The combat sports power rankings 2024: Boxing and MMA’s 50 most influential figures

Fighters, promoters, managers and more – here are 50 of the most influential names in boxing, MMA and beyond...

Alex Pattle
Combat Sports Correspondent
Wednesday 07 February 2024 08:38 GMT
Cristiano Ronaldo's awkward reaction Conor McGregor

The landscapes in boxing and mixed martial arts are perhaps the most treacherous in all of sports, with fighters not always possessing the power, which is instead often held in the hands of managers, promoters and broadcasters.

Below, The Independent has taken a look at where the control lies, also factoring in the fighters who have been able to use their talent and popularity to carve out their own influence. The result? Rankings of the 50 most influential figures in combat sports.

The list is of course subjective, with many fair arguments to be made about the placement of each name, and we’ve gone beyond boxing and MMA in certain cases.

On that note, let’s kick off the rankings with...

50. Gordon Ryan

Jiu-jitsu’s popularity worldwide is growing rapidly, with the grappling-centric martial art featuring heavily in MMA contests and now having a young star in its own right: Gordon Ryan. The American is just 28 – do not let his dyed grey hair and beard deceive you – and is already regarded as the greatest no-Gi competitor in the history of the sport. A multiple-time world champion, Ryan has controversially advocated performance-enhancing drugs in combat sports, but many jiu-jitsu practitioners look up to the American anyway.

49. Jon Anik

UFC play-by-play commentator Anik (Getty)

With time, Joe Rogan has spent less time at the UFC commentary desk, and Anik has emerged as the true, modern voice of the promotion. A consummate professional, the 45-year-old American essentially leads UFC broadcasts in between calling the fights, and he has provided numerous calls that have defined some of the greatest moments in MMA history.

48. Bruce Buffer

Buffer is the UFC’s go-to ring announcer (Getty Images)

The other voice of the UFC. Buffer, the brother of a famous Michael, has emulated the boxing ring announcer’s success but in MMA. While Michael has his own legendary catchphrase (more on that later), Bruce has become beloved for his emphatic, “It’s time!”, his contageous energy, and his flashy suits. He is a key part of what makes a UFC title fight feel monumental.

47. Conor Benn

Benn has become one of the most controversial figures in boxing (PA Archive)

Benn, son of British boxing great Nigel, was forging a solid pro career in his own right until his fight with Chris Eubank Jr – a strange sort of third part to the Nigel vs Chris Sr rivalry – fell apart in 2022. That bout collapsed after it was revealed that Benn, 27, had failed two drug tests, and he is still unable to box in Britain as a result. However, the saga – in which he has maintained his innocence – has bolstered Benn’s profile and made more fans care about him, even if many are rooting for him to fail. The fight with Eubank Jr, should it ever materialise, would be huge.

46. Nate Diaz

Diaz is an MMA free agent after a storied run in the UFC (Getty Images)

His back-to-back bouts with Conor McGregor in 2016 made Diaz a crossover star, when he was already a UFC fan favourite. The American, now 38, remains a pay-per-view draw, and he recently crossed over in a different way, boxing Jake Paul in August. Diaz came up short that night but secured another major payday, and fans eagerly anticipate his next move – with many hoping that it will be a long-awaited trilogy fight against McGregor. Diaz is no longer signed to the UFC, however, meaning a new deal would need to be hashed out.

45. Derrick James

James (right) with Anthony Joshua (Action Images via Reuters)

The American boxing coach works with welterweight star Errol Spence Jr and rising lightweight Ryan Garcia, and he even trained Anthony Joshua for the Briton’s bouts with Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius in 2023. Spence Jr and Garcia suffered defeats in high-profile fights last year – to Terence Crawford and Gervonta Davos respectively – but remains one of the most in-demand coaches around.

44. Donn Davis

Davis is the chairman of the Professional Fighters League, which has emerged as the main rival to the UFC in recent years. The 61-year-old American has overseen the PFL’s purchase of Bellator – the UFC’s former chief competitor – and deals with Jake Paul and Francis Ngannou. Having those names on the PFL’s roster should make for an intriguing 2024.

43. Leon Edwards

UFC welterweight champion Edwards (Getty Images)

Britain’s second UFC champion ever, Edwards is a great ambassador for MMA in his home nation and for the sport in general. The welterweight title holder has a remarkable life story, having escaped deadly conditions in Jamaica – his country of birth – with his mother and younger brother, before beginning the journey that would lead him to UFC gold. To win the welterweight title in 2022, Edwards produced one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history.

