The 10 Best MMA Fighters of All Time

Combat, Records

Over the years, many incredibly skilled MMA fighters have wrapped up their hands and made that walk to the cage. From flash knockouts to last-minute comebacks and mind-boggling submissions, there have been innumerable jaw-dropping moments in the twenty years since the sport’s infancy.

MMA fighters put their lives on the line every time that cage door closes behind them, but who is the best to ever do it?

Choosing the Best MMA Fighters of All Time

When it comes to defining the 10 best MMA fighters of all time, things become a little tricky. What criteria can be used to define the “best” fighters when there are so many qualities and skills involved in just getting through a grueling round?

Recognizing that a fighter is inherently better than their competition at maneuvering their bodies, rolling with the punches (literally), and standing strong in the face of pain is crucial to making a judgment call. But other factors are in play, too: the level of competition faced, the number of weight classes competed in, and whether or not they went out on top or fought well past their peak.

With those factors in mind, here’s our list of the best MMA fighters ever, starting with number 10.

10. Matt Hughes

ufc championship belt

Record: 45-9-0

Fighting Style: US wrestling.

Why He Made the List:

Hughes’ phenomenal career record, technical fighting abilities, and beatdown of Georges St-Pierre have earned him a well-deserved spot in the UFC Hall of Fame. As such, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest-ever MMA fighters for his untarnished and nearly unbeatable career legacy.

Career Overview:

It’s important to preface Matt Hughes’ legacy list with his first and arguably most epic achievement: he is one of the two men to have beaten Georges St-Pierre in a UFC match, another elite fighter to feature on our list.

From his first professional debut in 1998 to his retirement from the ring in 2011, Matt Hughes took part in 54 professional outings and ultimately maintained a 45-9 career record. After winning the UFC welterweight title in 2001 and defending it five times before losing the championship match to B.J. Penn, Hughes would go on to reclaim his title once again – fighting against none other than the great St-Pierre.

After thoroughly beating Pierre, Hughes defended his title twice more (even re-matching Penn) before Pierre returned to the Octagon to vanquish Hughes’ title with the fury of a wounded warrior. Nonetheless, Hughes continued dominating throughout his remaining years in the Octagon.

9. Jose Aldo

jose aldo landing body shot on max holloway

Record: 28-7-0

Fighting style: powerful leg kicks, with strong Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Why He Made the List:

Jose Aldo is arguably the best featherweight fighter ever. His dedication to winning matches was equaled only by his grit and refusal to give in. The 18-win streak Aldo claimed for a decade (from 2005 – 2015) while facing viciously skilled championship fighters attests to his MMA prowess.

Career Overview:

For as long as he competed, Aldo was a truly well-rounded and complete fighter. His skill wasn’t lacking – in fact, an unmatched degree of toughness was the only quality to match the near-lethality of his fighting abilities. Prior to Aldo’s UFC career, he conquered numerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu titles (including a world championship cup in 2004) and even claimed two wins over grappling phenom Rubens Charles.

Aldo’s black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and his significant striking abilities make him one of the greatest fighters the Octagon has ever witnessed. Knockout after knockout promptly made Jose Aldo the fighter to beat, and the UFC created a formal featherweight division because of him.

The lack of mainstream WEC fanfare and popularity made it hard for Aldo to gain the recognition he deserved in 2008, back when he made his first professional WEC debut. However, after recognizing his 145-pound fighting potential in 2010, the UFC elected to merge with the WEC. They promptly abandoned the WEC’s former middle/heavyweight classes and instead focused on bolstering their bantamweight and featherweight divisions.

After years of battering championship fighters (like Urijah Faber) on a routine basis, Aldo established a UFC career record of 28-7-0. He passed the featherweight torch to Max Holloway (arguably the next-best featherweight UFC warrior) in 2017 but remains on our list of the greats.

8. Fedor ‘The Last Emperor’ Emelianenko

fedor emelianenko looks onward

Record: 36-5-0 (1 no contest)

Fighting style: sambo wrestling and powerful, non-telegraphed striking.

Why He Made the List:

Not only could Fedor deliver skull-cracking punches – his ability to take a hard hit was unwavering. His offensive, aggressive, dominant attitude and fighting style in the ring was only matched by his unwavering dedication to a round.

Career Overview:

At one time, Fedor Emelianenko proved to be the most fearsome fighter in the world’s most violent combat sport. Remaining undefeated for nine years, he held a 28-fight win streak.

The “Last Emperor” didn’t look like a stereotypical fighter, though. As it turns out, he didn’t need to.

With his belly fat jiggling, Fedor would beat his opponents with brick hands, and virulent sledgehammer punches on the mat. During his glory days, Fedor terrorized martial artists of all disciplines with no regard for their individual disciplines – he didn’t need to worry about a wrestler taking him to the floor if he could land a one-hit knockout.

Notably, Fedor is the only fighter to make our list to never fight in the UFC. Still, his established reputation as one of the toughest fighters out there came from his seemingly impenetrable aura – nobody could touch him unless they wanted to get hurt just as badly (or much worse).

