When it comes to ranking the best UFC fighters of all-time, there is a lot to consider. A simple look at the win-loss records just isn’t enough, as the sport has changed so dramatically since it’s inception almost 25 years ago. When I began to rank the following fighters, many different aspects of what makes someone “the best” was considered — championship reigns, longevity, key wins, and quality of opponents were chief among them. But I also threw in things like cultural significance, importance to the growth of the sport, and even the ability to draw big PPV dollars, because those things all play a part in the evolution of mixed martial arts (MMA) from a once-banned freak show into a legitimate multi-billion dollar sporting enterprise.
Another thing I had to consider was the difference in eras. The UFC began as a showcase of one type of martial art against another (ex: karate vs. judo, or kick-boxing vs. jiu jitsu). Today’s fighters regularly train in all disciplines, which has essentially created a new form of balanced martial arts that is simply called “MMA.” How can you compare Royce Gracie’s mesmerizing performances from UFC 1 and 2 to Anderson Silva’s legendary Middleweight championship reign? It’s difficult, but I’m doing it anyway!
After a lifetime of watching the UFC (I can remember trading bootleg VHS copies of the early events around my grade school classmates), here are my rankings of the greatest UFC fighters of all-time, plus two honorable mentions.
I struggled with where to rank both Cris “Cyborg” Justino and former Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, for various reasons. With Cyborg, she only arrived in the UFC in 2016 after the promotion finally opened a women’s featherweight division. Before that, Cyborg spent her entire career in other promotions fighting relatively unknown opponents. There was also a positive steroid test in 2011 that saw her be suspended for a year, plus a USADA doping violation in 2016 that was eventually cleared when she was granted a retroactive therapeutic use exemption, something that many fans (and fellow fighters) still consider a form of cheating.
Lesnar, a former pro wrestling star and WWE champion, shocked the world by joining the UFC in 2008 and quickly becoming the Heavyweight champion with wins over the likes of Frank Mir and (the much smaller) Randy Couture. He also defended the title against Shane Carwin, pulling off an unlikely submission victory at UFC 116. He was an undeniable PPV star, bringing in millions of dollars and a ton of new eyeballs to the sport. However, a life-threatening illness shortened his career and his spectacle return at UFC 200 against Mark Hunt has since been ruined by a failed drug test, effectively ending his MMA career with a whimper and a scandal. His impact on the sport was huge, but his actual career was short and controversial, so I’m leaving him out of the top 25.
25. Stipe Miocic
Let’s kick off this countdown with a man who could very well climb a lot higher up the rankings before he hangs up the gloves. The current UFC Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic is the self-proclaimed baddest man on the planet, and has the resume to back it up. After beating Fabricio Werdum for the title at UFC 198 (in Werdum’s home country of Brazil, no less), Miocic knocked out Alistair Overeem at UFC 203 and then TKO’d Junior dos Santos at UFC 211. Even before he was a champion, all the signs were there, with notable wins over the likes of Andrei Arlovski, Mark Hunt, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Roy Nelson.
He is currently 17-2, and already avenged one of those loses (a dropped decision to dos Santos in 2014). There were talks of having him face Jon Jones in a champion-on-champion superfight. It would have been spectacular, if Jones hadn’t ruined everything. Again. More on him later.
Miocic has already beaten most of the top contenders in the UFC, although Cain Velasquez might have something to say about the matter if he can every fully regain the health in his oft-injured back. Even if Velasquez can’t work his way into a title shot, exciting UFC up and comers like Francis Ngannou or Alex Volkov could provide stiff tests to Miocic’s greatness.
24. Quentin “Rampage” Jackson
While his overall record of 37-12 doesn’t do anything to catch your eye, Quentin “Rampage” Jackson still belongs on this list for a number of different reasons. Let’s start with the fact that he was the man who unified the UFC and PRIDE Light Heavyweight championships when he beat Dan Henderson at UFC 75. He was a legit star in both Japan and North America throughout his career, and holds wins over other legends like Lyoto Machida, Wanderlei Silva, and Chuck Liddell (twice!).
Jackson’s career has spanned almost two decades so far (he’s not technically retired yet, still competing in Bellator) and is one of MMA’s all-time greatest characters. His trademark thick chain necklace and wolf howl endeared him to fans, and his interview style can only be described as “unpredictable.” He even parlayed his MMA fame into a decent acting career, most notably playing B.A. Baracus in the 2010 action film The A-Team. He also had a brief foray into professional wrestling with Total Nonstop Action.
