The Ultimate Fighting Championship started from humble beginnings when it held UFC 1 in the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado in November 1993. During that first tournament, eight fighters squared off in a tournament bracket to determine the toughest fighter in the world. There were no weight classes. The styles of the eight participants varied greatly from what we are now used to viewing, but the largest MMA organization in the world today was born and there was no looking back.
On that first night, Royce Gracie demonstrated the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to a worldwide audience. Now, it is considered one of the basic background styles that fighters must be well versed in to avoid defeat from their opponents. Gone are the days of open weight divisions, and the UFC now boasts ten total weight classes, with eight men’s divisions and two divisions for female combatants. Champions are now considered international celebrities and receive valuable endorsement deals that rival professional athletes from the traditional “big four” sports. Making a living as a fighter is the modern day equivalent of a Horatio Alger novel put on display for the fans’ viewing pleasure.
Since Zuffa acquired the UFC in 2001, the sport has grown to extraordinary proportions thanks in large part to the success of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Now, the UFC is broadcast on Fox and Fox Sports 1, giving the sport mainstream exposure to a worldwide audience. It is a sport not without controversy, with ongoing battles regarding head injuries and drug testing continue to mar some of the sport’s legends. However, the UFC is here to stay, it has defeated obscurity, legal roadblocks, insolvency, and monopoly accusations to become the biggest name in the international fight game. Dana White has brought the sport to unprecedented heights, but the fighters on this list have given the sport its rich history and legacy.
The records listed for each fighter are their UFC records (not MMA records) and are taken from Sherdog.com.
25 Frankie Edgar - 12-4-1
Frankie Edgar entered the UFC octagon with a background as an All-American wrestler at Clarion University. Coming into the UFC with a 6-0 record, his first fight was a trial by fire against the fellow undefeated fighter Tyson Griffin. In the 4th round of their bout at UFC 67, Edgar refused to tap to a brutal kneebar and went on to win the fight by unanimous decision. This legacy of fighting through pain helped Edgar rise though the rankings which culminated with Frank winning the Lightweight Title in a victory over BJ Penn.
Edgar had two successful title defenses and one draw before dropping the title to Benson Henderson. Edgar is currently the leader among active fighters in total strikes landed, which is a result of the furious pace at which he fights. Cub Swanson was the latest victim of this unrelenting pace, when he was overwhelmed with Edgar’s wrestling and striking abilities over the five round fight. After three consecutive losses, Edgar has won his last three fights and should be in line for a title shot against Jose Aldo in the near future.
24 B.J. Penn – 12-9-2
B.J. Penn was one of the greatest UFC Champions of the 2000s. As the sport took off like a rocket, The Prodigy was involved in one of the most memorable fights of the era. The losses that Penn has suffered during his career came against some of the sport’s fellow legends. Penn fought at three different weight classes before returning to Lightweight, where he won the division’s first title against Joe Stevenson. He then returned to Welterweight to fight, where he attempted unsuccessfully to unite the titles against Georges St-Pierre.
Penn went on to set the record for Lightweight title defenses before losing to Frankie Edgar. His recent five losses have come against some of the toughest competition in the sport, with three against Edgar, and the other two coming from Nick Diaz and Rory MacDonald. His induction to the UFC Hall of Fame will ensure that his legacy in the sport is forever remembered.
23 Frank Mir – 15-9
Frank Mir made his debut at UFC 34, where he won Submission of the Night in his first bout thanks to a beautiful armbar early in the first round against Roberto Traven. He climbed through the heavyweight division rankings, running up a record of 5-1 before breaking Tim Silvia’s arm, which won Mir his first UFC Heavyweight title. He suffered a loss to Mauricio Cruz in his first title defense, but managed to recover with a big victory over Brock Lesnar and became the first man to knockout Antonio Nogueira to earn his second title in the division. He went on to become the first man to submit Nogueira in 2011, but has seen a string of losses in recent years. Mir is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend who now holds the UFC record for wins, submissions, and fights in the Heavyweight division. His recent knockout of Bigfoot Silva demonstrates that he might have another title run in the tank.
