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MMA's Top 25 Fighters and Their Best Career Moments

Sean SmithAnalyst IJanuary 7, 2017

MMA's Top 25 Fighters and Their Best Career Moments

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    Jon Jones has already put together a long list of great moments in his four-year MMA career, and he will attempt to add to that list at UFC 152, where the light heavyweight champion will try to defend his belt against former titleholder Vitor Belfort.

    Should he defeat Belfort, Jones will have matched the great 205-pound title runs of Chuck Liddell and Frank Shamrock with four straight title defenses. The 25-year-old is already being mentioned among the legends of the sport and has even beaten some of them, but a win at UFC 152 would mark one of the bigger moments in his young career.

    Still, it is a moment that will be tainted slightly by the fact that Jones will be defending his light heavyweight belt against a middleweight. Although he's a former 205-pound champion, Belfort hasn't competed outside the 185-pound division since his return to the UFC against Rich Franklin in September 2009, and that bout was contested at a 195-pound catchweight.  

    Here are the best moments in the careers of Jones and the rest of the Top 25 fighters competing in MMA.

25. Alistair Overeem

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    Best Moment: vs. Brock Lesnar at UFC 141

     

    Alistair Overeem had several wins in Pride that were more than memorable. Though largely known for his striking, Overeem submitted Vitor Belfort and Igor Vovchanchyn in back-to-back appearances in 2005. "The Demolition Man" also went on a long run as Strikeforce champion that included victories over Fabricio Werdum, Mark Hunt, Brett Rogers, Todd Duffee and more.

    However, Overeem's biggest accomplishment came in his UFC debut against Brock Lesnar. In the opening round of his bout with the former heavyweight champion, Overeem landed a devastating body kick that crumpled Lesnar and sent the WWE superstar back to the world of staged combat.

    Prior to his fight with Lesnar, some questioned whether Overeem would be able to handle elite UFC heavyweights after a long run of dominating middling talent. The Dutchman answered those questions with authority and would have found himself in a title fight as a result of his win over Lesnar had he not later failed a drug test.

24. Cain Velasquez

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    Best Moment: vs. Brock Lesnar at UFC 121

     

    There's really no doubt what the defining moment of Cain Velasquez's career has been. The Mexican-American heavyweight picked up big wins over Cheick Kongo, Ben Rothwell and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his rise to the top, but a title-clinching win over Brock Lesnar was one of the biggest moments in heavyweight history and clearly the biggest moment in the career of the now-former champion.

    As ugly as his previous win over Shane Carwin had been, Lesnar was one win away from securing the record for most consecutive heavyweight title defenses in UFC history heading into his bout with Velasquez. That made Velasquez's eventual win all the more impressive, as he overwhelmed Lesnar with punches in the opening round and forced a stoppage in a little more than four minutes.

    Velasquez was unable to defend the belt in his first title fight as champion, as he was knocked out by Junior dos Santos. However, Velasquez has quickly returned to title contention and will meet the Brazilian titleholder in a December rematch.

23. Chael Sonnen

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    Best Moment: vs. Anderson Silva at UFC 117

     

    Yes, Chael Sonnen reached the height of his career in a fight that he ended up losing. 

    That should not be taken as a shot at the former title challenger in the middleweight division. Sonnen has picked up impressive wins over the likes of Paulo Filho, Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt. However, he's never been more respected as a fighter than he was in the first four rounds of a championship bout with Anderson Silva in August 2010.

    Heading into that matchup, few gave the outspoken Sonnen a chance of dethroning Silva, who was already becoming recognized as the greatest fighter in MMA history due to his long reign as 185-pound champion. Nonetheless, Sonnen dominated the action through the first four rounds of his first bout with Silva, who had looked near untouchable in his previous title defenses.

    Sonnen would end up suffering a submission loss due to a triangle choke-armbar combination in the fifth and final round. So, it could be said that Sonnen had the best and worst moments of his career in the same appearance.

    Either way, unless he somehow finds a way to earn a UFC title before the end of his career, Sonnen will always be remembered most for his performance at UFC 117.

