We aren’t all blessed with a 6 in front of our height. Aren’t all granted the luxury of long reach. But that hasn’t held back these fighters from around the world combat sports from becoming champions in their disciplines. So if you are one of those people standing on tippie-toes to board a roller coaster, but you still wan to fight about it, Here are a few diminutive destroyers in Combat sports and what you can learn from them.
1. Mike Zambidis
Let’s start in the world of kickboxing with a tiny Greek Dynamo by the name of Mike Zambidis. “Zambo” stood 5’5” He weighed a buck fifty five and in a 180+ fight career posted 157 wins with 87 knockouts. One watch of his fights will show some of the most brutal body punching in kickboxing history.
His compact power attack and tight defense put the Greek on the map. But his ability to stand and trade in the pocket was unmatched. His pressure wore on his opponents, keeping kickers on the back foot, moderately terrified that a doubled hook, or overhand right might shut the lights off at any second. On his worst nights taller men fired front kicks to the body to keep distance, smothered in the clinch, and managed at all costs to avoid trading with him.
On his best nights with national pride on the line, and a kicker willing to oblige him across the ring, Mike Zambidis made more fireworks than the Olympic committee.
Like most Muay Thai fighters Saenchai has been fighting since he was a child. The now 40 year old master has nearly 350 fights with over 300 wins. There is absolutely nothing he hasn’t seen in the ring and it’s become as natural to him as walking to the fridge and opening it, before closing it and sitting back down. The same way you pick up tongs and click them twice to be sure, is the way Saenchai throws his body kick to straight left hand. The man fights like a level 100 wood elf with a sense of humor as deep as his bag of tricks.
Saenchai is so comfortably elusive and his left kick so instinctive and rangy on the counter, is a lesson. A stylistic counter point to Zambidis constant pressure. Not every short fighter needs to close the gap, so long as they can do it at the perfect moments. After making his name in the massive stadiums of Thailand, Saenchai took his combat sports comedy show on the road, routinely taking on foreign kick boxers up to 30lbs bigger than himself and not just beating them. But clowning them.
And nobody has a problem with it because, well, it’s Saenchai. Would you rather he plant a kiss on your cheek or an elbow? As a follow up question what are you going to do about it? Because, well, it’s Saenchai. His defense and use of distance is so perfect that throwing back ,will most likely get you countered, clowned and probably dumped on your head. Every fight fan should be watching this undersized genius and his traveling circus of unorthodox wildness and brilliant fundamentals.
3. Daniel Cormier
The UFC commentator and 2 division champion made his bones in the Olympic wrestling scene. This brick shithouse of a heavyweight wasn’t just as stocky and solid as a fire hydrant. He knew every little trick to make the most of his stumpy build. DC quickly picked up a striking game that made it easy for him. Hist striking game was mostly boxing based, Straight punches with the occasional hook off the jab and uppercut if his opponent ducking.
But DC was better the shorter the range was. He’d crash in on a straight 1-2 ducking under to grab the single leg or high crotch. With DC’s build what generally happened from there was a Randy Couture-esque clinic of dirty boxing. Or better yet a single leg to high crotch and an opponent ass over tits getting dropped on their head from the 5 feet 10 inches DC could lift them. He built his reputation rag dolling giants like Alexander Gustafson and Josh Barnett.
With out one question of the best little big men in MMA history, DC’s only real weaknesses are Jon Jones and home cooking. Hard to blame him for those.
4. Julio Caesar Chavez
This Mexican legend might be the finest ring cutter in boxing history. Chavez understood that for a short fighter putting your opponents back to the ropes meant they had no choice but to exchange with him. There’s a many fighter who employ this in boxing but nobody pulled it off with such cold blooded consistency. The thing that gets lost with Chavez was his defense. When in open space he boxed from a proper bladed boxing stance, allowing him to parry and shoulder roll punches away with ease. This allowed to stay safe as he closed the distance.
When his opponent hit the ropes, he squared up. Allowing him to throw both heavy hands with brutal power. His body attack kept them pinned and trying to clinch up as combinations rained down on them. Rinse and repeat for as long as his opponent could manage.
His most famous performance came against Philly brawler and gold medalist Meldrick Taylor who he famously stopped with just 2 seconds left to save his undefeated record. Or his absolute destruction of Puerto Rican KO artist Edwin Rosario. He won his first 89 fights and is one of very few in history with over 100 wins on his record in boxing.
5. Dwight Muhammad Qawi
Forgive me for getting a bit boxing hipster here but for my money this 5’6” 175lb stump of Jersey muscle wholearned to box in Rahway state prison, might be my favorite pressure fighter. The Camden Buzzsaw had no choice but to get around the jab of taller fighters given his bizarre build. The convert to Islam decided the best way to do that is, to quote Lil’ John “GET LOW GET LOW GET LOW”.
His head movement and crouching stance made connecting with a jab on Qawi, was like trying to pin the tail on a live, resisting donkey. He produced some outlandish highlights and extremely memorable fights during the golden age of light heavyweight at 175lbs during the early 80’s. His best performance might have come in the last great 15 round fight between himself and a young Evander Holyfield in 1986 at cruiserweight.
Qawi talked and taunted often most notably making entire combinations miss before taunting and coming back with his own compact bombs. Dwight smiled and smack talked his way through most of his fights. All this before going up in weight again. Qawi was fearless even fighting George fucking Foreman at heavyweight. Definitely not the dude you wanted to go heads up with in a dark alley in Camden.