Without Brazil, there would be no mixed martial arts as we know it today. As an extremely proud and spirited people, the Brazilians have pushed the envelope of one-on-one competition.
In the early 20th century, the Gracie family of Brazil had started adapting Japanese martial arts into their own proprietary system that came to be called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). This system proved more effective than other fighting styles in underground fights in Brazil.
In order to prove their superiority, they started issuing challenges to anyone who would accept. This mentality of challenging others, and themselves, directly led to the development of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the US.
As regulated competition gained popularity, competitors became more well-rounded and dedicated. As the level of competition rose, Brazilians rose to the occasion.
Long known for being perhaps the greatest football (soccer) nation in history, Brazil is also perpetually confirming its reputation for having a collection of the finest mixed martial arts practitioners in the world.
From the development of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the relatively primitive origins of "no rules" vale tudo fights to current world champions, Brazil will forever be ingrained in the culture of mixed martial arts.
Because of this intensely rich fighting culture and history, many honorable and worthy names may not get the full recognition they deserve.
Honorable Mention: There have been tons of amazing fighters to come out of Brazil. Who would you have put on the list (and who would you take out)?
26-32 in no particular order....
Not native born Brazilian...
Cristiane Santos- Arguably the greatest female fighter of all time
“Big Foot” Silva has been competing since 2005 and has racked up an impressive record of 15-2. He is a former Cage Rage heavyweight and super heavyweight champion and Elite XC heavyweight champion.
Silva is notable for his massive size. Suffering from acromegaly, Silva cuts weight to barely squeeze inside the 265-pound heavyweight limit. Formidable not simply for his size, Silva is a BJJ black belt and devastating striker.
Throughout his career he has defeated considerable opposition, with his biggest victory being a lopsided decision over former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski.
Silva has the biggest fight of his life coming up against the best heavyweight in the young history of the sport, Fedor Emelienenko.
The fight takes place in the first round of the highly notable Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix tournament. If Silva wins, expect his name and career trajectory to get shot into stardom.
Renzo is perhaps the proudest representative of the Gracie name to the MMA world. A sixth-degree BJJ black belt, Renzo is a master and mentor to a number notable current fighters, and a professional competitor himself since the early 90s.
Renzo famously fought in PRIDE FC against Japanese star Kazushi Sakuraba in 2000. Sakuraba yanked Gracie in a tight kimura arm lock but the proud Brazilian refused to tap.
The referee was forced to stop the fight when Gracie’s arm was grotesquely dislocated at the elbow joint.
One of the most regarded and accomplished BJJ competitors, Demian Maia translated his technical mastery of the martial art into a successful MMA career.
He has won the “submission of the night” award four times in the UFC and even challenged Anderson Silva for the middleweight championship in 2010.
Considered by some to be the most skillful ground fighter in the UFC, Maia continues to evolve as a fighter and has overcome his two losses to become a more dedicated and formidable overall MMA competitor.
With his several high-profile wins in the UFC, Demian Maia remains one of the top-ranked middleweights in the world.
Souza is like Maia in that he is one of the more accomplished BJJ competitors who has successfully transitioned into MMA at the highest levels.
Souza’s nickname “Jacare” is the name of a Brazilian crocodile and references his tight clenching grappling style and ability to smother opponents.
A prominent fighter in Japan’s DREAM organization, Souza then moved to the American Strikeforce organization and is currently their reigning middleweight champion.
One of the top-ranked welterweight fighters in the world, Alves is 10-4 in the UFC and still a relatively young fighter.
He is a devastating Muay Thai kickboxer who is always looking for the knockout. Composed and focused in his fights, Alves is a prototype for the modern professional MMA fighter.
Training out of one of the best gyms in the world, Alves is always developing his grappling to supplement his strikes and take his game to the next level.
During a seven-fight win streak, Alves beat no fewer than three top-10 ranked fighters en route to a title shot against Georges St-Pierre.
Alves would lose a decision to St-Pierre, but vows to someday hold the world title.
Older brother of superstar Mauricio Rua, Murilo is an accomplished and respected fighter in his own right.
