25 Greatest MMA Fighters of the Last 10 Years

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2013

25 Greatest MMA Fighters of the Last 10 Years

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    The past 10 years of MMA have been special.

    We have seen the sport grow. We have seen fighters evolve. What was once a fringe sport has exploded onto the international stages and captivated millions of fans.

    We have been witness to great moments and great performances. Fighters have entered cages and rings to put it all on the line for our entertainment. Some have done it better than others.

    Certain fighters have carved their name into the history books. They have fought and earned their place as the great ones.

    These are the 25 greatest fighters in the past 10 years.

Honorable Mentions

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    Bibiano Fernandes (13-3)

    Fernandes has been a highly touted featherweight and bantamweight for some time. Winner of the 2009 DREAM Featherweight Grand Prix and the 2011 DREAM Bantamweight Grand Prix.

    Brock Lesnar (5-3)

    Lesnar exploded onto the MMA scene in 2007. While many disregarded him because of his professional wrestling past, he quickly earned the UFC Heavyweight Championship belt and defended it. Lesnar is also responsible for bringing in some of the largest audiences in the sport's history.

    Cain Velasquez (11-1)

    The current UFC Heavyweight Champion has been phenomenal since debuting. His lone loss was by knockout to Junior dos Santos. Other than that blemish, he has been perfect. Including a perfect performance in the rematch vs. Dos Santos.

    Jake Shields (19-3-1, 1 NC)

    Shields never gets the credit he deserves. He has been a top-tier fighter at both middleweight and welterweight. He was a Shooto, EliteXC, and Strikeforce champion. The only gold that has eluded him is UFC gold, and that has more to do with GSP than Shields' abilities.

    Shinya Aoki (32-6, 1 NC)

    The lightweight submission specialist deserves a nod with 32 victories and a treasure trove of submission highlights. Aoki was a Shooto champion before winning the DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix and subsequent lightweight championship.

No. 25: Takanori Gomi

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    Record: 21-8, 1 NC

    Championships: 2005 PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix, PRIDE Lightweight Championship

    Takanori Gomi has had mixed results in recent years, but going back to PRIDE, Gomi was the top lightweight in the world.

    After back-to-back losses to Joachim Hansen and B.J. Penn in 2003, Gomi reeled off 10 wins in a row. That included his PRIDE Grand Prix domination, a tournament which he capped off with a knockout of Hayato "Mach" Sakurai.

    Gomi has seemed to falter at random times during his run, but his wins and accomplishments cannot be denied. He went 2-0 in 2012, and hopes to make one last run at glory as the calendar turns to 2013.

No. 24: Rich Franklin

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    Record: 18-7

    Championships: UFC Middleweight Championship

    Rich Franklin made his UFC debut against Evan Tanner, and within three minutes walked away the winner. Until 2005, Franklin fought both inside and outside of the Octagon never shying from a challenge. That included a loss to Lyoto Machida at Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2003.

    It was at the first-ever The Ultimate Fighter finale that Franklin became a full-time UFC fighter. He stopped Ken Shamrock in the first round.

    He would drop to 185 pounds and take care of Tanner again to win the gold. He would defend it twice before Anderson Silva rudely took the title off him.

    Franklin still competed at a high level. He moved back to light heavyweight and found success. The UFC veteran made his mark on the promotion and the sport.

No. 23: Frank Mir

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    Record: 12-5

    Championships: UFC Heavyweight Championship

    Frank Mir is the most feared submission artist in the division. If there was any doubt of that, it was confirmed when he broke Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's arm in 2011.

    Mir's devastating submission attack has always been his strength. In 2003, he submitted Tank Abbott with a toe hold. Then, after knocking out Wes Sims, he broke Tim Sylvia's arm to capture the UFC title. He was unable to defend the title after getting in a bad motorcycle accident that sidelined his career.

    One can only imagine what his run would have been like if not for that accident. However, Mir returned in 2006 to competition.

