Top 10 Toughest Fighters in MMA Today

MMA Match Featuring Frank Edgar
J. Kopaloff / Contributor / Getty Images

Putting together a list of today's toughest MMA fighters is no easy task. But the first thing we must do is put together the criteria. After all, this is NOT a top 10 MMA fighters list. This is not about who is the best fighter. It is also not a toughest MMA fighters of all-time list. Nope, this is about being tough in the here and now- plain and simple. So, the criteria are (drumroll please):

Great battles: Being tough isn't about the potential for being tough; it's about having shown your mettle in great fights. One of the criteria for being a tough guy in MMA is to have fought in great fights that showcased this.

Jaw: If you're easy to knock out, then being deemed tough is going to be hard to come by. Being hard to knock out, plain and simple, is important.

Cardio/will to win: Part of being tough is mental toughness. In fact, this may be the single greatest predictor of who we view as tough.Mental strength can be seen through a fighter's cardio- how hard they worked before the fight, and if they keep going when things get tough- as well as their desire and ability to impose their will on an opponent.

Intangibles: A great scowl. Something unusual that sets a fighter apart. The intangibles cannot be discounted.

So without further ado, follow below for our top 10 toughest fighters in MMA today.

of 10

Nate Diaz

  • Great Battles: This is where Nate Diaz seems to fall short. He's never really found himself in an extremely tough back and forth battle that has lived on through time. Some of his more competitive fights, such as the one against Gray Maynard, he has lost.
  • Jaw: Diaz has never been knocked out in his MMA career. Some wonder if it's possible to knock him out.
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Diaz never stops. NEVER. His cardio and will to win are unquestionable at this point. He is as tough as nails on this front.
  • Intangibles: Trash talking, a scowl, and that Stockton toughess. Diaz possesses toughness intangibles in great number.
of 10

Ben Henderson

  • Great Battles: Both of Henderson's fights with Frank Edgar were really tough bouts. His first battle with Donald Cerrone was a very competitive, tough one as well. And even if he lost a decision to Anthony Pettis in the final WEC fight ever, the bottom line is that he took that Matrix kick off the cage wall and kept fighting (see mention of this in the next section).
  • Jaw: Henderson has never been knocked out and took that Matrix kick.
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Henderson is a cardio machine who never stops fighting. Enough said on that front.
  • Intangibles: Not a lot. He's such a nice guy that it doesn't lend to the toughness moniker all that well.
of 10

Gilbert Melendez

  • Great Battles: Melendez has battled his way through three very tough fights with Josh Thomson, winning two of them. In the first, though he lost, he somehow persevered through a barrage of front kicks and solid punches to get through the fight. Many don't know, however, that he once engaged in an epic battle with Tatsuya Kawajiri at PRIDE Shockwave 2006, winning by decision in a bout where he and his opponent literally pummeled one another. Beyond that, Melendez also engaged in a tough fight with Clay Guida at Strikeforce: Revenge back in 2006, one that was more of a grappling affair, but certainly a tough one at that.
  • Jaw: Melendez has never been stopped in any fashion. Enough said.
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Melendez fights smarter these days than he did earlier in his career. That said, he never seems to get tired and tends to wear his opponents down.
  • Intangibles: These seem to work against him, as he isn't much of a trash talker, doesn't have a great scowl, and still has never fought in the UFC. But he does train with the Cesar Gracie camp, one of the toughest in the world.
of 10

Mauricio Shogun Rua

  • Great Battles: Rua has tended to stop a lot of people early, but he has also engaged in some great battles. His fight against Dan Henderson at UFC 139 was one of the greatest slugfests of all-time. He engaged in two very tought fights with Alistair Overeem and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at PRIDE Critical Countdown 2005 as well, coming out on top in both. And his battle with Brandon Vera at the UFC on FOX: Shogun vs. Vera was an impressive striking battle as well.
  • Jaw: Shogun has only been stopped by (T)KO twice during his career- once to Jon Jones, and a second time to Mark Coleman (due to a broken arm). We'll give him a break on the broken arm thing :).
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Shogun definitely has a strong will to win. Is he known for his cardio? Not particularly. He's not weak in that regard, but he's not known as a guy who fights the same in round five as round one.
  • Intangibles: Nothing that screams toughess other than being an MMA legend.
of 10

Anderson Silva

  • Great Battles: This is actually where Silva struggles some. Why? Simply because he dominates everyone that he fights. Still, his battle with Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 was the one fight that tells the story on his toughness best. In it he was dominated in ground and pound fashion for an entire fight before coming back to win in the latter minutes of round five. Amazing. Silva also had a lot of trouble against Travis Lutter at UFC 67 before coming back, but that was mostly a grappling war- not a lot of strikes hit him.
  • Jaw: Silva has been fighting since 1997 and has never been stopped by (T)KO. He has been stopped twice by submission.
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Silva is known to have good cardio. And obviously, his will to win is strong. Is he known as a cardio freak? No. He tends to knock people out early, but has proven his ability to fight into the later rounds as well.
  • Intangibles: He is the most intimidating fighter in the world. He's also the best of all-time. Beyond that, Silva has actually dropped his hands before and let fighters hit him. Such was the case during his recent win over Stephan Bonnar.
of 10

Diego Sanchez

  • Great Battles: Sanchez has performed admirably in very tough fights with the likes of Clay Guida, Jake Ellenberger, and from a ground perspective many years ago- with Nick Diaz and Karo Parisyan.
  • Jaw: Sanchez has been in there against the best in the game and has been stopped only once- by BJ Penn.
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Sanchez is known for his cardio and ability to wear people down. In round three, he looked his best against Ellenberger. He fought Guida hard all fight long. And against competitors like Jon Fitch- bigger fighters- he has held his own all night long. The bottom line is that he's at his best looking to ground and pound opponents, and he never, ever slows down.
  • Intangibles: The greatest scowl in MMA. He just looks the part of a tough guy in the cage.
of 10

