In the world of combat sports, size isn’t everything, but it’s definitely something. The simple fact is that when a smaller competitor fights a much larger competitor, that smaller competitor will probably come up short—no pun intended.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Over the course of combat sports history, there are been many fighters who have thrived against larger foes, relying on technique, speed and ring-craft to channel David and topple their Goliaths.

These giant-slayers exist in many combat sports. In the world of boxing, Manny Pacquiao is a great and recent example of a fighter who, though undersized, found a way to win and dominate against larger foes. Mike Zambidis is a similarly strong example from the world of kickboxing.

And of course, there have been many examples of these giant slayers in the combat sports melting pot of mixed martial arts, all of whom captured the imaginations of the fans by defying physics and toppling titans that you would think could simply squash them underfoot.

Here are a few examples of these giant slayers in MMA.

5 Giant Slayers in MMA

1. BJ Penn

Hawaii’s BJ Penn is and always has been fearless. Though he was undoubtedly best suited for the 155-pound lightweight division during his heyday, his fearlessness drove him far north of this ideal weight class, up to the welterweight division and beyond.

Penn’s efforts at welterweight were highlighted by a submission defeat of Matt Hughes, which earned him the UFC welterweight title, a back-and-forth scrap with Canadian great Georges St-Pierre, and later in his career, a tie-breaking knockout of Hughes.

The Hawaiian star did not stop at welterweight, however. He defeated Rodrigo Gracie and Renzo Gracie in the 185-pound middleweight division, and even survived to a decision in an openweight fight with future UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.

2. Ikuhisa Minowa

Ikuhisa Minowa—more widely known by the nickname “Minowaman”—rose to prominence in his native Japan, where he made a habit of defeating much bigger (though admittedly less skilled) opponents.

At just 5’9, the Japanese fan favorite was probably best suited for the middleweight division. Yet he had no problems fighting all the way up at heavyweight, where he defeated massive foes like the 6’2 Gilbert Yvel, the 7’2 “Giant” Silva, the 7’2 Hong Man Choi, and perhaps most impressively the 330-pound, 6’5 Bob Sappbefore he became MMA’s most famous punching bag.

3. Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto

Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto’s UFC career has been pretty disastrous, as he’s gone 0-3 with one no-contest since joining the organization’s 135-pound bantamweight division in 2010. During his heyday, however, Kid was an absolute destroyer, beloved for his habit of crushing far larger opponents with his incredible punching power.

Perhaps the finest example of Kid’s success against larger men occurred when he entered the K-1 Hero’s Middleweight Grand Prix—their grammatical error, not mine. In this tournament, the natural bantamweight defeated three highly-regarded and substantially bigger foes in Royler Gracie, Caol Uno, and Genki Sudo, which would ultimately make him the tournament champion.

4. Randy Couture

At 6’1, Randy “The Natural” Couture is a pretty big guy. Yet while he fought much of his career fighting similarly-sized men in the light heavyweight division, he also had a habit of fighting much larger men in the heavyweight division.

Perhaps the most famous win of Couture’s heavyweight run—maybe even his most famous win period—occurred back in 2007, when he stepped into the UFC’s Octagon against the 6’8, 265-pound behemoth Tim Sylvia.

Despite being the vastly smaller man in the cage, Couture shocked the world in this fight, dropping his towering foe with a crashing right hand in the first round, and keeping his foot on the gas for the remaining four rounds of the fight to capture a unanimous decision win—and the UFC heavyweight title.

That said, Couture was also foiled by massive size disparities in other fights, most notably in 2008, when he was pummelled to a second-round TKO by the mammoth Brock Lesnar.

5. Kazushi Sakuraba

Kazushi Sakuraba is arguably the most popular Japanese fighter of all time—and for good reason. During his heyday, the charismatic grappling specialist was the embodiment of fearlessness. Though he was best suited for the middleweight or welterweight division, he had the heart to step into the ring with the most dangerous light heavyweights and heavyweights on the planet.

Sakuraba did not win all of his battles with giants. He was overwhelmed by monsters like Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and of course, Wanderlei Silva, who he lost to three separate times. Yet relying on incredible heart and craftiness, he also found his way to victory against heavyweight mammoths like Kevin Randleman, Vitor Belfort, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Ken Shamrock.

The fighters mentioned above, of course, are just a small portion of the many warriors who have made names for themselves in the MMA arena by outdoing bigger, stronger foes with carefully honed technique and lionheartedness. The combat sports history books are crammed with entries on these size-defying heroes, and as these sports continue to evolve, we’re likely to see many more emerge.

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