it going strong for the new generation of fighters.
No. 4: Ikuhisa Minowa
Considering that Minowa went to work wearing nothing but a bright red Speedo for over two decades, it is a wonder that anyone even noticed his hair, so the fact that his mullet became just as essential a visual trademark as his banana hammock is high praise indeed. Minowa’s mullet was a great one: fairly conservative in length but always impeccably trimmed, which is an achievement in itself considering just how often it had to be camera-ready.
“Minowaman” racked up some MMA superlatives simply through the cumulative power of his longevity and prolific schedule. With a résumé that includes such outliers on the human genome as Bob Sapp, Wagner da Conceicao "Zuluzinho" Martins, Paulo Cesar "Giant" Silva, Hong Man Choi, Eric "Butterbean" Esch and Jimmy Ambriz, he is probably MMA’s all-time career leader in fights with opponents standing over 7-feet tall and/or weighing over 300 pounds, a remarkable statistic for a 5-foot-9 middleweight. It is fitting that he won the Dream Super Hulk Grand Prix, as he should have been awarded the belt as a lifetime achievement award anyway.
Similarly, with well over 100 fights in a professional campaign that ran from 1996 to 2017 and an admirable commitment to the strongest hairstyle, Minowa is likely Team Mullet’s all-time leader in career appearances. We would certainly stop short of claiming Minowa was a great fighter; he chose to embrace spectacle and entertainment over straightforward sporting achievement just as early and just as fervently as he embraced the mullet. However, he was often a very good fighter and certainly a unique and memorable one; and his was an all-time great mullet.
No. 3: Miguel Torres
For several years in the late 2000s, Torres was among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. His reign as one of the top mullets in the sport, of course, was much longer. Torres sported a mane as unique and aggressive as his fight style: a spiky, sidewalled shag that was often nicknamed the “wolf cut,” yet it was undeniably a mullet in all its glory. An entire generation of fight fans who had grown up on Final Fantasy VII and Kingdom Hearts looked at Torres and saw the ghost of their favorite escaped lab animal: Red XIII.
In his competitive prime, Torres offered up a formidable combination of rangy kickboxing and a hyper-aggressive, submission-focused guard game that was hampered by somewhat porous takedown defense. He rode that style as far as it would carry him, which was pretty far, especially when backed up by his natural toughness and dogfight mentality. He started his career 37-1 and captured the World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight belt when it was arguably the most prestigious title in its weight class anywhere in the world.
Torres’ reign of terror over the division finally ended at the hands of Brian Bowles, though for the record, the Mullet Committee still believes it was unfair that he had to fight a guy named Bowles who had a bowl cut. Subsequent setbacks against Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson—even if he arguably won the latter—showed that the fun was over, and Torres quickly disappeared from contention once he landed in the UFC. However, nothing can erase the breathtaking excellence of his trademark mullet or the glory of his initial WEC run.
No. 2: Roy Nelson
Let us be honest: It would be disappointing if a fighter who went by the nickname “Big Country” did not have a mullet and an impressive one at that. Fortunately, the longtime heavyweight contender did not let us down, sporting a truly spectacular set of plumage that at its best—and before he let his beard grow unchecked—left him looking like an alternate-universe Billy Ray Cyrus that had just eaten his own twin.
Nelson’s career accomplishments are as impressive in their own way as his mullet. Going into the all-heavyweight Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Nelson was picked ninth, in spite of being the final International Fight League heavyweight champion and the most experienced fighter in the cast. Nelson won with relative ease—he defeated No. 1 pick James McSweeney, No. 2 Kevin Ferguson, No. 3 Brendan Schaub and No. 5 Justin Wren along the way—to secure the Ultimate Fighting Championship contract. The sight of UFC President Dana White presenting Nelson “The Ultimate Fighter” trophy, looking more miserable than he would ever look while giving an award to a fighter not named Tyron Woodley, all while Nelson rubbed his ample gut, made “Big Country” an instant anti-hero to a certain sector of fans.
Nelson’s success story continued from there, as he settled into a lengthy run as a Top 10 heavyweight in the UFC. He looked like an everyman—if every man had a fantastic mullet—and fought like every fan’s dream: a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who appeared to loathe grappling and instead knocked out one contender after another with his crushing overhand right. After an impressive UFC run that included two “Knockout of the Night” bonuses and one “Performance of the Night” for a knockout, Nelson carried his oversized belly, power and personality to Bellator MMA, where his future is unclear after a string of losses.
Ultimately, Nelson’s blend of mullet aesthetics and fighting legacy is hard to top, and the only thing keeping him from the top spot is a breakdown in mullet discipline in recent years. The once-immaculate meeting of No. 2 clippers and hair gel depicted in his picture has given way to a hairstyle that is sometimes long on the sides—not a mullet—or tied up in the back with a rubberband. Mullet or not, that is just a questionable life choice.
Disturbingly, Nelson’s rugged beard has been allowed to take over the show more and more in the last few years. While it is forgivable that he has cut his hair shorter in the back from time to time, there have been numerous occasions when his beard has been longer than his hair, which is unacceptable unless he was trying to see if he could spend a day walking backwards everywhere without anyone noticing. In any event, the lack of mullet grooming and the beard takeover have left Nelson looking less like a member of the Rock and Roll Express and more like a walking ad for that shredded beef jerky that comes in cans like Skoal, which is unfortunate.
No. 1: Mike Pyle
Here is where we contradict much of what we have proclaimed up to now. Pyle went for long stretches of his career without wearing a mullet, a sin for which we have penalized several of his worthy colleagues. The Church of the Holy Mullet frowns on divorce, yet “Quicksand” has broken and remade his vows to the world’s greatest haircut several times. Why is this allowed?
Frankly, it is a matter of quality. For those periods that Pyle chose to embrace the mullet, he epitomized its sheer majesty in a way about which normal mortals could only dream. When Pyle went to his barber and said, “Give me the Kentucky Waterfall,” what resulted was literal perfection. Look at the image. There is no angle from which his mullet is not visible—and beautiful. Like a Gale Sayers or Sandy Koufax, the briefness of his mullet’s career only serves as a heartbreaking reminder of what could have been. For an example that might be more relatable to a younger generation of sports fans, every other haircut Pyle ever had was the equivalent of those two years that Michael Jordan played baseball: sad and distracting but ultimately not that big a deal. He is still greater than LeBron James.
Pyle’s fight career stacks up, as well. One of MMA’s ultimate late bloomers, he debuted in the 1990s yet was still a Top 10 fighter in 2010s, a remarkable feat for a non-heavyweight. Beyond simply sticking around, he retooled his game and evolved in a way very few fighters do. Along the way, he racked up an impressive record and an even more impressive highlight reel. In fact, his underrated one-of-a-kind career has the HOFA committee discussing him this month for reasons other than his hair.
Ultimately, Pyle stands as the exception that proves the rule. Outside of his example, this list of the greatest mixed martial mullets rewards the only truly devoted, because otherwise, the other candidates would have had to match his perfection—an impossible feat. Pyle’s mullet reminds us to appreciate greatness while we can, and so we shall.
Sherdog Senior Editor Ben Duffy does not have a mullet but kind of looks like he does from the side.