Prominent Figures in MMA

Despite only being around for a quarter of a century, mixed martial arts has an incredibly deep history and the rate at which things change and evolve is astounding. As such, there are plenty of notable figures and fighters in the MMA world, so here is a collection of some of the biggest and most influential characters in the sport’s history.

 

Read on for short summaries of each important person in the sport, from the UFC's founders to the best fighters of their eras and more. 

Note: fighters that competed in multiple weight classes are placed in the division they spent most of their career in or were more well-known for.

The Pioneers

This section explores the fighters and figures from the early days of the sport that were essential to the sport's success (and survival). This section focuses on key figures or fighters that rose to prominence/cut their teeth in the early days of MMA - for the purpose of this guide, this period runs until roughly 2001 when Zuffa purchased the UFC.

Royce Gracie and the Gracie Family

As mentioned in the Brief History & Overview, the Gracie family (mainly Helio Gracie) invented Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which has since proven to be one of the most effective martial arts ever created for self-defence and is now one of the most practiced martial arts in the world as a result.

 

The Gracie family was instrumental in creating the UFC as a tool to test and show off the efficacy of their martial art to the world. They chose a skinny, unassuming family member named Royce (pronounced “Hoyce”) to represent them in the first tournament, and the rest is as they say, history.

 

Despite having stronger candidates in the family, Royce was chosen because, while he was proficient in his family’s martial art, he was also a physically un-intimidating and even frail looking man, particularly when standing next to some of the other fighters in the tournament.

 

Royce did exactly as they expected and showed the world just how effective Brazilian jiu-jitsu was for self-defense. The roughly 170-pound Royce ran through his much larger and more athletic competition like a hot knife through butter, barely throwing any strikes and instead forcing his opponents to tap out from submissions.

 

He regularly played David in David vs. Goliath matchups and his dominance led him to win 3 of the first 4 UFC tournaments (he withdrew from UFC 3 after his first victory of the night due to exhaustion).

 

After the first “superfight” (ie. non-tournament or reserve tournament bout) at UFC 5 against Ken Shamrock which took 36 minutes and was declared a draw as they didn't have judges at the time, Royce left the sport, occasionally coming back for a few one-off fights years later. Eventually he would return to the UFC over a decade later at UFC 60 only to be trounced by a vastly superior athlete (and also a wrestler well-versed in BJJ) in Matt Hughes. 

 

It was his early tournament victories that created his legacy however, and his legacy is synonymous with the sport; without Royce, mixed martial arts very well may not be here today, or at least would look completely different.

 

Royce’s appearances in the early UFCs inspired too many future fighters to count and turned the martial arts world onto its head, leading to a combat sports revolution that saw martial arts that had existed for centuries in one iteration now exposed to reality, forced to adapt or become irrelevant.

 

Without the Gracie family, there would be no UFC today, and there very likely would be no such thing as mixed martial arts.

Ken & Frank Shamrock 

 

Ken Shamrock competed in the very first UFC alongside Royce Gracie and was a star in the early tournament days. Shamrock also performed as a professional wrestler and was essentially the first crossover star in the sport.

 

Although his own success in the cage wasn’t overly impressive, his decision to mix in the pro wrestling gimmicks and personality along with pioneering the use of a proper team training camp in MMA made him a huge name in the MMA world. Shamrock formed the Lion’s Den, the first real fight team in MMA, and also was one of the first to recognize the importance of cross-training in various disciplines.

 

Ken's adopted brother, Frank, was a much more able fighter and is considered by many to be one of the first truly well-rounded mixed martial artists in the sport's history. Frank was a UFC champion in the early days of UFC championship belts before he retired young (though, like many, he had several comeback fights years later) and later had a falling out with his brother.

Mark Coleman

Mark "The Hammer" Coleman was the very first undisputed heavyweight champion in UFC history. A former NCAA Division I Champion wrestler and member of the US Olympic wrestling team, Mark Coleman was an imposing and brawny figure that dominated his early opposition, brutally mauling his opponents on the ground after they hopelessly failed to stop his takedowns.

Regarded as the "Godfather of ground and pound", Coleman was one of the first to really establish heavy ground strikes as a means to finish opponents and was one of the best at it - headbutts were essentially banned due to Mark Coleman's vicious use of them before they were made illegal. 

Coleman looked unstoppable when he burst onto the scene at UFC 10, winning back-to-back tournaments before defeating fellow 2-tournament winner Dan Severn to capture the first UFC heavyweight championship. After a series of major upsets Coleman would rebuild himself in Japan and captured the inaugural PRIDE Grand Prix Openweight Championship in 2000.

Although Coleman would continue competing until retiring in 2010 at the age of 45, he never recaptured his former glory, though he did return to the UFC in 2009 to compete in what would be the last three fights of his career.

Bas Rutten

Bas Rutten became a major player in the very early days of MMA by fighting in Pancrase, a promotion in Japan. Pancrase held what were essentially primitive MMA matches but without the use of punches to the head - instead, fighters were allowed palm strikes or slaps, or could punch their opponent in the body. 

The Dutchman originally competed in kickboxing before making his way to Pancrase, becoming a regular in the growing Japanese fighting market where he would amass a 25-4-1 record with the promotion between 1993 and 1998, unbeaten in his last 20 outings. His powerful method of palm striking and lethal kicks combined with strong grappling defense quickly made him one of the best fighters in the world, and in 1999 went overseas to the UFC. 

After a successful debut, Rutten went on to defeat Kevin Randleman in a highly controversial decision before vacating the title, initially intending to drop down to the newly implemented middleweight (now light heavyweight) division but he later retired instead due to severe injuries he had sustained while training that same year. He fought once more and officially ended his career in 2006 with a victory. 

 

Bas is now more well known for being a commentator (he commentated for PRIDE alongside various other smaller promotions over the years) and a colourful MMA personality on MMA talk shows and other programs, and has even appeared in various movies and TV shows including Kevin James' MMA comedy Here Comes the Boom.

Kazushi Sakuraba

Despite being the size of a modern welterweight, Kazushi Sakuraba was known for taking on all comers in the early days of the sport regardless of how big they were, and regularly defeating his larger foes thanks to his excellent grappling and high fight IQ. 

Sakuraba had perhaps the most bizarre UFC debut in the promotion's history. In just his second pro fight, Sakuraba would step in to a heavyweight tournament on just days notice despite weighing 183 pounds (the UFC's tournament required fighters to be over 200 pounds, so Sakuraba lied and said he weight 203). 

Shortly after his fight began at UFC Japan in 1997, Sakuraba ate a few shots from his 240-pound opponent before dropping down for a single-leg takedown, only for referee Big John McCarthy to call off the bout, thinking that Sakuraba had been knocked out. The crowd was furious and Sakuraba was clearly upset, but it initially appeared as though his opponent would continue in the tournament.

Upon reviewing tape of the incident however, McCarthy changed his ruling and declared the fight a no contest due to his error - after the winner of the other tournament fight that night, Tank Abbott, withdrew due to a broken hand, the UFC opted to have Sakuraba and his opponent return to the Octagon to resolve their unfinished business, which now served as the tournament final. Sakuraba would submit his opponent in the same-day rematch to capture the tournament championship.

Sakuraba would then go to PRIDE, racking up six wins without a defeat before shocking the world by defeating Royler Gracie via a kimura. Despite it being just the fourth bout in Royler's career, it was the first time anyone had defeated any member of the Gracie family in combat.

Partaking in the PRIDE 2000 Openweight Grand Prix, after winning in the opening round Sakuraba would be matched up with Royce Gracie himself. Gracie opted for a modified rules match that had an unlimited amount of 15-minute rounds and no referee stoppages, which Sakuraba accepted.

 

Those modified rules ended up being to Gracie's own disadvantage however - after being competitive early, Sakuraba's superior conditioning and use of strikes led him to dominate Royce, shucking off Gracie's takedowns and smashing the Brazilian with relentless low kicks while Gracie tried to pull guard and lure Sakuraba to the mat. After a full 90 minutes of fighting, Royce's brother finally threw in the towel after Royce was no longer able to walk (he had suffered a broken femur).

Despite having fought for an astounding 105 minutes between his two matches that night, Sakuraba returned for the tournament final where he would eventually withdraw from exhaustion after the final's 15-minute round went to overtime. 

Thanks to not one but two victories over Gracie members, Sakuraba was dubbed "The Gracie Killer" and would submit Renzo Gracie in his very next bout, snapping his arm after Renzo refused to tap out while in a kimura.

Sakuraba would later go on to defeat Ryan Gracie as well before years of mixed success - while he would score wins over the likes of Rampage Jackson, Kevin Randleman, and Ken Shamrock, he would also be knocked out by Wanderlei Silva three times and suffer four other losses in his last 14 fights for PRIDE.

In 2007 Sakuraba would rematch Royce Gracie in a normal MMA bout, which Gracie won on the highly controversial scorecards (fans and reporters almost all scored the bout for Sakuraba) - Gracie would then test positive for an anabolic steroid, yet the fight's result was never overturned to a No Contest.

Like virtually all fighters, Sakuraba stayed in the game long past his prime and ended his career with five straight losses before finally retiring in 2015 at the age of 46. Regardless of his later career, Sakuraba is a legend in the sport and bonafide royalty in Japan, arguably the most beloved figure in the sport's history in that part of the world.

Vitor Belfort

An elite black belt under the renowned Carlson Gracie, when Vitor Belfort entered into the UFC 12 tournament back in 1997 at just 19 years of age, the "Phenom" was expected to be a threat on the mat. Instead, he showcased the fastest hands the sport had ever seen and demolished his two opponents that night with blistering hand speed and power, finishing them in a combined two minutes to become the youngest tournament champion in UFC history.

Belfort was set to become the UFC's first star - his incredible hand speed and power had some declaring that the young Brazilian was MMA's Mike Tyson. After demolishing street fighting legend Tank Abbott, Belfort was set back on his path to the newly created heavyweight title in a fight against Randy Couture. Moving to the newly established light heavyweight division, Vitor blitzed fellow Brazilian phenom Wanderlei Silva in just 44 seconds.

Unfortunately for the UFC, PRIDE lured Belfort to Japan where he would go 4-1 as a heavyweight before returning to the States and dropping a decision to Chuck Liddell. A brutal mauling of Marvin Eastman fast-tracked Belfort's title hopes regardless, where he would capture the light heavyweight belt in controversial fashion when the seam of his glove cut Randy Couture's eyelid and forced a doctor stoppage. 

Just prior to his title bout, Vitor's sister Priscila disappeared in what is now believed to be a botched kidnapping, with no news in her case for some six years until four people were arrested and one admitted she was involved in her killing, however Priscila's remains have never been found to date.

Vitor's career trajectory went sideways in the aftermath as Couture dominated in their rubber match later that year, and a split decision loss to Tito Ortiz would be the last of the Phenom in the Octagon for quite some time. Vitor would bounce around PRIDE, StrikeForce, and Cage Rage with mixed results before finding a home in Affliction. 

Dropping down to middleweight (185 pounds) it appeared Vitor found his proper place and dispatched his two opponents with ease in the promotion, even volunteering to save Affliction's disastrous third event by stepping in to face Fedor Emilianenko at heavyweight on just a few days notice. 

His four fight winning streak saw him earn a return to the Octagon where he put down former champion Rich Franklin with ease, earning him a highly anticipated "striker vs. striker" showdown with fellow Brazilian legend Anderson Silva. After falling short against Silva, Vitor would once again string together wins before filling in as a late replacement to face Jon Jones at light heavyweight on short notice - Vitor nearly shocked the world by catching Jones early with an armbar, though he would later be submitted himself after being picked apart and exhausted.

2013 saw the rebirth of the Phenom thanks to his highly controversial use of Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) - essentially athletes were allowed to use testosterone by the athletic commissions should they have a doctor state they had low testosterone, which led to rampant abuse of TRT before it was outright abolished in 2014. Belfort was even recommended for the treatment by the UFC's own doctor in Brazil, as was at least one other fighter.

It should be noted that many of the other fighters on TRT actually had little success and shockingly several suffered more frequent losses on the therapy than prior to it - this was not the case for Belfort however, who had the knowledge and skills of a 16-year veteran yet the body of his 19-year-old self.

TRT Vitor terrorized the division in 2013, utilizing his rejuvenated physical form as well as the addition of kicks to his arsenal, something he had rarely used in the past despite his shockingly fast strikes.

 

Belfort famously knocked out future UFC champion Michael Bisping and permanently damaged his eye via a head kick, knocked out future UFC and former StrikeForce champion Luke Rockhold via a spinning heel kick, and became the first man to ever knock out former two-division PRIDE champion and StrikeForce champion Dan Henderson when he did so in just 87 seconds.

After the athletic commissions banned TRT outright (without giving athletes a safe path to get off the treatment or any time to slowly wean off) Vitor stopped taking it and as a result his body went through hell. When he returned for his long-awaited title fight in 2015, his body looked like it had aged twenty years and was far from what he once was. Despite this, Vitor managed to rock champion Chris Weidman early on the feet before succumbing to strikes in the opening round.

In the years since, Vitor's success was fleeting and his chin could no longer take the punishment it once could, nor could his body keep up with the elite. Though he would once again knock out Dan Henderson, his last five fights saw him knocked out in four of them before Belfort announced his retirement in 2018. 

Unfortunately, most fighters can't stay away for long and while he hasn't fought since his retirement, Vitor has signed with ONE FC in Singapore and is expected to return to action at some point in 2020.

Pat Miletich

A proud native of Bettendorf Iowa, Miletich began his career in 1995 and was known for being an elite fighter who kept himself extremely active, with a record of 17-1-1 by the time he made his UFC debut in 1998. He would win the UFC 16 welterweight tournament and later captured the inaugural UFC welterweight championship and defended it four times before being submitted by Carlos Newton in 2001.

He would fight just twice more in the UFC before retiring due to injuries, though he would come back twice more for appearances in 2006 and 2008. 

Despite his accomplishments in competition, Miletich would become best known for his work as a coach. Creating the Miletich Fighting Systems academy in his hometown, Miletich would go on to train multiple UFC and other organization champions, including Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Tim Sylvia, and Robbie Lawler. 

More recently he's served as a colour commentator for multiple smaller promotions.

Tito Ortiz

Tito Ortiz was one of the sport’s first big stars and made a name for himself not only through his impressive ground and pound, wrestling, and athleticism, but his brash personality and use of WWE-style gimmicks and trash talking to sell fights.

 

He became the UFC’s light heavyweight champion (205 pounds) in the early 2000’s and defended his belt a then-record 5 times. His heated feud with Ken Shamrock was one of the first great rivalries in the sport; later his feud with Chuck Liddell would become even bigger and was one of the greatest rivalries in MMA history, not to mention his public problems with Dana White and the UFC over fighter pay that nearly resulted in Tito facing UFC president Dana White in a boxing match.

 

After starting with an impressive 15-4 record with all but one of his bouts taking place in the UFC, he unfortunately became known for losing a long string of fights (albeit against great competition, and he was always competitive) - he went 1-7-1 before finally being cut from the UFC and making his way to Bellator, where he posted a 3-1 record against middling competition.

 

Most recently he's taken to fighting vastly overmatched old men in freakshow fights. His epic trilogy with Chuck Liddell (Liddell knocked him out twice in the UFC) came to a depressing end when Tito knocked out a positively geriatric-looking 48 year old Liddell to “avenge” his prior losses to the Iceman. Liddell had rightly retired 9 years prior and had no business anywhere near a professional fight at that point. His most recent outing was against pro wrestler Alberto Del Rio who had an abysmal 9-5 record against low competition and also hadn't fought in 9 years.

 

While Tito later became known more for talking about his many injuries (including an hilarious claim that he fought with a cracked skull that was simply not true) and becoming quite terrible in his attempts at trash talk (or even speaking in general), Tito was a true pioneer that was one of the best of his era and was one of the first fighters in MMA to know how to promote their own brand and knew their worth.

Randy Couture

Randy “The Natural” Couture came to the sport already in his thirties, having been an Olympic alternate Greco-Roman wrestler for the US and also having boxed during his service in the army.

 

Couture pioneered the extensive use of striking in the clinch (also called “dirty-boxing”) in MMA. He became a multiple-time UFC champion at both light heavy and heavyweight, winning the former two times and the latter three times. After capturing the heavyweight title the first time he would be stripped for instead signing with a promotion in Japan before returning to the UFC to recapture gold.

After back-to-back losses Couture would drop down to light heavyweight, defeating Chuck Liddell before ending Tito Ortiz' record-breaking title reign (literally spanking him in the process). After winning back his title from Vitor Belfort after a cut on his eyelid forced a doctor stoppage, Couture would coach the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite Chuck Liddell.

Liddell went on to knock out Couture and not long after a rubber match ensued to complete the biggest trilogy the sport had seen at that point, which Liddell also won, leading Couture to retire at the age of 42. 

But Couture's story didn't end there - after just a year off, Couture returned as a heavy underdog to fight for the heavyweight title opposite the massive Tim Sylvia, shocking the world by dominating his much larger foe to reclaim his title and capture heavyweight gold for a third time. Couture would defend it once more before losing it to Brock Lesnar in 2008.

Couture also represented MMA in a highly anticipated "boxing versus MMA" crossover bout against boxing legend James Toney (who was similarly old, but much less athletic at that point) in the UFC, where Couture easily dominated en route to a quick submission victory. He retired in 2011 with a 19-11 record having faced the biggest and best names in the sport throughout his career.

 

Randy was one of the few fighters in combat sports to have great success in their forties and was also a keen businessman who put his fame to good use outside of the cage. He ventured into Hollywood after his UFC career ended, where he had dabbled in previously, securing several small rolls in films and most famously being one of the main characters of Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables franchise. 

Chuck Liddell

The “Iceman” Chuck Liddell was the UFC’s first bonafide superstar. Rocking his signature short mohawk, goatee and Japanese kanji tattoo on the side of his head, Liddell looked the part of a badass cagefighter and more than lived up to it in the cage.

 

Liddell always stepped into the cage to deliver knockouts for the fans, his NCAA Division I wrestling background giving him the ability to stop takedowns and force opponents to strike with him. His skills earned him wins over the likes of Vitor Belfort and Murilo Bustamante alongside devastating knockouts over Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Guy Mezger, and Kevin Randleman.

After racking up a 12-1 record with 10 straight wins, an interim light heavyweight title fight saw Liddell shockingly dominated by the underdog Randy Couture. Nevertheless, Dana White picked Chuck Liddell to represent the UFC in the promotion's battle with PRIDE, entering Liddell into PRIDE's 2003 Middleweight (200 pounds in Japan) Grand Prix. Liddell dominated Alistair Overeem in the quarter-finals before being finished with knees on the ground by Rampage Jackson in the semis. 

Returning to the UFC in 2003, Liddell went on a legendary run beginning with a long-simmering grudge match with Tito Ortiz. Having both been managed by Dana White (prior to Zuffa purchasing the UFC) and having sparred in the past, Ortiz had refused to fight Liddell on multiple occasions citing their "friendship" which Liddell insisted was never that friendly. The Iceman knocked out Ortiz when they finally squared off and in 2005, coached the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite Randy Couture. 

Immediately following the breakout success of The Ultimate Fighter, Liddell's rematch versus Couture would do major PPV numbers and in front of the world Liddell avenged his loss emphatically by knocking Couture out in the very first round. He would later win the trilogy with a second round knockout over Couture in their third meeting and would once again knock out Tito Ortiz as well.

His legendary title run from 2003-2006 saw the Iceman knock out his opponents in all seven of his bouts, including four defenses of the light heavyweight title (just one shy of Tito's record). During that time he was one of the most feared fighters on the planet and was the biggest star in the sport, his career peaking at the perfect time to ride the wave of momentum that was The Ultimate Fighter. He guest starred in multiple TV shows and had roles in movies that further cemented his status as a pop culture icon.

In 2007, a rematch to avenge his PRIDE loss to Quinton Rampage Jackson ended in disaster as Liddell was knocked out in less than two minutes. He subsequently lost to a major underdog in Keith Jardine, leading many to believe his years of partying and enjoying the limelight had finally caught up to him. A thrilling (and long overdue) battle with former PRIDE star Wanderlei Silva put those doubts on the backburner for a time as Liddell won in 2008's Fight of the Year; it would be his last victory.

Over the next three years, Liddell would compete three more times, getting knocked out cold in brutal fashion in each one. His chin was clearly gone and despite looking spectacular early in his last bout with Rich Franklin, he was knocked dead with just 1 second remaining in the opening round by Franklin with a short shot thrown by a broken arm. 

Dana White convinced his longtime friend to finally hang up the gloves and Liddell retired in 2010, securing a cushy desk job with the UFC (until the UFC was sold in 2016). 

In 2018, Liddell unfortunately came out of retirement to complete a trilogy with Tito Ortiz; at 48 years old and with a long history of partying and not taking care of his body in his earlier years (not to mention the damage he sustained from fighting), Liddell looked positively geriatric and was easily dispatched in the opening round before retiring for good.

 

While his disappointing later years may have stuck with fans, it does nothing to tarnish Liddell's status as the sport's first mainstream star and one of the best fighters to ever compete in the light heavyweight division.

Non-Fighters

This section details the prominent promoters, execs, and other key figures in the sport that were not fighters themselves.

Bob Meyrowitz

A co-founder of the UFC alongside entrepreneur Art Davie and Rorian Gracie, Meyrowitz owned the UFC through his company Semaphore Entertainment Group (or SEG) which was one of the first groups to develop content for pay-per-view. 

After the initial success of the UFC, Rorian quickly dropped out of involvement with the company after rules were introduced (he was opposed to having virtually any rules, including time limits, and wanted it to be a pure no-holds-barred competition) while Art moved on to other projects, leaving Meyrowitz to run the show.

Following the successful early events, the UFC began experiencing problem after problem as politicians and media attacked the fledgling sport from every angle and legal battles popped up left and right. Meyrowitz made a valiant effort to ensure the sport survived and did everything he could to keep the show going, but after the UFC was banished from major PPV providers the company sunk into increasing debt.

Meyrowitz eventually sold the UFC to Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta in 2001 for $2 million to cut his mounting losses.

Big John McCarthy

The very first referee in the UFC, "Big" John McCarthy would go on to not only referee countless MMA fights over the decades that followed, but was also instrumental in formulating rules and regulations in the sport's early years. 

McCarthy worked to establish rules and protocols for MMA and later was key in creating the Unified Rules of MMA which would be adopted by athletic commissions when the government began regulating the sport. 

Not only regarded as one of if not the best referees in the sport's history, McCarthy went on to open his own school for reffing and judging in MMA and more recently transitioned into becoming a commentator for Bellator (he subsequently retired from reffing to avoid any conflict of interest). 

Dana White

Love him or hate him, if it wasn't for Dana White the UFC wouldn't be around today.

A former cardio boxing instructor that got into the business of managing fighters (including Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz), Dana White fell in love with the sport of MMA and clearly saw the potential for the fledgling sport.

After the UFC was in dire straits thanks to the PPV ban and litany of legal issues, White saw an opportunity - he knew how strong the UFC brand and the sport could become, but he didn't have the funds to purchase it himself. Luckily, his high school friends Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, did.

Owners of Station Casinos in Nevada, the Fertitta brothers also fell in love with the sport and regularly attended the fights alongside White - after much discussion, White talked them into making a bid to purchase the struggling fight company. 

In 2001, the Fertitta's purchased the UFC from SEG for $2 million and created a new company, Zuffa LLC, to run the UFC, naming their friend Dana White as the UFC's president. 

From there, White and the Fertitta's continued SEG's work with athletic commissions and expanded the sport's regulation to other states and territories. Even with their progress and their work to clean up the sport's image and getting the UFC back on pay-per-view, the damage to the brand had already been done. To add to their struggle, much of their top talent was being poached by PRIDE  - the UFC was bleeding money and creeping further into debt as time went on, with Lorenzo later revealing they were some $50 million in the hole in 2004. 

