10 best UFC fighters of all-time
One of the most fun things in sports is arguing about who the best UFC fighter of all-time is, or the GOAT, if you will.
This list is exclusively for UFC, so fighters that have never competed in the promotion or experienced their best days outside of it will not make the cut.
Fighters like Fedor Emelianenko would easily crack any ranking of MMA GOATs. Unfortunately, we were never able to see him compete in the UFC, which means he will not be included.
The criteria we’re going to be looking at is complicated. How do you truly judge the greatness of an athlete, especially when their primes are years apart in a rapidly-evolving and booming sport?
We’re breaking it down in order like this: prime form, quality of opponents, aura of invincibility, length of title reign, and if a tiebreaker is needed, we will consider how their careers ended.
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10. Matt Hughes
Matt Hughes in his prime was something worth tuning in for. He was known primarily as a wrestler with an incredible gift called “farm strength.” Hughes’ trademark power left opponents feeling helpless whenever he put his hands on them.
Hughes holds wins over some incredible competition, even some that are on this list. He’s beaten the likes of BJ Penn, Georges St. Pierre, Carlos Newton, Matt Serra, Royce Gracie, Sean Sherk, and many others.
As a two-time welterweight champion in an era when the division was overflowing with Hall of Famers, Hughes’ title reign from 2001 to 2004 remains legendary to this day.
Chuck Liddell is easily the most recognizable UFC fighter in history. Biker Moustache, Mohawk, Tattoos, Blue Icicle Shorts, DMX walkout music — Liddell had it all!
His prime lasted from about 2000 to 2006. In that time, Liddell beat a whole host of incredible names: Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort, Jeremy Horn, Kevin Randleman, Murilo Bustamante, and many more.
Liddell fought some of the toughest competition and came away with knockouts and decisions that are impossible to scoff at. He was known for his heavy hands and solid wrestling base that meant he was only going to the ground if he felt like it.
The UFC light heavyweight champion from 2005 to 2007 defended his title successfully four times. Unfortunately, Liddell’s fifth defense bout resulted in a loss to Pride legend Quinton Jackson. In his prime, Lidell did take a loss to Randy Couture, but he righted his wrongs when he knocked Couture out two times.
8. BJ Penn
BJ Penn is one of the original two-division champions, winning the UFC lightweight and welterweight title in the 2000s. He was known for being one of the greatest American Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners of all-time, and he showed it during his UFC heyday.
“Baby Jay” holds victories over former champions and fighters that are currently in the Hall of Fame: Matt Serra, Matt Hughes, Diego Sanchez, and Jens Pulver. He broke the record for lightweight title defenses at three, while also fighting Georges St. Pierre for the welterweight belt.
Something that hurts Penn’s placement on the list is him leaving the UFC in his prime, twice. He had his issues with the promotion which led to him fighting in K-1 for a few years.
It’s undeniable that Penn boasts an impressive resume, and that his two different division championships are gaudy achievements. He just didn’t quite have the aura of invincibility some of his peers had.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is someone very tough to rank as far as careers go. He retired undefeated as UFC lightweight champion with incredibly dominant triumphs.
You can’t help but feel he was only scratching the surface of his career. Nurmagomedov proved multiple times that he was unbeatable at his peak. All of his fights unfolded in similar fashion: Two minutes upright, followed by three minutes of smothering his opponents into submission.
Nurmagomedov held a mental edge over all of his opponents. His indefatigable tenacity was unmatched. If he grabbed you, you were going to the ground. There was nothing you could do about it except try to survive.
It’s no small task to defeat prime versions of Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Edson Barboza, Michael Johnson, and Rafael dos Anjos. That’s precisely what Nurmagomedov did, and that’s why he belongs on this list — even though it feels like he could’ve been so much higher up.
6. Amanda Nunes
No one would have ever guessed that Amanda Nunes would go down as the greatest Women’s MMA fighter of all time. At the start of her career, she was known as the exciting fighter that would give everything in the opening rounds and then gas after she couldn’t get the finish. No more.
She has as dominant of a run you could ask for, and can beat anyone in whatever fashion she feels like.