42. Ryan Garcia

Garcia (right) secured an eighth-round TKO against Oscar Duarte in December (Getty Images)

Although he is a talented young lightweight, Garcia does not seem to be on the level of some of his fellow American stars in the division. However, he is a skilled commodity – seemingly a geuine pay-per-view draw – and could follow his 2023 loss to Gervonta Davis with fights against Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez.

41. Manny Pacquiao

Boxing great Pacquiao (Getty Images)

An all-time great in the boxing ring, the 45-year-old is the sport’s only eight-division world champion. His clash with Floyd Mayweather in 2015 – several years too late, admittedly – remains the highest-grossing pay-per-view in boxing history. That record looks likely to stand for many years to come. The Filipino also served as a senator in his home country from 2016 until 2022, but he fought professionally as recently as 2021.

40. Naoya Inoue

Inoue celebrates becoming undisputed champion in a second division (AP)

Some see Terence Crawford as boxing’s pound-for-pound No 1, but Indy Sport is among those to award that honour to Inoue, the four-weight world champion from Japan. The fittingly-nicknamed “Monster” recently became undisputed in a second division, as the only man other than Crawford to achieve that feat, and his stoppage rate is even more impressive than the American’s. Speed, power, imagination – the 30-year-old has it all.

39. Charles Oliveira

Former UFC lightweight champion Oliveira (Getty Images)

A breakout MMA star in 2021, with his profile only growing in the two years since, the Brazilian has enjoyed such success relatively later in his career. Oliveira, now 34, was 31 when he won the UFC lightweight title and was already 39 fights into his pro career. “Do Bronx” has since lost the belt but is still on an impressive run overall, and he could yet regain the gold in 2024...

38. Deontay Wilder

Former world heavyweight champion Wilder (Getty Images)

The American is one of the hardest-hitting punchers in boxing history, with that asset aiding him in his long reign as WBC heavyweight champion. Wilder, 38, was finally beaten in 2020, when Tyson Fury stopped the “Bronze Bomber” – before repeating the trick in 2021 – and now appears to be past his peak. Wilder was comprehensively outboxed and outpointed in December, as Joseph Parker dealt the American a damaging blow and potentially cost him a long-awaited clash with Anthony Joshua.

37. Mike Tyson

Tyson is one of boxing’s greatest heavyweights ever (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

One of heavyweight boxing’s true icons, Tyson has found new relevancy in recent years with his Hotboxin’ podcast. It has allowed the American, 57, to show off a different, more relaxed side to himself. It is a side that people seem to love.

36. Claressa Shields

Shields was a decision winner against Savannah Marshall in 2022 (Getty Images)

There are a couple of names later on this list who vie for the title of ‘the greatest ever’ in women’s boxing, but the best right now? Surely Shields, although her ‘GWOAT’ nickname tells you all you need to know about how highly the American rates herself. Shields, still just 28, has already become undisputed in two weight classes and unified champion in another. So, she has earnt the right to rate herself so highly.

35. Alexander Volkanovski

Volkanovski unified the UFC featherweight titles by beating Yair Rodriguez (Getty Images)

One of the greatest featherweights in MMA history, and the consensus pound-for-pound No 1 until recently. The Australian has been dominant at 145lbs, where he is UFC champion, and his only defeats over the last decade both came in 2023 – with the 35-year-old losing a narrow decision to lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in February, before suffering a knockout against the Russian in October. Even in the latter instance, though, “Alexander The Great” rightly received credit for stepping up on short notice.

34. Ariel Helwani

Helwani (left) speaking with Logan Paul in 2021 (Getty Images)

The most famous MMA journalist on the planet, Helwani is more easily recognisable than many fighters, in fact. The Canadian was an insider long before his stint at ESPN, and he has continued to thrive even since leaving the network. Indeed, many fighters are desperate to appear on his YouTube show, The MMA Hour, as a result of the immense exposure that it guarantees. Helwani has also dipped his toe into NBA and boxing coverage.

33. Lou DiBella

US boxing promoter DiBella (Getty Images)

The US promoter, 63, counts ex-world champions George Kambosos Jr and Regis Prograis among his fighters. DiBella may not be as well known as some of the promoters that you’ll find later on this list, but his influence is still significant.

32. Sean O’Malley

O’Malley celebrates his second-round knockout of Sterling (Getty Images)

One of MMA’s few, genuine crossover stars since McGregor hit and passed his peak. Many fans doubted whether “Sugar Sean” could match his popularity with in-ring success, feeling that the sniper striker might be let down by holes elsewhere in his game. Those doubts were undermined, however, when O’Malley knocked out wrestling specialist Aljamain Sterling in round two in August, becoming the UFC men’s bantamweight champion in the process.