23. Joanna Jedrzejczyck
Like Stipe Miocic earlier in this list, Joanna Jedrzejczyck is a fighter who could easily vault up these rankings in the immediate future. She is one of the most well-rounded and dangerous female fighters I’ve ever seen, and her 14-0 record is damn impressive, even if the quality of her opponents in the strawweight division isn’t quite up to par with some of the other UFC weight classes.
Joanna Champion (or, if you prefer her other nickname, Joanna Violence) just doesn’t lose. She also had a 2-0 amateur MMA record, to go along with multiple kickboxing titles from 2009-2013, plus five consecutive IFMA Muay Thai World Championship gold medals (plus one silver). She is easily the current pound-for-pound best female fighter in MMA, and is deserving of her top ten spot on the best pound-for-pound fighter lists of any gender. The Poland native just turned 30, and could easily hold a spot at the top of her division for the next half decade — maybe longer.
22. Vitor Belfort
If it seems like Vitor Belfort has been around forever, that’s because he actually has been. Now 40-years-old, Belfort made his UFC debut all the way back in 1997 at UFC 12 as a fresh faced 19-year-old. Despite being undersized for a heavyweight, Belfort fought twice that night and won the heavyweight four-man tournament. A year and a half later, he demolished Wanderlei Silva in just 44 seconds, one of the most enduring highlights of the early UFC era.
As the sport grew into regulation and more defined rules and weight classes, Belfort settled into the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. He picked up wins over the likes Randy Couture, Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold, and Dan Henderson. There are a lot of UFC title winners in that group. Belfort himself captured the Light Heavyweight championship in 2004 by stopping Couture in the first round, but lost the rematch eight months later. He has had three more shots at UFC gold since, but has gone 0-3 against the likes of Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, and Chris Weidman.
Belfort is another one of the pioneers of the sport itself, and his career longevity is a big reason his name appears on this list. A 2006 failed steroid test while competing in PRIDE takes some of the shine off his career, as well as a 2014 incident where he failed a drug test for elevated testosterone following the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s decision to ban testosterone replacement therapy immediately.
21. Tito Ortiz
For many people of a certain age, Tito Ortiz was one of the first UFC stars they can remember being aware of. He ruled over the light heavyweight division for years with a title reign that lasted 1,260 days and included wins over Wanderlei Silva, Evan Tanner, and Ken Shamrock (among others). In fact, his feud with Shamrock was the major interest of those early Zuffa-owned UFC days, and is still fondly remembered as one of the sport’s most fierce rivalries.
Ortiz was one of the best ground-and-pound wrestlers of his era, but it was his outrageous personality that earned him a legion of fans. He would use vile trash talk to taunt his opponents. He dated and married (and later divorced) famous adult film star Jenna Jameson. His character was larger than life, and you don’t have to look any further than the likes of Conor McGregor or Rampage Jackson to see Ortiz’s influence when it comes to self-promotion. He wrote the original script.
20. Frankie Edgar
Frankie Edgar is a bit of a mystery sometimes, which is ironic since his nickname is “The Answer.” He is one of the greatest lightweight fighters to ever compete in the UFC, but his record went from 15-1-1 in 2011 to a shockingly different 20-5-1 by 2016. However, those four losses are a bit strange, since Edgar lost two fights apiece against Benson Henderson and Jose Aldo, the latter of which is one of the best featherweights to ever compete.
Frankie actually shocked almost everyone by beating B.J. Penn for the Lightweight title at UFC 112, back when Penn was considered basically unbeatable. Then, in an even more commanding performance, he beat Penn again in the rematch. He also has important wins over Sean Sherk, Chad Mendes, and Uriah Faber. Oh, and he beat Penn a third time just for good measure, which is quite a notable achievement for any fighter.
Edgar is still going at the age of 36, and has a featherweight title shot against Max Holloway lined for December 2017. If he can take home that title, he will join the short list of UFC champions who have won championships in multiple weight classes, which would bump him further towards the top of this list. Stay tuned.
19. Lyoto Machida
For a while, it seemed like Brazilian fighter Lyoto Machida was going to start a karate revolution in MMA. His unorthodox (but punishing) striking confused many opponents on the way to a 15-0 record, leading to a light heavyweight championship fight against then-undefeated champion Rashad Evans. Machida knocked Evans out clean with a barrage of punches — a highlight reel performance that is still admired by UFC fans today.
