Activities Sports & Athletics Meet the 15 Best MMA Fighters of All Time Share PINTEREST Email Print Sports & Athletics Martial Arts MMA & UFC Styles Baseball Basketball Bicycling Billiards Bodybuilding Bowling Boxing Car Racing Cheerleading Cricket Extreme Sports Football Golf Gymnastics Ice Hockey Professional Wrestling Skateboarding Skating Paintball Soccer Swimming & Diving Table Tennis Tennis Track & Field Volleyball Other Activities Learn More By Robert Rousseau Robert Rousseau is a martial arts expert and a former senior writer for MMA Fighting. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Robert Rousseau Updated December 11, 2018 In any sport, inside experts and fans alike disagree about who deserves to be on a list of the best of all time. The list of the best MMA fighters of all time is no different. In an effort to be as objective as possible, these ratings are based on the following three criteria, rated on a 1-to-10 scale with 10 being best: A great prime career: Good athletes generally have a period of years where their performance is at its peak. In their peak years, the best MMA fighters don't just excel; they dominate the competition. Longevity: Top MMA competitors tend to have a long career that isn't hobbled by injury. And they don't just fight for a long time; they fight well for an extended period of their careers.Intangibles: Greatness is sometimes defined by special achievements or personal characteristics that can't be measured by performance or longevity. It may be a mind for strategy or sheer physical grace. Either way, it's a fighter's essence that gives him an edge. Find out if your favorite MMA fighter is on this list of the 15 best athletes of all time. 01 of 15 Anderson Silva Anderson Silva punches Daniel Cornier during the UFC 200 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 9, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Rey Del Rio / Getty Images Prime (10): From April 22, 2006, to Oct. 13, 2012, Anderson "The Spider" Silva simply mauled people. Before the days of the competing Pride Fighting Championships, when most outstanding middleweight fighters competed for the UFC, Silva went 17-0. What's more, he stopped 14 of 17 fighters during that time, including: Chael Sonnen (twice via triangle armbar and TKO), Yushin Okami (TKO), Vitor Belfort (outstanding front kick KO), Forrest Griffin (fighting in a higher weight class—dominant KO), Dan Henderson (rear naked choke), James Irvin (KO at light heavyweight), Rich Franklin (twice by TKO), Nate Marquardt (TKO), Travis Lutter (comeback triangle choke with elbows), and Chris Leben (KO). Longevity (9): Silva began fighting in 1997 and went 16-4 before even reaching his prime (with one disqualification). During those early years, he defeated the likes of Hayato Sakurai, Carlos Newtown, Jeremy Horn, Lee Murray, and Jorge Rivera. He did lose four fights during that time, but he was already fighting top competitors. Intangibles (9.5): UFC President Dana White has called Silva "the greatest mixed martial artist ever." An intimidating presence in the cage, Silva is one of those fighters who has taken traditional techniques—like the front kick to the face and side kick to the knees—and made them work in MMA. Total: 28.5 Notes: Silva dominated his division in the UFC with stoppages when there were no other truly valid competing organizations. Simply put, he's the greatest MMA fighter of all time. 02 of 15 Fedor Emelianenko Strikeforce fighter Fabricio Werdum (L) battles Fedor Emelianenko during their Heavyweight fight at HP Pavilion, June 26, 2010 in San Jose, California. Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images Prime (10): Talk about a prime: From April 6, 2001, to Nov. 7, 2009, Fedor Emelianenko went undefeated. That's 28 straight matches with a single no-contest. He defeated some of the best heavyweights in the sport during that streak, including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice by clear dominant decision) and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (clear decision). After the Pride Fighting Championships came to an end, he defeated Andrei Arlovski (KO) and Tim Sylvia (rear naked choke). Both opponents had been among the best UFC heavyweights when Emelianenko was still in Pride. Two negative factors affect Fedor's prime. For one, he competed in Pride during a time when some of the better heavyweights were in the UFC. In other words, he did not compete against all of the best heavyweights of the time. In addition, Pride often pitted its best fighters against competitors who were not