Dan Henderson

  • Great Battles: Henderson's recent fight with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was the epitome of tough. Both competitors showed the heart and desire of MMA legends, neither willing to give an inch. Somehow, Henderson came out on top. On top of that, Henderson came back from being rocked by heavyweight legend (yep, heavyweight) Fedor Emelianenko, only to knock him out moments later.
  • Jaw: Henderson has been fighting in MMA since 1997. He has engaged in 37 professional bouts. All of that, and he has NEVER been knocked out. How's that for a jaw?
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Henderson will fight until he drops. Such was the case when he lost to Jake Shields, as he continued to fight despite being out of gas for multiple stanzas. That said, his cardio isn't what it used to be. His will to win is obviously there. But being over 40 years old, he gets tired, such as was the case in the Rua and Shields fights.
  • Intangibles: Nobody, save perhaps Anderson Silva, goes into a fight against Henderson believing they are going to knock him out. That's intimidating. On top of it all, we're talking about a longtime fighter who is an MMA legend.
of 10

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

  • Great Battles: If you really think about it, Nogueira has this over anyone in the history of the game. Remember that fight with Bob Sapp? He was thrown around mercilessly. Many of us cringed when his enormous opponent slammed him head first into the canvas. Yet somehow Nogueira managed to win by submission. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic hurt him with a left high kick only to be defeated by armbar later. Nogueira found himself on the fringe of defeat against Heath Herring after a head kick sent him to the canvas in round one in his UFC debut; but found a way to take home a decision. There was the match with Tim Sylvia, one where he got the tar beaten out of him on his feet before winning by guillotine choke.
  • Jaw: Nogueira's jaw has been tested by the likes of Filipovic, Fedor Emelianenko (lots of strikes on the ground over the course of two losing fights), Sapp (when he used to fight to win), Herring, and Sylvia, and he was able to persevere. Though he has not proven to be able to take the shots he used to in bouts since his UFC debut against Herring- he was stopped by both Frank Mir (knocked down twice in round one) and Cain Velasquez- he can still take a licking and keep on ticking. If his jaw was still at the level it was during his PRIDE days, Nogueira just might be number one on our list. But if we were to make a list of the toughest MMA fighters of all time, well, he'd certainly get some consideration as our number one. But in the here and now....
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Nogueira always comes to fight in shape. Bottom line, in his fight against Randy Couture, as good as "The Natural" fought, he was unable to impose his will on his Brazilian counterpart because no one ever seems able to do that; Nogueira's will is so strong.
  • Intangibles: Nogueira had his arm dead to rights caught by Mir and refused to tap for so long that it snapped. That's tough.
of 10

Nick Diaz

Big fights where toughness was needed and delivered on- check. A great jaw- check. An ability to impose one's will on another through great cardio and mental toughness- check. Toughness intangibles- check. The bottom line is that Nick Diaz is the kind of tough guy are forced to respect. He is not the guy you want meet in a dark alley.

  • Great Battles: There have been a ton of them. Evangelista Santos, Takanori Gomi, and Paul Daley all hurt Diaz before he made now famous comebacks against them. The fight with Gomi came when the Japanese superstar was at his peak, leaving many wondering aloud how Diaz could come back from such blows to deliver a stoppage.
  • Jaw: Diaz has been fighting professionally in MMA since 2001 and has 35 contests under his belt; yet he has only been stopped twice. The first time was by Jeremy Jackson all the way back in 2002- I think we can give him a break since that fight took place 10 years ago. The second was against KJ Noons by doctor's stoppage due to a cut. And if you saw that fight you know that Diaz wanted to keep fighting, it was the cut that ended things.
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Diaz may be in better shape than any other high level fighter. The bottom line is that he comes forward with those punches of his and doesn't stop throwing until the bell tolls. The man does triathlons on a regular basis. In other words, he fights just as hard in round five as he does in round one, maybe even harder.
  • Intangibles: There's the scowl and the trash talking both in and out of the ring. The bottom line is that many have clearly been intimidated by it all. And that's why Nick Diaz is one of the toughest fighters in MMA today.
of 10

Frank Edgar

No one has proven capable of taking a shot like Frank Edgar to date. Will he be able to take Jose Aldo's best at UFC 156? We'll see. But for now, we only know that trucks can hit him and he will keep on coming.

  • Great Battles: How Edgar was able to come back from the beatings he experienced early against Gray Maynard, particularly in their battle at UFC 125 (which resulted in a draw) is hard to even describe. His two bouts against Benson Henderson were also tough fights where he took hard shots. Though he came out on the losing end of decisions to Henderson, many believe he deserved to win one if not both. The fact is that Edgar has fought in mutliple tough contests against the likes of Sean Sherk, Tyson Griffin, and Jim Miller. He is basically the definition of a great battle
  • Jaw: Until someone proves different, no one has a better jaw than Edgar. He has never been knocked out to date.
  • Cardio/Will to Win: Edgar has come back from some of the worst beatings in history. He never seems to slow down. He is always in great shape; it's something he's known for.
  • Intangibles: The bottom line is that this is a guy who has done all of this in a weight class above where he truly belongs. We're now about to see what Edgar can do as a featherweight as he readies for his fight with Aldo at UFC 156.

And it's for all of these reasons and more that Edgar is the toughest MMA fighter today.