Unfortunately, Machida’s luck ran out after he finally captured the gold. He defended the belt just once (in a fight against Maurico “Shogun” Rua that many people think he lost) before being KO’d by Shogun in a rematch at UFC 113. Despite his spotty record since that moment (he’s currently 22-7), Machida still holds victories over some of the best of the best — Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva, Evans, Rua, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, and Gegard Mousasi. He also owns four Knockout of the Night awards, just as further proof that his karate can get to almost anyone.
Machida recently finished an 18-month suspension after he failed an out-of-competition drug test (he claims he wasn’t aware the substance in question was banned). He is scheduled to fight Derek Brunson in his comeback fight in October 2017.
18. Cain Velasquez
The heavyweight division of the UFC is one of the toughest. Since it’s very inception, when guys like Mark Coleman, Bas Rutten, and Kevin Randleman were among the fighters who won the heavyweight championship, no man has been able to rattle off more than two successful title defenses before losing the belt to a new challenger. Cain Velasquez was one of those men. But let’s back up a little.
Velasquez won the Heavyweight title by knocking out Brock Lesnar at UFC 121, only to lose it right away to Junior dos Santos at the very first UFC on Fox show. In a rematch against dos Santos at UFC 155, he won the belt back and then defended it against Antonio Silva (UFC 160) and dos Santos (UFC 166). He looked back on track to be the best heavyweight in UFC history until multiple injuries to his back and knees kept him out of the octagon for almost two years. He lost the title to Fabricio Werdum upon his return, although a 2016 win over Travis Browne got him back in the win column.
At 35-years-old, it will be a struggle to regain his health and get back into title contention. He already had a December 2016 fight cancelled when the Nevada State Athletic Commission declared him unfit to compete due to his back problems. If he can get healthy again, though, he was one of the most feared wrestlers in the history of the heavyweight division and had the stamina to outlast and outgrind every other fighter in the division. He still has just two losses in his entire career.
17. Rich Franklin
If not for the emergence of Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin could easily have ended up in the top five of this list. The former middleweight champ made his UFC debut at UFC 42, bounced around various promotions for a couple years, and then returned to the UFC for good in 2005. His 19-1 (1) record was good enough for a title shot against Evan Tanner, which he promptly won. Solid victories over the likes of Nate Quarry and David Loiseau followed, until that fateful meeting with Silva at UFC 64. We all know how that turned out.
That brutal KO delivered by Silva with knees in the clinch was kind of the end of Franklin’s dominant run. He won his next two fights, but then lost to Silva again in the rematch. He moved up to light heavyweight for a while, picking up wins over big names like Wanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell, but losing to Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, and Forrest Griffin. His last fight was in 2012, but he didn’t officially retire until 2015. While the twilight of his career was nothing to write home about (which is the case for almost every fighter, really), Franklin was one of the very best in his prime.
16. Ronda Rousey
For a couple brief years, Ronda Rousey was the biggest star in the UFC history. The promotion hitched their horse to Rousey’s cart and rode her PPV success to the tune of millions of buys and hundreds of millions of dollars. She was everything they ever wanted in a star fighter — a bad ass, sexy blonde bombshell who also happened to be great at dismantling opponents and making them tap out in her trademark arm bar submission.
Before Rousey, the UFC refused to open a female division. Sure, they had their reasons — the talent pool wasn’t deep enough and the paying customers didn’t want to buy PPVs featuring women fighters. Whether you like her or not, Rousey is the reason all that changed. The legit Olympic Judo medalist got off to a fast start in MMA, winning the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight championship in just her fifth professional fight. When the UFC bought Strikeforce, they promoted Rousey to UFC champion and opened a women’s division with her as the centerpiece.
It all went very well for a while, as Rousey finished challenger after challenger, often ending fights so quickly that people who went to grab a drink missed the entire thing. A stunning upset at the hands (and feet) of Holly Holm at UFC 193 saw Rousey’s empire come crashing down though. She would attempt to return to the octagon a year later, but was decimated by the punching technique and power of new champ Amanda Nunes. She’s not officially retired, as she’s still in her early 30s, but it doesn’t seem like she’s interested in another comeback. Even if she never steps foot into the cage again, her initial run in the UFC ranks among the best in history.