22. Chris Weidman

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    Best Moment: vs. Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV 4

     

    Chris Weidman has progressed as a fighter every time he's stepped into the Octagon, so it should come as no surprise that his best showing came in his last showing. 

    At UFC on Fuel TV 4, Weidman blasted Mark Munoz with a stepping elbow to record the first knockout win of his UFC career. The knockout marked the first time Munoz had been stopped by a middleweight and only resulted in the former light heavyweight's second defeat in the 185-pound division, with his only other loss coming via split decision against Yushin Okami.

    Many believed Weidman's performance against Munoz would be enough for the 28-year-old to get his shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva. However, Silva's managers shrugged at the idea, and Weidman has since been booked for a bout against fellow contender Tim Boetsch. 

21. Lyoto Machida

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    Best Moment: vs. Rashad Evans at UFC 98

     

    Lyoto Machida has beaten a long list of excellent opponents throughout his career, but none of his wins has been bigger than a brutal knockout of Rashad Evans at UFC 98. The stoppage simultaneously earned Machida the UFC light heavyweight title and Knockout of the Night honors.

    Following his win over Evans, Machida defended his title once in a controversial decision against Mauricio Rua before being dethroned by "Shogun" via knockout in an immediate rematch.

    After being pegged a boring fighter by many fans early in his UFC career, Machida has recorded knockouts in four of his past five wins. The knockout of Evans played a big role in eventually changing people's perceptions of Machida's style.

     

20. Mauricio Rua

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    Best Moment: vs. Lyoto Machida at UFC 113

     

    By winning the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix with consecutive wins over Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona, Mauricio Rua established himself as one of the greatest fighters in Pride history.

    However, in today's MMA world, UFC titles are what matter most, so Rua's belt-clinching victory over Lyoto Machida at UFC 113 stands as his crowning achievement. Not only did it earn him the belt, but Rua's knockout of Machida helped validate the belief of many that "Shogun" was the better fighter despite a controversial loss in his prior fight against his fellow Brazilian.

    Unfortunately for Rua, his first challenger happened to be phenom Jon Jones, who rather easily took the belt away from the former Pride star in a third-round knockout. 

19. Dan Henderson

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    Best Moment: vs. Wanderlei Silva at Pride 33

     

    Dan Henderson has put together an outstanding career across several different promotions. "Hendo" won the UFC 17 Middleweight Tournament by defeating Carlos Newton, the 1999 King of Kings Tournament by going through Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Renato Sobral, fought for multiple UFC championships and earned the Strikeforce light heavyweight title by knocking out Rafael Cavalcante.

    However, the Pride organization was home to Henderson's greatest moment. After earning the Japanese promotion's welterweight title with a decision win over Murilo Bustamante, Henderson became the first fighter to hold simultaneous titles in a major MMA organization by ending Wanderlei Silva's long reign as middleweight champion with a third-round knockout.

    After defeating Silva, Henderson moved to the UFC, where he fought in back-to-back title-merging fights with Anderson Silva and Quinton Jackson. Henderson came up short in both title fights and continues to search for the UFC belt that has eluded him throughout his career.

18. Clay Guida

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    Best Moment: vs. Diego Sanchez at The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale

     

    Clay Guida has come under criticism recently for delivering lackluster performances due to one-dimensional game-planning. However, Guida is also capable of keeping fans on the edge of their seats because of his bottomless gas tank, as was on display in a recent fight with now-lightweight champion Benson Henderson.

    If the 30-year-old Guida never wins a UFC title, which looks like an increasingly real possibility after back-to-back losses, fights like the ones he had against Henderson and Diego Sanchez will be what he hopes to be remembered for, no matter the outcome of those fights.

    A bout between Guida and Sanchez in June 2009 ended in a split-decision loss for the former, but it also received recognition as Fight of the Year due to its non-stop action and surely gained "The Carpenter" a ton of new fans.

