The Atomic Bombers: MMA's Top 10 Heavyweight Strikers of All Time (with Video)
When Mirko Filipovic enters the Octagon on Sept. 25 at the Conseco Fieldhouse, there will be much more at stake than simply the outcome of an Ultimate Fighting Championship main event.
Both "Cro Cop" and his adversary at UFC 119, Frank Mir, will be fighting for their legitimate-contender lives, as both have only been able to beat glorified tomato cans of late.
Cheick Kongo was obliterated by Frank while Tatsuya Mizuno, Choi Hong-man, Mostapha Al-turk, Anthony Perosh, and Pat Barry have all been overwhelmed by Mirko.
However, the story for each 265-pounder reads in reverse when the competition gets a little stiffer.
Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin both scattered Frank's blood and brain cells all over the cage.
Meanwhile, Junior dos Santos and Gabriel Gonzaga each sent the Croatian into La La Land—though it was a cumulative beating in the former case and a single, infamous head kick in the latter.
Perhaps most problematic was the lackluster, unanimous-decision loss at the hands of the aforementioned Kongo.
In other words, though the stakes are high for the American, Filipovic is probably staring into the abyss.
If he wins, he stays relevant amongst the UFC's biggest boppers for a little while longer. If he loses, then it's time for another legend to take his sunset ride.
Since that's the expected outcome, let's take a look at the top 10 greatest heavyweight strikers of all time in Filipovic's honor, should this be his swan song:
No. 10—Brock Lesnar
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 3
Striking stoppage rates: 60% of wins, 50% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: Min Soo Kim (submission due to strikes), Randy Couture (TKO), Frank Mir (TKO)
Like many of the accolades showered upon Mr. Lesnar, his placement on this list might be a bit premature.
Let's be honest, as impressive as they've been, the behemoth only has five wins in his entire mixed martial arts career and he's only put two brand names down via strikes.
Kim is only notable because Brock needed a mere 69 seconds to bludgeon him into submission in the current UFC Heavyweight Champion's first MMA bout.
However, when you're 6'3", tip the scales at an enormous 265 pounds, move like a man about a bill lighter, and boast an 81-inch reach, I'm willing to take that risk.
Yes, his technique probably needs a large dollop of polish, but we have seen the big fella use his superior reach to knock Heath Herring and Couture onto Queer Street, and we've seen the massive power generated in short spaces against Couture and Mir.
Furthermore, he's one of the few fighters whose takedowns extract a heavy toll from the target on virtually every tackle.
As his hit list grows, expect Brock Lesnar to redefine the "shoulder strike."
No. 9—Junior dos Santos
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 9
Striking stoppage rates: 75% of wins, 69% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: Fabrico Werdum (TKO), Stefan Struve (TKO), Mirko Filipovic (submission due to punch), Gilbert Yvel (TKO), Gabriel Gonzaga (TKO)
Again, the appearance of "Cigano" on an all-time list might be a bit premature since he only has 13 bouts and has only been fighting professionally for about five years. But what a nickel it's been.
JDS put down some accomplished heavyweights in the form of Werdum, "Cro Cop," Yvel, and Gonzaga.
Furthermore, aside from "Vai Cavalo," you have three ferocious strikers in their own rights—Mirko and "The Hurricane" have 52 nighty-nights between them, while "Napao" can't quite hang in that territory, but his brutal finish of Filipovic will forever be a testament to the danger he poses.
The Brazilian is biding his time, as first Shane Carwin and now Cain Velasquez get their shots at Lesnar's title.
But I've had the pleasure of seeing dos Santos' last three fights while seated in media row, and his power is painful from 10 feet away; it literally makes you cringe when the brute connects, which he does frequently.
In other words, don't be surprised if this is the man who ultimately wears the division's crown.
No. 8—Gilbert Yvel
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 31
Striking stoppage rates: 86% of wins, 60% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: Semmy Schilt (KO), Gary Goodridge (KO), Cheick Kongo (TKO), Pedro Rizzo (KO)
I know, I know—dos Santos dominated "The Hurricane," so how can Yvel come in ahead of Junior?