It looked like Dana White's vision for the UFC would never come to fruition and the Fertittas were extremely close to cutting their losses and pulling the plug on the entire thing. They had one hail mary play left to make: The Ultimate Fighter. 

With reality TV being all the rage at the time, the UFC looked to capitalize on that trend by creating a reality show featuring 16 professional fighters - forced to live in a house together over the course of weeks without access to the outside world, some of the top talent on the UFC's radar would compete in challenges and fights while being trained by two of the UFC's biggest stars (Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture).

The show was aimed not only to brilliantly promote Liddell's upcoming title shot and rematch with Couture, but to showcase the fighters personalities outside of the cage and to show the world what the sport really was. Despite their seemingly brilliant plan, all of the networks they pitched it to passed on the show and with their last-ditch efforts shot down, the UFC's fate was all but sealed.

Even Dana White didn't continue to push the Fertittas into continuing, knowing how much the company was losing. But being the gambler that he is, Lorenzo decided to roll the dice and fund the production of The Ultimate Fighter himself (it would cost some $10 million). Spike TV, which was branded the "network for men" at the time, agreed to air the show given that the UFC would be covering the costs of production. 

When the show aired at the beginning of 2005, each episode garnered an average of 2 million viewers, showcasing a whacky and talented crew of fighters to the world. Their live finale was a massive success and just a week later, Liddell's fight with Couture drew 300,000 PPV buys, a record for the UFC at the time. Their gamble paid off, and from there the UFC exploded.

Every year after TUF saw increases in ticket sales, PPV buys, merchandise sales, you name it. The UFC went from a floundering company near death to a rapidly growing sports powerhouse. Year after year the UFC continued to expand into new markets, smashing old records and buying out other struggling organizations to bolster their own roster. 

In 2016, Zuffa would sell the UFC to a group of investors led by WME-IMG for some $4.2 billionIn just 15 years, the Ferttitas and Dana White took a company they bought for $2 million and sold it for the highest amount ever for any sports property in history (at the time).

The Fertittas cashed out and returned to running their casinos, but Dana White stayed on to continue in his role as UFC president, despite his 8% stake in the UFC which had earned him hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Though Dana White has often come under fire (especially over the last few years) for his strong-arming of fighters in the media and the UFC's rather one-sided contract negotiations, as well as Dana's penchant for lying (like any promoter), Dana White's outspoken attitude and unparalleled accessibility to the public and media have made him one of the most popular and recognizable leaders in sports history. 

Lorenzo & Frank Fertitta

Billionaires even without the UFC, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta are the owners of Station Casinos in Nevada. Their passion for the sport and vision of its success (along with their friend Dana White's sales pitch) inspired them to purchase the UFC for $2 million back in 2001.

Sticking with the project even as losses rose to $50 million, the Fertittas didn't give up on their vision and by following through they managed to turn the once dying brand into a multi-billion dollar sports empire. 

After the UFC's growing success post-The Ultimate Fighter Frank transitioned to taking over operations at Station Casinos while Lorenzo focused entirely on the UFC, and as such played a vital role in the continuing operations and success of the UFC in the years following.

Known for being a keen businessman and a reasonable negotiator (unlike say, the brash and ill-tempered Dana White), Lorenzo has maintained a great reputation amongst fans and fighters alike and if it wasn't for his gamble with funding The Ultimate Fighter in-house, the UFC wouldn't be around today. 

Joe Silva

Matchmakers play a vital role in the operation of any fight promotion - they are the ones that book the match-ups between fighters on any given card, from the prelims to the main event.

Joe Silva began way back in the SEG days and continued on through the Zuffa era - although he purposely avoided the limelight, he was known as the best matchmaker in the business and arguably was the most important person in the UFC in regards to fighter's careers. 

For fighters that kept in his good books, he could get them great opportunities and plenty of exposure - for those that didn't (say by turning down fights or repeatedly pulling out of fights last-minute) he could have them fighting nothing but stylistic nightmares until they were cut for failing to win fights. 

Though his strong-arm tactics have been critiqued in the years since, he was still a master at his job and juggled matchmaking and contract negotiations for hundreds of fighters at a time as well as served as a scout for potential UFC talent. He continued working for the company until shortly after the 2016 WME-IMG buyout, where he was given a handsome rewards package and retired from his duties at the end of that year. 

Sean Shelby & Mick Maynard

Speaking of matchmakers, Sean Shelby served as the matchmaker for the WEC and was known for booking extremely exciting match-ups for the organization. After the WEC was absorbed into the UFC in 2011, Shelby stayed on to work with Zuffa as the matchmaker for the lighter weight classes, helping Joe Silva given the then-massive roster. 

He would also handle matchmaking duties for the female fighters when they were added into the fold. 

Mick Maynard on the other hand was the owner and matchmaker for Legacy Fighting Alliance, a Texas-based regional promotion known for having quality talent and developing plenty of prospects that later made it into the UFC. Maynard was brought in following the WME-IMG buyout to take over Sean Shelby's role as Shelby was to be promoted following Joe Silva's retirement.

Now, the duo resides over the matchmaking, negotiations (for most of the fighters) and scouting of potential UFC talent. They play a pivotal role in shaping the careers of prospects and of putting together great cards for UFC fans. 

Joe Rogan

The famous comedian and now podcaster who was also the host of Fear Factor, Joe Rogan has actually served as the colour commentator for the UFC for two decades.

 

Being a taekwondo competitor in his earlier years before being exposed to the UFC’s first events, Rogan started training extensively in jiu-jitsu. Though he stopped competing in taekwondo/kickboxing as a young adult due to fear of brain damage and his love of comedy, Rogan continued training in martial arts and eventually earned his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Eddie Bravo, one of the most renowned BJJ practitioners and teachers on the planet. 

 

He began working with the UFC when he was already an established comedian at UFC 12 back in 1997, interviewing fighters backstage and in the Octagon after fights. After a few events Rogan quit his duties as the pay didn’t even cover his costs of getting to the events (which were in rural areas at the time) but continued to follow the sport passionately - after Zuffa acquired the UFC in 2001, Rogan became friends with Dana White, who offered him a gig as colour commentator.

 

Although he initially declined, in 2002 (right after he began appearing on Fear Factor) he agreed to the role in exchange for great tickets for his friends at the events. After some free commentary gigs he began accepting pay and still commentates for the UFC to this day. 

 

He has become synonymous with the UFC brand and their broadcasts, offering insightful (and often funny) commentary particularly on the technical aspects of the sport with a genuine enthusiasm that commentary teams often lack.

 

For years he and play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg were the voices of the UFC, though in 2017 Goldberg was not re-signed and was picked up by Bellator; Rogan continues to serve as a colour commentator, but only for select North American cards.

 

Due to his busy schedule and dislike for travelling overseas, Rogan opts to only call the major cards (PPV events and major TV events) that take place exclusively in North America, limiting his appearances to about a dozen events per year. 

 

Although still highly respected as a commentator, in the last few years he has veered into biased commentary quite often, drawing ire from fans when he seems to highlight only one fighter throughout a bout even if that fighter is losing or it’s extremely close. His love of commentary has clearly waned (and he's admitted as much) and as such his dedication to covering the fights has left much to be desired in the last few years. 

 

In addition to his commentary, Rogan regularly interviews MMA fighters and personalities on his extremely popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, as well as hosting “Fight Companion” podcasts for smaller UFC cards that he isn’t there to commentate - he brings in several of his close friends, such as BJJ expert Eddie Bravo and former UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub, to watch the fights in his studio and talk about the sport (and lots of other stuff) throughout the event.

Mike Goldberg

Starting out as a sideline reporter for the Chicago Bulls in the early 90's then as an NHL play-by-play commentator for ESPN, Goldberg debuted as the new play-by-play commentator for the UFC at UFC Ultimate Japan in 1997.

 

Since then, he called the action for virtually all of the UFC cards for two decades and along with his famous commentary partner Joe Rogan, became the recognized voice of the UFC. He would call the moment-to-moment action and deliver backstory along with promotional obligations like sponsor callouts while Rogan would provide deeper insight and analysis on the action and the fighter’s strategies and tactics.

 

Always good for a solid soundbyte, Goldberg eventually became known by fans as a rather unknowledgeable commentator despite how long he had called fights for; he would often make mistakes calling the action or said things most fans of the sport knew to be false or uninformed, even after nearly two decades on the mic.

 

Rogan has never been afraid to correct Goldberg or even laugh at his commentary partner’s expense, something that provided quite a bit of comedy gold over the years (the two are still close friends outside the booth however, so obviously Goldberg didn’t take it to heart). 

 

After 2016, Goldberg wasn’t re-signed by the UFC (likely due to his expensive contract which saw a sizeable increase in 2005 when the WWE tried to poach him to get at the UFC who were perceived to be harming their numbers, but Goldberg told the UFC brass and refused the lucrative offer), with the new owners drawing heavy criticism from fans for not even providing Goldberg with an on-air sendoff or video to commemorate 20 years of service for the company.

 

Since his UFC departure he went on to sign with Bellator and provides play-by-play work for some of their events.

Jon Anik

A longtime MMA fan who began his broadcast career as an anchor on ESPN, Jon Anik joined the UFC's broadcast booth in 2011 as the play-by-play announcer for the UFC's smaller shows. Over time he established himself as a consummate professional and one of the best in the business.

When Mike Goldberg wasn't re-signed by the UFC in 2017, Anik stepped in as the main play-by-play announcer and has called all but the rarest international shows since. If you've watched a UFC broadcast in the last several years, you've surely heard Anik's voice whether he's been joined by Joe Rogan, Daniel Cormier, Michael Bisping, Paul Felder, or any number of other colour commentators that have lent their talents to the commentary team. 

Anik also hosts an MMA podcast with former UFC contender Kenny Florian and hosts a variety of content for the UFC on ESPN and Fight Pass.

Scott Coker

Scott Coker is a longtime fight promoter with a sterling reputation amongst fighters and colleagues. 

Coker founded StrikeForce back in 1985 as a kickboxing organization before transitioning into MMA in 2006. After the transition, StrikeForce exploded in scale and would soon ink deals with Showtime and CBS to air their fights on premium cable.

StrikeForce quickly became known as the #2 MMA promotion in the world after the collapse of PRIDE and was also known for putting on female fights which rapidly gained in popularity. In 2011, investors in the company opted to sell the organization and the UFC purchased StrikeForce; Coker stayed on and continued to run the promotion under Zuffa's guidance until the promotion was absorbed by the UFC in 2013. 

In 2014, Coker was hired by Bellator as their new president, transitioning the tournament-focused promotion into a more traditional fight organization.

Though he is well-liked by fans and fighters alike, he is also known to promote freakshow matchups (particularly those between extremely old fighters with recognizable names) and to enjoy PRIDE-style squash matches in which a prospect or star is given vastly overmatched opposition in order to score highlight reel finishes. 

Shannon Knapp

Shannon Knapp is the founder and president of Invicta FC, an all-female promotion based in Kansas City. Aiming to create a home for female fighters regardless of weight class (StrikeForce was the most prominent women's MMA organization at the time and even they only regularly put on fights in two weight classes for women), Invicta quickly became known for delivering extremely exciting cards and showcasing the best women fighters in the world.

After the UFC absorbed StrikeForce and added the women's bantamweight division, Invicta became the home for Cris Cyborg (a featherweight) as well as the premier organization for fighters above or below the bantamweight limit. 

In the years since, the UFC has steadily added weight classes (and added Invicta to their massive roster of promotions streamed live on Fight Pass) and taken many of Invicta's top talent, with the promotion serving as a kind of feeder-league for the UFC.

Heavyweights (265 or under)

Mark Coleman (see entry in Pioneers section)
Randy Couture (see entry in Pioneers section)
Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira

Antonio Rodrigo Minotauro Nogueira, also known as “Big Nog” to differentiate him from his similarly named brother Antonio Rodrigo Minotoro Nogueira, is a legendary Brazilian fighter known for his ridiculous chin, incredible heart and toughness, and elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu. 

 

Big Nog has a rather remarkable story of toughness from before he ever stepped foot in a cage or ring, as he had been run over by a truck as a child and was hospitalized for almost an entire year. As a result of the accident, he lost one of his ribs as well as a chunk of his liver - he has a gigantic scar on his back from the ordeal that, along with his larger frame, differentiate him from his twin brother.

 

Nogueira quickly became one of the most successful heavyweights in the burgeoning sport. Starting his career in 1999, he had secured the inaugural PRIDE heavyweight title by 2001 - by 2003, he had run up his record to an incredible 19-1-1, with his lone blemish a split decision loss to Dan Henderson, a loss he later avenged by submitting Henderson two years after their first meeting.

 

Big Nog picked up 14 submission victories along the way, his impressive guard and jiu-jitsu skills making him a standout and rarity amongst the other big men at heavyweight, who rarely moved well on their backs. He defended his PRIDE title several times before losing it to Fedor Emilianenko in a fight in which his legendary chin and heart carried him to a decision in a fight he should have been knocked out at multiple points in.

 

He would go on to capture the interim belt later, and lost once again in a rematch with Fedor. By the time PRIDE was purchased by the UFC and Nogueira made the trip to the US, Nogueira had racked up 17 wins and just 3 losses with the promotion (with just one fighter holding an unavenged win over Nogueira, that fighter being Fedor who beat him twice). 

 

After an impressive come-from-behind victory in his UFC debut, Big Nog would earn a crack at the interim UFC heavyweight title. Nogueira won by submitting Tim Sylvia in a guillotine, once again coming back from adversity and being nearly knocked out only to win the fight anyway.

 

Nogueira was renowned for his incredible chin and durability, having been rocked and dropped in many of his fights against the hardest hitting heavyweights in the world, yet he would somehow always survive and come back to emerge the victor.

 

Unfortunately, his granite chin eventually showed signs of cracking, as in his next trip to the Octagon, Frank Mir knocked out Nogueira in the second round, becoming the first man to knock Nogueira out in Antonio’s 37-fight career. Rebounding with a decision over fellow legend Randy Couture in 2009’s Fight of the Year, Nogueira would be knocked out for the second time by future champion Cain Velasquez.

 

Nogueira once again bounced back with a surprise knockout victory, setting Nogueira up for a chance to avenge his Mir loss. Nogueira dropped Mir early and had him in trouble, but opted to try and submit the savvy grappler - instead, Mir rolled out and ended up locking in a kimura, which Nogueira refused to tap to. Mir proceeded to snap Nogueira’s upper arm like a popsicle stick in the most vicious submission in MMA history, becoming the first man to ever submit the renowned Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.

 

After another bounce back win, Nogueira’s gas tank finally emptied completely and his body simply couldn’t compete at the highest level anymore. He lost his last three fights, which included a brutal knockout loss to Roy Nelson. Big Nog retired from the sport in 2015 and continues working for the UFC in Brazil while also training other fighters in his gym - notable students he has taught in the past include Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and Junior Dos Santos.

Fedor Emilianenko

Considered the greatest heavyweight in MMA history for a time (and still regularly debated as such), Fedor Emilianenko is a stoic, small Russian heavyweight with an unassuming build yet surprising athleticism and power.

 

One of the first heavyweights to have a truly well-rounded skill set, Fedor came from a combat sambo background (a martial art popular in Russia that’s actually quite similar to MMA, sambo is essentially grappling (both wrestling and submissions) while combat sambo also allows striking) and broke into the MMA sphere way back in 2000 in RINGS.

 

He soon moved on to compete in PRIDE, where he quickly made himself a star with his performances. His grappling was extremely proficient (particularly for a heavyweight) with very strong takedown ability combined with solid positional awareness, submission skills and brutal ground and pound; his striking was also excellent, with his measured, methodical approach a breath of fresh air in the heavyweight ranks that were filled with sloppy brawlers. 

 

His chin and durability were also remarkable, especially considering he was a small heavyweight facing some of the heaviest hitters in the sport - his ability to not only survive this horrific suplex but submit his opponent just moments later was a particularly impressive feat of toughness.

 

His use of Russian hooks (essentially looping overhands where the thumb is pointed down to the floor, with the hopes of landing with the two main knuckles) along with straight shots allowed him to make excellent use of his limited reach against larger opponents and showcased his impressive knockout power. 

 

Fedor went undefeated for nearly a decade over a span of 28 fights, with the only loss in his career being an early and highly controversial doctor stoppage over a cut he suffered.

 

He had legendary fights and finishes in PRIDE, including an epic battle with Mirko Cro Cop and two maulings of Antonio Rodrigo Minotauro Nogueira; after PRIDE was absorbed by the UFC and contract negotiations with the UFC fell through, Fedor competed in other organizations such as Affliction (where he quickly finished two former UFC champions in Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia back-to-back) before making his way state-side to compete in StrikeForce.

 

By this point, Fedor had largely abandoned the well-rounded and technical skillset which had made him so successful, and instead opted to mostly just throw his thunderous right hand over and over. After a scary opening round against Brett Rogers, Fedor landed his afforementioned right hand to knock out his opponent in his US debut.

 

His next fight looked like it would be a quick win over the highly respected Fabricio Werdum as he dropped him early, however he opted to grapple with the BJJ phenom and was promptly tapped out in a triangle choke. The loss shocked the world and put an end to his decade of dominance.

 

Fedor’s next two bouts saw the Russian legend mauled at the hands of a much bigger heavyweight, then get knocked out by a regular middleweight in Dan Henderson - his chin, skills, and athleticism had clearly degraded, and after StrikeForce was purchased by the UFC, Fedor went back overseas to fight much lower competition, retiring after 3 easy wins. 

 

Like most fighters, Fedor came back after his retirement (which lasted over 3 years), picking up an easy win before being knocked out by a mediocre former UFC light heavyweight - the fight wasn’t stopped despite him being unconscious and being brutally beaten, yet somehow Fedor woke up and made it to the later rounds, winning an incredibly dubious decision in Russia.

 

Fedor’s heavyweight prospects were officially over, yet Bellator opted to sign him anyway given his name value. Back stateside, Fedor unsurprisingly was knocked out quickly, yet Bellator entered him into their Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix anyway. As the heavyweight ranks are thin in general let alone in Bellator, his next fight saw him back in the win column as a similarly clearly-past-his-prime Frank Mir was caught and knocked out early.

 

Fedor proceeded to meet a middleweight in Chael Sonnen, who was vastly outsized and completely out of his element, yet still managed to make Fedor look old and sloppy before succumbing to punches in the opening round. Fedor was then unceremoniously knocked out by the first punch former UFC light heavyweight Ryan Bader through in the Grand Prix finale.

 

Most recently Fedor defeated an extremely overweight and disinterested Rampage Jackson. 

Mirko Cro Cop

 

Mirko Filipovic, better known as "Cro Cop", is a legendary Croatian heavyweight who successfully transitioned from a career in kickboxing into MMA. 

Having twice made the K-1 Grand Prix finals, Cro Cop was already a well-known kickboxer before he dabbled in MMA in Japan, mostly in PRIDE. His extremely powerful kicks (particularly his deadly left head kick) and his southpaw double threat (pairing the straight left with the left head kick) made him an extremely feared and dangerous striker in MMA.

He would famously coin the phrase "right leg hospital, left leg cemetary" to describe his kicking style, and his fights proved it. After beginning his MMA career 9-1-2 with his lone loss being a submission to PRIDE champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (his draws were special rules bouts in which no judges were used), Cro Cop was knocked out in one of the most stunning upsets of all time via the left hook of wrestler Kevin Randleman. 

Cro Cop would then go on a killing spree, winning seven straight fights (including in a rematch against Randleman) to earn a shot at champion Fedor Emilianenko. The legendary fight that ensued was one of the best in the sport's history as both men put a beating on one another for a full twenty minutes, with Fedor eventually having his hand raised by the judges. 

While fans clamoured for a rematch of the epic bout, PRIDE and Fedor opted for the Russian to take on lesser competition and instead they were both entered into the 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix. Cro Cop would slaughter all four of his opponents to capture the Grand Prix title while Fedor never competed in the tournament due to injury. 

Cro Cop grew frustrated as rather than setting up a rematch with Fedor which was bigger than ever after Cro Cop's Grand Prix win, PRIDE opted to give Mark Hunt a title shot instead. Mirko then ventured to the UFC and picked up an easy win in his debut.

And then Cro Cop was involved in an even bigger and more devastating upset than against Randleman.

Facing the heavy-handed BJJ expert Gabriel Gonzaga, Cro Cop was a massive favourite. Those odds meant little to Gonzaga however, as late in the first round, Gonzaga would posterize Cro Cop by landing a nasty head kick of his own on the renowned kickboxer, knocking him dead in the process.

Another loss saw Cro Cop leave the UFC and return to Japan for a brief time before returning, going 3-1 before losing three straight (all by knockout) and getting cut from the promotion. 

Cro Cop would then return to kickboxing and rejuvenate his career, winning the 2013 K-1 Grand Prix (albeit it was a far cry from the competition of old). 

Mirko would return to the UFC to exact revenge on Gonzaga before admitting to USADA to the use of HGH given to him by a doctor to heal from shoulder surgery (he never tested positive and therefore shouldn't have said anything) which saw him suspended for two years, though he asked for his release and instead competed overseas anyway. 

He would win his last ten MMA bouts, including one in Bellator in 2019, before retiring from the sport after suffering a minor stroke. 

Mirko Cro Cop was one of the most feared knockout artists in MMA history and has one of the most impressive and violent highlight reels in the sport. Just check out these legendary head kick KOs over Aleksander Emilianenko, Igor Vovchanchyn, and Wanderlei Silva for starters.

Tim Sylvia

A monster at 6'8, Tim Sylvia may not have been the most athletic or technical fighter but he made up for it with size and solid fundamentals compared to his opposition.

His career began with an impressive 16-fight winning streak that saw him capture the UFC heavyweight title in just his second fight with the promotion. His first defense ended with another knockout, but unfortunately for Sylvia, he would be stripped of his title thanks to a failed drug test for steroids.

After serving his suspension, Sylvia would shockingly have his arm snapped in an upset loss to Frank Mir. After Mir was forced to vacate the title due to a motorcycle accident, Sylvia was submitted via an achilles lock in just 51 seconds by Andrei Arlovski for the interim title.

Sylvia would right the ship with six straight wins including a first round KO over Arlovski to reclaim his throne (and a 5-round decision win over Arlovski in their laughably boring rubber match).

In 2007, Sylvia would look to make his third defense against Randy Couture, only to be dominated by his vastly older and smaller opponent. A comeback submission loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for an interim title would be the last fight in Sylvia's UFC career.

Sylvia would go on to get dropped and submitted in just 36-seconds by Fedor, then utterly embarassed by getting knocked dead in just 9-seconds by legendary boxer Ray Mercer in an MMA fight (Mercer was 49 at the time). 

Sylvia would right the ship and won seven of his next eight, but that did little to erase his memorable losses in the minds of fans. He later ballooned up and fought at super heavyweight, dropping his last three fights before retiring in 2013.

Frank Mir

A Las Vegas native, Frank Mir quickly found himself in the UFC as a young Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenom in 2001 after just two fights in smaller promotions.

Mir quickly made a name for himself as the premier submission artist at heavyweight, locking up a 65-second armbar and a wicked 46-second from-the-guard keylock in his first two bouts. 

After a surprising loss in England to Ian Freeman, Mir tapped out Tank Abbott in just 45-seconds before winning a bout against the hot-headed (and very stupid) Wes Sims after Sims was disqualified for repeatedly stomping on Mir's head while on the ground. The rematch saw Mir show off some improved striking and earned Mir the first non-submission of his career

The 7-1 was then matched up with the undefeated 16-0 heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. A sizeable underdog, Mir caught Sylvia in an armbar and snapped Sylvia's forearm in just 50-seconds to capture the UFC heavyweight crown. 

