Vai Brasil! The 25 Greatest Brazilian Fighters in MMA History (video)

Matt MalepeaiContributor INovember 4, 2010

Vai Brasil! The 25 Greatest Brazilian Fighters in MMA History (video)

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    Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

    Without a shadow of a doubt, Brazil is the home of mixed martial arts. For anybody who is confused by that let me clarify further. It's not Fedor's gym in Russia, not Dana White's checkbook, not Joe Rogan's podcast, not with those burnt out Pancrase VHS tapes you keep enshrined in your closet, but Brazil.

    Brazil is where the arts of grappling and striking were able to truly mesh and find there place in the world of sports. Sadly, while we westerners were listening to jazz and snapping our fingers, Brazilians were watching vale tudo and snapping limbs.

    As the homeland of the world's fastest growing sport, it's easy to see that Brazil has produced some of the greatest fighters to ever grace the planet. Though there have been many, 25 stand above the rest. These are the 25 greatest fighters to ever come out of Brazil.

Honorable Mention

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    If you're offended by the lack of any of these fighters or the order of the fighters I placed on my list, then check out this video to see how I feel.

    *Bibiano Fernandes - I think he needs a bit more experience

    *Marcus Aurelio - A bit more wishy washy than others on my list

    *Thiago Silva - Great fighter, but wins over Jardine and Houston Alexander don't mean much any more

    *Gustavo Machado - I like him a lot but I had to phase him out for people who I think deserved it more

    *Gabriel Gonzaga - His win against Cro Cop was great, but I don't count it as a qualifier

    *Murilo Rua - He's Shogun's brother but he's not very consistent

    *Rickson Gracie - Let's face it, his MMA fights aren't really that spectacular

    *Allan Goes - Good fighter, but I believe those listed are better

    *Rafael Cavalcante - Let's see him defend that title and I'll rethink it

    *Marco Ruas - Better trainer than fighter, just barely missed the cut

    *Paulo Thiago - His two notable wins are against Kos and Swick, but I feel others are more deserving

Number 25: José Landi-Jons

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    José Landi-Jons, also known as Pele, set the foundation for the modern Brazilian strikers of today. He had a heavy emphasis on Muay Thai and striking in general, despite his black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. If that sounds familiar to you then you've probably watched an Anderson Silva or Jose Aldo fight.

    Pele has put down two of the sports greats by TKO in Pat Miletich and Matt Hughes, amongst others, thanks to his excellent striking. When he did lose he showed he could put up solid fights against the likes of Carlos Newton, Chuck Liddell, and Dave Menne.

    Most important is his influence on the members of the Chute Boxe Academy. He served as a trainer there for some time before leaving over a dispute with the Academy's upper management. You can see his training influence in some of the greatest fighters to come out of Chute Boxe, including Mauricio Rua, Wanderlei Silva, and Anderson Silva. His influence is what allowed these men to become the wrecking machines we know and love. 

    For those of you who've never seen Landi fight, check out this video and note the similarities between him and the fighters from Chute Boxe who followed him. The similarities are pretty stunning. 

Number 24: Gesias Cavalcante

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    Though he doesn't rank as high as many other lightweights and he's lost 3 of his last 4 by decision, the man they call JZ is no joke. 

    He'll take the fight where ever it goes. He's willing to box, kick, wrestle, scramble—whatever it might take to win. From 2004 to 2007, after a loss to Joachim Hansen, he went undefeated with nine of his 13 fights finished in round one.

    He is extremely explosive with a stand up game as strong as his ground game. Look for Cavalcante to get back to his winning ways and become a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. At only 27, he has plenty of time left to turn the world on its head.

    If you like knockouts, then watch the video to see why I chose JZ as a member of my list.

Number 23: Hermes Franca

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    Hermes Franca may not have a perfect record, but there was a point in time when he was at the top of the heap of lightweights. Fighting Franca proved to be difficult for many of his opponents thanks to his competence in striking and black belt in BJJ. 

