10 most famous UFC fighters of all-time
Over the last 20 years, UFC competitors have become some of the most well-known athletes in any sport.
Several of them have popped in Hollywood blockbusters. Others somehow blurred the lines between sports and politics. One even became a champion in the fictional realm of World Wrestling Entertainment. And then there are those that are have been absolute cash cows for the promotion.
However, an elite group stands above the rest. Here are the 10 most famous UFC fighters and promotional alums of all time.
10. Tito Ortiz
For better or worse, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz’s popularity has never been in doubt. Despite having peaked as a UFC fighter in 2012, it didn’t stop Bellator and Combate Americas from handing him generous free-agent contracts and main event slots well past his prime. Most recently, despite a long record of saying some truly asinine things, the 46-year-old won a seat on the Huntington Beach, California city council in November. While that stint ended unceremoniously after seven months, the undying love Ortiz has from his fans is so strong they were even willing to give him an undeserved run in an elected office.
9. Royce Gracie
Royce Gracie is a name in mixed martial arts that holds the same weight as George Washington’s connection to American independence. He is the ultimate pioneer of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and his performances over those first four events as exposed Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA to millions of people still resonates today. Gracie is also one of the few UFC OG’s that the promotion still consistently shows love for and continues to expand his legendary brand to millions of new fans around the globe all the time
8. Randy Couture
Randy Couture is one of the most beloved fighters in MMA history. His age-defying stint in the UFC included reigns as both a light heavyweight and heavyweight champion. That success (and some decent acting chops) caught the eye of legendary Hollywood action star Sylvester Stallone. “Rambo” ended up casting “The Natural” in his popular The Expendables series, in the reoccurring role of fellow mercenary Toll Road. There’s no better proof of fame than when “Rocky Balboa” hands you a spot in three of the most popular action films of the 2010s.
7. Nate Diaz
Nick Diaz’s little brother Nate surpassed his older sibling in fame years ago. However, in the last decade, he has surpassed most of the roster in popularity and became UFC President Dana White’s favorite native of Stockton, California. As he banked big bucks for the UFC on pay-per-view and arena ticket sales. His random tweets are now quick fodder for MMA media news stories and he’s often mentioned by welterweights and lightweights alike looking to elevate their income and relevancy status.
6. Anderson Silva
Anderson Silva is a sports icon in Brazil on the level of soccer superstars. And if you know anything about Brazil and most of South America, futbol is an unofficial second religion in the region. His legendary run in the UFC transcended regular fame and made him must-see television in the sixth most populated nation on the planet. The notion of someone becoming more synonymous with mixed martial arts in Brazil than Royce Gracie once seemed laughable. Silva has surpassed that and then some.
5. Jorge Masvidal
You know you’re famous when a standing US President is willing to take a night off (although this one probably took many nights off) to head to New York’s Madison Square Garden to see you headline a UFC event. But that is the kind of clout Jorge Masvidal earned in 2019 when then-President Donald Trump took a floor seat to see “Gamebred” pummel Nate Diaz at UFC 244. The UFC “Baddest Mother F*cker” is one of the promotion’s biggest stars. However, he elevated his national status to new heights in 2020 when he played the role of GOP surrogate in stumping for Trump during his failed bid for re-election.
4. Georges St-Pierre
To start, Georges St-Pierre is one of the most famous UFC fighters ever because of his ability to always deliver PPV and gate revenues. Especially when in his native Canada. But there is no greater sign of fame and notoriety than landing a spot in the most famous film franchise of all time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Rush” played bad guy mercenary “Batroc The Leaper” in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and then reprised the role in 2021 on hit Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Now, there are more people around the globe who now know “GSP” as “Batroc” instead of as the greatest welterweight in UFC history. Now that is fame.
3. Ronda Rousey
Simply put, new mother Ronda Rousey is the biggest name ever to compete in women’s MMA and one of the biggest stars in MMA history. Her growing stardom forced Dana White to add women to the UFC. As her star grew with the UFC’s marketing might behind it, Hollywood came calling and she scored several high-profile acting gigs. Including a part in The Expendables 3, and one in the seventh edition of the uber-popular (I don’t understand why) Fast and Furious series, Furious 7. Then she parlayed that into a year-long run with WWE, which culminated with being part of the first all-female main event in Wrestlemania’s prestigious history.
2. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Social media followers aren’t the end-all-be-all of fame, but when you have the reach of Khabib Nurmagomedov and his close to 40 million followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, then your influencer game makes you easily one of the most famous UFC fighters ever Furthermore, he is a Russian sports superstar that has held court with President Vladimir Putin, and a sports icon in his native Dagestan.
But maybe the greatest sign of true fame is when others become famous just by admiring or knowing you. There is no better example of that than pint-sized social media and YouTube star Hasbulla, AKA “mini-Khabib.” The minuscule super-fan and would-be fighter has become a viral monster by way of association with the unbeaten lightweight great.
1. Conor McGregor
The top spot for most famous UFC fighters of all time was an easy one. When you are in the top-10 of Forbes‘ highest-paid athletes you are no longer a run-of-the-mill star athlete. Because in today’s brand-driven world, you need to be pretty damn famous to land on that list. Even if he is going through the roughest patch of his fighting career, the Conor McGregor brand is second to none in combat sports. And being the former owner and public face of a successful whiskey brand has only expanded the Irishman’s mainstream reach. The McGregor business is booming in spite of his recent defeats and that’s why he’s at the top of the most famous UFC fighters list.Join the discussion on this topic...