15. Dan Henderson
Dan Henderson is a man that seemed to defy age for the longest time. He fought professionally until he was 46-years-old, which is a credit to the incredible hard work he put in throughout his Hall of Fame career. Although he didn’t arrive in the UFC full-time until his mid-30s (he competed in and won the UFC 17 middleweight tournament), his entire career is one of the best ever. He was a legend in PRIDE, beating other huge names like Antonio “Big Nog” Nogueria, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Renzo Gracie, Vitor Belfort, and Wanderlei Silva. He won the PRIDE welterweight title and then the middleweight title too.
When the UFC bought PRIDE, Hendo came over and immediately got shots at both the middleweight and light heavyweight titles (he lost both though, to Anderson Silva and Rampage Jackson, respectively). He made a move to Strikeforce, winning their light heavyweight championship and even beating Fedor Emelianenko in a heavyweight fight, just for the hell of it.
He retired after losing a middleweight championship bout to Michael Bisping at UFC 204, but no one will ever forget Henderson’s highlight reel stunner of a right hand that flattened Bisping in their first fight at UFC 100.
14. Royce Gracie
This one one of the hardest decisions I faced when ranking these 25 fighters. On one hand, Royce Gracie is literally the godfather of the UFC. The entire organization was first formed as a way to showcase Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, developed and perfected by the Gracie family, as the premier form of martial arts. On the other hand, the entire sport of MMA has evolved so much since those first UFC events that it’s hard to know exactly how Gracie would do against the top modern fighters. My guess is that he would probably get crushed by fighters who now train in every discipline.
But there’s no sense comparing him to today’s fighters, because the UFC was an entirely different animal back then. At UFC 1, Gracie fought three times in a single night to win the tournament. At UFC 2, he fought a ridiculous four times in win it all. He bowed out of UFC 3 after suffering an injury during a win against Kimo Leopoldo, but returned at UFC 4 with three more fights (and three more wins) to win that tournament as well. While the quality of his opponents may be questionable, no one can deny the impact that a 175-pound man from Brazil had on the culture of combat sports. He attempted a return at UFC 60 against former champ Matt Hughes, but was 40-years-old by then and was roundly schooled by the younger, stronger Hughes.
Gracie was justifiably the first member of the UFC Hall of Fame when it opened in 2003, inducted alongside his old nemesis Ken Shamrock.
13. Dominick Cruz
Dominick Cruz might be the most underrated and under appreciated fighter in the history of the UFC. It’s partly because only the last third of his stellar career actually came in the UFC, and he spent a lot of that time out injured. Nevertheless, Cruz was a dominant fighter in the sport’s smaller weight classes for years, winning the WEC Bantamweight championship in 2010 and defending it four times as it was absorbed into the UFC.
Cruz was forced to vacate the title when bad luck hit him hard — a torn ACL (and a second surgery to fix complications) and a torn groin kept him out of action for three years. Many fans thought he might never be the same fighter, but when he came back he quickly KO’d Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178 and then beat T.J. Dillashaw for the title he never actually lost at UFC Fight Night 81.
Cruz lost the title to Cody Garbrandt in December 2016, but remains the top contender in the at 135-pounds. A rematch is inevitable, although Cruz is scheduled to fight No. 3 ranked Jimmie Rivera in December 2017, as Garbrandt takes on former teammate Dillashaw in November at UFC 217.
12. Conor McGregor
This may a controversial inclusion to some readers, but for different reasons. You could argue he should be higher on the list, considering how successful he has been at generating attention (and money) for himself and the UFC in general. You could also argue that his 21-3 record isn’t that impressive, considering he lost to the inconsistent Nate Diaz and spent the entirety of 2017 chasing dollar signs in a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather.
Regardless, there isn’t a bigger star in modern UFC than Conor McGregor. He rose to fame by winning his first six UFC fights, often by predicting the eventual outcome (which earned him the nickname “Mystic Mac”). He won the UFC Featherweight championship by knocking out Chad Mendes and then shocked the world by flooring Jose Aldo — who hadn’t lost in a decade — in just 13 seconds. Two memorable welterweight fights with Nate Diaz followed, and then he abandoned the featherweight division and become the Lightweight champion by TKOing Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205, becoming just the third fighter in UFC history to win titles in two different divisions and the first fighter to hold those titles simultaneously.
Presumably, McGregor will return to the UFC in early 2018 to defend the lightweight strap. His in-ring performance probably makes him deserving of a spot on this list, but his ability on the microphone truly makes him a world class one-of-a-kind act. He can trash talk and spit white hot insults like no one else in UFC history, which has made everything involving McGregor must-see-TV.
