UFC: The Top 25 Most Awesome Champions in MMA History

Kevin SampsonCorrespondent IIIDecember 13, 2011

UFC: The Top 25 Most Awesome Champions in MMA History

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    Who is the best champion ever? That question sparks a never-ending debate of course. 

    Some champions are better than others. A select few had careers that shone like a beacon above all others. 

    In its short existence, Mixed Martial Arts has generated more than its share of legends. Not all legends are champions. To truly be the man, you gotta beat the man. You have to become champion to put a stamp on your legacy and silence all doubters.  

    Some of the greatest champions ever, would go for years without ever losing and have fought all comers. Some were always coming back and reclaiming the title.  

    Here are the 25 champions that inspired greater awe, fear and wonder in those who watched them. As well as those who fought them. They dominated the sport of mixed martial arts. 

25.) Ken Shamrock

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    Title Fight Victories: 3

    Longest Winning Streak: 9

    Awesomeness X Factors for Ken Shamrock: Ken really was once "The World's Most Dangerous Man." The fighter we see today—losing every fight, and stubbornly refusing to retire—is a pale shadow of what Ken Shamrock once was. 

    Ken Shamrock was the first ever King of Pancrase. The only reason he didn't completely dominate the UFC from the very beginning was because Royce Gracie was there. 

    Ken Shamrock had good striking and amazing grappling. 

    When Royce Gracie left the UFC, it was Ken Shamrock's star power that kept the UFC alive for the next several years. 

24.) Frankie Edgar

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    Title Fight Victories: 3

    Longest Winning Streak: 8

    Awesomeness X Factors for Frankie Edgar: Frankie is that guy nobody believed in, that just kept proving everyone wrong. 

    Nobody believed he could beat B.J. Penn. Frankie "The Answer" Edgar did it twice. 

    Many doubted he would ever be able to beat the only man to ever defeat him, Gray Maynard. Frankie "The Answer" Edgar knocked him out. 

    Frankie Edgar's entire career is one of beating the odds. Nobody stages an impossible comeback quite like the current UFC Lightweight Champ. It's like a Hollywood fantasy brought to life. 

    And Frankie Edgar is currently dominating at Lightweight, when the truth of the matter is the man is a natural Featherweight. He could easily cut down to Bantamweight. 

    No champion in MMA history has as much heart as Frankie "The Answer" Edgar. 

23.) Jens Pulver

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    Title Fight Victories: 3

    Longest Winning Streak: 7

    Awesomeness X Factors for Jens Pulver: Little Evil was the first ever UFC champion. He was absolutely amazing in the octagon. 

    He kept beating fighters that were supposed to crush him with ease, such as: Caol Uno, John Lewis, B.J. Penn and Dennis Hallman

    Jens featured excellent boxing. He blended seamlessly with good wrestling and grappling, and excellent submissions defense. 

    The biggest win of his career was beating B.J. Penn. After that he left the UFC. He faded into obscurity, and was never the same dominant fighter as he was in his days in the UFC. 

22.) Brock Lesnar

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    Title Fight Victories: 3

    Longest Winning Streak: 4

    Awesomeness X Factors for Brock Lesnar: The fastest, most agile giant we've seen to date. Brock Lesnar is a very dangerous man.

    Lesnar is an enormous man with insanely good wrestling and takedowns. His unstoppable takedowns have been the secret to Lesnar's success in the UFC. 

    To paraphrase Frank Mir, he's a one-trick pony that's so good at that one trick, that he can beat almost anyone. 

    Lesnar has skills in all other aspects of MMA, but he's not good enough to get much mileage out of them inside the octagon. 

    He's got incredible punching power, but his striking technique isn't that good. 

    We've even seen him demonstrate some submissions skills. 

    Lesnar is also one of the most polarizing fighters ever. You either love Brock Lesnar or you hate him.  That in tandem with his stardom in the WWE has made him the biggest pay-per-view draw in UFC history.

