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The 20 Best European Fighters in MMA

Scott HarrisFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 13, 2017

The 20 Best European Fighters in MMA

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    We all know Europe is an up-and-comer when it comes to MMA. No scholastic wrestling and a comparatively recent arrival at the party will do that. 

    And yet, today, there are many, many very good European fighters today in the ranks of the UFC and beyond. Here are my top 20, as it stands right now, ranked from first to last.

    To avoid international incidents, I'm restricting this to European Union member nations. In other words, no Russians. Because guys move around a lot for training purposes and other reasons, for the sake of simplicity, I will restrict this to those who were born and/or have spent a good portion of their lives within the Eurozone.

1. Alexander Gustafsson

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    Division: light heavyweight
    Primary nationality: Swedish
    Record: 15-1

    That's right. There's a new sheriff in town.

    Alexander Gustafsson takes the "Best European mantel" from the Michael Bisping/Alistair Overeem cabal. Winning six in a row at the top of the UFC's division will accomplish that for you. He could become the European GOAT if he can shock the world against Jon Jones this fall.

2. Michael Bisping

3 of 21

    Division: middleweight
    Primary nationality: English
    Record: 24-5 

    Michael Bisping just cannot get over the hump. He got his wish with a title eliminator against Vitor Belfort, but then he caught that head kick. He bounced back with a win over Alan Belcher. It was a strange win, thanks to an eye poke from Bisping that discontinued the action, but a win nonetheless.  

    It will be interesting to see who the Manchester native will get next.

3. Alistair Overeeem

4 of 21

    Division: heavyweight
    Primary nationality: Dutch
    Record: 36-12-1

    It's been a rocky road lately for Alistair Overeem. Promotional roulette, a withdraw from the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, a suspension, injuries, and, of course, that embarrassing (for him—I rather enjoyed it) knockout loss to Antonio Silva in March.

    But he's still "The Reem," and he's still one of the most devastating knockout artists in the sport. He'll try to get things right again versus Travis Browne in August. If he again finds himself the victim of an upset, he'll take a big tumble on a lot of big boards, including this one.

4. Martin Kampmann

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    Division: welterweight
    Primary nationality: Danish
    Record: 20-6

    The charismatic striker, Martin Kampmann, lost plenty of momentum when he lost to Johny Hendricks last year, but that doesn't change the fact that he has not only bested, but defeated some of the UFC's elite welterweights, including Jake Ellenberger and Carlos Condit. 

    After a 10-month Octagon absence, he'll have a rematch with Condit this August at the elegantly monikered UFC on Fox Sports 1:2. 

5. Costa Philippou

6 of 21

    Division: middleweight
    Primary nationality: Cypriot
    Record: 12-2-1

    I'm still upset that Costa Philippou had to pull out of that fight with Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. Maybe they can still make it happen. Philippou and his outstanding stand-up game have steadily plowed a path to the top of the division. He might be the most underrated fighter in the UFC. But that's another list.

6. Mamed Khalidov

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    Division: middleweight/light heavyweight
    Primary nationality: Polish
    Record: 27-4-2

    Mamed Khalidov seems quite comfortable as a superstar in his adopted home country of Poland and Poland's top promotion, KSW.

    Khalidov and the UFC continue to pass each other in the night, but Khalidov doesn't seem especially concerned with proving himself to others on the biggest stage. And why should he be?

    He has a seven-fight winning streak that includes victims like former UFCers Kendall Grove, Matt Lindland, Jesse Taylor and James Irvin. Earlier this month, Khalidov wrecked Melvin Manhoef with a first-round submission.

7. Dennis Siver

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    Division: featherweight
    Primary nationality: German
    Record: 21-8

    Dennis Siver was a solid lightweight, but he's been a full-on freight train since dropping to 145 pounds. Most recently, Siver tenderized and demoralized Nam Phan with ground-and-pound in December.

    I, for one, cannot wait for Siver's matchup with Cub Swanson at UFC 162. Don't, as they say, blink.

8. Stefan Struve

9 of 21

    Division: heavyweight
    Primary nationality: Dutch
    Record: 25-6

    The seven-foot "Skyscraper" ran into a bit of a buzz saw against Mark Hunt. Actually, it was more like a sledgehammer—with buzz saws superglued to its surface.

    Will he be able to recover from that jaw-shattering punch? We shall see. In the meantime, Stefan Struve is still a very good heavyweight, and surprisingly young at just 25, and is a handful for just about anyone, to which his four-fight win streak heading into the Hunt fight can attest.

9. Gegard Mousasi

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    Division: light heavyweight
    Primary nationality: Dutch/Armenian
    Record: 34-3-2

    Gegard Mousasi hasn't lost in three years, and that defeat came to Muhammed Lawal. Before that, his most recent defeat happened under the Pride banner.

    That shows you how consistently great (not to mention well-traveled) Mousasi really is. It's a shame that his UFC entrance was hampered by Gustafsson's injury withdraw, then Mousasi's own news that he'd miss several months with a knee injury.

