After his overwhelming victory at UFC 134 there should be no questions that Anderson Silva is not just top Pound for Pound MMA fighter fighting today but the Greatest MMA fighter of all time. Although MMA is a very young sport, Silva is an athlete with amazing talent and if anyone was "born to be a fighter" it certainly is Anderson Silva.
So The question now is: who is next on the list? Every one has fighters they like, dislike, cheer for, and despise so you probably cannot get too much agreement on any list of the best fighters in MMA today let alone a look at the last 18 years of MMA competition. When making any list you have to set criteria for what makes a fighter great. For me, I have decided to use to following criteria in making my list of who are the greatest MMA fighters of all time:
*(CAC): Career record against fighters who have won championship belts in UFC, PRIDE, Strikeforce, and WEC (only Featherweight and Bantamweight)
-This is important because it shows how a fighter has faired against top-level competition during their fighting career. Just to have a winning streak long enough to get into title contention is an accomplishment but beating the best of an era puts you ahead of the pack.
*Have you won a championship and how many belts can you lay claim to?(Championships)
-Like is any sport, the best separate themselves with the number of championships and title defenses they have on their resume. In turn, the best fighters have not just won a belt once and lost it or have only won the title, lost it, then fade into history. No, the best fighters create legacies with their championships and even when they do lose they come back better than ever.
*(CRCF) Career record in championship fights
-A reason why this is important because it shows how fighters handle the big stage, the main event with all the pressure on them. Being a champion is more than luck, it's the product of hard work combined with talent and execution on fight night.
Now you may say that these three criteria doesn't tell the whole story and I agree because a fighter's career tells us his true legacy. For example, I give more credit to fighters such as Randy Couture and BJ Penn for doing what they did in two different weight classes because they proved that their talent and ability to win transcends a weight class. As you will see in my list that fighters like Penn and Couture are weak statistically in comparison to some other fighters in certain categories yet time both Penn and Couture compiled a career of taking on the best of the best in different eras, weight classes, and under different sets of MMA rules. The purpose of these statistical criteria is to weed out fighters who had good careers yet they either did not fair well against other champion fighters, fought weaker competition, or they were at their peak as fighters before the sport had brought along fighters of equal talent.
This proves out when looking at the careers of guys like Mark Coleman, Jens Pulver, Ken Shamrock, and Pat Militech. All four of these fighters are considered pioneers in MMA and are real legends. But when you look at their careers closer you will see that they do not matchup against other all time great fighters. Despite winning three MMA tournaments (2 UFC, 1 PRIDE) Mark Coleman has a career record of 1-6 against fighters who have won titles in major MMA organizations and is 1-1 in Championship fights. Coleman was an MMA pioneer who opened the doors for many star amateur wrestlers to make the transition from wrestling to MMA. I am a HUGE Pat Militech fan, one of my favorite fighters ever! But he also does not belong on a list of MMA all time greats but not because he isn't a great fighter but because when he was great when the sport was still finding itself. Militech also is an MMA pioneer who was one of the first guys who was a major threat on both the feet and the ground. Through his Militech Fighting System he trained other fighters to be champions such as Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, and Tim Sylvia. Although he was 5-1 in Championship fights he also has a meager record of 0-1-1 against fighters who have won championships. One more example of being an MMA pioneer/legend but not stacking up with other great fighters in Ken Shamrock. Ken was one of the first MMA superstars and he never backed down from a fight which made him even more popular. But by the time MMA had evolved into a major sport Shamrock was already in his early to mid 30's. Despite winning three championships in his careers he compiled a record of 4-6-2 against champion fighters and two of those wins were against a young, inexperienced Bas Rutten while another victory was a submission against Maurice Smith back in 1994 when most kickboxers had little idea about submission fighting.
