Top 20 UFC fighters of all-time

Over the UFC’s 20-year existence, hundreds of fighters

have made the walk from the locker room to the Octagon. Some of

them only made it once before getting their walking papers; others

were fixtures for most of the promotion’s existence. Either

way, they’re in the record books. But there is a circle

reserved for the best to ever strap on the UFC gloves, and picking

the 20 best is no easy task.

After all, some fighters were able to produce significant

accomplishments in just a few fights while others hung around much

longer but still made an impact without winning a title.

For the purposes of this list, we’re going to focus on UFC

time only. That means someone like MMA great Kazushi Sakuraba, who

only competed in the UFC in one 1997 tournament, is out. That still

leaves many options, but with respect to the many who bravely set

foot in the cage but don’t appear here, this is our list of

the very best.

#20: Lyoto Machida

Perhaps the most unique fighter during the modern era is Lyoto

Machida, a karate black belt who fused his style with more widely

used techniques, dashed in equal parts patience, accuracy and fight

IQ, and came out with a head-scratching combination that win or

loss, has flummoxed nearly everyone bold enough to meet him.

Machida began his UFC career with eight consecutive wins,

including a highlight reel knockout of Rashad Evans that gave him

the UFC light-heavyweight championship. Machida also has names like

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture and

Dan Henderson on his list of victories.

The Couture win, which came on a crane kick at UFC 129 before

55,724 fans, is one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Machida is that he

accomplished most of this while cutting very little weight. In an

era of extreme weight cutting, Machida was fighting downright

light. In his second UFC bout, for example, Machida weighed just

199 pounds. Other times in his career, he came in at 201 and 202

pounds, respectively. Despite the differential, Machida’s 12

knockdowns are in the top five in UFC history.

#19: Brock Lesnar

The rise and fall of Brock Lesnar may one day be worthy of a

movie, if only they could find an actor that could match that

freakish body type and natural intensity of the former professional

wrestler, who made the switch to mixed martial arts in 2007.

From the beginning, Lesnar was a gate draw, but no one had any

clue whether or not he’d actually be any good at fighting.

Turned out, he was. Despite losing his first UFC match with Frank

Mir, Lesnar proved a quick study, and smashed Heath Herring next

time out. That led to a championship match with legend Randy

Couture.

Couture was favored to win the fight, but Lesnar caught him with

a punch behind the ear and then finished the legend on the ground

to capture the belt. He defended the belt twice, once defeating his

rival Mir by a vicious TKO, then again with a stunning comeback

against Shane Carwin after enduring a massive beating in the first

round.

While diverticulitis would compromise his health and lead to a

premature retirement, Lesnar’s impact was immense from both

competition and business standpoints, as he commanded attention

from the sports world like no other fighter that came before or

since.

#18: Frank Mir

For better or for worse, heavyweight fighting is always going to

have a certain sheen to it that other divisions don’t have.

That means extra attention on its participants, and among the big

men, no one has lasted as long and been as durable and successful

as Frank Mir.

Mir has the most victories of any heavyweight in UFC history

(14), and captured the championship in 2004 with an armbar

submission of Tim Sylvia that snapped Sylvia’s arm.

Sudden and violent submissions were always his trademark, as

Brock Lesnar can attest to, but his masterpiece came against fellow

Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, “Big

Nog” had never been submitted when the two met in a rematch

at UFC 140. Rolling into a kimura, Mir torqued Nogueira’s

arm, and when he didn’t tap fast enough, broke it. The

technical submission made him the first man to submit Nogueira

along with the first to knock him out.

During his tenure, he’s also established records for most

finishes in UFC heavyweight history (11) and most submission wins

for a heavyweight (8).

#17: Jose Aldo

Truth be told, if the UFC had absorbed its sister promotion WEC

sooner, Aldo would deserve a much higher ranking, but to date, only

five of his 24 pro fights in a brilliant career have taken place in

the UFC Octagon. Still, that’s enough of a sample to place

him on the list as one of the best the cage has ever seen.

