Here are the 5 Best MMA and UFC fighters of all time
Who is the best MMA fighter of all time? Well, how long is a piece of string? a popular question, but not as simple as throwing out a name. Everyone has their favorites for the MMA G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) – read our list to see if you agree with our picks for the the most successful MMA fighters of the 21st century.
The Anatomy of an MMA G.O.A.T
It would be foolish to look at UFC fighter career earnings in determining who the greatest fighters are. Earnings have no relation to their skills; but are more a sign of their entertainment value. Therefore, we’ll look at some other indicators.
To make the subjective relatively objective, we’re going to break down our rankings into the following criteria:
Why You Don’t like Them
Let’s just get this one out of the way. We MMA fans are a fickle bunch, and we all have our prejudices against certain fighters. So while this particular measure does not affect their ranking, we think it’s important to address that little bit of bias that may affect our judgement. Remember, we’re talking about them as an MMA fighter, not your favorite lunch lady.
It’s one thing to get to the top of professional MMA, it’s another thing to stay there, and look unbeatable the whole time. We look at both their wins, defences, and the manner in which they won. Ranked on a scale of 1-10.
Quality of Competition
There are some arguments to be made that certain divisions and eras of professional MMA faced different levels of competition, which is completely fair. We rank the toughness of their opposition on a scale of 1-10.
Impact on the Sport
MMA has not always been a favorite conversation at PTA meetings. It was long thought of to be underground and barbaric. Which is cool.
But some fighters had such a huge effect on the sport of MMA, that they not only electrified the fan base, but the mainstream public at large. Take that Karen, it’s a real sport.
Their impact on the sport is judged on a scale of 1-10. Their overall ranking will be the total of those scores out of a possible 30. We went over the rules, we want a clean fight, touch gloves if you want to. Or not.
Bonus Wildcard: Khabib Nurmagomedov – ‘The Eagle’
- Name: Khabib Nurmagomedov, Хабиб Нурмагомедов
- Weight Class: Lightweight
- Height: 5’10” (178cm) | Reach: 70.0″ (178cm)
- Age: 30 | Date of Birth: 1988.09.20
- Pro MMA Record: 28-0-0 (Win-Loss-Draw)
- Current Streak: 28 Wins
- Last Fight: September 07, 2019 in UFC
- Team: American Kickboxing Academy
- Born: Makhachkala, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
- Fighting out of: San Jose, California
Disclaimer: Hey, we’re not saying he’s actually the number six GOAT just yet. But he does have a real case to be a wildcard entry on this list. Have a look for yourself and let us know what you think.
Why You Don’t like Him: “He jumped the cage to smesh some guys, and he wears a funny hat that I don’t understand”
Look, he’s never lost a fight. 28 mixed martial arts fights, in which he has only lost one round to Conor McGregor (trigger warning, he isn’t on this list). And we know it’s hard to just plonk him on the GOAT list given that he’s only defended his belt twice, but the dominant nature of his wins cannot be argued with.
In fact, it’s probably this criteria alone that gets Khabib Nurmagomedov this mention. He just straight up tells you he’ll break your arm if you don’t give him your lunch money, and so then you just give him your lunch money.
“He would have been like 95 kilos [209lbs] – like light-heavyweight size – and he was wrestling Luke Rockhold and just out-muscling him, just holding him down.” (1)– UFC Lightweight, Dan Hooker.
If an angry pitbull and an anaconda had a Dagestani baby, that’s Khabib.
Quality of Competition 5/10
Okay, okay, he falls back a bit here. His four wins to the belt were Darrell Horcher, Michael Johnson, Edson Barboza, and Al Iaquinta. Great fighters, sure, but not exactly titans of the sport. And yes, he did of course demolish McGregor and Poirer, so there is that.
The fight everyone wants to see is the fabled but cursed Tony Ferguson matchup – once we see that, we’ll have a much better idea of his consistent ability over high level competition. After that, he would be at the very least, lightweight GOAT.
Impact on the Sport 5/10
His fighting style is somehow both exciting and predictable, so your opinion on him depends on the kind of MMA fan you are. On the one hand, he’s ruthlessly efficient, and on the other hand you know exactly what he’ll do. And when he’s not leaping out of cages to pummel Dillon Danis, he’s cool, calm, and doesn’t talk trash — and that doesn’t really play too well with a western audience.
