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Top 11 Dirtiest Fighters in UFC History

Credit: Ig @joshkoscheck (centered right pic)

So, if you are not familiar with it, what is considered dirty fighting in MMA? In general, the fighters who fight dirty are the ones who use techniques and tactics that are either on the brink of being illegal or are willingly breaking the rules. Some of the most common dirty fighting moves you can see include grabbing the fence or opponent’s shorts, striking the groin area, poking the eyes, holding on to submission for too long, etc.

Most MMA fighters consider “dirty fighting” highly frowned upon, despite some occasionally resorting to it for an advantage in a match. As you guessed, some fighters are notoriously known for fighting dirty more than others.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the 11 fighters who have a “dirty fighter” reputation and explain why they received this notorious status.

11. Igor Severino

Credit: UFC

This young man, Severino, who was only 20 years old when he first debuted in the UFC on ESPN 53, just made our list. Severino was barely into the first fight in the UFC and already left his mark—yes, he literally left his mark. With his UFC debut, Severino took dirty fighting to the next level.

During the fight between Severino and Andre Lima, in the middle of the second round, Lima suddenly complained to the referee to look at his arm. After briefly stopping the fight to examine Lima’s arm, the referee immediately disqualified Severino for biting.

Initially, viewers appeared confused, as it did not seem severe enough to warrant stopping the fight. But upon zooming in, a camera captured a large bite mark on Lima’s tricep.

This bizarre incident led to Severino holding the unfortunate record of being the first fighter in UFC history to face disqualification for biting their opponent. Unsurprisingly, the UFC immediately released Severino from his contract the following day.

10. Cheick Kongo

Although he never won the UFC title, Cheick Kongo remains one of the scariest strikers in MMA history. Just seeing him standing inside the octagon with his impressive physique was as intimidating as it gets.

But apart from his great performances, fans also remember him as a dirty fighter who, for some reason, had a tendency to land repeated strikes to the groin area and, surprisingly, often get away with it without a point deduction or any other punishment.

The best example was his fight against Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 75. Despite winning the fight, Kongo faced a lot of criticism for landing several knee strikes to the groin area. Shortly after, MMA fans gave him the nickname “Cup Cheick”. A similar thing happened at UFC 120 against Travis Browne in a match where Kongo lost 1 point on the scorecards because he repeatedly grabbed Browne’s shorts.

Despite a few memorable incidents that made him known as a dirty fighter, Kongo’s legacy as a sports legend with almost 50 pro fights remains unaffected. However, he did make our list of dirty fighters.

9. Vitor Belfort

Photo Credit: UFC

Vitor Belfort is one of the scariest UFC fighters ever known for his explosive striking, impressive knockout power, and highly underrated BJJ. Apart from winning the light heavyweight title in 2004, the majority of fans also know him as a dirty fighter.

From 2012 to 2014, Vitor was able to resurrect his career because of his usage of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), which was allowed at the time. He went from looking like a washed-up veteran to having the physique, speed, and power of a superhero, knocking people left and right and earning another title shot in the later stages of his career.

But what really propelled him to become known as a dirty fighter was the incident that happened in his fight against Michael Bisping at the UFC on FX 7 in 2013, which Bisping revealed years later.

During their fight, Belfort landed a devastating head kick on Bisping, resulting in a severe injury to his right eye that unfortunately led to almost complete blindness.

But what sets Bisping’s eye injury apart from other serious injuries is that we now know Vitor’s use of TRT at the time significantly enhanced his kicking power. The impact of the kick on Bisping’s eye was almost equivalent to being struck by a hard-swinging baseball bat.

It goes without saying that Vitor didn’t earn his reputation as a dirty fighter by using dirty fighting techniques. Vitor’s reputation as a dirty fighter stems from his unethical methods to gain size and strength, as well as his complete disregard for the possibility of inflicting severe injuries on his opponent solely to win fights.

8. Paul Daley

Photo Credit: UFC

For years, Paul Daley was considered to be the best and most technical striker in the UFC, with notable achievements including a devastating knockout win over Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut.

However, his UFC journey took a controversial turn at UFC 113 in 2010 when he faced Josh Koscheck in a title eliminator bout. It all started when Koscheck simulated being hit with an illegal knee in the first round, which ended in Daley losing a point off his scorecards. Koscheck’s ability to wrestle till the rest of the fight and control Daley only added jet fuel to the fire.

