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50 Greatest MMA Fighters of All Time: Does Anderson Silva Top the List?

Vince CareyContributor IOctober 19, 2011

50 Greatest MMA Fighters of All Time: Does Anderson Silva Top the List?

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    It takes a lot to be considered one of the greatest of all time in anything, but in a sport like MMA, you need both talent and luck on your side.

    Fedor Emelianenko went almost 10 full years without a loss, but has suffered three in a row.

    Anderson Silva has looked unbeatable for almost six years, but he still has a few losses from early in his career.

    Hell, once upon a time Matt Serra won a reality show and took out Georges St-Pierre.

    My point is the sport changes too quickly and is too unpredictable for anyone to be perfect. While none of the fighters on this list are perfect, they are the best this young sport has given us.

    As always with a list like this, some of you will disagree to the point where you want to beat me to death, but instead, please just leave a comment.

50. Jeremy Horn

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    Horn has been in so many fights that it’s hard to believe that he is still able to walk. Sporting an 88-21-5 record, Horn is one of the most active fights of all time and obviously he wins quite a bit more than he loses.

    If he had ever held a major title, he would probably be a lot higher up on this list.

49. Kenny Florian

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    One of the best fighters in UFC history to never touch a title, it looks like Florian’s chance of holding UFC gold is up.

    Despite his struggles in title fights, Florian was a consistent winner and finisher in four weight divisions and is one of the most popular fighters in the sport.

48. Andrei Arlovski

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    One of the top heavyweights of the Zuffa era, Arlovski will probably always be linked to Tim Sylvia in some way.

    The two heavyweights battled for the title three times in two years, with Sylvia taking two out of three.

    But Arlovski was still a monster during his UFC run, and although he has fallen on hard times since leaving the organization, he is still one of the top fighters ever.

47. Tim Sylvia

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    He isn't the most popular fighter ever, but there is no doubt that Sylvia is one of the best heavyweights of all time.

    He may not have been champion at a time when the division was strong, but he won enough fights and held the title long enough to solidify his legacy.

46. Nate Marquardt

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    Marquardt’s UFC run might be over, but he is still one of the most successful fighters of all time.

    A three-time King of Pancrase who was constantly in the UFC title picture, expect Marquardt to continue to win in the BAMMA organization.

45. Dan Severn

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    In the early days of the sport, few were better than Dan Severn and his mustache.

    Sever boasts a 100-18-7 career record and was the first UFC superfight champion when he beat Ken Shamrock at UFC 9.

    He also was a well-known professional wrestler, holding the NWA world title on two separate occasions.

44. Gilbert Melendez

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    He has started to pop up on pound-for-pound lists as of late, but Gilbert Melendez is still criminally underrated.

    With a 19-2 record in which he has avenged both losses, Melendez has taken out Clay Guida, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Shinya Aoki during his career, and it looks like he is just now entering his prime.

43. Jon Jones

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    Currently one of the best fighters in the world, expect Jones to fly up this list in the next few years.

    Though his career is just getting started, Jon Jones has taken out some of the best fighters of his era and has already earned himself a spot in the top 50.

42. Shinya Aoki

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    Possibly the greatest submission expert of all time, Shinya Aoki causes fear in his opponents the second the fight hits the mat.

    With 19 of his 29 career wins by tapout and half of Japan’s greatest fighters on his resume, Aoki is one of the best fighters in Japan.

41. Jake Shields

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    Shields was recently ranked as high as No. 5 in the pound-for-pound rankings, but back-to-back losses to GSP and Jake Ellenberger have the fighter looking to regroup.

    Prior to his recent slump, Shields had not lost a fight in five years and had won fights in two separate weight classes. 

40. Pat Miletich

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    One of the first true legends in the sport, Miletich was a force in the UFC at the beginning of the decade, defending his welterweight title three times.

    But his accomplishments as a fighter will be overlooked by his ability to train high-level fighters, as Matt Hughes, Robbie Lawlor and Jens Pulver.

39. Sean Sherk

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    A fighter who has been underrated for 90 percent of his career, a lot of fans don’t realize that Sherk was a force at welterweight way before he was a champion at 155 lbs.

    Although we haven’t seen much of Sherk over the last few years, he has still looked like he belongs when he made his infrequent trips to the Octagon.

