After the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov, the debate about who the best fighter of all time is has reignited. Although it is a subjective, appreciative and constantly changing topic, it seems like a good time to do an updated review.
The criteria to determine the best fighter in history are very varied. In this case, we will mainly take into account the importance of their achievements, the quality of their rivals, the dominance of their best moment, and the intangibles that made them special.
Who Is The Best MMA Fighter In History?
Although we present it as a numbered list, in the end, the best opinion regarding who is the best fighter in history has to do with their personal criteria and tastes.
15. Conor McGregor
Although Conor McGregor’s financial success is unprecedented, his achievements in the cage do not merit placing him in the top ten in history, yet his contribution to the sport is unquestionable and that is why he appears on the list.
His polarizing personality and ability to get opportunities and followers by speaking and creating controversy outweigh the power of his left hand. Although his behavior outside the cage has left much to be desired on more than one occasion, no one seems to care as long as he continues to generate money.
McGregor’s impact on the sport has changed a lot, “million dollar fights” and “super fights” have become a priority. Conor became the first simultaneous champion of two different divisions. Since then we have seen several fighters follow in his footsteps.
After being easily beaten by Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, Conor came back with a quick win over veteran Donald Cerrone, just enough for the Irishman to win back the fans.
If Conor manages to return to the top of the division, his position among the best fighter of all time could undoubtedly improve upon his final retirement.
Read Also: The 10 Greatest Soccer Players Of All Time
14. Royce Gracie
Gracie is without a doubt the great pioneer of the UFC and one of the most influential fighters in MMA. During the first years of the UFC’s life, Royce was its top champion. A guy without an intimidating physique who easily killed men up to 50 kilos heavier than him.
At UFC 1, when no one in the world knew what Brazilian jiu jitsu was, Royce beat 3 opponents in one night and did so in a total of less than 5 minutes. After such an exhibition, jiu jitsu gyms began to open all over the world and started gaining relevance.
Months later Royce outplayed himself at UFC 2. Gracie defeated 4 opponents in one night to win the tournament again.
Royce starred in the first “Super Fight” in UFC history. After beating Ken Shamrock at UFC 1 and not being able to face him in other editions of the tournament, the UFC decided to bring them on the ring again at UFC 5. The fight lasted 36 minutes before being declared a draw. Despite being far from spectacular, the fight set an era record by selling 260,000 PPV.
13. Stipe Miocic
Stipe Miocic is the current UFC heavyweight champion and is also considered the best heavyweight in the history of the promoter. In two stints reigning the division, Miocic has posted four title defenses and holds the record for the most consecutive defenses with three. Additionally, Stipe is also the night’s highest bonus heavyweight with a total of nine.
Miocic came to the UFC in 2011 and after four years as the promoter and with an 8-2 record in the Octagon, he managed to contest the title. Stipe surprised the world by knocking out Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198 to win the belt.
Between 2016 and 2018 Miocic achieved what no one had achieved before by adding three belt defenses. At UFC 226, he accepted the match against Daniel Cormier and was knocked out in the first round. However, Miocic later beat Cormier twice to stay with the trilogy and establish himself as the best heavyweight in UFC history.
12. Cris Cyborg
Cyborg has earned a place in MMA history. Although he lost his first fight as a professional, Cris managed to spend 12 years undefeated between 2005 and 2018. In that span, he had 20 victories and won championships in Strikeforce, Invicta and UFC.
Although she was defeated by Amanda Nunes and lost the UFC featherweight title, Cyborg continued her career. The Brazilian emigrated to Bellator and a few months later managed to win the 145-pound title.
For more than a decade Cris Cyborg was the most feared woman in the world. Although there was always controversy due to a failed anti-doping test in 2011. During her time at the UFC and under the strict controls of USADA, Cyborg passed all tests. Her devastating knockout power will always be remembered in women’s MMA.
11. Randy Couture
Randy came to the UFC at the age of 33 and over nearly 15 years built an enviable legacy across two different divisions.
Couture first won the heavyweight title in 1997. But it would be his move to light heavyweight that would make him a legend. Randy faced Chuck Liddell for the 205-pound title and leave ‘The Iceman’ empty-handed. The victory made Couture the first man to win belts in different divisions.
Couture and Liddell were chosen as the trainers for the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Chuck won the fight at the end of the reality show and regained the belt.
After retiring for almost a year, Randy decided to go back to heavyweight. In March 2007, at the age of 43 years, he beat Tim Sylvia and regained the championship. To this day, Couture remains the oldest champion in history.
10. BJ Penn
The talent that BJ Penn possessed since his UFC debut is something that many claim has not been ever seen. Penn entered the Octagon in 2001 without a single professional fight under his belt. BJ was known as a jiu jitsu prodigy having achieved a black belt in just three years.
Penn won his first three fights by KO in the first round. Revealing his powerful hands, quick reflexes, and fantastic takedown defense.
Unfortunately, Penn did not retire on time, he left the Octagon with seven losses in a row. BJ lost nine of his last eleven fights and sadly made younger generations forget the great fighter he once was.
Read Also: Top 10 Greatest Tennis Players Of All Time
9. Matt Hughes
Few champions in UFC history have been as dominant as Matt Hughes. His style was based on his elite fight and strength to tie up the rival. Hughes was never a powerful or technical puncher, but he made up for it with devastating grappling.
Everyone knew what Hughes’s plan of attack would be, but no one could stop him. A takedown to one leg, or two, or from the clinch is the beginning of the end.
