MMA: Greatest Strikers and Submission Artists in Each Division Past and Present
Who are the greatest fighters in MMA? Some will say Anderson Silva, others will say Georges St.-Pierre and others will say Fedor Emelianenko. The fact of the matter is, we will never be able to come to an agreement as to who is the best.
However, we can break it down into categories. For example, who is the best striker or submission artist?
In this list I have tried to assemble the greatest fighters in each of these two categories, in history and in the present, and in the division they fought in.
In some cases, only one name will appear in that division. This is because that fighter will go down as the greatest striker or submission artist in that division and is still an active fighter today.
So without further ado, we start with the greatest submission artists in the game.
Bantamweight (History): Masakazu Imanari
MMA Record: 23-8-2
Wins by submission: 14
Imanari has fought at bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight.
Imanari is one of the greatest submission artists ever and is a master of leg locks.
He is also one of the most entertaining fighters to watch. He has accumulated wins with an impressive variation of submissions which include moves that most fighters wouldn't even think of trying. These include flying armbars and omoplata neck cranks.
Bantamweight (Present): Miguel Torres
MMA Record: 39-4
Wins by submission: 23
At only 30 years old, Torres has more fights under his belt than most fighters who are years older than him.
He is a black belt under Carlson Gracie Jr. and is comfortable fighting from the guard and from the top position.
He has a wide array of moves in his arsenal including arm-bars and guillotines; this is what helped to him become the champion in World Extreme Cagefighting.
Featherweight (History): Hatsu Hioki
MMA Record: 24-4-2
Wins by submission: 12
Hioki may only be 27, but he is already a legend of Shooto and Sengoku. In exciting news, he has just been signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Hioki is ranked by very highly by many critics and you can expect him to fight Jose Aldo very soon.
He is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist and is comfortable fighting off his back in the top position, making him a dangerous fighter to take to the ground in any position.
Featherweight (Present): Jung Chan-Sung
MMA Record: 11-3
Wins by submission: 7
"The Korean Zombie" may only be a blue belt in BJJ, but he has pulled off one of the most impressive submissions that fighters who are more qualified in BJJ would struggle to perform.
"The Twister," made famous by Eddie Bravo, was executed for the first time in the UFC and one of the first times ever in all of MMA by Chan-Sung.
The submission is likely to be submission of the year and probably one of the greatest submissions ever performed in MMA.
However, this isn't the only reason he makes this list. Chan-Sung has made a name for himself by being a big threat to his opponents on the ground. He has a great skill set and knowledge of BJJ despite holding a only blue belt.
Lightweight: Shinya Aoki
MMA Record: 28-5-1
Wins by submission: 16
Shinya Aoki is a black belt in both BJJ and Judo. This is a great combination of martial arts in order to have a phenomenal grappling and ground game.
Aoki has never been submitted in his 34 bouts and is arguably one of the greatest practitioners of BJJ in MMA. There is no one that can come close to competing with Aoki's ground game in this division.
Aoki is know for his flexibility, and it is this attribute that allows him to be a threat from nearly every position on the ground.
He has pulled of some amazing moves which include a standing armlock, a hammerlock, a flying triangle choke and even a gogoplata from the mount.
Welterweight (History): Royce Gracie
MMA Record: 14-2-3
Wins by submission: 12
This is the man that started it all.
Royce Gracie was the man that submitted opponents nearly twice his size in UFC 1 and therefore put Brazilian jiu-jitsu on the map.
He changed the sport of MMA forever and let the world know that BJJ is a very effective and efficient system.
He is one of the most important figures, not just in MMA, but in all of martial arts and is one of the most iconic and inspirational fighters in history.
Welterweight (Present): Jake Shields
MMA Record: 26-5-1
Wins by submission: 10
Shields is a disciple of Cesar Gracie and trains alongside the Diaz brothers and Gilbert Melendez.
Shields can fight from the guard but looks to sweep and maintain a top position where he is more comfortable fighting.
He has won championships in Strikeforce, Elite XC, Shooto and has won the welterweight tournament in Rumble on the Rock, as well as winning a bronze medal at the prestigious Abu Dhabi Combat Club championships.
Middleweight (History): Kazushi Sakuraba
MMA Record: 26-14-1(2)
Wins by submission: 19
One of the most important things that you need to know about the Gracie family is that they do not tap out.