Right when the talented heavyweight was on top of the world, disaster struck - Frank Mir was hospitalized following a motorcycle accident in which his femur was broken in two places and all of the ligaments in his knee were torn. 

After a year-and-a-half of healing and rehab, Mir would come back to the UFC as an out-of-shape shell of his former self, losing two of his next three bouts by TKO with a lackluster decision victory against an unknown being his only win. 

Later revealing he had struggled with excessive drinking and an addiction to painkillers following his accident, Mir regrouped and re-dedicated his life to fighting. Coming back in proper shape, Mir returned to tap out kickboxer Antoni Hardonk in just 77-seconds before he submitted a debuting Brock Lesnar in a minute and a half. 

Mir was granted a shot at the interim heavyweight title and shocked everyone by becoming the first man to ever knock out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, piecing "Big Nog" up with slick combinations and dropping him three times before eventually finishing him off. 

After Brock Lesnar captured the heavyweight crown, a rematch with Mir in a unification bout had the MMA world buzzing. The main event for the historic UFC 100 card, the heated rivalry between the two led a stacked card to some 1.3 million PPV buys, a UFC record that stood for years following the monumental event. 

Mir was dominated in the fight however, with Lesnar's size and more controlled approach smothering the jiu-jitsu artist en route to a dominant second round TKO. The loss would forever change Mir, as he would put on mass amounts of muscle in order to compete with the new generation of heavyweight that just left him less mobile and more hittable. 

Mir would go 4-1 in his next five fights, with his biggest victory coming in the form of a kimura against BJJ and MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira - when Nogueira refused to tap, Mir snapped his upper arm like a popsicle stick and became the first man to ever submit Nogueira (he was previously the first man to ever knock out the iron-jawed Brazilian).

The victory saw Mir earn a title shot, where Frank was easily skewered by the much faster and more mobile Junior Dos Santos, kicking off a four-fight losing streak for Mir (albeit against very tough opposition). Two quick knockout wins over lower-ranked opponents saved his UFC career before another two losses ended his UFC run.

After a badly overweight Frank Mir was knocked out by Mark Hunt in Australia, USADA flagged the former champ for a steroid metabolite - despite his horrid physique for that fight and the minuscule levels he flagged for (which USADA would later use to reduce suspensions based on it likely stemming from supplement contamination) Mir was suspended for two years and asked to be released from the promotion as a result.

Mir would go on to compete in Bellator, getting knocked out by a similarly over-the-hill Fedor before having his jaw broken in a fight against a relative nobody with a 10-7 record. Mir last competed in 2019 where he won a decision in a terrible fight against another washed up heavyweight, Roy Nelson.

Andrei Arlovski

Andrei Arlovski might be one of the streakiest fighters in MMA history. When he's on, he's a killer and had one of the most deadly right hands in the sport; when he got hit however, his chin rarely held up and more often than not he was laid out on the canvas. 

After a successful debut in 2000, the Belarussian's next two UFC outings saw Arlovski's cardio and chin wither as he suffered back-to-back third round knockout losses. Three straight KO wins however saw him earn a crack at the interim heavyweight title, where he submitted Tim Sylvia in just 51 seconds. 

After defending his title with a quick KO, Arlovski was promoted to the undisputed champion while Frank Mir's career still hung in jeopardy courtesy of a motorcycle accident. Arlovski would then defend his undisputed title with a stunning 15-second KO

Arlovski would then be knocked out by Tim Sylvia in their rematch and lost a decision after a dreadfully dull performance in their rubber match. 

Three straight wins once again saw Arlovski nearing a title shot, but with his contract expired, Arlovski instead accepted a lucrative deal with the upcoming Affliction promotion. Arlovski would then knock out two of the toughest fighters in the division, both renowned for their granite chins, in Ben Rothwell and Roy Nelson. 

In 2009, Arlovski faced Fedor Emilianenko and to the shock of many, was dominating the Russian legend, hammering away with combinations and heavy kicks. It wasn't to be however - after pushing Fedor back into the corner, the Belarussian attempted a flying knee to finish off "The Last Emperor", only to run right into a counter and be knocked flat on his face

After Affliction folded, Arlovski went to StrikeForce, where he would go 0-3 and lose two of those bouts by first round knockout. 

Rather than give up when it seemed clear he was past his prime, Arlovski persisted and his persistence paid off. Andrei would go unbeaten in his next five fights (which included a No Contest in a fourth bout with Sylvia, in which Arlovski landed illegal soccer kicks while Sylvia was downed). 

After a decision loss to Anthony Rumble Johnson, Arlovski then won two more bouts to earn his return to the UFC, where he would win four more bouts, including knockouts over Bigfoot Silva and Travis Browne.

The streak saw Arlovski earn one last title shot; Stipe Miocic unceremoniously ended his epic career comeback in just 54 seconds. The loss kicked off a career-worst five-straight losses for Arlovski, who somehow managed to retain his spot on the roster. He would go just 3-9 (1 NC) in his last 13 fights with the UFC, with his most recent outing being a 29-second KO loss in 2019.

Fabricio Werdum

Fabricio Werdum is a perplexing fighter. At his best, he has beaten some of the best heavyweights in MMA history, combining his remarkable Brazilian jiu-jitsu prowess with vicious knees in the clinch and solid Muay Thai kickboxing. At his worst, he charges his opponents recklessly and seems to disregard his opponent's striking.

Fighting in smaller promotions, Werdum was a capable fighter that found himself lost in the middle of the pack in PRIDE's stacked heavyweight division, going 4-2 in the promotion. Later he would sign with the UFC, where he would go 2-2 and was most known for being brutally knocked out by the (at the time) unknown newcomer and heavy underdog Junior Dos Santos.

"Vai Carvalho" would then find his way to StrikeForce, winning two bouts before being matched up against Fedor Emilianenko - not many gave Werdum a chance, and in the opening minute a right hand dropped Werdum (though he was clearly still cognizant and didn't appear to be rocked).

Rather than forcing the BJJ expert back to his feet, Fedor followed Werdum to the mat to try and ground and pound his way to victory, only to be snatched up in a tight triangle. Fedor was forced to tap and in just 69 seconds, Fedor's incredible decade of dominance was over. 

A lackluster decision loss to Alistair Overeem shut down his momentum before he would follow Overeem to the UFC in 2012 to embark on the most impressive streak streak of his career.

Four straight wins saw Werdum earn a crack at the title, only to face Mark Hunt for the newly created interim heavyweight title after Cain Velasquez withdrew due to injury. After getting handily outstruck early, Werdum knocked the granite-chinned Hunt out in the second.

Werdum would finally get his crack at Velasquez, who won the first round thanks to his trademark aggression and volume. Cain's excessive output and lack of efficiency in the striking realm however posed major problems - while Cain smartly avoided grappling with Werdum, his best position had always been grinding his opponents against the fence, however thanks to Werdum's excellent Muay Thai and devastating knees, Cain was effectively forced to stay on the outside.

Werdum's much crisper, more efficient striking quickly took over as Cain gassed himself out and continued to take damage, eventually getting hurt on the feet before diving for a takedown and getting caught in a guillotine choke in the third round. Werdum had staked his claim as the greatest heavyweight in MMA history, having beaten both of the other fighters that most claimed were the greatest to that point.

His title run swiftly ended in his first defense however as he charged incessantly against the skilled boxer Stipe Miocic and got knocked out in the opening round as a result. 

Werdum has had mixed results in the years since as the aging heavyweight has gone 3-2, with his last fight in 2018 seeing him knocked out in a fight he was soundly winning before the typically well-conditioned Brazilian gassed out. He then failed a drug test and was suspended for two years, only to slightly reduce his sentence by using the USADA "snitching" clause. He is expected to return to action in 2020.

Alistair Overeem

Alistair Overeem is inarguably the most accomplished striker to compete successfully at a high level in MMA (outside of females such as Holly Holm or Germaine de Randamie) having won kickboxing’s most coveted title alongside several major MMA titles.

 

The 6’4 dutchman began his career as a long and lanky light heavyweight known for his vicious knees and slick guillotine and ground and pound which made him a well-rounded threat. Alistair made a name for himself in PRIDE as a solid fighter who liked to keep himself extremely busy throughout the year, beating the likes of Vitor Belfort and Igor Vovchanchyn by guillotines but also being knocked out by the likes of Chuck Liddell, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and Shogun Rua (twice).

 

It looked like he was destined to become an experienced and dangerous journeyman and nothing more, but in 2007, he changed that with a move up to heavyweight in earnest, a division he had flirted with before.

 

In 2007, Overeem noticeably packed muscle onto his wiry frame, going 3-1 that year and winning StrikeForce’s inaugural heavyweight title as well as making a return to kickboxing with a KO win - he had been 1-2 in kickboxing bouts in the past and hadn’t competed in that sport since 2004.

 

By 2008, the “Demolition Man” had transformed himself into a bonafide heavyweight wrecking machine, a 260-pound mountain of offensive fury with colossal hooks, snapping kicks and the best knees in the business, his suspect chin hidden behind a high guard comprised of his oversized forearms.

 

Overeem would put together a nine-fight winning streak across various organizations that solidified him as one of the top heavyweights in the world and the most feared fighter outside of the UFC, winning all but one of those nine fights by finish. The streak saw him capture the DREAM heavyweight title and included a submission victory over Mark Hunt, knockouts over Brett Rogers, Todd Duffee and Kazuyuki Fujita, and a decision win over future UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum.

 

During this time he continued to split his time with kickboxing, where on New Year’s Eve in 2008, Overeem shocked the kickboxing world by knocking out the legendary Badr Hari with a left hook in the opening round - Hari had 90 wins in under 100 fights and was considered one of the top 3 kickboxers on the planet, compared to Overeem’s dismal 2-2 record in the sport. Just under a year later Hari would have his revenge with a TKO of his own, but that loss would be Overeem’s last in kickboxing.

 

With a beautiful knee knockout Alistair secured his spot in the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix field of 16, the most prestigious tournament in kickboxing’s history. Another first round KO earned him a spot in the quarter-finals for the Grand Prix, which had the quarter-, semi- and finals all in one night. Overeem defeated kickboxing legends Tyrone Spong, Gokhan Saki, and finally Peter Aerts all in one night to become the K-1 2010 World Grand Prix Champion, the most coveted title in kickboxing.

 

Overeem would use that momentum to sign a lucrative deal with the UFC and a massive showdown with the recently unseated former UFC heavyweight king Brock Lesnar ensued. Overeem absolutely demolished Lesnar in the opening round, proving the hype was real and establishing himself as one of the most feared men on the planet. His upcoming title shot would however be derailed after a failed drug test for excess testosterone had him sidelined for the entirety of 2012, confirming fans’ long-running suspicions of Overeem’s doping given his ballooning physique upon moving to heavyweight. 

 

When Overeem came back in 2013, the “Ubereem” of old was gone, replaced with a deflated, much softer Alistair. His UFC career took a turn for the worse, as he was knocked out in three of his next four outings, each in fights that he was winning then got clipped and knocked out cold. Overeem had long had a suspect chin, but without his confidence and the ability to protect his chin behind large gloves, Overeem simply could not recover from taking any solid shot.

 

A move to Greg Jackson’s gym proved fruitful as Overeem reinvented himself into a much more agile, more intelligent, and more conservative heavyweight, eschewing the power-based approach of his PED-fueled run. Fans dubbed the new Alistair as “Econoreem” and the Reem turned his luck around, winning four straight to earn a title shot (including three knockouts). Overeem nearly flatlined UFC champion Stipe Miocic in his home town of Cleveland with a massive right hand, flooring the champion, but rather than seeking the KO finish Overeem famously locked onto a guillotine, allowing Miocic a chance to recover and regain his footing.

 

Miocic proceeded to knock out a tiring Overeem at the end of the first round. Overeem would once again return quickly to competition, viciously knocking out Mark Hunt with his patented knees and earning another decision over Fabricio Werdum to earn a top contender spot. Unfortunately, Overeem ran up against the heavy-hitting Francis Ngannou, who knocked Overeem dead in one of the most brutal knockouts in UFC history. Another KO loss to another top contender had many writing off Overeem, though once again Overeem would string some wins together before a last-second KO loss derailed him once more. 

 

While he may not have captured the UFC title or had the most successful UFC run, Overeem is one of the most accomplished fighters in the sport and showed an incredible ability to reinvent himself as the game continued to change. He is perhaps the sport’s best example of a glass cannon - a fighter with incredible offensive capabilities but with defensive vulnerabilities and a weak chin, which makes seemingly any fight he’s in a must-watch event.

 

Unfortunately, Overeem has suffered a shocking amount of knockout losses in his career, with 15 knockout/TKO losses on his ledger, though he has remarkably not shown (or admitted to) any signs of suffering from concussion problems or CTE symptoms.

Brock Lesnar

A controversial but key figure in the sport, Brock Lesnar was a massive star in the WWE for years (and still is) and helped usher in a new wave of UFC fans.

 

A 6’3 and almost-as-wide mountain of a man, Lesnar is a physical specimen with questionable tattoos and an aggressive and angry demeanor. Unlike many pro wrestlers, Lesnar did come from a high-level sporting background as he had captured the NCAA Division I Heavyweight Championship back in college, the holy grail of college wrestling.

 

Although he wasn’t the most technical wrestler, Brock made up for his lack of finesse with incredible power and surprising agility for a man his size. Although he made millions and gained a massive following in pro wrestling, Brock was still a competitor at heart and made several forays outside of the WWE - despite not ever playing football at a high level in his life, he joined the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in 2004 and was the last person cut from the team prior to the season, an impressive feat considering his complete lack of experience.

 

Later in 2007, Brock left the WWE and tried his hand in MMA - his size, athleticism, and wrestling accolades immediately made him a force to be reckoned with in the shallow heavyweight division, and after just a single pro fight against a 2-5 fighter, the UFC signed the wrestling superstar. 

 

Making his debut against former champion Frank Mir, Lesnar impressed early with his raw power and speed but was caught in a kneebar, forced to tap out in just over 90 seconds. After a rebound win showing off improved situational awareness, Lesnar leveraged his star power into a title shot despite being just 1-1 in the UFC, drawing ire from other fighters and fans alike.

 

Lesnar made good on his opportunity though, dropping and finishing his much smaller and older opponent Randy Couture to capture the heavyweight crown. After Frank Mir captured the interim heavyweight title in emphatic fashion and called out his rival, a massive rematch was set up for the monumental and historic UFC 100 event.

 

UFC 100 was the biggest event in UFC history and would remain its biggest success for years, with a stacked card culminating in the highly anticipated grudge match; Lesnar showed off his vast grappling improvements and pounded Mir en route to a second-round TKO to unify the titles and become the undisputed champion.

 

After a severe case of diverticulitis (which drew controversy as it’s commonly developed amongst steroid users, which Lesnar had a long-rumoured history with, including the fact he was caught with a trunk full of HGH in college) Lesnar finally defended his belt against Shane Carwin. Carwin exposed Lesnar’s massive striking and defensive deficiencies when he was unable to secure a takedown. Lesnar was brutally mauled for the entire first round and looked completely helpless at times, but managed to survive by the skin of his teeth; an extremely exhausted Carwin then got taken down and submitted early in the second, with Lesnar securing the impressive comeback victory. 

 

Brock's next fights saw Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem completely dismantle the superstar, denying his takedowns and forcing him to strike then finishing him with powerful shots as Lesnar wilted under the pressure.

 

After the Overeem fight, Lesnar announced his retirement and returned to the WWE; 5 years later however he made a surprising comeback to face Mark Hunt at UFC 200.

 

He had vastly improved his composure on the feet and employed a more methodical gameplan, securing a decision victory in his return bout before it was quickly overturned due to a failed post-fight drug test.

 

Despite his controversial and sporadic UFC career, Lesnar brought a wave of new fans to MMA and became a massive figure in the sport, even if he was used mostly as a lightning rod to unite fans in their dislike of him. He achieved impressive success with such little fighting experience (he had just 9 fights total in his career) and was an essential part of the UFC’s expansion in recent years.

Kimbo Slice

Though Kimbo couldn't hold a candle to the rest of the fighters in this section, he was no less a major player in the sport of MMA.

Kevin Ferguson, better known as Kimbo Slice, became a viral sensation in the mid-2000's thanks to his prowess in unsanctioned backyard street fights. At 6'2 and 235 pounds, Kimbo was a wide and imposing figure with heavy hands and a solid chin, even if he lacked the finesse of more elite fighters.

He soon began training in MMA and won an exhibition match in 2007 against former boxing champion Ray Mercer before making his pro debut in the same year. Signing with fledgling promotion EliteXC, Kimbo would win his first two pro fights inside the cage in 62 seconds combined, which included a knockout over a fellow backyard brawling legend in Tank Abbott.

For his next bout he would beat up James Thompson for over ten minutes before a grossly burst cauliflower ear earned Kimbo another finish. Although he was virtually untested on the ground, Kimbo had propelled EliteXC to massive cable ratings and with just three fights had become one of the biggest stars in the sport.

Things came crashing down in his next bout for the promotion in October 2008 however; when his original opponent, the aged MMA legend Ken Shamrock, was forced to pull out of the bout after suffering a cut to his eye while warming up mere hours before the bout, EliteXC had light heavyweight Seth Petruzelli, who was scheduled to compete that night against another opponent, step up to face Kimbo in the main event.

Petruzelli would then doom the promoter by dusting Kimbo in just 14 seconds

In an interview shortly after the event, Petruzelli implied that EliteXC promoters gave him extra cash to incentivize him to keep the fight standing and trade with their star slugger on the feet rather than grapple - though he would run back those comments hours later after the media backlash, the damage to EliteXC's credibility and allegations of fight fixing essentially demolished the company, which filed for bankruptcy less than a month later and cancelled a planned event for November.

UFC president Dana White (who savaged EliteXC for their attempts at fight fixing, though it's to be stressed that Kimbo was never involved in EliteXC's doing so) challenged Kimbo Slice to prove himself by competing on The Ultimate Fighter reality show and earn his way into the big leagues. To his surprise, Kimbo took him up on the offer.

Slice was added to The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights, the tenth installment of the series which featured only one weight class with Kimbo the main attraction alongside the rivalry between the season's coaches, Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans. Kimbo and co. propelled the season to series' highs in ratings in what would become the most-viewed season in TUF history; unfortunately, Kimbo lost in the opening round of the tournament to veteran Roy Nelson, getting easily handled on the ground in embarrassing fashion.

Despite a lackluster performance, his genuine and kind personality endeared him even to those that initially wanted him to fail. Kimbo would be granted a fight in the season finale against light heavyweight Houston Alexander in a 215-pound catchweight; Kimbo won the dreadful bout via decision (largely dreadful due to Alexander either running away or clinching the entire fight). His second bout with the promotion would see him get shellacked by Matt Mitrione, leading the UFC to release the internet sensation.

To avoid having to worry about the ground game that he had no affinity for (particularly given his extremely damaged knees), Kimbo then transitioned to boxing, taking on hand-picked and lackluster opponents from 2011 to 2013 where he would run up his pro boxing record to 7-0 with six knockouts before signing with Bellator in 2015. 

Finally getting to face rival Ken Shamrock, Kimbo knocked out the 52-year-old Shamrock in the opening round, but once again the MMA community called foul, with widespread accusations of fight fixing - Shamrock had taken down Slice and took his back with ease, applying a rear-naked choke that appeared to be tight only to seemingly let go despite Kimbo's lack of defense. While the punches that knocked down the old and chinny vet were clearly real, there's no denying that the events leading up to it were suspicious at best. 

For his last bout in 2016, Kimbo would face Dada 5000, a fellow backyard brawler who was made famous via internet fight videos and a documentary called Dawg Fight. He also had two MMA wins from bouts in 2010 and 2011, both by knockout.

The fight would be one of the worst in MMA history, with both men looking downright horrendous and gassing out within the opening minutes, leading to a fight so shockingly bad it was downright comical. Slice earned a TKO in the third after 5000 collapsed from exhaustion; the overweight brawler would then be rushed to the hospital after having suffered a heart attack, kidney failure and severe dehydration. Despite the horrendous result and lack of skill on display, the fight broke viewership records for Bellator.

Making matters worse, Kimbo tested positive for an anabolic steroid alongside an elevated T/E ratio. Just four months later Kimbo tragically died of heart failure on June 5, 2016.

 

Though he was never a great fighter skill-wise, Kimbo was one of the biggest names in the sport and was known for being a genuine and kind-hearted person despite the controversy he tended to find himself in. He was survived by six children, including Kevin Ferguson Jr. AKA "Baby Slice" who is also an MMA fighter and competes in Bellator. 

Cain Velasquez

A standout prospect from the American Kickboxing Academy, Cain Velasquez was lauded by the popular camp before he even made his UFC debut thanks to his incredible conditioning for a heavyweight and his relentless work ethic.

He would enter the UFC after just two professional fights, where he proceeded to risk up the ranks and grow his record to an impressive 8-0, which included dominant finishes of Ben Rothwell and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. 

He earned a crack at the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 121, where the underdog would thoroughly dismantle and embarass Brock Lesnar en route to a lopsided first-round TKO.

A fight against Junior Dos Santos ignited the MMA world, the two best fighters in the "next-generation" of heavyweights for the undisputed title. In a surprise move the UFC opted to air the massive showdown for free on Fox to kick off the company's new broadcast partnership.

Expecting a war for the ages, fans were soundly disappointed when Cain was knocked out in just 64 seconds by the Brazilian.

With his camp citing a bad knee injury for his performance, Cain would rebound with a dominant and bloody finish of Antonio Bigfoot Silva, setting the stage for a massive rematch.

Cain proved his point by demolishing Dos Santos in their second outing, battering Junior in exchanges against the fence and utilizing his relentless pace to overwhelm his rival, who did manage to get some solid shots in but was nonetheless dominantly defeated.

An easy defense against Bigfoot Silva (again) kept Cain active before the rubber match with DOs Santos came to fruition - once again Cain dominated his rival and turned his face to mush, smothering him with pressure and volume and eventually getting the finish in the fifth round after Junior was slammed on his own head pursuing a guillotine. 

The two wars took their toll on both fighters however, and neither would ever quite be the same after their trilogy concluded.

After a rash of injuries kept him sidelined for well over a year, Cain returned in 2015 to face interim champ Fabricio Werdum in Mexico City. Velasquez didn't move his camp out to adjust to the extreme altitude (like Werdum and many other fighters did) which would later be his team's excuse for the loss, but in reality he was soundly beaten in all areas by the challenger.

Cain's best area, in the clinch against the cage, was nullified by Werdum's devastating knees - he also refused to engage Werdum (smartly) on the mat, where the BJJ ace was most dangerous. That left Cain attacking Werdum at a distance, where his power strikes were effective but far from efficient - Werdum's crisper technique and accuracy, combined with Cain's pace, paired to wear down the champion until he eventually was caught in a submission. 

Cain would win once more in a dominant showing a year later against Travis Browne before being sidelined for over two years with injuries - he returned only to be knocked out in 26 seconds by Francis Ngannou, blowing out his knee in the process.

 

Since then Cain retired from the sport and has instead made a name for himself as a professional wrestler, having even made appearances in the WWE. 

Junior Dos Santos

Junior Dos Santos burst into the UFC in 2008 and faced longtime vet Fabricio Werdum. Despite being a heavy underdog and completely unknown to fans, Junior shocked fans everywhere by lamping Werdum in 80 seconds with a vicious uppercut from hell.

He would go on to knock out his next four opponents, including Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Gilbert Yvel, and Gabriel Gonzaga, before systematically dominating Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin. 

Finally earning his title shot, Dos Santos shut down Cain Velasquez's hype train by knocking him out in just 64 seconds in front of the largest audience ever for an MMA broadcast in UFC's debut card on Fox.

A destructive defense against Frank Mir set up a massive showdown with Alistair Overeem, however after Overeem was suspended for failing a drug test, the stage was set for a rematch with Cain Velasquez.

