At UFC 117, longtime UFC middleweight champion and top pound-for-pound fighter Anderson Silva will put his title on the line against dangerous challenger Chael Sonnen. Silva is world renowned for his stand-up ability, but is he truly the greatest striker of all time?
Let’s take a look back at the top 10 greatest stand-up fighters in MMA history and see where “The Spider” ranks among the sports best from the past and present.
10. Maurice Smith
Smith was one of the first fighters to successfully implement a world-class striking base in the Octagon. Back when Mark Coleman introduced ground and pound to the UFC, it seemed that no matter how talented fighters were in the stand-up department they were destined to fail against high-caliber wrestlers.
However, Smith proved that that theory was not entirely true by defeating Coleman to claim the heavyweight crown in a shocking upset at UFC 14. His overall MMA record is less than stellar, but make no mistake about it, he was one of the toughest fighters to stand and trade with in the '90s.
9. Wanderlei Silva
From a pure technical standpoint Silva has always had visible holes in his stand-up game. However when it came to pure unadulterated ass-kicking, “The Axe-Murderer” was—and to a certain extent still is—a wrecking machine on the feet.
In his prime, Silva’s aggressive Muay Thai style was incredibly difficult for any opponent to deal with. His punching power was ferocious but the most deadly strike in Silva’s arsenal was his knees from the Thai clinch…just ask Quinton Jackson about that.
8. Fedor Emelianenko
Let’s face facts nobody has dominated the heavyweight division quite like “The Last Emperor” did. While he isn’t labeled a “striker,” most of his success came from his stand-up expertise. Emelianenko is an excellent counter-puncher with the tendency of finding one little opening on his foes and capitalizing on it (see Andrei Arlovski fight).
The Russian even managed to out strike Mirko “Cro Cop” to a certain degree in their epic meeting at PRIDE-Final Conflict 2005.
7. Lyoto Machida
In the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, karate proved to be ineffective compared to other striking arts such as Muay Thai and boxing. However, Machida is living proof that certain aspects of karate can be applied in MMA competition efficiently.
Through 13 professional bouts, “The Dragon” maintained an unblemished record in the Octagon before running into Mauricio Rua at UFC 113. When you talk about a true technician, Machida picked his shots better than any other fighter not named Anderson Silva. The southpaw is best known for frustrating opponents from the Shotokan stance like a true karate master.
6. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Much like his former Chute Box training partner “The Axe Murderer,” Rua is an extremely aggressive Muay Thai fighter. The difference between the two, however, is that “Shogun” also has astounding technique on his feet to match his ruthless style.
Rua first made waves in the PRIDE Fighting Championships with destructive victories over Ricardo Arona, “Rampage” Jackson, and Alistair Overeem. Recently “Shogun” claimed the UFC light heavyweight title by becoming the first to ever defeat and finish Lyoto Machida.
Rua is an all-around deadly striker with vicious leg kicks, pulverizing body kicks, and insane knockout power. He is also a fighter that can cause a tremendous amount of damage in the Muay Thai clinch with knees and elbows.
5. Chuck Liddell
In the 17-year history of the UFC nobody has contributed more highlight reel knockouts than Liddell. For nearly six years “The Iceman” reigned over the light heavyweight division like the hammer of God knocking any and all comers completely out cold.
Liddell was a highly effective counter puncher, using an unorthodox wide-open stance to bait his opponents in close allowing him to land his trademarked overhand right. Also, coming from a sound collegiate wrestling background, Liddell was nearly impossible to take down.
Sadly Liddell’s chin has caught up with him and he has become susceptible to the very thing he’s made his living on—the knockout. Still, his legacy as one of the sports deadliest strikers will always remain intact.
4. Igor Vovchanchyn
A former kickboxing champion, Vovchanchyn made the jump to MMA in 1995 and after racking up 34 consecutive victories was viewed as one of the top fighters in the world at the time. The Ukrainian fighter possessed insane Hulk-like power in his hands and his tendency to strike at odd angles made it difficult for opponents to find their rhythm against "The Ukrainian Freight Train."
His name may not ring a bell to casual fans but die-hards will always remember his memorable bouts in PRIDE against the likes of Kazushi Sakuraba, Enson Inoue, and Mirko “Cro Cop.”
3. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic
Filipovic was the type of striker in his prime that would give his opponents nightmares before the fight. His devastating kickboxing prowess turned him into a superstar in PRIDE and he quickly became a fan favorite among for his highlight reel knockout victories.
“Cro Cop” coined the catchphrase, “Right kick, hospital. Left kick, cemetery,” due to his lethal kicking power. Filipovic has finished many victims off with violent head kicks, low kicks and even a body kick or two. The left high kick he knocked Wanderlei Silva out with at PRIDE-Final Conflict Absolute was so destructive that “The Axe Murderer” hasn’t really been the same since.
2. Bas Rutten
“El Guapo” is truly one of the toughest S.O.B’s to ever compete in the UFC. A natural 205-pounder, Rutten fought in the heavyweight division early on and used his precise yet volatile standup game to claim the UFC heavyweight crown.
Rutten is famous for the liver kick but he also had a vicious set of leg kicks in his arsenal as well. He kicked like a mule (hell, who are we kidding? He still does! He just doesn’t compete) and he had a great lead jab to boot.
Perhaps the best thing about his stand-up game was his ability to tie everything together. He wasn’t just a puncher or just a kicker, “El Guapo” was a well rounded striker with the speed and power of a leopard.
1. Anderson Silva
There is no other fighter on the planet with the accuracy and perfect timing of “The Spider.” Silva’s knack of predicting an opponent’s attack 10 seconds before they go for it is utterly astonishing and frightening at the same time.
When fighting Silva, it’s almost as if you’re in the Octagon with an alien or an android of some sort. Not only is his timing exceedingly precise but the things he is able to do in the cage are out of this world. In recent performances, Silva has used his world class striking to toy with his opponents and make somewhat of a mockery out of the sport itself.
The fact that he was able to toy around with a top contender like Demian Maia as if Maia were a mouse says a lot about how talented he really is though. Silva can also finish fights in devastating fashion—just ask Rich Franklin and Chris Leben who’ve experienced his power firsthand.
Honorable Mentions: Marco Ruas, Pedro Rizzo, Quinton Jackson, Cung Le, Vitor Belfort, Rich Franklin, Jose Aldo, B.J Penn.
Mitch Ciccarelli is an MMA columnist based out of Gilbert, Arizona. Follow Mitch on twitter if you’re looking to read some interesting tweets about MMA, hot chicks, hot dogs, hot plates, hot wings, and other hotness: @mitchciccarelli