22 Dan Henderson – 7-7
Dan Henderson was blessed with one punch knockout power and has used those mighty hands to drop some of the sport’s biggest names. After fighting at UFC 17, where he won the Middleweight tournament, he moved on to fight in Japan for Pride. Henderson then enjoyed a brief stint in the UFC, which started off with losses to Rampage Jackson and Anderson Silva, before rattling off consecutive victories against Rousimar Palhares, Rich Franklin, and the Knockout of the Year against Michael Bisping. He then left for Strikeforce, but returned in 2011 for the Fight of the Year against Mauricio Rua, which Henderson won in a five round unanimous decision. His recent record has been marred by losses to Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, and Daniel Cormier, but his status as an MMA icon is undoubtable.
21 Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira – 5-5
Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira was hit by a truck as a youngster and spent time in a coma before recovering. He went on to make his bones in Pride becoming one of the world’s most beloved fighters before joining the UFC in 2007. In his second fight, he choked out Tim Sylvia to win the Interim Heavyweight Championship before losing it in his first defense to Frank Mir. Nogueira’s comeback fight against Randy Couture is one of the greatest in UFC history and Nogueira won by unanimous decision in the 2009 Fight of the Year. He is the only fighter in history to hold both the Pride Heavyweight Championship and the UFC Heavyweight Championship
20 Frank Shamrock – 5-0
Frank Shamrock was one of the great champions during the early stages of UFC history, having joined the organization in its infancy after winning gold in freestyle wrestling in the 1992 Olympics. Shamrock’s first fight against Kevin Jackson lasted only 16 seconds after which Jackson submitted to Shamrock’s armbar. This fight earned Shamrock the new UFC Middleweight title, and he went on to defend that title against Igor Zinoviev, Jeremy Horn, and John Lober. In his fifth UFC fight, Shamrock battered Tito Ortiz into submission at UFC 22, for his fourth consecutive title defense. Following the fight, he relinquished his title and retired from mixed martial arts. Although, he would go on to fight for several different promotions.
19 Wanderlei Silva – 5-7
Wanderlei Silva is one of the most decorated fighters in both Pride and UFC history. His first three fights in the octagon involved losses to Vitor Belfort and Tito Ortiz, but he managed a win against Tony Petarra in between. After becoming a legend in Pride, Silva made his UFC return for a super fight with Chuck Liddell, which he lost by unanimous decision, but earned 2007 Fight of the Year honors. He won 2008 Knockout of the Year for his next fight against Keith Jardine before defeats against Rampage Jackson and Rich Franklin. Silva’s accomplishments in the ring have been overshadowed in recent history by his refusal to submit to drug testing, which has led to his lifetime ban by the Nevada Athletic Association.
18 Quinton "Rampage" Jackson – 7-5
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is one of the most famous names associated with the UFC, but he did not always fight with the company. After starting off with independent promotions, Jackson developed a reputation in Pride for being a fighter of the highest caliber. When he entered the UFC octagon against Marvin Eastman in 2007, Rampage already had 25 victories under his belt. After defeating Eastman, Rampage defeated Light Heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell in the first round thanks to a vicious right hook.
He successfully defended the title against Dan Henderson, but lost his next bout to Forrest Griffin. Jackson rallied with four victories in five fights to earn another title shot against Jon Jones, but was choked out in the 4th round. After fighting three fights for Bellator, Rampage recently signed a new contract with the UFC for another comeback attempt. Jackson is a knockout artist that has defeated some of the sport’s best, such as Wanderlei Silva, Lyoto Machida, and Dan Henderson.
17 Cain Velasquez – 11-1
Cain Velasquez has been virtually unstoppable since first stepping into the octagon for the UFC in 2008. In his first bout, he needed only 2 minutes and 10 seconds to force a stoppage against Brad Morris. His next opponent, Jake O’Brien, lasted eight seconds less than Morris before being stopped in a similar fashion. He went on to rack up a 5-0 UFC record before destroying Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera in the first round and then set his sights on Brock Lesnar and the UFC Heavyweight title. Brock nearly lasted the entire first round, but Velasquez overwhelmed the wrestling legend to win his first title.
