MMA has led the way in boosting the global popularity of fighting sports and has rejuvenated interest in many previously obscure martial arts, encouraging new generations of fans and followers to take an interest in the world’s oldest sports.
As the pinnacle of modern MMA, the UFC has produced some of the very best athletes in the history of fighting sports, while generating an audience of tens of millions. The top UFC fights can rival anything we’ve seen from the sport of boxing in terms of global interest, and the betting market, according to online sports betting portal WSN.com, ahead of each UFC installment are busy as fans and bettors share their predictions.
Some UFC fighters have transcended the sport, becoming global sporting icons in their own right, while others have remained dominant within their particular division, yet widely respected for their prowess. Here are eight UFC athletes who deserve to be considered among the very best.
By the time The Eagle left the Octagon, he had amassed a perfect 29-0 win-loss record over the course of a remarkable career. Along the way, he beat three of the best UFC athletes of all time: Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje and Conor McGregor, overcoming each of them in less than one round. Utterly dominant in the lightweight division, he is the greatest grappler the sport has seen.
In a career that ran from 2002 to 2017, Georges St-Pierre dominated the welterweight division, hardly losing a round along the way. He signed off from UFC with nine consecutive welterweight title defenses, and then in his final fight, won the middleweight championship on his first attempt. Few other fighters in the UFC have combined that level of dominance with the mastery of multiple facets of the fighting arts.
The chaos that has followed him outside the Octagon, most of it self-inflicted, should not obscure the fact that Jon Jones is one of the best UFC fighters ever. His behavior outside the UFC has often shown him to be completely out of control, but in the Octagon, he is another person entirely, using his reach and fighting intelligence to dismantle opponents. He hasn’t fought since 2020 but even if we don’t see him in action again, his 10 light heavyweight defenses mark him out as one of the greats.
Although he struggled against Jon Jones and suffered two losses to Stipe Miocic at the end of his time in the UFC, for many years in the Octagon, Cormier was unstoppable. The pinnacle of his incredible UFC career came in 2018 when he bounced back from a defeat to Jones (later overturned) to beat Volkan Oezdemir to retain his light heavyweight title, before beating Miocic inside one round to become heavyweight champion, one of only four double title holders in UFC history.
Miocic hasn’t fought since losing the heavyweight title to Francis Ngannou in March 2021, but he has earned his place in the UFC pantheon thanks to an incredible run of victories that led him to beat Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem and Ngannou in succession, to defend his heavyweight championship. Equally impressive was his triology victory over Daniel Cormier, winning two of the three fights. He is not done yet. Miocic could be back in the Octagon in 2022 to add to his record.
Defeats in three out of his last four fights, including losses to Nurmagomedov and Poirier, along with a string of controversies away from the Octagon, have taken some of the luster off McGregor’s reputation, but his impact on the UFC will not soon be forgotten. The first double champion in the history of the sport, McGregor has always been a box office attraction and no other fighter has been able to command such drawing power, along with having a reputation as an entertainer.
Known as ‘The Spider’, Anderson Silva has 11 losses on his record, but his place in UFC history is assured. Between June 2006 and October 2012, he recorded 16 consecutive wins and did so with style and precision, utilizing one of the most individual fighting techniques ever seen.
Defeats in the last two to three years have spoiled his record, but no one should underestimate the impact that Max Holloway had on the UFC. Up until 2019, he won 13 consecutive fights as he dominated the featherweight division. Although Alexander Volkanovski got the better of him in recent fights, his 2021 victories over Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez showed him to be one of the best MMA strikers ever.