There are many ways to look at who are MMA’s most famous fighters of all time and this list will be no different. It all depends on how you define famous and what you think “MMA’s Most Famous” is. My opinion is based on the following three things, all of which are rated on a 1-10 scale (with 10 being best): A well defined Championship, Longevity (and quality of wins) and most importantly, Legacy.
As you have seen recently, it is becoming easier and easier to get the kind of exposure that makes one famous in the world of MMA. Conor McGregor has the luxury of standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before him. McGregor is looking more and more like the heavyweight boxers of the 70’s and 80’s with his exposure and fame. His brash attitude and taunting speech has done nothing but help him gain that audience and fan base that put him in the position to get a title shot. If he wins a championship he will be counted among some of these greats not just because he is a great fighter (ie Matt Hughes) but because he captured an Irish audience that has been wanting a champion to brag about for a long, long time. Only time will tell if he makes my list in the future.
When I decided to make this list I thought about each one of these fighters in their prime. Then I looked at their longevity: Famous competitors tend to have longevity, that is what makes them a household name. To do that, they don’t just fight for a long time, they fight WELL for a long time and beat other household names. Now when I say legacy, what I mean is those certain intangibles and extras other fighters don’t have the ability or luck in doing. Fame is sometimes defined by special accomplishments, characteristics, or gifts given to the sport which fall outside of winning championships or longevity. The most famous MMA fighters have something unique that sets them apart. So without further ado, here is my Top 10 of MMA’s Most Famous Fighters of All Time:
TOTAL SCORE: 22 (Championship 9, Longevity 7, Legacy 6 ) In the course of his short career (compared to the other legends on the list) thus far: from April 12, 2008 until January 6, 2015, Jones posted a 21-1 overall MMA record with 15 wins by either KO or submission. And, the only loss of his was a disqualification loss for downward elbows to Matt Hamill, a fight he was clearly about to win. And we’re talking about wins over huge names like Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (for the belt), Glover Teixeira, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, and Stephan Bonnar. There has never been a fighter who has this many quality, famous wins in such a short period of time. He has lots of fights, but has not been in the UFC for long engough to give him the longevity that the others on the list have. The same goes for his legacy. Jon Jones has the potential to eclipse all of the people on this list if he can keep up the pace and path that he is on now. And if he ever makes that jump into the heavyweight division, watch out!!!
TOTAL SCORE: 24 (Championship 9.5, Longevity 8.5, Legacy 6 ) From March 17, 2001 to September 23, 2006, Hughes posted a 19-1 overall MMA record, avenging his only loss to BJ Penn by TKO from the crucifix position in one of the best fights of all-time. Prior to that, he had posted a 22-3 record. And the names he defeated during his prime- Georges St. Pierre (armbar), Carlos Newton (twice- KO and TKO), Sean Sherk (decision), Frank Trigg (twice by rear choke), Royce Gracie (TKO), and BJ Penn (TKO- but he lost twice to him) are pretty huge in the sport. Not to mention that during his prime, he defended his welterweight title on seven occasions. And along the way, 16 of those victories- during his prime- came by way of stoppage. He started his professional MMA career with a submission (slam) win on January 1, 1998. from then until September 23, 2006, he posed a 41-4 overall MMA record. And then after losing two in a row to St. Pierre and Thiago Alves, he managed a three fight win streak between May 23, 2009 to August 7, 2010 over Matt Serra (decision), Renzo Gracie (TKO), and Ricardo Almeida (technical submission from a front headlock). His longevity was amazing. Matt Hughes was the master of the KO due to slam brought some excitement and tough wrestling from a farm boy to the Octagon. He was one of the best at defending tittles in the UFC. And by the way, he was the one who defeated Royce Gracie, ushering in the modern era of MMA..