There, Junior was pinned against the cage for much of the fight, getting pummelled with constant waves of strikes and non-stop offense from the former champ. Despite landing good shots of his own and showing the heart of a lion and a chin to match, Junior was outmatched and lost a lopsided decision. 

A wicked spinning heel kick KO over Mark Hunt earned him his shot at redemption - although he had added a few tools to help him deal with Cain's pressure, Junior was again dominated and overwhelmed by Cain's pressure and volume. After latching onto a desperate guillotine, Junior was slammed on his own head when Cain dropped down to get out of the submission, leading to a rather bizarre TKO. 

The ridiculous amount of damage he sustained over his trilogy with Cain would not only change him, but leave a blueprint for others on how to defeat the Brazilian boxer. 

Stipe Miocic employed largely the same gameplan as Cain in his next outing, though his lesser clinching prowess and some improvements by Junior turned it into a back-and-forth brawl which Junior edged on the scorecards. A long overdue fight against Overeem materialized, only for Overeem to smartly avoid Junior's headhunting and instead saw Junior knocked out in the second round. 

After a win against the much slower Ben Rothwell, Junior received a title shot and after landing a low kick that seemingly hurt Stipe Miocic in their rematch, simply spammed the technique without setup and as a result got countered and knocked out in the opening round.

While he was once a thoughtful boxer who set up his heavy punches (for example, his trademark overhand right was set up by a similarly-dipping body jab), Junior has turned into a one-note striker who regularly spams a single technique in the hopes of landing a knockout blow. 

Though he did put together a three-fight winning streak, Junior has since lost his last two by knockout, his once iron-chin cracked and his durability waning after the wars his body has been through. 

Stipe Miocic

A volunteer firefighter in Ohio even while holding a UFC title, Stipe Miocic is one of the most respected fighters in the world of MMA.

An excellent athlete who was not only an NCAA Division I wrestler but also a Cleveland Golden Gloves boxing champion, Stipe Miocic transitioned into MMA after he graduated university and found himself in the UFC after winning his first six bouts by knockout. 

He would quickly become one of the division's top prospects after three straight victories in the UFC before a shocking come-from-behind knockout loss to Stefan Struve derailed his momentum.

Three straight wins put him back into title contention and earned him a shot at former champion Junior Dos Santos. Implementing Cain's blueprint on how to defeat the Brazilian, Stipe got himself into a back-and-forth war and showed he could hang with the best, although the Cleveland stand out would lose the close decision. 

From there Miocic would go on a tear, dominating Mark Hunt and flattening a resurgent Andrei Arlovski to earn a shot at the newly crowned Fabricio Werdum.

A sizeable underdog taking on Werdum in his home country of Brazil, Stipe absolutely silenced the crowd by knocking Werdum out cold in the opening round to capture the UFC heavyweight title.

He would then knock out Alistair Overeem and Junior Dos Santos before dominating feared KO artist Francis Ngannou to set the new UFC record for most consecutive title defenses with three. 

In a super-fight with light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, Miocic was shockingly knocked out in the first round off a short hook out of the clinch by the Olympian wrestler. 

After waiting a full year to finally receive his rematch, Miocic weathered an early storm by Cormier and after being dominated in the first few rounds, showed off his championship resolve and ability to adapt by nailing Cormier with multiple body shots before knocking Cormier out in the fourth round with a vicious barrage to regain his heavyweight throne.

Stipe is expected to defend his title in a rubber match with Daniel Cormier in 2020. 

Light Heavyweights (205)

Tito Ortiz (see entry in Pioneers section)
Chuck Liddell (see entry in Pioneers section)

Wanderlei Silva 

At one point in time, Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva was the most feared fighter on the planet. A whirling dervish of power and reckless aggression, Wanderlei became one of the biggest stars in PRIDE and his patented form of aggression became known worldwide.

 

Utilizing a strong Muay Thai background like most fighters out of Brazil’s famous Chute Boxe camp, Wanderlei loved to brawl and would throw relentless combinations of hooks until his opponents invariably fell down. He became one of the most successful “sprawl and brawlers” in the game, using a strong sprawl and solid ground defense to avoid being beaten on the ground while forcing his opponents to stand and trade with him.

 

He excelled most in the clinch, where he would lock on a collar tie or the plum clinch and hammer away with brutal knees. Stomps/soccer kicks were a favourite of his should his opponents hit the mat, especially since kicks to the head of a grounded opponent were perfectly legal in Japan. 

 

After a solid 12-3 start to his career for various promotions (including three fights for PRIDE and three in the UFC), Wanderlei’s rampage began in earnest when he made his home in PRIDE in the later part of 2000.

 

There, Wanderlei began his famous killing spree during which he would become the most feared fighter in the sport, winning a remarkable 17 straight fights at middleweight (205 pounds in PRIDE, equivalent to the UFC light heavyweight division).

 

After four straight wins in PRIDE, including a knockout over Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba and a dominant decision over Dan Henderson, Wanderlei defeated Sakuraba once again to become the inaugural PRIDE middleweight champion. He continued to demolish his competition, even taking on heavyweight kickboxer Mirko Cro Cop in a modified rules bout (a fight in which Wanderlei pretty clearly won, though due to the modified rules it was not judged and thus ruled a draw since no knockout was scored).

 

Silva’s run through the division consisted of some incredible knockouts, including a third KO victory over Sakuraba, a vicious stomp finish of Yuki Kondo, and two brutal knockouts over his rival Quinton Rampage Jackson.

 

Eventually a decision loss to Ricardo Arona took him out of the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix (his teammate Shogun Rua ended up winning the tournament) however a rematch saw Wanderlei avenge his loss with a decision victory of his own. 

 

In the 2006 PRIDE Heavyweight Grand Prix, heavyweight champion Fedor Emilianenko was injured and unable to fight in the quarter-finals (he was given a bye past the opening round) and Wanderlei Silva hopped back up to heavyweight to join the tournament, scoring a knockout over Kazuyuki Fujita to secure his spot in the semi-finals.

 

Unfortunately, Wanderlei’s years of brawling began to catch up with him as he met Mirko Cro Cop once again, this time in a normal MMA-rules bout and after Cro Cop had become one of the most feared strikers on the planet himself.

 

Mirko’s size and technical expertise saw him batter Wanderlei before knocking him unconscious midway through the opening round with a vicious head kick. Wanderlei returned to defend his middleweight crown and faced the welterweight champion Dan Henderson on PRIDE’s last ever show - Henderson avenged his earlier loss to Silva by knocking Wanderlei out cold in the third round. 

 

Wanderlei would move on to the UFC and faced Chuck Liddell in a matchup fans had been wanting for years, though both were now past their prime and found themselves on losing streaks. The two put on a show for the ages in a thrilling battle that gave them 2007’s Fight of the Year honours, though Liddell would be awarded the victory.

 

A vicious knockout over Keith Jardine had many fans hoping Wanderlei was back to his old form, and his next outing would come in the form of a third bout with Rampage Jackson, who sought revenge for Silva’s two knockouts over him in PRIDE.

 

Rampage finally had his revenge as he knocked Wanderlei out cold with a savage left hook and many were calling for Wanderlei's retirement after the Brazilian had suffered three brutal knockout losses in his last five outings.

 

Wanderlei, as many fighters do, persisted, and eventually ran his UFC record to a dismal 4-5, though he was only KO’d once more after the Rampage bout and he won 5 Fight of the Night awards alongside 2 Knockout of the Night bonuses. He also competed several times at middleweight (185) in his UFC run.

 

In 2014, Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen got into a brawl while filming The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3, where the two served as opposing coaches - their highly anticipated grudge match was subsequently cancelled when Wanderlei refused to take a random drug test, later admitting he was taking a diuretic as the result of an injury (though his refusal to take the test confirmed in the eyes of many fans’ his long-rumoured PED usage in PRIDE).

 

The Nevada athletic commission famously banned Wanderlei for life, though Silva’s lawyers eventually got that overturned in court - the ban was later reduced to a three-year suspension, but after a public spat with the UFC, Wanderlei Silva was released from his contract. 

 

In 2017 Wanderlei returned to the cage and finally got his grudge match with Chael Sonnen, a fight in which Sonnen won in a lackluster decision which Silva looked terrible in. Silva returned in 2019 to face Rampage Jackson for the fourth time, this time at heavyweight as neither of the aging fighters wished to cut weight.

 

Though the 42 year old Silva looked surprisingly decent early on, Rampage inevitably knocked out his older rival in the second round to tie their series 2-2, a series in which there will hopefully be no tiebreaker.

 

Despite his largely unsuccessful later years in the sport, Wanderlei is nevertheless a legend in MMA and was one of the most dominant forces in the combat sports world during his PRIDE middleweight run, delivering some of the most iconic knockouts and entertaining bouts of the sport’s young history.

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson

Quinton Jackson, better known as "Rampage", was one of the biggest stars in Japan's PRIDE organization. 

After starting his career as a 10-1 prospect in smaller promotions, Rampage initially stumbled out of the gate when he joined Japan's beloved UFC rival in 2001 and was submitted in the first round by Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba. 

Rampage would soon endear himself to Japanese fans and PRIDE fans around the world with his hilarious and colourful personality combined with his highly exciting and explosive fighting style.

With his strong wrestling base, powerful ground and pound, heavy hands and love for slamming opponents, Rampage picked up plenty of wins including a dominant TKO over UFC star Chuck Liddell in the 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix. 

His most famous victory however would come in the form of a massive power slam against Ricardo Arona. The devastating powerbomb was named by Sports Science as the most powerful collision in sport's history and made Jackson a worldwide star. 

Following the fall of PRIDE, Rampage would make his way to the UFC where he would dethrone Chuck Liddell in a highly anticipated rematch of their meeting in PRIDE. He went on to defend his title and unify the UFC light heavyweight belt with PRIDE's middleweight title by defeating Dan Henderson.

A surprising upset loss to Forrest Griffin unseated Rampage, who went on to score revenge over his bitter rival Wanderlei Silva in their third bout (Silva knocked out Jackson twice in PRIDE). 

Jackson went on to coach against Rashad Evans in the most successful season of The Ultimate Fighter in the show's history (largely because of YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice's involvement), although Rampage lost a decision to Evans following the show. 

His later career saw mixed results - after earning a title shot, a loss to Jon Jones kicked off a three-fight skid that saw Rampage join Bellator, where he would experience success before growing increasingly overweight and unmotivated while fighting at heavyweight, most recently losing in embarassing fashion against Fedor Emilianenko.

Rampage has also featured in a variety of TV shows and movies, most famously playing B.A. Baracus in 2010's The A-Team remake.

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is one of the most revered and respected fighters in the sport, a legend who made his name in the glory days of PRIDE and is known for being exceptionally violent inside the cage/ring as well as extremely respectful and kind outside of it.

 

Shogun’s legendary PRIDE run began in 2003 when he joined his brother Murilo “Ninja” Rua in the popular Japanese promotion. While his brother had mixed success in the PRIDE ring, Shogun quickly made himself into a star, earning four straight knockouts (including one by soccer kicks and another from a stomp) to earn a berth in the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight (equivalent to the UFC’s light heavyweight division) Grand Prix.

 

After famously knocking out Rampage Jackson, Shogun defeated Antonio Rogerio "Lil Nog" Nogueira in a legendary 20-minute war, then went on to knock out both Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona in the same night to become the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix Champion.

 

The Grand Prix title would earn Shogun a chance to unify the titles with the PRIDE Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva - however, given they were friends and training partners at Brazil’s famous Chute Boxe academy, Shogun opted to forego his title hopes in PRIDE in order to avoid fighting his friend.

 

A fight at heavyweight against former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman ensued, where a freak injury caused Shogun’s lone blemish in a PRIDE ring - Shogun’s arm broke while he was attempting to brace himself from a takedown. Coleman continued hitting Shogun (fairly, as the ref hadn’t stepped in yet) despite the freak injury and caused an infamous in-ring brawl between Shogun’s cornermen (including one Wanderlei Silva) and Coleman’s team while Rua laid injured on the canvas.

 

Shogun would return to his normal weight class and secure four more victories before PRIDE was purchased by the UFC, including another of his famous stomping knockouts, a kneebar over Kevin Randleman, and a second KO of Alistair Overeem. 

 

Shogun’s UFC debut was highly anticipated as he was slated to face The Ultimate Fighter season one winner Forrest Griffin and would have earned a title shot with a win. Shogun was heavily favoured, however in what would become a recurring theme of Shogun’s UFC career, the Shogun that made it into the cage for his debut at UFC 76 was severely compromised.

 

Coming back quickly after double knee surgery in Brazil, Shogun started off well but didn’t quite look himself in his Octagon debut, tiring quickly and noticeably sloppier than his normal form. In the third, a tired Shogun was subsequently tapped out by the massive underdog, absolutely shocking the MMA world.

 

After time off for more surgeries and recovery, Shogun returned to defeat Mark Coleman in a rematch of their infamous first meeting, this time winning by KO in the third round - the fight was a dog fight and though Shogun came out on top, he still looked a far cry from what he was during his PRIDE run.

 

His next outing looked more like the Rua fans were waiting for and saw Rua score a beautiful stepping left-hook KO over UFC legend Chuck Liddell, earning him a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title against the latest champion, Lyoto Machida. 

 

Shogun Rua put on a masterful performance against Lyoto Machida at UFC 104, using his powerful Muay Thai kicking game combined with a measured and tactical application of punching combinations to defuse the elusive Machida’s perplexing karate-focused game. Virtually all viewers of the fight saw Shogun the victor, but in a very controversial decision, a battered Machida was awarded the victory.

 

An immediate rematch ensued, and when the two met again at UFC 113, Shogun would once again have glaring knee issues that saw him unable to stop a takedown. This time however, Shogun would not be denied, as despite being taken down repeatedly by a much more aggressive Machida, Shogun caught his rival with a right hand and proceeded to knock Lyoto out cold with ground and pound to become the UFC light heavyweight champion.

 

Another injury layoff ensued, and his first title defense ended up coming against a young prospect in Jon Jones, who took the fight on short notice due to an injury to Shogun’s original opponent. Jones dominated Rua and ended his title reign early by a third round TKO. 

 

Shogun would go on to have mixed success over the years that followed - his long history of knee injuries plagued his UFC career and certainly hurt his mobility, with many fans wondering how much different his career in the UFC would have looked like had he not suffered so many injuries over the years.

 

Shogun would knock out Forrest Griffin in a rematch of their fateful UFC 76 meeting and go on to have 2011’s Fight of the Year with Dan Henderson in what many have called the greatest fight in UFC history. Though Shogun lost a close decision, most fans and fighters thad scored the epic brawl a draw.

 

Shogun would go on to have mixed success in the years that followed, putting together wins against lower competition but looking positively old at times particularly with his declining chin. While he still added a few names to his knockout reel, it became clear that Shogun is a far cry from what he used to be and fans have increasingly clamoured for the aging legend to call it a career.

 

Although he may ultimately stay too long for his own good (if he hasn't already), Shogun Rua is one of the most legendary fighters in MMA and will go down as one of the most respected names in the sport’s history.

Forrest Griffin

Forrest Griffin became a big star in North America after his stint on the original season of The Ultimate Fighter. Griffin was known as a hard-nosed brawler with a colourful personality and dark sense of humour, and loved to partake in “dog fights” as he called them - for an apt example, in his last fight before going into The Ultimate Fighter house Griffin broke his forearm while blocking a kick then proceeded to knock out his opponent and even punched with the broken arm which ultimately left a noticeable bump in his forearm still visible to this day.

 

Griffin would become a fan favourite over the course of the show, and in the finale opposite the similarly gritty Stephan Bonnar, the two finalists delivered a brawl for the ages that was hailed as the greatest fight in UFC history at the time and for years afterward. Griffin was awarded the judge's decision after the three round battle, though Bonnar also received the same contract for his part in their epic fight.

 

Griffin would go on to have surprising success in the Octagon, posting a 4-2 record before facing PRIDE legend Mauricio Shogun Rua at UFC 72. 

 

After PRIDE was purchased by the UFC, Shogun Rua was signed and pitted against Forrest in a fight where he was promised a title shot should he defeat Griffin, which he was heavily favoured to do.

 

Not many gave Forrest a chance, but the gritty brawler didn’t get the memo and near the end of the third round of a grueling fight, Forrest’s unending gas tank propelled him past his exhausted foe. Griffin dominated on the mat and scored a rear-naked choke submission for the massive upset in the last round. The win was called 2007’s upset of the year and with it, Griffin had earned the title shot himself.

 

Facing another PRIDE legend in Quinton Rampage Jackson and once again a heavy underdog, Griffin returned to The Ultimate Fighter, this time as a coach opposite Jackson. After the show concluded and their bout at UFC 86 began, the fight was going as expected when Griffin was dropped by an uppercut in the opening round. Griffin would show his championship resolve however, coming back to win the second round and turn the tides of the fight with his pace and relentless leg kicks, changing what started as a one-sided beatdown into 2008’s fight of the year.

 

Griffin would set a UFC record for most leg kicks landed in a fight with his performance and took home the unanimous decision to become the UFC light heavyweight champion. Forrest also became the first The Ultimate Fighter winner to also capture a UFC title.

 

The championship win propelled Griffin to new heights and he instantly became one of the biggest stars in the UFC at the time, even gracing the cover of the highly successful UFC 2009: Undisputed videogame. 

 

Griffin’s title run would end almost as suddenly as it began however - in his very first title defense, Rashad Evans would knock Griffin out in the second round to end his Cindarella story. Despite the loss, Griffin was still a star and fan favourite for the UFC, and highly regarded as a loveable underdog who did the impossible by winning the UFC title.

 

His next fight however would severely hurt his star power - booked to face UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in Silva’s second fight at light heavyweight, Griffin’s size and skillset were set to be a major test for Anderson’s prospects at the higher weight class.

 

Instead, Griffin was completely outclassed in the cage, looking completely out of his element as he threw out lackadaisical strikes while Anderson effortlessly dodged them as if he was a star in the Matrix. Anderson hurt and dropped Forrest multiple times in the span of their 3+ minute fight, finally knocking him out with a back-stepping jab in one of the most humiliating defeats in MMA history.

 

Forrest got up and ran out of the cage into the back, adding even more embarrassment to the loss. Years later it would come out that Griffin had apparently been knocked out twice in the last two weeks of sparring heading into the fight but refused to back out of the bout, which would explain his demeanor and inability to take a shot against Silva, but the damage had already been done.

 

Forrest would go on to fight four more times, winning three of them but losing by knockout in a rematch with Shogun Rua. Although he was slated to fight again after his second victory over Tito Ortiz which closed out their trilogy, injuries delayed his return and ultimately Forrest decided to retire in 2013.

 

Griffin would then take a job for the UFC as VP of Athlete Development, a position he still holds to this day (even after the WME-IMG purchase of the UFC). He still makes appearances regularly thanks to his work at the UFC Performance Institute, the UFC's massive training centre that provides extensive resources and facilities open to all fighters on the roster.

 

Griffin remains a likeable figure in the MMA world and is also a successful author, having released two hilarious and best-selling books in 2009 and 2010 respectively. 

Lyoto Machida

A longtime friend and training partner of Anderson Silva, Machida began his career in 2003 and soon racked up an 8-0 record while competing in smaller promotions in Japan and Brazil, which included a knockout win over future UFC champion Rich Franklin and a victory over a bloated BJ Penn. 

In the UFC, he slowly worked up the ranks with his extremely unusual style - a longtime karate practitioner, Machida employed traditional karate techniques and tactics in MMA to great success, constantly avoiding and keeping opponents at an exaggerrated range with long kicks then countering opponents with devastating intercepting strikes when they were drawn into chasing him. 

He would win his first six UFC fights, including an impressive win over Tito Ortiz and a knockout of Thiago Santos, to earn a shot at the newly crowned Rashad Evans. 

Machida dominated Evans with ease, skewering the overmatched wrestler with sharp combinations before slumping Evans against the fence in the second round, leading Joe Rogan to announce the "Machida Era" had arrived. 

Unfortunately for the 15-0 Machida, PRIDE legend Shogun Rua had already figured out a way to combat Machida's style, chopping away at the karateka's legs as he retreated and landing combinations when he was drawn into an exchange. Despite virtually everyone scoring Machida's first defense for Rua, Machida was awarded the highly controversial decision victory.

An immediate rematch was granted and a much more aggressive Machida showed up to good success early, however his aggression cost him dearly when Shogun clipped him and knocked him out in the opening round to hand Machida his first loss.

A controversial decision loss to Rampage Jackson, Machida would get back on top by landing a spectacular crane kick KO on Randy Couture in Couture's retirement fight. 

Machida earned a crack at Jon Jones at UFC 141 and rocked the young champion early, only to later run into a counter in the second and be brutally choked unconscious in the second round. 

After scoring back-to-back wins including a beautiful KO over Ryan Bader, Machida was outwrestled by Phil Davis and opted to drop down to middleweight. 

After initial success, Machida earned a title shot against Chris Weidman. The back-and-forth war ignited the crowd and saw both men hurt on multiple occasions, with Weidman ultimately taking the close decision victory. 

Machida would later suffer two tough losses before being suspended for two years for taking a supplement that contained a banned substance (despite the fact Machida never tested positive and merely wrote what supplements he was taking on USADA's questionnaire, not knowing it contained an illegal ingredient).

After returning and getting knocked out again in what fans thought signalled the end of his career given his faded chin, Machida turned things around with two wins (including a brutal front kick KO over Vitor Belfort) and moved on to Bellator. 

He has since gone 2-1 with the promotion, with his loss coming in the form of a highly controversial split decision to Gegard Mousasi last year.

Jon Jones

Jon Jones is one of the most physically gifted athletes to ever compete in MMA - a 6’4 light heavyweight with a UFC record 84.5” reach (longer than even 7’0 heavyweight Stefan Struve’s) and elite athleticism and coordination (rare for someone that size) as well as elite cardio, Jones is one of the greatest talents the sport has seen - yet he is also his own worst enemy. 

 

After starting off his MMA career with nine straight victories including three in the UFC (and the first landed spinning back elbow in UFC history), Jones tasted his first defeat by way of disqualification in a highly controversial referee call.

 

Jones was demolishing Matt Hamill from mount with his nasty elbow strikes, but landed several illegal 12-to-6 elbows; the ref stopped the fight due to the illegal strikes and determined Hamill was unable to continue, and due to the stoppage coming from illegal strikes, Jones was disqualified and handed a loss. The 12-6 elbow rule was already a highly loathed rule and the DQ was deemed harsh by most viewers, but rules are rules and Jones had the first (and to date, only) loss on his record.

 

He rebounded with three more quick stoppage finishes before being picked as an injury replacement for the light heavyweight title on short notice. Jones truly announced his presence at the top level by systematically demolishing PRIDE legend and UFC champion Shogun Rua, becoming the youngest UFC champion in history at just 23 years old.

 

Jones went on to defend his belt a light heavyweight record of eight times, with victories over legends and top talents such as Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, and Glover Teixeira. As a late notice replacement, middleweight Vitor Belfort stepped up to face Jon Jones and nearly shocked the world, putting the champion in a tight armbar that Jones himself admitted popped ligaments in his arm, but Jones managed to escape and dominated Vitor from there.

 

Later on, he faced the first man to rival him in terms of size in the division, Swedish standout Alexander Gustafsson; Gustafsson boxed him up early and picked Jones apart with his hands, winning clearly the opening two rounds before he started to slow down and Jones mounted his comeback, winning the last two - the third round was highly debated, with many seeing Gustafsson as the winner, but the judges awarded Jones the victory in the Fight of the Year winning bout. 

 

His last proper defense came against rival Daniel Cormier, which was preceded by a bitter war of words between the two and even a scuffle at a pre-fight press conference that saw both men fined by the athletic commission.

