Mixed martial arts is probably the fastest growing sport in the world, and it keeps gaining fans every day. Despite only being a sport for around 25 years, there have been many great champions who have become mainstream attractions. It’s very possible that such a list might look totally different 25 years from now, but it’s still interesting to take a look, and pay tribute, to the 10 greatest MMA fighters so far.
10. Georges St. Pierre
After Anderson Silva’s recent loss, St. Pierre is the most dominant champion in the world of MMA. He’s still in his prime and the sky seems to be the limit” seems to be the case for Georges. He’s without a doubt the greatest Welterweight Champion of all time and he tends to dominate his opponents like no other fighter, with his superior athleticism and wrestling skills. He has fought in the most competitive division of the UFC for many years, and has an incredible record of 24 wins and only 2 losses, both of which he avenged. He has won the UFC welterweight crown two times, and he currently holds the records for most wins by decision, with 11. He’s also tied with Matt Hughes for most wins in UFC history with 18.
Both those records look ready to be broken by GSP, and most fans think that it’s only a matter of time. Considering how dominant GSP looks, and how young he is, we cannot even imagine what kind of records he can set.
Notable Wins: Sean Sherk, B.J. Penn (x2), Matt Hughes (x2), Josh Koscheck (x2), Matt Serra, Jon Fitch, Dan Hardy, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz.
9. Anderson Silva
The “Spider” recently lost his title to the younger and stronger Chris Weidman, but he remains one of the best fighters to ever step foot in the Octagon. The Brazilian Master holds the longest title defense streak in UFC history, with 10 title defenses. Now, for all the fans Silva has made over the years, he has just as many haters, who discredit him over his five losses to lesser-known opponents and accuse him of near-starving himself in order to stay in one of the weakest UFC divisions around, the middleweight. Despite what the haters might claim, facts and numbers don’t lie.
Notable Wins: Rich Franklin (x2), Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin, Chael Sonnen (x2), Vitor Belfort.
8. Randy Couture
They don’t call Randy Couture “Captain America” and “The Natural” for nothing. If there’s one man who can challenge Chuck Liddell’s throne for the most popular star in the UFC history, it’s Randy. During his illustrated career, he has won the UFC Heavyweight Title a record three times. Randy became the first fighter to hold two UFC belts in two different divisions, when he won the Light Heavywight Title. He also holds the most title reigns in UFC history, with five. Despite all his amazing achievements, he will always be remembered for submitting and humiliating boxer James Toney, who claimed that he would expose Couture and MMA for being a sport for soft untalented boys. If anyone looked untalented and soft after their fight, it was James Toney.
Notable Wins: Vitor Belfort (x2), Maurice Smith, Kevin Randleman, Pedro Rizzo (x2), Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Tim Sylvia, Gabriel Gonzaga, Mark Coleman, James Toney.
7. Chuck Liddell
Chuck was to MMA what Babe Ruth was for baseball, Michael Jordan for basketball, Tom Brady for football, and David Beckham for soccer: a MEGA STAR. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he’s, to this day, the most popular UFC fighter of all time, and probably one of the very best fighters as well. He became a UFC light heavyweight champion by beating Tito Ortiz, and defended his title four times over close to two years. Unfortunately, his prime didn’t last very long, and several disappointing losses followed near the end of his career. Liddell’s prime, however, was still one of the most colorful and intense of all time. Arguably the biggest star in UFC history, he helped bring MMA into the mainstream of American sports.
Notable Wins: Jeff Monson, Kevin Randleman, Guy Mezger, Vitor Belfort, Renato Sobral (x2), Alistair Overeem, Tito Ortiz (x2), Randy Couture (x2), Vernon White, Wanderlei Silva.
6. Bas Rutten
El Guapo is another case of an old school master who contributed like no other to the spreading of the sport during its early days. Bas was a Dutch Karate blackbelt and a kickboxer, who made a very successful transition into the world of MMA. He had the size, the look, and the style to become one of the most intimidating champions of all time, and he didn’t waste his chance. He became the UFC Heavyweight Champion, and finished his career on a 22-fight unbeaten streak. During his reign, he became widely popular for one of his favorite tactics, a liver shot that usually paralyzed his opponents. Rutten’s charisma in and outside the Octagon helped him to become one of the first celebrities of the sport. While he’s still involved in the field today as a TV commentator, he has also appeared in several movies and video games.