    No card featuring Brock Lesnar as a main event has ever failed to exceed 1 million pay-per-view buys. 

21.) Jon Jones

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    Title Fight Victories: 3

    Longest Winning Streak: 15*

    Awesomeness X Factors for Jon Jones: Jones just simply destroys his opponents.

    Whether it's raining down elbows on Vladimir Matyushenko, knocking out Maurício "Shogun" Rua, choking out Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, dropping a choked-unconscious Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida's limp body to the canvas, or shattering Brandon Vera;s face, it's all the same story.

    Jonny "Bones" Jones is so good that he's running through super hero-like legends, and making it look easy. 

    The only reason he isn't ranked much higher on this list is because he's still a relatively new champion. We have every reason to believe that Jonny Jones will dominate the Light Heavyweight ranks for a long time.  

    But since he hasn't done it yet, you can't really give him credit for it.

    Jones might be the best Greco-Roman practitioner we've ever seen.

    He's got the longest reach we've ever seen. With almost a full foot of reach advantage on most of his opponents. 

    He's better at submissions than anyone could have dreamed, and with two submission victories in a row against fighters you just don't see getting submitted—ever.

    *Because some fighters benefit from a disqualification loss or other controversial losses going on record as a no contest, I'm applying that same rule to all fighters in order to make it fair for all.

20.) Dominick Cruz

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    Title Fight Victories: 5

    Longest Winning Streak: 10

    Awesomeness X Factors for Dominick Cruz: Awkward and unorthodox striking style that just works for him. The Dominator just simply wins fights. That is what he does. 

    He's a wrestler, a competent submissions fighter, and puts on a brutal pace in every single one of his fights.

    The biggest knock against Dominick is the same criticism people have for George St Pierre and Jon Fitch. Virtually all of Dominick Cruz' fights go to a judges decision. 

    To be precise, 12 of Dominick's 19 wins were decided by the judges.

19.) Miguel Torres

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    Title Fight Victories: 4

    Longest Winning Streak: 20

    Awesomeness X Factors for Miguel Torres: Few fighters can claim to have built an entire weight class out of practically nothing, but Miguel "Angel" Torres can. 

    An amazing striker and grappler, Torres is one of the greatest phenom's we've ever seen.

    Going into the fight with Brian Bowles—the man that finally dethroned Torres and took his WEC title—Miguel was 37-1 with 22 submission victories. That's an almost unheard of rate of success no matter who you are, and who you are fighting. 

    Torres hasn't been the same fighter since losing by knockout to Brian Bowles. However, when he was in his prime he was deadly.

18.) Urijah Faber

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    Title Fight Victories: 6

    Longest Winning Streak: 12

    Awesomeness X Factors Urijah Faber: Quite possibly the best all-around fighter in the history of the Featherweight Division. Urijah Faber is just plain incredible. 

    He's a wrestler, striker, submissions fighter, and was the face of the WEC for many years. 

    Faber can do things that very few other fighters can do. Like being in his opponents guard, and picking him up and slamming him repeatedly. How often do you see that? That is one example of many. 

    Urijah Faber is one of the most charismatic champions ever. Don't doubt for a second that the UFC wants him to be their next Bantamweight champion. 

    We'll find out soon enough if Urijah has enough left to wear UFC gold.

17.) José Aldo

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    Title Fight Victories: 6

    Longest Winning Streak: 13

    Awesomeness X Factors for José Aldo: If you've been following Jose Aldo all through his WEC days and into the UFC, then you realize that this guy is something really special. 

    He's a nightmare to take down, and yet he is an absolute wizard Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner on the ground.

    His strikes are even more deadly. When you fight Jose Aldo, you pick your poison. There is no safe place to fight this man. 

    And he has one of fastest knockouts you've ever heard of via a move you've probably never seen anyone else land. Jose Aldo knocked out Cub Swanson in eight seconds via double flying knee in a title eliminator fight.