world-class. Fedor benefited from this some. Still, it was one of the greatest primes ever. Longevity (8.5): Fedor's prime was lengthy. His undefeated streak stretched over the course of eight years. Intangibles (9.5): For a very long time, there was a mystique surrounding this stoic fighter. He is widely considered to be the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time and was one of the most closely followed during an amazing 35-4 career. Total: 28 03 of 15 Georges St. Pierre Georges St. Pierre (L) battles Thiago Alves (R). Jon Kopaloff / Getty Images Prime (9.5): Georges St. Pierre, who last fought in 2017, holds a 26-2 overall MMA record in a career that began on Jan. 25, 2002. His only two losses were by stoppage to Matt Hughes (armbar) and Matt Serra (TKO). 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, with knees to the body. St. Pierre also has defeated the likes of Karo Parisyan (decision), Jay Hieron (TKO), Jason Miller (decision), Frank Trigg (rear naked choke), Sean Sherk (TKO), B.J. Penn (decision and TKO), Josh Koscheck (two decisions), Jon Fitch (decision), Thiago Alves (decision), Jake Shields (decision), Carlos Condit (decision), and Nick Diaz (decision). The one strike against St. Pierre is that most of his more recent wins came by way of decision, unlike the two top fighters on this list. Longevity (8): To put this in perspective, St. Pierre's prime spanned nearly his entire career. Intangibles (8.5): St. Pierre is one of MMA's most popular fighters and a true mainstream success. Total: 26 Notes: St. Pierre defeated Hughes two of the three times he faced him, landing him ahead of the man who held the belt before he did. 04 of 15 Matt Hughes Carlos Newton of Canada (top) battles with Matt Hughes of the USA during the Ultimate Fighting Championship, 'Brawl in the Royal Albert Hall', in the Royal Albert Hall London, England on July 13, 2002. John Gichigi / Getty Images Prime (9.5): From March 17, 2001, to Sept. 23, 2006, Matt Hughes posted a 19-1 overall MMA record, avenging his only loss to B.J. 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. In his prime, he defeated Georges St. Pierre (armbar), Carlos Newton (KO and TKO), Sean Sherk (decision), Frank Trigg (twice by rear choke), Royce Gracie (TKO), and B.J. Penn (TKO, but he lost twice to him). Not to mention that during his prime, he defended his welterweight strap on seven occasions. And along the way, 16 of those victories came by way of stoppage. Longevity (9): Hughes started his professional MMA career with a submission (slam) win on Jan. 1, 1998. From that day until Sept. 23, 2006, he posted a 41-4 overall MMA record. After losing two in a row to St. Pierre and Thiago Alves, Newton managed a three-fight win streak. Between May 23, 2009, and Aug. 7, 2010, he defeated Matt Serra (decision), Renzo Gracie (TKO), and Ricardo Almeida (a technical submission from a front headlock). Intangibles (7.5): The master of the KO by slam brought excitement to the Octagon. He was the best UFC champion in terms of defenses when he was in top form. Not to mention, he was the one who defeated Royce Gracie, ushering in the modern era of MMA. Total: 26 Notes: What Hughes did during his MMA career is underrated by today's standards. 05 of 15 Royce Gracie Royce Gracie in action during the Ultimate Fighter Championships UFC 1 on November 12, 1993 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado. Holly Stein / Getty Images Prime (8.5): From Nov. 12, 1993, to April 7, 1995, Royce Gracie went 11-0-1. During that time, he won three UFC tournaments, the most that anyone ever won during tournament-style fighting in the organization. What's more, he stopped all 11 of his opponents via submission. In addition, he posted a winning record against his two greatest rivals: Ken Shamrock (1-0-1) and Dan Severn (1-0). Against Severn, a high-level wrestler with a 90-pound weight advantage, Gracie proved his mettle, toughing it out for almost 16 minutes beneath his opponent before defeating him via triangle choke. Longevity (7): Gracie sat out for nearly five years after drawing with Ken Shamrock because he was not happy with rule changes that included time limits. When Gracie finally did come back on Jan. 30, 2000, he went a combined 3-2-2, the two draws coming in matches without judges against Hidehiko Yoshida and Hideo Tokoro. Intangibles (10): Gracie has this category over every other fighter. We're talking about the man who ushered in modern MMA. His UFC tournament performance proved grappling was king over the striking styles if you only knew one