31. Michael Buffer

Buffer ahead of Oleksandr Usyk’s clash with Tony Bellew in 2018 (Getty Images)

The voice of boxing. For decades, the 79-year-old has stood out as the sport’s most famous ring announcer, in large part due to his catchphrase, “Leeeeeeeeet’s get ready to ruuuuuuumble!” which he wisely trademarked in 1992 – a move that has reportedly earned the American $400m...

30. Logan Paul

Paul after beating Dillon Danis in the boxing ring in October (PA)

Like his brother Jake (yes, we’ll get to him), the American started off as a YouTuber before venturing into combat sports. The older Paul brother, 28, began boxing in 2018 and later signed with WWE, where he has prospered since 2022. Outside of various rings, Paul has also seen success with his energy drink Prime and with his Impaulsive podcast.

29. Mick Maynard

The UFC’s Vice-President of Talent Relations, Maynard is a chief matchmaker in the organisation. For all the UFC’s faults, its ability to produce fan-favourite match-ups is unrivalled, and it deserves credit for that – meaning Maynard does, too.

28. Jon Jones

Jones on the night he captured the UFC heavyweight title (Getty Images)

MMA’s greatest fighter ever, in the eyes of many fans. Others hold the American’s multiple failed drug tests against his legacy, as well as incidents like a hit-and-run in 2015. Jones, 36, took a three-year break from MMA between 2020 and 2023, returning in March to easily win the UFC heavyweight title after spending the rest of his career as a light-heavyweight – and as a multiple-time champion in that division, no less.

27. Gervonta Davis

Davis dropped Ryan Garcia twice, stopping him with a body shot (Getty Images)

“Tank” is one of the most fearsome punchers in boxing, but that asset has ironically seen some top-level fights elude the American. He finally got his first big-name opponent in April, when he stopped Ryan Garcia emphatically, but now he must press on in securing bouts with the likes of Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez.

26. Israel Adesanya

Former two-time UFC middleweight champion Adesanya (Getty Images)

A long-reigning middleweight champion in the UFC, and one of the first superstars to emerge in MMA after McGregor’s peak. The Nigerian-born New Zealander, 34, recently saw his second UFC title reign come to an end and is taking a brief break from the sport. Whenever he returns, however, his next bout will likely be one of the most watched of 2024 or 2025, courtesy of the interest he has generated through his enthralling striking.

25. Egis Klimas

Usyk’s manager Egis Klimas (Getty Images)

The manager of Ukrainian icons Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko, Klimas has been a key player in this generation of boxing, recently and notably playing his part in arranging Usyk’s upcoming clash with Tyson Fury – which is set to be the biggest fight in decades.

24. Amanda Serrano

Serrano is one of the most successful boxers of all time (EPA)

A pioneer of women’s boxing. In the biggest women’s fight of all time – and one of boxing’s biggest ever, full stop – the Puerto Rican was unlucky to lose a decision against Katie Taylor in 2022. The 35-year-old should be remembered for much more than that bout, however, when all is said and done; the unified featherweight champion is the only woman to have held world titles in more than four divisions.

23. Tommy Fury

Fury has beaten KSI and Jake Paul in the boxing ring (Getty Images)

Nowhere near the boxer that his half-brother Tyson is, but Tommy has played a smart game. The 24-year-old Briton endeared himself to viewers of the reality television show Love Island before returning to boxing, where he has wisely chosen to fight YouTubers instead of legitimate pros. That is not meant as a slight; Fury is better matched in that sphere and is making much more money than he otherwise would.

22. Hunter Campbell

The UFC’s chief business officer and, according to many, the real mastermind at the UFC – not Dana White. The former lawyer has been tipped to succeed White as UFC president, but that role would require much more interaction with the media and public than Campbell currently engages in.

21. Devin Haney

Haney (left) eased past Regis Prograis to become a two-weight world champion (Getty Images)

Perhaps the next face of boxing. At just 25 years old, Haney has also reigned as undisputed lightweight champion and moved up to collect another world title at super-lightweight. The American has insisted, however, that he has little interest in becoming undisputed again; the “Dream” is keen on super-fights, likely suggesting that he would be content to make as much money as possible before retiring young.

20. Todd duBoef

DuBoef is the stepson of Bob Arum (more on him later) and the president of the 91-year-old’s promotion, Top Rank Boxing. As such, DuBoef is Arum’s likeliest successor, meaning his power in the boxing sphere should only grow in years to come.