11. Daniel Cormier
Daniel Cormer got his start in MMA as a heavyweight after an accomplished amateur wrestling career that included collecting gold medals at the Pan American games and representing the United States at the 2004 Olympic Games in Rio (he lost the bronze medal match). After beating Jeff Monson, Antonio Silva, and Josh Barnett to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, he made the switch to the UFC. Wins over Frank Mir and Roy Nelson followed, and then a move down to light heavyweight so he wouldn’t have to contend with physical monsters like Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, and Junior dos Santos.
Since the drop to 205, Cormier has beaten the likes of Dan Henderson, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson, and even Anderson Silva. Despite that impressive streak, Cormier’s career will forever be tied with that of Jon Jones. The two engaged in a memorable feud, that spanned a few years. There was trash talking (on TV and over social media) and a memorable press conference brawl. But Jones won both fights, handing Cormier the only losses of his professional career. After their second bout in 2017, it was revealed that Jones had tested positive for a banned substance, and the decision was turned into a No Contest. It wasn’t the first time Jones had failed a test, and fans were quick to ask questions about how much of Jones’ career should be put under the microscope. Maybe he had been doping for the first fight with Cormier, but just didn’t caught? Maybe Cormier should actually still be undefeated?
We’ll probably never get a definitive answer to those questions, but one thing is certain — Daniel Cormier beats everyone put in front of him, except for a twice-suspended drug cheat.
10. Randy Couture
The only other fighter who can rival Dan Henderson for career longevity is Randy “The Natural” Couture. He fought until he was 47-years-old, and what a legendary career it was. While his 19-11 record isn’t that impressive, there are other things to consider. Like being the first UFC fighter to win championships in multiple weight classes. Or winning the UFC 13 tournament by fighting twice in one night. Or coming back at 43-years-old to toss around Tim Sylvia to win the Heavyweight title a remarkable third time.
Couture fought a who’s who of opponents over his career. They say that there are no easy fights in the UFC, but Couture’s resume is probably the best example of that (save for a 2010 freak show against retired boxer James Toney). He fought names like Vitor Belfort, Kevin Randleman, Pedro Rizzo, Josh Barnett, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Gabriel Gonzaga, Brock Lesnar, Antonio “Big Nog” Nogueira, Mark Coleman, and Lyoto Machida — more than once in some cases.
Couture is a UFC Hall of Fame member and one the pioneers of the sport. His gritty wrestling style, coupled with a viscous ground-and-pound technique, helped the entire evolution of MMA, as younger fighters attempted to mimic his successful tactics. Since retiring, he’s worked in MMA coaching (his son Ryan is a fighter) and gotten into acting, most notably appearing in The Expendables franchise.
9. Fedor Emelianenko
Without a doubt, this was my hardest decision of the entire list. Although the title of this article is “Best UFC Fighters,” it’s impossible to ignore the accomplishments that some fighters have achieved outside of the biggest MMA promotion in the world. For example, Dan Henderson wouldn’t be Dan Handerson without his legendary run in PRIDE. But what to do about Fedor Emelianenko? The Last Emperor spent close to 20 years competing in MMA, but never actually stepped foot inside a UFC octagon. Emelianenko and the UFC reportedly negotiated on numerous occasions, specifically for fights against Randy Couture or Brock Lesnar, but could ever agree to terms.
Despite never officially becoming a UFC fighter, Fedor picked up wins over some of the best UFC heavyweights before (or after) their time with the company. He has beaten Renato Sobral, Antonio “Big Nog” Nogueira, Heath Herring, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, Tim Sylvia, and Andrei Arlovski. At point in his career, Fedor was a remarkable 31-1 (1). He was the PRIDE and WAMMA heavyweight champion. Like most fighters, though, the end of his career was less impressing. Three straight Strikeforce losses to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and Dan Henderson took some of the shine off his career.
His most recent fight, an embarrassing loss to UFC cast off Matt Matrione, may be the final one of his career. It’s too bad we never saw in-his-prime Fedor join the UFC, because fans would have been treated to some classic bouts.
8. Chuck Liddell
As the UFC exploded into popularity in the late 90s to the mid 00s, one fighter stood tall above all others when it came to mainstream recognition — Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. Known for his signature mohawk hairdo, entertaining brawling style, and incredible knockout power in his overhand right, Liddell was the face of the company for many years as he engaged in epic battles with the likes of Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture. For a long time, UFC fans would claimed that Ortiz was trying to avoid fighting Liddell in an attempt to remain light heavyweight champion.
