If there was any doubt about the impact of comic books on our culture, look no further than the reaction to the recent death of legendary creative Stan Lee. People from all walks of life weighed in with their thoughts. Somehow, the work of the man born Stanley Martin Lieber reached far beyond the confines of his native Manhattan. Public figures as wide ranging as rapper Lupe Fiasco, actor/director Seth Rogen, scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Tesla CEO Elon Musk expressed their condolences and shared the impact his creations had on them.
The world of mixed martial arts was no different, as many notable names made public statements to eulogize the mind that was essentially the engine of the Marvel Universe as we know it. Count Kelvin Gastelum, Israel Adesanya and Arjan Bhullar among the many in the fight game that paid tribute to Lee. It should come as no surprise that a world as colorful and diverse as MMA would find solidarity with the equally bright and wide world of comic books. In tribute to Lee and the Marvel storylines and characters that have kept us entertained since his first credit in 1941, I thought it would be fun to do a comparison of the personalities that we watch every Saturday night to the characters that we read about and watched on Saturday morning cartoons. This list is far from comprehensive, and Lee was not the creator of all of these characters, but they all inhabit a world that he created.
Kingpin: Dana White
Wilson Fisk has had a firm grasp on the entire world of criminal activity since his debut in 1967. Starting off from humble beginnings, Fisk rose through the underworld with some moves that were both fierce and intelligent to take the throne as the Kingpin. Similarly, White was able to parlay a background in the business of boxing and a high school friendship with the Fertitta brothers into a position as the president of the UFC. His moves in the boardroom were effective at turning the Ultimate Fighting Championship into the brand standard in MMA, while creating plenty of enemies along the way. Both men have also used the media to spread their messages and shape the public discourse. Also, if Vincent D'Onofrio called in sick on a day that the Netflix Daredevil show was filming, White could seamlessly walk in front of the camera.
Iron Man: Conor McGregor
Tony Stark and former dual-division champion Conor McGregor have a lot in common. Their personalities are brash and in-your-face. Both possess confidence that borders on sheer arrogance. They’re filthy rich and proudly flaunt it. These traits make them either loved or hated by their peers and distant observers but beneath the cocky exterior there’s more than meets the eye. For as obnoxious and loud as Stark and McGregor can be, there is also serious intelligence and capacity for strategic thinking. Plus, they do really love their whiskey.
Captain America: Randy Couture
This was probably the easiest one because the comparison has already been made. Randy Couture has gone by the nickname “Captain America” for longer than most fans have been watching the sport. Steve Rogers fought bravely as the enhanced “super soldier” of the United States Army in World War 2 until he was frozen in an ice block after crashing his plane. He reemerged to resume his heroic ways and has become a staple of pop culture in the process. Couture is MMA’s version of the ageless wonder. After debuting in the UFC approaching his 34th birthday, he continued to fight the best of the best up until the age of 47. In addition to being the one of the toughest old men we’ve ever seen, the personas of both men have some parallels. Just as Captain America stood up against the U.S. government and found himself on the wrong side of the law during the Civil War story arc, Couture stood up the UFC on multiple occasions and has become a persona non grata in the company that he helped build in the sport’s golden era.
Wolverine: John Lineker
This was one of the more difficult ones to narrow down, but at the end of the day John Lineker fits the bill from a physical standpoint. While many are only familiar with Wolverine being portrayed by 6-foot-3 Hugh Jackman, in the comics Logan barely hits the five foot mark. Lineker’s short, stocky stature, aggressive style and power striking easily translate to the most popular of the X-Men. If only he grew his hair out to go along with the mutton chop beard, we’d be staring directly at Weapon X going on a patented berserker rage in the Octagon against the bantamweight division’s elite.
Deadpool: Tony Ferguson
The “Merc with the Mouth” and former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson could be one and the same. First off all, the healing ability stands out. Like Wolverine, Deadpool possesses a superhuman ability to withstand injury and repair the damage that come with his life as a mercenary, part villain/antihero. Ferguson just made a miraculous recovery from a completely torn LCL in a mere five months to co-headline -- and win -- against fellow former champion Anthony Pettis at UFC 229. The wit and sense of humor of “El Cucuy” wouldn’t be out of place coming from Wade Wilson’s mouth either. Just watch Ferguson in front of the media and tell me you can’t picture him wearing the famous red and black mask.