The answer is that (A) the Dutch kickboxer is 34, almost a decade older than the 26-year-old Brazilian; and (B) Yvel has almost three-times the number of knockouts as the less-experienced "Cigano" has fights.
So, though JDS is obviously the better striker at this point in their respective careers, you have to give the prickly puncher from Holland his due credit.
Not only does he have his own signature strike—the flying knee—but Gilbert also has dropped the curtain on 31 adversaries.
In 14 years of mixed martial arts, the man has stopped every opponent he's beaten, and only five times has the stoppage been a submission.
Of course, you can see from his notable knockouts that there's more chaff than wheat to his resume. If "The Hurricane" had more legitimate pelts on his wall, he'd be higher on the list.
As is, you've got to appreciate Yvel's sheer volume.
No. 7—Andrei Arlovski
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 11
Striking stoppage rates: 73% of wins, 48% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: Vladimir Matyushenko (KO), Wesley Correira (TKO), Paul Buentello (KO), Ben Rothwell (KO), Roy Nelson (KO)
Based on only technique and accuracy, "The Pitbull" might actually be the best pure striker on this list.
I don't know enough about the Sweet Science and its cousins to say for sure, but something has to explain all those straight knockouts.
There are some sincere sledgehammers in the top 10 and few boast as many cleanly unconscious foes as the Belorussian.
What keeps Arlovski mired down here in the bottom-half of the rankings is the fact that he struggles with the next echelon of competition (not necessarily superior strikers, but the more versatile challenges).
"The Janitor," "Cabbage," "The Head Hunter," Rothwell, and that version of "Big Country" are all nice antagonists—265-pounders who would eat the lunch of lesser foes, but who weren't quite up to the task of contending.
However, Andrei has looked and been sorely outclassed when he wades into the deeper water.
The 31-year-old was dominated by the better-but-still-uninspiring Tim Sylvia (twice), Ricco Rodriguez at his height, the legitimate Pedro Rizzo, and the all-galaxy Fedor Emelianenko.
No. 6—Maurice Smith
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 7
Striking stoppage rates: 58% of wins, 28% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: David Abbott (submission due to strikes), Marco Ruas (TKO, twice)
Judged strictly on his record and his notable finishes, "Mo" looks ghastly out of place in a collection of all-time anything except for maybe "Mediocre Old Dudes."
Frankly, calling stoppages of "Tank" Abbott and "The King of the Streets" notable is being pretty generous.
But consider that Smith was in that early class of UFC competitors that helped originate, revolutionize, and popularize the sport in a short blur of a few years.
The superlative kickboxer (63-11-4 with 45 KOs) began his pro MMA career in 1993 and made the jump to Dana White's ranks in 1997 for UFC 14.
There, "Mo" would become the first striker to resist an elite wrestler (Mark Coleman) and take home the heavyweight championship.
In the process, you could argue he helped save the sport by proving striking was/could be a dangerous component in the arsenal of a mixed martial artist.
No. 5—Pedro Rizzo
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 14
Striking stoppage rates: 74% of wins, 37% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: David Abbott (KO), Dan Severn (submission due to punches), Josh Barnett (KO), Andrei Arlovski (KO), Jeff Monson (TKO), Gary Goodridge (TKO), Ken Shamrock (TKO)
Once upon a time, there was no hotter striker than Pedro "The Rock" Rizzo. He was part of a period in the UFC's history that saw meteoric talent rise from the ranks, only to fizzle out for one reason or another.
However, before Rizzo's career started wobbling and the wheels came off, the 36-year-old Brazilian was able to establish himself as one of the most vicious offenders in the sport.
Known for crippling leg kicks and relentless assault when motivated, it appeared as if nothing could stop the younger phenom when he burst onto the UFC scene in 1998.
Sadly, all that potential never quite clicked as the heavyweight belt would elude his grasp on three separate occasions.
Still, anyone who forced "The Beast" Severn to concede using leg kicks must be in a group such as this one.
No. 4—Bas Rutten
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 12
Striking stoppage rates: 43% of wins, 36% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: Frank Shamrock (TKO), Jason Delucia (TKO)
Much like "Mo" Smith, "El Guapo" sticks out like a sore thumb when you line up everyone's statistics and notable names.