In Sakuraba's bout with Renzo Gracie, Sakuraba somehow managed to lock on a kimura, and Renzo refused to tap. This lead to the referee to stop the bout and award the win to Sakuraba via TKO.
However, Renzo is not the only Gracie that Sakuraba has managed to beat. He has beaten four of them, and this has lead to people giving him the nickname of the "Gracie Hunter".
This wrestler is one of the most iconic figures in MMA and is a very talented submission artist.
Middleweight (Present): Demian Maia
MMA Record: 14-3
Wins by submission: 8
Maia is a highly accomplished practitioner of jiu-jitsu.
He is a world champion at the very prestigious ADCC Submission Wrestling Championships, where some of the biggest names in MMA have competed.
Chael Sonnen and Nate Quarry have fallen victim to Maia's incredible ground game.
Light Heavyweight (History): Ken Shamrock
MMA Record: 28-15
Wins by submission: 23
Ken Shamrock has been in the MMA circuit from the inception of the UFC and Pancrase back in 1993.
We will all agree that Shamrock is not the fighter he was in the 1990s and early 2000s, as it was in that time period that he became known as "The World's Most Dangerous Man" and the greatest fighter in the world.
Shamrock was a master of leg locks and is also widely credited for popularizing the ankle lock in the WWE, (it was the WWF when Shamrock competed in wrestling) when he was a professional wrestler.
Light Heavyweight (Present): Roger Gracie
MMA Record: 4-0
Wins by submission: 4
Roger Gracie is one of the best up-and-coming talents in MMA and is already armed with the best BJJ in the division and one of the best ground games in world.
Although he is fairly new to MMA, if you look at his submission grappling record, he has beaten some of the biggest names in MMA.
He has won championships at the highly prestigious ADCC games and in European championships.
He holds a record of 65-7 and has beaten the likes of Jon Olav Einemo, Ronaldo Souza and Fabricio Werdum and he is one of very few men to have ever submitted Shinya Aoki.
Heavyweight (History): Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira
MMA Record: 32-6-1(1)
Wins by submission: 20
Nogueira is the toughest fighter on the planet.
At the age of 9 or 10, Nogueira was run over by a truck and was comatose for quite some time. He lost part of his liver, a rib and many had counted him out.
Many years later, he became one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport.
Nogueira is a highly accomplished practitioner of BJJ and has competed at the ADCC games and CDJJ Pan American games and performed very well.
Nogueira is one of the most talented grapplers and submission artists in the world, holding a black belt in both Judo and jiu-jitsu, and it is the combination of martial arts that has made him a formidable opponent over the years.
He has now formed a camp along with his brother, and he tutors some of the best fighters in the world including Jose Aldo, Junior dos Santos and Anderson Silva.
Heavyweight (History): Fedor Emelianenko
MMA Record: 31-3
Wins by submission: 16
Many believe him to be the greatest fighter that has ever lived.
Fedor is a master of Judo and Sambo and is one of the most complete fighters to ever compete in MMA.
However, it is his ground game that has helped him to beat some of the toughest opponents in MMA.
He has submitted the likes of Mark Coleman, Tim Sylvia and Kevin Randleman.
Heavyweight (Present): Fabricio Werdum
MMA Record: 14-5-1
Wins by submission: 8
Fabricio Werdum is the only man to have ever submitted Fedor Emelianenko, and that in itself is an incredible accomplishment to hold.
Werdum confirmed to the world that Brazilian jiu-jitsu is capable of beating anyone.
Furthermore he is a ADCC and CBJJ veteran having been a champion several times at both games.
He has competed in Pride FC, UFC and Strikeforce and has submitted notable opponents such as both of the Emelianenko brothers.
The Best Strikers in MMA: Past and Present
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
Now that we've got the best submission artists out of the way, it's time for the best strikers.
Bantamweight: Dominick Cruz
MMA Record: 17-1
Wins by (T)KO: 6
Dominick Cruz currently holds the record for the most strikes landed in a WEC event and one of the most strikes landed in any professional MMA bout.
The young star is riding an eight-win streak, with his last loss coming to Urijah Faber. He will hope to avenge that loss when they meet on July 2nd.
Cruz is a boxer who trains with other boxers such as Travis Browne and Alexander Gustafsson.
He is a technical boxer known for his excellent footwork and head movement, which you will see in the video.
Featherweight (History): "Kid" Yamamoto
MMA Record: 18-4
Wins by (T)KO: 13
"Kid" Yamamoto has fought in three different weight classes, so I wasn't sure which division to place him in. I settled with featherweight because that is where he has spent the majority of his career.
