10 Best All-Around Fighters in MMA History

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2013

10 Best All-Around Fighters in MMA History

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    Of the 377 fighters that compete in the UFC, only a small cluster can claim to have mastered most of the sport's many disciplines.

    Typically only champs and top contenders in each division can claim to be adept both offensively and defensively in the departments of striking, wrestling and submission grappling.

    The old idiom of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire certainly rings true for these multi-dimensional fighting machines.

    Here are the 10 best all-around fighters in MMA history.

Honorable Mentions

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    1. Chuck Liddell

    2. Urijah Faber

    3. Dan Henderson

    4. Mauricio Rua

    5. Bas Rutten

    6. Frank Shamrock

    7. Pat Miletich

    8. Jeremy Horn

    9. Forrest Griffin

    10. Rich Franklin

10. Benson Henderson

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    Akin to several fighters on this list, intelligence has played a major role in the development of UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson.

    Since joining the UFC in early 2011, Henderson has evolved immensely in every facet of his game, becoming an even better kickboxer, wrestler and submission fighter than he was as lightweight champ of the WEC.

    Even though "Bendo," who's 6-0 in the UFC, has registered six straight wins via decision, he hasn't failed to show enthralling techniques in all areas of the game in that span.

    He's got a long way to go if he wants to reach his goal of snapping Anderson Silva's record of winning 11 title fights in a row. But Henderson, a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a black belt in Taekwondo, definitely has the tools and the intellect to get there eventually.

9. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

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    He doesn't own the best wrestling chops on this list, but the 36-year-old Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira can strike and submit with the best of the them.

    In his heyday, in Japan's Pride Fighting Championships, "Big Nog" racked up a record of 17-3-1, with two of his losses coming to former pound-for-pound kingpin Fedor Emelianenko.

    Ever resilient, Nogueira has only surrendered two knockouts and one submission in his 43-fight career.

    Top-flight Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills and Olympic-level boxing abilities helped Nogueira become just the third fighter in MMA history to capture titles in both Pride and the UFC.

8. Randy Couture

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    Not considered a submission artist or a pure striker, Randy Couture cemented his legacy by imposing his will in the wrestling and ground-and-pound departments.

    But Couture didn't grab the No. 7 spot on this list because of his aptitude for harming opponents once on the ground. "The Natural" found his way into the top 10 because of his ability to continually evolve as a submission fighter and a kickboxer.

    Couture, the first fighter in UFC history to claim belts in different weight classes (light heavyweight and heavyweight), finished seven tilts by knockout and four by submission.

7. Lyoto Machida

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    From landing a knockout blow on Couture with a jumping crane kick to flattening former two-time Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson with a slick trip, there's not many holes in the game of Lyoto Machida.

    The former light heavyweight champ has flashed equally impressive striking, wrestling and submission skills in his 22 pro scraps, winning seven by knockout and two by submission.

    But Machida's unique gift for applying his karate expertise to MMA is what separates him from other knockout and submission artists.

    Machida not only confuses opponents with his unorthodox footwork, he also closes the distance masterfully, regularly setting up takedowns and knockouts.

6. B.J. Penn

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    B.J. Penn began his rise in the sport of MMA known solely as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner.

    In fact, Penn became the first non-Brazilian to win the black-belt division of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships just before turning pro in 2000.

    But at the front end of his initial stint in the UFC, "The Prodigy" proved that his punching power was just as venomous as his submission prowess, winning four fights by knockout.

    Penn, who owns seven KO victories and six submission wins, became just the second fighter in UFC history to claim belts in two different weight classes (welterweight and lightweight) when he choked out Joe Stevenson at UFC 80.

    Once considered one of the most difficult fighters to ground in all of MMA, Penn also had airtight defense in his prime. The Prodigy has never been submitted and was only TKO'd twice in 27 fights.

5. Matt Hughes

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    Never considered the best striker in the division, Matt Hughes defended the UFC welterweight belt seven times using superior strength, reliable cardio and undeniable grit.

    An extremely aggressive and technical wrestler, Hughes, a two-time Division I All-American, rag-dolled several opponents in the UFC, reeling off a pair of six-fight win streaks in his zenith.

