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The best UFC fighters of all time ranked

The Independent picks the best combatant to have graced each division of MMA’s flagship promotion

Alex Pattle
Combat Sports Correspondent
Monday 12 June 2023 11:27 BST
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Stipe Miocic (20-4; 15 knockouts/TKOs, 5 decisions)

Stipe Miocic after retaining the UFC heavyweight title with a masterclass against Francis Ngannou in 2018 (Getty Images)

Former two-time champion Miocic holds the record for the most consecutive successful defences of the UFC heavyweight title, in a division where the belt is frequently passed around. The American won the title by knocking out Brazil’s Fabrico Werdum in hostile territory in 2016, going on to record stoppage victories over Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos before outpointing Francis Ngannou with a wrestling masterclass.

Miocic then dropped the belt to Daniel Cormier with a knockout loss later in 2018, but the part-time firefighter regained the gold with his own stoppage of his compatriot one year later. The pair rounded out their trilogy in the summer of 2020, when Miocic beat Cormier on points to retain the title.

In his most recent bout, in March 2021, Miocic was knocked out by old foe Ngannou to lose the belt for the second time, though that result said more about Ngannou’s improvements than any waning of Miocic’s skills. Although the versatile American is now 40, heavyweights tend to fight later into their lives than most mixed martial artists, and he could now be set for a showdown with the next man on this list...


Jon Jones’ career has been overshadowed by indiscretions in and out of the ring (Getty Images)

Jon Jones (27-1, 1 No Contest; 10 KO/TKOs, 7 submissions, 10 decisions)

This passage is written with great reluctance, on account of Jones having tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs numerous times – as well as having been charged with and found guilty of numerous offences outside of the Octagon. The problem is, if the greatest light-heavyweight of all time is not Jones, you have to start making cases for fighters whose resumes just don’t come anywhere close to the American’s. Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history at 23 years old (a record yet to be broken) by winning the title with a stoppage of Mauricio Rua in 2011.

That win took Jones’ UFC record to 7-1 – with his sole loss having come via an unfortunate disqualification – and “Bones” only improved his standing by running through a ‘who’s who’ at 205lbs. Jones retained the light-heavyweight title against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier and Glover Teixeira. Almost all of those men had previously held titles in the UFC, and the latter two eventually did.

In the time since that run, Jones’ transgressions outside of the ring and with performance-enhancing drugs have seen him stripped of the light-heavyweight title twice and interim belt once – as well as seeing a second win against Cormier overturned to a No Contest. His third reign as champion brought a second victory over Gustafsson and a dominant win against Anthony Smith but also controversial decision victories over Dominick Reyes and Thiago Santos. Jones relinquished the belt after his successful defence against Reyes in 2020, teasing a move up to heavyweight. That move finally came this March, as Jones submitted Ciryl Gane to win the vacant belt in the first round.

Jones, 35, is seen by many as the most naturally-talented fighter in UFC history and a combatant with almost unrivalled ring IQ. Unfortunately we may never know how natural his talents really are.


Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva after his final bout in the UFC, in 2020 (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Anderson Silva (34-11, 1 NC; 23 KO/TKOs, 3 submissions, 8 decisions)

Like Jones, though not to the same extent, Silva’s legacy has been tainted by failed drugs tests, and the Brazilian is not quite as far ahead of the middleweight pack as “Bones” is at light-heavyweight.

Recent 185lbs champion Israel Adesanya, who has a victory over Silva, had been staking an increasingly sharp claim to be regarded as the best ever in the division prior to a title loss to Alex Pereira, but his hero’s own argument stands on strong foundations built over a long period of time.

Silva won the UFC middleweight title with a game-changing performance in 2006, devastating Rich Franklin in the Thai clinch to secure a stoppage within three minutes and begin a seven-year reign, which included 14 successful title defences in a row. Both the length of time and number of successful defences remain UFC records to this day.

Silva’s title loss to Chris Weidman in 2013 marked the start of a nine-fight run in which Silva recorded one win, one No Contest and seven defeats. He has not fought since the most recent of those results – a stoppage loss to Uriah Hall in 2020 – and at 48 years old is unlikely to compete in MMA again. However, he has already boxed professionally since then, at one point impressively outpointing former WBC middleweight boxing champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr – who is nine years Silva’s junior.