Nunes has prevailed over Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm, Valentina Shevchenko, Miesha Tate, and many more capable adversaries. As of this writing, she is the bantamweight and featherweight champion, and she defends both of her titles simultaneously.
First-round dominant knockouts of Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg are truly career-defining and very important for Nunes’ legacy. She is easily one of the best UFC fighters to ever grace the Octagon.
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From 2012 to 2017, Demetrious Johnson was unbeatable at flyweight. No one seemed to have an answer for him.
Johnson’s competition isn’t quite as impressive as others on this list, but he still holds W’s over some excellent fighters: Henry Cejudo, Kyoji Horiguchi, Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson, and Ian McCall. To say he is well-rounded is an understatement.
Whether it be knockouts, submissions or dominant decisions, Johnson has claimed victory in every conceivable way. No matter what his rivals’ tactics were, he always seemed to be one step ahead and uniquely adaptable.
“DJ” broke the record for most consecutive title defenses at 11, and will forever remain an important part of UFC history and the greatest flyweight.
4. Jose Aldo
If you were a UFC featherweight from 2011 to 2014, you were never going to come close to being a champion. Jose Aldo was one of the best to ever do it, making sure anyone who took him on would leave on crutches or with a broken spirit.
It’s a shame the UFC didn’t adopt the featherweight division sooner. Aldo was destroying opponents long before he came to the promotion.
“Junior” had the killer mentality you only find in the greats. He came across as emotionless, and was capable of exploiting any opening you gave him. Aldo used leg kicks in ways others hadn’t before, and he deployed body shots to break opponents down. He wouldn’t just dominate you, he would break you.
In his prime, Aldo was impossible to figure out. He could beat you in any way he wanted and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Aldo’s notable wins include duels with Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes, Chan Sung Jung, and Ricardo Lamas, among others. Despite joining the promotion late, Aldo still had time to defend his title successfully seven times.
Anderson Silva had an aura that was difficult to put into words. He was a brash showman who backed up his demeanor with absolutely brutal fighting tactics. Silva had a knack for adding foes to his personal highlight reel, leaving many looking silly in his wake.
A legendary front kick against Vitor Belfort stands the test of time as one of the greatest knockouts ever. Even when Silva moved up to 205, he made his opponents look like amateurs.
“The Spider” had quick reflexes and the confidence to try things no one would dare. He beat many Hall of Famers and former champions including Forest Griffin, Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, Rich Franklin, Chael Sonnen, Nate Marquardt, and many others.
Simply put, Silva was world-class from 2006 to 2012 in the UFC; absolutely unbeatable during that span. He successfully defended the middleweight belt 10 times and would have been up to 11 had Travis Lutter not missed weight.
Silva’s legacy as one of the greatest champions still holds, and his in-cage contributions will live on forever.
How’s this for a resume: Two-division champion, two-time welterweight champion, middleweight champion, nine successful title defenses.
“GSP” only lost twice and he avenged both losses with knockouts. He was as dominant as they come and found himself coasting through title fights on a regular basis.
Able to shut down anyone and always ready to deal with any adversity, St-Pierre’s championship win over Michael Bisping after being retired for four years helps him stand out.
Not only did that Bisping bout validate GSP’s phenomenal talent, but it furthered his legend as an artist who honed his craft and could still compete at an elite level after stepping away for an extended period of time. What could’ve been a miscalculated return for some wound up being an iconic power move by St-Pierre.
1. Jon Jones – The undisputed best UFC fighter ever
Jon Jones has as many controversies as he does title defenses, which is to say A LOT. His greatness lies everywhere imaginable.
He’s undefeated, has beaten two generations of light heavyweights, he’s well rounded, he holds multiple records…this isn’t hyperbole. Jones is easily the most impressive athlete on this list.
“Bones” has been in the UFC since 2008, and no one has been able to hack it against him. His list of fallen foes features every notable peer that he has; many greats from the 2000s and the greats from the 2010s among them.
Wins over Daniel Cormier, Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, Ryan Bader, Shogun Rua, Alexander Gustafsson, highlight an incredible resume. His ability to win fights on the feet or on the ground makes Jones an impossible challenge.
Jones has incredible potential with a move to heavyweight waiting for him. He is the best UFC fighter of all-time and that’s not going to change anytime soon.