So now that I have set the ground work, here is my list of the greatest MMA fighters of all time:
12. Frank Shamrock
CAC: 2-4 (Beat Tito Ortiz; 1-2 against Bas Rutten; lost to Nick Diaz & Cung Le)
Titles: 4 (Interim King of Pancrase Champ 1996; UFC LHW Champ Dec 1997-Sept 1999; WEC LHW Champ 2003; Strikeforce MW Champ June 2007-March 2008)
Frank Shamrock is more than just an MMA Legend and Pioneer, he was one of the first fighters to win championship belts in multiple weight classes and organizations. Shamrock's fighting career covered two decades and is one the fighters on this list who was able to fight high level competition from beginning to end. Also Frank was one of the first fighters to be a dual threat, on the feet and the ground. I am disappointed that his proposed matchup with Pat Militech never happened. Aside from being a great fighter, Frank Shamrock is one of the toughest MMA fighters the sport has ever seen, just go watch his title bouts with Tito Ortiz (1999) and Cung Le (2008).
11. Bas Rutten
CAC: 5-3 (Beat Guy Mezger & Maurice Smith, 2-1 against Frank Shamrock, 0-2 against Ken Shamrock)
Titles: 3 (Interim King of Pancrase Champ then unified with King of Pancrase Belt in 1995; UFC HW Champ 1999)
Bas Rutten in March of 1995 had a career record of 7-4 with two losses to Ken Shamrock and another loss to Frank Shamrock. Rutten is one of the most talented kickboxers in MMA history but he had to learn grappling and submission fighting. Once he gained grappling and submission skills Rutten would finish his career winning 21 of his final 22 finals (the one non-win was a draw due to injury). Many american MMA fans don't know about Rutten's fighting career because he spent most of his time fighting in Japan. After becoming UFC Heavyweight champion Rutten would sustain a serious neck injury during training that forced him to retire from fighting. If it were not for this injury who knows how great Rutten would have become in the UFC with his famous liver strikes and devastating leg kicks. Rutten would return for one more fight in 2006 after being cleared by doctors: a TKO victory over Ruben "Warpath" Villareall via leg kicks. "El Guapo" would return to retirement, this time on his terms and not because of injuries.
10. Urijah Faber
CAC: 4-4 (2 wins over Jens Pulver; beat Eddie Wineland; 1-1 against Domick Cruz; lost twice to Mike Brown; beaten by Jose Aldo)
Titles: 4 (Gladiator Challenge LW Champ June 2004-Sept 2005; KOTC Bantamweight Champ Nov 2004-Oct 2006; Gladiator Bantamweight Champ 2006; WEC Featherweight Champ March 2006-Nov 2008)
Although he is only 32 years old, Faber is an MMA pioneer for the lighter weight classes. He was one of the biggest stars in the WEC and without his popularity who knows how long it would have taken for the "small guys" to get the recognition they deserve as fighters. As a guy who has fought in three different weight classes and won titles in three different organizations Faber was a superstar fighter before most people even knew there were MMA fighters who were under 155 pounds. Faber is famous for his wrestling and submission skills with 13 of his 25 career wins by submission. Two of his five career losses were in Championship fights in which he went head to head for five rounds against two guys who are talented strikers: Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz. The full story of Faber's career is yet to play itself out so who knows if he will add a UFC title to his resume and if he does that then I would move him up this list of all time great fighters.
9. Chuck Liddell
CAC: 10-6 (Defeated Vitor Belfort, Guy Mezger, Murilo Bustamante, Kevin Randleman, Allistair Overeem, Wanderlei Silva; 2-0 against Tito Ortiz; 2-1 against Randy Couture; 0-2 against Quinton Jackson; beaten by Rich Franklin, Maurico Rua, Rashad Evans)
Titles: 2 (IFC LHW Champ 2000; UFC LHW Champ April 2005-May 2007)
Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell is one of the biggest stars to come out of MMA and be known in mainstream media. Originally a talented collegiate wrestler, Liddell took up kickboxing and became a famous knockout artist. From 2001 through 2007 Liddell was one of the most feared strikers in all of MMA and 13 of his 21 career wins have been by TKO or KO. He went 14-5 during that dominant stretch from 2001 through 2007 and two of those losses were to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Despite losing his last three career fights via knockout, Liddell is still a legend in the sport and is a major reason why the UFC became a mainstream sport organization. I still contend that even his prime Liddell would have had a lot of trouble against the likes of Frank Shamrock, Bas Rutten, and Dan Henderson because there were holes in his overall MMA game that Liddell seemed uninterested in fixing. These flaws in Liddell were exposed twice by "Rampage" Jackson and Jackson did so with almost four years in between matchups with "The Iceman".