The key moment came in the closing moments of the bout after the final bell had rung. With Koscheck celebrating, Daley decided to approach him from behind and sucker punch him in the face, pulling one of the dirtiest moves in UFC history. This unsportsmanlike conduct resulted in his immediate release from the UFC despite him being one of the most popular contenders in the division.

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7. Matt Lindland

Photo by Pete Forsyth

At one point in his career, Matt Lindland was a serious UFC contender. Although he is not a stylistically dirty fighter, nor do fans recognize him as such, Lindland was a really dirty fighter per se.

Back in the day, fighters would say Lindland would not shower days leading up to the fight, and he used these unhygienic tactics to repulse his opponent. In fact, some rumors suggest he used to not shower for months before his fights.

The worst part was – Lindland is a former Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling meaning that many of his opponents were forced to get up close and personal with him inside the cage. And one of them was Quinton Rampage Jackson who called Lindland out after their fight at WFA in 2006.

“Man that was like fighting a smelly skunk. Matt, you need to take a shower”

Quinton Rampage Jackson

Bizarrely, this strange tactic appears to be perfectly legal in MMA, as there is no rule requiring fighters to take a shower before the fight. They must keep their nails short, for example, but the disgusting smells are fine. The effectiveness of his tactic and how it impacted his career is a mystery. However, despite being unhygienic, Lindland was a legendary fighter in his own right.

6. Josh Koscheck

Credit: Wikipedia/CC-BY-SA-2.5

Despite never winning the UFC title, Koscheck remains one of the most popular welterweights of all time, mainly thanks to his bad-boy personality, trash talk, and intense rivalries. He was a master at getting on his opponent’s nerves, and considering his unsportsmanlike behavior inside the cage, he also enraged a lot of fans with the way he used to fight.

One of the best examples of why Koscheck was a dirty fighter was the incident against Paul Daley. In the first round, he simulated/faked that he was hit with a knee to the head while being grounded, while in reality, the knee completely missed his head. He acted like he was seriously hurt, which resulted in Daley losing a point off the scorecards. A dirty move.

Interestingly, he did something similar two months earlier when he fought Anthony Johnson at UFC 106. This time, Johnson attempted to land a knee to the head while Koscheck was grounded. Although the knee hit Koscheck’s forearm, it appears on the replay that it completely missed his head. But this didn’t stop Koscheck from going to the ground and faking that he was seriously hurt, and Johnson lost a point. Then, in the second round, he poked Johnson in the eye twice and managed to get away with it without losing a point.

As you notice, Koscheck had a reputation for fighting dirty during his fights, but he was far better known for overexaggerating the impact of illegal shots to draw a penalty call from a referee against the opponent.

Although many view overexaggerating as dishonest, it is sometimes effective in securing a victory. By using these questionable tactics, Koscheck was able to gain an advantage over his opponents and ultimately achieve some success in the cage.

5. Jon Jones

Photo Credit: Vengo Films

Jon Jones is a former light heavyweight and heavyweight champion who is widely regarded as the greatest of all time and certainly the most talented athlete in MMA. Many fans also consider him to be one of the dirtiest fighters for two main reasons: drug tests and illegal techniques.

First, he failed a drug test prior to UFC 182 as he tested positive for benzoylecgonine. Then, he was pulled from UFC 200 after testing positive for using two estrogen blockers, and he received a one-year suspension.

A year later, in 2017, Jones was subject to another anti-doping violation involving the banned substance Turinabol, leading to a 15-month suspension.

These incidents have raised questions about Jones’s other fights and whether he had been using banned substances the entire time.

Next, Jones has faced criticism for employing questionable techniques during fights. Eye pokes, in particular, have been a recurring issue in his bouts. As a fighter banking on his reach, Jones tends to extend his leading hand in front to protect his range, which often unintentionally leads to poking his opponents in the eyes and compromising their vision.

Additionally, there have been instances where Jones utilized elbows in ways that some opponents and fans deemed illegal or at least on the border of legality, such as when he got disqualified after he hit Matt Hammil with an illegal “12 to 6” elbow.

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4. Mike Kyle

Photo by Michael Dunn

Mike Kyle was a force to be reckoned with back in 2004 when he joined the UFC as a powerful striker. He made the perfect debut by spectacularly knocking out Wes Sims at UFC 47, but not without controversy.