19. Ari Emanuel

(Getty Images)

The 62-year-old is the founder and CEO of Endeavor, the parent company of the UFC and now also WWE, following a seismic business deal in 2023. It will be intriguing to see how that deal impacts the landscape of MMA and pro wrestling moving forward. In any case, Emanuel will be looking over that very landscape, and he is also said to have significant influence in Hollywood.

18. Floyd Mayweather

Mayweather is seen by many as the greatest boxer of all time (AP)

The best ever in the boxing ring? According to many, yes. Having retired unbeaten as a pro in 2017, the 46-year-old American has since been on a prolonged victory lap, beating boxers, MMA fighters and YouTubers in various exhibition bouts.

17. Francis Ngannou

Ngannou mocks Tyson Fury after knocking down the boxer (AFP via Getty Images)

One of the standout names from this generation of mixed martial artists, the Cameroonian has repeatedly gambled on himself and won big. After leaving the UFC in January 2023, giving up the company’s heavyweight title in the process, the 37-year-old was criticised for ‘fumbling the bag’. Far from it. Ngannou signed a contract with the PFL, where he will make significantly more money than he did in the UFC. The “Predator” also made his boxing debut in October, dropping and arguably doing enough to beat Tyson Fury – only to come up short on points – in one of the most stupefying moments in combat-sports history.

16. Katie Taylor

Taylor after becoming a two-weight undisputed champion in November (Getty Images)

If not the greatest women’s boxer of all time, the most important. The Irishwoman initiated the movement that allowed female fighters to compete at the Olympics, where she won gold in 2012. She has since became a two-weight undisputed champion, collecting the second set of belts recently. The 37-year-old beat Chantelle Cameron in a modern classic in November, avenging the only loss of her pro career in the same Dublin venue where she was beaten in May.

15. KSI

KSI at the weigh-in before his fight with Tommy Fury (PA)

Like Jake Paul, KSI has made a transition from YouTube into boxing, and while he lacks the dedication and relative skill of his American counterpart, the Briton still attracts a huge viewership and has a wildly dedicated legion of fans. His bout with Tommy Fury, like Paul’s, was one of the most-watched fights of 2023. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, it went the same way as Paul’s, too.

14. Oleksandr Usyk

Usyk is an all-time great cruiserweight who is thriving at heavyweight (AFP via Getty Images)

The greatest cruiserweight of this generation, Usyk is the only man to have been undisputed champion in that division in the four-belt era. Now, he is on the verge of one of boxing’s most remarkable feats ever, as he prepares to face Tyson Fury and potentially become undisputed at heavyweight. The southpaw, 36, is as tricky as they come, as he demonstrated in back-to-back points wins over Anthony Joshua.

13. Terence Crawford

Crawford in December 2022, seven months before making history against Errol Spence Jr (Getty Images)

Arguably boxing’s pound-for-pound No 1, the unbeaten American stopped Errol Spence Jr in an all-time great performance last summer to become undisputed welterweight champion. The 36-year-old has since been stripped of one of his titles, but he won’t mind, having settled one of modern boxing’s biggest debates by beating the previously undefeated Spence Jr in a fight years in the making. His win over Spence Jr also made him the first male boxer to become undisputed in two divisions in the four-belt era.

12. Joe Rogan

Rogan’s podcast is one of the most popular in the world (Youtube/The Joe Rogan Experience)

The jiu-jitsu black belt and former TV presenter is not as involved on UFC commentary as he used to be, but his Joe Rogan Experience podcast is one of the most successful in all of sport – in all of podcasting, in fact. And since signing a major deal with Spotify, the 56-year-old has even more money than influence – which is a lot, especially with males between the ages of 18 and 34 in America.

11. Bob Arum

Arum at a press conference in New York City in 2014 (Getty Images)

Ninety-one years old but still involved at the top end of boxing. Arum’s Top Rank is one of the sport’s biggest players, especially due to its broadcast deal with ESPN. In recent years, Arum’s greatest success might have been securing Tyson Fury’s signature to make Top Rank the Briton’s US promoter.

10. Al Haymon

The American promoter seemingly suffered a blow when US broadcaster Showtime pulled out of boxing recently, but Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) has since signed with Amazon Prime. The 68-year-old previously managed Floyd Mayweather, and PBC counts Terence Crawford, Deontay Wilder, Errol Spence Jr and Manny Pacquaio among its fighters.