    Jose Aldo hasn't seemed quite himself since coming to the UFC. Slower than usual, getting fatigued and actually letting fights go to the judges scorecards. 

16.) Mark Coleman

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    Title Fight Victories: 4

    Longest Winning Streak: 6

    Awesomeness X Factors for Mark Coleman: Often touted as the godfather of ground and pound, Mark Coleman was an absolute beast when he first arrived in the UFC. 

    He ran through all of the best the UFC had to offer. He beat Dan Severn to become the first Heavyweight Champion in the UFC. 

    Maurice Smith outsmarted and out-cardio'd him to take his UFC title. Coleman looked like he was fading fast. 

    Coleman left the UFC and found his way to Pride FC, where he reinvented himself and once again became a dominant fighter. Coleman was the winner of the very first Price FC Grand Prix tournament.

    Coleman's ground and pound style has been a staple of MMA ever since his UFC debut.

15) Tim Sylvia

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    Title Fight Victories: 5

    Longest Winning Streak: 16

    Awesomeness X Factors for Tim Sylvia: A towering goliath that was incredibly dominant in the sport. Tim Sylvia is second only to Randy Couture for sheer dominance of the UFC Heavyweight Division.

    Timmy's specialty was striking, and he was very good at keeping the fight standing.

    Although I doubt he wanted to be the villain, he filled that role anyways.  A good villain is great at putting butts in the seats and selling pay-per-views.  MMA fans everywhere tuned in hoping to see this goliath slain by the next proverbial David.

    Timmy was seldom very accommodating there. He beat all comers, and dominated the heavyweight division for years.

    To this day, Tim Sylvia is one of the most disliked and under-rated champions in MMA history. He's so unloved that I'm unable to find a career highlight video for him. Apparently, nobody has ever created one for him. 

    Not many fans appreciate that Timmy once was the most unbeatable man in the entire UFC. In 2003, Sylvia had the belt around his waist. A successful title defense in the books and a flawless 16-0 record. 

    We should all be grateful for one thing: Timmy was successful in stopping the latest MMA freak-show from happening—Mariusz Pudzianowski

14.) Pat Miletich

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    Title Fight Victories: 5

    Longest Winning Streak: 15

    Awesomeness X Factors for Pat Miletich: The first ever Welterweight Champion in the UFC was also one of the greatest ever. 

    He's also one of the UFC's most forgotten champions. 

    Miletich was one of the best game-planning fighters ever. He always entered the fight well prepared to face his opponent.  

    Pat Miletich was good in all aspects of MMA. It's hard to say whether he was better on the ground or standing and striking. 

    But what makes him stand out even more, is that he is one of the most successful trainers of great UFC champions, past, present and future. He was the principal trainer and coach of Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Tim Sylvia and many others. 

13.) Dan Henderson

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    Title Fight Victories: 5

    Longest Winning Streak: 9

    Awesomeness X Factors: Nearly impossible to submit, and completely impossible to knock out. If anyone could do it, then somebody would have done it in one of his 37 fights so far. 

    Combine that with world class Greco-Roman wrestling, and his lethal right hand punch—dubbed the H-bomb by MMA faithful—and you have a very lethal warrior. 

    Dan Henderson has always been a giant-killer, but his knockout victory over Fedor Emelianenko put a real exclamation point on that legacy.

    At age 40, Hendo is as relevant as he's ever been in the UFC.

12.) B.J. Penn

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    Title Fight Victories: 5

    Longest Winning Streak: 6

    Awesomeness X Factors for B.J. Penn: BJ Penn was born with more natural talent than any other fighter in MMA history with one or two possible exceptions.

    Pairing his brilliant Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills with is insane flexibility. BJ was a guy you didn't want to go to the ground with. 

    With more power in his hands than most Light Heavyweights, standing and banging with BJ Penn was also a terrible idea. 

    It was always amazing watching somebody shoot in to take BJ down. Then watching as Penn hopped around on one leg with absolute perfect balance.

