My two greatest artistic passions have always been hip-hop and martial arts. I’ve always found the motivation and dedication of a mixed martial artist fascinating, not to mention their oft-tragic backstories.
The origins of hip-hop and mixed martial arts have more parallels than not, often deeply-rooted in lower-income communities as means of self-expression - or survival. Despite the ignorant presumptions of the uninformed, hip-hop and mixed martial arts are actually among the most difficult and personal forms of self-expression - battles and competitions rooted in honor and tradition.
Naturally, this led me to explore the similarities between MMA and hip-hop - specifically, some of the top practitioners of each "sport."
Georges St-Pierre → Tupac Shakur
The 35-year-old St-Pierre is without a doubt one of the best MMA practitioners ever to compete. He was a major draw, fan favorite and crossover superstar who achieved film and endorsement deals before MMA was respected.
Amongst the most dominant champions ever, he ‘retired’ with: most wins in title bouts (12) and the second-longest combined winning streak in UFC history - behind Anderson Silva - a ridiculous 2,204 days.
For context: in 2006, GSP avenged his then-only loss against Matt Hughes to win the Welterweight Championship at UFC 65. At UFC 69, GSP lost his first defense to heavy underdog Matt Serra - one of the largest upsets in combat sports history. GSP won his belt back at UFC 79 when he again defeated Hughes.
From UFC 79 in 2007 until UFC 129 in 2011, GSP didn’t lose a round. That’s seven-and-a-half title defenses in one of the deepest UFC divisions in history. An alleged "nice guy," GSP dominated and decimated his opponents with brutal albeit drab technical execution; his gentle disposition belied his combat arts and champion mindset. GSP retired in 2013 with a record of 25-2 and avenged both losses with excellence.
Sound like anyone?
Shakur is oft-considered among the all-time greatest hip-hop artists - but not lyricists. He dominated competition uncensored - naming and vocally brutalizing enemies despite being affable, educated and approachable. Shakur achieved cinematic success and is responsible for a list of accolades deserving of a separate article. He is the 43rd highest-selling musician in history - and he died at 25.
25! I could barely read or write at 25!
Neither professional was the most exciting nor artistic in their respective craft, but both were inordinately successful, charismatic and absolutely dominant over competition.
Anderson Silva → Ghostface Killah
The antithesis of St-Pierre and Shakur in stylistic approaches. Another of the most dominant athletes in combat sports history, Silva destroyed competition in two different weight classes - and with style.
During his reign as the world’s best Middleweight, Silva won via flying knee, reverse elbow, Matrix-level punches and this kick:
Silva - like Ghostface - is one of the most creative, cerebral and devastating artists. Early in his career, Silva linked up with the legendary Nogueira’s for guidance; Ghostface linked with the Diggs’ to help form Wu.
Ghostface has dropped twelve solo albums filled with stories, emotion, technique and unparalleled creativity - not to mention five-star contributions to dozens of other projects.
For me, Ghost is the most creative to ever grace a microphone, and Silva the ring.
Nick Newell → Anderson .Paak
What makes .Paak so beloved, more than his artistry, is his backstory - a true underdog currently winning, rightfully celebrated by everyone who’s heard this year’s Malibu.
A brief run-down: .Paak witnessed his father brutalize his mom, eventually became homeless after losing his job and was overlooked by everyone before six star-turning performances on Dr. Dre’s Compton in 2015.
With Malibu, he created one of the most celebrated albums in recent memory and the top contender for 2016 Album of the Year. It’s hard to imagine .Paak wouldn’t find success in any area he puts his mind to - he’s that good.
Newell doesn’t have the heartbreak of .Paak’s life, but he does have:
- 13-1 record
- XFC Lightweight Championship
- Two appearances on SportsCenter’s Top 10
- A biopic coming to theaters in 2017
Impressive, sure. But this hero is a congenital amputee - born without the lower portion of his left arm.
Wherever Newell goes, he’s adored. Not because of his physique; because he’s one of the kindest, funniest and most charismatic athletes competing today. Like .Paak, Newell was denied opportunities to do what he loves. Like .Paak, it was only a matter of time before he shined among the brightest of lights.
Jon Jones → Eminem
Jon Jones is one of the most creative fighters to grace MMA, while Eminem is among the most creative to ever pick up a mic. Both come from brilliant mentors: Coach Greg Jackson for Jones; Dr. Dre for Eminem.
Jones, like Slim before him, was headed to GOAT status, but crossed paths with self-sabotage on the way. Frustratingly, drug use has derailed both of their careers.
At just 29, Jones - already among the greats (22-1 record, youngest Champion in UFC history, most consecutive / successful Light Heavyweight title defenses in UFC history) - has one DUI, one failed drug test due to cocaine, a hit-and-run charge, and suspension from a failed banned substance test. He’s lost and cost others hundreds of thousands of dollars due to his inability to do what he does best: fight.
Unbelievably 43-years-old, Eminem has racked up fifteen GRAMMY nominations and an Acamdey Award, and is the best-selling artist of the 2000’s, the seventeenth best-selling artist of all-time, and has the second best-selling hip-hop album of all-time (The Marshall Mathers LP).
Along the way, however, Eminem lost his connection to what he did best: spit.
His first known overdose came in 2007, which was documented two years later in his work on Relapse, which marked the beginning of a decline from one of music’s most intriguing success stories.
Eminem will always sell albums, due in part to the allegiance of his Stan-like fan base, but don’t forget - at 43, Eminem loyalists are now likely in their mid-thirties and less apt to be amused by his longtime anecdotes.
Both men are still among the best in their respective fields, but neither has been at the top of their game in some time.
Conor McGregor → Drake
Both McGregor and Drake run their respective sports and their nearest competition isn't close.
From sold-out performances to record-breaking sales and fan adoration, “The Notorious” McGregor and Drizzy are squarely on top of their industry mountains, despite adversaries trying to knock them down.
Both have legendary work ethics, with McGregor rising up from poverty to predict his UFC future:
During his near 10 year run, Drake has earned 27 GRAMMY nominations to support his seven studio albums, and led the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard 200 simultaneously for eight weeks - a new record - in 2016.
McGregor - 2016 ESPYS Best Fighter - saw his UFC 194 win over the great Jose Aldo break UFC records, most notably:
- $10,100,000 gate
- 1.2 million buyrate (then-second highest in history)
- Nevada attendance
At 28 and 29 respectively, McGregor and Drake are just now coming into their own with no signs of losing their rear-naked chokeholds on their games.
By Matteo Urella, a Boston-based writer. Read more of his work at Medium.
Photo Credits: Instagram