During that five-fight run, Aldo has defeated Chan Sung Jung,

Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes, Kenny Florian and Mark Hominick. Two of

those men — Edgar and Florian — spent a large portion of their

respective careers as lightweights, proving that Aldo is capable of

defeating men naturally bigger than he.

In a signature moment, he knocked out Chad Mendes with a knee

with one second remaining in the first round of their matchup, then

ran into the crowd, setting off a wild celebration with the fans in

the stands.

Throughout the entirety of his run at the top, Aldo has been

considered among the top pound-for-pound fighters in mixed martial

arts.

#16: Vitor Belfort

Still active and successful at the age of 36, Belfort is one of

the UFC’s longest-standing success stories, having three

separate stints in the promotion dating back to his debut as a

19-year-old “Phenom” in 1997.

Known for his thunderous power, Belfort actually began his

career as a heavwyeight, scoring knockouts in each of his first

three fights, including one over Tank Abbott at UFC 13.

Belfort would go on to win the light-heavyweight championship in

2004, and to take part in memorable bouts with Randy Couture and

Tito Ortiz, among others. In 2009, he returned, and he’s

currently in the midst of a career rebirth, having scored the first

back-to-back-to-back head kick knockouts in UFC history,

vanquishing Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson in the

process.

#15: Frankie Edgar

When Frankie Edgar debuted in the UFC in Feb. 2007, little was

expected of him. Slight and undersized as he appeared, he seemed

likely to have little chance against the UFC’s top

lightweights.

How wrong we were. As it turned out, Edgar would become one of

the great underdog stories in UFC history, a high-energy dynamo

with speed and a limitless ability to take punishment and deliver

his offense.

The legend of Frankie Edgar was made in 2010, when he defeated

BJ Penn twice in a single calendar year, and the first time as an

overwhelming statistical underdog. But even before that, he’d

shown himself capable of beating the division’s best when he

defeated former champion Sean Sherk.

Though he went on to memorable matchups with Benson Henderson

and Jose Aldo, Edgar’s legacy will always be his trilogy with

Gray Maynard, which produced two of the most riveting and dramatic

matches of all time. In the first, which took place in Jan. 2011,

Edgar was nearly knocked out in the first, but rallied back to

force a draw. That led to an immediate rematch, which began almost

identically. Edgar was knocked down again in the first and nearly

finished. This time, he stormed back again, but one-upped himself,

knocking out Maynard in the fourth to end the wild battle.

#14: Royce Gracie

For as long as the UFC is around, Royce Gracie will always be

its Babe Ruth, its first seminal figure, and the one who helped

bring into the consciousness of the sporting public.

When Gracie entered UFC 1, he was chosen by his family because

of his slightness of stature. Gracie was just 6 foot and slightly

over 170 pounds, and it was believed his victory over bigger,

stronger men would be the perfect showcase for the family’s

Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Mission accomplished. For the first year of the UFC’s

existence, Gracie was untouchable, beating boxers, kung fu masters,

taekwondo practitioners, even wrestlers, who were all completely

lost on how to fight once the action hit the ground. In that way,

Gracie’s arrival would revolutionize the thinking on

fighting. It was no longer enough just to know your way around

punches and kicks.

Gracie won his first 11 fights in the UFC Octagon, and his

rivalry with Ken Shamrock was the first very important one in UFC

history.

#13: Rashad Evans

After entering the UFC as a wrestling-heavy grappler during

season 2 of

The

Ultimate Fighter, Rashad Evans’ future as one of the

UFC’s best was hardly a given. Yet Evans continued working

and improving, and within a few, he’d forged a new identity

as a complete fighter with knockout power to go with his

foundational skill.

Evans was a quick study, and got off to a strong start, but it

was really his UFC 88 win against Chuck Liddell that was his

breakthrough performance, showcasing just how far he’d

come.

During his career, Evans has earned wins over former UFC

champions Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Quinton “Rampage”

Jackson and Tito Ortiz, to go with another notable victories over

Dan Henderson, Thiago Silva and Michael Bisping.

Evans also had the distinction of headlining two pay-per-views

that have done over 1 million buys each.