His first title reign was short, because Velasquez lost his first defense to Junior dos Santos, but he has since avenged this loss on two occasions, which has allowed Velasquez to recapture and defend his Heavyweight Title. Velasquez also defended his title against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, which ended with Bigfoot’s forehead bloodied as he was battered by the relentless Velasquez. Velasquez will next defend his UFC Heavyweight title against Fabricio Werdum.
16 Rich Franklin – 14-6
After starting his career with a 3-0 record in the UFC, Rich Franklin’s career really took off when he defeated Ken Shamrock on the finale of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. In his next fight, he captured the UFC Middleweight title by defeating Evan Tanner thanks to a doctor’s stoppage. He would defend that title twice before succumbing to Anderson Silva, when he was knocked out by brutal knee strikes. Franklin returned to the UFC at Light Heavyweight and fought several catchweight bouts against Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort. He recorded two unanimous decision victories over the “Axe Murderer” before falling to Cung Lee in his final UFC bout.
15 Mark Coleman – 7-5
Mark Coleman is a pioneer in the sport of mixed martial arts and is credited with being the first American to utilize the “ground and pound” technique. With an Olympic wrestling background, Coleman used those skills to defeat his first five opponents in the UFC, which allowed him to win the UFC 10 and UFC 11 tournaments. In his sixth UFC fight, he became the UFC Heavyweight and UFC Superfight Championship by defeating Dan Severn with a headlock. Coleman’s streak was ended by Maurice Smith in the 1997 Fight of the Year and Coleman would take his talents to Pride for the next several years. Eventually, Coleman made a return to the UFC for three fights. He was well past his prime, but still managed a unanimous decision defeat of Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100.
14 Dan Severn – 9-4
After an All-American career at Arizona State University and time as an alternate on the Olympic team, Dan Severn turned his attention to the UFC. At UFC 4, he defeated Anthony Macias and Marcus Bossett with rear-naked chokes before taking on the legendary Royce Gracie in the final. After 15 minutes of fighting, Severn was tapped out by the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend, but not without making his name known throughout the sport. Severn would go on to win UFC 5 with three victories over Joe Charles, Oleg Taktarov, and Dave Beneteau. He was defeated by Ken Shamrock at UFC 6, but would avenge that loss at UFC 9 to regain his UFC Superfight Title.
13 Lyoto Machida – 14-5
Lyoto Machida’s innovative style shows the influence of his Brazilian and Japanese heritage, utilizing tenets of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, judo, and Shotokan karate. Machida joined the UFC with an 8-0 record and won his first six bouts within the organization, registering victories over Tito Ortiz and Thiago Silva before earning his first shot at the Light Heavyweight Title. Machida knocked out Rashad Evans to earn the title, and would have one successful defense against Mauricio Rua before getting knocked out in a rematch with Rua. Since being choked out by Jon Jones, Machida has dropped down to Middleweight, where he won two bouts before losing to champion Chris Weidman.
12 Vitor Belfort – 13-6
In just his second professional bout, Vitor Belfort found himself involved in the UFC 12 Heavyweight tournament, which he would go on to win thanks to victories over Tra Telligman and Scott Ferrozzo. When his record improved to 4-0 with a win over Tank Abbott, Belfort received his first big match against Randy Couture. Despite being defeated, Belfort managed to last over eight minutes against the champ. In the last fight of his first stint with the organization, he defeated Wanderlei Silva before leaving for Japan and Pride.
In his return to the UFC in 2002, he lost a unanimous decision to Chuck Liddell, but less than two years later, he would avenge his loss to Couture to earn the UFC Light Heavyweight Title. He was defeated in a rematch and once again left the company for Japan, but another return to America was always in the cards. In 2009, he returned to the promotion with a win over Rich Franklin, but has lost his two title fights against Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. Belfort’s last three fights have all been highlight reel knockouts with each of them earning Knockout of the Night honors. His spinning heel kick against Luke Rockhold is one of the most stunning to take place in the octagon.
