MMA fighters are bad, bad dudes. They've got half a dozen separate disciplines to master, they have to be able to switch between them on the fly, they need to be in peak physical condition, plus have the mental toughness to push through adversity in training and on the night of the fight. The least famous no-name fighter on the prelims is still a tough, tough dude.
Doesn't mean they're good at picking tattoos, though. Certainly not any better than the rest of us. Yeah, sure, it makes a lot more sense for a professional fighter to have the word "relentless" or "killer" tattooed on them, but it’s still not a good idea. It’s still a corny tattoo. Yeah, sure, they’re in great shape, but if you pick a tattoo that makes your body look weird, it’s going to have the same effect it would on a regular person.
A profession that means getting punched in the head regularly doesn't lead to great decision making. Below are 15 of the worst in the sport. Not definitively the 15 worst, since that would be impossible to narrow down that much, but a selection of 15 awful tattoos. Some of them are tacky, others ugly, a couple just don’t mesh with the body of the fighter they’re on. One or two are just genuinely heinous and one is outright awful on a deep moral level. Look, point and laugh all you want, but for heaven’s sake, don’t do it to their face.
15 Conor McGregor
Yeah, of course he's going to show up here. He's everywhere. To be specific, we're talking about the giant, stupid logo on his chest. That's right, it's not just a tattoo, it's the logo of his Ireland based gym, SBG. He got it during some surgery induced off time.
Unlike a lot of the entries here, you can see exactly why he got it. It's a perfect example of him always promoting. The guy is always in character, always hustling for the Conor McGregor brand. Back when he had three pro-fights in Irish B-leagues, he was already creating multiple fake accounts on forums to talk himself up. The guy has a knack for self promotion. He’s better than anyone else at sounding like he’s perfectly okay with a loss. And, so, he turns himself into a billboard, because why wouldn’t he? It’s completely consistent with how he does everything.
14 Cody Garbrandt
Former UFC Bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt is a bad, bad dude. He has bricks for hands, incredible timing and speed, and went from “Hey, here’s an interesting prospect” to “Holy cow, this kid is amazing” in only a year. He also has a very large, bad collection of tattoos.
It’s not that any of them are particularly bad on their own. I mean, he’s in the UFC. There’s some stiff competition for bad tattoos there. It’s just that there is absolutely no unifying theme or coherence or… anything to them. It’s a grab bag. You’ve got Japanese style waves on the chest, but European cherubs on them. He’s got puzzle pieces, wings, skulls, a stripper angel and the word relentless just on his left arm. He has two separate pieces of writing on his belly. Then you’ve got the neck piece that leaves him looking like he’s wearing a high collar. I mean, we’re not going to say anything to his face, but… come on.
13 Cain Velasquez
If you know Cain Velasquez, you know which tattoo we’re talking about. The former UFC heavyweight champ might have been the official "baddest man on the planet' but he’s got a tattoo that’s worth talking about.
He has the words "Brown Pride" tattooed on his chest. Ignoring the ongoing debate over whether it’s racist (it isn’t, that’s not a thing) it’s just a bad layout. Like I said, Cain is a scary man. He has an elite wrestling pedigree, sharp hands, and cardio for days. Yet, for all that, he is a truly elite athlete, but he’s rarely looked like one. We’re not sure how, but he’s not someone you’d look at twice in the street. And the tattoo isn’t helping. It’s laid out in such a way on his chest that it makes him look… saggy.
Maybe that’s the trick. You look at him, and you think "Who’s this guy? He couldn’t even…" and then he slams you into the floor and punches your brains out. Well played, Cain.
12 Cub Swanson
Long time UFC Featherweight standout Cub Swanson has been in a bunch of amazing fights. He’s settled into a gatekeeper role now, but no one has gotten past him without going on to some impressive things. Seriously, he’s only ever lost to former champs, future champs, and title contenders, except for Brian Ortega, who only beat him last week.
And he’s done that while being the poster boy for awful tattoos. There’s the "So Cal" in a ridiculous font on his chest (we like to think it’s a "return to" destination if he gets lost) the tribal bands on his arms, which aren’t bad, just uninspired, the roses and spiderwebs on his legs, the name on his back, and the palm trees that are positioned so it looks like they’re springing out of his crotch. At least we know what he spends his bonus money on.