    Hughes first snatched the welterweight belt by slamming Carlos Newton into oblivion at UFC 34. Hughes then hit the UFC's first standing rear-naked choke on Frank Trigg at UFC 45, proving he was equipped with more than wrestling dexterity and brute strength.

    Hughes' armbar of Georges St-Pierre at UFC 50, and his TKO of Penn at UFC 63, are also each excellent illustrations of his versatility.

    Seventeen wins by knockout and 18 via submission make Hughes arguably the most versatile offensive fighter in MMA history. Hughes got knocked out five times and submitted four times, but that was over the span of 13 years and 54 fights.

4. Fedor Emelianenko

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    The aura of being the world's top pound-for-pound fighter evaporated when Fedor Emelianenko dropped three straight fights in Strikeforce.

    But losses to top-tier opponents Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson didn't do much to tarnish the legacy of "The Last Emperor."

    Before his first legitimate loss, Emelianenko essentially went unbeaten for over nine years, going 32-1 with a no-contest.

    Emelianenko's first loss was a controversial TKO due to a cut from an elbow from Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, a setback he later avenged with ease.

    A master in both sambo and judo, Emelianenko floored and submitted opponents at will in his brilliant career. In 40 scraps, Emelianenko pulled of 16 submissions, six by armbar alone.

    An equally lethal striker, The Last Emperor not only won 11 fights via knockout, he also roughed up eight foes in entertaining decision wins.

    Defensively, Emelianenko was a nightmare for opponents because he was so difficult to knock out, submit or control.

    From an offensive prospective, Emelianenko thrived off unpredictability. No one ever knew how they'd lose to him, but until Werdum, not many expected to best Emelianenko.

3. Anderson Silva

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    Heading into his second clash with Chael Sonnen at UFC 148, both pundits and fans questioned Anderson Silva's status as the sport's top pound-for-pound fighter.

    People yearned to find out if Silva had shored up the holes that seemingly existed in his game when he narrowly submitted Sonnen with a Hail Mary triangle armbar in the waning minutes of UFC 117.

    But after another frustrating round of getting controlled by the former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, Silva buckled down and proved to Sonnen how extraordinarily gifted is.

    Silva stuffed three of Sonnen's shots in the second round, deflating "The American Gangster" and setting up an unforgettable TKO finish that had every fan in the MGM Grand Garden Arena on their feet in awe.

    With 19 knockout wins and six submission victories to his name heading into UFC 148, Silva didn't need the win by any means, but getting vindication over Sonnen definitely solidified his place in history as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters of all time.

2. Georges St-Pierre

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    Undoubtedly the most disciplined fighter on this list, Georges St-Pierre replaced Hughes as the UFC's best welterweight shortly after losing his belt to Matt Serra at UFC 69.

    After his loss to Serra, St-Pierre rededicated himself to the sport he's been infatuated with since childhood, linking up with diabolical head trainer Firas Zahabi and returning even more dynamic.

    Since hooking up with Zahabi, St-Pierre, a genuine expert in boxing, karate, wrestling, Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, has won 11 consecutive bouts. He outshined Nick Diaz in his latest outing to break Hughes' record for welterweight title defenses with eight.

    Often called the most cerebral fighter in the sport, St-Pierre always formulates ingenious game plans—even though he's been scrutinized for winning his last six bouts by decision.

    Fans typically don't appreciate wrestling and control, but when St-Pierre fights, it's never just a wrestling match.

1. Jon Jones

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    In less than five years, Jon Jones has morphed from JUCO wrestling champion at Iowa Central Community College to one of the most polarizing figures in sports.

    Akin to Emelianenko's career, Jones' has gotten off to a flawless start, with the exception of a debatable disqualification loss to Matt Hamill, who "Bones" illegally elbowed into submission at The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale.

    A slick submission artist and a world-class wrestler and striker, Jones always keeps his opponents guessing. In 18 fights, he's won eight times by knockout and six via submission. Only Andre Gusmao, Bonnar and Rashad Evans have escaped a finish from Jones.

    With an 84.5-inch reach, freakish athletic talents and a brain to match, Jones could feasibly continue his Emelianenko-like run for several years to come.