Knockout Kings: MMA Fighters Who Routinely Deliver Spectacular KOs

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2020

Knockout Kings: MMA Fighters Who Routinely Deliver Spectacular KOs

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Go ahead, admit it: It's a fight fan's guiltiest pleasure.

    Though we may recoil in horror at impact and instantly feel for the losing fighter—and their family and friends—there's little denying the primal jolt we receive upon watching a truly jarring knockout shot.

    Kicks, punches, elbows or knees; no matter the means of delivery, the shots that land create a sudden, violent impact that leaves a permanently thrilling scar.

    As good fortune would have it, there's no shortage of fighters across the mixed martial arts spectrum who can deliver precisely what we crave.

    We scanned the best each organization has to offer and came up with a collection—a "sudden seven," if you will—of the ones who've shown most recent tendencies to get it done in particularly memorable style.

    Click through to see where your favorites land, or to compare your own "greatest hits" list to ours.

Cris Cyborg

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    No matter the setting, no matter the promotional banners, one thing is certain: If Cris Cyborg is in the house, it's gonna get violent—and it's probably not gonna go the distance.

    A Brazilian star with certified KO street cred and a terrifying nickname, Cyborg is the only mixed martial artist to hold championships within four major promotional companies—UFC, Strikeforce, Invicta FC and Bellator—and she's finished no fewer than 18 of her 22 professional victories by way of knockout.

    She's scored 10 of 11 title-fight wins by KO or TKO as well, including first-round erasures of Gina Carano (punches) and Tonya Evinger (knees) to win the aforementioned Strikeforce and UFC belts.

    Of course, the lone title loss on her resume also came by first-round KO...but we'll get to that later.

Jorge Masvidal

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    Josh Hedges/Getty Images

    Many guys earn "knockout kings" laurels with sheer volume.

    But there are others who score their stoppages, albeit less frequently, with such undeniable aplomb that it's simply impossible not to think of them when concocting a list of top-shelf finishers.

    Jorge Masvidal fits the latter description to a T.

    The Miami-reared striker had long been a favorite of the MMA hardcore set thanks to a ferocious style and attitude to match. Still, he took a giant step up the street cred scale in 2019 with startling erasures of Darren Till and Ben Askren that will be talked about long after Masvidal hangs up his "Gamebred" persona.   

    In the latter bout, the caustic welterweight leaned against the cage with a sinister smile before sprinting to the center at the opening bell, plowing a flying right knee into Askren's head and landing two more flush hammer fists before matters were waved off after just five seconds.

    Yes...five seconds. Perhaps the most incredible five seconds of a combat sports generation.

    It's the fastest KO in UFC history, and one of eight first-rounders he's scored among 35 career wins.

    So you can go ahead and try to suggest Masvidal doesn't belong.

    But we're not buying it.

Stipe Miocic

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    Josh Hedges/Getty Images

    He's the UFC heavyweight champion. A two-time champion, in fact.

    So it's no surprise that Stipe Miocic follows in a long line of combat sports big men with killer instincts and heavy hands capable of ending a bout in a split second.

    Then an unheralded 33-year-old challenger, Miocic lifted the crown from incumbent Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198 by dropping him with a short, counter right hand while backpedaling away from danger. The Brazilian tumbled face-first to floor and was immediately rescued by referee Dan Miragliotta at 2:47 of the first round.

    Two subsequent defenses resulted in two more KO/TKO wins before Miocic went the distance to surprise heavily hyped challenger Francis Ngannou by unanimous decision. A surprise loss to rising light heavyweight king Daniel Cormier ended a two-year reign, but the former champ regained his status in a rematch—breaking the smaller man down with body shots before ending it with headshots in Round 4.

    He's earned 15 of 19 pro wins by stoppage and is one of only three heavyweights to regain the UFC belt.

    Point made.

Francis Ngannou

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    Josh Hedges/Getty Images

    When it comes to being a knockout king, size matters.

    So being 6'5" and a thickly muscled 255 pounds matters a lot to Francis Ngannou.

    The Cameroon-born heavyweight scored five stoppages in the first six bouts of a UFC run that began in December 2015. The last fight in that stretch, against fellow big man Alistair Overeem at UFC 218, ended in a KO so sudden and viscerally violent that it left the beaten man prone for several moments afterward.