    After a 1-2 start, he got back in the groove and won three straight. That includes the famous kneebar against Brock Lesnar and winning the Interim UFC Heavyweight Championship vs. Nogueira.

    Mir remains one of the top heavyweights today, but recently was dominated in his attempt to win the title back over Junior dos Santos. He will have a chance to make a big statement against Daniel Cormier in early 2013.

No. 22: Frankie Edgar

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    Record: 15-3-1

    Championships: Reality Fighting Lightweight Championship, UFC Lightweight Championship

    The proud New Jersey native began his career 6-0, including a win over Jim Miller, before making his UFC debut in 2007 against Tyson Griffin.

    The little-known fighter came in and put on a Fight of the Night performance and walked out of the cage a winner. Edgar would continue to climb the lightweight ladder even after a loss to Gray Maynard. Eventually, he would earn himself a shot against B.J. Penn for the strap.

    Edgar put on two masterful performances against Penn to win and defend the title. Then came his two career-defining fights.

    Edgar was battered early against Gray Maynard, but showed the heart of a champion and battled back. The first fight he only did enough to earn a draw, but in the rematch, he finished Maynard and laid claim to being the best lightweight in the world.

    The champion's reign would be short lived, as he dropped two contentious decisions against Benson Henderson. Now, Edgar drops to featherweight to challenge Jose Aldo for his title. If successful, Edgar puts his name alongside Dan Henderson, Randy Couture and Penn as two-division champions.

No. 21: Josh Barnett

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    Record: 19-5

    Championships: Pancrase Openweight Championship

    Prior to 2003, Barnett had been stripped of the UFC Heavyweight Championship due to testing positive for banned substances. However, in spite of his run-ins with athletic commissions, do not let that cloud your judgment when ranking him among the best fighters of the past 10 years.

    Barnett began 2003 by winning and defending the Pancrase Openweight Championship. Afterwards, Barnett would join PRIDE in 2004.

    Barnett never got the opportunity to face Fedor Emelianenko for the PRIDE Heavyweight Championship, but he did make a run in the 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix. Barnett defeated Alexander Emelianenko, Mark Hunt and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira before succumbing to Mirko Cro Cop in the finals.

    Barnett has won nine of his last 10 bouts, and could be on the brink of making his return to the UFC's heavyweight division. The long-time MMA veteran is not quite done yet.

No. 20: Chuck Liddell

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    Record: 9-7

    Championships: UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

    The record is misleading. Chuck Liddell is clearly one of the best fighters of the decade, and was the face of the UFC as it rose from obscurity to the forefront of sports.

    Liddell captured the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship from Randy Couture and defended it four times, just one shy of the company record. Alistair Overeem, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Jeremy Horn, and Wanderlei Silva are just some of his victims during the decade.

    Liddell never shied from a fight. Why does he has those seven losses? Because he fought the best of the best. Randy Couture, Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua, Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans, and Rich Franklin are the men who topped him.

    Liddell is one of the most important figures in MMA history, and it was in this decade that he achieved his greatest success.

No. 19: Rampage Jackson

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    Record: 17-8

    Championships: UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

    Quinton "Rampage" Jackson fought six of his 25 fights in 2003. Rampage defeated Kevin Randleman, Mikhail Ilyukhin, Murilo Bustamante, Chuck Liddell, and Ikuhisa Minowa during that year. His lone loss was in the 2003 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix finals against Wanderlei Silva.

    His first fight of 2004 put him on the highlight reels forever. That was his famed KO slam of Ricardo Arona.

    Rampage finally made the transition over to the UFC and dethroned Liddell as champion with a first-round knockout. He would then unify the PRIDE and UFC titles by defeating Dan Henderson in London.

    Rampage has been around the game a long time, and despite losing to Glover Teixeira recently, he still goes down as one of the greats. He has given us many fantastic fights and finishes along the way during these last 10 years.