 

Cormier held his own and even picked up a few rounds, but Jones outworked and even outwrestled the Olympian en route to a unanimous decision win. Later it was revealed that Jones had tested positive for cocaine in the weeks prior to the bout, though cocaine was not a prohibited substance by the commission unless taken within 48 hours of the event.

 

His released pre-fight drug test results however showed abnormally low testosterone and T/E ratios, which many experts flagged as a clear indicator that he was doping (though the commissions stated he was not in violation and took no action to investigate).

 

Just a month after the fight, Jones caused a multi-car collision which saw a pregnant woman receive a broken arm. Jones fled the scene but not before witnesses saw him run back to his rental car to grab fistfuls of cash and a bong. He was later arrested for hit and run and was highly suspected of being high at the time, which would explain his running as he had a prior DUI conviction from years earlier (when he crashed his Bentley into a pole with two strippers in his vehicle, neither of whom were his wife who was at home taking care of his children). Jones was subsequently stripped of his title for the incident. 

 

After a year away from the sport, Jones returned in an interim title fight and looked mediocre against a much lower-tier opponent, but one who was also similar in stature to Jones. Jones took the interim title and was set for a massive rematch against one Daniel Cormier, who had won and defended Jones’ lost title in his absence.

 

Just a day before weigh-ins, USADA notified the UFC of a failed pre-fight drug test from Jones for two hormone manipulators, pulling him from his massive fight against Cormier just two days prior to the event. Jones hilariously claimed to have failed the test due to off-brand Cialis that he received from a friend and was suspended for one year, with his interim title being stripped as a result.

 

When he finally returned to take on Daniel Cormier a year later, Cormier started off incredibly well, boxing up Jones despite having over a foot reach disadvantage. In the third round however, Jones caught Cormier with a head kick and finished him with punches, earning back his title emphatically. Jones then delivered a classy speech that seemingly got many fans back on his side and squashed his bitter rivalry with Cormier, who was incredibly distraught after the knockout, the first he had ever experienced in his career. 

 

Yet once again, mere weeks after the fight Jones was flagged by USADA for turinabol, an anabolic steroid. Jones faced a four year suspension given the substance and that it was his second USADA failure - after testing all of his supplements and finding nothing contaminated, Jones defense amounted to little more than “I don’t know how it got there, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to take that” despite his history clearly proving otherwise.

 

His win was overturned to a no-contest and Cormier was given back his rightful title while Jones dealt with his looming suspension. After over a year without a ruling, USADA announced just a 15-month suspension retroactive to the date of his failure; his 4-year suspension was drastically reduced due to Jones actively using the USADA “snitch” clause, which an athlete could use to reduce their sentence by offering conclusive and substantial evidence against other athletes, suppliers, or distributors of PEDs.

 

Given the drastic reduction unlike the few other cases this clause was used in, and without seeing any massive PED busts shortly after, many fans have since questioned USADA’s integrity and whether they were simply paid off by Jones or the UFC. 

After serving his reduced suspension Jones returned in 2018 to face Gustafsson in a rematch of their epic first meeting. The fight was nearly derailed however when Jones once again tested positive for turinobol metabolites - while getting into the specifics would require an entire article, USADA claimed (while using a sample size of one, with no further scientific proof to back their claims) that the adverse finding in such small amounts was a "pulsing" effect as metabolites stored in fat occasionally show up.

 

Effectively, they claimed it was a residiual effect from his initial PED usage and not a new ingestion, and thus wouldn't punish him again  for a prior infraction (despite USADA having a strict policy that required any illegal substance to be completely clear of an athlete's system before they were allowed to return.

After Nevada refused to license Jones for his fight with Gustafsson without having more time to review the facts, the UFC effectively commission shopped and moved their entire event on just a week's notice (around Christmas no less) to California in order for Jones to be able to fight.

Jones would dominate in his rematch and went on to similarly dominate the vastly overmatched Anthony Smith, though he was deducted 2 points in that fight for a blatantly illegal knee (when he was already trouncing his opponent no less and had no reason to cheat). 

His last two fights however showed the world that either Jones has declined, or the rest of the field has caught up. Jones arguably dropped three rounds to Thiago Santos at UFC 239, getting outstruck by the powerful Brazilian despite Santos blowing out his knee (he completely tore his MCL, ACL, PCL, and meniscus) early in the fight. The judges awarded Jones the victory with a split decision.

More recently, Jones faced 12-0 prospect Dominick Reyes. The mobile counter-striker gave Jones everything he could handle, outlanding Jones throughout the first three rounds while landing the harder and more significant shots and thwarting Jones' attempts to take the fight to the ground. Jones' cardio and constant pressure paid dividends in the last two rounds, but on virtually every fighter and media member's scorecard along with most viewers, Reyes had beaten the champion 3-2 to capture UFC gold.

Instead, Texas judges awarded Jones the unanimous decision victory.

With even his dominance now brought to an end even if he still "won" his last two bouts, Jones' reputation is in tatters. Jones has long been (correctly) labelled a dirty fighter given his in-cage antics (extremely blatant and frequent eye pokes/eye raking being the biggest issue), and combined with several drug test failures alongside eerily low testosterone levels in test results revealed to the public, it’s clear to virtually everyone that Jones isn’t and never has been a clean fighter.

 

How much of his success is due to this is virtually impossible to answer, but nevertheless, it’s seen many fans exclude Jones from top pound-for-pound and all-time ranking debates despite pundits proclaiming otherwise.

Daniel Cormier

Though he arguably belongs in the heavyweight section, given Cormier's history with Jones it's hard not to put him here.

 

The well-spoken, humble and hard-working wrestler has suffered huge setbacks in his life, including the loss of his father at just seven years old and the death of his first daughter in a tragic accident, yet he has always managed to come back stronger and has made himself into one of the most respected and beloved figures in the sport.

 

As a lifelong wrestler, Cormier made a name for himself thanks to his incredible dedication and work ethic that saw him become a two-time junior college national freestyle wrestling champion, then an NCAA Division I National runner-up in 2001, losing only to one of the greatest collegiate wrestlers in US history in Cael Sanderson.

 

In 2004 he placed fourth at the Olympic games, and for his second Olympic bid in 2008, he was named captain of the US wrestling team, a major honour; Cormier was expected to medal in the 2008 Olympics, but when cutting weight, Cormier suffered from major kidney failure and was hospitalized, forcing him out of the Olympics and crushing his wrestling dream without even getting to compete as US team captain. 

 

Shortly after his disastrous 2008 Olympics, Cormier chose to follow his longtime friend Cain Velasquez into MMA - Velasquez was already in the UFC as a top-level prospect at heavyweight, and would later become a two-time heavyweight champion. Cormier also debuted at heavyweight despite standing just 5’11, and immediately made a name for himself thanks to his punching power, his rapidly evolving skillset, and his incredible wrestling base.

 

Cormier soon made his way into StrikeForce and was placed in a reserve bout for StrikeForce’s highly anticipated Heavyweight Grand Prix. Cormier easily won the match, and after Alistair Overeem left the tournament to sign with the UFC, Cormier was slotted in to fight Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Despite being a heavy favourite thanks to his recent destruction of Fedor, Bigfoot was mercilessly murdered by his much smaller foe, dropped three times with heavy punches before he was knocked out cold in the first round.

 

Cormier then faced former UFC champion and top heavyweight Josh Barnett, dominating Barnett for the entire 25-minute fight to win StrikeForce’s Heavyweight Grand Prix. After a late replacement bout on StrikeForce’s last ever event before being absorbed by the UFC, Cormier joined his stablemate Velasquez in the UFC ranks. 

 

After two top-10 wins over Frank Mir and Roy Nelson, discussions of a title shot loomed, however a problem remained; the current heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez, was Cormier’s best friend.

 

Rather than continue on at heavyweight where he had amassed a perfect 13-0 record, Cormier made the decision to drop down to light heavyweight and continue his career there. After two destructive wins, Cormier earned a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title opposite Jon Jones, who had made himself a target after confronting Cormier in the past.

 

Although he held his own (and despite being a former heavyweight, was drastically outsized by Jones’ ridiculous frame) Cormier lost the decision and tasted defeat for the first time in his MMA career. Not long after, Jones was stripped of the title and Cormier faced the top contender, feared knockout artist Anthony Johnson for the vacant light heavyweight strap.

 

After getting dropped in mere seconds by the thunderous power of Johnson, Cormier dominated the rest of the fight and submitted Johnson in the third round, capturing Jones’ lost title.

 

After a successful defense against Alexander Gustafsson in a back-and-forth war, Cormier was set to face Jones in a massive rematch at UFC 200, with anticipation reaching a fever pitch following a pre-fight press conference scuffle which saw both men fined by the commission. Jones however was flagged for a failed drug test and removed from the bout, with Cormier taking on Anderson Silva on just two days notice in a non-title fight just to receive his paycheck.

 

Another submission win over Anthony Johnson later, Cormier finally faced Jones in his return; Cormier outstruck Jones and looked impressive early, but a head kick in the third caught him flush and follow-up shots knocked Cormier out for the first time in his career at 38 years old. An emotional and confused DC cried when interviewed in the cage, showing the world just how much the fight meant to him.

 

Just weeks later, Jones was caught once more with a failed drug test, and Cormier’s title was reinstated. He went on to defend it against another top contender before announcing his return to heavyweight in a bid to take Stipe Miocic’s belt. Miocic had defended the belt three times, making him the most successful heavyweight champion in UFC history.

 

Come fight time, Stipe started off strong and landed some solid shots on Cormier, but late in the round, Cormier briefly clinched and on the break, let go a short right hand that dropped Miocic. Follow-up shots knocked the heavyweight champion out cold, and just like that Daniel Cormier was a simultaneous two-weight champion.

 

The knockout was shocking and quick, and solidified speculation that Cormier held true knockout power at his natural heavyweight class, which he was lacking when he struggled to get himself down to the light heavyweight limit.

 

Cormier returned just months later to save a struggling UFC 230 pay-per-view, taking on popular but limited knockout artist and behemoth of a man Derrick Lewis.

 

Cormier defended his title with ridiculous ease and tapped out Lewis in the second round, becoming the first and only fighter in UFC history to successfully defend titles in two different weight classes, and the first concurrent champion to actually fight while he held both titles (McGregor never defended either of his belts and was stripped of both before competing in MMA again). 

His latest bout saw him dominating Stipe Miocic in their highly anticipated rematch, even earning a clear 10-8 round against the former champ in the first - after the opening frame however, Cormier once again got into his odd, handfighting-heavy rhythm and in the fourth round, Miocic mounted a massive comeback to recapture his heavyweight crown.

 

Daniel Cormier is one of the best success stories in UFC history. Combining a genuinely respectable and endearing personality with a relentless work ethic and love for the sport, Cormier exemplifies the respect and dedication that martial arts has long promoted.

 

In addition to fighting, Cormier is also a regular commentator and analyst for the UFC, with his boundless knowledge for the sport and his infectious enthusiasm making him a fan favourite, not to mention his genuinely great ability on the mic. He also somehow serves as a high school wrestling coach despite his busy schedule, and gives his entire salary for the job to his assistant coaches. 

Cormier is expected to face Miocic to complete their trilogy at some point in 2020.

Middleweights (185)

Rich Franklin

If you’ve ever seen the movie Here Comes the Boom (starring huge MMA fan Kevin James) a large part of the main character's background is inspired by Rich Franklin’s true life story.

 

Franklin was a high school math teacher, who after falling in love with MMA and training with a friend of his for years, became a fighter and ended up transitioning to fighting full time. Franklin became the UFC middleweight champion in 2005 and coached on The Ultimate Fighter season two opposite Matt Hughes, though being in different weight classes the coaches didn’t fight at the end of the season (the UFC returned to that format following their season).

 

Franklin defended his belt twice (which included a vicious KO over Nate Quarry) before falling to future legend and pound-for-pound great Anderson Silva. Rich continued on in both the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions (as well as some catchweight fights at 195 pounds right in-between the two weight classes, which many dubbed “Franklin-weight”) and enjoyed great success, becoming a household name and enjoying a long UFC career fighting the best of the best until his eventual retirement. 

 

Although he never regained his lost title, Rich fought some of the biggest names in the sport’s history and even in losses was always very competitive; a shocking KO loss in his last fight saw Franklin step away from the sport and retire before he took too much damage and saw a string of knockout losses, like many of his peers do.

 

Franklin now works as an assistant CEO for ONE FC, a large MMA organization based in Singapore.

Anderson Silva

At one point in time, Anderson Silva was considered the undisputed pound-for-pound king of the MMA world.

 

A Brazilian who spoke little to no English, “The Spider” Anderson Silva came from one of the most famous gyms in Brazil and made a name for himself in PRIDE, being known as a flashy and powerful kickboxer with a solid jiu-jitsu game.

 

Following an insane reverse-elbow KO in a regional promotion, Silva came to the UFC in 2006 after The Ultimate Fighter boom as a highly touted newcomer. He immediately burst into title contention by destroying Chris Leben in his first fight stateside in just 49 seconds, who had a major name thanks to his presence on TUF and his tremendous ability to absorb punishment.

 

Anderson went on to face middleweight champion Rich Franklin and absolutely demolished the popular champion with a brilliant display of Muay Thai striking and clinch work. Anderson went on to defend his belt a record 10 times, finishing all but two of his opponents during his reign and also moving up to fight at 205 three times for "fun" fights and to help bolster events following injuries for the UFC.

 

His pinpoint striking accuracy, impeccable timing, incredible speed and reaction time, and great jiu-jitsu made him one of the most feared fighters on the planet - being a counter-fighter, Anderson would draw out his opponent’s attacks by taunting and toying with his prey until they charged after him, then knocked them dead with his beautiful counters.

 

He was so feared not because he knocked out his opponents, but because he made them look completely outclassed and often just silly by comparison.

 

Even at an advanced age Anderson continued to dominate his opposition, highlighted by an epic rivalry against Chael Sonnen (including one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history as Silva came back from a 4+ round beating to submit Sonnen in round 5), along with brilliant knockouts of Vitor Belfort and Forrest Griffin.

 

Eventually Silva began to slow down as every athlete does, and at 38 he ran into someone who didn’t fall into his traps - Chris Weidman.

 

As Anderson continued to try and draw out an overextension for him to counter on, Weidman remained composed, inspiring Silva to continue to ramp up his taunting; while Anderson was trying to dodge punches matrix-style as he had famously done so many times before, Weidman smartly doubled up on a right hand which forced Silva out of position, then followed with a left hook that caught Silva flush and knocked him out cold.

 

The finish shocked the entire combat sports world and many blamed the loss on Silva's taunting. An immediate rematch showed without a doubt that Anderson had slowed and looked human once again in the opening round, but in the second round as Anderson began to have more success, he suffered a grotesque injury as his shin slammed into Weidman’s knee, who was checking his leg kick.

 

Anderson’s lower leg shattered and virtually wrapped around Weidman’s leg, flopping in the air as he fell in agony. It was a shocking and horrific injury, but Anderson refused to retire and came back just a year later. 

 

To say Anderson’s career post-Weidman took a nose-dive would be an understatement. Occasional flashes of his former brilliance weren’t enough to offset multiple failed drug tests, poor results and long periods of inaction and dull performances. His last outing in 2019 once again saw Silva hurt his leg, this time suffering a knee injury in the opening round.

 

Although still considered one of the greatest in MMA, his legacy has been greatly tarnished from his drug testing failures and his recent performances have made fans more depressed to see him get hurt again rather than excited to see him perform. 

Dan Henderson

Dan Henderson was known as being one of the toughest fighters on the planet with absolute dynamite in his right hand.

An Olympic alternate wrestler for team USA, Henderson began his career all the way back in 1997 and even won UFC 17's middleweight tournament, primarily utilizing his wrestling to take down and control opponents, leading to a nickname of "Decision" Dan Henderson.

He would later go to Japan where he made a name for himself as one of the top fighters in the world at middleweight (205 pounds in Japan). 

He would run his record up to an impressive 16-4 with his only losses being decisions to Wanderlei Silva and Ricardo Arona, along with submission losses to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and his brother Big Nog up at heavyweight.

Henderson would then drop down to welterweight (which was up to 183 pounds in PRIDE, essentially the UFC's middleweight) where he would win the 2006 PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix and the PRIDE welterweight championship. 

Focusing more and more on his striking and developing a very right-hand oriented style, Henderson would return to middleweight to avenge his decision loss to Wanderlei Silva by knocking out "The Axe Murderer" to conclude a thrilling back-and-forth brawl and capture the PRIDE middleweight title, becoming the only two-division champion in PRIDE history.

Henderson would return to the UFC to unify both of his PRIDE titles with the UFC belts - he lost both unification bouts, with a decision loss to Rampage and a submission loss to Anderson Silva.

After two bounceback wins, Henderson was picked to coach The Ultimate Fighter's ninth installment against Michael Bisping. After enduring incessant trash talk from the Brit, Henderson went on to deliver perhaps the most iconic KO in UFC history at UFC 100. 

Henderson would then leave the UFC for Strikeforce, nearly KOing Jake Shields for the middleweight title at multiple points in the first round before gassing out and losing a decision to the incredibly tough Shields. 

Henderson would go up to light heavyweight to knock out two opponents in a row and capture the StrikeForce light heavyweight title, then proceeded to fight Fedor Emilianenko at heavyweight and knock out his much larger foe in the opening round. 

After StrikeForce was purchased by the UFC, Henderson would return to it once more and defeated Shogun Rua in one of the greatest fights of all time at UFC 139.

Henderson's age would eventually catch up with him however, as he went just 3-7 in his last ten fights. The aging and and small light heavyweight was knocked out for the first time in his career against Vitor Belfort and was ragdolled by Daniel Cormier before moving back down to middleweight, only to be knocked out by Gegard Mousasi and Vitor Belfort again.

He did still score three emphatic knockouts in the midst of those losses, including in a rematch versus Shogun Rua and a brutal reverse elbow knockout over Hector Lombard, which earned him a controversial title shot opposite old rival Michael Bisping. 

Henderson had one last great performance in him as the aged vet dropped Bisping and nearly finished the champion twice, though he ultimately lost a controversial decision to "The Count". Henderson retired following the fight in 2016 at the age of 45.

Michael Bisping

A brash Brit with a long history in the UFC, Michael Bisping may be the best example of what a stubborn "never-give-up" attitude can accomplish.

The winner of the third season of The Ultimate Fighter, Bisping would work his way up the ranks and run his record up to 17-1 before returning to coach on The Ultimate Fighter season nine opposite MMA legend Dan Henderson. 

In their coaches fight at the monumental UFC 100 event, Bisping was posterized in arguably the most famous knockout in the history of the sport, severely damaging his image in the process thanks to his relentless trash talk before the fight. 

Bisping would get back to work regardless and continued winning more than he lost, though he soon found himself stuck in a gatekeeper position - while he would put together streaks against lower-ranked opponents, he found himself losing to top contenders every time he found himself in title contention, from losses to Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy, and Luke Rockhold. 

Undeterred, Bisping put his head down and continued working his way toward a title shot, eventually earning a crack at Anderson Silva (albeit after Silva had lost the title). The Brit shocked many by outboxing Silva in much of the fight, although Silva virtually knocked him out in the third round with a flying knee but instead of finishing him off, walked away and celebrated as the bell sounded to end the round.

The fight continued and Bisping won the very next round after the devastating shot, earning a hard-fought decision victory on the cards. 

Just three weeks before UFC 199, Chris Weidman pulled out of a rematch with Luke Rockhold and in stepped Bisping, who was filming a movie at the time. A huge underdog given his short preparation and the fact that Rockhold dropped and submitted Bisping just over a year prior, Bisping promised to knock Rockhold out.

And Bisping did just that.

Shocking the entire MMA world, Bisping not only defeated Rockhold, but he knocked him out cold in the opening round, exploiting Rockhold's sloppy boxing to full effect and becoming the UFC champion after a decade in the promotion. 

Even the most ardent anti-Bisping fans couldn't help but be happy for the determined Brit. Bisping followed it up by winning a controversial split-decision over Dan Henderson to avenge his loss at UFC 100 (although Bisping was dropped and nearly knocked out twice in their rematch). 

In his second defense, his cindarella story came crashing to an end as he took on the returning Georges St. Pierre. Although he held his own and even won the second round, Bisping was dropped and later choked unconscious by the Canadian great in the third round.

Returning just weeks later as a late replacement, Bisping was knocked out cold early against Kelvin Gastelum.

The loss further damaged his eye (which had already been damaged in his 2013 bout with Vitor Belfort, causing ongoing eye-problems that resulted in him essentially being near-blind in one eye) and led to Bisping having to remove one of his eyes.

Bisping was thus forced to retire as a result, but continues to serve as an excellent analyst and colour commentator for the UFC. He also hosts a popular podcast and has a best-selling book detailing his career. 

With his colourful personality and his history of toughness and heart, Bisping is now one of the most beloved figures in the sport despite once being hated thanks to his constant trash talking. 

Chris Weidman

An NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, Chris Weidman quickly became one of the hottest prospects in the UFC thanks to his strong grappling base, his surprisingly smart and effective striking, and his size and strength. 

Working his way up the ranks to a sterling 9-0 record, Weidman received a title shot with atthe long-reigning champion Anderson Silva at UFC 162. Although many though his wrestling (which is an area that Silva had always struggled in) would give SIlva trouble and could possibly secure him the win, nobody expected what was to come.

After dominating the first round on the mat, the second saw Anderson take over with heavy leg kicks and his incessant taunting, which seemed to have slowed Weidman's assault. Rather than be lured into a counter, Weidman minded his P's and Q's and instead let Silva ramp up his taunts, to the point where Silva had his hands down and was dodging punches like he was in the matrix.

On one such exchange, Weidman smartly doubled up a right hand that forced Silva to extend too far backward to avoid the follow-up left hand which landed flush on Silva's chin, knocking him dead

The entire sporting world was in shock, Anderson's legendary run dismantled in a single moment, the icon knocked dead while seemingly goofing around in the cage. 

An immediate rematch was ordered and six months later, it played out largely the same. Weidman dominated the first, even knocking down Silva with a punch in the clinch. In the second round, Silva once again looked to take over and landed several hard leg kicks (though he wasn't taunting this time).

Then disaster struck. Weidman checked a hard leg kick, and seemingly out of spite, Anderson immediately threw another one, which was also checked. Anderson's lower shin smashed against Weidman's knee and snapped like a twig, grotesquely dangling in the air as Silva fell to the canvas, writhing in pain.

The shocking injury had many writing off Weidman's victory yet again, despite his dominance up until that point. Weidman silenced those critics by defeating Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort in his second and third defenses.

After that however, Weidman faced former StrikeForce champion Luke Rockhold. 

The back-and-forth brawl was fought at a breakneck pace, with Weidman seemingly blowing out much of his gas tank early and starting to take increased damage. On the mat, Rockhold dominated, smashing Weidman with vicious ground and pound; although it arguably should have been stopped much sooner, Weidman lost his title via a brutal TKO in the fourth round. 

The years since have not been kind to the former champion. Weidman went on to be brutally knocked out by Yoel Romero, then finished by Gegard Mousasi. After picking up a win against the much smaller Kelvin Gastelum, Weidman was well on his way to a decision victory in a scrap against Jacare Souza, only to be knocked out late in the third. 

In his latest bout, Weidman moved up to 205 pounds and was knocked out in less than two minutes against Dominick Reyes. He has lost five of his last six bouts (all five by knockout) but is still expected to return to middleweight in 2020.

Luke Rockhold

A star born in StrikeForce, Rockhold made a name for himself as an exceptional kicker with good all-around striking and a vastly underrated grappling game with stellar ground and pound and submissions.

He captured the StrikeForce middleweight title in 2011 and defended it twice before coming to the UFC, where he was knocked out in brutal fashion by Vitor Belfort.

