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.
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.
23 Frank Mir – 15-9
22 Dan Henderson – 7-7
21 Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira – 5-5
20 Frank Shamrock – 5-0
19 Wanderlei Silva – 5-7
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.
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.
16 Rich Franklin – 14-6
15 Mark Coleman – 7-5
14 Dan Severn – 9-4
13 Lyoto Machida – 14-5
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.
11 Tito Ortiz – 15-11-1
10 Rashad Evans – 24-3-1
9 Jose Aldo – 7-0
8 Matt Hughes – 18-7
7 Ken Shamrock – 6-6-2
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.
5 Jon Jones – 15-1
4 Georges St-Pierre – 19-2
3 Anderson Silva – 17-2
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.
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.
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