Soldiers and military personnel are the most dangerous trained people on the planet. On the other hand, UFC fighters are the most dangerous fighters and martial artists in the world. Well, how about folks that served in the military AND competed in the UFC?
There were a lot of UFC fighters who served in the military. Some even had high ranks and very dangerous, front-line positions. Their discipline, honor, and battle skills translated into the Octagon.
Here’s a ranked list of the 12 best UFC fighters who served in the military.
12. Dan Barrera
Dan Barrera wasn’t a UFC fighter for a long time. In fact, his only UFC fight was the one at the TUF 6 Finale against Ben Saunders, and he lost that fight. But, he was there long enough to make a name for himself. He’s known for being in the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he fought for Team Hughes.
Before his MMA days, Barrera served in the United States Air Force. He was a wrestler before joining the forces, only to fall in love with boxing once he got there. He quickly became one of the best boxers in the military and even duked it out against Andre Ward, an Olympic Gold Medal boxer.
He was a member of the Air Force for six years, where he worked as a Fire Fighter.
11. Luigi Fioravanti
Although Luigi Fioravanti’s UFC stint was short, his MMA career was quite extensive. He racked up a 26-15 record before retiring from the competition. He fought for the M-1 Global middleweight championship at one point, too.
He had mediocre success during his UFC days, but he fought some of the toughest guys out there, including Diego Sanchez, Jon Fitch, and Anthony Johnson.
Before his MMA days, Fioravanti was a US Marine. He had quite a dangerous position there, too, serving as an anti tank assault man, namely in the Iraqi War in 2003. While in the army, he trained BJJ and kickboxing, which proved quite useful later in his MMA career.
10. Tim Credeur
Military personnel need proper, extensive martial arts training. Tim Credeur knew that, as he joined the US Navy right after high school and worked on USS Milius as a sonar technician to train martial arts, namely MMA (and serve his country, of course).
It worked out well for him, too, as Credeur slowly but surely climbed to the UFC. At that point, his MMA record was 9-2, and one of those losses came against Chael Sonnen at Bodog Fight: Costa Rica.
He opened up his UFC career quite well, going 3-0, only to retire after two consecutive losses to Nate Quarry and Ed Herman. Credeur finished his MMA career with a nice 12-4 record, including 3-2 in the UFC.
9. Colton Smith
Colton Smith is best known for winning The Ultimate Fighter 16 season. However, the promotion didn’t give him any time to breathe, as he instantly got Robert Whittaker and Michael Chiesa as his first two opponents. After three straight losses, he got out of the UFC but continued his MMA career a little while after that.
However, that’s not the most impressive thing about Colton. The guy reached Sergeant First Class rank while fighting in both Iraqi and Afghan wars as an infantryman, where he also earned his Expert Infantryman Badge.
He trained BJJ under Reison Gracie and had great wrestling, but the most impressive thing about Smith is that he had been on active military duty during his MMA career. Being a top-level MMA fighter requires an immense amount of discipline. Doing that while serving in the army? That’s just extraordinary.
Now, he has his own MMA gym in Stafford, Virginia. Imagine if he dedicated all his prime fighting years to MMA. Mr. Colton, I salute you.
8. Jorge Rivera
If there’s a high-risk, high-reward type of position in the military, it’s what Jorge Rivera was doing while enlisted. He was a 19K Armored Cavalry Scout, which means he engaged with the enemy first, serving as the Commander’s eyes, tracking enemy movement, securing and transporting ammunition, attacking with anti-armor weapons, etc.
During his time in the military, Rivera was a prolific boxer, which he used extensively later on when he became a pro-MMA fighter.
He was known as El Conquistador in the cage and had a rather extensive UFC career, going 8-7 over nine years in the promotion. He fought guys like Martin Kampmann, Michael Bisping, etc.
Today, he still holds MMA seminars for military personnel across the pond.
7. Jake Ellenberger
Most guys on this list had either a short military career or a short UFC career. Jake Ellenberger had none. He served in the US Marine Corps for ten years and had 18 UFC fights. He was a heavy equipment mechanic in the army, and in the UFC, he was a matchup nightmare for many guys during his prime.
Before joining the promotion, Ellenberger racked up a 12-0 MMA score. He attributes his discipline and work habits to the military. After losing his UFC debut, he got six wins in a row, destroying big names like Diego Sanchez or Jake Shields.
Unfortunately, he retired in 2018 on a four-fight skid, losing 9 of his last 11 bouts. Still, he was a great fighter, a great soldier, and a great role model for younger generations.
6. Liz Carmouche
Liz Carmouche is the only woman on this list, but her path to MMA and UFC was no less extraordinary. Liz was in the US Marine Corps for five years working as a helicopter electrician and served three tours in Iraq.
Upon her return, she pursued an MMA career and was one of the pioneers of women’s MMA. She fought in the UFC for six years and fought for the title two times but never became a champion.
First, Ronda Rousey stopped her at bantamweight, and then Valentina Shevchenko did the same at flyweight. Interestingly enough, Carmouche defeated Shevchenko earlier in their career before they got into the UFC.