Murilo was the first ever Elite XC middleweight champion, but is probably best known for his wars in the PRIDE Fighting Championship organization.
Often competing against fighters much larger than himself, Rua represented Brazil with his incredible fighting spirit, and he earned respect from spectators all across the globe.
Vale Tudo roughly means “no rules” and was a free-form fighting phenomenon in Brazil well before “mixed martial arts” became a recognized combat sport.
Famous for his style in Vale Tudo, Ruas was a pioneer in early MMA for his considerable competency in both standing striking and grappling.
With his hybrid style, Ruas dominated early competitions and set an example for future Brazilian fighters.
In 1995, Ruas won the UFC 7 tournament.
A dangerous striker and very dangerous grappler, Bustamante was considered one of the best middleweights in the world for his battles in the UFC and PRIDE organizations.
In 2001, Bustamante won the UFC middleweight championship by knocking out then-champion Dave Menne.
A year later, he defended the belt against highly regarded and previously unbeaten Matt Lindland. Bustamante won the fight by submission but then vacated the title to fight for PRIDE.
In PRIDE, Bustamante made it to the finals of their 183-pound Grand Prix in 2005 but lost an incredibly close split-decision to Dan Henderson.
Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro is an extremely accomplished grappler and BJJ black belt who was a top-ranked lightweight for several years in the mid-2000s.
From 2001-2004, Ribeiro defeated such competition as Joachim Hansen, Mitsuhiro Ishida, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and Ivan Menjivar before losing his first fight in a rematch to Kawajiri.
He then when on another incredible streak, accumulating nine straight wins in a row before losing to Gesias Cavalcante in the K-1 Heroes 2007 Middleweight Grand Prix finals.
Ribeiro was recognized as an MMA world champion in Japan’s Shooto organization and Britain’s Cage Rage organization.
In recent years, Ribeiro has stumbled against top competition, but at 31 years old, he may not be past making a comeback to the world’s elite.
A talented and powerful grappler, Ricardo Arona was one of the Brazilians to rise to fame during the height of the PRIDE Fighting Championships. With wins over some of the biggest names in MMA, Arona became one of the highest rated fighters in the world.
In 2007, Arona lost to Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in a monumental upset. Arona claimed to have been suffering from severe fever during the fight.
Since the upset, Arona has only competed once. Talks have gone in and out about the star’s potential return to fighting. If Arona gets his fighting spirit back, fans hope to see the former star find his way to a UFC contract.
A master of many styles, Lyoto Machida is the son of a Japanese Shotokan Karate master who migrated to Brazil.
Karate is Lyoto’s greatest strength and he started off his MMA career on an impressive 16-0 streak, which saw him win the UFC light heavyweight championship and then defend it, albeit the defense was a controversial decision.
Machida lost his last fight by way of split decision and is still one of the top contenders for the title. He will face the legendary Randy Couture in his next fight.
Lyoto will look to rebound from his recent loss and reclaim his position as not only a threat to the championship title, but as one of the preeminent Brazilians competing in MMA today.
Going 16-0 from 2000-2007 and fighting through tough competition in the PRIDE and WEC organizations, Paulo Filho was one of the best middleweights in the world.
He fought to the finals of the 2006 PRIDE 183-pound tournament but withdrew due to injury, then moved to the WEC and became the WEC middleweight champion.
No one knows how great his legacy could have grown because Filho unfortunately started suffering from depression and medication abuse.
Filho still fights and defeats tough competition, but it seems dubious that he will someday gain back the mental edge to match his physical abilities.
Under the guidance and mentorship of Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera, Junior Dos Santos has already become one of the most notable Brazilian heavyweights of all time at just 26 years old.
Dos Santos went 6-1 before joining the UFC and has since gone 6-0 against some of the best in the world. Winning most of his fights by knockout, Dos Santos has arguably not lost a round since joining the world’s premiere MMA organization.
His unbeaten streak in the UFC includes impressive performances against stars like Roy Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga, Mirko Filipovic and Fabricio Werdum.
Because of how fast his name is growing, Dos Santos was selected to coach against Brock Lesnar for the next season of the very popular TV show ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ At the end of the season he will fight Lesnar in a huge heavyweight matchup.