11 Anthony Pettis
Pettis, during his run as Lightweight champion, got a taste for nice suits. Long before Conor made them his gimmick, Pettis always tried to dress a little better than his opponents after he was done fly kicking them in the face. Maybe he was just trying to be a classy prize fighter, imitating guys like the elder Chris Eubank, but it’s tempting to see it as him suddenly realizing how stupid all his tattoos were and being keen to cover up.
It started harmlessly enough, with his nickname across his back. Not his name, his nickname, “Showtime.” It’s a little gimmicky, but okay. Then there was the elaborate montage on his arm, and finally, the two portraits on his chest, of his mum and daughter.
Now, we’d never, ever make fun of someone for loving their mum or their kids, but that doesn’t mean the tattoos are a good idea. There’s something about the human face that makes it damn near impossible to tattoo without looking weird, unless you get very lucky. Nothing wrong with loving your family, but maybe he could have thought of a better way to show it, like punching people in morse code, or something.
10 Alan Belcher
This one gets a lot of airtime even among people who don’t follow MMA. Belcher hasn’t fought in a few years due to health issues, but his tattoo will stick with us always. Like Pettis, there’s nothing wrong with the idea. Johnny Cash is fantastic, and a lot of people love him. It’s just that tattoos and faces don’t mix, and here is further proof.
I mean, is it Cash? It could just as easily be Hank from King of the Hill, or Kim Jong-il, or Ayn Rand, or Phil Jupitus. In this case, it’s not really anyone’s fault. Belcher got the tattoo way back in the day, long before he started training. As he bulked up and put on muscle, the tattoo started getting distorted and warped, ending up looking like a thumb in a wig. It did give us that great photo, though.
9 Melvin Costa
Most of these are just silly and tacky. This is the one that is genuinely awful. Melvin Costa, who had a short, unspectacular MMA career, had a giant swastika on his chest. And he wasn’t trying to claim it was the Buddhist thing. It was topped by a German eagle, and Costa was all too keen to talk about his white nationalism. Far too keen, in fact. He even pulled the ‘I’m not a racist, I’m just…” while going around with a huge swastika on him.
It’s hard not to laugh at him though, since he also has – and I’m not joking – a tattoo around his belly button saying "I have a small p****" and it’s in a font that absolutely screams "Hello, I’ve lost a bet, what’s the least legible font you have?”
8 Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
Former Light Heavyweight champion Shogun’s wouldn’t be so bad except for his build in recent years. Like a lot of Muay Thai fighters, he’s got stuff on his shins (I guess if you smash them into people all day, you end up wanting a bit of decoration) a samurai on one bicep, and a Madonna on the other. No problem with that, Shogun is a devout man. Except for how it’s meshed with the way he looks recently.
Shogun, despite having had an illustrious career, is still a "What if?" story. He had many serious, recurring injuries and surgeries before he was out of his twenties, including knee and elbow surgeries. It adversely affected his ability to train, especially his cardio. Combined with his already thickset build, his build didn't look like that of an MMA fighter for years. And the bright yellow of the Madonna, when glimpsed under his arm, makes him look like he’s got some untreated thing down there.
7 Brock Lesnar
Yeah, you knew this one was coming. It’s a famously awful tattoo. Brock Lesnar, enormous man, former UFC Heavyweight champ, pro-wrestler and least surprising failed drug test ever has a private part on his chest. There’s no way to get around what it looks like. It’s supposed to be a dagger, but it isn’t.
I mean, everything that can be said about his tattoo has been said, so I’ll just fill this with Brock’s accomplishments so he doesn’t come around and hurt me. He’s a highly accomplished collegiate wrestler, and is such a physical specimen that, at age 27, he walked onto an NFL team and was able to meet their stringent requirements. He also co-holds the UFC Heavyweight title defence record (it’s only 2, but still) with Tim Sylvia, Cain Velasquez and current champ Stipe Miocic.
Please don’t hurt me, Brock.
6 Frank Mir
Mir, former Heavyweight champ, is simultaneously the most and least self-aware guy in the sport. He pointed out that heavyweights tend to have less heart because they’re not used to getting pushed around at the gym, which he thought helped explain his own failings. He also told a story about how his wife stopped wanting to be intimate with him after the afore-mentioned Brock Lesnar beat him up at UFC 100. The notable part of that is him telling people in public. Honestly, he’s had a pretty amazing and long career, even more impressive given he lost two years after a horrific motorcycle accident, and he’d be better regarded if he wasn’t such a ridiculous person.