Rockhold would rebound with four straight finishes that earned him a title shot against Chris Weidman - in a gruelling war, Rockhold ultimately dominated Weidman and stopped him in the fourth round to claim the UFC middleweight title. 

In his first defense, heavy underdog (who he had submitted just over a year prior) Michael Bisping proceeded to knock Rockhold out in the very first round. 

The years since have not been kind to Rockhold - after an unimpressive win over lower-ranked David Branch, Rockhold was knocked dead by Yoel Romero. He then decided to move up to light heavyweight, where he was subsequently knocked dead by Jan Blachowicz.

Although he hasn't officially retired, Rockhold has stated he is likely done competing in MMA, though he has since competed in grappling bouts.

Yoel Romero

Yoel Romero may be one of the scariest fighters to ever compete that hasn't won a title.

The Cuban Olympic silver medalist in wrestling is one of the most talented wrestlers to ever enter MMA, yet chooses to almost exclusively strike with his opponents. His ridiculous athleticism and explosiveness has led him to knock many of his opponents dead, often in the later rounds despite his often criticized gas tank.

Romero would win his first eight fights in the UFC (six by knockout, including a vicious flying knee on Chris Weidman) before earning a shot at the title, losing a close decision to Robert Whittaker in a back-and-forth war.

After knocking out Luke Rockhold brutally, Romero would earn a rematch that many fans and viewers scored for Romero given his arguable 10-8 rounds against the champion where he nearly finished Whittaker on multiple occasions, but ultimately Romero was handed another decision loss.

His most recent outing was a ridiculously explosive affair with Paulo Costa, where the two muscle-bound specimens knocked each other down and brutalized each other for three entire rounds; though most scored the fight for Romero, once again Romero was handed a decision loss. 

Despite coming off of two "losses", thanks to an injury to Costa Romero will face Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title in March.

Robert Whittaker 

The first UFC champion from New Zealand (he now lives in Australia), Whittaker won a special season of The Ultimate Fighter which pitted Australian fighters against those from the UK at welterweight.

His middling success at welterweight (he went 3-2 in the UFC at welterweight) had many skeptical of his chances when he moved up to middleweight in 2014, especially given that he wasn't very big even for the smaller weight class.

Whittaker quickly proved those doubters wrong as he tore through the division, winning six straight bouts including knockout wins over Brad Tavares, Derek Brunson and Jacare Souza.

He went on to face Yoel Romero for the interim title and after a back-and-forth war, Whittaker took home a hard-fought decision and was later promoted to the undisputed champion when Georges St. Pierre announced his vacating of the title due to health issues.

After injuries kept him out of competition, Whittaker returned to defeat Romero once again by decision. Though many disagreed with who was declared victor, the heart and tenacity displayed by Whittaker in his gritty defense of the title made it hard for many to cry foul.

After multiple injuries and medical issues (including needing emergency surgery the day of a fight due to a hernia), Whittaker returned in 2019 against Israel Adesanya in Melbourne, where he was knocked out in the second round.

He's expected to return to action at some point in 2020.

Israel Adesanya

The latest star in the UFC, Israel Adesanya sports an incredible 18-0 record with seven of those victories coming in the UFC.

After a very successful career in kickboxing where he went 75-5, Adesanya transitioned to MMA and used his odd style of kickboxing to bewilder and dominate his opposition, utilizing solid takedown defense to force his foes to stand and trade with him. 

Adesanya rapidly rose through the ranks of the UFC, winning four straight bouts in 2018 before defeating Anderson Silva to earn an interim title shot earlier in 2019 while Whittaker was out due to medical issues. 

Adesanya defeated Kelvin Gastelum in 2019's Fight of the Year, showing off incredible heart and determination to go alongside his incredible striking skill. With the scorecards being an even 2-2 heading into the fifth, Adesanya dominated Gastelum in the final round to capture UFC gold.

In his unification bout with Robert Whittaker, Adesanya dominated the champion with his pinpoint counter strikes, knocking him out in the second round

Thanks to his colourful personality and undeniable talent (he's also just 30 years old), Adesanya has quickly become a massive star and is expected to defend his title in March against Yoel Romero.

Welterweights (170)

Matt Hughes 

 

Matt Hughes was a popular draw that saw prominence in the early Zuffa era and as the UFC started to gain mass exposure. The Iowa native's overly religious and often smug attitude rubbed many the wrong way as fans saw more of him, but back in his prime, his stellar record, strong wrestling background and great grappling skills made him a big star.

 

Hughes captured the welterweight title and defended it a then-record five times; he later recaptured his belt and defended it an additional two times after the UFC’s boom in popularity post-The Ultimate Fighter. Matt Hughes served as a head coach in the show’s second season as well.

 

Matt enjoyed a long career and competed at the top of the division for a decade, compiling a long list of wins and epic rivalries, including two famous victories over Frank Trigg, massive trilogies with BJ Penn and Georges St. Pierre (he went 1-2 against both), demolitions of Royce and Renzo Gracie, and one of the UFC’s most famous slam knockouts in his slam KO over Carlos Newton. 

 

As most fighters do, Hughes slowed down at the end of his career and retired after two knockout losses in a row. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame and worked at a desk for the UFC until new owners WME took over in 2016.

 

In June of 2017, his truck was struck by a train (he has no recollection of why or what he was doing on the train tracks) and suffered severe brain damage; Hughes had to re-learn how to perform basic movements, had to learn how to walk and talk again, and is still recovering from the injury. He now has mobility and can walk (with a severe limp) as well as speak, though talking is now difficult for him (though he is completely coherent).

 

He walked out to his famous “Country Boy Can Survive” theme song as a guest of honour at a UFC Fight Night in St. Louis in January 2018 to a roaring and emotional ovation from the crowd. In the time since however legal issues with his family and accusations of violence and aggression point to Hughes' recovery not going as well as once thought.

Georges St. Pierre

The Canadian hero, Georges “Rush” St. Pierre is one of the most respectful, respectable and genuine athletes you could ever find and has arguably accomplished more than anyone in the sport’s history.

 

Coming from a kyukushin karate background, Georges never wrestled as a kid yet took to it extremely well, training with the Canadian Olympic wrestling team in Montreal and going on to be regarded as one of the best wrestlers in MMA history despite the fact he never competed in the sport and only began training as an adult.

 

GSP even flirted with the idea of competing in the Olympics for the Canadian wrestling team with coaches and teammates stating he could definitely secure a spot, though he chose to stick with MMA.

 

Sporting superb athleticism and cardio along with a truly elite skill set in every area of the sport, GSP was a top prospect in the early- to mid-2000’s, his lone defeat being a mental lapse against a hero of his Matt Hughes; in GSP's first title fight, Georges tapped to an armbar with just one-second left in the round that he surely could have survived.

 

GSP would tear through the division to earn himself a rematch, ultimately knocking out Hughes and avenging his loss in emphatic fashion.

 

His first defense saw him take on Matt Serra, a massive underdog who had won a special season of The Ultimate Fighter featuring former UFC talent with the incentive being the winners received a trip back into the UFC alongside a title shot. GSP was a massive favourite and let that get to his head, taking Serra lightly and instead getting blasted by the New York native in the biggest upset in MMA history, getting TKO’d in the opening minutes. 

 

Georges would never make that mistake again and earn a rematch after beating two top contenders (including Hughes again to complete their trilogy) and savagely beat down Serra in their rematch in Montreal.

 

The Serra loss was the last loss in his career, as he proceeded to defend his belt an astonishing 9 times in one of the most competitive divisions in the sport, at one point going over 5 years without losing a single round on any judges scorecards. His incredible run included names such as Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, and BJ Penn, who he had defeated emphatically in the UFC's first true champion-versus-champion superfight.

 

After years of dominance but very few finishes (though he was fighting top shelf opponents) and often fighting smart but safe and methodically, mounting pressure from his long reign combined with his OCD (which he revealed only after his last fight), Georges decided to take time away from the sport - it was seemingly clear that he was starting to fade in his last two bouts; his explosive ability seemed to be majorly impacted by knee surgery he had underwent in 2011, and he appeared much more stressed out and laboured in his fighting than ever before. 

 

His last welterweight fight came against Johny Hendricks, who is widely suspected to have been using PEDs at the time. GSP had called for increased drug testing which Hendricks agreed to, then ultimately withdrew from before being tested. The bout itself was highly controversial as many thinking Hendricks had won but the judges gave it to St. Pierre, though looking back round by round it was extremely close.

 

A frustrated Georges continued training but stayed out of the spotlight in an unconfirmed retirement, only to announce a comeback four years after his last bout - this time up 15 pounds at middleweight to challenge Michael Bisping for the 185 pound title.

 

Georges looked incredible in his comeback fight, his normally technical but stiff striking replaced with a much more fluid, powerful boxing attack and a more aggressive style. After a seeming adrenaline dump and ring rust in the second round, Georges flashed a powerful left hook in the third that dropped the notoriously gritty Bisping, then swarmed on him with vicious elbows and locked in a tight rear naked choke to submit the champ and become a champion in his second weight class. Georges silenced critics in one fell swoop, proving that he had power, could still put on an aggressive and exciting fight and had true killer instinct to boot. 

 

After medical issues reportedly caused from trying to bulk up for the larger weight class (despite looking larger, he weighed only a few pounds more than when he had previously competed at welterweight), St. Pierre relinquished his middleweight title and flirted with moving down a weight class and competing in the lightweight division, though those plans ultimately never came to fruition and St. Pierre officially retired in 2019.

 

Georges is arguably the most accomplished fighter in MMA history and enjoyed incredible longevity at the highest levels. He was inarguably one of the most well-rounded and smartest combatants in combat sports history.

Robbie Lawler

A fighter since 2001, Robbie Lawler exploded onto the scene and was touted as the next big thing after the young Miletich-trained brawler picked up three straight knockout wins. 

A brawl against Nick Diaz however saw the hype train derailed as the heavy-handed slugger was knocked out in shocking fashion - a subsequent loss saw Lawler return to the regional circuit, eventually finding his way to EliteXC and StrikeForce. 

From there Lawler became known for being a hit-or-miss fighter - he would deliver brutal knockouts from time to time, but would just as often seem to not show up and never let his hands (or kicks) go.

While it often made for frustrating viewing for his fans, he also delivered incredibly memorable knockouts, such as his come-from-behind starching of Melvin Manhoef, his savage beatdown of Frank Trigg, and his 22-second flying knee over Joey Villasenor

After StrikeForce was absorbed by the UFC in 2013, the longtime middleweight returned to his natural weight class of welterweight and became an entirely different animal.

Brutal knockouts of Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker preceeded an exhilarating war with Rory MacDonald that earned Lawler a shot at the title vacated by Georges St. Pierre.

In a thrilling battle, Lawler went toe-to-toe with Johny Hendricks and did enough to capture the welterweight title in many fans' eyes, though ultimately the decision would go to Hendricks. Rather than demand a rematch, Lawler went back to work and dominated Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown while Hendricks sat out with injuries.

In their rematch, Lawler edged out Hendricks to capture the UFC welterweight title some twelve years after his initial UFC debut and a decade after he had originally left the promotion. 

Lawler proceeded to engage in one of the greatest fights in UFC history, a rematch against Rory MacDonald. Though MacDonald was ahead on the scorecards going into the fifth round, the damage that Rory had accumulated in the fight eventually boiled over as Lawler landed another straight left that crushed his already broken nose.

Lawler finished MacDonald in the fifth and final round and even after multiple surgeries, MacDonald would have recurring nose problems for the rest of his career. 

Lawler defended his title for the second and last time in a thrilling war with Carlos Condit before being knocked out by the heavy handed Tyron Woodley.

Lawler has remained near the top of the division in his time since but between injuries and unfortunate luck, he's gone just 1-3 in his last four outings. Nevertheless, Lawler will go down as one of the most exciting fighters to ever step foot in a cage and one of the premier knockout artists in the sport.

Lightweights (155)

BJ Penn

BJ Penn was one of the early UFC’s stars and was arguably the first and only pay-per-view draw south of 170 pounds for many years in MMA.

 

Starting out in Brazilian jiu-jitsu after graduating high school, BJ Penn quickly picked up the grappling sport, becoming the first non-Brazilian to win the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships at the black belt level in 2000, just three years after he first started training in the sport - he is still regarded as having earned a legitimate BJJ black belt faster than anyone else in the martial arts’ history.

 

This earned him the nickname “The Prodigy”, but when he transitioned to MMA just a year later, his boxing and power is what made him one of the sport’s first true and properly well-rounded threats.

 

Penn would be considered one of the best lightweights in the world when after a series of odd circumstances and low-drawing fights the UFC’s lightweight division was scrapped - after a brief stint outside the UFC where he solidified his claim as the best 155er on the planet, he returned to the biggest MMA organization up at welterweight to face the long-reigning champion at 170, Matt Hughes.

 

Penn shocked the world and captured the welterweight title with ease, then after a contract dispute, fought in other promotions at increasing weight classes. Penn was known for handling his career in his own way, and personified the never back down, accept all comers personality, fighting against top opponents even several weight classes above him at times, which would prove to hurt his career in the long run.

 

When he returned to the UFC at welterweight, his small size did him no favours as his opponents closed the skill gap. 

 

Once the lightweight division was re-established in the UFC, Penn returned to his old stomping grounds and ran through the division to capture and defend his long overdue lightweight championship, making him just the second multi-division UFC champion in history.

 

He attempted to reclaim the welterweight title by facing GSP in the UFC's first true champion vs. champion superfight, but fell short and ended up being dominated by his larger rival.

Training under the Mahrinovitch brothers, Penn finally took his strength and conditioning seriously and looked sublime in his dominant lightweight defenses against Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez, stopping both in the championship rounds despite Penn's earlier tendencies to fatigue later in fights. The dominant run however would soon end as he stopped training with the Mahrinovitches and instead returned to his more comfortable surroundings.

This complacency cost him dearly as he dropped back-to-back fights against Frankie Edgar; a short-lived return saw him knock out longtime rival Matt Hughes in just 21 seconds, but a draw in his next fight kicked off what would become a UFC record seven straight losses.

 

He was always known as a true fighter inside the cage that unfortunately didn’t always train hard or make the smartest career decisions outside of it, and after he clearly no longer had the fight left in him, Penn continued to compete anyway and suffered a long string of increasingly depressing losses as a result. 

 

Penn is a clear example of a fighter not knowing when the sport has passed them by, but the proud Hawaiian is one of the biggest icons the young sport has seen, and is to this day one of the greatest talents in MMA history. His epic trilogy with Hughes, his dominant lightweight title run and multiple all-time great finishes in the sport cemented Penn as a true legend of MMA and one of the biggest stars of his era.

Unfortunately, if the years of losses weren't enough, Penn has publically struggled with substance abuse and is facing mounting accusations of violence. An altercation outside of a club that saw an intoxicated Penn knocked out by a random person was a new low for Penn, who was finally cut by the UFC as a result. More recently he was involved in a single-vehicle accident and is being investigated for DWI, further tarnishing his once-sterling reputation.

Frankie Edgar

An NCAA Division I wrestler with slick boxing and great footwork, Frankie Edgar is a beloved fixture of the sport known for being one of the toughest fighters around with a heart far exceeding his stature. 

Edgar's patented brand of wrestle-boxing led him to an impressive 12-1 start in his career, with his lone loss being a close decision to Gray Maynard. The New Jersey native would travel to Abu Dhabi to face legend BJ Penn at UFC 112; despite being a heavy underdog, Edgar held his own and gave a great account of himself in the fight.

Although most had scored it for Penn, Edgar was shockingly awarded the victory, much to the dismay of Penn. An immediate rematch was granted, and this time, it was completely different - Edgar dominated Penn, taking him down repeatedly and outlanding him on the feet like no one had ever seen before in a Penn fight.

With the controversy of UFC 112 behind him, Edgar looked to avenge the one loss on his ledger against Gray Maynard. It didn't exactly start well for Edgar, who was knocked down multiple times and nearly murdered in the opening round, yet somehow Edgar managed to survive the horrific onslaught in what could arguably be scored as a 10-7 round.

To everyone's surprise, Edgar would not only survive, but began to take over as the fight wore on, outwrestling and outhitting his larger opposition after Maynard had tired from smashing Edgar early.

After five epic rounds, a draw was declared, forcing another immediate rematch. 

The rematch started off eerily similar (though not quite as dominant as the first match, Edgar was once again hurt repeatedly in the opening frame) before Edgar once again took over, this time even more emphatically. 

In the fourth round, Edgar poured it on a wilting Maynard and settled their rivalry with a career-changing knockout. Maynard would never reach anywhere near his prior level of success and his chin took a noticable decline immediately afterward. 

Edgar would lose his title in the same way he gained it, via a controversial decision loss to Benson Henderson, setting up another immediate rematch. Henderson would also win the rematch; ironically, it's arguable that Edgar won the second fight but Henderson should've lost their rematch, the exact opposite of Edgar's fights with Penn.

Being a small lightweight, Edgar opted to drop down to featherweight to challenge for Jose Aldo's title; unfortunately, Aldo is tailor-made to defeat wrestlers and Aldo put a halt to Edgar's title hopes. 

Edgar would remain in his new weight class and put together an impressive five-fight winning streak, including a shocking knockout win over Chad Mendes and a third victory over (the ghost of) BJ Penn. 

A rematch with Aldo for the interim title saw Aldo defeat Edgar even more dominantly by decision, but Edgar was never one to give up. He would go 3-1 and eventually received his title shot, though his loss came by way of a brutal knockout in a late notice replacement bout. 

Edgar lost his title bid against Max Holloway and in December 2019 took on Chan Sung Jung on short notice, getting knocked out for the second time in his career. 

Although his age and the wars he's been through are clearly catching up with him, Edgar is planning to return in 2020 at bantamweight to make a run in a third weight class. 

Anthony Pettis

A flashy and technical kickboxer with a slick Brazilian jiu-jitsu game on the mat, Anthony Pettis was seen as the sport's next superstar for quite some time.

Working his way up the ladder in the WEC, Anthony Pettis would capture lightweight gold by defeating Benson Henderson via decision to become the last lightweight champion in UFC history. In a thrilling fight tied 2-2, Pettis landed his spectacular "Showtime kick" (which somehow Henderson survived) to seal the deal and win the round and the fight, making him a viral sensation at the same time. 

Rather than waiting for the winner of the Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar rematch to unify the titles when the WEC was absorbed, Pettis instead chose to keep busy, costing him dearly as longtime vet Clay Guida laid on top of Pettis for three rounds to steal a victory against the rising star.

Pettis would rebound with three straight wins including devastating knockouts of Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone to earn his title shot once more, ironically against old rival Benson Henderson. 

Five rounds wouldn't be needed as Pettis locked up a first round armbar submission to capture the UFC lightweight title. He followed it up by rocking and submiting former StrikeForce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, which also secured him a spot on the cover of the famed Wheaties cereal box.

Unfortunately Pettis' success would largely stop there. In his second defense, Rafael Dos Anjos battered Pettis from pillar to post and kicked off a three-fight skid for Pettis, who then tried his hand down at featherweight.

After a win in his featherweight debut, Pettis missed weight for an interim title shot and was subsequently dominated by Max Holloway, 

Pettis would return to lightweight and even went up to welterweight; while he has been fighting top-opposition and has a few impressive wins during the span (including a shocking knockout over top welterweight Stephen Wonderboy Thompson), he has gone just 4-8 in his last twelve bouts and has shown that he wilts under pressure.

Tony Ferguson

A winner of The Ultimate Fighter season 13 at welterweight, Ferguson would subsequently drop back down to his natural lightweight and continue his winning ways at 155. 

After a decision loss to Michael Johnson in 2012, Ferguson went on an absolute tear, demolishing the biggest names in the division in a ridiculous 12-fight winning streak. 

His impressive boxing and wrestling, ridiculous toughness and heart, superb conditioning, and manic ground game has made him a nightmare for his opponents and a treat for fans. His streak has resulted in four performance bonuses and five fight of the night bonuses, and includes victories over Edson Barboza, Rafael Dos Anjos, Kevin Lee, Anthony Pettis, and Donald Cerrone. 

His victory over Kevin Lee earned him an interim lightweight title, however in his highly anticipated showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov, Ferguson tripped over a cable while doing an interview and blew out his ACL. The UFC controversially stripped Ferguson of his title; Khabib and Ferguson have been booked to face off four times, with each either being injured or sick (Khabib was hospitalized while cutting weight in one incident) twice.

The two are scheduled to finally settle who the true lightweight champion is in April 2020.

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib Nurmagomedov is possibly the most dominant fighter in MMA history and he's done it in arguably the most stacked division of the sport. 

An unheard of (in MMA) 28-0, Khabib has won all twelve of his UFC bouts to date, dominating the likes of Rafael Dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, Conor McGregor, and Dustin Poirier.

The Dagestani grappler is as strong as an ox and invariably gets his opponents down to the canvas, where his high-octane ground and pound and superb positioning smothers his opponents, wearing on them until they either give up or lose a lopsided decision. 

After an incident with Conor McGregor's Russian teammate, hype for a Khabib-Conor fight reached a fever pitch after McGregor threw a dolly through the window of a bus that Khabib was on during his preparation for a fight at UFC 223, resulting in multiple lawsuits and a misdemeanor charge against McGregor. 

Their fight at UFC 229 would smash the 2 million PPV buy barrier for the UFC and the world tuned in to see Khabib maul McGregor, smashing him in the second round (even dropping the brash Irishman on the feet) before submitting him in the fourth.

McGregor then proceeded to charge into the crowd to attack Conor's outspoken BJJ coach, inciting a melee cageside (and in the cage) that became a major debacle for the UFC.

In the time since Khabib mauled interim champion Dustin Poirier and is now lined up to finally meet Tony Ferguson in April.

Featherweights (145)

Jose Aldo

Jose Aldo may not be the most mainstream figure or the most recognized athlete on this list, but he may be the greatest fighter to ever compete in the sport in terms of pure skill in all areas of the game.

 

A solid featherweight (145 pounds) prospect with a high-level black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Jose Aldo came over to the WEC in 2008, the premier organization for fighters under 155 pounds. Aldo ran right through the WEC’s top featherweights, instilling fear in his fellow fighters with his brilliant jiu-jitsu game, impeccable takedown defense, wickedly powerful leg kicks, and sharp boxing, knocking out 6 straight opponents to capture the title against the highly respected Mike Brown.

 

His next bout, against Urijah Faber on the WEC’s only PPV card, proved wildly successful and the young Brazilian showed his dominance with a lopsided trouncing of the WEC legend, absolutely demolishing the tough former champ's legs. The success of their fight ultimately led the UFC to absorb the WEC and its lighter weight classes come 2011.

 

After one final and emphatic WEC title defense, Aldo was promoted to UFC champion and competed on one of the biggest UFC cards ever for UFC’s first trip to Toronto, competing in front of 55,000 fans as the co-main event under Georges St. Pierre.

 

Aldo once again dominated a tough competitor and began his transition to a more methodical, patient champion rather than the wild and hyper-aggressive killer he was previously known as. He became focused almost entirely on his boxing (which is superb), using a brilliant jab and powerful combinations along with an uppercut and a counter knee on opponents who looked to shoot on his hips, relying on his unbelievable takedown defense to keep his fights standing.

 

He slowly got away from his kicking game however, which was a shame given how deadly his leg kicks were, but was also partly due to numerous injuries he sustained through his career.

 

Jose would go on to defend his UFC title six more times, bringing his total defenses to nine between the WEC/UFC, and kept his undefeated streak alive for nearly a decade.

 

He famously knocked out perennial top contender Chad Mendes in Brazil then delivered a fight for the ages with another victory in their rematch, and also defeated former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar in his move down to try and capture a second title.

 

Always respectful and classy, Aldo was fired up when a young Irishman came into the picture and repeatedly insulted the long-reigning champ. After Conor was granted a title shot, the UFC put them on a world tour to promote their highly anticipated showdown, with Conor repeatedly crossing the line and angering the humble Brazilian.