    Though newer fans of the UFC may just see him as another victim of Tyson Griffin or Frank Edgar, Franca has proved his worth to the fighting community. An eight-fight win streak from 2005-2007 saw him finish Gabe Ruediger, Toby Imada, Jamie Varner, Nate Diaz, and Spencer Fisher.

    It took Sean Sherk to finally put down Franca, but that fight was no cake walk. We can even look to his losses against Yves Edwards, Josh Thompson, and Frank Edgar when considering him for the list because he offered problems to all of them. 

    Hermes Franca may not be a champion, but he's a problem for any champion he steps into the ring with. If you didn't know that already, then check out the attached video.

Number 22: Renzo Gracie

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    Renzo may not be the high caliber his cousin Royce Gracie is, but no man can argue the fighting spirit of Renzo Gracie. There is no man in the world Renzo Gracie won't accept a fight against. While other Gracie's can tend to hide from opponents, Renzo finds them.

    He's had great performances against Oleg Taktarov, Carlos Newton, Pat Miletich, and Maurice Smith. Losses to Dan Henderson, Matt Hughes, and BJ Penn show Renzo is always willing to fight.

    While the Gracie family may have "better" fighters, I don't think there is one with more heart and spirit than Renzo. Renzo will try to take the fight to you as long as he can, and even though he's getting up there in age, let us not forget...he is still a Gracie, and yes, that still means something!

Number 21: Ricardo Almeida

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    The student has surpassed the teacher in just about every way in my opinion. One of Renzo Gracie's prize students, Ricardo Almeida has earned his spot on the list.

    He is an A-grade black belt in BJJ and has shown a much improved stand up game in the UFC. You can tell he's a black belt by his fluidity on the ground and his strong submission game to boot. Though Almeida lost in a recent bout against Matt Hughes (then again, who hasn't lost to Matt Hughes?) he will be back to his winning ways shortly.

    He has victories over Matt Brown, Kendall Grove, Kaz Misaki, and most importantly, Nate Marquardt. If you've never been introduced to Almeida, here is his fight against Nate the Great to give you an introduction to just how good he is.

Number 20: Pedro Rizzo

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    If you are new to the sport then you probably only know Pedro Rizzo as the guy who just beat the crap out of an elderly Ken Shamrock. In all fairness he'd have done the same thing to Ken ten years ago. 

    Back in the UFC's early days, he was the guy who was out there knocking everybody out. His striking prowess was as feared as they came and about as well rounded as well. He could punch and kick with wicked power. His leg kicks paved the way for guys like Forrest Griffin, Keith Jardine, and Jose Aldo to really go out there and have the confidence to chop somebody down.

    His two fights against Randy Couture are legendary, the first one being one of the greatest fights of all time. He holds notable knockouts over Andre Arlovski, Tra Telligman, Jess Monson and Josh Barnett. There are rumors that he might get a shot back in the UFC, and I for one would love to see it happen. As the attached video shows, Rizzo knows how to bring the KO and bring it strong.

Number 19: Renato Sobral

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    Renato "Babalu" Sobral is one of Strikeforce's top light heavyweight contenders, and for some time before that was considered one of the best at 205. Though unsuccessful in his title runs in the UFC thanks to Chuck Liddell, Babalu proved himself to be a more than capable opponent.

    Though his striking is decent, Sobral relies on exquisite grappling and submissions to finish his fights. Half of his 36 career wins have come by submission, and the list of those submitted includes two names that are particularly popular in MMA recently: Mauricio Rua and Chael Sonnen. Yes, before Anderson Silva shut Sonnen up, Babalu did. One of those losses on Shogun's record are indeed attributed to Sobral's grappling capability.

    The most amazing feat though was that he beat Rua the same night he beat Trevor Prangley and Jeremy Horn...IN ONE NIGHT! I'm happy to say that with a fight against Dan Henderson slowly nearing and a recent win over Robbie Lawler, Babalu's stock is still rising in the world of MMA. 

    *Disclaimer: I do not in any way endorse Sobral's behavior against David Heath and that footage is not    included in this video.

