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Best MMA Fighters of All Time

Updated on May 25, 2014

An Introduction

MMA is an unpredictable sport where it is very difficult to string together a solid winning streak. A fighter can be literally beaten into the ground and come back with a single punch that ends the fight. The recent bout between Robbie Lawler and Melvin Manhoef is evidence of this: Lawler landed only one strike to Melvin's twenty-three before connecting with a desperate right hook that knocked Melvin out.

Since it's so difficult to be consistently good in MMA, there are only a few fighters that really shine as all-time greats.  And even most of them have a fair number of losses, whether through fighting past their prime or just flukes.  With that in mind, these fighters were the best of their time and legends in the sport of MMA. 

Fedor Emelianenko

Fedor Emelianenko is the first fighter on our list. He's been tearing through the heavyweight division of multiple promotions for several years now, leaving a path of broken careers and could-be greats in his wake. With a record of 31-1 (1), it's easy to see how great of a fighter he really is. The main criticism that he receives is that he's not fighting in the UFC, but that hasn't stopped him from fighting top 10 opponents on a semi-consistent basis. He has been fed some cans, but his record is impressive even without the fluff. Having defeated the likes of Andrei Arlovski, Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Semmy Schilt, Renato Sobral, and Brett Rogers, his position on this list is solidified.  It's also worth noting that Fedor's loss isn't entirely legitimate.

The Breakdown

Fedor maintains a cool and almost indifferent disposition when he fights, rarely showing any emotion. When combined with his legendary status, his demeanor has a pronounced effect on his opponents, usually making them lose confidence in their skill. That's not Fedor's only weapon, though: he has a very impressive sambo pedigree, meaning that he's comfortable on the ground with even the best grapplers. And don't let his sloppy striking fool you, as it's both accurate and powerful. While he's only recently shown one-hit KO power, he has multiple TKO wins and often sets up his famous armbar with strikes, often dropping his opponents and submitting them shortly afterward.

Matt Hughes

Regarded by many to be the greatest welterweight of all-time, Matt Hughes has compiled an overall record of 43-7, with three of those losses coming in his last five fights. He defended his belt more than any other champion in the UFC and is also tied for the most wins in the UFC. Hughes has wins over pound for pound greats GSP and BJ Penn, although he also has losses to both of them. He also has wins over Carlos Newton, Matt Serra, Frank Trigg, Joe Riggs, Sean Sherk, and Royce Gracie.

The Breakdown

Hughes wins almost all of his fights with his superior wrestling and ground control. Often criticized for being a "lay n pray" fighter, he actually has multiple (T)KO and submission wins, with only ten fights going the distance. This is due to his exceptional ground striking, control, and strength. Surprisingly, Hughes' Pedigree is good but not great, being a two-time NCAA Div I All America, although he never won the champion ship. He also has wins in ADCC, a worldwide grappling tournament. Although his wrestling is great, he has shown that his striking is only mediocre, as he's often beaten by fighters that he can't take down.

Igor Vovchanchyn

Igor is a relatively unknown fighter, mainly because he faded in the early part of the decade, meaning that a lot of new fans aren't aware of his existence. Still, he is seen by some as the predecessor of Fedor--not so much in style as in accomplishments and dominance. While there weren't as many top fighters around during Igor's reign of dominance, he still has some impressive names on his resume including Mark Kerr (when he was still pretty good), Enson Inoue, Gilbert Yvel, and Sakuraba. He went undefeated for 4 years with 30 wins until losing to Coleman at the 2000 Pride GP.  Igor also gets a lot of credit for knowing when to step down and move onto other things.  He retired with an overall record of 49-10-1, following a two-fight losing streak.

The Breakdown

Igor dominated his opponents with superior striking and power.  He wasn't the most technically sound striker in MMA, but he was both powerful and quick.  He had good instinctual grappling, although he wasn't particularly skilled at it.  His main disadvantage was the amount of size he was giving up: Igor rarely weighed in over 230 and was only 5'9.  Unfortunately, Igor was unable to adapt to the rapidly changing sport and suffered a series of losses as today's greats started coming onto the stage.

Anderson Silva

Anderson Silva makes up one of the three top pound for pound fighters in the world, up there with GSP and Fedor. Different publications place him in varying locations, but there's no disputing his place at the top of the MMA ladder. He holds a record ten-fight win streak in the UFC, and is looking to break the record for the most consecutive title defenses in his next fight. With Belfort pulling out due to an injury, his next opponent and date of fight are unknown.