It should be noted of course he has a huge Muslim following, and his UFC 242 victory was viewed 26 million times in Russia (1). That sort of global reach can’t be ignored.
“My best background is, like, smash opponents. I all the time go forward. I all the time try to take down somebody. Make him give up. This is my style, you know. This is what I do all my life.”– Khabib Nurmagomedov
Total GOAT Score 20/30
5. Fedor Emelianenko – ‘The Last Emperor’
- Name: Фёдор Влади́мирович Емелья́ненко
- Weight Class: Heavyweight
- Height: 6’0″ (183cm) | Reach: 74.5″ (189cm)
- Age: 42 | Date of Birth: 1976.09.28
- Pro MMA Record: 38-6-0, 1 NC (Win-Loss-Draw)
- Current Streak: 1 Loss
- Last Fight: January 26, 2019 in Bellator
- Team: Alexander Nevsky (Stary Oskol)
- Born: Rubizhne, Luhansk, Ukrainian SSR
- Fighting out of: Stary Oskol, Belgorod, Russia
Why You Don’t like Him – “He looks like my Janitor’s Dad, and I never saw him fight in his prime.”
The man with the 27 fight win streak in the heavyweight division. Fedor Emelianenko was the titan of mixed martial arts for a very, very long time. He steamrolled the world’s best during the wild west era of MMA, and did it all with the calmness of an opium dazed zen monk. There really isn’t much more to say about the legend that was Fedor’s prime.
Quality of Competition (6/10)
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and Andrei Arlovski are all notable victims of The Last Emperor. But much of his reign was spent in Pride when top heavyweight competition were fighting over in the UFC. Not to mention, Pride was pretty well known for not letting a can crushing get in the way of a good spanking.
Impact on the Sport (6/10)
Pride never dies, as they say, and Fedor deserves to be up there with Kazushi Sakuraba and Royce Gracie as one of the OGs of MMA. The only thing holding him back here, is his lack of competition in the UFC. His long reign of calm destruction will keep him in the MMA history books of legendary fighters for a long time to come.
“A strong person will not be nervous and not express aggression towards his opponent… he will face the fight calm and balanced.”– Fedor Emelianenko
Total GOAT Score (21/30)
4. Anderson Silva – ‘The Spider’
- Name: Anderson da Silva
- Weight Class: Middleweight, Light Heavyweight
- Height: 6’2″ (188cm) | Reach: 77.5″ (195cm)
- Age: 44 | Date of Birth: 1975.04.14
- Pro MMA Record: 34-10-0, 1 NC (Win-Loss-Draw)
- Current Streak: 2 Losses
- Last Fight: May 11, 2019 in UFC
- Team: Team Nogueira
- Born: São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
- Fighting out of: Curitiba, Parana, Brazil
Why You Don’t like Him – “He toyed with my favorite fighters like a kitten plays with yarn.”
Yes, he’s lost six out of his last seven. That definitely affects things. It would be alot higher if not for his latest fights. But there was a time that Anderson Silva looked simply untouchable. For 16 fights in a row (the longest in UFC history), he saw the puzzle, solved the puzzle, and then scattered the pieces across the octagon. You can read his full fighter profile here.
His iconic and stunningly casual knockout of Ultimate Fighter winner Forrest Griffin is required viewing for all fans of the Matrix.
Quality of Competition (8/10)
Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, and even TRT Vitor Belfort all fell into the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt’s web. Each fight he had during his reign was against a legit contender. Each time we thought, maybe this is the time Anderson loses. For 16 fights in a row, we were wrong.
Impact on the Sport (7/10)
Anyone who saw Anderson walk into the Octagon for the first time was most likely wondering how this relatively average looking man would get out of there alive, let alone win. And then you saw his reading of the game, which in a word, was flawless.
“And in my opinion, he’s the greatest mixed martial artist ever. Ever, period.”– Dana White, UFC President
During his prime, it was hard to argue he wasn’t the best fighter in MMA history, or at least UFC history. It really was a sight to behold, and his genuine mystery no doubt bought a lot of new fans to the sport of mixed martial arts.
