Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
I was sure Johny Hendricks was the man to finally do it. GSP relied heavy on his takedowns, but Hendricks was a two-time NCAA wrestling champ with the skills to neutralize them. GSP had been rocked before, and when Hendricks touched dudes’ chins, they went to sleep. Hendricks calmly walked to the octagon and waited for the champ to arrive. I loved GSP, but it felt like the right time for a new champ, until “Man Ah Bad Man,” by T.O.K. happened. All my pre-fight analysis was irrelevant, and I changed my pick on the spot. GSP knew it would take something special to keep his belt, and he was going all out.
Hendricks won the fight. At least, everyone besides the judges thought so. Hendricks battered the champ for five rounds but was unable to get the finish. My theory is that “Man Ah Bad Man,” had such a profound effect on the judges that it was all they could remember. When MMA’s elite face off, the smallest detail can make the difference. This is my breakdown of the walkout song, categorized into five tiers and presented in ascending order.
Fifth Tier: The Funny Walkout
With so many fighters taking themselves seriously at all times, the funny walkout song can be refreshing. The most straightforward example of this is Roy Nelson coming out to Weird Al Yankovic’s “I’m Fat.” It’s impossible not to laugh when he comes out to that, proudly rubbing his beer belly. The highbrow subset to the Funny Song is the Ironic Song. The stoic Rory MacDonald pulled off the greatest example of this at UFC 167 when he stepped out to face Robbie Lawler to “We Found Love,” by Rihanna.
There isn’t quite room for humor in MMA though, and it is a risky choice. Nelson suffered lopsided defeats to Frank Mir and Junior Dos Santos after Weird Al blared from the speakers, and MacDonald lost as the heavy favorite against Lawler and missed out on a title shot. My theory is that the funny walkout removes the veneer of invincibility and humanizes a fighter to their opponent.
Fourth Tier: The Badass Walkout
I always crank up the volume on my TV before a Joseph Benavidez fight. The guitar riff from “Stranglehold,” by Ted Nugent never fails to get me amped. I rooted for him to beat Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title just so I could see it combined with a blackout.
There are countless great examples for this category: Frankie Edgar’s charging out of the tunnel to Biggie’s “Kick in the Door,” GSP coming out to “Ambitionz Az a Ridah,” Brock and “Enter Sandman,” by Metallica. I thought about putting this as the fifth tier because it requires the least creativity and is the hardest to screw up, but it’s just so fitting for MMA.
That’s not to say every one is a winner. Not every badass-type song is actually badass. As far back as I can remember, Michael Bisping has come out to the played-out “Song 2,” by Blur. It’s best to avoid late 90s rock all together. The UFC itself is a chronic offender. Many times I’ve gotten friends to chip in for PPV by convincing them that the UFC isn’t what they think, that the competitors are cerebral world-class athletes and the fights are like chess matches, only to have the scream-barking of “Face the Pain,” by Stemm come on over a montage of the most brutal KOs in history, effectively ruining all the groundwork I’d laid. It’s time to mix in some slick submissions and change the theme to something a little more subtle.
Dan Miller: “Run Through the Jungle,” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Ronda Rousey: “Bad Reputation,” by Joan Jett
Third Tier: The Nickname Walkout
This nickname reference song can go either way really. Most fighters cannot resist a song that contains their name in the title or chorus. I’m a cow-boy, ba-by! is too perfect for Donald Cerrone to pass up, even though it’s sung by Detroit-native, Kid Rock, and besides that, just awful.
It helps if the nickname is a good nickname and the song would be a decent walkout song regardless of the fighter. The track should fit into one of the other tiers. Iron-chinned Chan Jung Sung has one of the most fitting nicknames in the game, The Korean Zombie, and “Zombie” by The Cranberries fits firmly in the top tier, which I explain below. The UFC seems to agree. Despite being nearly a 3-to-1 underdog against Dustin Poirier in a fight held in Virginia, TKZ came out second, to a blackout. In what was voted “2012 Fight of the Year,” by many publications, Poirier and TKZ battled into the fourth before The Zombie wobbled the American with an uppercut and flying knee then sinking in a gorgeous D’Arce choke. Sung was just a little better than Poirier that night. I wonder what gave him the edge…
Second Tier: The Regional Shout-Out Walkout
The UFC loves to feature a fighter in his or her own backyard to create the hometown hero vs. the bad-guy-outsider dynamic. The risk/reward is so high. Fighters risk getting knocked out in front of everyone they love for the chance to live out the dream that has played in their head since they first started training MMA. The pressure to perform is immense. Part of this dream is coming out to the song that will instantly send the crowd into a frenzy of regional pride. The pressure to pick the right one must also weigh on them heavily.
The pressure was too much for Kyle Noke at UFC 127 in Sydney. The prospect of stepping out to silence in front of his fellow Australians was too much for him and he went with the guaranteed laugh of “Down Under,” by Men at Work. “No he didn’t!” Joe Rogan said. Noke fell all the way back to the Fifth Tier but was somehow able to overcome this for a submission victory.
Though Carlos Condit knocked him out in the first round, what I remember most about Dan Hardy’s UK homecoming at UFC 120 is him stepping out with his Mohawk dyed red and his face concealed with a black bandana. The moment was set off by “England Belongs to Me,” by East End punk legends Cock Sparrer. The nation’s pride, the dirty water of the rivers/no one can take away our memory echoed throughout London’s O2 Arena. Hardy stayed true to himself and tapped into a specific vein of English culture, one many MMA fans can relate to.
Urijah Faber: “California Love,” by 2pac feat. Dr. Dre
Johny Hendricks: “50 Dollars and a Flask of Crown,” by Bleu Edmonson
Conor McGregor: “The Foggy Dew,” by Sinead O’Connor & The Chieftains
Top Tier: The Eerie Walkout
When done correctly, it gives fans goosebumps and opponents shivers. “In the Air Tonight,” by Phil Collins is a common choice and always does the job nicely. Vitor Belfort and the epic “300 Violin Orchestra,” by John Quintero always make me want to hide under my covers.
But all discussions of MMA walkout songs should end at the same place, with the hydraulic PRIDE walkway lowering down, bowing before “The Last Emperor.” All walkout discussions should end with Fedor Emelianenko. Whether it was to “Enae Volare Mezzo,” from Era, or the Russian folk song “Oy, to ne vecher,” aka “The Cossack’s Parable,” nothing was as unnerving as the stone-faced Russian emerging from oozing fog to a haunting hymn.
Omari Akhmedov: “Intro,” by The XX
Josh Thomson: “Sirius,” by The Alan Parsons Project
If I was in Texas, I’d probably go with the 1998 regional hit, “Tops Drop,” by Houston rap legend Fat Pat. “Wanna Be a Balla,” would be good too. If I was in Vegas, I could go with a safe bet like 2pac or Rage Against The Machine. I would wait in the tunnel until the song’s climax before appearing to my adoring fans, who would then shit themselves out of sheer elation.
There are many, many reasons why I could never be a UFC fighter, one being that I would take more time contemplating my walkout song, walkout outfit, and walkout strut than I would actually preparing for the fight. Once the music cut off and I saw my opponent mugging me from the other side of the cage, I’d realize I made a terrible, fatal mistake.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.