38. Forrest Griffin

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    The original Ultimate Fighter doesn’t get a ton of respect from the MMA community as a whole, mostly because his popularity has led to him being viewed as overrated.

    But it seems like fans fail to realize that Griffin is a former champion with wins over Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson and Rich Franklin, which makes him one of the best fighters of the modern era.

37. Jens Pulver

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    Pulver was an underdog for the majority of his career, and he always seemed to surprise people with his ability to somehow earn a victory.

    No win showed this more than his UFC 35 title defense over BJ Penn, where Pulver was expected to be a sacrificial lamb to start the era of "The Prodigy.”

36. Frank Mir

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    After starting his career 7-1, Mir won the UFC heavyweight championship at UFC 48, but was forced to vacate the title soon after due to his inability to defend the belt after a motorcycle accident.

    After a rough patch following his return to the UFC, Mir once again started showing his true potential, winning his second UFC title.

    Mir has gone 3-2 since winning the belt back at UFC 92 and will look to enter the title picture once again in 2012.

35. Ken Shamrock

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    The original UFC star, Shamrock went head to head with Royce Gracie in the semifinals of UFC 1 and was shockingly submitted in just 57 seconds.

    From that moment on, Shamrock was one of the few faces that outsiders associated with MMA, and outside of a brief stint with the WWF in the late 90s, Shamrock has been fighting ever since.

34. Rashad Evans

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    One of the top fighters in the world today, Rashad Evans has gone from an Ultimate Fighter winner to a legitimate top-20 fighter in the world.

    Having already held the UFC’s light heavyweight belt on one occasion, Evans is waiting for his opportunity to get another shot at UFC gold, as he will take on Jon Jones as soon as he is healthy enough to fight.

33. Lyoto Machida

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    When Joe Rogan exclaimed that “Karate is back!,” I think we all envisioned that it would have lasted a little longer.

    But after just one title defense, Machida lost his title to Shogun Rua and has since been working to gain it back.

    He’ll get his shot later this year at UFC 140, when he takes on Jon Jones.

32. Igor Vovchanchyn

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    A lot of the stars from Pride came over to the UFC and finally got the mainstream exposure they deserved, but Igor Vovchanchyn was unable to get the credit he was due.

    Injuries forced him to retire in 2005, but a storied Pride career has made him a legend among old-school fans. 

31. Dominick Cruz

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    The current UFC bantamweight champion has been unstoppable since moving to 135 lbs.

    With wins over Joseph Benavidez, Urijah Faber, Brian Bowles and Demetrious Johnson on his resume, Cruz is quickly putting his name in contention for the best bantamweight of all time.

30. Mark Coleman

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    The original UFC heavyweight champion and the “Godfather of Ground-and-Pound”, Coleman is one of the best fighters to ever step foot in the Octagon.

    With huge wins over Dan Severn, Don Frye and Igor Vovchanchyn throughout his career, Coleman has defeated some of the best the sport has to offer.

29. Frankie Edgar

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    Before Edgar took out BJ Penn at UFC 112 he was nowhere near being on this list, but just a year-and-a-half later he is nearing the upper half.

    The back-to-back wins over Penn helped his stock, as did his win over Sean Sherk, but his wars against Gray Maynard have made him a living legend in the sport. His legacy will continue to grow if he can keep winning title fights.

28. Kid Yamamoto

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    One of the best finishers ever, Yamamoto has been one of the top fighters in the world for over a decade.

    Yamamoto started out his MMA career with a 17-1-1 record before falling on hard times as of late, but with his ability to end fights in an instant, he can work his way back to the top in no time.

27. Josh Barnett

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    Possibly one of the five best heavyweights of all time, Barnett has fought some of the best in the business.

    Other than his three losses to Mirko Cro Cop, Barnett has been nearly unbeatable in his MMA career. If he wins the Strikeforce Grand Prix, his resume will be even better.

26. Jose Aldo

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    Jose Aldo has been one of the most deadly fighters in the sport since he burst into the spotlight while fighting for the WEC.

    Since winning the title featherweight title from Mike Brown, Aldo has taken out the best the 145-pound division has to offer. If he takes out Chad Mendes in 2012, he’ll have almost completely cleaned out his division.

25. Royce Gracie

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    There is no question as to what Gracie and his family have done for the sport, but as a fighter Royce may be a little bit overrated.