Opponents would risk it all to land “knockout” shots that ultimately didn’t work. Occasionally, Fedor’s humanity would shine through for a split second if a particularly skilled fighter landed a lucky shot.

However, without missing a beat, he’d immediately return fire and make a bloody mess of his opponent. Crippling blows made their way from Fedor’s gloves into his opponents’ bodies and faces in a mishmash of consistently delivered flurries that almost always resulted in a knockout.

His immense punching power and demonstrated toughness earn him a spot among the best of the best MMA fighters.

7. Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson

demetrious johnson speaks at press conference

Record: 27-3-1

Fighting Style: freestyle wrestler with elusive movement and rapid striking.

Why He Made the List:

Johnson’s infamous in-fight technical adjustments and unparalleled ability to get creative with his crushing blows gave him an edge over some of the best fighters the world has ever seen. While fighting the best contenders in the division, Johnson maintained a pristine career record for many years.

Career Overview:

Demetrious Johnson’s transition to the UFC’s flyweight division was his smartest career move to date. Since making the switch in 2004, Johnson has secured a 16-1-1 career record – and for much of his time in the Octagon, he was regarded as the ultimate pound-for-pound UFC fighter. His 11 title defenses and status as the inaugural UFC flyweight champion give Johnson at least a portion of the recognition he deserves.

However, after losing a controversial split decision match to Henry Cejudo, the UFC took their opportunity to part ways with Johnson. This decision is widely considered to be due to a lack of selling power attached to the Mighty Mouse name. Two judges scored the fight for Cejudo 48-47, and the third gave Johnson 48-47. This fight marked Johnson’s first loss since he fought Dominick Cruz in October 2011, seven years prior.

While business is just business for the UFC, Johnson’s fighting abilities (as widely unrecognized as they are) earn him a spot amongst the all-time greats.

6. Conor ‘The Notorious’ McGregor

conor mcgregor blows kiss to fans

Record: 22-4-0

Fighting Style: high-pressure counter-striking from the southpaw stance.

Why He Made the List:

His innate confidence, swagger, and consistent dominance both inside and out of the Octagon contribute heavily to his massive MMA success and make him one of the best fighters ever.

Career Overview:

Conor McGregor is the biggest star in UFC history. Aside from his social media popularity (he also sells his own branded whiskey) and internet antics, he can also fight incredibly well. In fact, in 2015 he knocked Jose Aldo to the ground in 13 seconds with a single punch. After that incident sent shockwaves throughout the MMA world, McGregor continued to establish his “Mystic Mac” fighter persona.

Fighting just seven times over a three-year period didn’t stop him from boldly (and correctly) predicting each of his victories and leaving pure carnage behind him. With his distinct, aggressive, and taunting style of combat, he differentiates himself from the competition.

McGregor is a lethal counter-striker with a piston for a left hand, that’s as much about precision as it is power. Unsurprisingly then, the majority of his career wins have come from brutal one-punch knockouts or impeccably timed combinations. His elite range management, distance control, and the formidable nature of his left overhand are well-known all over the world.

5. Daniel ‘DC’ Cormier

daniel cormier with his wife

Record: 22-3-0

Fighting Style: world-class US wrestling.

Why He Made the List:

Noted for being one of only a handful of ‘double champs’ in UFC history, as well as for his heated rivalries with elite fighters such as Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier’s impressive resume and career performance earn him a spot amongst the 10 best-ever MMA practitioners.

Career Overview:

Daniel “DC” Cormier makes this list as one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time because he exhibited an almost-mythical level of wrestling strength against his opponents. Having been a former Olympic wrestler, it’s easy to see why DC was able to take his competition to the mat for a quick (and brutal) ground-and-pound knock out almost immediately.

Combined with his striking skills, Cormier’s level of physical conditioning and apparent resistance to getting hit, allowed him to dictate the pace and outcome of each fight.

At one time holding a #6 ranking in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rankings and the #1 UFC heavyweight ranking, Cormier has since made the switch to analyzing and commentating UFC bouts.

He is the first fighter to defend championship titles within two different divisions. Cormier is also the second UFC fighter in the sport’s history to hold simultaneous division championship titles.

4. Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva

anderson silva throwing head kick

Record: 34-11-0

Fighting Style: versatile and unorthodox striking drawn from the styles of Muay Thai and Wing Chun.

Why He Made the List:

While Silva may be outfitted with the skill to engage in a ground-and-pound fight, he’s much more inclined towards throwing spinning back-fists, flying knees, devastating punches, quick elbows, and complex kicks. Even though he’s far past his fighting peak, he’s still one of the greatest MMA fighters the world has ever seen.

Career Overview:

Widely regarded as one of the best strikers of all time, Anderson Silva’s 17-0 winning streak and 10 championship title defense wins at the height of his career place him among the MMA GOATs.