No. 18: Junior Dos Santos

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    Record: 15-2

    Championships: UFC Heavyweight Championship

    One may ask why is Junior dos Santos on this list and not Cain Velasquez. That is easy enough to answer in that Dos Santos' level of competition is more impressive.

    Fabricio Werdum was knocked out in 81 seconds. Stefan Struve? 54 seconds. Gilbert Yvel lasted only 2:07 against the power puncher. Gabriel Gonzaga failed in 3:53.

    Dos Santos captured the UFC Heavyweight Championship by knocking Velasquez out in only 64 ticks of the clock, and defended the crown by TKO'ing Frank Mir.

    Yes, Velasquez dominated him in the rematch, but that does not overshadow Dos Santos' career to date. Both men are ridiculously talented, and are clearly the two best heavyweights in the world right now.

    However, Dos Santos' competition is just a bit higher and that earns him a spot on this list.

No. 17: Mirko Cro Cop

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    Record: 24-10, 1 NC

    Championships: 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix

    Mirko Cro Cop was a feared striker in the mid-2000's. He made his mark in PRIDE and put on some of the finest heavyweight performances.

    Cro Cop's list of victims includes Heath Herring, Igor Vovchanchyn, Alexander Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, Wanderlei Silva and Pat Barry.

    To this day, his performance at PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute remains one of the best single-night performances in MMA history: a head-kick knockout of Silva, followed by making Barnett tap to punches to claim the Grand Prix title.

    That tournament performance made him one of the top heavyweights in that time.

    He never matched his success in the UFC, and his chin failed him against some heavy hitters. However, Cro Cop remains one of the gems of the heavyweight division over the past 10 years.

No. 16: Lyoto Machida

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    Record: 18-3

    Championships: UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

    "The Dragon" made his MMA debut in May 2003 at New Japan Pro Wrestling's Ultimate Crush show. His strength of opposition would rise very quickly.

    In only his second and third professional bouts, he took on Stephan Bonnar and Rich Franklin. He stopped both men. And later in 2005, Machida would battle B.J. Penn in an openweight fight that he'd take via decision.

    Machida kept his record perfect in the UFC, and became the UFC Light Heavyweight champion by knocking out Rashad Evans. He would then defend his title against Shogun Rua in a controversial fight.

    He was not able to keep his record clean forever and eventually dropped three fights. He lost the title to Shogun in their rematch, dropped a narrow decision to Rampage Jackson, and was choked unconscious by Jon Jones.

    Machida is still in the title hunt today, but the past 10 years has made him in to a future Hall of Famer.

No. 15: Urijah Faber

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    Record: 26-6

    Championships: KOTC Bantamweight Championship, WEC Featherweight Championship

    "The California Kid" has been a dominant figure on the featherweight and bantamweight scene since 2003. He began his career 8-0 before losing by knockout to Tyson Griffin in 2005.

    After that loss, Faber strung together 13 straight wins and defended his WEC title five times.

    Faber would lose title bouts to Mike Brown and Jose Aldo before deciding to drop back down to 135. Two wins in a row put him in the main event of UFC 132 against Dominick Cruz. Faber would lose by decision, but prove he is still an elite fighter.

    Faber recently dropped a decision to Renan Barao for the Interim Bantamweight Championship. However, Faber is still a threat in the division.

    He will go down as one of the most important figures for the smaller weights. He helped raise the profile for the little guys and make them can't-miss television.

No. 14: Wanderlei Silva

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    Record: 13-9

    Championships: 2003 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix, PRIDE Middleweight Championship

    Wanderlei Silva was already the top 205-pound fighter on the planet when 2003 got underway, but he continued his extraordinary fighting through the decade.

    He opened 2003 by winning the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix with wins over Kazushi Sakuraba, Hidehiko Yoshida and Rampage Jackson. An impressive tournament run.

    He had only lost two decisions, to Mark Hunt and Ricardo Arona, prior to entering the PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix. It would be there that his losses started to rack up.