Georges St-Pierre reigned as UFC welterweight champion and later won the middleweight belt (Getty Images)

Georges St-Pierre (26-2; 8 KO/TKOs, 6 submissions, 12 decisions)

St-Pierre is in a similar position to Silva in as much as he has long been the consensus GOAT in his division. Unlike Silva, however, there are no indiscretions to count against GSP. He was a model mixed martial artist and is seemingly a model human being. The Canadian embodies the value of respect that has always been a core component of martial arts, and his game was as well-rounded as any in the history of the sport.

St-Pierre, now 41, also avenged the only defeats of his professional MMA career, beating Matt Hughes in a rematch to win the welterweight title in 2006, then overcoming Matt Serra in 2008 to reclaim the belt after losing it to the American in what is widely seen as the biggest upset in UFC history.

St-Pierre left the sport in 2013 after a controversial points victory over Johny Hendricks, but the wrestling specialist returned in 2017 to beat Michael Bisping for the middleweight title – thus joining a small group of two-weight UFC champions. The Canadian has resisted the temptation to return to MMA, wisely preserving his almost faultless legacy as the consensus GOAT in the sport.


Khabib Nurmagomedov submitted Conor McGregor in the biggest fight in UFC history (USA TODAY Sports)

Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0; 8 KO/TKOs, 11 submissions, 10 decisions)

There are some who believe that Khabib was one marquee win away from establishing himself as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. Others would argue that the Dagestani never had a well-rounded enough game to qualify for that status in any case.

What is less disputable, however, is that the former lightweight champion utilised his greatest strength – his wrestling – in a faultless manner. Perhaps no other mixed martial artist has excelled to such an extent in one discipline, or applied it so effectively.

The indefatigable Russian’s record is also remarkable. Almost no mixed martial artist makes it out of the sport undefeated – especially not after competing in the UFC – but that is exactly what Khabib did in 2020. The “Eagle” won the lightweight belt in 2018 and defended it three times, retaining it by submitting elite opposition on each occasion. First to fall was Conor McGregor, then Dustin Poirier, then Justin Gaethje.

Khabib’s victory over the latter came a few months after the death of the champion’s father and coach Abdulmanap, a moment that planted the seeds for the fighter’s retirement. That exit from the sport came immediately after Khabib’s win against Gaethje, marking the rarest of endings for the rarest of athletes. He now helps to coach Islam Makhachev, his childhood friend who has become UFC lightweight champion like Khabib before him.


Jose Aldo has rejuvenated his career at bantamweight but was featherweight king for years (Getty Images)

Jose Aldo (31-8; 17 KO/TKOs, 1 submission, 13 decisions)

The casual MMA follower might be stunned to see the Brazilian’s name here, with their mind jumping to Aldo’s knockout by Conor McGregor in fewer seconds than it took for the Irishman to dethrone the former champion.

Indeed, some more invested fans might even think of that 13-second KO before they think of any other performance by Aldo, but memories of those other fights and trademark performances will soon flood in.

Before Aldo’s loss to McGregor, few would have challenged the Brazilian’s status as the greatest featherweight of all time. In fact, the now-36-year-old Aldo was unbeaten in 10 years prior to that famous result in 2015. While his record was patchy thereafter (6-6), up until his retirement in 2022, all of those bouts came against elite opponents.

A drop down to bantamweight rejuvenated the former 145lbs king, whose status as the greatest featherweight ever now depends more on how Max Holloway and reigning champion Alexander Volkanovski fare in their remaining years in the sport. Both have victories over Aldo, with Holloway having stopped “Junior” twice.


Dominick Cruz is a former two-time UFC bantamweight champion (Getty Images)

Dominick Cruz (24-4; 7 KO/TKOs, 1 submission, 16 decisions)

Cruz has been the consensus greatest men’s bantamweight in UFC history for many years.

The American was WEC champion before joining the UFC, where his belt became the promotion’s inaugural title at 135lbs. In his first defence, Cruz outpointed Urijah Faber to avenge the only defeat he had suffered as a pro at that point. A 13-fight winning streak would culminate in another victory over Faber, after the “Dominator” had vacated the title due to injury then regained it, before his second reign ended at the hands of his old rival’s protege Cody Garbrandt.

After that surprisingly comprehensive decision defeat, the injury-plagued Cruz, now 38, took a four-year hiatus from the sport. He returned in 2020 to challenge then-champion Henry Cejudo for the bantamweight title and was stopped – perhaps controversially – at the end of Round 2.

Thereafter, Cruz responded with back-to-back wins over Casey Kenney and Pedro Munhoz to affirm himself as one of the best bantamweights in the world – still – and he was leading against Marlon Vera before suffering a knockout loss. The veteran also holds wins over TJ Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson, who reigned at 135lbs and 125lbs in the UFC respectively.