Number 18: Murilo Bustamante

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    No matter what any member of this list does or has done they can never eclipse Murilo Bustamante's greatest achievement. He was the first Brazilian champion in UFC history. Others had won tournaments, but Bustamante was the first legitimized champion.

    On his route to becoming the first Brazilian UFC champion and second middleweight champion, Bustamante showed an amazing amount of diversity. His boxing was sharp and his BJJ was top-notch. Back when Dave Menne and Matt Lindland were at the top of the middleweight heap, "Busta" would be the one to knock them off. His TKO of Menne and submission of Lindland solidified his legacy for good.

    While his career after those victories has seen its share of hardship, we must always remember that Bustamante set the stage for the many Brazilian champions to come after him. He taught us that Brazilian fighters weren't just jiu jitsu fiends or strikers, but that there was a balance to be had. Check out this fight against Ryuta Sakurai from DEEP 29 Impact to see his range of skill. If you're just in it for the knockout though just skip up to 8:40 and have a good time!

Number 17: Ricardo Arona

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    Before anybody brings it up let me get this out of the way. Yes, this was the guy that got power-bombed by Rampage. No, it's not in the video. Who cares, watch it any way. For those naysayers who point to his loss to Sokoudjou let me just say this: everybody loses.

    With that out of the way, I have good news. Ricardo Arona is a great fighter. When we think of Arona we usually think of his losses, but in reality none of his losses are to be ashamed of: Decision losses Wanderlei and Fedor, a freak occurrence against Rampage, knocked out by Shogun and put to sleep by vastly under-estimated Sokoudjou. What we tend to forget is just how good he was in his impressive victories.

    He was able to stand with Alistair Overeem, Wanderlei Silva, Maurilo Rua, and Dan Henderson before getting the fight to the ground and totally dictating the action. He also looked to be doing much of the same before losing to Rampage, and the fight to Fedor is contested to this day. 

    Ricardo Arona was and is a high-class fighter, with all the skills to be a champion. He has defeated the best and lost to the best. To turn your memory away from that pesky power-bomb I'd suggest watching this Arona highlight to get a new idea about the kind of fighter he really is.

Number 16: Paulo Filho

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    With the WEC now merging with the UFC I've noticed a lot of fighters getting high recognition for their accomplishments, but I haven't seen anything about Paulo Filho.

    For those of you who don't know, Paulo Filho was the last light heavyweight champion in the WEC. Though he was only a part of the company for three fights he made a big name for himself in his first-round TKO of  Joe Doerkson and his second-round submission of Chael Sonnen. Before losing to Sonnen in his last WEC fight, Filho held a record of 16-0.

    Leaving the WEC has slowed down his career a bit, but if his performance against Melvin Manhoef means anything then Filho will keep proving to be one of the best in the world. He took a savage beating from a K-1 kick boxer for over two minutes then slapped on a textbook armbar for the win. Really take a look at the attached video of the Manhoef fight to get a good feel for why Filho earned his spot on this list.

    Though he recently dropped a decision to unknown Marcus Rogerio de Lima, Filho has been known for struggling with certain issues and carrying that over into his performances. All that aside, the man is 20-2-1 with over half of his fights being finished. Some of those he's put away include Amar Suloev, Ryo Chonan and Kazuo Misaki. His black belt judo and BJJ are always a threat and I hope that one day soon we see him ascending the ladder in one of MMA's larger organizations.

Number 15: Demian Maia

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    It has been said that Demian Maia might have the best BJJ in the world. Not in MMA, or the UFC, but in the entire world. After seeing his performances in the octagon it's becoming hard to disagree with that.

    The only man to hold four "Submissions of the Night" in the UFC, Maia is an all-around submission monster. He choked out his first five opponents in the UFC in impressive fashion. Ryan Jensen was the first victim, followed by Ed Hermen, then Jason McDonald, then Nate Quarry, and lastly Chael Sonnen. His grappling in all of these fights was nothing short of spectacular. 