Before old age started to become a factor, Liddell went 20-3 in his MMA career (although he lost five of his last six fights, to bring his final record to 21-8). His trilogy of fights with Couture is probably the greatest set of three bouts in UFC history. After his retirement, Liddell was rightfully inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He still holds the record for most knockouts in the light heavyweight division (10). He was given a “job for life” in the UFC front office, but that was taken away from Zuffa sold the company to WME-IMG in 2016.
7. BJ Penn
BJ Penn accomplished great things in his MMA career, most of it based on natural talent alone. Penn had a reputation for not taking his training very seriously, which sort of blows my mind. He was already so good, but just imagine how great he could have been if his dedication and drive in the gym matched his innate skills. Like Liddell and Couture, Penn was a mainstay of the early UFC days, making his debut at UFC 31 in 2001. He was quickly the Lightweight champion and his battles with Caol Uno, Jens Pulver, and Matt Serra helped define the entire lighter divisions as must-watch fights.
A move to welterweight saw him upset champion Matt Hughes and become just the second fighter in UFC history to claim titles in multiple weight classes. He would later win the lightweight title a second time, and looked unbeatable against Joe Stevenson, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez before eventually running into Frankie Edgar, who ended his title reign.
Penn fought the best-of-the-best in the UFC, which naturally saw his win-loss record suffer a bit. He fought Georges St-Pierre twice, but lost them both (and there’s no shame in that). He also couldn’t get past Edgar in three different attempts, or Matt Hughes in their first rematch. Sadly, the end of Penn’s career was tough to watch, as he hung on for too long and lost five straight fights. Before that, though, Penn was probably the greatest lightweight in the history of the UFC.
6. Jose Aldo
Jose Aldo didn’t make his UFC debut until UFC 129 in 2011, but there’s a good reason for that. Up until then, the UFC only had the five traditional weight classes, with the 155-pound lightweight division being the smallest. Aldo fought at 145-pounds (featherweight), and there was no place for him in the sport’s biggest promotion. Instead, he became a star in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), something that forced the UFC to take notice of the smaller fighters (they eventually purchased WEC entirely).
Aldo beat Mike Brown for the WEC featherweight title and then defended it a ridiculous nine times (as it became the UFC title) against names like Uriah Faber, Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes, and Frankie Edgar. Those are all impressive victories. Even as the mouthy Conor McGregor rose to prominence, Aldo was still a considerable betting favorite when the two faced off. McGregor ended that fight in 13 seconds, knocking Aldo off a winning streak that had spanned 18 fights over nine years.
As McGregor moved on to Mayweather and the lightweight division, Aldo actually won the Featherweight title back by beating Frankie Edgar again — which is impressive all by itself. However, Max Halloway knocked him out in June 2017 to cast a shadow over the future of Aldo’s UFC career. He is still in his early 30s though, so he has plenty of time to regain his title and add to legacy.
5. Jon Jones
Other than Fedor, this was the hardest decision of the entire list. What exactly are we supposed to think about Jon “Bones” Jones, given the contrasting ups and downs of his dramatic career? There’s no question that when Jones steps into the cage, he’s possibly the most dangerous fighter ever. His freakish strength and long limbs made him a nightmare for every single opponent. He often made winning look effortless and ruled over the light heavyweight division since the day he arrived in the UFC. Even his only loss (a disqualification loss to Matt Hamill in 2009) was a fight he dominated — he only lost due to an accidental foul that left Hamill unable to continue.
Jones rattled off wins against Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Glover Teixeira, and Daniel Cormier as he defended his championship with ease and became a star in the process. Unfortunately, it all came crumbling down thanks to a handful of run-ins with the law and two huge failed drug tests.
Jones defeated Cormier for a second time in July 2017 to regain the title he never technically lost. A few weeks later, news broke that Jones had failed a drug test following the weigh-ins. The victory was turned into a No Contest and Cormier was given back the title. Jones will likely be suspended for two years and his entire career is now a question mark. No one questions the man’s incredible talent, but exactly how much of his career might have been aided by PEDs? We’ll probably never really know.
