Iowa may not be the first state that comes to mind when thinking of mixed martial arts (MMA), but it has produced some formidable UFC fighters over the years.
This article looks at some of the best UFC fighters from Iowa and lets us see how they’ve built up great careers and given us plenty of exciting moments to enjoy.
Best UFC Fighters from Iowa
The fighters featured here have all achieved great success in the Octagon, with impressive records and memorable performances that have made them stand out in the highly competitive world of MMA. So let’s take a look at the best UFC fighters from Iowa.
1. Rakim “The Boogyman” Cleveland
With 22 wins, 15 losses, and a single-tied fight in his long pro career. Rakim Cleveland has given us many thrilling moments over the last few years. Among them, came his victory over John McElroy in the IC – Iowa Challenge 75, where he was representing Des Moines MMA Academy and Gloria MMA & Fitness. A rear-naked choke gave him submission and one of his first careers wins back then.
But that was a decade ago, and more recently we’ve seen him at the North Iowa Fights – Aguayo vs. Konkol spectacle, held in Mason City in 2021. On this occasion, he beat Scott Hough on a TKO. Rakim’s now fighting out of his base in Texas, which is the state where he was born. His last fight ended in a round 1 loss to Tyrell Fortune at Bellator 277, his second consecutive loss.
At the time of writing, there’s no date or opponent listed for his next bout. During his career, he’s moved from the Titan Fighting Championship to the Legacy Fighting Championship and the Professional Fighters League. Known as The Boogeyman, Rakim came from a boxing background, with his family steeped in this sport.
However, his excellent performances on the football team led to him playing college football at Grand View University in Des Moines before he turned to MMA.
— Victory Fighting (@VictoryFighting) February 18, 2016
2. Jeremy Stephens
Born in Des Moines, Jeremy Stephens had a difficult start to life as he was constantly moved between homes and schools following his parent’s divorce, spending time in shelters and sleeping in his mother’s car for a while. He eventually moved to Norwalk to be with his father and showed a lot of promises in sports like basketball, wrestling, and baseball.
In this case, it was his grandfather who introduced Jeremy to mixed martial arts, just as he had encouraged him to take up wrestling while at school. He was just 16 years old when he began fighting in this discipline and a couple of years later he was training on a full-time basis.
Jeremy is currently fighting in the Lightweight division of the Professional Fighters League and has a career record of 29 wins and 20 losses, dating back to 2003. Most recently, Jeremy chalked up a win against Myles Price in June this year, with a split decision in his favor putting an end to his run of 6 straight losses.
Before that fight, he shocked fans by turning up for the weigh-in with a clean-shaven look that was a far cry from what we’re used to seeing from him. Known as Lil Heathen, Jeremy left the UFC at the start of 2022, after 15 years with them, and joined the PFL. He complained that the UFC wasn’t giving him enough fights each year and that he was keen for a re-match with Anthony Pettis.
🔊“The kid’s special and I look forward to putting him in a special place on the canvas come September, 21st." – @LiLHeathenMMA discusses his recently announced main event bout with Yair Rodriguez at #UFCMexicoCity 🇲🇽 #TLTS 🔥 🔥🔥@jimmysmithmma pic.twitter.com/aQpNryki56
— MMA on SiriusXM (@MMAonSiriusXM) July 26, 2019
3. Pat Miletich
In third place on our list of best UFC fighters from Iowa is Pat Miletich. Born in Davenport, Miletich was already wrestling by the age of 5 and continued with this sport while at Bettendorf High School. He also played in the Bettendorf Bulldogs football team as a nose guard and his original idea was to pursue a pro football career after graduating. However, Pat’s mother suffered health problems and he began fighting to earn money to pay her medical bills.
He trained in various fighting skills, such as karate and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu before settling into the MMA scene. After getting his start at the Battle of the Masters’ tournament in Chicago back in the mid-1990s, Pat won his first 15 fights and soon became the very first UFC Welterweight Champion. This occurred at UFC 16: Battle in the Bayou, which was held in New Orleans in 1998, and where he beat Chris Brennan to claim the title.
The next step was becoming the first UFC Welterweight Champion, a feat that he achieved by beating Mikey Burnette at the event known as UFC 17.5: Ultimate Brazil. He lost his title at UFC 31, to Carlos Newton. This was his first loss in the UFC and he wasn’t given the re-match that he felt he was due.
