Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant...these names are synonymous with being the greatest basketball players of all time.
Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Tom Brady...a list of football players who have dominated the gridiron for years.
In baseball, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Nolan Ryan come to mind as the best baseball players to step foot on the diamond.
But what makes an athlete great?
To me, being great is a combination of individual accolades, championships won, performance impact within their respective sport and global influence directly attributed to that athlete.
Mixed martial arts has been blessed with various elite fighters. But which of these MMA champions have been great based on these specific criteria I have demonstrated? And where does current UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre fit into the list of all-time greats?
"Like" me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/#!/pages/UFC-Insights/120855894642204
Follow me on Twitter @magnus06
A nine-time UFC welterweight champion, Matt Hughes is a hall of fame fighter within the octagon. With 45 victories and eight losses to his record, Hughes has relied on his wrestling foundation to be competitive within the cage for over a decade.
His rivalries with BJ Penn, Georges St-Pierre and Matt Serra have created some explosive and awe-inspiring fights within the division.
As a champion, he successfully defended his title seven times.
Love him or hate him, Matt Hughes' MMA resume is remarkable. Hughes' evolution from a wrestler to a balanced mixed martial artist with stand-up skills and jiu-jitsu talent has laid the groundwork for many successful fighters to follow.
The current Dream lightweight champion is also the No. 5 ranked lightweight in the world by Sherdog.com. Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and is known worldwide for his grappling accolades.
Fighting since 2003, this Japanese star has a 26-5 overall MMA record. Shinya has faced off against the world’s top lightweights, including Gilbert Melendez, Joachim Hansen, Eddie Alvarez and Gesias Cavalcante.
Realizing that Aoki is neither undefeated as a fighter nor is he the top lightweight in the world, how can he be on this list? He has suffered losses to Melendez, the current Strikeforce lightweight champion, as well as two losses to Japanese sensation Hayato Sakurai.
Rising to fame in the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championships, Aoki’s celebrity status in the Far East is of epic proportions. The Japanese public loves mixed martial arts and elevates the combatants to god-like status.
Most recently, Aoki competed in a grappling exhibition versus arguably the greatest fighter on the planet, Fedor Emelianenko. Forced to tap out at the end of a period, Shinya’s fame within the Far East rocketed past any current Japanese fighter.
With the purchase of Pride FC by the UFC, there is no longer a pipeline to the talent that exists in Japan. Shinya Aoki is that pipeline. Not only is he the current Dream lightweight champion, but he continues to dominate within the jiu-jitsu community worldwide, catapulting him to the forefront of discussion as the current ambassador of mixed martial arts to Japan.
Additionally, Aoki’s battle with Melendez at Strikeforce Nashville in April 2010 introduced the Japanese star to the millions of American mixed martial arts fanatics.
Even though Shinya Aoki is not the top-ranked lightweight fighter in the world, his tremendous abilities within the cage, direct influence in mixed martial arts within Japan itself as well as his global impact due to his meteoric rise in popularity is testament to the No. 9 position on this list.
At 5'6" and 145 pounds, this former WEC champion dominated the featherweight division for more than four years.
With a 24-4 overall record, Faber holds the record for most consecutive title defenses within the WEC with five.
A collegiate wrestler with an aggressive stand-up game, Urijah would lay it all out on the line within the octagon. Always an exciting and unorthodox fighter, Faber's high-level pace during his fights would leave fans speechless and wanting more of the "California Kid."
Because of his success and dominance at 145 pounds, Urijah created a fan following that could not go unnoticed by the WEC and now the UFC.
His refusal to compete at 155 pounds forced MMA to establish a featherweight class, opening the door for many talented fighters, including the current champion, Jose Aldo.
In addition to his success within the octagon, Faber is a marketing gem. Good looking, athletic, charismatic and a very gifted ultimate fighter, Urijah's fame and influence has provided him with a variety of large corporate sponsorships including AMP Energy drink and, most recently, K Swiss.
Even with his recent defeat to Aldo, Urijah Faber was monumental in introducing the sport of mixed martial arts to the featherweight division.
Combining his influence within the octagon with his marketability and fan following outside of the cage, Urijah Faber has proven himself to be an influential champion and worthy of his No. 8 ranking as one of the all-time greats of mixed martial arts.
For over 14 years, Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva has fought one way: aggressive, balls to the wall, unrelenting and without fear or remorse for the opposition.
Combining street brawling with muay thai, kick boxing and jiu-jitsu, Wanderlei's aggressive style has earned him a reputation fitting of his nickname as well as various championships over the years.
The Pride middleweight champion from 2001-06, "The Axe Murderer" successfully defended his title in some of the greatest mixed martial art battles of all time. Rivalries with Kazushi Sakuraba and Quinton Jackson would fill the 42,000-seat Tokyo Dome to capacity.
