The UFC celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018, and across their history, thousands of different fighters have fought for the organization. Currently, over 600 fighters are a part of the roster, many of them considered to be the best MMA fighters of all time.
The GOAT debate is fun no matter which sport you’re talking about, so for the sake of it, we decided to put together a list of the 17 best UFC fighters of all time, with a bunch of reasons why we believe so. Below you can check out a list of the best fighters in alphabetical order, and further below that; you’ll find the evidence.
- Amanda Nunes (21-4-0)
- Anderson Silva (34-10-0)
- B.J. Penn (16-14-2)
- Chuck Liddell (21-8-0)
- Conor McGregor (22-4-0)
- Dan Henderson (32-15-0)
- Daniel Cormier (22-2-0)
- Demetrious Johnson (27-3-1)
- Dominick Cruz (22-3-0)
- Georges St-Pierre (26-2-0)
- Henry Cejudo (16-2-0)
- Jon Jones (26-1-0)
- José Aldo (28-7-0)
- Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0)
- Matt Hughes (45-9-0)
- Randy Couture (19-11-0)
- Stipe Miocic (19-3-0)
- Max Holloway (22-6)
- Michael Bisping (30-9)
- Valentina Shevchenko (20-3)
- Ronda Rousey (12-2)
- Rashad Evans (19-8)
Women didn’t start fighting in the UFC until 2013, 20 years after the league began, and even then, it was after years of President Dana White swearing it would never happen. For that reason, women’s MMA is a little bit behind men’s MMA in the grand scheme of things, but you would never know it watching Amanda Nunes. Currently the reigning bantamweight and featherweight champion, Nunes has beaten every other bantamweight champ, every other featherweight champ, and the current flyweight champ, finishing many of them. Her being the GOAT in women’s MMA is genuinely undebatable.
Anderson Silva still holds the record for the longest title reign in UFC history at a whopping 2,457 days, which is more than 6 years. In that time, he officially defended the middleweight title 10 times and it would have been 11 had Travis Lutter not missed weight. In most of those defenses, he stopped his opponent, including the classic front kick KO against Vitor Belfort and the last minute triangle armbar versus Chael Sonnen. Silva also boasts wins at light heavyweight. The Spider often made his wins look easy, often to a fault like when he toyed with Demian Maia instead of finishing him.
Looking at B.J. Penn’s record on paper or his recent losing streak, someone who didn’t watch his prime might think he was some sort of journeyman or gatekeeper, but that couldn’t be more wrong. It’s unfortunate that he kept fighting past his time but way back when he was the man. Most importantly, he boasts wins over other great fighters like Sean Sherk, Matt Serra, and Matt Hughes, the latter of which also appears on this list. When asked who he thought the best fighter of all time in the midst of his own reign, Anderson Silva answered that it was Penn. That’s respect.
Just like Penn, Chuck Liddell’s most recent showing against Tito Ortiz in their 2018 trilogy completion fight is nothing to judge him on. He hadn’t had a win since 2007 when he took Wanderlei Silva to a decision in the Fight Of The Year, but his UFC title reign was incredibly impressive. He beat Randy Couture to win it and then defended the title multiple times, each time knocking out his opponent. The Iceman was also one of the first stars in the sport to transcend it, appearing in movies and known to those who didn’t even follow MMA.
Due to just how popular he’s become, there are two extremes you often hear about Conor McGregor. His biggest supporters will imply he’s the best of a generation, and his biggest detractors suggest he’s way overrated. As it often is, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The two greatest featherweights of all time are José Aldo and Max Holloway, and Conor has beaten them both. He also absolutely demolished Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight title and proved he could make adjustments as an elite fighter should against Nate Diaz the second go around. He also gave Khabib his hardest fight. Whether you like it or not, Conor McGregor is a great fighter.
Becoming a champion in multiple weight classes has become the trend in the last few years and there’s obviously incredible value in it because all of those that have done it in the UFC appear on this list: Couture, Penn, McGregor, St-Pierre, Cormier, Nunes, and Cejudo. Though he never won a title in the UFC, Dan Henderson proved that he could go with the best of them at heavyweight, light heavyweight, and middleweight and he’s easily one of the best UFC fighters to never have gold wrapped around his waist. He was also the first to ever finish Fedor with strikes.
A former Olympic wrestler, when he was 13-0, he moved down to light heavyweight to let his friend and teammate Cain Velasquez reign at heavyweight. His only loss there is to Jon Jones, who he had great moments against, and when Jon vacated the title, he won it and beat contender after contender. Then he moved back up to heavyweight and finished Stipe in the first round to cement his all-time status. He announced his retirement after losing the trilogy to Stipe in a five round decision.
As previously mentioned, there is great value in winning a world title in two different weight divisions, especially if you defend the title in both divisions. But there is something to be said for staying at the top of one division for years and years, and there might be no better example of that than Demetrious Johnson. He was better than a couple of generations of flyweights everywhere, despite them watching and studying him for years and years. DJ is undoubtedly the best flyweight of all time and one of the best and most skilled fighters ever.