After moving up to the middleweight division, a series of injuries gradually forced Pat to slow down before eventually retiring from the sport. His final record in MMA was 29 wins and 7 losses, with 2 draws. He also won the only pro boxing bout that he took part in.
He then went on to become an acclaimed trainer, founding the successful Miletich Fighting Systems in Bettendorf that has helped several world champions reach the summit. He’s also trained many military personnel and law enforcement officers over the years, Pat has been part of the UFC Hall of Fame since 2014 and worked in a TV commentary position for several years, until he allegedly was forced to resign due to attending the Capitol riots.
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) January 12, 2021
4. Josh Neer
Josh Neer was born in Des Moines and followed a similar path in the fighting world to some of the others we’ve seen here, starting to wrestle at a young age and playing football in high school. In addition, he was an All-Conference pick in baseball and claimed 4th place in wrestling in the state of Iowa during his senior season.
He carried on wrestling when he attended Waldorf College but injury meant that he had to drop out, which led him to take up boxing at the age of 18. His amateur career saw him rack up 89 wins and a single loss, cramming in numerous fights by fighting more than one on some nights. He also got the nickname The Dentist at this time, as he knocked out his opponent’s teeth in consecutive bouts.
Neer became a pro boxer in 2003 and won most of his fights before joining the UFC. Despite losing his first UFC fight, to Drew Fickett, he went on to build a solid record before leaving the UFC and becoming the Shark Fights Interim Welterweight Champion. He then returned to the UFC in 2011 for a spell before going on the independent circuit and then joining Bellator.
His MMA career shows a total of 36 wins and 16 losses, while he also fought and won a bare-knuckle boxing fight against Mike Alderete in 2018. He has one of the longest and most exciting careers in the MMA world, which means that he’s given us some great moments over the years. You’ve probably seen him fight if you’re an MMA fan and his all-action style is likely to have caught your eye.
One of the strangest moments in his career came in 2018 when Josh was heckled by Patrick Martin during a fight. Patrick then visited Josh and the two ended up fighting, with the video of the battle going viral. However, it was then reported that they eventually became friends after Josh had beaten the heckler comprehensively, with Patrick being allowed to train with the fighter at his Des Moines base.
SIGNED❗️Welcome to the BKFC Light Heavyweight Division Josh Neer. pic.twitter.com/X2PiH2HSVh
— Bare Knuckle FC (@bareknucklefc) December 5, 2019
5. Ben Askren
One of the most successful and fondly-remembered UFC fighters from Iowa, Ben Askren was born in Cedar Rapids and started wrestling at the age of 6. After that early start, he joined a wrestling club when in sixth grade and went on to become the WIAA state Championship in Wisconsin.
He then wrestled for the Missouri Tigers while at college and won the Big 12 Conference Championship as well as finishing 2nd in the NCAA Championship.
After completing a hugely successful college wrestling career where he became known for his unorthodox style, Ben won the US National Championship in freestyle wrestling and also represented the US at the Olympics in 2008. After that, he turned to MMA but still competed in some wrestling bouts, even winning the world title at the Submission Wrestling World Championships.
His MMA career started in 2009 when he beat Josh Flowers by TKO. After that, Ben was undefeated for several years as he claimed the Bellator and ONE Welterweight Championships. In 2018, he signed to the UFC and made his debut at UFC 235 where he defeated Robbie Lawler. However, he retired from MMA in 2019 with a record of 19 wins and 2 losses.
He didn’t disappear from the limelight after this. Instead, in 2021 he fought YouTuber Jake Paul in a boxing match which he lost. It was said to have been watched by over a million people on pay-per-view, although it isn’t clear if this number is correct. Ben has also taken part in competitive disc golf, where he reached ninth place in the Amateur World Championships in 2019.
— Funky (@Benaskren) February 13, 2019
Looking ahead, we can expect to see more UFC fighters from Iowa in the future. The impression made by these renowned athletes has helped to make MMA hugely popular in the state and will surely encourage more youngsters to take up the sport.
We’ll just need to wait to see who the next big UFC star to come from Iowa will be. Remember you can bet on MMA events at ClutchBet sportsbook, so make sure to check them out.