    Gracie won the first few UFC tournaments and has had a pretty awesome career, but he fought a lot of guys who had no business being in the cage with him.

24. Don Frye

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    Frye gets more credit for his mustache and go-for-broke fighting style than his actual career, but Frye is one of the best fighters to ever step into a cage.

    From 1996 to 2002, Frye was almost unstoppable, losing only one fight to Mark Coleman during that stretch.

23. Jon Fitch

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    Forever the number two guy at 170 lbs, it is unlikely that Fitch will ever get his hands on a UFC belt with Georges St-Pierre in the division.

    Since joining the UFC in 2005, Fitch has gone 13-1-1 inside the Octagon and has dominated almost every opponent he has fought.

22. Miguel Torres

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    Even though he didn’t fight the best competition, Torres went on a streak from 2000-2009 when he went 36-1.

    It was during that time where he earned his title as the greatest bantamweight fighter of all time, and he’ll keep that title unless Dominick Cruz keeps winning fights in impressive fashion.

21. Urijah Faber

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    He has been called the greatest featherweight of all time, and he has done a damn good job of winning in the bantamweight division as well.

    Faber was the face of the WEC and has continued his rise in popularity since entering the UFC, but more importantly, he is just one more win from a second shot at a 135-pound title shot.

20. Takanori Gomi

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    Gomi was known the best lightweight fighter in the world for a time while he was in Pride, and his resume is one of the best in the sport.

    Gomi went on a 10-fight win streak when he entered Pride and solidified his spot at the top of the lightweight division.

19. Kazushi Sakuraba

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    The Gracie Hunter is a true legend of the sport and is known for his ability to make any fight exciting.

    He may not have the best resume or the cleanest record, but Sakuraba is one of the few fighters who fans still tune into watch when they are obviously passed their prime. 

18. Bas Rutten

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    It’s almost tragic to think of how good Bas Rutten would have been viewed as if he hadn’t retired so early into his career.

    Bas finished his MMA career with a record of 28-4-1 and is one of the few fighters to retire on top, but his lasting impact on the sport will likely come as a commentator and trainer. 

17. Vitor Belfort

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    Belfort has so much talent that it is hard to believe he has never had a significant run as champion in any organization.

    With wins over Wanderlei Silva, Randy Couture and Rich Franklin on his resume, Vitor is still regarded as one of the best of all time, even if he hasn’t put it all together for a solid title run.

16. Rich Franklin

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    If it wasn’t for Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin might be considered the greatest middleweight fighter of all time.

    Franklin was rolling along at 185 lbs, taking out Evan Tanner, David Loiseau and Nate Quarry before getting taken out by Silva.

    Still Fanklin has defeated a ton of top fighters, including Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva since moving up in weight.

15. Frank Shamrock

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    Want a piece of trivia to stump your friends, then ask them this:

    Who is the only fighter to win a WEC, Strikeforce and UFC title?

    If they said Frank Shamrock, give them a cookie or something.

    Shamrock was one of the best fighters in the sport in the late 90s when he suddenly announced his retirement after defeating Tito Ortiz at UFC 22.

    He has since fought a handful of fights, but during his run in the UFC he was easily the best fighter in the world.

14. Shogun Rua

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    It’s amazing what one tournament can do for a fighter's career, but it’s pretty easy to see why Shogun Rua is this high on the list.

    While his UFC championship certainly helped, it was his amazing run through the 2005 Pride Grand Prix that earned him his status as one of the best fighters ever.

    Shogun won a stacked tournament featuring Rampage Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Alistair Overeem among others, and was named fighter of the year in 2005.

13. Mirko Cro Cop

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    The man whom MMA fans once thought could remove someone’s head from their shoulders with his trademark high kick, Cro Cop could easily be in the top 10 if it wasn’t for a few unlucky losses.

    Cro Cop rolled through some of the best Pride had to offer on numerous occasions, even winning the 2006 Open Weight GP, but ill timed losses to Kevin Randleman and Mark Hunt kept him from ever being considered the top fighter in the world.

12. Tito Ortiz

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    Love him or hate him, the guy went on one of the greatest streaks this sport has ever seen.

    Tito defended the light heavyweight title five times in a row from 2000-2003, defeating legends Yuki Kondo and Ken Shamrock along the way before dropping his belt to Randy Couture.

    Tito has had an up-and-down career since, but his dominance during his title run was unprecedented at the time.