8. Matt Hughes
CAC: 7-4 (2-0 against Carlos Newton; defeated Sean Sherk, Royce Gracie, Matt Serra; 1-2 against BJ Penn; 1-2 against George St Pierre)
Titles: 2 (UFC Welterweight Champion Nov 2001-Jan 2004; Oct 2004-Nov 2006)
Having a fighting record of 45-8 is impressive for anyone. But to have that record, be UFC champion for almost 5 years and have to face some of the top fighters in the world makes you a legend and that is what Matt Hughes is. Hughes, the protegé of former UFC Welterweight Champion Pat Militech, seem to make the best of his opportunities in the UFC compiling a record of 18-6 in the octagon. Four of his eight career losses have come against BJ Penn and George St Pierre, so if you are going to lose might as well be to two guys who are all time great fighters. More so, Hughes has beaten both Penn and GSP once in three times against them, not many fighters can say they even have one win against those guys. Hughes was best known for his great wrestling, excellent strength, and ability to find away to finish his opponent. From March of 2001 to September of 2006 had 16 wins by either submission or TKO/KO and 3 decision victories. Hughes only real flaw is that when he got older everyone else got better. And by the way, he hasn't retired yet so he still has time to put more "icing on the cake" of his legendary career.
7. Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" "Big Nog" Nogueira
CAC: 6-6-1 (Wins over Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, Ricco Rodriguez, Mark Coleman; 1-1 against Josh Barnett and Dan Henderson; 0-2-1 against Fedor; lost to Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir)
Titles: 3 (PRIDE HW Champ Nov 2001-March 2003; Interim PRIDE HW Champ Nov 2003-Dec 2004; UFC Interim HW Champ Feb 2008-Dec 2008)
"Minotauro" Nogueira tends to get overlooked because he was the greatest heavyweight fighter in PRIDE history not named Fedor Emelianenko. Nogueira is the only man to ever win championship belts in PRIDE and UFC. This is disputed sometimes because Dan Henderson, Maurico "Shogun" Rua, and Mark Coleman won a championship belts in one organization and a tournament title in the other organization. Nogueira is famous for his Brazillian Jiu Jitsu skills and 20 of his 33 career MMA wins have been by submission (Also, "Big Nog" has never lost via submission). It will always be held against Nogueira that he is 0-3 when defending his belt and he never got a win against Fedor. But look at the caliber of fighters he has fought and beaten over a period of 12 years and its hard to deny his place as an MMA legend. Also, notice that Nogueira’s career MMA record is 33-6, which means all of his career loss have been to former champions (he is one of only 3 fighters on this list that has that distinction).
6. Fedor Emelianenko
CAC: 7-1 (Defeated Kevin Randleman, Tim Sylvia, Andre Arlovski; 2-0 against Mark Coleman; 2-0-1 against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira; lost to Dan Henderson)
Titles: 2 (PRIDE HW Champ March 2003-2007; WAMMA HW July 2008-June 2010)
Despite the three straight losses in the last two years, from January 2001 to June 2010 Fedor went undefeated as an MMA fighter. 13 of his 28 wins during this stretch where by submission and only 6 wins via decision (among the fights who took him the distance we Mirko "Cro Cop" Fillipovic, Nogueira twice, Renato Sobral, and Semmy Schilt). His background in Sambo enabled him to be a great grappler and he has dangerous power in his right hand. The major knock against Fedor has been the type of competition he faced over his career. When he fought Sylvia, Arlovski, and Goodridge they were on the downside of their careers and the same can be said of the second time Fedor fought Mark Coleman. Also, after PRIDE folded into the UFC here are some of the guys he defeated: Matt Lindland (a middleweight fighter), Choi Hong-man (2-3 as an MMA fight with a win over Jose Canseco), and Brett Rogers (only big name win was Andre Arlovski and has been finished by Fedor, Allistair Overeem, and Josh Barnett before the end of the 2nd round). Even while fighting in PRIDE there were rumors he avoided fighting heavyweights such as Josh Barnett, Gilbert Yvel, and Kimo Leopoldo while also turning down super fight matchups with Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Wanderlei Silva, and Vitor Belfort. So while the question of how great he was will always be up for debate I for one cannot take away from Fedor the winning streak or the excellent MMA record he compiled while fighting in PRIDE.