    He only has two losses under his belt to Nate Marquardt and Anderson Silva. Nobody likes having a loss on his record, but if you have to have some then why not have it be two of the best? With an evolving stand-up game and his always dangerous mastery of BJJ, Demian Maia has solidified himself as one of the world's best middleweights and above that, best mixed martial artists.

Number 14: Ronaldo Souza

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    Now introducing the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza!

    While the eyes of the MMA world are usually transfixed on the UFC and Anderson Silva, we forget about this gem of a fighter who is a champion in his own right out in Strikeforce. Jacare has taken the opposite road of Anderson, coming to the sport as a grappling sensation and evolving his striking steadily.

    In 2005 he was the 77-87 kg champion of the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship, a year when Demian Maia was the runner-up. Yes folks, he's just that good! Further more, all 10 of his submission wins have come in the first round. He has handled fighters like Jason Miller and Matt Lindland with his ground game, but what separates him from guys like Demian Maia and Paulo Filho is his striking.

    Jacare has showed in his Strikeforce appearances that he has shown ever-improving striking. In his fight against Tim Kennedy he was more than willing to stand and trade. In doing so he not only showed that he had evolved his striking, but he showed more of an efficiency at it than Kennedy. Jacare truly is one of the sport's elite and will continue to prove that in the years to come.

    The video attached is long, but nothing short of brilliant. It spans Jacare's entire career including his BJJ tournaments. Like Souza himself, the video is awesome!

Number 13: Cristiane Santos

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    Women's MMA is quite a touchy subject. Some say that the quality of competition isn't high enough yet, others say women have no place fighting, and then the rest of us have seen Cris "Cyborg" Santos fight. To put it frankly, if she was the only female mixed martial artist on Earth they'd have to make her start fighting men and those men would be very afraid.

    For those who say there is a lack of competition in women's MMA, I disagree; you're just never going to find somebody as good as Cyborg. Since losing her first fight by kneebar she has easily dispatched of all of her opponents. She strikes like Wanderlei Silva, with Melvin Manhoef accuracy and Brock Lesnar aggression.

    Put the thought out of your head that she's a woman and just watch her fight. She deserves to be on this list and possibly even higher than she is.

Number 12: Thiago Alves

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    Thiago Alves is probably the most dangerous man in the welterweight division. Nobody has found a better way to beat him than to hold him down and pray. Why is that? Because every fight starts standing, and standing is the last place you want to be with Thiago Alves. 

    Issues with cutting weight have caused him problems, but that doesn't take away from the fact that this guy is one of the best pure strikers in MMA. He has battered Chris Lytle, Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes, and Josh Koscheck in decisive fashion. He has beaten the best of the best and it has taken the best of the best to beat him. He has lost his last two fights in decisions to Jon Fitch and Georges St. Pierre, but this just further shows how good Alves is at what he does.

    To beat Alves you have to neutralize his striking and that is by no means easy. He can end the fight at a moment's notice and is always looking to do so. Alves will continue to devastate competition until the day he stops fighting, championship or not. 

Number 11: Vitor Belfort

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    Vitor Belfort is no doubt, one of the most talented athletes to ever step into the world of mixed martial arts. When he became a part of the UFC in 1997 and started bulldozing people with a mixture of speed, strength, grappling and outstanding boxing, a new star was born.

    Over 13 years later, Vitor Belfort is making a resurgence in MMA and showing that his true potential has yet to be reached. After overcoming many nightmarish personal problems that arose when his sister was kidnapped and murdered, Vitor was able to conquer his demons and re-devote himself to MMA.

    He's been a worthy adversary for Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Kazushi Sakuraba, Alistair Overeem, Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland, Rich Franklin, Marvin Eastman and Wanderlei Silva. Whether he won or lost, Vitor was always dangerous and never a push over.

    While he is just now reaching his career high after 13 years in the sport, if his bout with Anderson Silva proves successful, then we'll see an even newer revival in the life of Vitor Belfort. One thing is for sure with him, never rule that out because Vitor is a dangerous man.

