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 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
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
#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
Throughout the entirety of his run at the top, Aldo has been
considered among the top pound-for-pound fighters in mixed martial
#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
#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
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
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
#13: Rashad Evans
After entering the UFC as a wrestling-heavy grappler during
season 2 of
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
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
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
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
#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
#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
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
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
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
#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,
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
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
#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
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
#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
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
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.