However, much like "Mo," Rutten was one of the early innovator and his accomplishments are thusly difficult to appreciate out of context.
This is a fighter who retired from the sport in 1999—when a lot of today's practitioners were signing up for Day 1 of training at the local gym, the Dutch legend was hanging the six-ounce gloves on the wall (though he would return for one bout in 2006).
In a performance that must make Brett Favre green with envy, Bas was able to survive with a split decision over Kevin Randleman for the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
Additionally, the charismatic commentator who retired on top essentially popularized the liver shot—both with fists and kicks.
But (as you can see from his record) Rutten wasn't a pure striker; his grappling prowess actually hurts him for our purposes because it left fewer opportunities to stand and bang.
No. 3—Fedor Emelianenko
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 9
Striking stoppage rates: 28% of wins, 26% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: Heath Herring (TKO), Gary Goodridge (TKO), Andrei Arlovski (KO), Brett Rogers (TKO)
Make no mistake—"The Last Emperor" is one of the most savage throwers of leather in the history of mixed martial arts.
His vitals are misleading because he's such a versatile athlete and intimidating presence.
It's almost inevitable that Fedor's striking will send an opponent cowering to the canvas, inviting the Russian to sink in a rear-naked choke or armbar lest his mentally broken adversary suffer a physical indignity to go with the psychological one.
For instance, his choke of former UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Sylvia was the direct result of a salvo of warheads sent "The Maine-iac" face first to the ground.
His submissions of Kazuyuki Fujita and Mark Coleman (twice) also followed similar patterns.
Meanwhile, Emelianenko's three unanimous-decision victories over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice) and Mirko Filipovic showcase some of the most devastating and unorthodox (to non-sambo eyes) striking you will ever see in a ring or Octagon.
Many observers of the sport will tell you neither "Minotauro" nor "Cro Cop" have ever been the same since those felonious assaults.
No. 2—Igor Vovchanchyn
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 35
Striking stoppage rates: 71% of wins, 58% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: Gary Goodridge (TKO, twice), Kazushi Sakuraba (TKO)
There was no more murderously one-dimensional mixed martial artist than "Ice Cold."
That's not to say Vovchanchyn had zero ground game or defense because such a claim would be untrue—the Ukrainian legend was actually quite adept at stuffing takedowns and using his guard to nullify most grapplers once in their world.
However, Igor only had one thing on his mind when it came to his plan of attack: He was coming after your dome, even if he had to chop your legs out from underneath to get it.
Vovchanchyn fought in an era that didn't condense the talent and, consequently, his greatest hits don't ooze with cache.
Instead, you'll just have to believe what your eyes tell you based on the footage and stoppage stats.
And this neat little tidbit of terror: Nine of his victims cried "Uncle!" in the face of Igor's striking.
They didn't go to sleep, they weren't knocked senseless such that the referee mercifully ended the festivities, and they weren't caught with joints being pried apart or bent at unnatural angles.
They simply chose discretion as the better part of valor.
In his prime, "Ice Cold" could have that effect.
No. 1—Mirko Filipovic
KOs or submissions due to strikes: 21
Striking stoppage rates: 78% of wins, 58% of fights
Notable striking stoppages: Kazuyuki Fujita (TKO), Kazushi Sakuraba (TKO), Heath Herring (TKO), Igor Vovchanchyn (KO), Aleksander Emelianenko (KO), Mark Coleman (KO),
If you watch the highlight video, you can see the exact moment Mirko Filipovic became the gold standard as far as pure MMA strikers are concerned.
It comes around the 3:10 mark when an exquisite and excruciating high kick knocks the striker's crown off Igor Vovchanchyn's head and into the Croatian's corner.
That knockout of "Ice Cold," who was widely considered to be the sport's most ruthless operator in the stand-up, put "Cro Cop" on the map and he only enhanced his reputation in the years to follow.
It's true that Filipovic has never been able to replicate his PRIDE success since he came across the pond and slipped into the UFC waters.
Regardless, the shadow of fear he cast during the height of his powers is enough to keep the matter settled through his decline.
When that next transcendent striker arrives, there will be a new No. 1.
But, until then, Mirko Filipovic reigns supreme as the best the MMA landscape has ever seen.