Yamamoto is responsible for one of the fastest knockouts in history. Yamamoto managed to sprint to the other side of the ring and throw a flying knee in the space of an unbelievable four seconds. To call him a quick striker would be the understatement of the year.
He has knocked out the likes of Genki Sudo and Rani Yahya and is one of the biggest stars to come out of Japan.
Featherweight (Present): Jose Aldo
MMA Record: 19-1
Wins by T(KO): 12
Jose Aldo trains with Junior dos Santos and Anderson Silva. Is it any surprise that he would be the best striker in his division?
Aldo is a small guy. But he is like C-4: a small package but highly explosive with disastrous consequences.
He has been the kingpin of his division since he won the WEC title in 2009, and no one has been able to take that title away with him.
The likes of Urijah Faber and Mike Brown have all been "disposed" of at the hands of Aldo.
Lightweight (History): Takanori Gomi
MMA Record: 32-7
Wins by (T)KO: 12
Takanori Gomi was once the greatest fighter in the world in his division during his tenure with Pride FC as the lightweight champion.
The boxer, hailing from Japan, has used his striking abilities to knockout the likes of Duane Ludwig, Jens Pulver and Hayato Sakurai.
"The Fireball Kid" is now in the UFC, where he is climbing the ranks in a bid to become a title contender.
Lightweight (Present): BJ Penn
MMA Record: 16-7-2
Wins by (T)KO: 7
BJ Penn is one of the most recognizable figures in the sport of MMA and one of the most decorated champions in history.
He has become famous for his aggressiveness and explosiveness and is one of the greatest lightweights in the history of the sport.
BJ Penn has heavy hands and has been involved in some of the greatest stand-up fights in MMA. He is known to have licked the blood of his opponents from his gloves, and that exemplifies just how scary this man is.
Penn is also an extremely talented practitioner of jiu-jitsu and has won many competition including the Mundial World Championships held in Rio de Janeiro, where he was the first non-Brazilian to win a gold medal in the black belt division.
Welterweight (History): Thiago Alves
MMA Record: 18-8
Wins by (T)KO: 11
"The Pitbull" fights out of American Top Team, which is one of the major camps in MMA.
Alves is a highly ranked welterweight and is a recurring figure in the welterweight title picture.
He is an explosive and aggressive fighter with great knockout power.
His most lethal and feared strike is his leg kick, which when he utilizes with great technique is devastating for his opponents, especially because Alves is a naturally big and powerful fighter.
So far, no one in the welterweight division has shown the same level of skill that Alves has shown.
Welterweight (Present): Nick Diaz
MMA Record: 25-7
Wins by (T)KO: 13
Nick Diaz is the second fighter to appear on this list as a disciple of Cesar Gracie.
The two fighters I had in mind for this spot was Daley and Diaz. I went for Diaz because he knocked out Daley in his last fight.
Nick Diaz is a very unorthodox and unpredictable boxer with a reach of 74 inches. It is this unpredictability and very long reach that make him a very dangerous opponent.
He utilizes the jab effectively and keeps his opponent at a distance, but he isn't afraid to get to the inside.
He has trained with Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward and has expressed his desire to box many times.
Middleweight: Anderson Silva
MMA Record: 28-4
Wins by (T)KO: 17
Anderson Silva is believed to be one of the greatest fighters ever and the best striker ever.
Silva has shown great evasiveness that I can only compare to what I've seen in "The Matrix."
He is a technical fighter and has embarrassed/destroyed opponent after opponent with his superior deadly knees and elbows with incredible pin-point accuracy and precision.
Silva has also expressed his interest in fighting boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. in a boxing match.
The only reason I have not included a slide featuring the "Present" best fighter in the division, is because Anderson is still fighting and will likely be the all-time best striker in the division and possibly of all divisions.
Light Heavyweight (History): Bas Rutten
MMA Record: 28-4-1
Wins by (T)KO: 12
Bas Rutten is a legend in the sport of MMA and is one of the most iconic figures in the sport.
Rutten is a practioner of many martial arts that are based on striking which are Kyokushin (Karate), Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai and kickboxing.
His signature move was the liver shot and he is responsible for the popularization of the strike in MMA.
He has a wide array of strikes in his arsenal and has ended fights via knees to the liver and even palm strikes.