    If BJ had been able to make full use of his God given talent, who knows what he would have accomplished. But without any need to contemplate what if's, BJ Penn is easily one of the greatest champions in the history of MMA. 

    He still holds the record for most successful title defenses at Lightweight with three. He also was the stud fighter who ever so rudely interrupted Matt Hughes' reign of complete dominance over the Welterweight Division, choking him out and taking his title. 

    He also left the UFC and fought in every weight class there is. He even fought Lyoto Machida at Heavyweight—and it was a close fight.

    BJ Penn was never an easy fight for anyone ever. One of the baddest dudes to ever set foot inside the octagon. 

11.) Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira

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    Title Fight Victories: 4

    Longest Winning Streak: 13

    Awesomeness X Factors for Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira: Big Nog is the most successful submissions specialist ever in mixed martial arts history.

    Nogueira wasn't just beating nobodies. He was pulling off submissions in fights that the UFC weight limits would not allow today. 

    He was the first ever Pride FC champion. He just kept beating everyone he faced.

    Big Nog submitted Dan HendersonSemmy SchiltBob SappHeath HerringMark ColemanMirko "Cro Cop" FilipovićSergei Kharitonov and Tim Sylvia. There were precious few fighters who didn't fall prey to his lethal submissions skills. 

    And he was good at more than just submissions. Rodrigo Nogueira had a solid Muay Thai game, with good power in his hands and a chin that is legendary.

    As with most of the best fighters from Pride FC, we never got to see Big Nog at his best.

    But even a diminished version of Nogueira was good enough to submit Tim Sylvia to win the Interim UFC Heavyweight Championship of the World. 

10.) Tito Ortiz

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    Title Fight Victories: 6

    Longest Winning Streak: 6

    Awesomeness X Factors for Tito Ortiz: Tito is the most successful wrestling ground and pound specialist ever. Over time, his submissions and striking skills grew and developed as well. 

    "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" is legendary for his bad behavior, which led to some of the greatest rivalries the UFC has ever seen. 

    When The Lion's Den was the premier training camp in the sport, Ortiz was constantly picking fights with them. Whether it was double middle fingers to Ken Shamrock after beating another one of his under-studies, or confronting Ken face to face. It was war and nobody was backing down. 

    In retrospect, Ken Shamrock wasn't Tito's equal the entire time. Not even close. But the feud was extremely compelling. Brash new upstart versus one of the most legendary fighters the UFC had seen up to that point in time.

    That rivalry is perhaps second only to The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale for dragging the UFC out of obscurity and into the national spotlight. 

9.) Chuck Liddell

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    Title Fight Victories: 5

    Longest Winning Streak: 10

    Awesomeness X Factors Chuck Liddell: The Iceman is just awesomeness personified: The Mohawk. The picturesque post fight screaming celebration. He looked like a bad-ass, and he was deadlier than he looked.

    This is one of those fighters whose awesomeness needs no explanation. "The Iceman" Chuck Liddell is just awesome, end of story.

    Chuck brought elite striking back into the spotlight in the UFC by thwarting opponent's takedown attempts, and proceeding to light them up with devastating strikes. 

    Liddell also took part in some of the best rivalries in the history of the sport.

    Chuck Liddell comes in ahead of Tito Ortiz in this list simply because Tito was so determined to not fight Chuck for the title. Being the champion and being afraid of anyone just ain't right.

8.) Frank Shamrock

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    Title Fight Victories: 5

    Longest Winning Streak: 11

    Awesomeness X Factors for Frank Shamrock: Frank Shamrock first made a name for himself in Japan fighting for the Pancrase promotion. He had a very complete skill-set with amazing submissions and very good striking skills. 

    In the days before the UFC was the unrivaled best MMA promotion in the world, the UFC had a two weight class system. If you were over 205 lbs, you were a Heavyweight. If you were under 205 lbs you were a Lightweight.