    Win or lose, those are the types of performances Guida should want to have associated with his name. And, with his unparalleled cardio, those are also the types of performances that give him the best chance of winning against elite lightweights.

17. Gilbert Melendez

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    Best Moment: vs. Josh Thomson at Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier

     

    With Strikeforce in its current condition, every fight for lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez is a battle to put himself in contention for a UFC title shot when his current promotion inevitably merges with the world's premier MMA organization.

    Therefore, Melendez's appearances will increase in importance if he continues to sit atop Strikeforce's 155-pound division. So, his last victory against Josh Thomson was the most important win of his career, albeit a somewhat controversial one.

    The win gave Melendez an edge in his trilogy with Thomson, who previously dethroned "El Nino" in their first meeting. By picking up a second win over the former Strikeforce titleholder, Melendez removed Thomson as a threat for the time being, giving him a clearer path to a championship fight in the UFC when the time eventually comes for all the top Strikeforce fighters to make their way toward the Octagon.

16. Joseph Benavidez

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    Best Moment: vs. Yasuhiro Urushitani at UFC on FX 2

     

    Personally, I believe Joseph Benavidez's best career moment is about to take place in about a week, when I am confident he will defeat Demetrious Johnson to become the UFC's first flyweight champion. However, I suppose I need to pick a moment that has actually happened for the purposes of this article.

    Benavidez may have had more impressive wins, namely a submission of former WEC champion Miguel Torres in March 2010, but his knockout of former Shooto champion Yasuhiro Urushitani in his most recent appearance will likely go down as a more important win for his career. 

    With two losses against current champion Dominick Cruz, Benavidez's career was stalled in the bantamweight division. The victory over Urushitani gave the Team Alpha Male fighter new hope of earning a UFC title, one he has all the tools to win at UFC 152.

15. Urijah Faber

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    Best Moment: vs. Jens Pulver at WEC 34

     

    Already, Urijah Faber has picked up pretty big wins inside the Octagon, but it's impossible to ignore his run as WEC featherweight champion when considering the best moments in his career.

    In the fifth successful defense of his 145-pound title, Faber took on former UFC champion Jens Pulver, who was coming off a win over Cub Swanson in his WEC debut and appeared ready for a turnaround. Nonetheless, Faber battled to a decision win over Pulver in what stands as his final win in a title fight. He  has come up short in five subsequent championship bouts.

14. Rashad Evans

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    Best Moment: vs. Forrest Griffin at UFC 92

     

    Rashad Evans is one of only three The Ultimate Fighter winners to eventually earn a UFC championship, and he won his belt by dethroning one of the other two reality show winners in Forrest Griffin. 

    After a somewhat slow start to the first title shot of his career, Evans was able to take Griffin to the ground in the third frame. Once on the canvas, Evans took over and finished Griffin with ground-and-pound to earn the UFC's light heavyweight belt.

    Evans would lose his spot atop the light heavyweight division in his following fight against Lyoto Machida, but the veteran has remained among the best 205-pound fighters in the world.

13. Nate Diaz

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    Best Moment: vs. Jim Miller at UFC on Fox 3

     

    The 27-year-old Nate Diaz finally appears to be hitting his stride and is preparing for a lightweight title fight against Benson Henderson as a result. Diaz earned his spot in a championship bout with the biggest win of his career, a submission victory over Jim Miller in the main event of a Fox-televised main event.

    Diaz picked Miller apart in the stand-up department for the better part of two rounds, forcing a takedown attempt from his opponent. When Miller shot in for the takedown, Diaz quickly locked up a guillotine choke that forced the first tap from the jiu-jitsu black belt.

    Always considered one of the more exciting lightweights in the world, Diaz's recent performance has shown he is also one of the most skilled 155-pound fighters in the world. He will get his chance to prove he's the best of them all at UFC on Fox 5 in December.

12. Gray Maynard

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    Best Moment: vs. Kenny Florian at UFC 118

     

    Gray Maynard came so close to becoming lightweight champion by rocking Frankie Edgar in the first rounds of back-to-back meetings with the champion. However, Maynard faded rather quickly in his championship bouts with Edgar and ended up coming up short on both occasions.