4. Matt Hughes
Another pioneer of the early Zuffa-owed UFC era, Matt Hughes was one of the most dominant champions in the company’s history. Although he made his UFC debut at UFC 22, he bounced around various promotions until finally sticking exclusively with the company in 2001, starting with UFC 34. It was at that event that Hughes won the Welterweight championship by powerbombing Carlos Newton into unconsciousness, another one of the most enduring highlights in MMA history.
Five title defenses later, Hughes was upset by BJ Penn at UFC 46. Afterwards, Penn bolted for a better contract in Japan and Hughes beat GSP for the vacant title (one of only two men to ever beat the legendary Canadian fighter). After basically cleaning out the entire division, he fought UFC legend Royce Gracie at UFC 60 in a catchweight fight. Then he defended his earlier loss to BJ Penn before finally succumbing to the unstoppable force that St-Pierre was quickly becoming. His career took a bit of a nosedive after that, as he finished his last nine fights with a 4-5 record.
After retiring, the UFC Hall of Famer was involved in a serious accident involving his truck and a train. He was briefly in a coma and fans feared the worst, but Hughes fought through it and is now mostly recovered from the horrific crash.
3. Georges St-Pierre
It’s fitting that Georges St-Pierre follows Matt Hughes on this list, because he took over the reigns of the welterweight division by beating Hughes for the interim title at UFC 79 (later unifying it by beating Matt Serra) and never looked back. GSP knocked off the best of the best, including Sean Sherk, BJ Penn, Frank Trigg, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Nate Diaz and Johnny Hendricks. His record of 25-2 is one of the best in MMA history and his nine consecutive title defenses ranks among the best ever.
GSP stepped away from the sport in 2013, citing personal burnout and concerns over lax drug testing policies. He will return in November 2017 to fight Michael Bisping for the Middleweight title (a weight class he has never competed in). It remains to be seen whether GSP’s return will add to his already impressive legacy, or somewhat tarnish it. Regardless, St-Pierre remains one of the biggest PPV stars in the history of the company, partly in thanks to his legion of Canadian fans.
2. Anderson Silva
It wasn’t long ago that Anderson “The Spider” Silva would have easily topped this list, but he comes in at second place for me. Despite a few losses before he arrived in the UFC, Silva truly blossomed once he hit the big time. He crushed Rich Franklin in just his second UFC fight to win the Middleweight title, and then went on an unbelievable winning streak of ten straight title defense (plus four more wins in non-title fights).
Much like Jon Jones would do later, Silva mowed down opponents with deadly striking and elusive movement that made him look more like a real-life ninja or a Jedi knight, not a cagefighter from Brazil. He would openly mock his opponents in the octagon, and then dismantle them whenever he was sick of playing the games. He was long considered the pound-for-pound greatest fighter on the planet, with very little argument from anyone else.
Eventually, Father Time caught up to him (as it does for every athlete). He was caught showboating against Chris Weidman at UFC 162 and suffered his very first UFC loss. A rematch ended tragically with Silva grotesquely breaking his leg when Weidman checked a leg kick. Now he hangs around just for marquee fights, as his championship days are likely over. He’s a surefire Hall of Famer when he does eventually retire.
1. Demetrious Johnson
Some people may think it’s controversial to put Mighty Mouse in the No. 1 spot on this list, but I argue that those people haven’t been paying attention. Demetrious Johnson may fight at just 135-pounds (flyweight), but he’s a massive talent. He was one of the smaller fighters inherited when the UFC bought WEC, but he’s been amazing ever since. He may have lost a bantamweight title match against Dominick Cruz in 2011, but he dropped down in weight after that and hasn’t lost since. Not only has Johnson broken the UFC record for most consecutive title defenses (11), many of those wins came in dominating fashion. Of those 11 defenses, he finished seven of them by either knockout or submission.
Johnson racks up UFC bonuses like they’re easy to obtain. He’s earned Fight of the Night honors on two occasions, Performance of the Night four times, and one each of Submission and Knockout of the Night. His most recent fight against Ray Borg featured one of the most absurd finishes I’ve ever seen, as Johnson transitioned into an arm bar while still in mid-air during a German suplex. It was an unrealistic video game type of move, and yet Johnson made it look so smooth, like he could perform it in his sleep.
The UFC has been reluctant to put their incredible marketing power behind Johnson, which is a damn shame. They have the all-time best fighter in UFC history doing incredible things, and they routinely bury him in co-main events or UFC on Fox free TV cards. It’s time to start appreciating Might Mouse while he’s still around.