    Mirko Cro Cop knocked him out in the semi-finals, and then Dan Henderson put him down for the PRIDE Middleweight Championship. Silva has since seen mixed results since coming over to the Octagon.

    Regardless of his recent performances, Silva was one of the baddest men on the planet this past decade.

No. 13: Shogun Rua

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    Record: 20-7

    Championships: 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion

    When Shogun emerged on to the scene, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he claimed the top spot in the rankings away from his teammate Wanderlei Silva. He did just that by taking the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix.

    He opened that tournament with a TKO win over Rampage, and followed it up by defeating Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. At PRIDE Final Conflict 2005, he won the tournament by finishing both Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona in one night.

    The long-awaited UFC debut did not go as planned, but Shogun got healthy and rebounded. He would eventually win the championship by knocking out Lyoto Machida.

    Shogun lost the title to Jon Jones, but continues to thrill fans with exciting bouts. His 2011 loss to Dan Henderson will go down as one of the greatest fights in all of MMA.

No. 12: Matt Hughes

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    Record: 12-6

    Championships: UFC Welterweight Championship

    Matt Hughes had already defended his welterweight title three times by the time 2003 rolled around, but he would still defend it two more times before B.J. Penn comes along to spoil the party.

    Hughes got right back up on the horse and picked up a win against Renato Verissimo before challenging GSP for the vacant welterweight strap. Hughes came away with gold again.

    Eventually, GSP would put it all together and take over the division, but Hughes was still a factor at 170 pounds for much of the decade, and all of his losses came to top-tier competition.

    Four of the six defeats came at the hands of Penn and GSP.

    Hughes has since retired and will go down as one of the greatest welterweights ever to grace the cage.

No. 11: Jon Fitch

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    Record: 22-2-1, 1 NC

    Championships: None

    Jon Fitch lacks hardware, but his record speaks for itself.

    Twenty-two victories and only two defeats. That is a remarkable record considering the level of competition he has faced inside the Octagon, where his record stands at 14-2-1.

    Thiago Alves, Diego Sanchez, Paulo Thiago, Mike Pierce and Erick Silva are just some of the studs who have tried to topple Fitch off the welterweight rankings.

    Only Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks have found a way to get past him, and B.J. Penn was lucky to escape with a draw.

    Titles or not, Fitch is a fantastic fighter who has had one hell of a decade.

No. 10: Rashad Evans

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    Record: 17-2-1

    Championships: Gladiator Challenge Light Heavyweight Tournament, The Ultimate Fighter Season 2 heavyweight winner, UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

    Rashad Evans made his pro MMA debut in 2004, and slowly came along until breaking out in the UFC.

    Evans was a Michigan State wrestler with little acclaim following him into the sport, and on The Ultimate Fighter he was one of the smallest heavyweight participants. However, he would prove his doubters wrong and take the tournament.

    He was seen as a relatively boring fighter until he added devastating strikes to his arsenal that was highlighted with a head-kick knockout of Sean Salmon.

    He shocked most across the nation with a vicious knockout of Chuck Liddell in 2008, and followed that up by winning the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.

    Evans could not successfully defend the title, but is still seen as one of the top five best in the division to date. He is an incredible mixed martial artist who does not get the recognition he deserves.

No. 9: Jon Jones

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    Record: 17-1

    Championships: USKBA Light Heavyweight Championship, UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

    Jon Jones did not even debut as a professional fighter until 2008, but you cannot have this list without him appearing on it. He has been that dominant.

    His record shows one loss, but it was a dubious disqualification against Matt Hamill. He is largely still seen as undefeated, and for good reason.

    Jones' progression as a fighter has been amazing to watch. Once he made the switch to Greg Jackson's camp, he has evolved in to the best light heavyweight in the world.

    From 2010, on he has not only defeated, but destroyed Brandon Vera, Vladimir Matyushenko, Ryan Bader, Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort. An amazing list.

    For some, that would make an entire career. Jones has done it in three years. That says it all.