The greatest men’s 135lb fighter ever, Dominick Cruz’s 10 year reign would have been enough to land him a spot on this list but context is key. What makes it all the more incredible is the fact that he came back from multiple career-changing injuries to continue winning. His win over Demetrious Johnson at bantamweight is one of the best-aging in the sport and coming back to beat T.J. Dillashaw after having just 60 seconds of fighting under his belt in 3 years speaks for itself. At one point, Cruz was the UFC’s #2 P4P fighter with DJ, who he has a win over, being #1.
Ask a bunch of fighters and fight fans who the greatest fighter of all time is, and the answer you’ll get most commonly is probably Georges St-Pierre. GSP officially defended the UFC’s welterweight championship nine times, but more than numbers, he beat the best of his generation, including B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes, who both appear on this list. GSP lost twice in his career, once to Hughes and once to Matt Serra, but he later avenged both losses dominantly, proving to be the best 170lb fighter of all time. After four years out of the sport, he came back at 185lbs to choke out Michael Bisping for the middleweight championship, too, looking good as ever.
The newly retired Henry Cejudo could have been any other flyweight that succumbed to Demetrious Johnson. Still, instead, after consecutive losses to DJ and Joseph Benavidez, he re-evaluated his game and came back with a new style that proved fruitful. With wins over Wilson Reis and Sergio Pettis, he had another shot at DJ and won a close fight, dethroning him. Then-bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw came down a weight class to fight him and got finished in 32 seconds, then Cejudo went up to challenge for the bantamweight title and defended it against Cruz before he retired. Wins over the 135lb GOAT and the 125lb GOAT, whenever they happened, put him in excellent standing in MMA.
To this day, Jon Jones still holds the record for being the youngest champion in UFC history, winning the title at 23. That has always been a crazy stat, but after turning 23 myself, I fully realize just how insane it is. In his early twenties, he went on to dismantle everyone in his path, many of the legends, with ease, in what many still maintain is the best run in UFC history. The only loss on Jones’ record comes from a harsh disqualification in a fight he was winning, and he is considered to be an unbeaten fighter. On his streak now against the third generation of light heavyweights, Jones going up and having success at heavyweight would be all he needs to be considered the GOAT over GSP or Anderson Silva. He relinquished his light-heavyweight title, hoping to take his talents to the heavyweight division.
The featherweight king, unfortunately, José Aldo doesn’t get the same respect as many of his peers do. Aldo first appeared in the WEC a few months before his 22nd birthday and looked like a killer immediately. From May of 2006 to December of 2015, he went 18-0, beating greats like Urijah Faber, Frankie Edgar, Mike Brown, Chad Mendes, and more. His 13 seconds loss to Conor McGregor and subsequent consecutive losses to Max Holloway seemed to do some irreversible damage to him, and he has lost 6 of his last nine fights. Still, he has looked great in many of those fights and is far from taking away from his legacy. Put some respect on his name.
There is a question in MMA about whether there is more value in being good at every aspect of MMA or being a specialist in one area. Current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov makes an excellent case for the latter. There is something to be said for the fact that fighters go into bouts with him knowing what his gameplan is and can still do nothing to stop his wrestling. With wins over Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, RDA, and Justin Gaethje, he continues to be the best lightweight right now and is well on his path to being the best lightweight of all time, doing so seemingly effortlessly. He is also the only fighter here without a loss on his record. Will he return for a 30th fight or will he stay retired, following his finish over Gaethje.
Some great fighters never won UFC gold due to the dominance of another great fighter; names like Joseph Benavidez and Alexander Gustaffson come to mind. That quite easily could have been Matt Hughes, who had to go up against B.J. Penn and Georges St-Pierre, but that was not the case. He traded wins and losses with both of them, knocking both out early. His run was impressive, and managing to shine next to the bright lights of greats is a remarkable feat.
Randy Couture first won the UFC heavyweight title in December of 1997, but he later vacated in. Then in November of 2000, he beat the late Kevin Randleman to win it back before losing it to Josh Barnett. Already achieving more success than most MMA fighters do, he moved down to 205lbs and captured gold there, becoming the first fighter ever to win UFC titles in more than one weight division. Just for this, Randy Couture is a legend in the sport and one of the best of all time.
Being the most badass man on the planet was a title reserved for the heavyweight champion in boxing. Still, over the years, even Max Kellerman has admitted this title honestly should go to the UFC’s heavyweight champion. With his win over Francis Ngannou, Stipe broke the record for most consecutive heavyweight title fight wins. After quickly losing to DC, he made an incredible adjustment in their 2019 rematch to bring the gold back to Cleveland. Stipe is a look at the future of heavyweights in MMA and, with a win over DC in August, quickly becomes the best heavyweight in the organization, if not MMA history.