11. Rampage Jackson

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    Despite never winning a title during his glory days in Pride, Rampage is an obvious top-20 fighter, and was oh so close to making the top ten.

    With wins over Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva and Igor Vovchanchyn, Rampage has one of the most impressive resumes in the sport and has a legion of fans that will defend his spot among the sport's elite.

10. BJ Penn

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    He has been called the most talented man in the sport, and BJ Penn has used his talent to become one of the all-time greats.

    Along with Randy Couture, Penn is one of only two men to have won a UFC title in separate weight classes, and he has wins over Matt Hughes, Takanori Gomi and Jens Pulver on his belt.

    A jiu-jitsu standout and a phenomenal boxer, Penn is still going strong in his MMA career and will take on Nick Diaz at UFC 137 in a bout that has major title implications.

9. Randy Couture

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    Joe Rogan’s hero doesn’t have the best record in MMA, nor has he finished a ton of fights, but his accomplishments and his impact on the sport give him a spot on this list.

    Couture is one of only two men to have held a title in two separate UFC weight classes, and he defeated Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort and Mark Coleman during his illustrious career.

    He last competed at UFC 129, where he lost by first-round knockout to Lyoto Machida. He retired immediately after the fight.

8. Dan Henderson

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    Henderson was already a future Hall of Famer (once we finally get a true MMA Hall of Fame) before he knocked out Fedor Emelianenko, but the win add another name to his unbelievable résumé.

    Henderson left Pride as both the middleweight and welterweight champions, recording wins over Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva during his time in the promotion.

    Once transferring over to the UFC, he added Rich Franklin and Michael Bisping to his list, and soon after he joined Strikeforce and won its light heavyweight title.

    He is currently a free agent and is likely to sign with either the UFC or Strikeforce.

7. Matt Hughes

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    Hughes is such a veteran of the sport that he had amassed 30 wins before he won the UFC welterweight title back in 2001.

    After winning the belt from Carlos Newton, Hughes went on a tear through the UFC’s 170-pound division, earning wins over Sean Sherk and Frank Trigg in his first title reign and victories over BJ Penn, George St-Pierre and Royce Gracie during his second run as champion.

6. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

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    "Minotauro" was an absolute beat in Pride, going on two massive win streaks in which he defeated everyone from Mirko Cro Cop and Dan Henderson to Josh Barnett and Fabricio Werdum.

    Soon after Pride was absorbed by the UFC, "Big Nog" won the UFC heavyweight title. Even after losing the belt, he scored a huge win over Randy Couture at UFC 102.

    Nogueira beat down Brendan Schaub at UFC 134 and will look to avenge a loss to Frank Mir at UFC 140.

5. Chuck Liddell

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    Liddell was the baddest dude in the Octagon during the early 2000s and once went on a stretch where he won seven straight fights by knockout or TKO, including wins over Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz.

    Liddell was knocked from his throne by Rampage Jackson back in 2007 and had a 1-4 record after the loss, with the lone win coming over an equally struggling Wanderlei Silva.

    He officially retired in late 2010.

4. Wanderlei Silva

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    For a time, there was no one as feared as Wanderlei Silva.

    "The Axe Murderer" was unstoppable in Pride's 205-pound division from 2000 to 2006, losing only his final bout in the organization to Dan Henderson, while finishing 14 of his fights in the middleweight division.

    Since the UFC’s purchase of Pride, Silva has enjoyed moderate success inside the Octagon, winning bouts against Keith Jardine and Michael Bisping.

    He is currently set to fight Cung Le at UFC 139.

3. Fedor Emelianenko

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    His career has taken a turn for the worse over the last couple years, but no one can deny how great Fedor once was.

    Emelianenko went on an unprecedented 10-year win streak from 2000 to 2010, winning fights against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop during his remarkable run in Pride.

2. Georges St-Pierre

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    A consensus pick as one of the top two fighters in the world today, GSP has been on one of the most remarkable runs in MMA history since he reclaimed his welterweight title back in 2007.

    Currently on a nine-fight win streak with wins over Jon Fitch, Jake Shields and Matt Hughes, St-Pierre has defeated the best in the world time and time again.

1. Anderson Silva

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    The best fighter in MMA history is still going strong.

    With 13 straight wins in the UFC and an amazing 11 title defenses in the best organization in the world, Silva has solidified his spot as the best of all time.

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