    It came via a looping left uppercut that Ngannou unleashed as he pulled back to blunt the impact of a left delivered by Overeem. It dropped its victim flat on his back, where Ngannou landed one more terrifying chop before being pulled off the hapless England-born fighter.

    Distance losses to Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis blunted the power-hitter's momentum, but he's begun rebuilding by stringing together blitzes of Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos in a combined 142 seconds—and he now sits in the No. 2 contender spot behind champ Miocic and No. 1 Daniel Cormier.

    Simply put, if he lands...he wins.

Justin Gaethje

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Justin Gaethje has the results to claim top-shelf status among knockout artists.

    And in recent months, he's begun revving-up the chatter that helps land big fights.

    He was on a short list of fighters aiming to serve as second banana on Conor McGregor's return marquee, and he got his name into the mainstream by mixing reverence with venom while discussing the Irishman's out-of-cage antics with TMZ Sports (h/t

    "(McGregor) just has to fight and we're talking about it," he said. "He brings the most attention, he's the biggest superstar in this sport, he's not even fighting and he's still the biggest superstar. So, of course, I want to f--k him up. I see him punch an old man, do I want to punch him for that? F--k yeah! I want to f--k that dude up for s--t like that. He looks like a crackhead."

    Donald Cerrone eventually landed the headlining gig at UFC 246, but Gaethje's chatter—along with three straight first-round wins, two Performance of the Night bonuses and one share of Fight of the Night cash—did enough to get him in as a replacement for Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 249 next month.

    James Vick, gone in 87 seconds. Edson Barboza, out in 150 seconds. Cowboy Cerrone, done in 258 seconds.

    His aggressive, stand-up style yields consistent highlight-reel possibilities, and if he manages to upset Tony Ferguson in Jacksonville, Florida, he could soon be headlining his own PPV shows.

Amanda Nunes

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    When you're the greatest female mixed martial artist ever, you make a lot of lists.

    So it's no surprise that Amanda Nunes is among the most productive KO artists in the game today, too.

    And the longer she goes, the most impressive the resume gets. She stopped a future Bellator champion, Julia Budd, in just 14 seconds in her seventh pro fight. Later, she was able to outstrike and out-technique talented foes on the level of Sheila Gaff, Germaine de Randamie and Shayna Baszler.

    The last four years, though, have been particularly devastating against the best of the best.

    She rendered Miesha Tate a bloody heap in winning the UFC bantamweight title in a single round in July 2016, then she drove Ronda Rousey to the world of pro wrestling with a 48-second evisceration five months later.

    Three defenses later, she squared off with another MMA bogeywoman, Cris Cyborg, and blew the bully away with a KO in 51 seconds that yielded both the UFC featherweight title and a Performance of the Night bonus.

    Holly Holm didn't make it beyond a round at UFC 239 in July 2019, and though repeat rival De Randamie did last a full 25 minutes in December, she certainly looked worse for the wear thanks to Nunes' skill set.

    Boxing superstar Claressa Shields has banged drums for a potential sport-vs.-sport matchup, but even the most sublimely skilled pugilist will have her hands full against the "Lioness."

    Yes, she's just that good.

Conor McGregor

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    When you're the most popular MMA fighter on the planet, everything you do gets magnified. So when you score over-the-top stoppages in pay-per-view main events, they're instantly immortalized.

    Such is the life of Conor McGregor.

    Already a phenomenon among in-the-know fans, McGregor became a full-on crossover superstar the instant his left hand connected with Jose Aldo's jaw and rendered the Brazilian—unbeaten for better than 10 years at the time—semi-conscious and beaten just 13 seconds into their headline bout at UFC 194 in Las Vegas.

    "Nobody can take that left-hand shot," McGregor said afterward, per "He's powerful and he's fast, but precision beats power and timing beats speed. These are fundamentals. That's all it takes."

    He parlayed it into a classic back-and-forth with Nate Diaz, a second weight class title win against Eddie Alvarez and one of the biggest PPV circuses of all time in a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather Jr.

    But when a fall came, in the form of a tap-out loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018, it seemed precipitous.

    Turns out it took exactly 469 days for a return to the summit.

    Or precisely the moment McGregor's left shoulder connected with Donald Cerrone's face in January, breaking the Cowboy's nose at UFC 246 and setting in motion the brutality that ended in a 40-second TKO victory.

    It was quick. It was brutal. And, even against a shopworn opponent, it was spectacular.

    Two stoppages, more than four years apart...but when it comes to KO highlight reels, McGregor's the man.


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