“I don’t think I’m better than anyone; I just like to prove to myself that things I imagine can be done.”– Anderson Silva
Total GOAT Score (22/30)
3. Daniel Cormier – ‘DC’
- Name: Daniel Cormier
- Weight Class: Light Heavyweight/Heavyweight
- Height: 5’11” (181cm) | Reach: 72.5″ (184cm)
- Age: 40 | Date of Birth: 1979.03.20
- Pro MMA Record: 22-2-0, 1 NC (Win-Loss-Draw)
- Current Streak: 1 Loss
- Last Fight: August 17, 2019 in UFC
- Team: American Kickboxing Academy
- Born: Lafayette, Louisiana, United States
Why You Don’t like Him – “He cried once. Loser!”
Pretty, pretty good. Losing only to Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic, DC has been both Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight Division UFC Champion. Coming from an elite wrestling background, DC missed out on his dream of Olympic gold, so moved to MMA at the ripe age of 30. From there he just grinded people into mince, with constant pressure and unrivalled wrestling.
He even picked up some very nice dirty boxing along the way, which the likes of Stipe can tell you works rather effectively. The fact that his dreams of Olympic glory were crushed, only to come back to be a two division UFC champ, tells you all you need to know about DC’s competitive spirit.
Quality of Competition (8/10)
Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, as well as a juicy Bigfoot Silva all fell into DC’s meat grinder. And that was before he even went down to Light Heavyweight. He beat a prime Alexander Gustafsson once, and a supremely scary Anthony Johnson, twice. And of course one loss and one no contest to Jon Jones rounded off the competition.
Cormier had a hard road, starting MMA late in life, but his competitive nature took him to the top.
Impact on the Sport (7/10)
People slept on DC for a long time, despite him milling through two divisions to take both the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, and the UFC Heavyweight Championship. He was even vilified as fans tended to side with Jon Jones during their ugly rivalry. But as time went on (along with more camera time for commentary duties), fans picked up on DC’s attitude and sincerity, and began to warm to him.
“Daniel Cormier is a great fighter, a great champion and a great person. He does anything you ask of him. He’s an amazing ambassador for our sport.”– Dana White, UFC President.
Whether he returns for the Miocic trilogy or not, his legacy will continue with his contributions as Head Wrestling Coach at Gilroy High School, as well as in the commentary box.
“If I would have won that Olympic gold medal, I would have gotten a job somewhere coaching at a university, and I would be totally content with my life.”– Daniel Cormier
Total GOAT Score (23/30)
2. Jon Jones – ‘Bones’
- Name: Jonathan Dwight Jones
- Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
- Height: 6’4″ (194cm) | Reach: 84.5″ (215cm)
- Age: 32 | Date of Birth: 1987.07.19
- Pro MMA Record: 26-1-0, 1 NC (Win-Loss-Draw)
- Current Streak: 17 Wins
- Team: Jackson Wink MMA
- Born: Rochester, New York, United States
- Fighting out of: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Why You Don’t like Him – “Enjoys walks on the beach, and hitting pregnant women with his car.”
With the exception of Khabib Nurmagomedov, noone on this list has dominated their division quite like Jon Bones Jones. The only loss he has wasn’t even a loss, as he was disqualified for the loony rule of downwards elbows against Matt Hamill.
Since then he has been on a devastating fight win streak. His keys to victory are his massive reach (equal only to 7 footer Stefan Struve)(2), and a huge arsenal of tools. Wrestling, striking, clinching, even Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he has it all in spades. And Heavens to Betsy, if he gets his elbows on you, it’s cheese grating time.
Quality of Competition (7/10)
In a word, bananas. Jon Jones has all but cleaned out his division, with his most bitter enemy being his own demons. Famously beating Daniel Cormier after a weekend bender of cocaine and other goodies, he’s managed to dominate while seemingly only giving fighting part of his attention.
The only thing bringing him down here could be the relatively shallow division of Light Heavyweight.
Impact on the Sport (8/10)
Well, he’s a crowd puller. But he’s also constantly getting into serious trouble outside of the octagon. So put it this way. Dana White says Jone’s antics are unforgivable. But then he gets a slap on the wrist and he’s headlining for another UFC title ASAP.
It’s undeniable that people want to see him fight, and he always puts on a show. But he doesn’t exactly give MMA a great name. In saying that, Bones has a lot of tread left on the tires, he may even go up to challenge for the UFC heavyweight championship, and will likely become THE GOAT in due time.
“I’m here to fight; I’m not here to protect whether you think I’m a good person or not. I’ve given up on that.”– Jon Jones
Total GOAT Score (24/30)
Check out Jones’s full fighter profile here.