#12: Cain Velasquez

In less than six years, Cain Velasquez has helped redefined the

image of what a heavyweight could be. Long thought of as lumbering

big men intent on landing haymakers, Velasquez’s game is

heavily dependent on conditioning and the ability to go at a

flyweight’s pace.

With his base in wrestling but a solid kickboxing game,

Velasquez is a multi-tooled champion capable of attacking his

opponent exactly at his weak spot. To that end, he became the first

fighter in UFC history to post triple-digit significant strikes and

double-digit takedowns in a single fight when he did it against

Junior dos Santos at UFC 155.

He quickly rose through the heavyweight ranks, beating veterans

like Cheick Kongo within a year of his UFC arrival.

In a short time, he’s garnered wins over Antonio Rodrigo

Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Silva, and of course, dos Santos,

his rival with whom he took part in three memorable bouts. A

two-time champion, Velasquez is arguably the most dominant

heavyweight of all time, with a record nine finishes in the

division.

#11: Rich Franklin

It’s easy to wonder how differently history would have

been written without the greatness of Anderson Silva. That question

as it relates to Rich Franklin is probably the most interesting to

speculate on, but the fact is, with or without Silva, Franklin had

an excellent career.

Franklin captured the UFC middleweight title in June 2005 with a

TKO over Evan Tanner, and defended the belt twice, including the

well-remembered crushing knockout of Nate Quarry at UFC 56. While

his ongoing rivalry with Silva would become one of the most

remembered facets of his career, Franklin boasts career wins over

Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Yushin Okami and David Loiseau. The

knockout victory over Liddell would mark the last time “the

Iceman” ever stepped foot in the cage.

Franklin’s 14 career wins rank in the top 10 all-time.

#10: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

One of the most polarizing fighters ever to strap on UFC gloves,

Jackson made some howl in delight of his quirky personality and

turned others off with unfiltered speech. But Jackson always had a

way of making his fights matter.

After a career spent mostly aboard, Jackson’s contract was

acquired in late 2006, and he was fast-tracked to a title shot

after knocking out Marvin Eastman. He followed with a knockout of

Chuck Liddell, winning the light-heavyweight championship in a

match that had the mainstream sports and entertainment world

buzzing. That made Jackson a crossover star, but before he went

Hollywood, he managed to unify the UFC and Pride belts when he

defeated Dan Henderson by decision at UFC 75.

Jackson would go on to have memorable feuds with Rashad Evans

and Jon Jones, but perhaps most significant for him was his UFC 92

knockout of Wanderlei Silva. The two had fought twice in the Pride

days, with Jackson being KO’d twice. The two had never gotten

along, and the bad blood was thick as they met for the third time,

with Jackson finishing the Brazilian berserker with a perfectly

placed left hook.

Jackson also holds a career win over Lyoto Machida, making it

four former UFC or Pride champs he defeated during his Octagon

days.

#9: Tito Ortiz

Despite a rocky tenure that was marked by contractual battles

with his bosses, Tito Ortiz was an unquestioned trailblazer in the

UFC, an early dominant champion who helped build the company

through his colorful character and ability to promote.

Ortiz’s feud with The Lion’s Den during the early

part of his career was one of the first memorable rivalries in UFC

history, and set the stage for a career filled with confrontation.

Early on, it became clear that was something the audience liked, as

it invested them in something past the simple action of the match.

With a rivalry, it was a real story, with a beginning, middle and

end.

Ortiz captured the UFC light-heavyweight championship with a

decision win over Wanderlei Silva in April 2000 and became a

dominant champion, defending the belt what was then a record five

times, including wins over Evan Tanner and Ken Shamrock.

Shamrock would become his most important adversary, and one of

the key rivalries in MMA history. The two would square off three

times, and though Ortiz won all of them, each drew huge audiences

and helped solidify the UFC’s growth. He also had two

memorable matches with Chuck Liddell, as well as a trilogy with

Forrest Griffin. And despite struggling in the later years of his

UFC run, his previous contributions helped build the foundation of

the company’s ongoing success.

#8: Dan Henderson

When it comes to the list of all-time greats, Dan Henderson is

certainly in the conversation for top 5. However, a huge chunk of

his career, and possibly the most productive part, came in other

promotions.

