Best UFC Fighters of All Time
Mixed martial arts have come a long way. Over the last 20 years, the sport has clawed its way into popular culture to stand alongside the most popular sports in the world. The outfit leading this groundbreaking rise has been the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Led by president Dana White, the UFC has become a global, multibillion-dollar operation.
How popular is UFC? Well, the debate over whether MMA has surpassed boxing as the top combat sport in the world is a ship that sailed toward the end of the 2000s. Now the only real question is how far the sport can climb.
These are the best UFC fighters of all time.
10. Daniel Cormier
Born: March 20, 1979 (Lafayette, Louisiana)
Weight classes: Heavyweight, light heavyweight
Bottom line: Daniel Cormier was a three-time state wrestling champion at Northside High in Lafayette, Louisiana, before becoming a two-time NJCAA national champion at Colby (Kansas) Community College and an NCAA All-American at Oklahoma State.
Cormier's legacy in the UFC became defined by him becoming just the second fighter in history to hold both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles at the same time. He was a world champion in every pro circuit he fought over his career, including Strikeforce and King of the Cage.
Cormier was part of a great era of light heavyweights and heavyweight fighters, and as much as his career was marked by his success, it was also marked by losses to Jon Jones and back-to-back defeats at the hands of Stipe Miocic that effectively ended his career.
9. Chuck Liddell
Born: Dec. 17, 1969 (Santa Barbara, California)
Career: 1998-2010, 2018
Weight classes: Light heavyweight, heavyweight
Bottom line: Former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell went from being a college wrestling star at Cal Poly to pushing UFC into the mainstream of American sports culture.
Liddell's career in the UFC was marked by several fights that we can now point to as the turning point when UFC became more popular than boxing. His bouts against Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz were the most financially successful UFC fights of all time when they went off.
Liddell's style of fighting was what endeared him to fans. Out of 21 UFC wins for The Iceman, 16 came by knockout.
8. Kamaru Usman
Born: May 11, 1987 (Auchi, Nigeria)
Weight classes: Welterweight
Bottom line: Kamaru Usman's family immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria when he was just 8 years old. He became a three-time All-American wrestler at NCAA Division II Nebraska-Kearney, where he helped lead the team to a national championship in 2008 and capped his career by going 44-1 and winning a national title at 174 pounds in 2010.
Usman won the UFC welterweight title in 2019 and successfully defended his title in five highly anticipated fights before losing in a rematch with Leon Edwards in August 2022. The third fight between the two fighters is tentatively scheduled for March 2023 in London.
Usman followed the footsteps of another famous UFC fighter into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2022 with a role in the blockbuster hit "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." Former UFC champion Georges St. Pierre has played the villain Batroc in several MCU films and television shows.
7. Fedor Emelianenko
Born: Sept. 28, 1976 (Rubinzhne, Ukrainian SSR)
Career: 2000-12, 2015-present
Weight classes: Heavyweight
Bottom line: Russian fighter Fedor Emelianenko reeled off one of the greatest stretches of any fighter in history with 28 consecutive wins following a loss in 2000 that included victories over four UFC champions, two K-1 champions, two Olympic medalists and one Pride FC champion.
Named the top MMA fighter of the 2000s by Sports Illustrated, Emelianenko's career and inclusion on this list comes with a catch. He was never a UFC champion, but he defeated seven UFC champions over his career.
So he makes the cut. Technicalities be damned.
6. Demetrious Johnson
Born: Aug. 13, 1986 (Madisonville, Kentucky)
Weight classes: Bantamweight, flyweight
Bottom line: Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson grew up outside of Tacoma, Washington, where he was a star wrestler and long-distance runner at Washington High.
At 5-foot-3, 134 pounds, Johnson might be the smallest fighter to make this list but has respect from all corners of the fighting world, becoming the first UFC flyweight champion in 2013 before setting the UFC record with 11 consecutive wins in title-defending fights.
Johnson's understated persona away from the ring hides a fierce competitor. While his background might have been in wrestling — he set the record for most takedowns in a fight three times — Johnson has crafted a reputation as an elite striker as well.
5. Stipe Miocic
Born: Aug. 19, 1983 (Euclid, Ohio)
Weight classes: Heavyweight
Bottom line: Stipe Miocic went from being a college baseball star to arguably the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, where he holds the records for most wins in heavyweight title fights and longest title defense streak.