So it’s no surprise that he pops up on this list. I mean, the name tattoo is bad, but unsurprising. It’s on his arm, rather than his back. I don’t know if that’s better or worse. It’s his back tattoo that’s worth mentioning. It’s a samurai riding a rhino that may or may not have wheels. Honestly, it’s simply incomprehensible. Oh, look, his name is there as well.
5 Paulo Fihlo
You could fill a book with Paulo Fihlo’s terrible decisions. They’ve managed to turn a once extremely promising fighter into a punchline. I mean, he started on a ridiculous 16 fight win streak, including a run through the then prestigious Pride Fighting Championships. He was really good, and crazy strong. Maybe the ugly "Reward Hunter" tattoo on his chest should have been a warning, a red flag. It feels like something that was poorly translated. Maybe a couple of times. Also, it just kind of sits there on his side, like they gave up while trying to place it properly.
Even someone who saw that as a red flag couldn’t have seen Fihlo’s 2008 coming. For a scheduled title defence against the infamous Chael Sonnen, Fihlo missed weight, badly. That’s alarmingly common for title challengers, but almost unheard of for champions. Then, he had one of the strangest fights ever. He spent most of it boxing with an invisible man while Sonnen just looked confused. He was apparently saying, "Come to the ground…no submission… only rest." We should have seen this coming.
4 Jon Jones
The tattoo isn’t so bad, but it’s what he wanted to do with it that’s kind of funny. Jon Jones, long ago, wasn’t the screwup former champ that he is now (fun bit of trivia: Jones has been stripped of three separate belts, which is a UFC record) he was just a rising star in a division starved of new talent. He got matched up against the similarly long and lean Brandon Vera, the poster boy of unfulfilled potential.
They started fighting, and Jones got him down on his back. Despite an illegal upkick, Jones kept Vera there, then broke his face with an elbow – literally. Jones has freakishly long arms, and his elbows were his best weapon for years. When he cracked Vera, he did it literally, breaking several bones in his face.
Jones has a tattoo saying "Phillipians 4:13,” referencing a Bible verse. After the win over the part-Filipino Vera, Jones wanted to change it to say "Phillipines 4:13." That’s not how any of this works.
3 Wanderlei Silva
Wanderlei’s burned through a lot of goodwill in the last couple of years. He literally ran away from a drug test (he ducked out the backroom door of his own gym) but he was an absolute savage and fan favourite for a long time. He would get into insane wars while fighting, then spend literally 6 hours signing autographs for fans.
And so, when he made himself a billboard for his gym, it was a weird thing for him to do. He’d moved from Brazil to the US, and opened a gym in Vegas, the imaginatively named Wand Fight Team and he had its logo tattooed on his shoulder.
Yeah, you need to promote things, but the logo was everywhere already. His walkout t-shirt would have it, so would his fight shorts, his hat, the massive banner that they hung behind him in the cage before the fight. It was already everywhere. Seems kind of overkill.
2 Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva
He’s become a punchline now (a recurring theme) but "Bigfoot" is forever notable for three wins. First, he comprehensively beat one time top heavyweight Fedor Emilianenko, blinding him in one eye. Then, once in the UFC, he derailed two heavyweight prospects in Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne. Neither fully recovered their mystique afterwards.
While Bigfoot’s back tattoo is pretty cool (it’s a massive foot with the word "Bigfoot" in Portuguese) the signature on his chest is… strange. It looks like a scribble, the way signatures often do, looking like the beginning of another, abandoned tattoo. Even more mystifyingly, it’s his signature. Bigfoot has his own signature as a tattoo. I have no words for that. It’s beyond my ability to understand well enough to make a joke.
1 Adrian Perez
This isn’t just the worst tattoo in MMA, but possibly one of the worst anywhere. It’s the only reason to know about Adrian Perez. His MMA record is an appalling 2-12. All but one of those 12 losses came in the first round, most of them in the first minute, sometimes in the first few seconds. Nonetheless, you have to admire his loyalty to his employer, getting the logo of the long running "King of the Cage" promotion right across his forehead, alongside the flames coming out of his eyebrows, mouth, and up his cheeks.
It’s the sort of look that would be kind of embarrassing anyway, even without the brand logo. With it, it easily leaps into the top spot for worst MMA tattoo. While looking around, we found a rumour that he also has the Tapout logo on the back of his neck. We couldn’t prove it one way or the other, but it seems pretty plausible for a guy who already looks like that and calls himself "the lunatic."