    Before his rematches with Edgar, a dominant win over Kenny Florian proved Maynard deserved mention among the best lightweights in the world. A long-time contender, Florian had no answer for Maynard's strength and wrestling ability.

    With Edgar now competing in the featherweight division, the 33-year-old Maynard is looking for another run at a title shot before he begins to fade athletically.

11. Nick Diaz

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    Best Moment: vs. B.J. Penn at UFC 137

     

    After a respectable 6-4 run in his first stint with the UFC, Diaz went on a tear outside of the Octagon, becoming a dominant Strikeforce champion in the welterweight division. Still, some questioned how Diaz would handle elite 170-pound fighters when he eventually returned to the big show.

    Those questions ceased immediately after Diaz's career-defining win over B.J. Penn in October 2011. The scrappy decision win ultimately earned Diaz a shot at the interim welterweight championship, which he came just short of winning in a closely contested bout with Carlos Condit. 

    Diaz is inactive due to a failed drug test, but manager Cesar Gracie recently announced that talk of Diaz's retirement was premature. The pride of Stockton, Calif. will be eligible to return to the cage in February 2013. 

10. Carlos Condit

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    Best Moment: vs. Nick Diaz at UFC 143

     

    Many fans have criticized Carlos Condit for his interim title-clinching performance against Nick Diaz, but the fact is that "The Natural Born Killer" would have been praised for such a showing in any other sport. Condit did what he had to do to earn to most coveted prize in the sport, a UFC championship.

    Diaz has beaten many an opponent by walking them down and trapping them against the cage. Condit expertly avoided becoming another Diaz victim by circling away from the cage as soon as he could and landing his shots in the center of the Octagon.

    In doing so, Condit secured himself a fight with fellow welterweight titleholder Georges St-Pierre. Condit will have his chance to dethrone the long-reigning champion at UFC 154 in November. 

9. Renan Barao

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    Best Moment: vs. Urijah Faber at UFC 149

     

    Have you heard? Renan Barao is a monster.

    Depending on who you ask, the Brazilian bantamweight is undefeated in about 30 straight fights and recently picked up the biggest win of his career in an interim title bout against Urijah Faber.

    Barao out-struck Faber for five rounds and stuffed all of the former WEC champion's attempted takedowns. It could even be argued that Barao was more dominant against Faber than fellow bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz was in a recent meeting with "The California Kid."

    For now, though, we can only speculate who the better 135-pound titleholder really is. It appears we will get to find out in real life soon enough.

    Barao appears prepared to wait things out until Cruz returns to action from a knee injury that forced him out of the bout with Faber that Barao ended up competing in. 

8. Frankie Edgar

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    Best Moment: vs. Gray Maynard at UFC 136

     

    Frankie Edgar's upset wins over B.J. Penn were great, but they didn't taste nearly as sweet for the New Jersey native as a fourth-round knockout of Gray Maynard.

    In his first two meetings with Maynard, Edgar lost and was forced to battle back from being rocked early to retain his lightweight belt with a draw. When Edgar found himself hurt badly in the opening round of his third meeting with Maynard, the champion's chances of defending his title for a third time looked bleak.

    However, Edgar recovered and stormed back once again. A stoppage in the championship rounds helped Edgar silence critics who believed he lacked knockout power, while it also marked his first win over the biggest antagonist of his career at that point.

7. Benson Henderson

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    Best Moment: vs. Frankie Edgar at UFC 144

     

    Since losing the WEC lightweight title in his final fight before transitioning to the UFC, Benson Henderson has been a fighter possessed. His renewed determination quickly led him to a shot at the UFC's 155-pound belt, which he won in an entertaining bout with Frankie Edgar.

    Henderson was able to beat Edgar in back-to-back fights, but his first victory over the now-featherweight was much more convincing than the second. By beating Edgar twice, Henderson has ensured he won't have to defend his belt against the former champion again any time soon. But there are many who believe Edgar deserved to regain his belt after a closely contested second meeting with Henderson.