Still, Henderson is worthy of a slot on the UFC’s top 10.

He debuted as a 28-year-old winning a UFC middleweight tournament

title in 1998, but it would be nearly a decade later until the

Octagon would see him again. By that time, he was the Pride 183-

and 205-pound champion, which allowed the UFC to make super fights

with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Anderson Silva. The

first of them drew nearly 6 million viewers for the television

broadcast.

In just 10 UFC matches, Henderson has managed to author two of

the sport’s indelible moments. In July 2009, he scored what

many consider to be the greatest or most famous knockout in MMA

history, coming against rival Michael Bisping at UFC 100. Two years

later, at UFC 139, he won what many observers believe to be the

best fight in MMA history, a grueling five-round battle with

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

#7: Matt Hughes

Shortly after Zuffa bought the UFC, Matt Hughes became a fixture

in the organization, a midwest farmboy who used his wrestling

skills and strength to lay waste to the welterweight division and

rule over it for parts of a decade.

Hughes was among the most consistent and straightforward

fighters of his day. He would take you down and either punch you

out or choke you out. There was little opponents could do about it.

From Nov. 2001 until Sept. 2006, he exemplified that dominance,

winning 12 of 13 times in the Octagon. During his UFC days, he

finished 13 of his 18 wins.

His victims would run the gamut of legends, from B.J. Penn to

Georges St-Pierre to even the original master, Royce Gracie, in a

bout that crossed eras.

Hughes’ 18 career UFC wins are tied for the most all-time

with his longtime rival St-Pierre, while his nine wins in title

fights are behind only St-Pierre and Anderson SIlva, who have 11

apiece.

#6: Jon Jones

It seems impossible to think that after just more than five

years on the UFC roster, that Jon Jones belongs on the list of the

20 best of all-time. How can that be? But then you look at his

resume and you wonder, how can he not be on the list?

In just five years time, Jones has built a stunning record of

success, one that if he is fortunate enough to continue for a few

more years, will be unmatched not just in the UFC, but through MMA,

period.

Just 26 years old, here are some of the things he’s

accomplished: youngest UFC champion ever (age 23), most consecutive

light-heavyweight title defenses (six), 10-fight win streak.

Regardless of what comes in the future, he will always be

remembered for his stunning stretch from March 2011 to September

2012, when he became the first man ever to defeat five straight

former UFC champions: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton

“Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and

Vitor Belfort. Just as impressively, he finished four of the

five.

Away from the cage, Jones was one of the first UFC fighters to

draw in blue-chip sponsors, drawing both Nike and Gatorade into his

stable.

#5: Randy Couture

For some fighters, records do not tell the whole story. In

consistently facing the best, sometimes they won, sometimes they

lost, and nearly all of the time, it was memorable. That was the

case for Randy Couture, who authored many indelible moments during

his 14 years with the promotion.

First, the facts: Couture was the first man to win belts in two

weight classes, and made a habit of it. He won the

light-heavyweight championship two times, and the heavyweight belt

three. The last of those title reigns is among the most storied

bouts in UFC history. After a year in retirement, Couture, who had

been struggling as a 205-pounder, came back, and as a heavyweight.

Despite being a major underdog to Tim Sylvia, he floored the huge

champ with his first punch of the fight and destroyed him for five

rounds en route to the shocking win. In doing so, Couture, then 43

years old, became the oldest champion in UFC history.

Couture also had longstanding rivalries with Vitor Belfort and

Chuck Liddell, and the latter one was instrumental in bringing

attention to the sport as the UFC began its rise. Finally, he also

played a major role as a front man for the sport as an eloquent

advocate for its growth.

#4: BJ Penn

The career of BJ Penn may always be one of the most divisive

topics of debate in MMA. Was he an overambitious dreamer who fought

and won too often out of his natural weight class, or an

underachiever who let some of his best years slip away by chasing

improbable targets? The truth is somewhere in the middle.

No one should ever doubt the man’s talent. Notable names

including Anderson Silva have said Penn is the greatest fighter

ever, this despite Penn’s career 16-9-2 record. That’s

because almost no one ever entered the Octagon with more natural

skill and ability at every discipline.