No. 8: B.J. Penn

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    Record: 11-8-2

    Championships: Rumble on the Rock Lightweight Championship, UFC Welterweight Championship, UFC Lightweight Championship

    As 2003 began Penn was 5-1 and one of the best lightweights in the world. He failed to capture the UFC Lightweight crown due to a split draw against Caol Uno, but found himself out of the UFC battling Takanori Gomi shortly afterwards.

    After dispatching of Gomi, Penn shocked the MMA world by upsetting the dominant Matt Hughes for the UFC Welterweight title. A contract dispute meant he would not get the chance to defend that title.

    Penn was outside of the UFC for a couple of years, but returned to the welterweight division in 2006. After back-to-back losses to GSP and Hughes, Penn returned to lightweight and finally made his mark on the division.

    Penn won the championship and defended it three times before losing the strap to Frankie Edgar in a controversial decision. The second fight wasn't as close. Penn went back to welterweight and finished Hughes for the second time in what may be his last MMA victory.

    Penn is mulling over his future, but if he chooses to retire, he will go down as one of the best two-division fighters in history.

No. 7: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

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    Record: 15-6, 1 NC

    Championships: Interim PRIDE Heavyweight Championship, Interim UFC Heavyweight Championship

    The heavyweight legend had to appear on this list. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira began 2003 by losing his PRIDE championship to Fedor. He rebounded with five straight victories that put him in the 2004 PRIDE Heavyweight Grand Prix finals against Fedor.

    An accidental headbutt made that rematch a no-contest, and he would drop a decision to Fedor in December 2004. However, in eight fights in two years, it was only Fedor who could stop the machine.

    Nogueira made his UFC debut against Heath Herring and got by via decision, and then captured the Interim UFC Heavyweight Championship by submitting Tim Sylvia. The win made him the first man to hold both PRIDE and UFC gold.

    Over his career, he has defeated some of the very best. In the past 10 years, Ricco Rodriguez, Cro Cop, Herring, Fabricio Werdum, Josh Barnett, Sylvia, and Randy Couture are some of the notable names he's defeated.

    Even in his weathered state, Nogueira was able to submit Dave Herman at UFC 153 and claim Submission of the Night. He may not be as threatening as he once was, but he is still in the top 10 at heavyweight in 2013. Impressive.

No. 6: Jose Aldo

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    Record: 21-1

    Championships: WEC Featherweight Champion, UFC Featherweight Champion

    Jose Aldo debuted in 2004 and immediately reeled off seven straight victories. All stoppages.

    His lone loss is to Luciano Azevedo at lightweight. After the loss, Aldo returned to featherweight and returned to utter devastation of the division.

    Alexandre Franca Nogueira, Jonathan Brookins, Cub Swanson, Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, Manny Gamburyan, Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian and Chad Mendes have all tried to stop Aldo. All failed. None came close.

    He is the unquestioned leader of the division. Brutal strikes and excellent submissions. Aldo is king.

    The biggest challenge in Aldo's career awaits him on Saturday. Frankie Edgar drops down for a superfight against Aldo. If he puts on another dominant performance, we can begin to talk about Aldo as a serious threat to take over on the pound-for-pound list.

No. 5: Randy Couture

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    Record: 9-6

    Championships: UFC Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight Championships

    By 2003, Randy Couture had already won the UFC Heavyweight Championship twice. He was already going down in the history books. However, in the past 10 years he only elevated himself as one of the greatest combat athletes ever.

    He opened up by dropping to 205 pounds and defeating the feared Chuck Liddell to win the Interim UFC Light Heavyweight title. He then unified it by schooling Tito Ortiz. He would lose that title to Vitor Belfort by a freak accident in the cage, but reclaim it by stopping Belfort in the rematch.

    After losing to Liddell twice, he retired. Couture would not be done though. He returned by winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship one more time.

    And we cannot forget he defended MMA's honor against James Toney in a one-sided mugging of the boxing great.

