10 Most Mythical MMA Fighters of All Time

Adam HillContributor IIIMay 7, 2013

10 Most Mythical MMA Fighters of All Time

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    What does it mean to be mythical?

    A mythical figure is an individual who is somehow greater than the sum of his mortal parts. He is able to do things that can only be described in the most grandiose manner. 

    All of these fighters exemplify the warrior spirit and are true gladiators of the modern era. Their very presence has transcended the sport of mixed martial arts. Their feats have been woven into the fabric of fight sport lore. 

    They are fondly (or sometimes not so fondly) remembered by fans; immortalized in a lively debate over a few cold drinks and a plate of nachos.

    Some of these fighters only reached the pinnacle of greatness for a short time, while others etched their names in the annals of history over careers that spanned decades.

    Regardless, they all fit the intangible definition of what it means to be mythical. It is through their accomplishments that their legend will live on and grow with each passing year.

    Read. Marvel. Debate. Enjoy. 

Honorable Mention: Lyoto Machida (19-3)

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    Notable wins: Tito Ortiz, Rashad Evans, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson

    Lyoto Machida brings a Bruce Lee-mystique to the sport of mixed martial arts. He is the living embodiment of Lee's "be like water" philosophy.

    "The Dragon" moves fluidly, but when he blitzes it's like a crash. He throws punches and kicks from awkward angles. And his counterstriking strategy is frustratingly effective.

    Truthfully, there is no fighter in MMA like him. He is a one-of-a-kind puzzle who is impossible to emulate in a training camp. 

    Not only that but Machida's use of karate has brought traditional martial arts back to prominence in MMA.

10. Brock Lesnar (5-3)

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    Notable wins: Min-Soo Kim, Heath Herring, Randy Couture, Frank Mir, Shane Carwin

    No fighter made such an indelible imprint on mixed martial arts in as short a time as Brock Lesnar. He came in to the UFC from the WWE with an already built-in fanbase and a larger-than-life persona.

    Lesnar was a unique specimen; his mammoth size, speed and pure athleticism were like nothing seen in the UFC heavyweight division before.

    This skill set was on display in his fight against Heath Herring. He hit Herring with a straight right so hard that it sent the "Texas Crazy Horse" into a backward somersault.

    Lesnar is a fighter who, after only three professional MMA bouts, was competing for UFC gold. He captured the heavyweight title, knocking out living legend Randy Couture at UFC 91.

    A bout with diverticulitis prematurely ended Lesnar's promising career. His retirement left a question mark next to his legacy as a formidable heavyweight, but it is undeniable that he still remains the biggest draw in MMA history.

    Lesnar was the main attraction on four pay-per-view cards that exceeded more than a million buys. That is astounding, given that Anderson Silva, arguably the greatest mixed martial artist ever, hasn't even headlined one card that has broken the million-buy threshold.

9. Royce Gracie (14-2-3)

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    Notable wins: Ken Shamrock, Kimo Leopoldo, Jason DeLucia, Keith Hackney, Dan Severn

    The last person to kick so much butt in a karate gi was Daniel LaRusso at the All Valley Tournament when he crane kicked that punk from Cobra Kai in the face.

    Royce Gracie is the most legendary MMA fighter, and his contribution to the sport may never be equaled. 

    In the early days, it was Gracie who carried the MMA cross on his shoulders, winning three of the first four UFC tournaments and becoming a bona fide superstar in the process. Gracie's ability to submit any opponent regardless of size or discipline was beyond impressive.

    It was these victories that almost single-handedly introduced Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the masses and made the skill an integral part of all MMA practitioners' repertoire. In his career, he racked up the most submission victories in UFC history with 11.

    Gracie was rightfully so the first inductee into the UFC Hall of Fame.

8. Kazushi Sakuraba (26-16-1, 2 NC)

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    Notable wins: Vitor Belfort, Royce Gracie, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Kevin Randleman, Ken Shamrock

    Kazushi Sakuraba was known as "The Gracie Hunter." He was a fighter who built a career out of taking down the first family of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. 

    Over the course of one year, Sakuraba beat Royler Gracie, Renzo Gracie and Ryan Gracie. And in one of the most epic fights of all time, he defeated Royce Gracie at the Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals.

    There was no time limit, and these two warriors battled for an hour-and-half.

    Sakuraba repeatedly connected with brutal leg kicks that, ultimately, broke Gracie's femur. With Gracie unable to walk, his brother, Rorion, tossed in the towel.

    The fight went down in the books as a TKO, and Sakuraba claimed another Gracie scalp for his collection.

7. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović (28-10-2, 1 NC)

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    Notable wins: Heath Herring, Josh Barnett (x2), Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, Wanderlei Silva 

    "Right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery."

    That was Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic's motto, and he meant it. He employed it regularly, knocking out seven opponents via his patented head kick.

    These kicks were the stuff of nightmares bore right out of the depths of hell. They were lightning fast, and when they connected, it was goodnight.

    In the 2006 Pride Open-Weight Grand Prix semifinals, Cro Cop landed one of the most devastating head kicks ever. The only thing that made it more impressive was that the recipient was Wanderlei Silva.

    The kick crumpled Silva to the canvas in a bloody, discombobulated heap. The finish was voted Knockout of the Year by Sherdog. 

    Cro Cop remained stoic and stone-faced after the victory. His only show of emotion was when he blew a small kiss to the camera. 