After the match, Sims protested that Kyle had bitten him on the chest, and he showed a bite mark during the post-fight media work. Despite the obvious evidence, Kyle got away without punishment.

Kyle would score one more win inside the UFC octagon before leaving to fight in other promotions, where he continued to use controversial tactics. For example, he landed an accidental eye poke in his Strikeforce debut against Krzysztof Soszynski, and the bout ended as a technical draw.

In his next fight, he was disqualified after landing a vicious soccer kick to the grounded Brian Olsen and following up with ground and pound. Even when the referee tried to push him away, Kyle continued to land shots until the assistant referee, Herb Dean, jumped in to save Olsen. In the end, he received an 18-month suspension for the incident.

After all the incidents, it’s fair to say Kyle is not remembered as the most respectful MMA fighter among the fans.

3. Gegard Gordeau


Gordeau is one of the pioneers of MMA, best known for fighting at the memorable UFC 1 event, where he reached all the way to the finals. Although he competed during the early days without even the basic rules like rounds or weight classes, Gordeau was arguably the most violent and dirtiest fighter of them all.

For example, the UFC 1 didn’t include any rules. Fighters agreed on only one gentleman rule — no biting, and Gordeau managed to break it. In the finals, Royce Gracie managed to catch him into the arm triangle choke. Just before the finish, Gordeau decided not to go down without a fight, and he had bitten Royce by the ear.

Two years later, Gordeau would fight in the famous Japanese Vale Tudo tournament against Yuki Nakai. At one point, Nakai initiated the clinch and Gordeau started gauging his eyes with his thumb. As a result, Nakai lost sight in his right eye, ending his career.

When asked about the incident, Gordeau said that if there ever is a rematch, he would again attack his eyes. This, on its own, gives you a good insight into how brutal and dirty Gordeau was.

2. Gilbert Yvel

Credit: Instagram @gilbertyvelofficial

Yvel was known for his striking abilities and extensive experience in various MMA promotions before joining the UFC. Known for his aggressive fighting style, he had notable victories in premiere organizations such as PRIDE FC over top opponents such as Cheick Kongo and Semmy Schilt.

However, before joining the UFC, Yvel had already established himself as a notoriously dirty fighter. For example, at PRIDE FC 16, he disqualified himself after repeatedly raking his fingers across Don Frye’s face and pushing his thumb into his eyes to prevent a takedown. Then, in 2004, against Atte Backman, he sucker punched the referee in the head, dropping him to the canvas, and then kicked him while he was down.

Unfortunately for Yvel, despite his great accomplishments in MMA, his reputation for dirty fighting will always cast a shadow over his career.

1. Rousimar Palhares

Objectively, Palhares certainly belongs among the best grapplers in UFC history. He was renowned for his exceptional grappling skills, particularly his proficiency in leg locks. However, his repeated dirty moves inside the cage completely overshadowed any praise for Palhares’ superior grappling abilities.

Palhares became infamous for refusing to release the submission hold after his opponents tapped out. Despite the opponent tapping in pain and the referee trying to pull him off, Palhares would, for whatever reason, decide to hold on to a submission for a bit longer, putting the opponent at risk of a serious injury.

One notable incident occurred at UFC 111 against Tomasz Drwal. After securing a heel hook submission in the fight’s opening minute, Drwal started urgently tapping moments later, with Palhares deciding to hold onto the submission for longer. This was dangerous because leg locks, in general, impose a greater risk of injuries than most other submissions, so letting it go on time is very important—but not for Palhares.

Despite receiving negative backlash from almost everyone in the MMA community, Palhares repeated the same dirty move three years later. At UFC Fight Night 29, he caught Mike Pierce into a heel hook, and once again, he refused to let it go despite Pierce tapping a total of eight times. The very next day, Dana White came out with a statement they were releasing Palhares for his unsportsmanlike behavior.

Still, Palhares never learned from his past mistakes. After moving to WSOF, the Brazilian continued to do the same. The first victim was Jon Fitch at WSOF 16, and then Jake Shields at WSOF 22 (see below video). As a result, Palhares was stripped of the title and suspended indefinitely.

Jake Shields gets very upset with Palhares for not letting go of the submission hold on time