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MMA Campfire Tales: Most Dangerous men of Early MMA

Perhaps I’m getting old, but MMA fans and the online MMA community are starting to get to me. There are always trolls, always debate, and always useless fandom, but the thing that’s killing me is the random subjective arguments. Between all the debates about Top Ten, Top Pound for Pound, Best Entrance Music and such, I can barely spend five hours on a message board anymore. There’s one that kills me every time I read it though: Who is the most dangerous fighter? In this case, it’s not the question that’s at fault for my frustrations though, but the answers.

I’m sorry folks, but Anderson Silva isn’t dangerous. Sure, he’ll knock you out and make you look like you have all the grace of a 300lb backyard wrestler, but outside of the cage he’s just a man. Given the option, I’d rather get into a bare-knuckle fist fight with Anderson Silva than a naked, PCP-fueled lunatic swinging a 2×4. Dangerous inside a heavily regulated sport doesn’t usually translate to dangerous anywhere except inside that cage or ring. You want to hear about some old-school MMA guys that can and will hand you your ass under any circumstances? I thought so.

MMA Campfire Tales Presents: The Most Dangerous Men of Early MMA

Jason “Bonebreaker” Fairn:


Jason Fairn came into the MMA world at the age of 21, and as the sport was in its infancy, he had the less-than-pleasurable task of facing Guy Mezger. Considering Mezger was one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen, this wasn’t the best place for a young martial artist to cut his teeth. Despite dumping Mezger with a bare-knuckle punch early in the fight, Mezger’s superior mat work caught up to Fairn, achieving mount and forcing his corner to throw in the towel after several minutes of ground and pound. While he remained marginally active in MMA, he never made it into the big shows again, and left the sport at the age of 37 with a record of 4-5.

In the real world:

So, how does a 21-year-old man get into the UFC exactly? By being the meanest bastard in the street fighting city of Vancouver, BC. Folks involved in boxing know the best fighters come out of Chicago, NYC and Mexico City. Folks involved in self-defense and reality combat know that the best fighters come out of places like Liverpool England, Philadelphia, and Vancouver. That’s because these places, at one time or another, had a serious street fighting lifestyle affiliated with them. I’m not talking “Guys on my block are pretty tough”, but scheduled underground fight cards and definitive ranking systems. In the early 90′s, Vancouver was a street fighting mecca, and Fairn got into this world at seventeen years of age, having beaten the living shit out of thirty-three grown men by the time UFC 4 rolled around.

He wasn’t just busy using his years of karate expertise to build a murderous reputation in back alleys, but also a business, working as a premier bodyguard in California to pay for his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training under Fabiano Iha. Having learned advanced combative driving techniques and firearm skills, Fairn was guarding the hottest celebrities of the early 90′s, and I sincerely hope was humping Tiffany Amber Thiessen.

Earlier I said he was marginally involved in MMA. What I meant was that he hasn’t stopped fighting since UFC 4, but once guys started wearing gloves, he decided that shit was for pussies. While he’s had a few MMA fights, he was far more interested in the underground no-rules matches of his youth, including the short-lived and highly illegal Underground Fight Network series. You know when a guy is willing to fight with no rules for beer money rather than in a regulated sport for real cash, he’s either completely insane or……nevermind, there is no second option.

“The Black Dragon” Ron Van Clief:


One of the original members of the UFC production family, Ron Van Clief decided to try his hand in UFC 4 at the tender age of fifty-one years old. Yeah, you just read that right. At fifty-one years old, he decided to fight in a barely legal blood sport with no rules because he was too high-strung to sit still at cage side. His opponent was none other than Royce Gracie, whom gave him zero room to use his karate skills and forced an RNC tapout four minutes into the fight. A disappointing beginning and end to his career, but a seemingly inevitable one just the same.

In the real world:

While fighting the seemingly invincible Royce Gracie might have seemed daunting to some, it was likely the least frightening thing Van Clief had done in the last 30 years. Having served as a Marine for six years, Van Clief was part of the first Marine involvement in the Vietnam war, spearheading American troops into the jungle in 1965. After one tour, he left the military and went back to the slightly less war-torn streets of Brooklyn New York, where he was a transit cop. This was in a time where stabbings were as common in NYC as hearing a cab driver call someone a “fucking mook”, and after three years of dealing with knife-wielding lunatics, Van Clief decided to open a martial arts academy in the worst neighborhood he could find. The area was in fact so bad that Van Clief eventually replaced all of his windows with plywood, and had special push-up drills for when there were gunshots outside to keep his students from being shot in the head. Clearly the nervous type, this guy.