6. Wanderlei Silva (35-12-1, 1 NC)

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    Notable wins: Dan Henderson, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (x2), Kazushi Sakuraba (x3), Michael Bisping, Cung Le

    Wanderlei Silva is one of the scariest fighters to ever step inside the Pride ring. His moniker "The Axe Murderer" is usually only bestowed upon those serving out terms on death row for committing unspeakable acts of violence.

    However, the shear intensity with which Silva competes has definitely earned him that nickname. During his Pride days, he mercilessly used brutal soccer kicks and stomps to his opponents head (legal moves). 

    His most defining moment may very well be his rematch with Quinton Jackson at Pride 28. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and the image of "Rampage" slumped over the ropes—out cold—speaks for itself. 

    To cap off this stunning victory, Silva jumped on to the turnbuckle in one of the corners with an intense (and slightly deranged) look on his face and screamed into the camera.

5. Chuck Liddell (21-8)

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    Notable wins: Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem, Tito Ortiz (x2), Randy Couture (x2), Wanderlei Silva

    Chuck Liddell was the most feared light heavyweight to ever step foot inside the Octagon. His cool as a cucumber demeanor earned him the nickname "Iceman."

    He was the epitome of a sprawl-and-brawl fighter. Liddell used his superior wrestling and iron chin to establish himself as the premier striker in the light heavyweight division.

    Liddell had such confidence in his ability to take a punch that he fought with his fists way down at his sides. He was almost daring his opponent to test his chin.

    And when his opponent did engage, Liddell greeted him with precision-point haymakers who seemed to always hit their mark.

    But most importantly, Liddell is the mixed martial artist who was instrumental in bringing MMA into the mainstream and legitimizing the sport when it still carried a negative stigma.

    Liddell had the perfectly cultivated image that spoke to the average fan: the short mohawk, the ice blue shorts, the slight paunch and the head tattoos. He epitomized awesome.

    It is truly impossible to understate Liddell's contributions to the success of the UFC and MMA in general.

4. Georges St-Pierre (24-2)

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    Notable wins: B.J. Penn (x2), Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Nick Diaz

    Georges St-Pierre is the most beloved athlete in the Great White North, and that's saying something, considering that Canada is a country that loves hockey so much that the sport actually graces its currency.

    GSP is the most intelligent and calculating fighter in the UFC. He is like a chess player in the Octagon, implementing his game plan and never straying from it. 

    St-Pierre doesn't allow himself to be baited into emotional displays of machismo. Even Nick Diaz couldn't goad him into a brawl. 

    Every fighter knows that GSP is going to try and take them down, utilize his striking in the guard and grind out a win; however, out of his last 11 fights, no fighter has been able to defend against it.

    GSP dominates every fighter—regardless of their skill set. Based on the numbers, he is the most well-rounded fighter in the sport having not only the greatest number of takedowns (84), but also the most significant strikes landed (1153) in UFC history (via Fightmetric). 

3. Randy Couture (19-11)

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    Notable wins: Vitor Belfort (x2), Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Tim Sylvia, James Toney

    Randy Couture was already an elder statesman of MMA and a member of the UFC Hall of Fame when he came out of retirement to take on heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia at UFC 68.

    Couture may have been a legend prior to that fight, but his five-round total domination of the bigger, younger Sylvia raised "The Natural's" status to mythical proportions.

    At the age of 43, there was no way that Couture was supposed to beat a man nearly 10 years his junior. But for that night, Couture proved the idiom that age is just a number.

    With the victory, Couture became the oldest fighter to ever hold a UFC title—a feat that most assuredly will never be eclipsed.

2. Fedor Emelianenko (35-4, 1 NC)

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    Notable wins: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (x2), Mark Coleman (x2), Kevin Randleman, Mirko Filipović, Mark Hunt

    Fedor is, perhaps, the greatest fighter never to compete inside the fabled Octagon.

    He is like a Terminator or something gentically engineered in a Soviet-style lab—emotionless and hardened. And like Ivan Drago, everything he hits, he destroys.

    However, unlike Rocky's greatest adversary, Emelianenko is not a behemoth with rippling muscles, but rather, he sports the physique of a barroom brawler. He looks unassuming; the everyman who just so happens to have fists like sledgehammers.

    From his epic bout with Mirko "Cro Cop" Filopovic to the the freak-show fight with Choi Hong-man, Fedor's reign in Japan was the stuff of legends.

    For a period of of nearly 10 years, Fedor was unbeatable, and even now, "The Last Emperor" is undebatably the most dominate heavyweight in MMA history.

1. Anderson Silva (33-4)

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    Notable wins: Rich Franklin (x2), Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen (x2), Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami

    This is a no-brainer. There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe how amazing Anderson Silva is when he fights. 

    Silva is hands down the greatest mixed martial artist to ever live. His accomplishments inside the cage are unparalleled. 

    "The Spider" has not only defended the middleweight title a record 10 times, but he also remains undefeated in the UFC at an unblemished 16-0.

    Silva is an effortless striker who makes even the most astounding feat look downright easy. His front-kick knockout of Vitor Belfort will live on in highlight reels long after he's retired.

    The most important moment of Silva's career was his triangle choke submission of Chael Sonnen in the fifth round of their championship fight at UFC 117. 

    Silva proved his greatness with this come-from-behind win. And the only thing that may top this moment would be a win over a certain light heavyweight (hopefully in the near future).