11 Tito Ortiz – 15-11-1
The Huntington Beach Bad Boy was one of the most entertaining fighters in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. From April 2000 to September 2003, he reigned as the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion after winning the vacant title via unanimous decision over Wanderlei Silva. He then had five successful title defenses, winning by several different methods before losing a unanimous decision to Randy Couture to bring his win streak to an end. After a loss to Chuck Liddell, Tito rallied off a five match win streak including two more victories over Ken Shamrock. Ortiz’ final years with the organization resulted in several significant defeats, but he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame briefly in 2012. He has since been removed from it for joining rival fight promotion, Bellator.
10 Rashad Evans – 24-3-1
Rashad Evans began his career as a Lightweight, before moving up to Heavyweight to participate in The Ultimate Fighter 2, where he defeated Brad Imes in the finale. Evans would go on to win his next four bouts, including a victory over Stephan Bonner before a draw with Tito Ortiz. In his next fight, Evans defeated Michael Bisping before knocking out Chuck Liddell with a thunderous right hand that earned him 2008 Knockout of the Year. Evans went on to win the UFC Light Heavyweight Title in his next match against Forrest Griffin, but Lyoto Machida ensured that he would never successfully defend that title. Since then, Evans had another title shot against Jon Jones (though he lost), but has rallied with recent victories over Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen.
9 Jose Aldo – 7-0
The current UFC Featherweight Champion, Jose Aldo has never been defeated in a North American promotion. His only defeat came nearly 10 years ago in a promotion called Jungle Fight. Since then, Aldo has torn apart the WEC and UFC Featherweight divisions and is currently riding a 18-fight winning streak that stretches back almost a full decade. Aldo’s time in the UFC has seen him register victories over Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian, and two over Chad Mendes. He is currently the #2 pound-for-pound fighter according to the UFC, and his upcoming fight against Conor McGregor should be one of the most exciting in the division’s history.
8 Matt Hughes – 18-7
During his time at the top, Matt Hughes put together some of the most amazing accomplishments that the UFC has ever seen. Hughes was a two-time All-American in wrestling at Eastern Illinois University, and that expertise served him well during his time in the octagon. Hughes won the UFC Welterweight Championship at UFC 34 and then rattled off five consecutive title defenses against the division’s best opponents. After losing the title to BJ Penn, he rattled off six more consecutive victories, defeating Georges St. Pierre for the Welterweight belt before going on to beat Royce Gracie and avenge his loss to Penn. Hughes was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in May 2010, an honor he certainly deserved.
7 Ken Shamrock – 6-6-2
Ken Shamrock certainly earned his nickname, the “World’s Most Dangerous Man,” during his illustrious MMA career. Shamrock’s early rivalry with Royce Gracie propelled the UFC to unprecedented heights and allowed the organization to grow to their current proportions. Shamrock registered a victory by heel hook on Patrick Smith before he was submitted by Gracie in the first minute of their bout at UFC 1. Shamrock would go on to register two victories at UFC 3, before a 36-minute war with Gracie that ended in a draw. Gracie had to be carried from the ring by his brothers due to exhaustion from the bout. Shamrock would go on to fight several more times in the organization with notable losses to Dan Severn, Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin. He was inducted to the UFC Hall of Fame for his career accomplishments.
6 Chuck Liddell – 16-7
Chuck Liddell is the current co-leader in all-time knockouts in the UFC with 13, an honor he shares with Randy Couture. Liddell is credited with ushering in an era of mainstream success thanks in large part to his exciting style of fighting and eye catching Mohawk. Liddell first fought at UFC 17 and fought his entire career with the company with the exception of a handful of fights. Liddell lost his first title shot to Couture, but would earn the Lightweight Championship in a rematch two years later.
He would successfully defend the title four times, registering another victory over Couture and one over Tito Ortiz in the process. More recently, Liddell has been the victim of some of the most stunning knockouts in memory before making the wise decision to retire, and he was rewarded with Hall of Fame induction in 2009.
