8 Fighters the UFC Can't Live Without
In its history, the UFC has had a number of important fighters who have helped grow the brand from the no-holds-barred days of yore to the basic cable juggernaut it has become.
The early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship saw the likes of Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn tangle in bouts that had few rules and no time limits.
A new batch of talented combatants propped up the UFC after Zuffa acquired it in 2001. Future Hall of Famers Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Matt Hughes ushered in the era of greater regulations and higher viewership.
Over the last 20 years, there have been many fighters who have come and gone, but these are the ones currently on the rosters who are the lifeblood of the promotion.
They are the fighters the UFC simply can't live without.
All statistics obtained via Fightmetric.
Demetrious Johnson (17-2-1)
Johnson is a former bantamweight title challenger and the current UFC flyweight champ. He used his speed and pinpoint accuracy to defeat Joseph Benavidez by split decision to claim the inaugural title at UFC 152.
"Mighty Mouse" is the most important fighter currently competing at 125 and is the true linchpin of the burgeoning division. Inside MMA recognized Johnson as the 2012 Breakthrough Fighter of the Year.
Michael Bisping (24-5)
Bisping won the third season of The Ultimate Fighter. "The Count" has been a mainstay of the middleweight division since officially making the drop in 2008. He is also the first British fighter to headline a main event at UFC 78.
He has come up short in three middleweight title eliminator bouts, losing two via knockout. While he may never win a UFC title, Bisping still remains one of the most popular UFC fighters the world over.
Urijah Faber (28-6)
Faber is the former WEC featherweight champ, successfully defending the belt five times. He remains the only fighter to ever defeat UFC bantamweight titleholder Dominick Cruz.
"The California Kid" is a perennial title contender and is currently the No. 2 bantamweight according to the UFC's official rankings. He is also one of the most well-liked fighters in the UFC and a real fan favorite.
In 2004, Faber founded Team Alpha Male. He wears the hats of teammate, coach and mentor. The group has been home to a number of professional fighters, including Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez.
Georges St-Pierre (24-2)
Georges St-Pierre is the most dominant welterweight to ever compete inside the Octagon. He usurped this distinction from Matt Hughes after decisively finishing the former champ on two separate occasions.
St-Pierre's current welterweight title reign has spanned almost five years. In that time, he's chalked up win-after-win with veritable ease. GSP has rolled through every opponent, utilizing his superior wrestling to grind out unanimous-decision victories.
St-Pierre also holds the record for most significant strikes landed (1153), highest takedown accuracy (75 percent) and is tied with Hughes for most UFC wins (18).
Even more impressive is St-Pierre's performance against Nick Diaz at UFC 158. GSP was still getting back to 100 percent after ACL surgery, but this fight showed that he was still the best at 170. He completed nine takedowns and worked over Diaz for five rounds, landing a total of 210 strikes.
St-Pierre is the most beloved athlete in the Great White North, and that's saying something, given Canadians' love affair with all things hockey. He was even recognized as the Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
GSP single-handedly helped to make Canada one of the most desirable (and profitable) places for the UFC to put on events. According to the UFC's website, "UFC 129: St-Pierre vs. Shields at Rogers Centre [in Toronto]...obliterated almost every UFC record including attendance (55,724) and gate ($12.075 million)." The card also pulled in 800,000 pay-per-view buys.
St-Pierre is also responsible for the outpouring of Canadian talent flooding into the UFC, which includes welterweight contender Rory MacDonald.
Ronda Rousey (7-0)
Ronda Rousey is an Olympic bronze medalist in judo and the current UFC women's bantamweight champ. She is undefeated in her professional career and has finished all seven of her opponents via first-round armbar, including former Strikeforce champs Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman.
Rousey successfully defended her UFC title against Liz Carmouche in the main event of UFC 157. The pay-per-view card pulled in an estimated 450,000 buys.
That number obliterated the previous record for a fight card headlined by women. The showdown between Layla Ali and Jackie Frazier, the daughters of boxing royalty, grossed 125,000 buys—a pittance comparatively.