Demetrious Johnson was the UFC’s first men’s flyweight champion (Getty Images)

Demetrious Johnson (24-4-1; 5 KO/TKOs, 8 submissions, 11 decisions)

The UFC’s first ever men’s flyweight champion, Johnson’s reign spanned 12 fights and five years.

Along the way, the American defeated Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson twice each, as well as Ray Borg (with one of the most inventine submissions that the UFC has ever seen) and future dual-weight champion Henry Cejudo.

Cejudo avenged that loss by edging a narrow decision against “Mighty Mouse” in what would end up being Johnson’s final fight in the UFC before being traded to ONE in exchange for Ben Askren.

Since that move in 2019, the 36-year-old has gone 3-1, surprisingly losing via TKO while challenging for the promotion’s title last spring.

Women's featherweight and bantamweight

Amanda Nunes is one of just four UFC champions to have held two titles at once (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Amanda Nunes (23-5; 13 KO/TKOs, 4 submissions, 6 decisions)

In 2022, Nunes outpointed Julianna Pena to regain the bantamweight title and avenge one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Prior to the pair’s two clashes, the Brazilian was on a 12-fight win streak that saw her become one of just four dual-weight champions in UFC history by collecting the bantamweight and featherweight belts.

The “Lioness”, 34, retained the bantamweight strap seven times before dropping it to Pena, and she added another defence in June 2023 by outpointing Irene Alada – before retiring from MMA.

Nunes holds eight victories over six past and present UFC champions, having beaten Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie twice each, and having destroyed Ronda Rousey after winning the bantamweight belt from Miesha Tate. Nunes also blasted through Holly Holm and knocked out Cris Cyborg, with the latter result marking the moment that the Brazilian claimed the title at 145lbs to become a double-champ.

Women's flyweight

Valentina Shevchenko has recorded seven straight successful UFC title defences at flyweight (Getty Images)

Valentina Shevchenko (23-4; 8 KO/TKOs, 7 submissions, 8 decisions)

“Bullet” is one of the most beloved fighters in the UFC today.

In 2022, Shevchenko recorded her seventh straight successful defence of the promotion’s women’s flyweight title, edging past Taila Santos in a competitive contest, before her reign finally came to an end with a surprise submission by Alexa Grasso this March.

Prior to that, the Kyrgyzstani’s dominance in the division was inarguable. In fact, the 35-year-old’s only defeats had come at bantamweight – one early in her career against Liz Carmouche, and two in the UFC against Amanda Nunes. Both losses to Nunes came via decision, and the second was disputed by most observers.

That latter result denied Shevchenko a bantamweight title win, but she went on to claim the flyweight belt and throughout her career has beaten numerous champions including Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Holly Holm, Jessica Andrade and Julianna Pena.

Shevchenko also avenged her loss to Carmouche and has defeated Jennifer Maia, Katlyn Chookagian, Jessica Eye and Lauren Murphy among others. Her head-kick knockout of Eye is seen as one of the greatest KOs in UFC history.

Women's strawweight

Joanna Jedrzejczyk (16-5; 4 KO/TKOs, 1 submission, 11 decisions)

Joanna Jedrzejczyk was only ever beaten by UFC champions (Getty Images)

Poland’s first ever UFC champion, Jedrzejczyk recently called time on her in-ring career at the age of 35.

Known by most simply as “Joanna Champion” due to her earlier dominance and the difficulty that many fans have with spelling her surname, Jedrzejczyk reigned as UFC strawweight champion between 2015 and 2017. She carried an aura of invincibility ahead of her title win against Carla Esparza, a reputation that was only bolstered as she beat the American for the belt and went on to achieve five straight successful defences in a short space of time.

The Pole’s record over the last five years has been spotty at 2-5, but it is worth delving into. After a surprise knockout loss to Rose Namajunas in November 2017, Jedrzejczyk was arguably unlucky not to regain the strawweight belt in the pair’s rematch, which was closely contested over five rounds. She then picked up wins over Tecia Torres and Michelle Waterson, either side of a points loss to Valentina Shevchenko, before finishing her career with two straight losses to Weili Zhang.

The first of those defeats came via split decision, however, in what is deemed by most followers to be the greatest women’s fight in MMA history and one of the best the sport has seen, full stop. The latter, in June, was the result of a devastating spinning back fist KO, but Jedrzejczyk was gracious in defeat as she expressed her love for the fans and left her gloves in the ring. “Joanna Champion” was only ever beaten by UFC champions.

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