At his best, Penn featured sharp boxing with both speed and

power, strong wrestling, and dominant jiu-jitsu. He was one of the

first that could boast of such a well-rounded set of skills.

As a result, Penn became only the second multi-divisional

champion in UFC history, winning the welterweight championship in

Jan. 2004 by choking out Matt Hughes, and capturing the lightweight

belt in Jan. 2008 by choking out Joe Stevenson.

In his UFC days, Penn has had notable rivalries with Hughes,

Georges St-Pierre and Frankie Edgar, and has been one of the

UFC’s sole bankable lighter weight stars, once drawing nearly

a million pay-per-view buys for his rematch with St-Pierre.

#3: Chuck Liddell

When the UFC was riding its mid-2000s boom, the man at the

forefront was a knockout artist with lead in his hands who went by

the stone cold moniker of “The Iceman.”

Chuck Liddell seemed to come out of central casting, mohawked

and with a tattoo running along the left side of his head. Yet he

was quiet, almost modest until he would step into the cage and

suddenly become larger than life.

Liddell was one of several major UFC figures that spanned two

generations, and from 1999 to 2002, boasted a seven-fight win

streak that included wins over Vitor Belfort, Murilo Bustamante and

Kevin Randleman.

As a participant in a legendary trilogy with Randy Couture as

well as a blazing rivalry with Tito Ortiz, Liddell played a major

role in delivering mainstream interest to the organization during

the early days of Zuffa ownership. As a coach on season one of The

Ultimate Fighter, his star was truly born, and from then on, he was

a box-office phenomenon. It didn’t hurt that he was a

must-see attraction, capable it seemed of vaporizing opponents with

a single strike. From April 2004 to December 2006, he was

unbeatable, knocking out seven straight opponents, still a UFC

record.

#2: Georges St-Pierre

Georges St-Pierre is possibly the most well-rounded, best

representation of a modern mixed martial artist, a dynamic athlete

who excels at every aspect and focuses on the small details that

lead to greatness.

During his career, St-Pierre has won fights by all varieties of

outcome, from devastating knockout (GSP vs. Matt Hughes II) to

submission (Frank Trigg) to control and command (Nick Diaz).

One of St-Pierre’s underrated qualities has been his

ability to graciously accept the media spotlight. In doing so,

particularly through the mid-2000s as the sport first began to gain

wide acceptance, he helped humanize the fighters that many once

thought of as thugs.

But his real value was in the cage, where he currently holds an

11-fight Octagon win streak, tied for second all-time to Anderson

Silva. St-Pierre also mowed down a murderer’s row of

competition, including rivals Hughes and B.J. Penn along with Jon

Fitch, Carlos Condit, Josh Koscheck and Nick Diaz.

#1: Anderson Silva

Most consecutive wins, most title defenses, most knockdowns,

most finishes. Those are but a few records written in the UFC

history books by Anderson Silva, the easy choice for the best

fighter in the promotion’s 20-year history.

Throughout his seven-year run that began with a stunning

49-second starching of the iron-chinned Chris Leben, Silva has

dazzled us with his technique, power and brazenness. During actual

competition, he’s danced, bobbed and weaved, taunted

opponents, and almost inevitably, it ends with a knockout.

Silva’s resume is stunning, with finish victories over

Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin and Vitor Belfort. Of

course, his legacy fight will always be his August 2010 match with

Chael Sonnen.

On that night in Oakland, Silva, fighting with a broken rib,

struggled to stop Sonnen’s relentless takedowns and ground

control. Through four rounds, he was being routed. Sonnen had

outstruck him 278-54 and had notched multiple 10-8 rounds. The

cause seemed hopeless, until suddenly, Silva caught Sonnen in a

triangle armbar, authoring one of the most dramatic comeback wins

ever.

That’s only a piece of his legend, to go with his walkaway

knockout of Griffin, his thumpings of Franklin, and his ability to

go up in weight and still dominate. At the age of 38, Silva finally

lost his championship to Chris Weidman, but will have a chance to

regain it this December. Even if he fails to do so, his overall

record of success in the UFC remains unmatched.