Notable Wins: Vernon White, Maurice Smith (x2), Frank Shamrock (x2), Guy Mezger, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Kevin Randleman.
5. Royce Gracie
Could “The King of Submissions” compete against modern fighters in the UFC? Probably not, but the fact remains that Royce was a true beast during his time, when the sport of MMA was still introducing itself to the fans, and he will always be remembered as the great pioneer he was. Fans will never forget the endless hypothetical conversations and questions they used to make back in those days, and Royce always managed to be a basic part of them: “Royce Gracie vs. Mike Tyson” or “Royce Gracie vs. Alexander Karelin.”
Truth is, MMA has evolved dramatically since the days Royce was dominating, and today he would most likely not do that well, but that doesn’t mean that his place in history can ever be questioned. Royce is a UFC Hall of Fame member, the winner of UFC 1, UFC 2, and UFC 4 tournaments, and he is the one who made Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu famous in the US and Europe. He’s a true immortal of the sport.
Notable Wins: Art Jimmerson, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Kazushi Sakuraba.
4. Matt Hughes
Hughes was one of the very first superstars of the sport, and the most dominant welterweight champion before GSP showed up. He’s a UFC Hall of Fame inductee, and a former two-time UFC Welterweight Champion. He defended his title a total of seven times, which was a record at the time, and he still holds the record for most UFC wins, along with GSP.
During his prime, Matt was ranked as the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and he was literally unbeatable. He stands alongside GSP and Anderson Silva as one of the most dominant champions in the history of UFC.
Notable Wins: Carlos Newton (x2), Sean Sherk, Royce Gracie, B.J. Penn, Georges St-Pierre
3. Dan Henderson
Words are not enough to describe Dan Henderson’s greatness. He’s undoubtedly one of the greatest and most durable fighters of all time, and what’s more impressive is that he still fights against modern, younger fighters to this day.
Henderson is one of the very few men who have become a superstar in both Pride and the UFC. A former Olympic wrestler, he competed for the majority of his career in the middleweight and light heavyweight division, winning notable titles in three different weight divisions. He won the UFC 17 Middleweight Tournament, became the first fighter to win Pride championships in multiple weight classes (welterweight and middleweight,) became the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion, and was the RINGS King of Kings 1999 Tournament winner. He has won more titles in more major organizations than any other fighter in history.
Notable Wins: Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Renato Sobral, Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Maurício Rua and Fedor Emelianenko.
2. Igor Vovchanchyn
Igor is the definition of the term “underrated.” He’s the man with the longest undefeated streak in history (37) and, in his prime, was one of the most dominant fighters of all time. Igor was also one of the shortest heavyweight champions ever (5’8″,) which makes his records and accomplishments even more impressive.
Notable Wins: Kazushi Sakuraba, Mark Kerr, Valentijn Overeem, Adilson Lima (x2)
1. Fedor Emelianenko
The “Last Emperor,” the “Terminator,” the “Russian Experiment:” simply put, Emelianenko is the greatest MMA fighter to ever live. Fedor Emelianenko’s prime is unmatched in the world of MMA and, if we had to compare it with any other combat sport, then only another Russian, Alexander Karelin, could match Fedor’s greatness.
Fedor remained undefeated for 32 fights over a decade, only losing when he was old and way past his prime, and the opponents he lost to would likely have been destroyed during his prime. He carried the Heavyweight Title for an incredible 10 years, and destroyed several Pride and UFC champions along the way. He has probably beaten more champions and all-time greats than any one else, and he’s widely considered by most analysts and experts to be the king of the sport.
Notable Wins: Renato Sobral, Semmy Schilt, Heath Herring, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira (x2), Gary Goodridge, Mark Coleman (x2), Kevin Randleman, Mirko Filipovic, Mark Hunt, Matt Lindland, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, Choi Hong-man, Jeff Monson, Pedro Rizzo.