"Rowdy" is not only the sole reason women are currently competing under the UFC banner. She is the one fighter who changed UFC president Dan White's mind on the subject of WMMA.
Rousey is the complete package: beauty and brutality. There has been a great deal of emphasis put on her looks (including semi-nude spreads in ESPN and Maxim), but Rousey is much more than a pretty face. She is a terror in the cage who has no qualms about snapping arms if her opponents are unwilling to tap.
For now, the women's bantamweight division subsists on Rousey's success, but there are plenty of other top-flight female fighters nipping at her heels.
Anderson Silva (33-4)
Anderson Silva is the greatest mixed martial artist of all time and the most dominant UFC champion in history—regardless of weight class.
Silva has run through every fighter the UFC has put in front of him. He has an unblemished promotional record, winning 16 fights in a row and rattling off 10 consecutive middleweight title defenses. He has defeated Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, Yushin Okami and Vitor Belfort.
"The Spider" also has the most finishes (14), the highest significant strike accuracy (67.8 percent) and the most Knockout of the Night bonuses (seven). Silva is simply on another level when he steps foot inside the cage.
He is the most beloved MMA fighter the world over; no more than in his home of Brazil—the birthplace of mixed martial arts. Like St-Pierre in Canada, Silva's stature in Brazil has given rise to a new generation of fighters from the country.
Truthfully, there is little left for Silva to accomplish in his UFC career, but that doesn't mean he is ready to hang up his gloves just yet. There is still unfinished business with No. 1 middleweight contender Chris Weidman and long-rumored bouts with light heavyweight champ Jon Jones and boxer Roy Jones Jr. to keep Silva plenty busy.
Chael Sonnen (27-13-1)
Chael Sonnen's record inside the Octagon may not scream elite fighter, but he has been in some of the promotion's most memorable fights.
Sonnen's first meeting with middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva at UFC 117 may go down as one of the greatest fights in the history of MMA. For nearly five rounds, "The American Gangster" took it to the champ, landing over 320 total strikes.
Silva ended up winning the fight via an epic come-from-behind triangle armbar late in the fifth round. However, even after the loss, Sonnen found himself rise from the ranks of middle-of-the-road fighter to a true main card draw.
Sonnen is not only the unofficial mouthpiece of the UFC, but he is also the greatest trash talker in mixed martial arts—perhaps in all of fight sports. His ability to hype a fight is unparalleled.
Sonnen seemingly can create excitement for a fight out of thin air. That is an invaluable quality. He has talked himself into three title fights, a coaching spot on The Ultimate Fighter and the main event against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at inaugural UFC on Fox Sports 1 card.
Some may have grown tired of The American Gangster's WWE-style antics, but it is hard to argue with the results. All three of the pay-per-view cards Sonnen has headlined garnered more than 500,000 buys a piece. He also helped to bolster TUF's dwindling viewership.
In his case, wins and losses are not nearly as important as the eyeballs he helps put on the full gamut of UFC programming.
Jon Jones (18-1)
Jon Jones is the youngest titleholder in UFC history. He whooped Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC to earn the light heavyweight strap and hasn't looked back. Since then, he has defended the belt five times, tying former champ Tito Ortiz's long-standing record.
In little more than two years, Jones has essentially cleaned out the light heavyweight division, leaving only Alexander Gustaffson, Glover Teixeira and Dan Henderson as the remaining challengers he has yet to dispatch.
Jones' future is a bright one with the possibility of a superfight with Anderson Silva and a move up to heavyweight looming on the horizon.
"Bones" represents a new breed of mixed martial artist. He is part of the first group of fighters that grew up with MMA being beamed into their homes via cable television.
Jones is a physical freak with more God-given gifts than any 10 fighters. With two brothers playing in the NFL, Jones has the pedigree to compete at the professional level in any sport, but he chose to compete in MMA.
He has speed, agility, strength and at 84.5 inches, he has the longest reach in the UFC's light heavyweight division.
This unique skill set has helped Jones achieve true mainstream success. In 2012, he became the first mixed martial artist to be sponsored globally by Nike.
This level of exposure is ultimately good for both Jones and the UFC.