The UFC has gone from having 2,800 people in attendance at UFC 1 to 55,000 at UFC 129. From 86,592 pay-per-view buys for the first event to 1.6 million for UFC 100. There were once no rounds, no time limits, and hardly any rules. Since the days that Royce Gracie was submitting people who had no idea what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was, there have been a few fighters that have catapulted the sport to where it is today and will continue to do so in the future.
Anderson Silva comes in at No. 5 simply because he's one of the greatest fighters ever. He's provided fans with such unbelievable moments as his embarrassing knockout of Forrest Griffin and his front-kick knockout of Vitor Belfort.
Whether you like Anderson or not, he changed the UFC the moment he knocked out Chris Leben in his debut by displaying a new level of technical striking that no one can hold a candle to. He's gone 13-0 in the UFC and has defended his middleweight title a record eight consecutive times.
However, "The Spider" is also known for his less than stellar performances against Demian Maia, Thales Leites, and Patrick Cote. The only reason why he isn't higher on this list is because of his occasional inconsistency and inability to truly win over the North American fan base.
Despite being just 19-11, Randy Couture has a storied UFC career and put on some of the most memorable performances in UFC history. Whether its due to his dismantling of Tito Ortiz, Tim Sylvia, or Gabriel Gonzaga, all in championship fights, "The Natural" has garnered one of the largest following of any fighter out there. It also doesn't hurt that he's been considered "too old" for the majority of his career.
He's a five-time UFC champion. He's been in 15 championship fights. He's the first fighter to hold a UFC championship in two weight classes. He coached the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. He's in the UFC Hall of Fame.
"Captain America" doesn't have the knockouts or the years of dominance, but he's one of the most well-respected men to have fought in a cage for a living and a true ambassador for the sport.
Forrest Griffin has had an extremely inconsistent career. He's choked out Shogun Rua and took down Rampage Jackson to win the light-heavyweight title.
He's also been finished by Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans, and Anderson Silva.
However, he'll always have a job with the UFC for his bloodbath with Stephan Bonnar during The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale. He brought in an entire new wave of fans because of his performance and the UFC will forever be indebted to him.
How many fighters would be able to make an appearance on Entourage and also be on Dancing with the Stars and actually get recognized? Maybe it's his signature look or maybe it's the years he spent knocking people out, but Chuck Liddell is not only one of the most recognized fighters ever, he's one of the most important.
"The Iceman," at one point, had a 14-1 run in the UFC with 11 of those wins coming by knockout or TKO. He has multiple knockouts over Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Babalu Sobral. Along with Couture, he coached the first season of The Ultimate Fighter and is also in the Hall of Fame. His second fight with Tito Ortiz marked the first time a UFC event ever broke 1 million pay-per-view buys.
Despite losing five of his last six fights and getting knocked out in four of them, Liddell's legacy was cemented years earlier.
This may be a shock to some, but guess why the UFC was able to sell out 55,000 seats at UFC 129. Yes, it was because of GSP. Not only is he extremely dominant, but he's also popular, well-liked, and well-respected.
"Rush" has done commercials for Gatorade, Under Armour, and SportsCenter. His MMA record is just unbelievable at 22-2, with both of his losses being avenged. He is so clearly the best in his weight class that people are pushing him to move up to challenge Anderson Silva.
However, this goes far beyond his skills as a fighter. GSP is the man that will carry the UFC into uncharted territory and will be the face of MMA for years to come.