    Frank Shamrock absolutely dominated that group of fighters under 205. While the Heavyweight title got passed around like a game of hot potato, Frank simply never lost. 

    Frank Shamrock remains the first ever Light Heavyweight champion in UFC history. The only champion at 205 lbs who never had been beaten in a title fight. In fact, he never lost a single fight in the UFC.

    Frank racked up four title defenses including a come from behind victory over the man who would succeed him as champion: Tito Ortiz. 

    And please note: It is because he beat Tito that he is ranked higher on this list.

    One of the greatest tragedies in MMA history is Dana White's ongoing obsession with erasing Frank Shamrock's legacy as one of the greatest champions the UFC has ever seen.

7.) Wanderlei Silva

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    Title Fight Victories: 6

    Longest Winning Streak: 16 

    Awesomeness X Factors Wanderlei Silva: One of the first MMA fighters to achieve rock-star celebrity status among fans. Wanderlei Silva was good at everything.  

    He had phenominal Muay Thai, and logged some of the most thrilling knockouts ever.  

    He was also extremely dangerous on the ground. He could give elite wrestlers more than they could handle when the fight went to the ground. 

    From 2000 to 2004 he went on a 16 fight winning streak. His reputation for being unbreakable didn't truly end until 2007, when Dan Henderson handed Wandy his second knockout loss in a row and took his Pride FC title. 

    With his extreme confidence and a growing aura of invincibility, the outspoken Axe Murderer was one of the best trash talkers the sport has ever seen.

    He was so good at it that he didn't just create individual rivalries. He created blood-feuds between MMA training academies. The long and bitter feud between his own Chute Boxe and Brazilian Top Team is one of the greatest rivalries ever.

    His rivalry with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is perhaps the best remembered today. It was just one in a long line of trash talking wars in Wanderlei Silva's career.

    Perhaps the saddest thing about The Axe Murderer's greatest days: They began and ended in Pride FC. We never got to see that level of Wandy fighting in the UFC.

6.) Georges St. Pierre

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    Title Fight Victories: 8

    Longest Winning Streak: 9

    Awesomeness X Factors for Georges St. Pierre: After finally dethroning Matt Hughes and overcoming a brief rivalry with Matt Serra, George St. Pierre has completely dominated every fighter he's faced.  

    In fact, I don't think he's decisively lost a single round since reclaiming his title from Serra.

    With the growth of MMA, better and better fighters are finding their way to the sport. GSP has stepped in and faced them all. He just keeps beating them. It doesn't matter if they're world-class elite wrestlers or Muay Thai kickboxing champions. He dominates all comers.

    Georges St. Pierre has also made Canadians some of the most enthusiastic mixed martial arts fans in the world—all because one of their own was one of the greatest champions in the history of the sport. 

    Georges' value to the UFC and the overall growth of MMA is immeasurable. 

5.) Matt Hughes

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    Title Fight Victories: 8

    Longest Winning Streak: 17

    Awesomeness X Factors for Matt Hughes: That's right I'm ranking Matt Hughes higher than George St. Pierre and for good reason. 

    Hughes has just as many championship wins as GSP, but Hughes finished his opponent in 9 out of 10 of those title fight victories. The torch has long since been passed. Yet, GSP has not surpassed Hughes.

    More than any other fighter, Matt Hughes built the UFC's Welterweight Division. Hughes possess some of the best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ever—which he always claimed was all wrestling and not Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. 

    Often the controversial target of critics, Hughes was also a very polarizing figure in the sport. It's amazing how controversy tends to increase your fan base, put butts in the seats, and sell pay- per-views.

4.) Randy Couture

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    Title Fight Victories: 10

    Longest Winning Streak: 4

    Awesomeness X Factors: Randy Couture started his mixed martial arts career in the UFC as a 34 year old man.  That night at UFC 13, a relatively small 220 lbs Couture ran through two 300 plus pounds behemoths with apparent ease. He captured his first UFC tournament championship.  