A win would propel him to new levels of stardom, while a loss would be a temporary setback to the young fighter’s career.
Twin brother to Rodrigo Noguiera, Rogério is a little bit smaller and a little bit less accomplished than his famous brother.
He does not have the championships that Rodrigo does, but he brings the same skill set to the fight and has beaten the toughest of competition.
The list of Rogerio’s notable victims include Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba, Guy Mezger, Alistair Overeem twice, and more.
Rogerio is an elite BJJ black belt and champion boxer. At 34 years old and competing for the UFC, he still has some fight left in him.
In conjunction with his brother, Rogerio is a mentor and icon for multiple generations of Brazilian fighters.
Fabricio Werdum is a multiple-time world champion in BJJ. A standout fighter in PRIDE, the UFC, and now Strikeforce, Werdum has long been considered one of the top heavyweight competitors in MMA.
After coming up short every few fights against top competition, Werdum finally came into his own by defeating the legendary Fedor Emelienenko and ending the Russian’s unprecedented heavyweight tear.
With his upcoming bout against Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem in the heavyweight Grand Prix, Werdum has a chance to build off of his significant momentum and perhaps solidify himself as one of the greatest heavyweights to ever compete in MMA.
At just 24 years old, Aldo has already climbed the ranks to be considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world today.
After going 10-1, the featherweight star started his rise to prominence in the WEC organization in 2008. He smashed the competition en route to a championship victory and two title defenses before the organization was absorbed by the UFC.
Heralded as the first-ever UFC Featherweight champion, Aldo looks to defend his belt and remain a key player in the UFC roster as they head into a new era of prosperity.
Sobral was a Vale Tudo veteran who began representing Brazil internationally in 1999 by competing in the stacked Rings-King of Kings tournament.
He would ultimately lose a close decision to superstar Dan Henderson in the tournament final, but would continue competing at the elite international level for the next 10 years.
A dangerous striker and submission fighter, Sobral has taken out some big names en route to 36 career victories.
In 2006, Sobral lost a big title fight to legendary UFC champion Chuck Liddell. Sobral came into that fight coming off of an outstanding three-year, 10-fight winning streak.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Pedro Rizzo was one of the biggest names in Brazilian MMA and one of the biggest names in the UFC, period.
A brutal striker and perpetual contender to the heavyweight championship, Rizzo defeated such legendary fighters as Josh Barnett, Dan Severn, Mark Coleman, Andrei Arlovski and Ricco Rodriguez.
Although Rizzo stays competitive to this day, his early wars in the UFC are what made him a fan favorite and cemented his legendary status in the sport.
"The Phenom" burst onto the MMA scene in 1997 as a 19-year old prodigy. With a BJJ black belt and some of the best knockout power the sport has ever seen, Vitor has been competing at the highest levels of competition throughout his career.
He is a legend for wreaking havoc in the UFC at such a young age and he has used that notoriety to become a humble and conscientious ambassador for the sport.
Vitor has defeated several notable fighters, including devastating first-round knockouts over the likes of Marvin Eastman, Matt Lindland, Rich Franklin and Wanderlei Silva.
Although his adoring fans can get frustrated with his inconsistency, Vitor always has the potential of putting on an explosive performance that other fighters are just not capable of.
Fighting alongside Wanderlei Silva out of Brazil’s famous Chute Boxe academy during the height of PRIDE FC, Rua became fast rising superstar.
Rua was the champion of the famously stacked Pride 205-pound Grand Prix tournament in 2005. Overall he went 12-1 in PRIDE with his one loss coming by way of an unfortunate injury. He entered the UFC in 2007 considered by most to be the top light heavyweight in the world.
He would stumble in his first UFC fight, but made an inspiring comeback to claim the UFC light heavyweight championship and is now the reigning champion.
An all time great in the 205-pound division, with a deep résumé, Rua is one of the most dynamic, exciting, and dangerous Brazilians ever to strap on a pair of MMA gloves.
One of the very rare ‘red belts,’ Rickson Gracie is the most revered BJJ fighter of all time amongst fellow fighters. The legendary Royce Gracie once said of his half-brother, “Rickson is 10 times better than me. He’s the only one who can beat everybody.”