style and that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu really was the equalizer over a bigger opponent. Today, nearly every high-level fighter uses his family's art in training. That says something. Total: 25.5 Notes: Gracie beats out Wanderlei Silva because when there is a tie, it should always go to the first true star of modern MMA. 06 of 15 Wanderlei Silva Ethan Miller / Getty Images Prime (9): From Aug. 12, 2000, to July 1, 2006, Wanderlei Silva went a combined 20-2-1 (with one no-contest), including 18 fights without a loss. He defeated the likes of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (twice by KO/TKO), Hidehiko Yoshida (twice by decision), Kazushi Sakuraba (twice by KO/TKO), Ricardo Arona (split decision), Ikuhisa Minowa (KO), Dan Henderson (decision), and Guy Mezger (KO). He was also clearly one of the greatest Pride fighters of all time. Longevity (8.5): Silva was a high-level fighter for a very long time. He started fighting in 1996, experienced his entire prime in organizations other than the UFC, and won three of five fights in the UFC from Feb. 21, 2010, to March 3, 2013, over the likes of Brian Stann (KO), Cung Le (TKO), and Michael Bisping (decision). Intangibles (8): Silva defeated high-level fighters in both the 205-pound class (where he engaged during his prime) and the 185-pound class (UFC). He is known as probably the most ferocious stand-up fighter in history, always willing to take a punch to give one. In addition, he was always willing to fight anyone, which may have impacted the length of his career, having fought battles against heavyweights like Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and Mark Hunt. Total: 25.5 Notes: Silva has the edge on Big Nog due to the length of time he held the Pride belt. 07 of 15 Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira Mauricio Rua of Brazil (right) fights Antonio Rogerio Nogueira of Brazi (blue). Matthew Stockman / Getty Images Prime (8.5): From Oct. 9, 2000, until Feb. 2, 2008, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira posted a 22-2 record with one no-contest. During that time, he defeated the likes of Heath Herring (three times, once for the first Pride Heavyweight Championship), Mark Coleman (triangle armbar), Bob Sapp (armbar), Dan Henderson (armbar), Ricco Rodriguez (decision), Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (armbar), Fabricio Werdum (decision), Josh Barnett (decision), and Tim Sylvia (guillotine choke for the UFC Heavyweight Championship belt). Nogueira had an amazingly long prime with some huge wins to his credit, even if some of the best fighters in the world were competing for the UFC at the time. Yet he held the heavyweight title only briefly before Fedor Emelianenko defeated him. Longevity (9): Nogueira fought at a very high level, defeating a who's who in the MMA world, including Randy Couture. Intangibles (8): He is one of the best submission fighters ever and has the distinction of holding championship belts in both Pride and the UFC. Total: 25.5 08 of 15 Randy Couture UFC fighter Randy Couture (L) battles Mark Coleman during their Light Heavyweight fight at UFC 109: Relentless at Mandalay Bay Events Center on February 6, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images Prime (7): Randy "Captain America" Couture never went on a very long winning streak. You could argue that his true prime was between Oct. 9, 2000, and Nov. 2, 2001, when he won six of seven fights, defeating high-level competitors like Jeremy Horn (decision), Kevin Randleman (TKO), Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (decision), and Pedro Rizzo (twice, once by TKO, once by decision). Along the way, he won the heavyweight belt and defended it twice. Longevity (8.5): Couture started fighting on May 30, 1997. He stopped on April 30, 2011, having won three of four fights. In other words, his longevity was outstanding. What's more, he started fighting professionally at age 33, which is a time when many have found themselves on the downside of a career. Intangibles (9.5): Couture was one of the first real stars of MMA after the blackout years. He 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 shut down the boxing vs. MMA talk with his dominant submission win over James Toney. Total: 25 09 of 15 Bas Rutten Michael Buckner / Getty Images PRIME (9): Between April 8, 1995, and May 7, 1999, Bas Rutten posted a 20-0-1 record, fighting mostly for the Pancrase organization. Along the way, he won the UFC heavyweight championship with a controversial split-decision win over Kevin