In addition to his accolades within Pride Fighting Championships, Wanderlei's legendary matchup with former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell earned the duo the Fight of the Year award for their clash on December 29, 2007.
Also, Silva's knockout of Keith Jardine on May 24, 2008 earned Wanderlei the Knockout of the Year award.
Wanderlei Silva's aggressive fighting approach and subsequent success within mixed martial arts laid the foundation for a highly skilled and extremely tenacious style of fighting that was the groundwork for the Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil.
Subsequent fighters who spawned from Wanderlei's style include Gabriel Gonzaga, Thiago Silva and Mauricio Rua, the current UFC light heavyweight champion.
Wanderlei's reach is global and he recently brought his unique style of fighting here to the United States, opening up an MMA facility in Las Vegas.
Silva's individual accomplishments coupled with the multitude of fighters who followed in his footsteps is why "The Axe Murderer" is No. 7 on my list.
Rated the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world by Sherdog.com, Anderson "The Spider" Silva has dominated the UFC middleweight division since he won the title in 2006 at UFC 64.
With an undefeated UFC record and a 27-4 MMA record, "The Spider" has been injecting fear into the hearts of his opponents through his unorthodox, yet highly effective striking since 2000.
With 13 consecutive wins in the UFC, Silva holds the longest winning streak specific to UFC-sanctioned promotions. Defeating high-caliber fighters including Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Forrest Griffin, Anderson also holds the record for most consecutive title defenses in UFC history with seven.
The recipient of numerous Knockout of the Night, Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night awards, "The Spider's" fight game is extremely dynamic and, until recently with a comeback victory over Sonnen, was not tested in the octagon.
Every fight fan knows the name Anderson Silva. The path of destruction he has laid is undeniable. He is truly the most decorated middleweight champion in UFC history.
Recently, Anderson's lackluster approach to his recent title defenses have many experts wondering if Silva remains motivated and focused on his MMA career. A change in his fighting style has alienated many fans and has left the UFC management questioning his heart and drive to compete.
However, even though he has not fought up to expectations recently, Anderson Silva is still the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and his global dominance within the middleweight division cannot be rivaled.
Emelianenko had been widely considered the best heavyweight fighter in the world for the last seven years. As of October 27, 2010, Sherdog.com ranks him as the No. 4 fighter in the heavyweight division.
He holds the distinction of having held five separate major championships, including the Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight crown, a title he never lost.
Many analysts, as well as former and current fighters, consider Emelianenko to be the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.
Until tapping to Fabricio Werdum on June 26, 2010 from a triangle choke, Fedor was considered undefeated with a 32-2 MMA record. The only previous loss of his career occurred after he had been illegally injured and subsequently eliminated from a tournament.
So how does the arguably best fighter on the planet not be No. 1 on this list? That answer lies in the global marketability of Fedor Emelianenko. First, his management team, M-1 Global, has had combative discussions with UFC and its president, Dana White.
Because the two entities do not see eye to eye, Fedor has never fought for the UFC. The UFC is the top-ranked promotion in mixed martial arts worldwide and Fedor's absence from the UFC roster limits his exposure to the everyday fan.
Sure, Fedor Emelianenko is known to purists as the top fighter on the planet. But without the ability to fight for the UFC, "The Last Emperor's" media outlets are limited thus prohibiting the Fedor Emelianenko brand within the States.
His disagreements with Dana White and the UFC not only limit his marketability in America, but Fedor's choice of opponents is also diluted. The top heavyweights in MMA are all signed to UFC contracts, including Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez, the current UFC heavyweight champion.
If Fedor Emelianenko continues to hold out from signing with the UFC, he will not face top-rated opponents and subsequently will diminish his value. "To be the best, you have to beat the best," as Ric Flair so eloquently stated. Therefore, the world's best fighter and most destructive force needs to become a part of the UFC roster for his legendary status to maintain past 2011.
Tthe most influential force within mixed martial arts is the Gracie jiu-jitsu system. Made popular by Royce Gracie during the advent of The Ultimate Fighting Championship, Royce's abilities within the octagon revolutionized the sport and introduced a discipline that most Americans had never seen.
Royce's victories over much bigger and stronger opponents through various joint manipulations and choke holds was a sledgehammer to the theory that only the strong survive.
Winning the UFC 1, 2 and 4 tournaments in which anything went and weight classes were not implemented, Gracie won with a jiu-jitsu system that is an aspect of every single fighter's training.
In short, the Gracie family was the creator of mixed martial arts.
Currently retired from competition as a standing member of the UFC Hall of Fame, Royce's global impact and influence is still at an all-time high. He is known worldwide for his success within the octagon and the sport of jiu-jitsu has catapulted since the beginning days of the UFC.
