Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has seen a meteoric rise to fame and worldwide glory in recent years. Once regarded as nothing more than a brutal slugfest involving thick-headed men and lots of blood, the sport is now a highly respected form of professional fighting which requires true mastery of technique, form, speed and strength. The Octagon has seen many fighters enter in the hopes of making it into the big time, but here are the special few who really managed to make their mark in MMA.
10. Royce Gracie
Brazilian-born Royce Gracie is considered by many as one of the most influential fighters in the sport’s history. Dominating the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Gracie became the winner of UFC 1, 3, and 4, and he tied with Ken Shamrock in the championship match at UFC 5. Popularising Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – which has become a staple in any fighter’s arsenal if they aim to step into the Octagon – he revolutionised the art by focussing on grappling and cross-training rather than knockouts. As a result, he holds the record for most consecutive submission victories in UFC history with an astounding 11. Gracie faced some controversy after testing positive for an anabolic steroid after his fight with Kazushi Sakuraba in 2007. Despite disputing the allegations for two years, experts remained unconvinced as to how a 40 year old athlete was able to gain 13 pounds of lean muscle in less than a year. He retired in 2013 with a record of 14 wins (12 by submission) to just 3 losses.
9. Randy Couture
Retired American fighter Randy Couture started his career as a college level wrestler before entering the UFC. During his tenure, he became a three-time heavyweight champion, two-time light heavyweight champion and was the UFC 13 heavyweight tournament winner. Along with BJ Penn, he is the only fighter to hold titles in two different weight classes and holds the most title reigns with five. Recognised as a clinch and ground-and-pound fighter, Couture uses his extensive wrestling ability to execute flawless takedowns to establish a top position. Combined with his knowledge of boxing and catch wrestling, it should come as no surprise that he has 19 wins – 7 of which were through knockout. Couture resides in the UFC Hall of Fame and is the only person over the age of 40 to win a UFC fight.
8. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson
Quinton Jackson began his professional career in Japan’s Pride organisation against superstar Sakuraba who was, at the time, Pride’s most prominent domestic fighter. Despite suffering a loss, Jackson captivated the audience and was soon invited back. Foraying into the UFC, Jackson faced heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and quickly took the title less than 2 minutes into the first round due to referee stoppage. He also features in the reality TV series ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ as one of the team’s coaches. At the conclusion of the show he entered the ring to fight Forrest Griffin and, despite landing some heavy blows and taking him to the ground three times, he lost due to judge’s decision. This proved highly controversial with many feeling Jackson deserved the win. Retiring with a 35-11 career, Jackson has had a brief stint in acting, taking over Mr T’s role in ‘The A-Team’ movie as well as a few straight-to-video releases.
7. Chuck Liddell
Widely credited with helping bring MMA into the mainstream of American sports and entertainment, Chuck Liddell rose to fame with a bare-knuckle fight against Brazilian Jose Landi-Jons. Despite being the underdog, Liddell dominated the fighter on his feet, winning by decision. Perhaps most known for his rivalry against Tito Ortiz, the two finally fought in a highly publicised event for the UFC in 2004. After being taunted by Ortiz and pushed into the referee, Liddell landed a flurry of punches to drop his opponent, gaining him victory by TKO 38 seconds into the second round. The bad blood between the two led to a rematch, which Liddell again won via technical knockout in the third round. Liddell saw continued success and his final fight against Wanderlei Silva in 2007 was quickly voted the best fight of the year. Liddell retired with 21 wins, 13 of which were due to knockout – a UFC record which remains unmatched to this day.
6. BJ Penn
Prior to starting his professional MMA career, BJ Penn gained notoriety by becoming the first American to take the gold medal at the World Jiu Jitsu Championship in 2000. As a finalist in the UFC 41 lightweight tournament, Penn saw a controversial draw against Caol Uno in the finale. Voted as one of the greatest upsets in the tournaments history, many believe the match should have easily swayed in Penn’s favour. Through his tenure at the UFC, Penn unified the lightweight championship to become the division’s first undisputed champion – going on to remain undefeated for 8 years and breaking the all time lightweight title defense record. Penn has been credited as the man who brought the lower lightweight division into the limelight and one of the greatest fighters in history. Nearly half of his wins were through knockout and the majority of his losses were through decision.
