As MMA grows and becomes older we have started to see more of our beloved older generations of fighters retire. Many of them have moved on from combat sports, but others have transitioned into coaching often replicating and even surpassing their own success as fighters in the UFC.
Looking down below, we’ve tried to put together our own list of the best fighters turned into MMA coaches. Of course this is entirely subjective as opposed to conclusive but we did want to highlight some names that have contributed much in this regard and hope in generates even more thought as far as who else should be mentioned.
Note: To meet our criteria, coaches had to fight at least once in the UFC before the promotion was purchased by Zuffa, they must be retired or have been inactive for at least one year and have to have had at least one protégé fight in the promotion as well.
Their overall positioning was reached by weighing their combined success as a fighter and coach.
Here we go!
Top 10 List of Former UFC Fighters-turned-Coaches
#10 John Lewis
How important is John Lewis to the UFC and the sport of MMA in general? Dana White got the Fertitta brothers interested in the mixed martial arts business after being introduced to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA by their instructor, John Lewis. His 1-1 UFC record is not exactly breath taking and includes a KO loss to Jens Pulver at UFC 28, but Lewis takes the 10th spot for his influence on other fighters as a coach and trainer. Lewis played a key role in the development and championship runs of Tito Ortiz and Chuck Lidell and has also had a hand in training multiple elite UFC fighters –some of which are included on this list later on.
#9 Marcus “Conan” Silveira
Conan Silveira’s UFC debut came at UFC Japan-Ultimate where he ran into a little buzz saw known as Kasushi Sakuraba. His record includes an armbar loss and a No Contest courtesy of the Gracie Hunter. Silveira retired with an overall MMA record of 6-4-1 and found incredible success along with Ricardo Liborio as the founders of American Top Team. ATT has been a mainstay in the UFC churning out notable fighters through the years. Their stable of fighters is too large to list here but includes notables like Brad Pickett, Cole Miller, George Sotiropoulus, Thiago Alves and Hector Lombard. Conan takes the ninth spot for consistently churning out contenders out of their Coconut Creek fighter factory.
#8 Mike Van Arsdale
MVA was an elite level wrestler before transitioning into MMA. He went 8-5 as a mixed-martial artist and his UFC record was an even 2-2 with his losses coming by way of submission at the hands of Randy Couture and Renato “Babalu” Sobral. Van Arsdale’s abilities as an MMA trainer gained public notoriety when he became part of the coaching staff chosen by Rashad Evans to compete against ‘Rampage” Jackson during the Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights’ season and was featured prominently during the UFC Countdown episode for Evan’s fight against Jon Jones under MVA’s Imperial Athletics. It is his former role as head coach of Evans, Alistair Overeem and the rest of the Mario Sperry-led “Blackzilians” that he gets the nod at number 8.
#7 Marco Ruas
Marco Ruas is a legend. Aside from being one of the champions of the UFC’s early tournament format by winning UFC 7 and creating his own brand of fighting with Ruas Vale Tudo, Ruas is also an accomplished MMA trainer and coach. He is our number seven pick because Ruas’ prized pupils did not quite manage to emulate his own level of success. His most notable students who fought in the UFC were Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Pedro “The Rock” Rizzo; both men would become well established stars within their own rights and both would go on to challenge for titles, but neither would actually manage to go all the way and win the fight for the strap as their mentor, “The King of the Streets” once did.
#5 Andre Pederneiras
Andre “Dedé” Pederneiras is a consummate altruist who has made it his life’s mission to bring martial arts to the under privileged children of Rio de Janeiro’s favela’s through his role in the founding of current UFC power house team Nova União. As a fighter he excelled at Jiu-Jitsu being trained by Carlson Gracie, but as a mixed-martial artist he had a record of 1-1-2. His lone UFC appearance came at UFC 21 where he lost to Pat Miletich after a doctor stoppage. Where “Dedé” came up short however, his students have more than made up for in strides. Pederneiras has had a hand in the development of fighters like Renato “Charuto” Verissimo, John Lewis –who is our tenth pick, and has also played a fundamental role in the successful fighting careers of former UFC champion BJ Penn, current interim champion Renan Barão and current UFC champion Jose Aldo. Had he faired better in the octagon himself he would be ranked higher, but because of the success of his team Pederneiras is our fifth pick.
#5 Bob Cook
Like Marcus “Conan” Silveira, “Crazy” Bob Cook forms one half of the head coaching staff of an MMA fight factory. Javier Vazquez and Bob Cook head the famed American Kick Boxing Academy who has a compelling new show called Fight Factory airing on NuTV. Cook’s UFC career began and ended with a submission victory over Tiki Ghosn during UFC 24, but his students have continued with his winning tradition during their own Octagon careers. As an MMA coach cook has groomed and helped improve the careers of a who is who of well known fighters including former UFC champions Frank Shamrock and Cain Velazquez, perennial title challengers like Jon Fitch and fast rising contenders like Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold whose own UFC debuts are not a matter of if but of when. For these reasons Bob Cook is our fifth pick.