TOTAL SCORE: 24.5 (Championship 7.5, Longevity 8, Legacy 9 ) From March 31, 1999 to December 30, 2006, Chuck Liddell maintained an 18-2 record, gaining the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and defeating the likes of Tito Ortiz, Renato Sobral, Jeff Monson, Guy Mezger, Murilo Bustamante, Amar Suloev, Kevin Randleman, Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem, Vernon White, and Randy Couture two out of three times by KO. He defended his UFC light heavyweight belt on four occasions, and generally had one of the better primes of all time. Chuck Liddell had good but not great longevity.He started fighting in 1998 and continued at a very high level until 2006. But he lost five of his last six bouts, with nearly all of his losses coming by way of KO or submisson. He has a very strong legacy. He, along with Randy Couture, served as one of two coaches on TUF 1, the reality show that allowed the UFC to continue. He was the UFC’s first true superstar and became a household name. He is the Godfather of the Brawl & Sprawl. He has been in motion pictures and is currently the face of Duralast Batteries.
TOTAL SCORE: 25 (Championship 8.5, Longevity 7.5, Legacy 9) From April 14, 2000 to October 10, 2006, Ortiz went a combined 11-2. During that time period, he won the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship belt over Wanderlei Silva, and then defended it a record five times, defeating the likes of Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Elvis Sinosic, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Ken Shamrock. Though Ortiz lost his next two fights to Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, he would then go on to defeat Patrick Cote, Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin, and Ken Shamrock two more times by TKO. But from December 30, 2006 to July 7, 2012, Ortiz went 1-7-1. So his longevity was decent, but not as strong as some fighters on this list. Ortiz was the UFC’s first true star that captured a new Hispanic audience and gave the UFC a new fan-base. He legitimized MMA in the eyes of boxing fans. He was known for his ferocious ground and pound and some may say invented it. Eventually, he became the fighter that many loved to hate toward the latter part of his career. Love him or hate him, he was popular and still is a household name.
TOTAL SCORE: 25.5 (Championship 8.5, Longevity 8, Legacy 9) A true champion,From April 6, 2001 to November 7, 2009, Emelianenko went undefeated. That’s 28 straight matches with one no contest. He defeated some of the best heavyweights in the sport during that streak including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. The two weaknesses to Fedor’s prime were that he competed in PRIDE during a time when some of the better heavyweights were in the UFC so he did not compete against all of the best heavyweights of the time. In addition, PRIDE often fed their best fighters competitors who were not world class. Fedor benefited from this but even so, it was still one of the greatest primes ever. From a longevity perspective, he’s got it all over a lot of people. His undefeated streak actually took place over the course of eight years. He was such a mystery man, giving a face to that stoic Russian persona. It seemed as if he was completely calm in the face of adversity and competition. He is widely considered to be the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time. And he, like Tito, brought in a whole new audience to the sport of MMA. He gave Russia and Eastern Europe a reason to watch and cheer. He was one of the most closely followed during an amazing 35-4 career.
TOTAL SCORE: 27 (Championship 9, Longevity 8, Legacy 10) Between April 8, 1995 to May 7, 1999, Rutten posted a 20-0-1 record, fighting mostly for the Pancrase organization. He also achieved the UFC heavyweight championship with a close and controversial split decision win over Kevin Randleman. During his now famous winning streak, Rutten defeated Maurice Smith, Jason DeLucia, Minoru Suzuki, Guy Mezger, Frank Shamrock, Masakatsu Funaki, and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. Rutten’s best days have to be considered some of the best ever.Though Rutten’s earlier fights from September 21, 1993 to March 10, 1995 were not as good as his prime, he posted a 7-4 record including two submission losses to Ken Shamrock and one decision loss to his brother Frank. Bas Rutten’s prime was so long that his longevity was as well. But injuries cut his career down a significant amount. Rutten was one of the first high level stand up fighters to have success in MMA. Along with this, he’s also one of the first fighters to realize he needed to cross train extensively so that he could be as good on the ground as he was on his feet. Eventually, he became an excellent submission fighter, which led to his amazing streak. He has also become a television and film legend for the sport of MMA. We will always remember him in the Kevin James film “Here Comes the Boom” being so “Twisty.”
