Who are the greatest pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time? What criteria do you use to make such a list?
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Perhaps it’s as simple as, “when you know, you know.” And what we know is that these 16 fighters, listed in no particular order, are undeniably among the greatest to ever step foot inside the cage.
As hard as it is to reach a consensus in any “greatest of all time” list, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that didn’t feature Georges St-Pierre in its top three. And that’s because, with all the intangibles that go into these discussions, it’s hard to argue with the numbers. And, boy, does St-Pierre have those.
St-Pierre’s first UFC title run was short: He claimed the welterweight crown in a 2006 rematch with Matt Hughes before Matt Serra took it away in a massive upset less than one year later. That loss, the second one of St-Pierre’s career, also turned out to be the last. After taking the interim title in a trilogy with Hughes, “GSP” went on to unify it against Serra and defend it nine times until his 2013 retirement. His 170-pound reign would have been a strong argument to land him in any “GOAT” conversation, but St-Pierre wasn’t satisfied. In 2017, he ended his retirement by moving up 15 pounds and meeting then-champion Michael Bisping for the middleweight title. He submitted Bisping, thus adding a UFC title in a second division to his list of achievements. With only two, later-avenged losses in a career that includes three separate UFC title conquests, St-Pierre is a no-brainer for this list.
We've now seen new school, old school and old, old school in the UFC's Octagon. Strikers to wrestlers to grapplers. Heavyweights to flyweights. The promotion has seen its share of incredible talent during the last 20 years, with no shortage of personality types to go with it.
The following is ESPN.com's list of the absolute best of the best. The trailblazers for sure, but also very simply the guys you wouldn't want to bet against the night of a fight. It takes a special kind of athlete with a special kind of mindset to thrive in the cold environment of a steel cage. Nobody did it better than these men.
No. 10 (tie) Mark Coleman: The first UFC heavyweight title fight ended in less than three minutes with a submission victory for 'The Hammer.' A UFC Hall of Famer, Coleman fought the absolute best of his era.
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No. 10 (tie) Tito Ortiz: He won the UFC light heavyweight championship at age 25. Feuds with rival Chuck Liddell and president Dana White became a focus of his story, but Ortiz was also an outstanding fighter. His 27 UFC appearances remains a company record.
No. 9 Royce Gracie: One of the most influential figures in the history of martial arts. Gracie still holds the record for most UFC wins by submission with 11, and his record four victories in one night of work at UFC 2 will never fall.
No. 8 Frank Shamrock: The first UFC light heavyweight champion (known as middleweight champion at the time). His greatest win in the Octagon was ultimately his last, an upset finish over rising star Tito Ortiz at UFC 22.
No. 7 Randy Couture: Couture won the UFC heavyweight title just four fights into his professional career. He fought 24 times inside the Octagon, with a record 15 of those being title fights. He remains the oldest athlete to hold a UFC title at 45.
No. 6 B.J. Penn: The greatest lightweight of all time. Penn is one of the most recognizable UFC champions ever and widely regarded as perhaps the most naturally talented of them all. He is one of two men to win UFC titles in different weight classes.
No. 5 Chuck Liddell: Credited for carrying the UFC into mainstream consciousness, Liddell amassed a spectacular highlight reel in the Octagon. From 2004 to 2006, he cemented his legacy, recording seven consecutive knockouts -- five for the UFC title.
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No. 4 Matt Hughes: A two-time welterweight champion with seven total defenses, Hughes is currently tied with Georges St-Pierre as the all-time leader in UFC wins with 18. He will forever be remembered as one of the promotion's most dominant champions.
No. 3 Jon Jones: He's defeated five former UFC titleholders, but the best is still to come for the 26-year-old champion. He is arguably already the top light heavyweight in UFC history, and his skills should eventually translate well at heavyweight.
No. 2 Georges St-Pierre: A perfect combination of athleticism and work ethic. St-Pierre has been exposing the weaknesses of his fellow UFC welterweights for nearly a decade. At one point, he won 33 consecutive rounds in the Octagon.
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No. 1 Anderson Silva: The absolute best martial artist to ever step in the Octagon. No other fighter has consistently made talented competition look so average. His career will continue to be measured until it's over, but as of now, he's the best of all time.