#4 Mark Coleman
You can call Mark Coleman a lot of things…but when picking adjectives to describe MMA’s original Hammer one of the first that should come to mind is “winner.” Coleman is an Olympian, a FILA freestyle wrestling championships runner up, a NCAA Division I wrestling champion –twice, a Pan American Free-Style wrestling champion –three times, the winner of now defunct, but Zuffa owned, Pride FC’s 2000 Grand Prix Tournament and largely credited with creating the ground and pound style that is now an MMA fighting staple. Coleman’s octagon career was incredibly successful at first, winning two UFC tournaments (10 and 11) and becoming the UFC’s first Heavyweight Champion, but would fizzle out by sandwiching a bonus winning performance against Stephan Bonnar with defeats against Mauricio Rua and Randy Couture at its end. Coleman makes number four because as founder of Team Hammer House he trained Kevin “The Monster” Randleman for his victory over Pete Williams for the Heavyweight Championship on UFC 23, becoming the first person on our list to be a UFC champion and help another fighter become one as well.
#3 Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock has provided MMA with many unforgettable moments. Aside from helping bring Elite XC down by suffering a headbutt and providing the classic sound byte “I will beat you into a living death,” Shamrock has also made some meaningful contributions to the sport. He was a competitor in the UFC’s first tournament where he lost by submission to Royce Gracie. He later managed to avenge that loss by earning a draw at UFC 5; this was a time before MMA had judge’s decisions, had this taken place under the unified rules of MMA Shamrock would have won that by very boring UD. Shamrock would then go on to win a Superfight title at UFC 6 by defeating Dan Severn and then defend the belt against Oleg Taktarov on UFC 7. It is more than fair to say that Ken’s career did not maintain the same level of success towards its tail end. He makes our list at the number three spot because of his gift to MMA: The Lion’s Den. This was one of the UFC’s original super teams and included well-respected contenders like Pete Williams, Guy Mezger, Tre Talligman and Mikey Burnett. But most important, as the leader of the Lion’s Den he also helped Jerry Bohlander, Frank Shamrock and Maurice Smith win UFC tournaments and championship titles.
#2 Randy Couture
Randy “The Natural” Couture is Joe Rogan’s hero. He should be yours as well. Captain America defeated Vitor Belfort at the height of his “Phenom” mystique, became a UFC champion by his fourth professional fight and would go on to become a multiple time and multi division champion. Couture came out of retirment to defeat Tim Sylvia by unanimous decision and would close out his career on a 4-3 run that included a freak show styled novelty fight against James Toney that he won via submission and his last fight which he lost by crane kick to Lyoto Machida. Couture’s efforts as a fighter would see him inducted into the UFC’s hall of fame with a professional fight record of 19-11. He makes our number two spot because his students have continued on with his tradition of excellence. Couture helped found Team Quest along with Matt Linland and Dan Henderson and Evan Tanner would become a UFC middleweight champion fighting under their banner. Couture would then move on to found Xtreme Couture, which has become a dependable source for Joe Silva to find fresh talent for the UFC’s ever changing roster. Some of the more notable Xtreme Couture products include Ryan Bader who went on to win the season he competed on of the Ultimate Fighter reality series and Forrest Griffin who became light heavyweight champion while training under “The Natural.” Randy Couture is our runner up because he was a UFC champion who helped train two other UFC champions from two different teams in Quest and Xtreme Couture.
#1 Pat Miletich
Pat Miletich is a beast. His exclusion from the UFC’s Hall of Fame is a travesty and he is our top pick. In the simplest of terms: nobody outside of Iowa knew of a place called Bettendorf until Miletich Fighting Systems put it on the map. But even before “The Croatian Sensation” was churning out UFC champions in true sweatshop fashion he was tearing it up himself quite handily in the Octagon. Miletich won UFC 16’s lightweight tournament and became the promotion’s original welterweight champion after defeating Mikey Burnett. He would then lose his belt to Carlos Newton and suffer defeat in the octagon once more, this time at the hands of Matt Lindland, but his student Matt Hughes would avenge the Newton loss by escaping a triangle choke with a consciousness-separating slam. Miletich Fighting Systems would gain world wide recognition as an MMA training powerhouse and would rebrand as MFS Elite to set apart its overachieving fighters like Robbie Lawler, Spencer Fisher, former light weight champion Jens Pulver and former two-time UFC heavy weight champion Tim Sylvia. After his UFC career Miletich went on to become a coach for the now defunct International Fight League and now serves as an analyst and commentator for the Zuffa-owned Strikeforce fight promotion.
Wallid Ismael: Not a very good UFC record, but his protégés Erick Silva and Paulo Thiago have become well established names within the Octagon
Murilo Bustamante: Had Bustamante not fought as recently as March 2012 he would have met our criteria and may have occupied one of our top spots. This former UFC champion was one of the founders of Brazilian Top Team and had a strong influence in the careers of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Vitor Belfort