9. Jake Paul

Paul is intent on becoming a world champion, he has said (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images for CELCIUS)

Eyebrows might raise over his placement here, but Paul’s is another name that has massive crossover capabilities. Again, many will watch simply in hopes that the American, 26, will lose, but the YouTuber’s boxing career survived his first defeat – against Tommy Fury in February – and he is planning to venture into MMA soon. He has also been an advocate for greater fighter pay, to his credit, and holds boxing wins over MMA stars like Nate Diaz, Anderson Silva and Tyron Woodley. A special mention goes to Nakisa Bidarian here – the former UFC executive who has been pivotal in shaping Paul’s career and building Most Valuable Promotions, which counts Amanda Serrano on its roster.

8. Eddie Hearn

Hearn works as hard as anyone in promotion (Getty Images)

“If you asked someone on the street to name three people in UK boxing, they’d probably go: ‘Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Eddie Hearn.’” Those were the words of... well, Hearn, in our exclusive interview in 2023 – and the rest of this list is somewhat in keeping with that sentiment. Hearn is omnipresent in boxing, popping up on YouTube multiple times a week for interview after interview. As the Matchroom boss has said more than once, he knows “how to sell”. At this point, a special mention must go to Matchroom Boxing CEO Frank Smith, who has emerged as a key part of the company’s success in recent years.

7. Frank Warren

Warren, owner of Queensberry Promotions (Getty Images)

Just as Hearn prizes Anthony Joshua, the promoter’s chief rival Warren counts Tyson Fury as his greatest asset. Warren, 71, has been around numerous blocks numerous times, and his recent progress with key players in Saudi Arabia marks a huge success in a vital moment in boxing history. That progress also sees him edge ahead of Hearn here.

6. Conor McGregor

McGregor’s UFC return is up in the air at the moment (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Even two-and-a-half years on from his last fight – and four years on from his last win – the former UFC champion commands attention like few others. When the Irishman competes, the fighting world stops, and even the average person on the street tends to be aware. Adulation for McGregor, 35, has worn off in his home country in recent years after his series of run-ins with the law, but he has never needed love to thrive; perhaps the hate is just as effective.

5. Anthony Joshua

Joshua after stopping Otto Wallin in 2023 (Getty Images)

There was a concerted effort to make Joshua the heavyweight of this generation, before Fury naturally eclipsed his compatriot for various reasons, including Joshua’s trio of losses over the last four years. Even so, much of the British public still harbours great respect for the 34-year-old, who won Olympic gold in London and went on to provide fans with many fun nights courtesy of his knockouts during his come-up. “AJ” is one of the biggest ‘brands’ in sports, and he isn’t done yet in the ring.

4. Tyson Fury

Fury holds the WBC heavyweight title (PA Wire)

For a while, arguments raged over whether the unbeaten Briton might be the greatest heavyweight ever. While that status seems to have eluded him, given his lack of big-name opponents in comparison to champions gone by, the consensus is that the 35-year-old is the best heavyweight of his generation. Before becoming WBC champion, Fury held the other belts at once, and he will bid to regain them and become undisputed champion – the first in 24 years – when he faces Oleksandr Usyk in February. The “Gypsy King” demonstrated his influence by delaying that fight until he could have it almost entirely on his terms.

3. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez

Canelo has been the face of boxing for years (Getty Images)

While the Mexican is no longer boxing’s pound-for-pound No 1, he is still an elite fighter, a rare pay-per-view draw, an idol in his home country, and the face of boxing worldwide – and he is still just 33 years old. He has flitted between weight classes while taking on all comers, and he continues to reign as undisputed super-middleweight champion.

2. Dana White

UFC president White (Getty Images)

Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, and the UFC is MMA’s undisputed leader. UFC president Dana White may not in fact be the undisputed leader of the promotion (as previous entries on this list have hinted), but he is its figurehead and is more famous than many UFC fighters. The outspoken American, 54, has a remarkable sway over fans’ opinions and a firm control over fighters’ careers.

1. Turki Al-Sheikh

If you don’t recognise Al-Sheikh’s name (sometimes written Alalshikh) at once, the words “His Excellency” may ring a bell, as that is how all of boxing’s kingmakers refer to the Saudi adviser, who might have usurped those very kingmakers at lightning speed in a matter of months. Al-Sheikh, who is also Chairman of General Authority for Entertainment in the Gulf state, is the figure behind the miraculous matchmaking in boxing recently – including Fury and Usyk’s long-awaited undisputed title fight. Right now, even the biggest promoters in the sport seem to be bowing to the 42-year-old’s demands. Saudi Arabia’s immense funds are enabling all of this impressive matchmaking, amid expected accusations of sportswashing, but Al-Sheikh is the mind that is directing the money.

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