    Couture might just be the best game-planner and cerebral fighter we've ever seen. Time and time again, winning the title fight nobody thought he could possibly win.

    "The Natural" fought in countless title fights. He won some of those fights. He lost some others. But every time you thought that Randy Couture was all washed up and done forever, he came back in spectacular fashion. He beat the unbeatable champion.

    He is only one of two UFC fighters to be champion in multiple weight classes. 

    Randy is tied with Tim Sylvia for successful title defenses at Heavyweight.

    And perhaps the most impressive thing about him: Randy Couture is almost 50 years old today. However, he's still one of the best fighters in the world.

3.) Royce Gracie

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    Title Fight Victories: 3

    Longest Winning Streak: 12

    Royce Gracie Awesomeness X Factors: Before there were rounds, weight classes and any rules to speak of, Royce Gracie was the baddest man on the planet. 

    For all appearances, Royce was the stereotypical 90 pound weakling. Scrawny and not at all physically imposing. Still he just kept beating all comers.

    The fact that the wimpiest looking man was the most unbeatable man on the planet—now that was something to see.

    It is because of Royce Gracie that the Ultimate Fighting Championship was not a one-and-done one-off event. The idea that this skinny little wisp of a man could beat any fighter of any size or skill-set in the world—this is what built the UFC into a brand that everyone had heard of. 

    The First UFC champion acted like a lightning rod. He drew increasingly better fighters to come challenge him. Unbeaten in UFC 1 through 5, Royce left the UFC while he was still undefeated.

    Royce remained unbeaten from 1993 until 2000 when Kazushi Sakuraba outlasted him in a 90 minute unlimited rounds fight.

    The UFC and MMA wouldn't be where they are today without Royce Gracie. Not even close.

2.) Fedor Emelianenko

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    Title Fight Victories: 7

    Longest Winning Streak: 31*

    Fedor Emelianenko Awesomeness X Factors: Fedor was quite simply the most unbeatable champion in MMA history.

    Whether it was an up and coming fighter or one of the most feared warriors in the world, Fedor Emelianenko fought them and beat them. In fact, The Last Emperor went 33 fights straight with nobody figuring out how to beat him. 

    Fedor hit like a truck. He had a very complete skill-set, and always found a way to win no matter what.

    Fedor could beat the best of strikers standing and trading punches. He could beat the best of grapplers and wrestlers on the ground.

    Fedor's never-ending feud with the UFC and Dana White made him one of the most polarizing characters in MMA history.

    You either loved the man and considered him the greatest MMA fighter ever, or you hated the man and considered him all hype and over-rated. No matter who you were, if you knew MMA you had an opinion.

    *Because some fighters benefit from a disqualification loss or other controversial losses going on record as a no contest, I'm applying that same rule to all fighters in order to make it fair for all.

1.) Anderson Silva

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    Title Fight Victories: 10

    Title Fight Victories: 17*

    Anderson Silva's Awesomeness X Factors: On the biggest stage of mixed martial arts, Anderson Silva is currently in the midst of the longest winning streak ever. In fact, he's never lost in the UFC even once.

    He's made most of those wins look easy. He makes mediocre fighters look terrible, and elite fighters like amateurs.  

    As with any fighter, he's had a tiny handful of bad nights in the UFC, but Anderson Silva always finds a way to win anyways. That just adds to his legend.

    Anderson Silva owns all sorts of UFC records. The Longest UFC title reign, longest winning streak in UFC history, longest unbeaten streak in UFC history, most successful title defenses in UFC history—nine, and most championship fight victories in UFC history (tied with Randy Couture at ten). 

    It is the relative ease with which Anderson Silva usually wins in tandem. Where and who he has dominated, that help him edge out Fedor Emelianenko for top honors.  

    Anderson Silva is the most awesome fighter in mixed martial arts history.

    *Because some fighters benefit from a disqualification loss or other controversial losses going on record as a no contest, I'm applying that same rule to all fighters in order to make it fair for all.