Perhaps his most prominent win was over Frank Trigg at UFC 52. Hughes kneeled in the soft zones, but referee Mario Yamasaki didn’t notice and the action continued. Trigg lunged at him and thrashed him to the ground.
Moments later he landed a lion kill but Hughes managed to escape. He picked up Trigg and beat him brutally. Once on the ground, he returned the courtesy and punished Frank until he subjected him with a strangulation. To this day, that victory is considered one of the most spectacular comebacks in UFC history.
8. Khabib Nurmagomedov
His dominating win over Conor McGregor in 2018 made him a global star. His strong defenses against Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje grew his legacy.
The strength of the Russian was to fight on the floor, all his rivals knew it, but no one could find the formula to beat him. Nurmagomedov holds the record for the most takedowns in a single bout, with an impressive 21.
Despite his forceful style and having retired undefeated, it seems that Khabib’s legacy still lacks something. A victory in the long-awaited fight against Tony Ferguson could have been key, or even his dream fight against Georges St-Pierre. Plus, having retired so young and in his prime, he feels like he’s still a few steps down in the ratings for the greatest fighter ever.
7. Daniel Cormier
Unfortunately for ‘DC’ he retired with a loss after falling to Stipe Miocic in his bid to regain the heavyweight title. However, Cormier has written his name in UFC history as he can claim to be the first fighter on the planet to have defended UFC titles in two divisions.
What is even more striking is that ‘DC’ achieved all this in less than six years. Cormier came to the UFC in April 2013, when he was already 34 years old. No one would have thought he would accomplish so much in such a short time, but Daniel made the most of his 15 fights in the UFC.
The only “but” in his brilliant career is not having been able to beat Jon Jones. However, Jones’ actions outside the cage have caused Cormier to go from being hated by many, to being respected by the vast majority of fans.
6. Anderson Silva
Possessor of talent and speed that seemed to have no equal. It gave the feeling that ‘The Spider’ keeps having fun with his opponents and when he got bored he ended the fight.
Silva debuted in 2006 and there was some skepticism surrounding the fame that preceded him. The UFC pitted him against the durable Chris Leben and Anderson destroyed him in just 49 seconds. That was enough to give him a chance against champion Rich Franklin and the result was similar. Silva destroyed Franklin’s nose with knees from the clinch and was crowned champion.
Read Also: Most Popular Sports In The World – Top 10
5. Amanda Nunes
Amanda Nunes has earned her place in the rank after being the first fighter to simultaneously defend two-division titles. The Brazilian has eleven consecutive victories since 2015, eight of them in championship fights.
Amanda has surpassed the two women who were once considered the best in history. Nunes knocked out both Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg in less than a minute. The Brazilian finished off the other three bantamweight champions in the first round and has also beaten the only other two featherweight champions.
In addition, Amanda also has two victories over fly champion Valentina Shevchenko. In fact, they are the only two losses for Valentina in the last ten years. Without a doubt, Amanda Nunes is the greatest fighter in the history of women’s MMA, but she also deserves a place among the all-time elite, regardless of gender.
4. Demetrious Johnson
Johnson holds the record for the most consecutive UFC championship defenses with 11. His record began in September 2012 when he defeated Joseph Benavidez by decision. He immediately defended the title against John Dodson and John Moraga. Then came the rematch with Benavidez and this time ‘Mighty Mouse’ left no room for controversy. A spectacular KO in the first round consolidated him as the best flyweight in the world.
3. Fedor Emelianenko
For many, Fedor Emelianenko cannot be considered the best in history for not having competed in the UFC, the most famous promoter in the world. However, his 27 victories in a row between 2001 and 2009 have great merit as the quality of his opponents was high.
His old-school Russian military-style combined striking with judo and sambo, creating a dangerous fighter who would often rush to the front to overwhelm opponents.
He retired at 44 years of age, although he is not his old self, Fedor has notched three wins in his most recent five bouts at Bellator.
2. Jon Jones
If we talk about pure talent, Jones is the Mozart of MMA. An inimitable genius with surprising skill, creativity and poise despite his age. The sport has seen nothing like him, a guy who made it to the top league in the world with less than two years of training.
Jones was given the opportunity to contest the title against Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua on little notice. Still, Jon delivered a near-perfect performance and finished off the Brazilian in the third round.
With the belt in tow, Jones faced four former champions and came out ahead of all defenses. ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort were the former kings defeated between 2011 and 2012.
His only official defeat was at the hands of the only rival capable of defeating him: himself.
Jon was easily winning a fight against Matt Hamill in 2009 when a pair of illegal elbows cost him disqualification. Just as it happened in the cage, Jones was also defeated by himself out of it repeatedly.
His contribution and success at heavyweight made him be considered as one of the best fighters ever.
1. Georges St-Pierre
Although the present-day favors talkative and scandalous fighters, Georges St-Pierre’s legacy has stood the test of time. The Canadian’s career has two very marked eras: before and after Matt Serra.
Georges wanted to be the best and was obsessed with every technical detail of the fight. Even after winning, GSP analyzed every little mistake made. His attention to detail and obsessive preparation led him to dominate the welterweight division for six years. During that period he added nine championship defenses. He probably could have added more if he hadn’t retired.
St-Pierre has won 20 of his 22 fights in the UFC. He is the only fighter to have avenged all of his losses in the UFC. In the rematch against his idol Matt Hughes, GSP overwhelmed him in the first round.
Four years after his retirement, GSP chose to return to ensure he remains the best of all time. St-Pierre used his fame and popularity to land a middleweight title fight against Michael Bisping. The move was criticized and GSP was said to have chosen an easy fight to win a big check.