5 Jon Jones – 15-1
Since entering the UFC in 2008, Jon “Bones” Jones has been as unstoppable as any fighter in the sport’s history. The only blemish on Jones’ record came via disqualification for illegal elbow against Matt Hamill in a match he thoroughly dominated. His submission of Ryan Bader for his 12th MMA victory earned him a shot at the Light Heavyweight title against Mauricio Rua, and Jones knocked out the champ in Round 3 to earn the title. In his ensuing title defenses, he choked out Rampage Jackson, left Lyoto Machida unconscious with a brutal guillotine choke, and defeated Rashad Evans by unanimous decision. His toughest test as champion came against Alexander Gustafsson, but his recent dominant performances have some wondering if he will move up to Heavyweight to challenge Cain Velasquez.
4 Georges St-Pierre – 19-2
Georges St-Pierre has been a dominant champion during his tenure in the UFC, and is the only fighter in history to win the UFC Welterweight Championship three times. Despite this fact, St-Pierre actually lost his first title shot against Matt Hughes, but would avenge that loss two years later after defeating five opponents, including B.J. Penn and Sean Sherk. St-Pierre lost in his first title defense to Matt Serra, but would capture the interim title by defeating Hughes in December 2007. St-Pierre then unified the title with a victory over Serra, and has never looked back since. After mounting a twelve match winning streak, St-Pierre vacated his title and stepped away from the sport in 2014, but has left the door open for a return.
3 Anderson Silva – 17-2
There may not have ever been a more exciting fighter in the world than Anderson Silva when he was at the peak of his powers just a few years ago. Silva earned the longest title defense streak in UFC history, with sixteen consecutive victories and ten title defenses before his streak was ended by Chris Weidman in 2013. Silva’s list of victories includes some of the sport’s legends, including two victories over Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin, and Vitor Belfort. Silva’s diverse skill set allowed him to knock opponents unconscious with a variety of moves including front kick, knee strikes and triangle armbars. His losses against Weidman proved that he was indeed mortal, but his recent victory over Nick Diaz involved a positive test for anabolic steroids, which has somewhat tarnished Silva’s considerable legacy.
2 Randy Couture – 16-8
Randy Couture was the first person in UFC history to hold championships in different weight classes. He is the only fighter in the organization’s history to have five title reigns, and he fought in more title bouts than any other. The Natural won his first UFC Heavyweight Championship by defeating Maurice Smith at UFC Japan. He was stripped of the title when he went to fight for another promotion, but regained it in his return fight against Kevin Randleman at UFC 28. After losing the belt to Josh Barnett, he won the interim Light Heavyweight title from Chuck Liddell and unified the title with a victory over Tito Ortiz.
Randy lost the title to Vitor Belfort, but won it back in the ensuing rematch before Liddell earned revenge and the title at UFC 57. Couture’s next fight saw him return to Heavyweight and take the title from Tim Sylvia, but he was defeated by Brock Lesnar one year later. The Natural’s career ended when he was knocked out by Lyoto Machida with a pristine front crane kick straight out of the movies. Couture was inducted as the fourth member of the UFC Hall of Fame and remains the oldest title holder in the organization’s history.
1 Royce Gracie – 10-2-1
Without the contributions of Royce Gracie, we may not even have the sport we now know as mixed martial arts. Gracie first demonstrated the capabilities of his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background when he ran through the tournament fields at UFC 1 and UFC 2, where he registered seven submission victories. Exhaustion prevented him from repeating this feat at UFC 3, but he made his return at UFC 4 with submission victories over Ron van Clief, Keith Hackney, and Dan Severn.
At UFC 5, Gracie and Ken Shamrock fought an epic 36-minute contest that ended in a draw despite a five minute overtime period being added. Gracie had to be carried from the ring due to exhaustion, and it remains one of the most iconic fights in UFC history. Gracie’s comeback at UFC 60 saw him lose by TKO to Matt Hughes. Gracie has flirted with a return in recent years, but retired permanently in 2013. Gracie was inducted along with Ken Shamrock to the first ever class of the UFC Hall of Fame.