The Breakdown

Anderson's pin-point striking is on a different level than any other fighter. He uses his long reach to stay on the outside and punish his opponent with amazingly accurate strikes. When in the clinch, he's able to land devastating knees and elbows, which have shown a consistent ability to end fights. While he has almost no offensive wrestling, his defense is good enough to stop the takedown from all but the best grapplers. Once he's on the ground, he can use his long limbs to tie his opponents up and submit them or wait for the fight to be stood up. His only real weakness is his inability to stop elite wrestlers from taking him down.

Georges St. Pierre

Like Hughes, GSP is also considered by many to be the best welterweight ever. His accomplishments, as of now, match Hughes'. The only thing that this Canadian superstar is lacking is a long title defense streak. Pending his victory over Dan Hardy at UFC, St. Pierre will have solidified his place over Hughes, with a 7-fight win streak, five of which were title defenses.  After securing the crown at 170 pounds, St. Pierre is looking to move up to 185 to defeat Anderson Silva.  If he can pull off this feat, he will almost unanimously be considered the greatest fighter in MMA today, and maybe of all time.

The Breakdown

GSP is arguably the most complete fighter to have ever competed in mixed martial arts.  Starting off as a respectable and very dangerous striker, GSP developed an amazing wrestling skillset.  In fact, he has advanced so far in wrestling that it has become his most dominant style--he is able to take down the very best wrestlers in his division, including Hughes, Fitch, and Koscheck.  This means a lot of people underestimate his stand-up, but it's worth noting that he's also knocked down Thiago Alves, Jay Hieron, Hughes, and was beating BJ Penn in the striking during their second match up.  Overall, GSP's only apparent weakness--or really, the only thing that he isn't exceedingly excellent in--is fighting off of his back.  Luckily, his great wrestling keeps him off of it most of the time.  Still, he might be in trouble if a better wrestler happens to come along.

Coming soon...

I plan on adding sections for BJ Penn, Shinya Aoki, Mark Coleman, Sakuraba, Shogun Rua, Rodrigo Nogueira, Chuck Liddell, and Wanderlei Silva. I'm not sure if I'll include them in this specific hub, since that would make it very long, but you can expect breakdowns of them in the somewhat near future.


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    • mmafightingworld profile image

      mmafightingworld 5 years ago from The Midlands, UK

      Love Georges St Pierre!

    • profile image

      Thunder Hammer 5 years ago

      I would have to give my vote to Sakuraba. Even though now his record is terrible to behold, but he was the most skillful and innovative MMA fighter in his heyday. He took on all comers regardless of weight and style.

    • KBEvolve profile image

      Kenneth Brown 6 years ago from United States

      Really interesting to read this and then compare it to the state of MMA now. All have faded except for Anderson and GSP.

    • Double Down profile image

      Double Down 6 years ago

      Interesting list from the earlier days of MMA. Igor Vovchanchyn is an interesting choice. He did have his slight run in Pride but it seems that his skills didn't evolve as time went on.

    • Charles Webb-it profile image

      Charles Webb-it 6 years ago from Edmonds,WA

      very cool hub i love mma and the ufc. I wrestled against Dan Henderson back when we both were in H.S.long long time ago.

    • newell12345 profile image

      newell12345 6 years ago

      You diddent mention Royce Gracie, i like your hub you hit some awsome pointers, but you must never forget the god farthers of MMA. Like Royce Gracie, Dan Servern, Mark Coleman,Bas Rutten,Kazushi Sakuraba,Bas Rutten,and Don Fry.

    • profile image

      MMA Videos 6 years ago

      No joke, I can watch videos of top fights all day. The best are the old-school Renzo Gracie fights and Fedor highlight reels.

    • captainchris profile image

      captainchris 7 years ago

      Randy Couture an old man that demands respect.

      Nice list,keep it up.

    • jaynotts profile image

      jaynotts 7 years ago from New York

      cool post i wish you had put sakuraba in this one hes so entertaing to watch

    • Michael122 profile image

      Michael122 7 years ago from Pleasant Grove

      My coach court mcgee got in the ufc

    • profile image

      Fedor Emelianenko 7 years ago

      Fedor is still the best HW warrior, even though the rest of the top 10 has slightly changed :)