Number 10: Royce Gracie

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    The perfect way to kick off the top 10: Royce Gracie

    There isn't much to be said about Royce that hasn't been said already. He put the entire sport on the map with his amazing performances in the early UFC competitions. Though naturally smaller than just about every fighter he went up against, he used his superior submission prowess to take out the competition.

    When it comes down to it, it doesn't matter that these competitions were so early in the sport. What Royce did was amazing. 14 wins with 12 submissions and bringing an unknown sport into prominence is something to brag about.

    Love him or hate him, you have to respect his skill and what it did for the sport

Number 9: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

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    When you hear the nickname "Lil' Nog" it's easy to be misled. Though he is the smaller of the Nogueira brothers in stature, he is just as big when it comes to prestige.

    Antonio Rogeio Nogueira is not content to live in the shadow of his larger twin brother, Rodrigo, but looks to make a name for himself. He has done so with more than just a solid grasp of BJJ, but a high level of boxing. You see, Lil' Nog is also an accomplished amateur boxer with a number of championships under his belt to prove it.

    Bringing the focus back to MMA, Rogerio is a tough fight for any man on the planet. He's submitted Dan Henderson, TKO'd Alistair Overeem and beat him by decision as well, KO'd Vladimir Matyushenko and Luiz Cane. On top of that, he showed his ability to hang strong with the best light heavyweights in the world in his fight against Mauricio Rua where he was able to seriously damage and rock Rua throughout the fight.

    Like his brother, Lil' Nog is always a tough test for any opponent. What ever fighter he encounters he brings a laundry list of skills and accomplishments to the table that are hard to deal with for any opponent.

Number 8: Junior dos Santos

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    In his short time in the UFC, dos Santos has already made an impact. He's knocked out Gilbery Yvel, Stefan Struve, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Fabricio Werdum, forced Cro Cop into verbal submission, and then turned Roy Nelson into a punching bag en route to a unanimous decision.

    He is a menace standing up and the only reason we don't talk about his ground game is because nobody has been able to get him to the ground yet. At 26-years-old he's already one of the sport's best fighters; just imagine where he'll be at in five years.

Number 7: Fabricio Werdum

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    Vai Cavallo! Fabricio Werdum is one of the most underrated fighters to ever compete in any fight organization. He is a two-time and also the most recent ADCC heavyweight grappling champion and is training out of Chute Boxe to round out his skill set.

    Though people point to his win over Fedor Emelianenko, he has been winning quality fights long before his fight with Fedor. Aleksander Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Brandon Vera, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Antonio Silva have all fallen to the skill of Werdum.

    With his win over Fedor, Werdum is finally getting the respect he deserves as one of the best fighters the world has to offer. He has a wide skill set that is ever-expanding as he grows, trains and learns. Fedor is not the end of Werdum, but only the beginning.

Number 6: Lyoto Machida

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    Karate practitioners rejoice! Lyoto Machida has developed one of the world's most beloved martial arts into a force to be reckoned with in MMA. 

    Machida could've made this list just for his contributions to the Karate world, but he's done more for MMA than introduce a new perspective on Karate. He has managed to find a perfect balance between all aspects of his game. His accuracy is staggering, his BJJ is solid, his striking is explosive, and he is amazingly elusive.

    The main problem when fighting Machida isn't him hitting you, but if you can actually hit him. His style relies heavily on his amazing counter attacks that allow him to confuse, frustrate, and disorient his opponents. When he doesn't feel like striking and countering then he'll just take you down. He has an amazing variety of skills that make predicting his attacks an incredibly difficult job.

    Ask Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans, Tito Ortiz, Sokoudjou or Rich Franklin how hard it is to deal with Machida. Machida epitomizes what a great martial artist should try and be.

Number 5: Jose Aldo

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    Though he has just recently become a fixture in the United States, he has done so by showing an amount of skill that is hard to comprehend.

    Jose Aldo is an anomaly in the world of MMA. He just seems too good to be true. Since his sole loss to Luciano Azevedo (which Aldo was winning in the first round) nobody has been able to expose any form of weakness in him. He has literally been nothing short of spectacular since coming to the WEC and has made every one of his opponents suffer.