Miocic has won the UFC heavyweight title twice in his career and is best known for his trilogy of fights against Daniel Cormier — Miocic won twice — and his three consecutive title defense wins against Alistar Overeem, Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou.
4. Anderson Silva
Born: April 14, 1975 (Sau Paulo, Brazil)
Weight classes: Middleweight, light heavyweight
Bottom line: It's unlikely we'll ever see a fighter with the longevity of Anderson Silva again in UFC. The Brazilian fought for a staggering 23 years that spanned four different decades.
"The Spider" crafted his legend thanks to a fighting style attributed to his diverse training. Silva began fighting in jiu-jitsu as a small child before taking on taekwondo, capoeira and muay thai. Silva holds the record for the longest title reign in UFC history as he held the welterweight crown from 2006 to 2013, encompassing a staggering 2,457 days and 16 consecutive victories.
Since Silva retired from the UFC in 2020, he's returned to boxing, most notably losing to social media star Jake Paul in a fight in October 2022.
3. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Born: Sept. 20 1988 (Sildi, Dagestan ASSR, Russian SFSR)
Weight classes: Lightweight, welterweight
Bottom line: The comparisons between Russian UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov and American heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano are fitting. Both completed their careers without ever losing a fight.
Nurmagomedov's reign as the UFC lightweight champion is the longest in UFC history at 1,077 days and he owns almost every significant UFC lightweight record. You would be hard-pressed to find a fighter who ended his career with more of a defining stretch of wins by submission — Conor McGregor in the fourth round, Dustin Poirier in the third round and Justin Gaethje in the second round.
Nurmagomedov has also been party to two of the wildest non-fight moments in UFC history thanks to his rivalry with McGregor with the infamous bus attack at UFC 223 and the melee following his win over McGregor at UFC 229.
2. Georges St.-Pierre
Born: May 19, 1981 (Saint-Isidore, Monteregie, Quebec)
Career: 2002-13, 2017
Weight classes: Welterweight, middleweight
Bottom line: French Canadian fighter Georges St.-Pierre — more commonly known in fighting circles as GSP — ended his decade-long career with nine straight wins in defense of his welterweight title, then returned four years later to defeat Michael Bisping and win the middleweight title.
In all, St.-Pierre held the UFC welterweight title three times and returning to win the UFC middleweight title in 2017 after four years off cemented his status as one of the sport's all-time greats.
In an incredibly cool twist, St.-Pierre has become famous to a whole new generation of the non-UFC fans (who mostly have no idea he was a champion fighter) by playing the villain Batroc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He appeared in the film "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," along with appearances on the MCU television shows "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" and "What If…?"
1. Jon Jones
Born: July 19, 1987 (Rochester, New York)
Weight classes: Light heavyweight
Bottom line: Jon "Bones" Jones got his nickname from his high school football coach because he was so skinny. By the time he rose to UFC dominance, he was a lethal 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds.
Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history when he won the light heavyweight title in 2011, at 23 years old. He held the title from 2011 to 2015 and again from 2018 to 2020, with 10 title-defending fights to go with nine wins over former UFC champions in different categories.
While Jones is the greatest UFC fighter of all time, he's also been one of the most controversial figures in professional sports over the last decade because of a string of arrests for domestic violence, battery, hit-and-run and DUI, along with multiple suspensions for failing drug tests ahead of fights.
Available Now: The Stadium Talk Podcast
Check outThe Stadium Talk Podcast, "Season One: High School Football in America" on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Amazon Music.
Episode 1: Which State Plays the Best High School Football?
Episode 2: Best High School Football Movies of All Time
Episode 3: Evolution of High School Football Recruiting and the Best High School Football Recruits of All Time
Episode 4: Buford (Georgia) High Head Coach Bryant Appling/St. Edward (Ohio) Head Coach Tom Lombardo
Episode 5: Bixby High School Football Head Coach Loren Montgomery, Quest for Another Oklahoma State Title, Bixby-Jenks Rivalry, Elite National Programs
Episode 6: St. John Bosco’s Jason Negro, Austin Westlake’s Tony Salazar Talk High School Football NIL, National Schedules, Chasing History and Coaching Mentors
Episode 7: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Roger Harriott, Cherry Creek’s Dave Logan on Faith and Football, Beating Adversity, Winning State Titles and Producing NFL Players
Subscribe:Spotify l Apple Podcasts