TOTAL SCORE: 27.5 (Championship 7.5, Longevity 10, Legacy 10) Randy Couture had another hard to figure prime. He never really went on a very long winning streak. One could make an argument that his true prime happened between October 9, 2000 to November 2, 2001 when he won 6-of-7 fights, defeating high level competitors of the time like Jeremy Horn, Kevin Randleman, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, and Pedro Rizzo twice. He won the heavyweight belt and defended it twice. Couture started fighting on May 30, 1997. He stopped on April 30, 2011, having won three of four final fights ovr the age of 40. His longevity was outstanding and probably will never be duplicated. He did not even start fighting professionally until age 33, which is a time when many have found themselves already on the downside of a career. Whats more than that, he always fought upper level competition in that time period. Anything he did was against the best of the best. Couture was a coach on the first TUF reality show opposite Chuck Liddell. And he took part in the show that saved the UFC. Next, he was one of the first real stars of MMA along with Chuck Liddell. Couture is also one of only two fighters to date to ever hold belts in two different UFC weight classes (heavyweight and light heavyweight). And finally, he once again shut down the boxing vs. MMA talk with his dominant submission win over James Toney. His legacy is what puts him so high on my list.
TOTAL SCORE: 28 (Championship 8.5, Longevity 9.5 Legacy 10 ) From November 12, 1993 to April 7, 1995, Gracie achieved a record of 11-0-1. During that time, he won three UFC tournaments, the most that anyone ever won during tournament style fighting in the organization. During that one and a half year span, he submitted all 11 of his opponents. In addition, he posted a winning record against his two greatest rivals: Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn. Against Severn, a high level wrestler with a 90 pound weight advantage, Gracie proved his mettle, toughing it out for 15:49 underneath his opponent before finally defeating him via triangle choke.On one hand, Gracie defeated fighters who were not nearly of the caliber of those fighting today. Then again, he defeated multiple fighters on one night with no weight classes. He single handedly changed the sport and created his own standard of fighting. He is a legend in the world of MMA. This man transformed modern MMA. As he won three of the first four UFC tournaments, he proved that grappling was king over striking. And Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was a truly dominant technique. Today, nearly every high level fighter uses his family’s art in training. The scale on legacy only goes to 10 but if it were higher he would be at the pinnacle. Royce Gracie was the pound for pound king during his prime and his legacy will live forever in the world of MMA.
TOTAL SCORE: 28.5 (Championship 9.5, Longevity 9.5 Legacy 9.5 ) During GSP’s entire career he was in his ‘prime’. He retired with a 25-2 overall MMA record which, started on January 25, 2002. That’s an 11 year prime. His only two losses during this time were by stoppage to Matt Hughes and Matt Serra. He avenged his loss to Hughes on two separate occasions, defeating one of the greatest of all time by TKO and armbar. He also stopped Serra, whose win over him goes down as one of the greatest MMA upsets of all time. GSP has defeated the likes of Karo Parisyan Jay Hieron, Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk, BJ Penn, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch , Thiago Alves, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz and Johnny Hendricks. This is some very stiff competition. Although he won a majority of his fights by decision at the end of his career, his longevity is amazing. Pierre is one of MMA’s most popular fighters and a true mainstream success.His legacy as an athlete and a leader are legendary. He is one of MMA’s finest examples of a sportsman.
TOTAL SCORE: 29 (Championship 10, Longevity 10, Legacy 9. ) From April 22, 2006 to the October 13, 2012, Silva simply beat people. During a time when the UFC was clearly the top dog (no PRIDE Fighting Championships), and therefore the far majority of outstanding middleweight fighters competed for the UFC, he went 17-0. In addition, he won by way of KO or submission in 14 of 17 fights during that time. He defeated Chael Sonnen twice, Yushin Okami, Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin, Dan Henderson, James Irvin, Rich Franklin twice, Nate Marquardt, Travis Lutter, and Chris Leben. When you consider the names, weight classes and his absolute dominance, there has never been a better champion. Even without his amazing and long prime, Silva has been fighting since 1997, and went 16-4 before that prime even started (with one disqualification). During those early years he defeated the likes of Hayato Sakurai, Carlos Newtown, Jeremy Horn, Lee Murray, and Jorge Rivera. He was already fighting top flight competition, and winning at it for a very, very long time. UFC President Dana White has called Silva “the greatest mixed martial artist ever.” The amount of intimidation people have experienced in the cage with him is clear and always present. Silva has taken traditional techniques and made them work in MMA when many believed they were not viable. He is a true Champion and Legend in the sport of MMA…