 

Just weeks before their fight, Aldo suffered a broken rib and was forced out of the bout, leading to more insults being hurled as Conor faced Chad Mendes on very short notice and captured an interim title.

 

Eventually the two fought, and a visibly angry Aldo charged chin-first right at McGregor, exactly the thing he’d want to avoid against a strong counter puncher - McGregor landed his famous straight left and knocked Aldo out cold in just 13 seconds, shattering Aldo’s incredible unbeaten streak and decade of dominance. It was a rare and costly mistake from Aldo, one no doubt brought on by the antics of Conor over the year+ of build-up to their fight. 

 

After Conor moved up to lightweight an interim title was created which Aldo won, putting on an incredible performance against Frankie Edgar in their second meeting and calling for a rematch with Conor, who had previously said he would grant one in a classy speech after their first fight.

 

Conor however stayed at lightweight and was stripped of his featherweight title, promoting Aldo to the undisputed champion once more. Max Holloway, who was riding an incredible 10-fight win streak in the UFC, was his next challenger. 

 

Although Aldo started strong early, Holloway weathered the storm and began to overwhelm Aldo with his relentless pace and pressure, eventually TKOing Aldo in the third round. Just 6 months later Aldo stepped in as an injury replacement and had his immediate rematch with Holloway, which was essentially the first fight on repeat; Aldo was once again stopped in the third after valiantly trying to survive an onslaught, showing off incredible head movement and heart but simply being outgunned by his younger challenger.

 

Aldo returned in his first non-title fight in nearly 9 years to face Jeremy Stephens in July 2018. Aldo was clipped early but brought back his old fire and chose to brawl with the heavy-hitting brawler, forcing him to retreat as he landed sharp punches. A rippling left hook to the liver dropped Stephens in agony and Aldo was back in the win column - it was clear that Aldo had slowed down from his title reign, a decade of wear and tear taking its toll on his body, but he was still without doubt one of the top few featherweights on the planet.

Aldo went on to demolish another top contender in Renato Moicano before putting on a thoroughly underwhelming and lackadaisical effort against future champion Alexander Volkanovski.

After years of struggling to make 145, Aldo surprised many by dropping down (successfully) to bantamweight and took on top contender Marlon Moraes - despite his slower reaction times, Aldo managed to win the fight on most viewers and fighter's scorecards, though Moraes was ultimately awarded the judges decision. 

Conor McGregor

Inarguably the biggest star the sport of MMA has ever seen, Conor McGregor experienced a rapid rise to superstardom during his rise through the UFC's ranks. 

 

Starting his UFC career as a two-weight champion in a European promotion while living off government welfare in Ireland, McGregor immediately made his presence known with a blistering knockout in his UFC debut, earning him a Knockout of the Night bonus and gaining a legion of fans thanks to his charisma and sense of humour combined with his striking prowess.

 

After suffering an injury in his next bout en route to a decision win, McGregor made his run for the UFC title with 3 straight finishes, calling out longtime champion Jose Aldo every step of the way. Conor’s odd stance, huge frame for the weight class, punching power, athleticism, and beautiful southpaw left straight made him a legitimate threat to anyone in the division and a true knockout artist.

 

After a world tour promoting the fight, Aldo suffered from a broken rib and McGregor instead faced top contender Chad Mendes for an interim title, coming back after a hard first round to finish Mendes in the second and legitimize himself as a deserving challenger rather than simply a marketable name.

 

When McGregor finally met Aldo in the cage, over a year of build-up and frustration from McGregor’s antics spelled doom for Aldo as he angrily charged forward at his rival, leaving his chin open for the taking and Conor ended his near-decade of dominance with a single left hand just 13 seconds into their bout.

 

The event was the second biggest PPV in UFC history at the time and turned McGregor into a bonafide superstar, with virtually the entire sporting world talking about the brash Irishman. R

Rather than defend his new title, McGregor moved up to lightweight, where after a late injury delayed his hopes for holding a second title, he faced Nate Diaz instead on short notice, a longtime lightweight journeyman. Despite McGregor coming up from featherweight and Diaz regularly being a lightweight, the late notice was too short for Diaz to make the 155 pound limit so instead McGregor offered to make it a welterweight (170) bout instead in order to avoid cutting weight altogether.

 

After a dominant opening round, McGregor faded badly and Diaz took over, taunting and slapping (literally) McGregor before rocking him with a 1-2 and summarily sinking in a rear-naked choke to end McGregor’s 15-fight win streak.

 

McGregor opted for an immediate rematch (again at welterweight to keep the conditions the same as the first meeting) and looked much improved, winning a close decision in a great 5-round war that saw both men nearly finished at multiple points. The fight also set a new UFC PPV buyrate record, surpassing their first fight and even UFC 100.

 

Conor then received his lightweight title shot against new champion Eddie Alvarez, who, like Aldo, seemed defeated before the fight started, throwing out any sensible gameplan and repeatedly throwing himself into McGregor’s strengths, leading to a dominant Conor knockout to become the first concurrent two-weight class UFC champion.

 

McGregor then opted to use his massive drawing power to try his hand in boxing and face the retired Floyd Mayweather, the undisputed king of PPV who was an all-time great and had finished his storied boxing career undefeated at 49-0.

 

Given McGregor’s main tool was his boxing and he had a long history of calling out Floyd, the fight made financial sense and was one of the biggest crossover events in sports history, even if it made little sense competitively.

 

The fight drew well over 4 million PPV buys at $100 US a pop and McGregor made a solid accounting of himself with the boxing great, starting off well and looking good for a man with no prior pro boxing experience, though he was ultimately outclassed and TKO’d in the 10th round.

 

After a long hiatus  returned to MMA to face the lightweight champion who took his vacated title, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

 

After Khabib had confronted Conor’s close teammate the week that Khabib was to fight for Conor’s vacated title at UFC 223, an enraged McGregor flew out to the arena and threw a dolly through a bus window that had Khabib and his team along with various other fighters from that weekend’s UFC event on it, injuring several fighters in the process.

 

McGregor pled guilty to a misdemeanor and would later settle several lawsuits over the incident, but the massive publicity and hype for the Conor-Khabib rivalry made the bout a no-brainer and the UFC even shamelessly used footage of the incident in promos for the fight.

 

Khabib thoroughly dominated McGregor when the two did finally step into the cage, taking him down seemingly at will and smothering him with his high-pressure top-game, even dropping him with a massive right hand in the second round while on the feet.

 

In the fourth, Khabib locked on to a neck crank and McGregor once again offered a quick tap when the going got rough. After the fight, Khabib hopped out of the cage to go after one of Conor’s outspoken teammates, leading to a massive scuffle in and out of the cage with multiple arrests made in the aftermath, though to his credit Conor refused to press charges on Khabib’s teammates who went after him in the cage.

 

Despite much negative press in the lead-up and following the event, the Conor-Khabib fight shattered UFC PPV records and cracked the 2-million buyrate threshold for the first time in UFC history. 

His most recent outing saw McGregor return to the cage early in 2020 with a 40-second knockout over Donald Cerrone (who was on a two-fight skid) at welterweight.

 

Although Conor’s in-cage accomplishments are often overstated by fans thanks to his fame and notoriety, McGregor is no doubt an elite fighter and one of the top fighters in the world at his weight, with a propensity for getting inside his opponent’s head and hyping a fight like no other.

 

He’s easily the highest paid fighter in MMA history (ironically, his by-far biggest bayday was his boxing match, where he took home north of $100 million dollars) and headlined all four of the top UFC pay-per-views in their history, and five of the top six.

 

He’s gained massive sponsorships and even has his own wildly popular brand of alcohol, Proper 12 Irish Whiskey, not to mention a line of suits. 

He's also no stranger to controversy - in addition to the bus incident, McGregor has had multiple run-ins with the law, from punching an older patron at a bar for insulting his whiskey to smashing a fan's phone for taking a picture (both incidents were caught on camera) and is still being investigated for his alleged involvement in a sexual assault case from Ireland.

Max Holloway

Joining the UFC at just 21 years of age, UFC fans have been able to witness Max Holloway's journey from a young Hawaiian prospect still cutting his teeth to a bonafide champion. 

A long and gangly featherweight, Holloway would go 3-3 in his first six UFC bouts, which included a decision loss to Conor McGregor, before going on a record-setting 13-fight winning streak. 

Evolving from a good grappler with decent wrestling and somewhat wild striking style into a supremely voluminous striker with impeccable takedown defense, Holloway's streak saw him defeat the likes of Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens, and Ricardo Lamas before earning a shot at the interim title.

There, Holloway dominated Anthony Pettis to cement his claim as the top contender; in his unification bout, Aldo started strong only to be overwhelmed by Holloway's relentless pace and ridiculous volume, his energy sapped until the ref had no choice but to save him from the beatdown he was enduring. 

After an injury to his challenger, Aldo stepped in for an immediate rematch only for Holloway to defeat him in virtually the exact same way, cementing his status as the top featherweight in the world. 

He would then utterly dominate the undefeated Brian Ortega, landing hundreds of strikes and  breaking UFC records with his breathtaking performance which left Ortega's face a swollen mess and forced a doctor to call the action after four rounds.

An attempt at the interim lightweight belt saw Holloway fall short in a back-and-forth technical war with Dustin Poirier, who won a decision thanks to his more powerful boxing and slicker defense.

Holloway returned to featherweight to defend his title successfully against Holloway before losing a close decision to Alexander Volkanovski, who implemented a great gameplan in attacking Holloway's legs and staying out of exchanges.

The 28 year old looks to earn back his featherweight title in 2020.

Bantamweights (135)

Urijah Faber

Urijah Faber may not have had the championship accolades that others on this list have, but his long and very successful career was nonetheless vital to MMA history and his longevity was second to none.

 

He became the biggest star in the beloved WEC organization and one of the biggest stars in the sport under 155 pounds, becoming a featherweight (145) champion and defending his title 5 times for the promotion after Zuffa purchased the WEC and made it the home for the best fighters in the world in the lighter weight classes.

 

His well-spoken and charismatic personality combined with his elite fighting skills and exciting style led him to be a fan-favourite. His incredible heart and toughness was put on display many times, including when he famously broke both of his hands against Mike Brown early on in a rematch only to continue fighting by using just his kicks, knees and elbows for the entire 5-round affair. 

 

His fight with Jose Aldo for the featherweight title in 2010, on the WEC’s first and only PPV, was a test for the UFC to see if the lighter fighters' success on television would translate into pay-per-view buys, serving as a litmus test as to whether the UFC would absorb the lighter classes into their ranks or continue keeping them separate in the WEC.

 

Faber carried much of the promotional lifting given Aldo’s quiet and reserved (and non-English speaking) persona, and the event was a massive success as a result, greenlighting the UFC-WEC merger at the end of the year. Despite losing a lopsided decision, Urijah gained even more fame for his championship spirit, having his leg butchered by Aldo’s famous leg kicks yet continuing to press forward and do anything he could to fight on.

 

Faber became known for falling short in title fights against the champions he faced in the UFC, competing in the bantamweight division for most of his UFC run and never reclaiming the gold he had earned back in the WEC. Faber however dominated in every non-title fight he had, forcing multiple title shots because he’d knock off any other contenders in the way.

 

In fact, it would be nearly 12 years into his career before he lost a non-title bout, and even then it was a hard-fought decision against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. 

 

Faber would retire with a dominant win in December of 2016 after a wildly successful 13 year career - his final record stood at 34-10, with 27 finishes (mostly submissions, he was an expert at hurting fighters on the feet then locking on a choke on the mat) with only two defeats outside of title fights, both coming late in his career.

 

Urijah competed at the highest level for well over a decade, a remarkable feat especially given it was in the lighter weight classes, where a decline in speed makes a much bigger difference than in the heavier weights and fighters tend to decline more sharply.

After enjoying retirement for over two years, Faber, like virtually all fighters, came back to make another title run at 40 years of age, shocking many by knocking out the much younger Ricky Simon in just 46 seconds in his return bout.

His last fight didn't end so smoothly however, as top contender Petr Yan dominated the aged fighter and knocked him out in the third round of their meeting. Despite his lengthy career, Faber had only been knocked down twice in his entire UFC career to that point, yet suffered three knockdowns against Yan alone.

 

Though it remains to be seen if Faber will come back, his famed Team Alpha Male gym continues to be a hotbed for top fighters in the lower weight classes since its inception, and for quite some time was the only big gym catering to lighter fighters.

 

He also continued to be a successful businessman throughout his career, using his name to help up and coming fighters as well as secure a future for himself post-retirement. 

Dominick Cruz

Best known in his formative years as being Urijah Faber’s bitter rival, Dominick Cruz carved out his own place in MMA history as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the sport.

 

Above all else, the “Dominator” is known for his intelligence, both in the cage and outside of it. Cruz took active footwork to a whole new level in MMA; although footwork has always been an important but very overlooked aspect of MMA, even casual fans can see how footwork can be a major difference when Dominick Cruz enters the cage.

 

Cruz's movement doesn't use proper footwork in a traditional sense however; his style is not taught in textbooks and many things he does would not be considered “proper” form by a traditional striking coach, but that makes it no less effective and when combined with his stellar head movement, spatial awareness, and speed, it makes landing a shot on Cruz a very difficult and frustrating prospect.

 

After starting out as a 145 pounder and going unbeaten save for a submission loss to rival Urijah Faber, Cruz dropped to bantamweight and made a permanent home there, capturing the WEC 135 pound title and defending it twice before being promoted to UFC champion following the WEC’s absorption in 2011.

 

Cruz defeated Urijah Faber’s protege Joseph Benavidez twice in two exciting and razor-close decisions during his WEC tenure, stoking the flames of their feud. Cruz's first fight in the UFC was against Faber, where Cruz picked up another close decision victory to even the score, though Faber dropped Cruz several times in the bout and contested the decision. 

 

After one last title defense and solidifying his reputation amongst fans as a somewhat boring but impressive champion who took little risk, a series of serious injuries forced Cruz out of multiple fights and the UFC was forced to strip him of his title; he wouldn’t return to the cage for almost a full 3 years, eventually coming back to destroy a longtime contender in just 61 seconds.

 

Another rash of injuries delayed his long-awaited chance to reclaim his title, but after nearly a year and a half Cruz finally got his opportunity against Faber protege TJ Dillashaw. Cruz picked up another close decision in a brilliant technical war, and proceeded to beat an aging Faber to complete their trilogy and squash they rivalry (for a while at least).

 

Another Faber protege, Cody Garbrandt, would be his next challenger, showing off incredible boxing and speed and defeating Cruz in a clear-cut decision at the end of 2016 - Cruz hasn’t returned since that loss, nursing multiple injuries though he has flirted with a comeback fight at multiple points.

 

He currently serves as a regular analyst and occasional commentator for the UFC and is well-liked by fans for his thoughtful analysis and wealth of technical knowledge. Even if he doesn’t return to fight again, Cruz will go down as one of the most technical and thoughtful fighters in the sport’s history, and one with an incredibly unique and perplexing style that made him an absolute nightmare for opponents to figure out.

Renan Barao

A fighter out of Brazil's Nova Unaio fight team (the same camp that produced Jose Aldo), Renan Barao went on an incredible near-decade 33-fight unbeaten streak after losing in his pro debut in 2005.

Fighting in promotions in Brazil for the first five years of his MMA career, Barao would join the WEC in 2010 and rattle off two submission victories before being absorbed into the UFC roster in 2011.

From there, Barao would rattle off four more victories to earn himself a shot at an interim UFC title while champion Dominick Cruz was out with injuries; Barao would dominate former WEC champ and longtime contender Urijah Faber en route to a lopsided decision victory.

With his powerful striking, excellent wrestling defense and superb jiu-jitsu, many compared Barao to his stablemate Jose Aldo, with some even claiming Barao was the superior fighter - a ridiculous claim given that Aldo was technically superior in virtually every aspect of the sport (particularly in his boxing) and a superior athlete, but it was a comparison that was regularly made.

Barao would defend the interim title twice, including a spinning back kick KO over another WEC champion in Eddie Wineland, before being promoted to undisputed champion due to Cruz's absense from the sport.

He would defend that title once with a first round TKO over Urijah Faber (albeit in an early and highly controversial stoppage) and in the process ran up his record to a sublime 32-1. 

Against a short notice replacement in TJ Dillashaw, who was best known for being knocked out in The Ultimate Fighter season 14's finale by flyweight John Dodson, Barao was a massive favourite.

Nobody foresaw the remarkable fall from grace that Barao would suffer.

Utilizing a highly offensive-oriented version of Dominick Cruz-like footwork, Dillashaw battered and bewildered the champion, smashing him repeatedly from both stances and ultimately knocking him out in the fifth round with a head kick. 

The stunning upset would forever change Barao - fans would never see the same version of the Brazilian destroyer that had gone undefeated for nearly a decade, his confidence shot and his skills seeming to decline with every subsequent outing.

After passing out while cutting weight for an immediate rematch and thus dropping out of his title fight, Barao would eeke out a submission win over a highly overmatched opponent that still managed to make Barao look painfully average.

In their rematch, Barao had even less to offer Dillashaw than in their first meeting, and the former great was knocked out on his feet in the fourth round.

Barao would move up to featherweight to try to right the ship and initially looked good in the opening round against Jeremy Stephens, only to be rocked and lose the next two rounds en route to his second straight defeat.

A win over the far-from-UFC caliber Phillipe Nover would be the last of Barao's career - he then proceeded to lose his next five fights against progressively lower competition, bouncing around between featherweight and catchweights when he failed to make the bantamweight limit.

It was one of the quickest and steepest drop offs in an MMA fighter's career - Barao went from a ridiculous 32-1 record to going 2-8 in his last ten bouts, despite being just 32 years old at the time of his last loss. 

Barao hasn't fought since November 2019 when he was released by the UFC.

TJ Dillashaw

An NCAA Division I wrestler that quickly turned into a prospect after finding a home at Urijah Faber's Team Alpha Male, Dillashaw was a runner-up in season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, having been knocked out by future flyweight contender John Dodson in the finale. 

He would win his next two bouts utilizing his great grappling and athleticism, but in 2013 when Muay Thai and UFC vet Duane Ludwig joined Team Alpha Male as its new head trainer, Dillashaw turned into an entirely different animal.

The difference in striking technique across TAM's stable of fighters became readily apparent, but it was Dillashaw who improved the most with each and every outing; two impressive knockouts followed by a highly controversial decision loss to longtime top contender Raphael Assuncao put Dillashaw near the top of the heap.

A dominant decision win over Mike Easton and a fortunate injury allowed Dillashaw to step up on short notice to face the 32-1 Renan Barao, who was a prohibitive favourite heading into the matchup.

Dillashaw shocked the world by beating the living shit out of Barao, dropping him in the first then proceeding to demolish him for four rounds before finishing him in the fifth

Dillashaw went from a typical wrestle-boxer to a switch-hitting, incredibly mobile technician on the feet with incredible footwork and offensive awareness in the span of just a handful of fights. 

After Barao passed out while cutting weight for their rematch, Dillashaw took on Joe Soto on just a day's notice, who put up an admirable fight before succumbing to a head kick in the fourth round. 

In their rematch, Dillashaw would once again dominate Barao, this time picking up a fourth round standing TKO

Afterward, a very public breakup between Team Alpha Male and head coach Duane Ludwig would have Dillashaw choose his coach over his gym and Dillashaw ended up being kicked out of the camp, inciting a bitter feud between the camp and Dillashaw (specifically, rising bantamweight prospect Cody Garbrandt and Dillashaw). 

Dillashaw would lose his title in a controversial split decision against Dominick Cruz in an epic back-and-forth technical affair between two of the most mobile fighters on the planet - Dillashaw's more offensive movement matched Cruz's defensive-based movement stride for stride, but Dillashaw's overaggression cost him at times and the champion fell to a split decision. 

Dillashaw would avenge his prior controversial decision loss to Raphael Assuncao and then dominate John Lineker while Cody Garbrandt demolished Dominick Cruz to capture the bantamweight title, paving the way for an epic grudge match between former teammates.

In the early going, Garbrandt's remarkable handspeed proved a major factor as he dropped and hurt Dillashaw and beat him to the punch regularly, but Dillashaw survived and kept pressuring the hot-headed Garbrandt, whose confidence only grew. 

In the second round, Garbrandt was drawn into exchanging and ate a heavy right hook, leading Dillashaw to recapture his title in emphatic fashion. 

A rematch a year later ended much the same way; Garbrandt hurt and dropped Dillashaw early, who managed to survive and lure Gardbrandt into simply exchanging right hands with his more durable opponent, leading Dillashaw to score a first round knockout

In a surprise move, Dillashaw dropped down a weight class to flyweight to challenge for a second title (typically, fighters have moved up to vye for a second title while holding a belt). The supremely shredded Dillashaw managed to make the flyweight limit, however come fight night Dillashaw was shockingly knocked out in just 32 seconds by Henry Cejudo. 

To add insult to injury, Dillashaw would later fail a post-fight USADA test for EPO - as an injectable-only designer drug (made famous by Lance Armstrong), it's not a substance with any viable "tainted supplement" or other defense. To make matters even more damning, Garbrandt had accused Dillashaw of bragging about PED usage and even named EPO as the drug Dillashaw was taking in an interview a year before Dillashaw tested positive.

The now disgraced cheat is expected to return in 2021 after serving his two year USADA suspension.

Flyweights (125)

Demetrious Johnson

Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson may not be big, but he is fearsome. Standing at just 5 feet 3 inches tall, DJ made a name for himself in the WEC as a small bantamweight (135 pounds, the smallest weight class they had) with incredible speed and technical prowess, notably adding new tools and techniques to his arsenal with each outing.

 

What he lacked in size and strength he made up for with skill and blinding speed, sporting a 2-1 record with the organization and a 12-1 record overall with his only loss being a close decision where he was outmuscled and outwrestled by a much larger opponent.

 

After the UFC absorbed the WEC and its weight classes, Demetrious made his way to a title fight opposite Dominick Cruz - DJ caused many problems for Cruz in the striking realm with his speed and technique, but Cruz showed his versatility and utilized his wrestling to ground and smother the much smaller fighter en route to a decision victory. 

 

After the highly anticipated unveiling of the flyweight division, which had long been rumoured in the WEC but never came to fruition, the UFC announced a mini-tournament of sorts, featuring four of the top fighters in the world - two of the top flyweights from smaller organizations that had the division, and two of the top UFC bantamweights who were very small for the division - Demetrious and Joseph Benavidez.

 

Benavidez won in the opening round of the tournament to secure his shot at the inaugural title - DJ on the other hand took on consensus #1 flyweight Ian McCall in a razor-close technical brawl, and was announced the winner in a controversial decision...it wasn’t until later that night the commission realized they had miscounted the scores, and the fight was actually ruled a draw.

 

An immediate rematch ensued, and despite it taking place just 3 months after their first fight, DJ showed just how quickly he could improve and how intelligently he approached his fights, dominating McCall and putting an end to any and all controversy. When it came time to fight for the title, DJ picked up the inaugural flyweight championship in a close decision at the end of a brilliant, back-and-forth battle. 

 

After picking up the first UFC flyweight title, DJ would go on to shatter Anderson Silva’s record for most consecutive title defenses with 11 victories in his six year reign. Johnson became known as an incredibly classy, intelligent, and consistent champion, and seeing him leave the cage with the belt became more of an inevitability than a question.

 

Johnson scored finishes in seven of his eleven defenses, including a shocking knockout over Joseph Benavidez in their highly anticipated rematch, a last-second of the fifth-round armbar over Japanese sensation Kyoji Horiguchi, a first round body shot finish over Olympic Gold medalist wrestler Henry Cejudo, and an incredible suplex-to-armbar submission.