Light Heavyweight (Present): Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
MMA Record: 19-5
Wins by (T)KO: 16
"Shogun" is one of the most feared strikers in history.
He trained with the famous, but now defunct, Chute Boxe Academy which comprised of some of the greatest strikers in history, including Wanderlei Silva and Anderson Silva.
"Shogun" was famous for his lethal skill in all striking, and his utilization of soccer kicks and elbows. He has destroyed the likes of "Rampage" Jackson and Akihiro Gono with his soccer kicks and has beaten many more notable opponents.
Light Heavyweight (Honorable Mention): Melvin Manhoef
MMA Record: 24-9
Wins by (T)KO: 23
Melvin Manhoef is one of the most feared strikers in the world of MMA, having knocked nearly every single one of the opponents he has defeated.
He is a talented kickboxer and Muay Thai practitioner, and he has knocked out the likes of Kazushi Sakuraba and Evangelista Santos and is the only man to have ever knocked out Mark Hunt.
However his ground game is his Achilles' heel, as most of his losses come from there.
The reason he has not made the final cut is because he has not been able to deliver his best performance against top level talent such as Gegard Mousasi or Yoshihiro Akiyama.
Heavyweight (History): Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
MMA Record: 27-9-2
Wins by (T)KO: 20
The man known internationally as "Cro Cop" has sent opponent after opponent to the proverbial cemetery with his left head kick.
The former "Most Outstanding Fighter of the Year" is a legend of K-1, Pride FC and the UFC.
He has been involved in some of the greatest fights in history and has delivered some of the most devastating knockouts you will ever see.
One thing that you notice about "Cro Cop" in either a weigh-in or in a fight, is that his legs are remarkably bigger than all of his opponents'. He has knocked out some of the biggest names in the sport including Wanderlei Silva, Igor Vovchanchyn and Mark Coleman with his famed head kicks.
Heavyweight (Present): Cain Velasquez
MMA Record: 9-0
Wins by (T)KO: 8
The last time we saw Velasquez in the Octagon, he destroyed the fighter many believed to be the best heavyweight in the world at the time.
Cain Velasquez trains with the famed American Kickboxing Academy alongside the likes of Arlovski, Fitch and Gomi.
He is also a former NCAA Division-1 All-American wrestling standout and a very talented boxer with serious knockout power in his hands.
Cain is a technical boxer and he picks his shots carefully and executes them with precision.
His next opponent is Junior dos Santos, another technical boxer with great power in his hands. Expect a great a fight when these two meet.
Heavyweight (Present): Junior Dos Santos
MMA Record: 13-1
Wins by (T)KO: 8
Junior dos Santos is a technical boxer who picks his shots carefully. He is a great counter-puncher and he has successfully utilized this in bouts against fighters like Shane Carwin and Fabricio Werdum.
He has shown excellent skill and displayed unbelievable power in his strikes. Quite recently, we have even seen dos Santos throw head kicks, and this shows that he is constantly improving his game in order to become a great all-around striker.
He has trained with the likes of Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, both very accomplished strikers in their respective divisions.
Junior dos Santos is now next in line to face Cain Velasquez and challenge him for the title, and we should expect to see a stand-up "war" in this bout.
Heavyweight (Honorable Mention): Igor Vovchanchyn
MMA Record: 54-10-1
Wins by (T)KO: 29
Underrated and overlooked. These are two words that describe the Ukrainian Mixed Martial Artist that recently retired from a career that spanned 10 years and held one of the most impressive undefeated streaks in MMA history at 37 fights.
Vovchanchyn was renowned for his exceptional kickboxing and sambo skills and was a hero in his native Ukraine and made a name for himself fighting in the Pride FC promotion.
He has knocked out the likes of Gilbert Yvel and Kaszushi Sakuraba.
Heavyweight (Honorable Mention): Alistair Overeem
MMA Record: 35-11(1)
Wins by (T)KO: 14
Alistair Overeem is a great fighter with great potential. He is a fantastic striker and is a champion in multiple promotions including K-1 and Strikeforce.
However, Overeem has lost against the biggest names in the sport, including Chuck Liddell.
Overeem has yet to win a fight against top-level talent and many believed the fight Werdum would be the perfect proving ground for him.
Overeem somehow managed to win against Werdum, despite the fact that Werdum displayed superior striking and takedowns.
This was a fight that many believed would be Overeem's proving ground, but the fight disappointed and both fighters looked shaky.