She left the UFC now and found success in Bellator MMA, and she attributes all of her MMA success and relentlessness in the cage to her army days. She holds notable victories against Shevchenko, Jessica Andrade, Katlyn Chookagian, and others and will surely go down in women’s MMA history.
5. Tim Kennedy
Tim Kennedy hadn’t competed in the UFC that much, but he was a notable fighter in the promotion. He was 3-2 in the Octagon, beating Michael Bisping in one fight, winning Knockout of the Night honors in another against Rafael Natal, and even Fight of the Night honors in a loss to Yoel Romero.
Before his UFC days, he fought for the Strikeforce championship two times and lost both (once to Ronaldo Souza and Luke Rockhold. He did beat Robbie Lawler and Melvin Manhoef there, though.
However, his greatest accomplishments didn’t come in the Octagon but in the army. He served in the army full-time during his MMA career and had seen more warfare than any other UFC fighter in history, apart from Brian Stann.
Kennedy was an Army Green Beret and had dozens of awards for his service, most notably the Army’s Bronze Star Medal. Green Berets perform some of the toughest tasks on the battlefield, which is why it was never odd to see Tim go head first in the Octagon – it was nothing to him compared to what he had seen and done in Afghanistan and Iraq.
4. Neil Magny
The UFC welterweight division wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for Neil Magny. The guy was never the champ, but he’s near the top for a long, long time. He’s the definition of a gatekeeper – if you want that title, you have to go through him.
He holds incredible victories in the promotion against guys like Kelvin Gastelum, Johny Hendricks, Carlos Condit, Robbie Lawler, etc., and he never shied away from a fight – tying the UFC record for most wins in a calendar year (5 in 2014).
Oh, I almost forgot – he served in the military for seven years as a light-wheeled mechanic in the Illinois National Guard. He got deployed in Afghanistan, too, and earned the Army National Guard Sergeant rank while there.
3. Brandon Vera
Although most of his MMA success came after he left the UFC, Brandon Vera is one of the best fighters that ever competed in the UFC and served in the military. Vera dropped out of college, leading to him enlisting in the United States Air Force.
He was one of the greatest wrestlers they ever had on the US Air Force team, but he was medically discharged from the Air Force after tearing his elbow ligaments in 1999. He always said it was his biggest passion, and he still hosts Muay Thai and wrestling seminars for the US military.
As for his MMA career, he was in the UFC from 2005 to 2013. He fought the best of the best during that period, including Tim Sylvia, Fabricio Werdum, Randy Couture, Jon Jones, Shogun Rua, etc.
His best MMA days came after the UFC when he joined ONE Championship and became their inaugural heavyweight champion. He defended the belt two times but made a mistake trying to come down to attack the light heavyweight belt. He lost that fight and never returned to that heavyweight form, as he lost his belt in the next bout against Arjan Bhullar.
2. Brian Stann
Brian Stann is a former UFC fighter with by far the most battlefield experience in the military. His US Marine Corps career is far more impressive than his MMA career, although he was a successful fighter, too.
In 2005, he was a 2nd Mobile Assault Platoon Commander and led his men to seize a bridge near Karabilah in Iraq. The enemy set up an ambush to his platoon, but Stann was phenomenal in battle and quickly reacted.
He called in close-air support and took on rocket-propelled grenade attacks, machine guns, and explosives, leading all his 42 men to survive the battle. For that effort, he received the 3rd highest award for valor in combat, the Silver Star.
And that’s only one story that Brian has to tell. It’s easy to see how something as violent and hard as elite MMA came so easy to him.
1. Randy Couture
Even if you didn’t know that Randy Couture served in the military, you could figure it out from his patriotic walkout songs every time he stepped into the Octagon. He served six years in the military as an Air Traffic Controller before going into MMA and becoming one of the most spectacular fighters and champions in UFC history.
He got to the Staff Sergeant rank, and for the last four years of his service, he successfully competed in Army’s national and international wrestling competitions.
As for his UFC career, there’s so much to say about his persistence and relentlessness. He never gave up and never backed down, winning the heavyweight title on three different occasions and the light heavyweight title two times, defending a couple more times.
At one point, he fought for a title nine fights in a row. He fought all the big names in both those divisions, including Vitor Belfort, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Tim Sylvia, etc. He was even a part of the first-ever UFC Hall of Famer vs. UFC Hall of Famer bout against Mark Coleman – and won.
When everybody wrote him off, he came back even stronger. Couture is not only one of the best UFC champions of all time – he’s one of the main reasons why MMA is where it is today. Salute, Sgt. Couture.
Honorable mention: Chan Sung Jung
Chan Sung Jung isn’t a professional military serviceman, but I had to put him on this list because of his unique situation in the UFC. The Korean Zombie fought for the featherweight title against Jose Aldo at UFC 163, which marked his first loss in the UFC Octagon.
After the loss, he announced he’s taking a two-year hiatus from MMA to heal his shoulder injury and complete mandatory two-year military service in Korea.
In South Korea, every man has to complete the mandatory service before they turn thirty, and Sung Jung was no exception, regardless of his UFC fighter status.
He returned to action with four consecutive performance bonuses, so I think it’s safe to say that the break didn’t make him rusty.