1. Georges St. Pierre “Rush”
- Name: George St. Pierre
- Weight Class: Welterweight/Middleweight
- Height: 5’11” (180cm) | Reach: 76.0″ (193cm)
- Age: 38 | Date of Birth: 1981.05.19
- Pro MMA Record: 26-2-0 (Win-Loss-Draw)
- Current Streak: 13 Wins
- Last Fight: November 04, 2017 in UFC
- Team: Tristar Gym
- Born: St. Isidore, Quebec, Canada
- Fighting out of: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Why You Don’t like Him – “He’s prettier than me, and anyway, he’s just a wrestle humper.”
GSP was at the top of the welterweight mountain for six years as UFC champion. He defended the belt nine times. And he didn’t leave the sport because his skills were declining — he left on top, on his terms.
And then four years later, just to remove any of your silly doubts, GSP went up to middleweight and choked the belt off Michael Bisping, to get a UFC title in a second division. His style was dynamic but efficient, and was arguably one of the first to really put the science into the sport, with the help of his long-time coach Firas Zahabi.
The only (bad) argument you can make is that he was boring – relying too much on wrestling and winning decisions. But when you’ve cleaned out an entire division of elite fighters, I don’t think you can hate him for fighting smart. He did exactly what he needed to do to win, and he won a lot.
Quality of Competition (9/10)
He only lost to two people. Matt Serra, for which he avenged. And Matt Hughes, who he finished in the second rounds of each of the two rematches. It’s worth noting Matt Hughes himself was very nearly on this list himself.
Other than that, he cleaned out a division of muderer’s row. BJ Penn, Jon Fitch, Dan Hardy, Carlos Condit, and Johny Hendricks among them. I know we kind of see those fighters in a different light these days, but back then, they were straight up killers.
Impact on the Sport (9/10)
Back in the mid-2000s, when Affliction gear was somehow considered fashionable, and the average MMA fighter looked like Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Bad haircuts, worse behaviour, and unforgivable tattoos were a reflection of the “JUST BLEED” culture of the sport at the time.
And then you had this GSP guy starting to smash everyone. But he was polite, well spoken, and even gracious — he showed that you could pummel someone’s face into a bowl of spaghetti, but be humble and soft spoken afterwards.
The most vicious he ever got with his trash talk was his infamous “I am not impressed by your performance”(3) line to Matt Hughes. Easy GSP, you might hurt a guy’s feelings.
He was a true gentleman of the sport and did a great deal to change the perception of MMA in the wider public. In terms of creating a mainstream face for MMA, he was invaluable to the sport.
“It’s not the most powerful animal that survives. It’s the most efficient.”– Georges St. Pierre
Total GOAT Score (27/30)
And there you have it – the greatest MMA fighters of all time. Agree or disagree? Just want to leave an abusive comment? Go ahead – leave a comment below. For more MMA guides, visit our mixed martial arts hub here.
Related, fighter profiles:
- Conor Mcgregor – one of the highest paid UFC fighters
- Steven Struve – the tallest MMA fighter of all time
- John Gotti III – grandson of infamous, mob boss John Gotti
- Lyoto Machida – the ‘Dragon’
You can be sure all of the GOAT’s mentioned did their time to earn a black belt. Keep training and who knows, maybe you will too?
- (2019, September 9). Khabib’s UFC 242 victory viewed 26 million times in Russia as homeland stardom hits new heights – RT. Retrieved from https://www.rt.com/sport/468405-ufc-242-khabib-tv-views-instagram-fame-russia/
- Homistek, H. (2012, August 1). Jon Jones: Is the Champion’s Reach an Unfair Advantage? – Bleacher Report. Retrieved from https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1304257-jon-jones-is-the-champions-reach-an-unfair-advantage
- Murphy, D. (2017). Georges St-Pierre had the most polite response ever to Michael Bisping’s latest call-out – SportsJoe. Retrieved from https://www.sportsjoe.ie/mma/georges-st-pierre-had-the-most-polite-response-ever-to-michael-bispings-most-recent-call-out-100659
Hi, I’m Brandon, editor here at MMA-Today. Mixed Martial Arts has been my life long obsession as long as I can remember. I was introduced to Muay Thai at a young age, but ultimately fell in love with BJJ and grappling in my teenage years, and have never looked back. My goal with MMA today is to inspire people to train and enjoy mixed martial arts more every day.