5. Randy Couture
CAC: 8-8 (Defeated Tito Ortiz, Kevin Randleman, Maurice Smith, Tim Sylvia, Mark Coleman; 2-1 against Vitor Belfort; 1-2 against Chuck Liddell; lost to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, Lyoto Machida, Josh Barnett, Ricco Rodriguez)
Titles: 6 (UFC HW Champ Dec 1997; UFC HW Champ Nov 2000-March 2002; Interim UFC LHW Champ 2003; UFC LHW Champ Sept 2003-Jan 2004; UFC LHW Champ Aug 2004-April 2005; UFC HW Champ March 2007-Nov 2008)
Randy Couture spent 14 years as an MMA fighter and he is one of the most successful and accomplished fighters in UFC history. He is one of only two men to ever win UFC championship titles in different weight classes (the other is BJ Penn). An Olympic wrestling alternate, Couture went from being a wrestler fighting in MMA to a fighter who is dangerous in every aspect of the MMA game and he seemed to get better with age. He defeated Tim Sylvia to become UFC Heavyweight Champion at the age of 43 and even defended his right to the belt against a fighter almost half his age. Also, he won his first and last UFC heavyweight belts 10 years apart! Couture is a pioneer in MMA not just as a fighter but a role model for other fighters in standing up for their rights as a fighters and not letting anyone choose for him when he was done fighting. Couture was a game plan fighter who tried to use his opponent's weakness against them: he was faster than Tim Sylvia, better at submissions then Mark Coleman, more crafty than Tito Ortiz, and pushed the pace to get wins against Vitor Belfort. A criticism of Couture is that he was never able to defend his title more than two times and never had a winning streak longer than four in a row. Yet those who have these criticisms forget to look at the level of competition Couture took on through out his career; he never took easy fights and instead he was willing to fight anyone at anytime and anywhere. His MMA career record of 19-11isn't very impressive, but having 8 wins against championship level fighters is tied for 2nd among fighters on this list behind Chuck Liddell.
4. Georges St Pierre
CAC: 7-2 (Wins over Jake Shields, Sean Sherk; 2-0 against BJ Penn; 2-1 against Matt Hughes; 1-1 against Matt Serra)
Titles: 2 (UCC WW title 2002; UFC WW Champ Nov 2006-April 2007; Interim UFC WW Champ Dec 2007, unified with UFC WW belt to become Champ from April 2008-present)
Despite the debate about how great GSP is as a fighter, no one can deny that he is one of the top MMA fighters of all time. He has defended the UFC Welterweight belt six straight fights. He has only two losses in 24 fights and both were losses he avenge later in his career. St. Pierre has exhibited excellent wrestling skills and his boxing is sharp also. Despite having an excellent fighting record, the major criticism of GSP has been that he fights not to lose instead of looking to win. He has a record of 17-2 in the UFC but 9 of those wins have been by decision including five of his last six wins (the fight that wasn't a decision was a TKO via corner stoppage). His lack of ability (or motivation) to finish his opponents is something I hold against him because the only other fighter who has more wins by decision than any other type of winning method on this list of fighters is Randy Couture. Couture has won multiple titles in different weight classes while GSP has never fought outside of 170 pound weight classes. Good news for St. Pierre is that he is the youngest fighter on this list so he still has time to build his legacy as a fighter.