    Still, Mousasi easily defeated Ilir Latifi in his Octagon debut. He's well-rounded and still only 27 years old. Assuming he stays healthy and is indeed serious about kicking up his training, there could be big things on the horizon for Mousasi.

10. Tarec Saffiedine

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    Division: welterweight
    Primary nationality: Belgian
    Record: 14-3

    Belgium might be favorite food country. French fries, mussels, waffles, chocolate and beer. These are a magical people, these Belgians.

    Tarec Saffiedine didn't show a lot of hospitality against Nate Marquardt in the final Strikeforce event last winter, though. He brutalized Marquardt with leg kicks to become the promotion's final welterweight champ. 

    He recently pulled out of a bout with Robbie Lawler because of an injury. Here's hoping he gets back to the cage and makes his UFC debut soon.

11. John Hathaway

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    Division: welterweight
    Primary nationality: English
    Record: 17-1

    Kicking off the second 10 is John Hathaway, who in just a quarter-century of living and seven years of professional fighting has already amassed a 7-1 record in the UFC.

    The former rugby player has raw talent and aggression and can finish any fight on the feet or the ground. And the scariest part is, he seems to be getting better. Hopefully, that fight with Erick Silva (set for June, but scuttled due to Hathaway's recurring health battle with ulcerative colitis) one day comes to fruition.

12. Marloes Coenen

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    Division: women's featherweight/bantamweight
    Primary nationality: Dutch
    Record: 21-5

    The graceful submission artist, Marloes Coenen, is a trailblazer in the sport, having started competing in MMA all the way back in 2000.

    The former Strikeforce bantamweight champ (she lost the belt to Miesha Tate) will face Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos in July for the Invicta promotion.

13. Gunnar Nelson

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    Division: welterweight
    Primary nationality: Icelandic
    Record: 11-0-1

    The undefeated world-champion grappler, Gunnar Nelson, has never really been challenged in any cage, including the UFC Octagon, where he's 2-0. If he can take down a bigger name than Jorge Santiago in his next engagement, he could be poised to shoot up this list, not to mention the welterweight rankings.

14. Brad Pickett

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    Division: bantamweight
    Primary nationality: English
    Record: 23-7

    Brad Pickett took a tumble after he was outworked and outstruck by Eddie Wineland at UFC 155. He rebounded with an excellent win in April over Mike Easton, and, now, he has a major test in August against hard-hitting Michael McDonald.

15. Conor McGregor

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    Division: featherweight
    Primary nationality: Irish
    Record: 13-2

    Conor McGregor made it clear in his UFC debut that he would not be slowing his roll after embarking from the UK's venerable Cage Warriors promotion, where he was a dual-division champ.

    That first-round TKO of Marcus Brimage and an electrifying style both in and out of the cage has earned him plenty of fans. He'll try to keep it rolling this August in Boston when he takes on fellow up-and-comer Andy Ogle.

16. Jan Blachowicz

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    Division: light heavyweight
    Primary nationality: Polish
    Record: 17-3

    KSW's 30-year-old light heavyweight champ is one of the sport's hottest prospects—in any weight class. Recent victims have included UFC veterans Goran Reljic, Houston Alexander, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Mario Miranda.

    Jan Blachowicz's early career was marred by injuries, but it seems he has put that behind him. He has knockout power and a nasty submission game, and it's hard to see anyone in his sphere who could beat him right now.

17. Cheick Kongo

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    Division: heavyweight
    Primary nationality: French
    Record: 18-8-2

    Cheick Kongo is 38 and on the downslope of his career, but the obsidian-cut French-Congolese kickboxer is still kicking and could very well make waves in his new promotional home at Bellator.

18. Jimi Manuwa

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    Division: light heavyweight
    Primary nationality: English
    Record: 13-0

    There aren't many knockout artists in the UFC more potent than Jimi Manuwa. Though he trains in jiu-jitsu, his game plan is to punch you until you fall down, and that isn't going to change. And there's no reason it should either, especially when you have 12 of 13 wins by knockout and have only seen the second round three times in your five-year career.

    His win over Cyrille Diabate was a bit cheap, as Diabate was forced to retire with a freak calf injury. But a win's a win, and it will be interesting to see who the UFC puts in front of the 33-year-old next.

19. Paul Daley

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    Division: welterweight
    Primary nationality: English
    Record: 32-12-2

    Knockout artist Paul Daley must have been happy to hear recently that his lawsuit had been dropped, meaning (at least theoretically) that he can resume international travel and his promising Bellator tenure.

20. Ross Pearson

21 of 21

    Division: lightweight
    Primary nationality: English
    Record: 15-6

    There are certainly plenty of other guys who could have made the list. But we have to draw the line somewhere. With Dan Hardy on the shelf indefinitely, Damian Grabowski doing great, but against lesser competition, Joachim Hansen dabbling in kickboxing, and Cyrille Diabate aging, the nod for the final slot goes to Ross Pearson. 

    The barely intelligible British brawler is 2-0 with two TKOs since returning to the lightweight division after his featherweight experimented ended at 1-1. Pearson is an exciting and still-improving fighter who makes a solid addition to any card.

     

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