The only thing worse than opening a school in a ghetto is opening a school teaching a highly insulting and controversial martial art. Having spent fifteen years involved in both Karate (Japanese martial arts) and Kung-Fu (Chinese martial arts), Ron Van Clief decided to create “Chinese Goju”, or a hybrid style tying the two together. Throw into the equation that he was black during an era of major civil unrest in the black community, and we have a very unpopular martial artist. The scenes from old karate movies where rival fighters invade another school to try their hand against the master aren’t just from movies, and Van Clief practically needed a receptionist to schedule these impromptu fist fights. Van Clief routinely had to fight not only the local tough guys in the neighborhood, but also fighters from both Japanese and Chinese martial arts who were angry that he was teaching a bastard version of their cultural forms. Van Clief not only stomped the living shit out of challengers, but also turned out some phenomenal martial artists in his time, all while in a frightening and hostile environment.

Having opened multiple schools piloted by his students, Van Clief took to fighting in bare-knuckle and point-fighting karate tournaments around the country, amassing 15 national titles, the last of which he won when he was 60 years old. I’ll be lucky if my heart can keep slamming blood through walls of cholesterol by the time I’m 60, so hats off to you, you crazy bastard. And speaking of crazy….

Branko Cikatic:


Cikatic has the distinction of perhaps the weirdest PRIDE run ever. In his first bout against MMA legend Mark Kerr, he was immediately disqualified for committing an astounding triple yellow card infraction. Not only did he throw elbows, but he threw them to the back of Mark Kerr’s head and did so while holding onto the ropes for leverage. This move was considered so incredibly asshole-like that the referee gave him a red card and sent him on his way, despite his claims that everything was perfectly legit. In his next and final MMA bout, he faced US kickboxing superhero Maurice Smith. Despite Smith’s own pedigree, he wanted literally nothing to do with Cikatic on the feet and instead went for a takedown to work his grappling. Minutes into the bout, Cikatic tapped out to Smith putting his forearm on his throat and applying all the power and fury of a lover’s caress. Clearly Cikatic was just sick of fighting a match he neither cared about or understand and wanted out, signaling a disappointing end to a potentially amazing career.

In the real world:

While his MMA career was a bit of a joke, he will go down as one of the most brutal kickboxers of all time. Having trained since a child, Cikatic picked up numerous black belts in karate and competed on an amateur level in both traditional boxing and kickboxing. Even as a teenager under amateur rules, Cikatic was knocking people senseless with absolutely everything he threw, and had an unofficial record for knocking fighters out with JABS. This KO power translated into the professional circuit like the high school slut to a stripper pole, resulting in a pants-shitting 94% KO ratio in nearly a hundred pro bouts.

Entering the international world of kickboxing, Cikatic debuted against one of the greatest kickboxers in history in Don “The Dragon” Wilson and lost via KO in the seventh round. While the result wasn’t what Cikatic wanted, Wilson barely made it out of the ring alive that night, having been beaten to a pulp and suffering two broken hands and a broken foot in the process of winning. Wilson would claim that it was one of the hardest fights he’d ever had and it had put him on the shelf for nearly a year afterwards.

Certainly Cikatic’s greatest distinction was winning the first ever K-1 Grand Prix in 1993, which was easily the best field of fighters ever assembled in the karate and kickboxing world. He accomplished this feat by KO’ing all three opponents; Ernesto Hoost, karate legend Masaaki Satake; and muay thai pioneer Changpuek Kiatsongrit, all at the age of 38. Ernesto Hoost would seek a revenge match a year and a half later and be knocked out again by the exact same punch as their first bout. He didn’t seek a third match.

Cikatic tops my list for a reason though, and it’s not just because he can give you Parkinson’s disease with a lazy jab. He’s been running a security company in Eastern Europe and Japan for decades, and by a security company, I mean a vicious mafia goon squad. Cikatic has spent most of his adult life fighting not only in the ring, but also in the courts, as he’s constantly implicated in drug trafficking, extortion and murder charges, including famously threatening to kill Mirko “Cro-cop” Filipovic. This is why Cikatic is the most dangerous man of early MMA. When Wanderlei Silva threatened to kill Cro-cop, Mirko kicked him in the head. When Branko Cikatic threatened to kill Cro-cop, he was scared enough to call the police. If you see Cro-cop running from someone, you’d better be smart enough to follow him.

Now that you’ve got an ear full about the old days, I hope you appreciate what we have, with a mind towards what we’ve lost. Sometimes I’m sad we traded in head butts, soccer kicks and unlimited time limits for weight classes, televised cards and “ten-point must” systems. Actually, is it too late to ditch ten-point must and get head butts back? No one in MMA will miss it.

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Category: Exclusive, MMA, Opinion

About the Author ()

I'm a 20 year veteran of martial arts and a fan of the sport since UFC 1, when my world was thrown on its head by the budding sport of MMA. I'm obsessive in the pursuit of martial abilities and have competed across the country in everything from Vale Tudo to archery to Scottish broadsword. Once by body broke down, I picked up a pen and went in the direction of writing. I specialize in betting advice, predictions, and I'm a walking encyclopedia of MMA trivia. I own a cafe in Exeter, NH called Hammersmith Sandwich Company and write out of my office between customers.

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