3. BJ Penn
CAC: 6-7(Defeated Sean Sherk, Takanori Gomi, Matt Serra; 2-1 against Matt Hughes; 1-1 against Jens Pulver; 0-2 against George St. Pierre and Frank Edgar; lost to Lyoto Machida)
Titles: 2 (UFC WW Champ Jan 2004; UFC LW Champ Jan 2008-April 2010)
BJ Penn is only the second fighter in UFC history to win championship belts in two different weight classes. Penn came onto the MMA scene as a famous brazillian jiu jitsu prodigy (which is where his nickname comes from) and over the years has developed great boxing skills. He is one of the most talented MMA fighters of all time and he has fought some of the biggest names in MMA over the course of nine years. Penn is only the second fighter on this list who has never lost a fight via submission and is only the 6th fighter on this list who has faced at least 10 championship level MMA fighters. He is also one of the few MMA fighters to ever beat two different Gracie family fighters (other famous fighters who have done so are Matt Hughes and Kazushi Sakuraba). One of the knocks against Penn is that in the past he lacked the work ethic to be a great fighter and got by in matchups on talent alone. Yet such a criticism is another example why he is so great (let us remember the same criticism was said of Babe Ruth and look at what he did in his baseball career). Like St. Pierre and Faber, BJ is still in his early 30's and has time to build on his already legendary MMA career so who knows what other great things he may accomplished.
2. Dan Henderson
CAC: 8-5 (Beat Fedor Emelianenko, Rich Franklin, Carlos Newton, Vitor Belfort; 2-0 against Murilo Bustamante; 1-1 against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Wanderlei Silva; Lost to Anderson Silva, Jake Shields, Quinton Jackson)
Titles: 3 (PRIDE Welterweight Champion Dec 2005-March 2008; PRIDE Middleweight Champion Feb 2007-Sept 2007; Strikeforce LHW Champ March 2011-Present)
Dan Henderson is one of the most accomplished MMA fighters ever. He has won four MMA tournaments (Brazil Open 1997; UFC 17 Middleweight; Rings King of Kings 1999; PRIDE 2005 Welterweight Grand Prix) as well as winning championship belts at 185 and 205 pounds. When the UFC absorbed PRIDE Henderson was the man holding championship belts in two weight class simultaneously! Since 2003 Henderson has a record of 16-5 with losses to Jake Shields (former Strikeforce and Elite XC Champ), Anderson Silva (who has never lost a matchup in 15 UFC fights), Quinton Jackson (The only fighter to ever beat Chuck Liddel twice), Kazuo Misaki (a fighter whom Henderson has beaten), and "Big Nog" brother Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Henderson's MMA career is a list of who's who in MMA history since he has taken on so many fighters over a period of 14 years. In fact, Henderson is the only fighter on this list who has never been Knocked out or lost a fight via TKO while 13 of his 28 career MMA wins are via KO or TKO. A highly accomplished amateur wrestler, Henderson uses his wrestling typically to keep the fight standing so he can be able to use his powerful right hand to try to end fights. Henderson says he still has a couple of years of fighting left in him and he still has time to defend his Strikeforce 205 pound belt and maybe take some more fights in the UFC.
1. Anderson Silva
CAC: 6-0 (Defeated Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson, Carlos Newton, Forrest Griffin; 2-0 against Rich Franklin)
Titles: 3 (Shooto MW Champ 2001; Cage Rage MW Champ Sept 2004-April 2006; UFC MW Champ Oct 2006-Present)
The numbers above only tell half the story of how great Silva is as an MMA fighter. Since his debut in PRIDE in June of 2002 Anderson Silva is 23-3 with 15 Knockouts/TKO's and only 5 wins by decision. Silva is one of the best Muay Thai practitioners in MMA history and he is also a threat for submissions with six submission wins in his career. Silva is unique for his ability to beat an opponent with speed or power. His only real "weakness" in recent years is wrestling yet the two wrestlers who able to win a round against him in a fight (Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen) both lost by submission. On top of all of this Silva has fought at weights from 168 to 205 pounds and has won at every level in MMA competition. Calling Silva the "Michael Jordan" or "Mohammed Ali" of MMA is an insult to Silva since he has been more dominant in MMA than either of those athletes were in their respective sports. At age 36 the question becomes "will" Silva ever lose again in MMA instead of "when" because he may retire before he has another chance to suffer defeat again.