With a professional record that lists him at only 11-0, Rickson claims to have gone undefeated over the course of several hundred matches.
Although considered by most to be an inflated number in regards to legitimate competition, Rickson’s status and accomplishments remain akin to mythical proportions.
One of the more notable Brazilians competing in the late 90s, Wanderlei Silva came up short against Tito Ortiz in their fight for the UFC light heavyweight championship in 2000.
From there he went to the PRIDE organization and would not lose again in over four years in one of the most legendary runs in the history of the sport.
He became the PRIDE 205-pound champion in 2001 and also won the 205-pound Grand Prix tournament in 2003.
Throughout PRIDE, he defeated the legendary Kazushi Sakuraba three times and also picked up big wins against Hidehiko Yoshida, Ricardo Arona, Dan Henderson, Guy Mezger, and two absolutely brutal knockouts of Quinton Jackson.
With his entertaining fighting style and love for the fans, Silva is revered as one of the biggest international icons in MMA.
He does not dominate the sport like he used to, but Wanderlei Silva is still competing at the highest levels in the UFC today.
Not simply one of the greatest Brazilians, he is one of the greatest light heavyweights to ever compete and one of the greatest fighters of all time, period.
Regarded by many as the second greatest heavyweight of all time. Facing top competition his entire career, Nogueira has fought nearly exclusively in the Rings organization, PRIDE FC, and now the UFC.
Since beginning in 1999, Rodrigo Nogueira has compiled an astounding record of 32-6-1.
Nogueira was a heavyweight champion in PRIDE and an interim heavyweight champion in the UFC, making him the only man to hold championship belts in both organizations.
A symbol and testament for his ability to overcome adversity, Nogueira was run over by a truck as a boy, but recovered to become a world class athlete.
Known earlier in his career for being able to withstand significant punishment in his fights, Nogueira's body appears to not hold up to his old standards anymore.
Now recovering from surgery on both his hips, fight fans all over the world are hoping to see a rejuvenated Nogueira perform his magic again.
Beloved universally, Rodrigo Nogueira is an all-time legend in the sport and a source of inspiration for fighters across the globe.
Anderson Silva is the most dominant champion in UFC history.
Devoted to perfecting himself and his fighting, Anderson has grown into the preeminent fighter of the sport despite a withdrawn and sometimes controversial public persona.
Famously setting records and going undefeated since joining the UFC in 2006, Silva was actually one of the most accomplished fighters even before stepping foot in 'the octagon.'
Originally a welterweight fighter, Anderson took out top ranked 170-pound fighters Carlos Newton and previously undefeated legend Hayato Sakurai.
Other notable victims across various divisions included Roan Carneiro, Alex Stiebling, Jeremy Horn, Lee Murray and Jorge Rivera.
Being a champion in the Cage Rage and Shooto organizations, Anderson Silva would have been one of the best Brazilians of all time without becoming a UFC champion.
Now that he is a record-breaking UFC champion, Anderson's legacy as one of the best fighters of all time is secure. Only time will tell if he is regarded as the best fighter that anybody has ever seen.
Royce Gracie is the most influential fighter in the development of modern MMA. The UFC was founded as a means of showing the superiority of the Gracie family's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu over other fighting styles, and Royce was the chosen fighter to demonstrate that.
Not simply a pioneer and an icon, Royce Gracie is also a legend for dominating the sport and going 11-0-1 in the UFC from 1993-1995.
The proud Gracie also battled in the most epic fight of modern MMA's history. In 2000, Gracie fought Kazushi Sakuraba in a PRIDE FC bout with modified rules. The rules stipulated an indefinite number of 15-minute rounds and no referee stoppages.
Royce and Sakuraba fought each other for a mind-blowing 90 minutes. As the fight wore deeper and deeper, Sakuraba's conditioning proved superior and Royce's corner was eventually forced to throw in the towel due to accumulated damage.
Royce is a red belt and honored as a master of BJJ. The legacy of Gracie family Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lives in the daily training of all fighters around the world, thanks to Royce Gracie and the UFC.