A Very Serious Ranking: The Best Skateboarders in MMA

The following is a guest post from friend of the podcast Cole Nowicki. Think you have something of your own to contribute that the CME audience would be interested in? Go ahead and email the podcast, dog.

Like boxing, wrestling and judo, skateboarding is now an Olympic sport. Does that also make it a good base for MMA? Will we see the next Henry Cejudo or Kayla Harrison come from this world? No, absolutely not. Why would you even ask that? Jesus.

That said, there are a lot of current and former high-level fighters who skate. Did riding around on that ol’ wooden toy help them reach those heights? No! Come on, stop with the ridiculous questions. But is it nonetheless important for us to compile the definitive Very Serious Ranking of the best skaters in the MMA universe? You’re damn right it is. The people deserve to know.

  1. Marlon Vera

While doing the extensive research required for this article, it became clear that a great many fighters have dipped their toes into skateboarding, but most peak with the “drop-in” – where the skateboarder enters a quarter pipe or embankment by pressing down and leaning forward on their board. It is admittedly frightening to learn how to do when you aren’t familiar with the bodily physics required to not wind up on your head, ass, or a combination of the two. Most will eat proverbial shit on their first attempts as it takes a level of commitment and courage that isn’t often encountered in a regular person’s day-to-day. But fighters aren’t regular folk.

Marlon Vera and Luke Rockhold (who we’ll touch on later) paid a visit to Ryan Sheckler’s private skatepark back in February. Under the Sheck’s careful tutelage, Vera was able to ride away on his first attempt at dropping in – an impressive feat. That’s good enough to land him in the top ten.

  1. Andre Fili

“When you fight, you don’t want to let anyone down. When I skate, I can come out here and be the worst guy in the park, and everyone’s still just having fun … there’s no pressure.” That’s Fili in a 2013 interview. And honestly, that’s a great attitude to have. While it doesn’t mean he’s technically a better skateboarder than Marlon Vera, as they both seem to be at the “drop-in” stage of their development, Fili does seem to really enjoy it, proclaiming as much on Twitter before his 2012 armbar win over Ricky Wallace in Tachi Palace Fights. 

And hell, he even has a mini-ramp in his backyard. That distinction alone places him at the nine spot.

  1. Max Holloway
Photo via @BlessedMMA on Twitter

Is Holloway any good on a skateboard? Not really. We’ve seen him competently ride around on a longboard, which seems to be about the extent of his abilities. But riding around is all he needed to be able to do to interrupt a Conor McGregor interview pre-UFC 264 and provide us with the only funny/accurate thing McGregor’s said in years: “Is that Max Holloway on a skateboard?”

  1. Kiichi Kunimoto
Screenshot via this UFC video

This is a tricky one. Kunimoto’s Wikipedia page says that he was a professional skateboarder in a former life. He has said the same thing in interviews. Yet I can’t find any photos or video of him riding except for these fleeting few seconds from a UFC mini-feature on him. But Wikipedia says he was a pro, and I’m as willing as everyone else to trust that resource blindly, so Kunimoto lands at #7.

  1. Kron Gracie

Kron really likes skateboarding. It was his “first love” before jiu-jitsu and he’s pretty good at it, too – blue belt is a fair approximation of his level. He’s said in the past that he wanted to pursue skating over fighting, but family pressures directed him back to the mats, where it’s fair to say he’s found much more success.

Also, where is that guy? Can he and Ryan Hall fight already, please?

  1. Nick Diaz

Skill-wise, Nick Diaz does not deserve to be ranked this high. But judged on the Very Serious Ranking RubricTM, he could very well be #1. At the beginning of the above video, we see Diaz clumsily tick-tacking around a kitchen table in the goofy-footed position (right foot forward on the board, akin to southpaw stance). Towards the end of the video, we find him in the living room sort of doing a switch kickflip (“switch” meaning his feet are in the opposite stance from what’s comfortable, making the trick much harder).

There is sincere shock and surprise at seeing Diaz almost executing the move, as sloppy as it is. But much like his gogoplata of Takanori Gomi, we know he technically did it – but if he had done it clean, it would have counted.

  1. TIE: Luke Rockhold
Photo via Luke Rockhold’s Instagram

The former UFC Middleweight champion is the most decorated fighter in these rankings and one of its best skaters. From what we’ve seen, he seems to have a fairly limited bag of tricks he deploys, but the ones he has he does fairly well. It’s an unusual sight to see such a preposterously chiseled human skate, every available muscle in his arm bulging as he crailslides. Does that advanced musculature make us jealous and affect his placement here? Of course not. We’re nowhere near as petty and arbitrary as some other official rankings out there.

TIE: Jason Ellis

The most decorated skateboarder here who’s also … technically a fighter. While his MMA record is a paltry 2-0, and noted engineer Shane Bannister Carwin knocked him out in a charity boxing match with one arm duct-taped to his chest, Ellis was a legitimate professional skater. 

His second win in mixed martial arts came against Gabriel Rivas (14-26-1) in KOTC by keylock – at 4:59 of round three. That’s pretty cool. Rivas’ fight before that? A loss to future PFL champ Ray Cooper III. Thanks, Tapology wormhole.

  1. Brennan Ward
Photo via Brennan Ward’s Instagram

Okay Brennan, we see you ollieing those plates in the gym. While probably not great for the mats, it is great for the ‘gram and your standing in these Very Serious Rankings. A few years back Ward told Fighters Only, “I actually love skating more than fighting,” which continues the trend of fighters on this list seeming to not like fighting very much (cough Diaz).

  1. Chris Leben

Take a minute out of your day to watch this strange, shaky video of a 2009-era Chris Leben ripping around some nondescript skatepark. Leben is rarely fully in the frame and the footage cuts awkwardly before tricks are landed, but in those brief in-between moments, we see a version of “The Crippler” I’m not sure we ever have before. There’s a sense of calm apparent in his person. Body language loose. Fun perhaps even being had. 

That personal illumination will shoot you right up into contendership. 

  1. Eric Spicely

Far and away the best fighter and skateboarder in this Very Serious Ranking is Eric Spicely. Over the course of multiple skate videos, he’s taken on the gritty East Coast streets with serious finesse and an enviable trick selection. And remember when he choked out Thiago Santos as a +505 dog? That ruled. While currently on a bit of a skid in MMA, Spicely still reigns supreme here. 

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