6. Junior Dos Santos

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    Best Moment: vs. Cain Velasquez at UFC on Fox 1

     

    Junior dos Santos has used his boxing skills to climb quickly to the top of the UFC's heavyweight division. The Brazilian has recorded a number of knockouts, but none has been more impressive than a first-round stoppage of Cain Velasquez.

    Only 64 seconds into the Fox-televised main event, Dos Santos blasted Velasquez with a right hand and finished the former champion off to become heavyweight champion. 

    Frank Mir fell victim to Dos Santos' hands as well in a recent title fight, which has helped set the Brazilian titleholder up for a rematch with Velasquez, who dominated Antonio Silva in his only appearance since losing the heavyweight championship to Dos Santos.

5. Dominick Cruz

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    Best Moment: vs. Urijah Faber at UFC 132

     

    When Urijah Faber decided to return to the bantamweight division in November 2010, many believed Dominick Cruz's title was in immediate jeopardy, considering the champion had already lost against "The California Kid" earlier in his career.

    Faber was able to earn a title shot against Cruz in rather short order. However, Cruz showed that he had improved vastly by keeping the fight standing for the most part and using his unorthodox footwork to out-strike Faber for the better part of five rounds.

    The win over Faber gave Cruz title defenses in three straight fights, putting him closer to becoming the greatest bantamweight in MMA history, a distinction he will attempt to solidify once he returns from knee injury in 2013.

4. Jose Aldo

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    Best Moment: vs. Chad Mendes at UFC 142

     

    Coming off of two disappointing title defenses by his standards, Jose Aldo was supposed to be seriously tested by Chad Mendes, a wrestler who many believed could take away the Brazilian champion's elite striking ability by taking the fight to the ground.

    So much for that.

    After defending a Mendes takedown late in the first round, Aldo landed a well-placed knee to pick up a fourth straight title defense. As soon as the referee called a stop to the fight, Aldo ran into the Brazilian crowd and was lifted on the shoulders of the fans in one of the most memorable post-fight moments in MMA history.

3. Jon Jones

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    Best Moment: vs. Lyoto Machida at UFC 140

     

    Jon Jones hasn't been faced with much adversity thus far in his career, but he was forced to solve a puzzle after arguably losing the first round of his fight against Lyoto Machida at UFC 140. 

    After having some trouble dealing with the Brazilian's unique striking, Jones was eventually able to clinch with his opponent in the second round. Once he had his hands on Machida, it was only a matter of time until Jones picked up his second light heavyweight title defense with a guillotine choke.

    Everyone already knew Jones had the physical tools to be great, but his performance against Machida showed the 205-pound titleholder also has the ability to deal with mental challenges as well.

2. Georges St-Pierre

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    Best Moment: vs. B.J. Penn at UFC 94

     

    It was one of the biggest fights in UFC history, as it gave B.J. Penn the chance to become the organization's first two-division champion. In January 2009, Georges St-Pierre was forced to defend his 170-pound title against the then-lightweight champion and former welterweight champion.

    St-Pierre put together one of the strongest performances of his career on that occasion, stopping Penn at the end of the fourth round. St-Pierre hasn't finished an opponent since, but he's continued to be dominant and will try to defend his title for an eighth straight time in a bout against Carlos Condit in November.

1. Anderson Silva

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    Best Moment: vs. Chael Sonnen at UFC 117

     

    Anderson Silva had been insulted by Chael Sonnen before the fight and beaten by the American for four rounds in the fight. For a moment, it was the lowest point in Silva's career, and then it was the highest.

    Just as it was beginning to look as if the greatest title run in MMA history was about to come to an end, Silva threw up a Hail Mary triangle choke and forced Sonnen to tap. It was the kind of moment champions are truly made from.

    Yeah, watching Silva dominate most of his challengers is cool, but watching the greatest fighter in MMA history have to overcome rare adversity to remain champion is even cooler. 

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