Luke Cage: Tyron Woodley
If Power Man were a world-class MMA fighter, he’d be UFC welterweight champion Woodley. Luke Cage was born and bred in the streets of Harlem, a historically African-American area rich with culture. Woodley is a product of Ferguson, Missouri, which has been a flashpoint for socio-political movement. Both “The Chosen One” and the man born Carl Lucas abandoned the street gangs of their childhood in favor of doing something positive. Cage fought crime in his hometown while Woodley has used his platform as a MMA star to lend support to at-risk youth and social causes. While both are known primarily for crushing power, they use an underrated amount of strategy and technique when it comes time to throw hands.
Iron Fist: Sage Northcutt
The disciplined childhoods of Danny Rand and Sage Northcutt produced masters of the traditional martial arts. While Rand was training in the temples of K’un-L’un under the guidance of renowned expert Lei Kung, Sage spent his youth being trained by Papa Northcutt. As a result, both achieved excellence in their teenage years. Rand gained the powers of the Iron Fist by defeating the dragon Shou-Lao at age 19. At the same age, “Super” Sage made his UFC debut and had already been inducted into the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame. Iron Fist teamed with Luke Cage to form the popular duo Heroes for Hire. Woodley and Northcutt, like their comic book counterparts, have forged an unexpected and entertaining friendship. The only way this comparison could get any better would be If Luke Cage ever taught Rand the joys of seasoned food.
Juggernaut: Brock Lesnar
Is there anybody more appropriate than former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar to take on the persona of sometimes villain/sometimes hero Juggernaut? After all, at a glance, the South Dakota native and the Lee-created character bear a striking resemblance. Juggernaut, born Cain Marko, is at his most powerful while in motion, as his momentum generates superhuman levels of force. Sounds reminiscent of Lesnar barreling way his through Heath Herring to get his first win in the UFC. Like Juggernaut, Lesnar has found himself both the heel and hero during his time in MMA. His presence has meant great things for the sport with the influx of money and attention every time he is nearby. He’s also been vilified for his USADA test failures and his professional wrestling roots taking hold in the sport.
Beast: Daniel Cormier
As one of the founding members of the X-Men, Beast is best known for his appearance. Covered in blue fur with disproportionately large hands and feet, there is no real life doppelganger for Hank McCoy in MMA. But we have Daniel Cormier. The champ-champ has plenty in common with Beast without the fangs and claws. Cormier has been known to have incredible levels of strength, evidenced by his effortless hoisting and slamming of much larger men such as Josh Barnett. However, intelligence is the biggest parallel. Beast has a genius-level IQ that has served him well in his role as the resident scholar in the X-Mansion. Meanwhile, Cormier has used his own smarts in many roles as a fighter, coach, desk analyst and color commentator.
Professor X: Greg Jackson
Charles Xavier is known as the brains behind the X-Men. Despite being wheelchair-bound, Xavier’s mind makes him one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. Greg Jackson makes a suitable counterpart. As the head of what was originally called the Jackson Submission Fighting Academy and the creator of Gaidojutsu, the Albuquerque resident came to fame tailoring the game plans of some of the best talents in MMA. Despite his unassuming nature, Jackson became one of the most powerful figures in the sport through the power of his mind.
Misty Knight: Angela Hill
If Marvel’s bionically enhanced detective was brought to life in the Octagon, she’d probably be Angela Hill. Knight, as she was portrayed in the Marvel Netflix world, is as quick-witted as Hill is on Twitter. Both Hill and Knight can be easily identified by their silhouettes, with signature hairstyles standing out among their peers. Also, the Prince George's County, Maryland native is a big fan of nerd culture. Her cosplay at weigh-ins is one of the highlights of any fight week she’s involved in. It would be irresponsible not to include her on a list like this.