 

In his last fight for the UFC, Demetrious Johnson’s historic run was put to an anti-climactic end; in a rematch with the aforementioned Henry Cejudo, after a closely contested and technical five rounds, it appeared as if Johnson would score his 12th straight defense, but the judges saw otherwise and awarded the victory to Cejudo.

 

Although it was controversial, the fight was close and DJ seemed uncharacteristically conservative. Talks of a rematch eventually fizzled as Johnson (who was never a draw despite his talent, and seemed content not to do anything to change it) looked to put his talents to use outside of the UFC. In the first ever "trade" in MMA history, Johnson was sent to Asian promotion ONE FC in exchange for undefeated wrestling legend and former Bellator champion Ben Askren.

 

He of course has gone on to continue beating his competition in the smaller organization, and despite his lack of widespread fame, he will go down as one of the best fighters to ever compete in MMA. 

 

Demetrious is also an avid gamer who has quite a following on his Twitch channel and is known for engaging regularly with his fans.

Joseph Benavidez

A promising prospect who found his way to Team Alpha Male, Joseph Benavidez made a name for himself as a hard-hitting well-rounded scrambler in the WEC, racking up a 13-2 record with his only losses coming in extremely close decisions to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.

In the UFC, Benavidez picked up three more wins before his natural weight class of 125 pounds was added; Benavidez was a part of the 4-man tournament to crown an inaugural champion, punching his ticket with a second round TKO in his flyweight debut.

In the tournament finale, Benavidez lost a razor-thin split decision to Demetrious Johnson. After three more dominant wins, Benavidez received another shot, only to be shockingly knocked out with a single punch by Mighty Mouse in the opening round.

Benavidez found himself in a situation similar to his mentor Urijah Faber - he was clearly better than the rest of the field, but wasn't quite good enough to unseat the champion.

Nevertheless, Benavidez continued to win, defeating six straight opponents (including future champion Henry Cejudo) before losing a highly controversial robbery against Sergio Pettis. Undeterred, Benavidez would pick up another three dominant wins, including a head kick finish over fellow contender Jussier Formiga

After Henry Cejudo moved to bantamweight and subsequently vacated his flyweight belt, Benavidez will face Brazilian slugger Deveison Figueiredo for the vacant title in April.

Henry Cejudo

An Olympic gold medalist in wrestling at just 21 years old for Team USA, Cejudo was immediately talked about as one of the hottest prospects in the sport.

 

He would start off with an undefeated 10-0 record by the time he faced Demetrious Johnson for the UFC flyweight title, showing off his impressive wrestling skills alongside heavy hands and solid improvement in his boxing.

All of that however wasn't enough to unseat Mighty Mouse, as DJ handed Cejudo his first career loss in the opening round with a barrage of knees to the body. 

A second loss followed, this time a close split decision in a war with Joseph Benavidez that showed off some vastly improved striking, finally beginning to show the potential that many had claimed Cejudo would be capable of.

Two wins saw Cejudo earn himself a shot at redemption, and after an early scare where Cejudo seemingly injured his knee, Cejudo more than held his own and even picked up rounds against the longtime champion.

To the surprise of many, the judges awarded Cejudo the fight on the scorecards and Johnson's historic flyweight reign came to a rather disappointing end. 

Cejudo would prove he belonged however, as he went on to starch bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw in just 32 seconds in Dillashaw's attempt at a second title - Dillashaw would later test positive for EPO, making Cejudo's win all the more impressive. 

Opting to move up to bantamweight, Cejudo would get more than he bargained for early against Brazilian knockout artist Marlon Moraes, who lit up Cejudo early with nasty leg kicks and sharp flurries.

 

Cejudo's pace and aggression soon turned the tides, Moraes wilting under Cejudo's pressure and barrages of punches. In the third round, after savagely beating on Moraes both on the feet and with ground and pound, the ref finally saved Moraes and Cejudo became just the third simultaneous two-division champ in UFC history. 

Though Cejudo has drawn the ire of many with his particularly cringey attempts to trash talk, he is no doubt one of the best fighters on the planet and a supremely gifted athlete.

Female Fighters

Due to the fact that female mixed martial arts was largely non-existent in the early days of the sport and only began picking up steam in the mid- to late-2000's, women's MMA was almost a completely different realm and as such is placed in a separate category here.

 

While today women in the sport are largely held in the same regard as the men and the UFC (as well as many other organizations) showcase women's fights no differently than they do bouts between men, this wasn't always the case and as such women had a very different rise and journey in MMA.

With fights between female competitors extremely hard to come by and only gathering steam in the mid- to late-2000's, women's MMA was in its relative infancy up until recent years and as such the quality and frequency of competition was significantly lower than the men's.

 

Of course the women rapidly evolved to catch up and are now much more comparable to their male counterparts, but it's important to note the difference in timelines - fighters like Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg are considered pioneers for women's MMA, yet they began their careers in 2006 and 2005 respectively, well over a decade after the UFC first began. 

Gina Carano

Gina Carano was MMA’s first female star. Gina, the daughter of famous NFL quarterback Glenn Carano, grew up an athlete and competed in multiple sports through her child and teenage years. After graduating with a psychology degree from the University of Nevada, a new realm of competition was opened up to her in the form of Muay Thai; her boyfriend at the time, pro kickboxer Kevin Ross, got her involved and the rest is, as they say, history.

 

Carano’s athleticism, toughness, thudding right hand and solid kicking game led her to compile a 12-1-1 record in Muay Thai kickboxing, which also saw her appear on Ring Girls - a film that followed five female kickboxers from Las Vegas as they journeyed overseas to face the top Muay Thai practitioners in the world.

 

Midway through 2006, Carano had an opportunity to transition into MMA - she received an offer to compete in the first sanctioned (ie. regulated, legal and professional) women’s mixed martial arts bout in the state of Nevada. At the time, women competed in 3-minute rounds instead of the regular 5-minute rounds for men, though the rest of the rules were the same.

 

Gina competed at 135 pounds and used her striking prowess to run through her overmatched opponent in just 38 seconds. After another victory, Carano made her StrikeForce debut to close out 2006 in StrikeForce’s first ever women’s bout.

 

New promotion EliteXC took notice of Carano’s ability and potential star power and offered Carano a spot on their inaugural card; a partnership between ShowTime (the premium cable channel) and the ProElite media company, EliteXC burst onto the scene in 2007 and garnered great viewership throughout its events, creating several stars during their short run (they closed up shop less than two years later after an attempted fight-fixing along with financial problems), the biggest of which would be one Gina Carano.

 

Carano took part in and won the first female fight on a major cable network, going on to pick up an additional three wins with the promotion and turning into a major star in MMA. She also crossed over into reality TV in the form of Fight Girls, a series that mimicked The Ultimate Fighter but with an all-female cast where she served as a mentor. Gina also starred in American Gladiator, a TV series where regular people competed against pro athletes and personalities. 

 

After EliteXC folded, Carano was picked back up by StrikeForce, where they quickly paired her up with their top female fighter, a scary Brazilian killer named Cris Cyborg.

 

The fight captured the attention of the combat sports world, propelling women’s MMA into the limelight and becoming a major success for StrikeForce.

 

Carano would find great success early, but succumbed to Cyborg’s relentless power and was TKO’d late in the opening round.

 

Soon after, Carano was approached by a famous Hollywood director to star in an upcoming spy-thriller movie called Haywire; Carano took to acting and although she flirted with comebacks multiple times (once even being scheduled to return in StrikeForce, but being pulled for unknown medical reasons) and even a possible UFC signing later on, Carano never returned to the cage.

 

Nevertheless, Carano was a pioneer for women in the sport and is a key reason as to why they have a virtually equal footing with men at the highest levels to this day - she showed promoters that women could draw just as well and fight just as well as the men could, and became a major star and catalyst for future generations of women’s fighters.

 

Carano has since continued her career in acting with roles in major productions, including Deadpool and The Mandalorian.

Cris Cyborg

Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (formerly Cristiane Santos) is simply put the scariest and most violent female fighter to ever live.

 

Starting out as a pro handball (yes, handball) player in Brazil, a trainer for the famed Brazilian MMA team Chute Boxe saw potential in her with her athleticism and turned her on to the sport of MMA.

 

It wouldn’t be long before she made her professional MMA debut at just 19 years old in Brazil, succumbing to a kneebar early in the first round. Remarkably, that loss would be the only loss in Cris Cyborg’s career for over 13 years. 

 

Cyborg went on to tear through anyone willing to fight her, gaining a hardcore following with her extreme aggression, prime Wanderlei Silva-style striking, raw power, impressive grappling ability and devastating ground and pound.

 

Cyborg would go unbeaten in the 21 fights since her pro debut, winning all but three by knockout or TKO.

 

Cyborg had many issues with weight cutting however, as she was known for being big and forcing herself down to 145 pounds (let alone 140 for her first two UFC fights) was extremely difficult; a 16-second KO in 2011 was overturned and saw Cyborg suspended for one year for failing a drug test for an anabolic steroid often used to help aid fighters facing large weight cuts, and later on USADA flagged her in the UFC after medication she took to recover from a horrendous weight cut caused her to fail a drug test (this time, USADA gave her an exemption since it was not performance enhancing and was deemed medically necessary).

 

Cyborg cleaned house in StrikeForce and became the inaugural featherweight champion with her high-profile knockout of Gina Carano in the biggest fight in women’s history (pre-Rousey), went on to become the inaugural featherweight Invicta FC champion, then became the UFC featherweight champion when the UFC finally added Cyborg’s weight class.

 

She tore through some of the biggest names in the women’s divisions, including Holly Holm, Marloes Coenen (twice), and Gina Carano. Unfortunately in 2018, her aggression (which had been tempered in her UFC performances) became her undoing as she faced bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes in a superfight.

After rocking Nunes early, Cyborg ignored defense and instead went berserk, getting caught repeatedly in the pocket against the heavy-handed Nunes which led to Cyborg's 13+ year unbeaten streak crashing to the canvas in just 51-seconds. 

Cyborg acknowledged her mistakes and took the loss in stride, asking for a rematch. Nunes in turn stated on social media that she was going back down to bantamweight, effectively nixing that idea. 

Cyborg bounced back by battering prospect Felicia Spencer over three rounds to complete her UFC contract - with longstanding issues with the UFC (particularly with Dana White, who had publically made fun of her appearance in the past and claimed she was ducking a rematch with Nunes despite Cyborg actively campaigning for it) Cyborg demanded a rematch without a championship clause (ie. she wanted a one fight deal that wouldn't lock her into a long-term contract). 

After her team released a video that spliced words said by Dana White together to make him look bad (which was completely unnecessary as his original words weren't much better), the UFC waived Cyborg's exclusive negotiating period and Cyborg was released from her contract.

Cyborg went on to reunite with her StrikeForce boss Scott Coker in Bellator, where she beat the brakes off of reigning featherweight champion Julia Budd in January 2020 to capture yet another title. 

With it, Cyborg has captured championship belts in four major MMA promotions: StrikeForce, Invicta, UFC, and Bellator. 

 

Although it's disappointing she went largely neglected in the UFC, a Cyborg fight is a special occasion and is much like watching a Mike Tyson fight during his prime; you don’t expect it to be close, or for the opponent to have much hope of victory. Instead her opponents are lambs led to slaughter, victims of the whirlwind of violence that is Cristiane Cyborg Justino.

 

Her victims are courageous fighters who stepped up to take on the destroyer when others refused the challenge, and rather than asking “who will win?” like in many fights, fans ask “how long will she survive?” of Cyborg’s opponents when they are locked in the cage with her.

Miesha Tate

With a background in high school and collegiate wrestling, Miesha Tate immediately fell in love with MMA as soon as she tried it and quickly turned professional with very little experience, winning her debut before being knocked out cold via a head kick in the same night of a regional tournament in 2007.

Despite a rough beginning, Tate was hooked and rapidly evolved her game, improving her record to 9-2 with her only other loss being a decision to future StrikeForce bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman.

Competing in a tournament for StrikeForce, Tate earned a shot at the bantamweight title by winning two bouts in one night. Tate went on to surprise many by outgrappling the accomplished champion Marloes Coenen, eventually tapping her out in the fourth round to capture the StrikeForce bantamweight title.

A featherweight making a lot of noise by the name of Ronda Rousey called out Tate and was granted a title shot in her bantamweight debut, much to the ire of many of the bantamweights in the division (including Tate). It sparked a fierce rivalry and was the perfect storm for StrikeForce, which used their rivalry to showcase women's MMA to the world.

Tate would push Rousey further than any of her past opponents and landed some solid shots on the feet, but ultimately Rousey's judo and armbar proved too much - rather than tapping out when she found herself trapped in an armbar however, Tate instead allowed her arm to be folded backwards in horrifying fashion, losing by technical submission.

Tate would compete once more in StrikeForce before it was absorbed by the UFC, getting dropped and hurt on multiple occasions by vet Julie Kedzie before securing a shocking come-from-behind armbar of her own in the third round.

Her UFC debut would be a showcase of her talent for the first two rounds as she battered and outgrappled Cat Zingano, only for her title hopes to come crashing down as Zingano rallied in the third and stopped her via vicious knees in the clinch.

After Zingano was forced to withdraw due to injury however, Miesha Tate got her spot opposite Rousey in coaching The Ultimate Fighter season 18, much to the chagrin of Rousey.

It was here that fans began to largely sour on Rousey over her immaturity and childish bullying, but in their rematch at UFC 168, Tate would find herself armbarred again, this time in the third round after becoming the first fighter to extend Rousey past the first round.

It was hardly a consolation for Tate however, who was still determined to become the champion. Tate would win her next four bouts, doing everything she could to earn a rematch even though she knew getting a third crack at Rousey would be a tough sell given that she had already lost twice.

When Holm knocked Rousey into oblivion however, that gave Tate the opportunity she was waiting for.

In her second UFC title fight, Tate found herself largely outclassed on the feet; though she dominated the second round when she was able to get Holm to the mat, she was down on the scorecards 3-to-1 and needed a finish in the fifth frame. 

Going into desperation mode, Tate finally managed to get Holm to the canvas in the last round, pounding away before locking in a rear-naked choke and putting Holm to sleep in one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history.

Tate had finally accomplished her goal and became the UFC champion, defying all odds and silencing her critics.

Her next two fights would see a seemingly disinterested Tate, the fire from her previous fights gone as she had already accomplished her goals. Tate lost her title in the first round to Amanda Nunes and lost a dismal decision to Raquel Pennington before retiring from the sport in 2016 at just 30 years of age.

Since her retirement Tate has gone on to work as a Vice President of Singapore-based MMA promotion ONE FC.

Ronda Rousey

Training in judo from a young age under the tutelage of her famous judoka mother, Ronda Rousey captured a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, becoming the first female to earn a medal in Olympic judo for team USA. She was also the youngest judoka in the Olympics in 2004 at just 17 years old.

 

After deciding to retire from judo following her 2008 Olympic bid, Rousey soon found the sport of MMA, making her amateur debut in 2010 and picking up three quick armbar finishes before turning pro in 2011. Ronda’s exceptional clinch work and signature armbar from judo immediately put her well above her competition, especially during a time of development as women were still not prominent in the sport at the time especially following Gina Carano’s absence.

 

Ronda picked up four more sub-one-minute armbars, which combined with her Olympic experience and smart management, made her a known name in the MMA sphere despite her small amount of experience.

 

As talks of a potential fight with Cris Cyborg ramped up, Ronda opted to drop down to bantamweight and challenge the StrikeForce champion Miesha Tate instead, skipping over other contenders much to the division’s annoyance.

 

The two immediately did not like each other and began a long-running rivalry; the fight brought women back to the forefront of the sport, capturing the attention of the MMA world with their heated exchanges and charisma. It also didn’t hurt that both were widely viewed as attractive.

 

The fight lived up to the hype and Miesha gave Ronda everything she had, taking her into the last minute of the first round before succumbing to Ronda’s trademark armbar. Despite being helplessly trapped, Miesha refused to tap out, instead letting Ronda bend her arm backwards in a grotesque and disgusting manner.

 

The fight turned Ronda into a star and led the UFC to change their mind on letting women fight in their promotion. After a 54-second armbar in her first title defense, StrikeForce was soon absorbed by the UFC and the women’s bantamweight division was added into the UFC’s ranks, with Ronda being promoted to a UFC champion.

 

Ronda defeated Liz Carmouche in the first women’s bout in UFC history courtesy of her patented armbar in early 2013. 

 

Ronda went on to defend her title another five times in the UFC, including another submission over Miesha Tate in their rematch, a 14-second armbar over Cat Zingano, as well as 16- and 34-second knockouts of Alexis Davis and Bethe Correia.

 

Her striking gained a lot of attention given her knockout power and speed, but it was almost entirely a result of her athleticism; her technique (particularly defensively) was very poor even after years of training in boxing. This didn't stop the media and the UFC promoting her as a female Mike Tyson, with some even going as far as to say that Ronda would beat Floyd Mayweather and most of the men in the UFC.

 

When she went on to face Holly Holm in front of over 50,000 fans in Australia, the Rousey hype train was in full-swing. Ronda was a massive favourite over Holm, who was a highly decorated boxing champion and regarded as one of the top female boxers in the sport's history.

 

Holm matched Ronda’s athleticism and was able to avoid Ronda’s clinch, forcing Ronda to stand and strike and exposing Ronda’s terrible form in the process. Rousey was subsequently eviscerated by Holm’s sharp counter-punching, then was brutally KO’d by a savage left head kick to complete the shocking victory.

 

Rather than taking her loss like a champion, Ronda went into hiding and refused to talk publicly about her loss, even hiding her face from cameras and refusing to answer questions about fighting in her public appearances.

 

After nearly a year away she was enticed into taking one more fight, this time against new champion Amanda Nunes. Rousey refused to do any media for the fight and avoided talking about her loss entirely. Amanda Nunes slaughtered Ronda in just 48 seconds and effectively ended Ronda's MMA career in 2016.

 

Although Ronda’s hypocritical and bullying behaviour throughout her career combined with her incredibly poor sportsmanship should dissuade people from calling Ronda a role model, there is no doubt that Ronda was vital to the explosion in popularity of women’s MMA, and without her we may have never seen women compete in the world famous Octagon.

 

She filled the void left by her predecessor Gina Carano and brought women into the UFC, and became a massive mainstream star in the process.

 

She’s also played roles in several major movies including The Expendables 3 and Furious 7 (her acting is far worse than even her boxing), and since her UFC run ended she's transitioned into a career with the WWE, which she had long been a fan of since childhood. 

Holly Holm

A multiple-time world boxing champion with a pro record of 33-2 and recognized as one of the greatest female boxers of all time, Holly Holm made a big splash when she transitioned into MMA.

Working her way through the regional circuit, Holly Holm earned her UFC debut after having gone 7-0 with six knockouts, becoming known not just for her boxing but her powerful kicking game (particularly her head kicks). 

Her initial two UFC outings however left a lot to be desired, as the seemingly timid Holm largely looked content to barely outpoint her opposition en route to close decision victories. 

Despite her lackluster UFC showings, the UFC granted Holm a title shot regardless, making Rousey a massive favourite.

On fight night, Holm showed what she was really made of, exposing Ronda Rousey's vastly overrated striking in the process.

Skewering Ronda with pinpoint counters and bewildering her by using actual footwork, Holm dominated the opening stanza in front of the 50,000+ in attendance in Australia.

In the second round, Holm shocked sports media and new MMA fans everywhere by knocking Rousey dead with a head kick heard round the world. 

Unfortunately for Holm, she would lose her very first defense in a stunning come-from-behind submission loss to Miesha Tate.

In the years since, Holm has had mixed success, going 3-4; while she's excellent on the counter, she struggles to lead and her rather predictable tactics have put a damper on her career.

Amanda Nunes

Arguably the most accomplished fighter in women's MMA history, Amanda Nunes was known to be an extremely dangerous knockout artist who faded later in fights should her opponent survive the early onslaught. 

With a 7-3 record in regional promotions alongside StrikeForce and Invicta coming into the UFC, Nunes continued proving this archetype correct with two quick first round knockouts followed by a third round TKO loss to Cat Zingano after Nunes expended all her energy trying to kill Zingano early.

 

That would end up being the last loss on her ledger however, as Nunes cut a swath through the division by winning her next ten bouts.

 

Wins over the likes of Valentina Shevchenko and Sara McMann saw Nunes earn a title shot at the newly crowned Miesha Tate at UFC 200; Nunes hurt Tate early and submitted her in the opening round to capture the bantamweight title.

 

In Ronda Rousey's comeback bout, Nunes destroyed the former champion in just 48 seconds which sent her permanently away from the sport.  

She subsequently beat Shevchenko by a controversial split decision after a tepid five round affair before she got back to her dominant ways, trouncing Raquel Pennington en route to a fifth round stoppage.

In a superfight against Cris Justino, Nunes moved up to featherweight and knocked out the legendary Cyborg in just 51 seconds. 

She then defended her title with a knockout over Holly Holm before defeating Germaine de Randamie by decision in a rather lackluster performance. She is expected to return in 2020 to defend her title.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk

A 27-3 kickboxer from Poland, Joanna "Violence" (or "Champion") as she is affectionately known by her fans is an extremely talented striker known for her volume striking, brutal clinch work and incredible takedown defense.

Making her UFC debut in 2014 and quickly rising up the ranks with three straight wins to bring her record to a perfect 8-0, Joanna earned a shot against the newly crowned Carla Esparza, who had won The Ultimate Fighter season twenty to become the inaugural strawweight champion in the UFC.

Joanna announced her presence on the world stage by beating the brakes off of Esparza, easily stuffing the wrestler's takedowns and utterly trouncing her on the feet en route to a second round stoppage

She went on to defend her title five times, ruling over her weight class with her superior striking technique, accuracy, speed, and impeccable grappling defense.

Her reign would come crashing to an end however when she faced Rose Namajunas, a long and powerful striker who came in as a heavy underdog. Cracking Joanna early, Rose shocked the world by knocking Joanna out in the very first round.

An immediate rematch saw Joanna perform much better, engaging in a very close and competitive fight many fans thought she deserved to win, only for the judges to decide otherwise. 

A win saw Joanna instead move up to flyweight to challenge for the vacant 125 pound title; facing an old kickboxing foe in Valentina Shevchenko, Joanna was soundly defeated by decision and returned to strawweight.

With a win over "The Karate Hottie" Michelle Waterson, Joanna will challenge Weili Zhang for the strawweight title in April. 

Valentina Shevchenko

Possibly the most skilled fighter in women's MMA history, Valentina Shevchenko was a multiple-time Muay Thai champion with a kickboxing record of 56-3.

After racking up an 11-1 record in MMA with her lone blemish a doctor's stoppage against Liz Carmouche, Shevchenko found herself in the UFC and surprisingly defeated former bantamweight StrikeForce champion Sarah Kaufman in her UFC debut.

Facing Amanda Nunes, Shevchenko's lack of wrestling defense bit her hard as Nunes dominated her on the ground, but Shevchenko went on to dominate the third after Nunes gassed herself in the opening rounds.

A victory over Holly Holm and a slick submission over elite wrestler Julianna Pena saw Shevchenko earn a title shot and a rematch with Nunes; after a rather tepid 5-round affair, many fans thought Shevchenko would take home the close decision victory that ultimately went to Nunes.

After the UFC finally added her natural weight class of flyweight, Shevchenko dropped down and quickly earned a title shot; after medical issues forced The Ultimate Fighter winner that was crowned the inaugural flyweight champion out of a fight with Shevchenko, Valentina faced former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant title.

Shevchenko dominated her former kickboxing rival to capture the UFC gold. She went on to defend it three times, including a brutal head kick KO over Jessica Eye and most recently a one-sided trouncing of Kaitlyn Chookagian.

Although she initially started out as primarily a striker, Valentina's incredibly well-rounded wrestling and jiu-jitsu game combined with her vicious kicks and sharp boxing make her one of the most well-rounded and talented fighters in MMA, regardless of weight class. 

arrow&v