    Most recently he pummeled Manny Gamburyan unconscious after battering Urijah Faber for five rounds and TKOing Mike Brown. Before that he took out Cub Swanson with a flying double knee...yes, he jumped and kneed him in the head twice before he hit the ground, thus knocking him unconscious.

    Long story short, Aldo is that good. I have a feeling if I compiled this list in two years he'd be at least number two.

Number 4: Wanderlei Silva

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    Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva is known as the most violent and exciting fighter in the history of MMA. Take that in for a while. He is the most violent cage-fighter ever.

    More than just being violent, Wanderlei is talented. In Pride, his reign as middleweight champion was legendary. He went on an 18-fight win-streak which saw him TKO and KO Rampage Jackson on two separate occasions, do the same to Kazushi Sakuraba on three separate occasions, KO Guy Mezger, headstomp Yuki Kondo unconscious and pummel Dan Henderson for a unanimous decision win.

    Wanderlei didn't lose in Pride until he stepped in to fight a fighter who outweighed him by over 80 pounds. Wanderlei comes into the ring ready to seek and destroy. Every single fight the man has been in he has had one goal, knock out the competition. More often than not, he's been successful at it too.

Number 3: Mauricio Rua

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    The current UFC Light heavyweight champion is truly one of the greatest Brazilian fighters of all time. There isn't much left to say about him that hasn't already been covered recently, but I'll hit on a few points.

    Shogun is a devastating fighter. He has put way Rampage Jackson, Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, Kevin Randleman, Ricardo Arona and Alistair Overeem twice. The only two wins he has that ever went to the judges were against tough fighters in Kazuhiro Nakamura and Rogerio Nogueira.

    Shogun's skill is based in some of the best Muay Thai this side of Thailand. His kicks and knees are incredibly powerful and his punches aren't exactly light. Try to take him down and he'll get up. Try to stand with him and he'll knock you out. Now that he is overcoming some of his harsher medical problems, he is primed to continue on with his winning ways.

Number 2: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

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    What can I say, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is my favorite person in the history of mankind, second to Jesus.

    Every win and loss on his record has been drenched in blood, sweat and tears. Some might rely on striking, others on grappling, but Nogueira relies more on his amazing resilience and heart than anything else. He's been literally powerbombed and continued fighting. He's been rocked repeatedly and kept fighting. He's been defeated, but never broken.

    He showed his heart in wins against Bob Sapp, Mirko Cro Cop, Tim Sylvia, Josh Barnett, and Fabricio Werdum. He showed even more in his losses to Fedor Emelianenko. Nogueira is number two because in heart and spirit he is number one.

    Nobody can ever take away the fact that Minotauro has more fighting spirit than any fighter to ever step on this Earth. If you don't agree, I don't care. I'll admit it...I'm really biased towards my favorite fighter, but who isn't?

Number 1: Anderson Silva

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    Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter of all time. Period.

    I am thoroughly convinced that since cavemen first began bonking each other on the head with sticks, no man has ever fought as well as Anderson Silva.

    I'm not going to waste a lot of time on this because we all know what he's done: beat everybody. He has taken on everybody put in front of him in the most highly competitive MMA organization in the world and beaten them thoroughly. Dan Henderson, Nate Marquardt, Forrest Griffin, James Irvin, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen, Rich Franklin twice, Chirs Leben, and he proves time and time again he is the best.

    He can knock you out, he can submit you, he can take all the punishment you can dish out and more. Anderson Silva is the Energizer Rabbit of MMA. He keeps winning and it seems like he'll keep going and going and going.

    He's beaten the best, he trains with the best, and he is the best.

    Thank you Brazil for Anderson Silva, your greatest contribution to the world of fighting.

The End / Return of Freeman!!!

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    I probably hurt some feelings in this article so let me know what's up. What did I do right? Wrong? What could I do better? How would you have arranged the list? How do feel about Morgan Freeman's stance on drug use?

    Hope you enjoyed! Comment to appease the Freeman!

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