Randleman. During his now-famous winning streak, Rutten defeated top-flight competitors like Maurice Smith (heel hook), Jason DeLucia (toe hold, TKO), Minoru Suzuki (guillotine), Guy Mezger (heel hook), Frank Shamrock (TKO and split decision), Masakatsu Funaki (TKO), and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (TKO). Rutten's best days have to be considered some of the best ever. Longevity (7): Rutten's earlier fights—Sept. 21, 1993, to March 10, 1995—were not as good as his prime. Nevertheless, he posted a 7-4 record, including two submission losses to Ken Shamrock and one decision loss to his brother Frank. But injuries cut his career short, a strike against his longevity rating. Intangibles (8): Rutten was one of the first stand-up fighters to find success in MMA. 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 worked as an MMA commentator and trainer. Total: 24.5 Notes: Rutten gets the nod over Henderson, Sakuraba, and Liddell thanks to his championship belts and his skill in grappling. 10 of 15 Kazushi Sakuraba Brazilian fighter Royce Gracie (bottom) battles Kazushi Sakuraba from Japan during fight action at the Los Angeles Coliseum, June 2, 2007. Bob Riha Jr/WireImage Prime (7.5): From Dec. 21, 1997, to Dec. 9, 2000, Kazushi Sakuraba went an impressive 11-1-1 while fighting for the Pride Fighting Championships. He defeated Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie, and Ryan Gracie during that time period, earning him the moniker of "The Gracie Hunter." He also defeated fighters like Marcus Silveira, Vernon White, Carlos Newton, Vitor Belfort, Guy Mezger, and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson during his best days, all coming by way of stoppage other than Belfort (decision). Longevity (7.5): Through Oct. 25, 2009, Sakuraba continued to find ways to win fights, with his final victory coming over Zelg Galesic by kneebar. Even so, from Nov. 3, 2001, to Sept. 24, 2011, he posted a 13-13 record (with one no-contest). Intangibles (9.5): Only one fighter on this list, Royce Gracie, has better intangibles than Sakuraba. By defeating the Gracies, he proved that Gracie Jiu Jitsu by itself was not unbeatable. He was among the 2017 inductees into the MMA Hall of Fame. Total: 24.5 Notes: Sakuraba gains the edge on Liddell and Henderson because of what his wins over the Gracies mean to the sport's history. 11 of 15 Chuck Liddell Fighter 'Sugar' Shane Mosley (L) and MMA fighter Chuck Liddell (R) spar during the Reebok launch of the ZIGTECH shoe on February 5, 2010 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Marc Serota / Getty Images Prime (8.5): From March 31, 1999, to Dec. 30, 2006, Chuck Liddell achieved an 18-2 MMA record, earning the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and defeating the likes of Tito Ortiz (twice by KO/TKO), Renato Sobral (twice by TKO), Jeff Monson (decision), Guy Mezger (KO), Murilo Bustamante (decision), Amar Suloev (decision), Kevin Randleman (KO), Vitor Belfort (decision), Alistair Overeem (KO), Vernon White (KO), 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. Longevity (7): Liddell started fighting in 1998 and continued at a very high level until 2006. Yet, from May 26, 2007, until his retirement after a June 12, 2010, loss to Rich Franklin, Liddell lost five of his last six bouts, with nearly all of his losses coming by way of stoppage. Intangibles (9): Liddell was one of the organization's first true superstars. In addition, his anti-wrestling skills (the ability to avoid takedowns so as to be able to knock people out) are unmatched. Total: 24.5 Notes: Liddell was one of the hardest-hitting fighters of all time. And he was beloved by his fans. He beats out Dan Henderson because he held an upper-level championship belt longer. 12 of 15 Dan Henderson Dan Henderson (R) battles Michael Bisping during their Middleweight bout at UFC 100, July 11, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images Prime (7.5): Dan Henderson enjoyed several winning streaks during his MMA career. From March 16, 2003, to April 2, 2006, he went 8-1, with wins over Murilo Bustamante (by TKO and split decision) and Kazuo Misaki (decision). Henderson also won 12 of 13 to start his career (beginning on June 15, 1997) with wins over Carlos Newton (split decision), Gilbert Yvel (decision), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (split decision), Renato Sobral (majority decision), and Murilo Rua (split decision). Longevity (9.5): Here's a guy who started fighting on June 15, 1997, and lasted until 2016. In the final years of his career, he