5. Wanderlei Silva
Dubbed ‘The Axe Murderer’, Wanderlei Silva is a retired (and also banned) Brazilian fighter who began his early career in Pride. With an aggressive style of street fighting complemented by Muay Thai and kickboxing, Silva won five of his first six professional fights through knockout. Within Pride Silva was known for his brutal strength which often allowed him to overpower his opponents in submission attempts or TKO. During his fight against Quinton Jackson in 2004, Silva delivered a series of seventeen consecutive knees and quickly became the champion. With a successful career of 35 wins – 27 by knockout – and only 12 loses, Silva suffered a life-long ban by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 2014 due to his refusal to submit to random drug tests. With his forced retirement, Silva still holds the record for most Pride wins, knockouts, title defenses and longest winning streak in the organization’s history.
4. Jon Jones
American mixed martial artist Jon Jones rose to fame in March 2011 when he became the UFC light heavyweight champion and became the youngest champion in UFC history at just 23 years old. Taking on then-champion Shogun Rua, Jones dominated the first three rounds after landing an early flying knee that badly weakened the defending champion. The match ended due to referee stoppage after Jones’ body shot and knee to the head forced his opponent to the floor. His closest match yet came when defending his belt against contender Belfort. After almost submitting in the first round due to an arm-bar, Jones managed to turn the tide and win via an americana submission – equalling Liddell’s record for number of title defenses. After testing positive for cocaine and facing a $25,000 fine, Jones will next compete against Anthony Johnson in UFC 187 in May this year.
3. Fedor Emelianenko
Russian-born Fedor Emelianenko began his professional MMA career in 2000 with stints in Pride Fighting and FIAS Sambo Championship – becoming heavyweight champion in both – before entering the UFC. For 28 fights he remained undefeated (including 4 wins over UFC champions) and he defeated eleven top 10 ranked fighters (one of them twice). Throughout his career, he has won a number of accolades including best submission/beat down of the year, knockout of the year, heavyweight fighter of the year and best fighter of the decade. Consistently favoured as perhaps one of the best fighters of all time, Emelianenko is the longest reigning pound for pound champion in MMA history. Retiring with an impressive 34-4 record, Emelianenko entered politics and is currently on Russia’s Presidential Council for Health and Fitness.
2. Anderson Silva
Brazilian Anderson Silva trained from a very young age in Tae Kwan Do before he gained his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and rounded out his fighting form with Muay Thai. After a succession of wins via submission or TKO, Silva entered Pride and won his first two matches via referee stoppage and a knockout following a flying knee. After being signed by the UFC, Silva took a shot at the middleweight belt, stepping up against reigning champion Rich Franklin. By the end of the first round Silva had broken his opponent’s nose with a knee to the face. Unable to dodge his further attacks, Franklin fell to the floor and lost due to technical knockout. A well-rounded fighter with a striking ability believed to be the best in MMA, Silva currently has a 40-6 record and holds the record for most wins by knockout (17), longest win streak (16 fights), and longest reign by days (3,051). Unfortunately, a recent drugs scandal may see the end for this MMA legend.
1. Georges St-Pierre
Semi-retired Canadian fighter Georges St-Pierre has for several years been ranked as the number one fighter welterweight fighter in the world, the top fighter of all time and perhaps the most accomplished MMA fighter in history. Debuting in UFC 46, St-Pierre won by unanimous decision and his followup fight ended with a technical knockout against his opponent less than 2 minutes into the first round. Challenging Matt Hughes for the championship, the bout was almost stopped when St-Pierre landed a superman punch, forcing Hughes to the mat. Despite surviving this, he faced a barrage of punches and elbows that ended with a technical knockout. After defending the title several times, St-Pierre announced he was vacating the title, but he left the door open for a possible return. During his time in the Octagon, he won 25 fights and lost only 2.