Because Royce is retired from the sport and no longer competes in MMA, he is not higher on my list of all-time greats.
But without a doubt, his victories during the first years of this beloved sport reinvented what we today watch and hold so dear for each and every pay per view.
Randy "The Natural" Couture
At 47 years old, Randy Couture has competed in mixed martial arts for nearly 14 years. A highly decorated collegiate and Olympic wrestler, Randy's Greco-Roman background is his foundation of talent within the octagon.
The first fighter to hold championships within two weight classes, "The Natural" has been a formidable threat within the UFC's heavyweight and light heavyweight division for nearly a decade.
A three-time heavyweight champion, a two-time light heavyweight champion, a UFC tournament winner and a Hall of Fame fighter, Randy Couture's resume within the octagon speaks for itself.
In addition to these amazing accolades, Couture also possesses the most championship reigns in UFC history with six, most championship fights in UFC history with 15, as well as numerous fight and fighter of the year awards.
Outside of the octagon, Randy Couture's global mystique enabled a smooth transition onto the big screen. With film and television credits dating back to 2003, Randy's UFC dominance has made him a worldwide sensation for millions of adoring fans.
Couture's trilogy of fights versus Chuck Liddell were monumental in drawing millions of new fans to the sport of mixed martial arts. In addition to capitalizing on enhancing the sport's popularity, the combination of Couture and Liddell earned millions of dollars for the UFC in pay-per-view buys, ticket sales, merchandise as well as launching the UFC into American homes.
Randy's individual success and global impact and influence make him worthy of being No. 3 on this list.
Possessing a 21-8 MMA record, Chuck was crowned the UFC light heavyweight champion at UFC 52 after a vicious knockout of fellow Hall of Fame member Randy Couture.
Defending his title successfully on four separate occasions, "The Iceman" dominated the light heavyweight division for almost two years.
A long-standing rivalry with former training partner and friend Tito Ortiz laid the foundation for an epic duo of battles within the octagon. Knocking out Tito in both fights, the world gravitated towards their hatred of one another and millions of new UFC fans were born. Their saga produced some of the highest pay-per-view buy records in UFC history.
Besides Chuck and Tito's rivalry, Liddell has decisive victories over some of the biggest names in mixed martial arts history, including Vitor Belfort, Jeremy Horn and Wanderlei Silva.
Along with Randy Couture, Chuck is the entity that brought mixed martial arts to millions of homes in America.
Outside of the octagon, "The Iceman's" charisma and global presence transitioned to Hollywood. Acting in a variety of films including "Blade: The Series" as well as HBO's "Entourage," Chuck Liddell is a household name here in the United States and is synonymous with the sport of mixed martial arts.
His worldwide impact on the sport is priceless. Tremendous revenue earned by the UFC for pay-per-view, gate and merchandise sales as well as global exposure are all a result of Liddell's Hall of Fame career within the octagon.
Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell is a deserving choice at No. 2 on my list.
UFC Welterweight Champion, Georges St. Pierre
The No. 1 welterweight in the world and the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter by Sherdog.com, Georges "Rush" St-Pierre is my choice as the all-time best in mixed martial arts based on individual accolades, influence within the sport and global presence.
GSP's presence is not only confined to the United States, but his legendary status is equaled in his home country of Canada. A two-time Canadian athlete of the year, Georges' popularity within the Canadian borders as a sports icon rivals that of Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby.
A two-time UFC welterweight champion with four successful title defenses, GSP's overall MMA record is 20-2. The events in which Georges headlines have a significant pay-per-view buy record as well as very impressive gate sales. GSP's earning potential is a tremendous value to the UFC and the mixed martial arts community in general.
Honored with Fighter of the Year accolades in 2008 and 2009 by various publications, Georges balanced fight game has stifled No. 1 contenders for years.
"Rush" has the ability to defend his championship by beating his opponents at their own game. Winning the ground game against fighters with prolific wrestling background like John Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Sean Sherk or winning in the stand-up game against fighters like Dan Hardy and Thiago Alves, GSP continues to dominate and successfully defend his welterweight championship.
Regardless of the fighting style against GSP, his amazing fighting ability has ensured victories against the world's best welterweights.
Outside of the Octagon, Georges' reach is global. The first mixed martial artist to be signed to a lucrative Forbes 50 corporate contract, GSP is a spokesman for both Under Armour clothing and Gatorade.
St-Pierre's charm and charisma is on display in a commercial for ESPN. Starring in this commercial enhances Georges' presence as a worldwide phenomenon as well as lending credibility to the sport of mixed martial arts and enhancing the UFC brand.
His humble attitude and overwhelming charisma have enabled Georges to air in various television and media outlets.
All combined, Georges St-Pierre is without a doubt the greatest in mixed martial arts history.