It may be hard to believe these days, but before the explosion of mixed martial arts, the top fighters in the game, at least in the United States, were often centered in either California or in the Midwest hotbed of Iowa, with little attention being paid to fighters from the east coast. But then came a group of fighters out of New England that helped put their region on the map while also building a community of MMA fans that are likely to be out in force when the UFC returns to Boston for the FOX Sports 1 premiere event on August 17th. Here are eight of New England’s finest.
Portland, Maine’s Mike Brown had more than paid his dues during his fight career, and after weathering a series of ups and downs, he earned a shot at the WEC featherweight title held by Urijah Faber on November 5, 2008. On that night, Brown captured lightning in a bottle, knocking out Faber in the first round to become a world champion. After two successful defenses, Brown lost the WEC belt to Jose Aldo, but in 2011 he began the next chapter of his story in the Octagon, where he is currently 2-2 with back-to-back wins over Nam Phan and Daniel Pineda.
One of the UFC’s most popular fighters during his run in the Octagon, Bangor, Maine’s Marcus Davis thrilled fans every time out with his boxing attack and underrated ground game. Losing his Octagon debut in 2005 to Melvin Guillard, the former pro boxer went back to the local circuit to hone his game. When he returned in 2006 he was a changed fighter, winning six straight before a loss to Mike Swick in 2008. Davis would have mixed results in his final seven UFC bouts, but with two Fight of the Night bonuses along the way, “The Irish Hand Grenade” never disappointed his loyal followers.
Brookline, Massachusetts’ Kenny Florian first came to the attention of fight fans on season one of The Ultimate Fighter, where he fought his way to the finals against Diego Sanchez. Florian fell short of victory that night in 2005, one of the rare times he did during a stellar 17 fight UFC career that saw him score wins over the likes of Clay Guida, Takanori Gomi, Joe Lauzon, Joe Stevenson, Roger Huerta, Din Thomas, and Sam Stout, while also battling tooth and nail with Jose Aldo, Sean Sherk, and BJ Penn in UFC title fights. Today, the retired “KenFlo” stays in the game as a UFC commentator.
Though born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, heavyweight contender Gabriel Gonzaga has become a proud adopted son of the city of Ludlow, Massachusetts, where he has lived with his family for years, teaching jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts to a new generation. In the Octagon, “Napao” is an exciting finisher best remembered for his head kick knockout of Mirko Cro Cop in 2007. But that was just one of ten UFC wins for Gonzaga, who most recently knocked out Dave Herman in just 17 seconds at UFC 162 in July.
The man nicknamed "Doomsday" went four for four to start his UFC career, defeating Chris Wilson, Tamdan McCrory, Dennis Hallman, and Daniel Roberts. The Muay Thai machine would drop his next three to Jake Ellenberger, Thiago Alves, and Matt Brown, but after winning six of his next seven, the born and bred Bostonian will get a home return on August 17 when he takes on TUF 17 finalist Uriah Hall.
An exciting competitor whose only goal in the Octagon is to finish fights, lightweight contender Joe Lauzon approaches submissions the way many fighters approach knockouts. And Bridgewater’s “J-Lau” has delivered repeatedly over the years, finishing all nine of his UFC wins, including Submission of the Night awards for his victories over Melvin Guillard, Jeremy Stephens, Gabe Ruediger, Curt Warburton, and Jamie Varner. Add in Fight of the Night awards for his bouts against Kenny Florian, Sam Stout, George Sotiropoulos, Jim Miller, and Varner, and you’ve got one of MMA’s premier action heroes. In fact, with a post-fight award in his upcoming bout with Michael Johnson, Lauzon will surpass Anderson Silva as the UFC's all-time bonus king. Maybe the UFC should start calling them "The Lauzons" or "The J-Laus."
An entertaining member of the Ultimate Fighter season eight cast whose Octagon entrances and weigh-in attire always cause a stir, Fall River, Massachusetts native Tom Lawlor always shows up to fight, and more often than not, he emerges with his hand raised. Owner of five UFC wins thus far, he picked up his first Knockout of the Night award in 2012 with a 50 second finish of Canadian veteran Jason MacDonald, and though he came up short via split decision in a UFC 154 battle against Francis Carmont, he bounced back in April of 2013 with a submission of Michael Kuiper.
One of New England’s finest fighters, Milford, Massachusetts’ Jorge Rivera faced the best the 185-pound division had to offer for over a decade, including Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, Travis Lutter, David Loiseau, Nate Quarry, Chris Leben, Martin Kampmann, Michael Bisping, and Costa Philippou. Yet more important than wins and losses, Rivera is best remembered for his fighting spirit, and this was never more evident than in his final fight in January of 2012, when he scored a second round TKO of Eric Schafer and went out on top and on his own terms.