    Couture's successes and competitive spirit will not be forgotten.

No. 4: Fedor Emelianenko

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    Record: 22-3, 1 NC

    Championships: PRIDE Heavyweight Championship, WAMMA Heavyweight Championship

    The legend of Fedor began in 2003 when he captured the PRIDE Heavyweight Championship. From there, history was altered in the heavyweight division. Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez may be prepared to pass Fedor soon, but they have not just yet.

    Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Kazuyuki Fujita, Gary Goodridge, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski and Pedro Rizzo are some of the names that tried to beat Fedor but could not.

    In many eyes, Fedor was still undefeated, in spite of a TKO loss by cut in 2000, when he debuted for Strikeforce in 2009. Fedor won by TKO over Brett Rogers.

    Then it happened. He lost. Fabricio Werdum caught him in a triangle choke and armbar in San Jose in 2010. More shockingly, Fedor lost his next fight against Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. Fedor was dominated. And then, middleweight and light heavyweight Dan Henderson moved up and knocked him out.

    Fedor won three straight after exiting Strikeforce, and those fights do not tarnish what he accomplished prior. It was a decade that saw one man tear through the heavyweight division and become a legend.

No. 3: Georges St. Pierre

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    Record: 20-2

    Championships: UFC Welterweight Championship

    There was no question as to if GSP would make this list. He is not only one of the best of the past 10 years, but one of the greatest of all-time. And still the best welterweight on planet Earth.

    GSP would win four straight since 2003, running his total to 7-0, prior to challenging for the UFC Welterweight Championship for the first time. In spite of performing well, the young GSP made a crucial error and Matt Hughes capitalized for the finish.

    That loss reinvigorated GSP and he would win five straight to get back to a title shot. A brutal head kick followed up by vicious elbows saw UFC gold around his waist for the first time.

    Matt Serra shocked everyone by knocking GSP out in their fight for the strap, but that loss would prove to be GSP's last for the decade. He evolved into a wrestler and point fighter and has never looked back, winning 10 straight.

    GSP has a tough task ahead of him in 2013, but he shows no signs of slowing down or giving up his UFC Welterweight Championship anytime soon.

No. 2: Dan Henderson

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    Record: 17-5

    Championships: 2005 PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix, PRIDE Welterweight Championship, PRIDE Middleweight Championship, Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship

    Henderson will go down as one of the top five of all-time. His accomplishments are astounding.

    Henderson has taken on the best of the best, and has come out on top most of the time. He has fought across three divisions, and is the only man to hold two belts in a major organization at the same time.

    Only Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Kazuo Misaki, Rampage Jackson, Anderson Silva and Jake Shields have defeated him in the past 10 years. And only Nogueira and Silva have stopped him.

    To add to his legend he moved up to heavyweight in 2011 to fight Fedor, the former PRIDE Heavyweight champion. Henderson knocked him out. That pretty much says it all about Dan Henderson.

No. 1: Anderson Silva

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    Record: 23-3

    Championships: Cage Rage Middleweight Championship, UFC Middleweight Championship

    Any time you make a list like this, it comes as no shock that Anderson Silva is atop the heap.

    He is the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. Period.

    Between 2003 and 2004, Silva suffered two submission losses in PRIDE midst his four victories. Prior to losing to Ryo Chonan in PRIDE, he had already picked up the Cage Rage title by defeating Lee Murray.

    He then exited the famed promotion and defended his Cage Rage championship against Jorge Rivera, Curtis Stout and Tony Fryklund before being signed by the UFC.

    June 28, 2006 was the date he made his UFC debut, and history would begin to change. He has never lost inside the Octagon, and has only been on the brink of defeat once.

    He defeated Rich Franklin for the championship and has defended it a record 10 times since. It would be 11, but Travis Lutter did not make weight in his shot at the gold.

    His accomplishments and destruction of fighters are too numerous to name. Silva is the best, and we are all lucky to have been able to watch his work.


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