MMA: The Top 10 Greatest Tournament Fighters of All Time

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MMA: The Top 10 Greatest Tournament Fighters of All Time
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

There’s something about the idea of fighting two or more times in one night that fits the world of MMA like a glove.

Perhaps it’s because the tournament format introduced the sport to America. In the early days, fighters with one discipline had just one way to win; for those with the dominant style, seeing them fight just once didn’t feel like a proper test or reward for their dominance.

There were bragging rights around the idea of defeating two, three, four or even five men in a single night. It spoke to a consistency and durability that you would associate with the best in the world.

And even though the tournament format doesn’t always see the best fighters win (see UFC III as a prime example), it seemed like the winner had earned the accolades by just surviving.

Tournaments can be grueling tests of endurance, and when the card is stacked with serious talent, the event takes on a near mythical aspect. When so many talented and dangerous fighters meet on one night and fight their way to the top—who could stay away from that?

It’s like the ultimate pay-per-view card where many excellent bouts happen in one night.

Take for instance the Pride 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix: On one night, you got to see Quinton “Rampage” Jackson take on Chuck Liddell and then Wanderlei Silva. When it works out right, a tournament can be magical.

And so, we come to recognize the men who have proved themselves capable of conquering the beast, rising to the top and winning it all in a single night. The men who can do this are a rare breed who seem to thrive in the harshest environments.

Many men could have been chosen for this list, had it been bigger. Fighters such as Randy Couture, Renzo Gracie and Marco Ruas have won tournaments with two or more fights in a single night.

Ricardo Morais, for instance, won five fights in a single night at the IAFC: Absolute Fighting Championship 1 in Moscow, Russia in November 1995. I did not put him on this list due to the quality of opposition, but it is still a notable accomplishment.

Then we have Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who won the Rings: King of Kings 2000 Tournament and made it all the way to the finals of the Pride 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix, only to see it all for naught when his bout with Fedor Emelianenko was ruled a no-contest.

Nogueira did not make the list because his win at the Rings tournament was against less-than-notable competition and the Pride tournament was basically incomplete. However, he is clearly a good tournament fighter and deserves mention.

Here it is: a list of fighters who are a step above all the rest, albeit sometimes just barely. But they are all veterans of that grueling format, presented to you in all their glory.

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