In the ring, Silva was dominant to a fault. He didn’t just settle for regular knockouts, he did whatever he wanted to do from round to round. Brutal, skilled combinations of kicks, punches, elbows, and knees had Silva’s opponents curled up on the ground whenever his vicious strikes landed.

Silva even transitioned into the UFC’s light heavyweight division on three separate occasions to defeat high-profile championship title contenders James Irvin, Forrest Griffin, and Stephan Bonnar.

3. Jon ‘Bones’ Jones

jon jones poses for a photo

Record: 26-1-0 (1 no contest)

Fighting Style: strong all-rounder, with powerful oblique kicks and elbow strikes.

Why He Made the List:

Jones’ defensive striking is unmatched, and he’s the obvious choice for holding the highest fighter IQ of all time. In simple terms, he makes the right decisions, at the right time, every time. Even considering all of Jones’ external troubles, there is no debate to be had about his technical fighting abilities.

Career Overview:

Jon Jones was just 23 years old when he became the light heavyweight UFC champion of the world in 2011 – making him the single youngest championship belt holder in UFC history. However, troubles both inside and out of the Octagon have left their marks on his public reputation.

In 2013, Jon Jones bested Chael Sonnen with a dislocated toe and endured five grueling rounds battling Alexander Gustafsson to claim his sixth title defense (and the UFC record for light heavyweights). But after finishing out the year strong, Jones’ personal issues got the best of him.

After starting a brawl in 2014 with trash-talking opponent Daniel Cormier at a scheduled Las Vegas news conference intended to promote their upcoming title fight, Jones was fined $50,000 and mandated to perform 40 hours of community service.

In January 2015, after winning his title fight against Cormier by unanimous decision, Jones tested positive for cocaine metabolites. He was fined $25,000 by the UFC for his failed drug test. From 2016 – 2019, Jones went on to fail multiple doping and drug tests administered by USADA and was also arrested as recently as March 2020.

But for all his troubles, Jon’s in-cage performances are truly remarkable. He tore through the light heavyweight division during his rise and made those at the top of the division look like aging veterans, past their prime.

2. Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov

drawing of khabib nurmagomedov

Record: 29-0-0

Fighting Style: sambo wrestling, vicious against-the-cage ground control.

Why He Made the List:

Khabib Nurmagomedov has never lost a fight. He defeated the likes of Conor McGregor and other high-profile opponents, without ever being cut or knocked down. Arguably, he’s never even lost a round.

Career Overview:
After 29 successful bouts in the Octagon, Nurmagomedov only continues to get better. He is currently undefeated, having hammer-fisted, elbowed, grappled, and submitted his way through formidably skilled opponents with relative ease.

After struggling for many years to gain attention with his efficient knockouts, Nurmagomedov finally landed the fame and fortune that should have accompanied his unmatched talent from the very beginning.

At UFC 229 in 2018, Nurmagomedov defeated Conor McGregor by fourth-round submission. Leading up to the championship match, there had been very bad blood between the two fighters. After the official fight was over, Khabib decided to start another and scaled the Octagon to attack McGregor’s teammate, Dillon Danis. An Octagon-wide brawl promptly ensued, and UFC president Dana White chastised Khabib for instigating violence.

Still, this title showing against McGregor finally got his abilities noticed by a much larger audience of promoters and fans.

1. Georges ‘Rush’ St. Pierre

georges st. pierre smiling

Record: 26-2-0

Fighting style: wrestling-heavy, with an outstanding lead jab.

Why He Made the List:

Georges St. Pierre, nicknamed ‘GSP’ for short, is widely regarded as one of the best ever MMA fighters– and for good reason. GSP only ever lost to two opponents. In both cases, he fought them again, and won. He dominated for years and held UFC world titles in multiple weight classes, capturing the second title coming off a 4-year hiatus from the sport. For these reasons, he tops our list.

Career Overview:

His career record before retiring from the UFC was 26 – 2. He held the UFC welterweight championship belt from 2006 – 2007 and again from 2008 – 2013. St. Pierre simultaneously holds a UFC record for defending his welterweight championship status on 9 separate occasions.

GSP was also named as the Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year from 2008 – 2010 and recognized as the 2009 World MMA Awards Fighter of the Year, 2008 Black Belt Magazine MMA Fighter of the Year, and Sports Illustrated 2009 Top Fighter.

More recently, in 2017, Georges St. Pierre defeated Michael Bisping by submission to claim the middleweight championship belt – this makes him only the fourth fighter in UFC history to win championship titles under multiple weight classes.

Now, GSP has set his sights on fighting Khabib Nurmagomedov, whom he calls the “perfect fighter” – claiming he exudes an “air of invincibility” as his justification. With Khabib’s undefeated status still standing, he’s right.

At least one thing is for certain – it will be an interesting matchup between the two greats!

Final Thoughts

boxing gloves on wall

It’s no secret that the Octagon has seen its fair share of combatants. However, there are always those competitors who rise above the rest, and these 10 insanely skilled UFC fighters are the absolute best of the best.

Fancy working on your own skills? Here’s our guide to the best heavy bag gloves in 2020.