defeated Vitor Belfort (decision), Wanderlei Silva (avenging an earlier loss by KO), Rich Franklin (split decision), Michael Bisping (KO), Fedor Emelianenko (TKO), and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (decision). Intangibles (7.5): Henderson defeated Fedor Emelianenko, which is nothing to scoff at. Total: 24.5 Notes: Henderson is a legend, but he never held a high-level MMA title for any significant length of time. 13 of 15 Frank Shamrock Frank Shamrock (center) at the IFL Chicago Weigh-In. Brian Bahr / Getty Images Prime (8): From Sept. 26, 1997, to Dec. 10, 2000, Frank Shamrock posted an impressive 9-0-1 MMA record. During that time, where he competed in both the UFC and other organizations, Shamrock defeated fighters like Igor Zinoviev (KO), Enson Inoue (TKO), Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (decision), Kevin Jackson (armbar), Jeremy Horn (kneebar), Tito Ortiz (submission from elbows), and Elvis Sinosic (split decision). Longevity (9): Shamrock's MMA career started in 1994 with the Pancrase organization and a win over Bas Rutten by majority decision. After passing his prime, he jumped back into the MMA game, winning the WEC light heavyweight title in 2003 over Bryan Pardoe. In 2007, he won the Strikeforce middleweight crown with his rear naked choke victory over Phil Baroni, then retired in 2010. Intangibles (7): Shamrock's name is a renowned one in MMA circles. He was one of the first fighters to cross-train intensely with Maurice Smith, which in part led the sport into the era of truly mixed martial arts. And it's hard to discount Shamrock's belts in the UFC, Strikeforce, and WEC. Total: 24 Notes: Shamrock had success in multiple organizations and was the best in his weight class during his peak. 14 of 15 Tito Ortiz Tito Ortiz (R) battles Forrest Griffin. Jon Kopaloff / Getty Images Prime (8): From April 14, 2000, to Oct. 10, 2006, Tito 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 (cobra choke), Evan Tanner (KO), Elvis Sinosic (TKO), Vladimir Matyushenko (decision), and Ken Shamrock (TKO). Though Ortiz lost his next two fights to Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, he went on to defeat Patrick Cote (decision), Vitor Belfort (decision-split), Forrest Griffin (decision-split), and Ken Shamrock (two more times by TKO). Longevity (6.5): Ortiz made his MMA debut on May 30, 1997, and went through the streak noted earlier. Yet, from Dec. 30, 2006, to July 7, 2012, Ortiz went 1-7-1. It should be noted that back injuries seemed to play a part in his fall from the elite. Further, there were some gaps between bouts during his career. He retired in 2017. Intangibles (9): Ortiz was the UFC's first true star after the blackout era. He was known for his ferocious ground-and-pound style and became the fighter many loved to hate toward the latter part of his career. Total: 23.5 15 of 15 B.J. Penn Lightweight champion BJ Penn (R) battles Kenny Florian. Jon Kopaloff / Getty Images Prime (7.5): Depending on your vantage, you could pick different primes for B.J. Penn. Many might go with the period from June 23, 2007, to Dec. 12, 2009, when he won five of six matches, defeating Jens Pulver (rear naked choke), Joe Stevenson (rear naked choke), Sean Sherk (TKO), Kenny Florian (rear naked choke), and Diego Sanchez (TKO). During that time he won the UFC lightweight crown and defended it three times. Penn's prime would have been perhaps more fruitful if he had stayed in the UFC after winning Matt Hughes' belt, instead of losing elsewhere to bigger opponents like Lyoto Machida. Longevity (7): Penn engaged in fights from May 4, 2001, until Dec. 8, 2012, then again starting in July 2014 (but fans may want to forget his final performance against Frank Edgar). Many of his matches were against some of the best in the world, including wins over Matt Hughes (won two of three against one of the great welterweights of all time), Takanori Gomi (rear naked choke), Matt Serra (decision), Renzo Gracie (decision), and Caol Uno (KO), beyond the aforementioned wins during his prime. Intangibles (8.5): Penn is one of only two fighters to date to hold belts in two different weight classes. Along the way, he fought Machida, a light heavyweight, to a decision loss. In the end, Penn was one of the most exciting and electrifying fighters ever. He was perhaps the best first-round fighter ever. Total: 23 Notes: Many believe that Penn may have been the best fighter ever to compete. But due to his desire to fight in other weight classes and outside the UFC, he never got to prove that to a sufficient extent.