Justin Gaethje and the 10 Hardest Punchers in the UFC Today
In the main event of Saturday's anticipated UFC 254 card, one of the hardest punchers in MMA will return to the cage: Justin Gaethje.
We'll see Gaethje in action in the card's main event, when he'll look to do something 28 other men have failed to do and defeat Khabib Nurmagomedov. He'll win the undisputed lightweight title if he succeeds, but at this point, being the first man to beat Nurmagomedov feels like a more valuable accomplishment than any title win when it comes to cementing one's legacy.
Gaethje will most likely look to accomplish this feat by stopping Nurmagomedov's takedowns and landing a knockout punch. It will be far easier said than done, but if anyone can do it, it's him.
The American falls into a special category of fighters who are capable of shutting off any opponent's power at any moment of any fight. There are a lot of fighters out there with power in their hands, but there are only a few of Gaethje's ilk in the UFC at any given moment.
Who are those fighters today? Allow us to introduce them.
Note: We're ranking the hardest punchers among active UFC fighters. That means that former UFC fighters like Mark Hunt, Cris Cyborg and John Lineker aren't eligible. It also means that fighters like Anthony Johnson, who is ostensibly making a return but has not yet done so, is not eligible, either. Last, we did our best to take weight out of the equation. This is a pound-for-pound list—otherwise, we'd only be looking at heavyweights.
Gaethje is one of the hardest punchers out there at the moment.
In another Bleacher Report article, we suggested that he has "left a trail of mushroom clouds in his wake." Please allow us to recycle that metaphor—partly out of laziness, partly because of its accuracy.
This guy has nuclear power in his hands. When he lands clean, he wipes people out.
Gaethje's record is jam-packed with thunderous, one-punch KOs—like the ones he scored on James Vick and Edson Barboza. In fact, he hits so hard that it's become a feat to simply lose to him by TKO rather than straight-up KO as Tony Ferguson did in May.
Poland's Jan Blachowicz just became the UFC light heavyweight champion with a TKO defeat of Dominick Reyes, who had only been beaten once before—by the legendary Jon Jones—and had never been knocked out.
What was the key to Blachowicz's win? If you ask the man himself, he'll tell you it was his "Legendary Polish Power."
It sounds a little corny, but it's hard to refute.
Blachowicz has lethal pop in his punches, and he's been showing it off with increased frequency of late. The most notable examples are his wins over Corey Anderson and Luke Rockhold, both of whom succumbed to his Legendary Polish Power and probably still have nightmares about it.
Paulo Costa's stock took a serious hit when he was walloped by UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in the main event of UFC 253 in September, but make no mistake about it: Even if he didn't get to show it against the champ, he still possesses that kind of power that could jostle a planet from its orbit.
The fun thing about Costa is that, with so much thump in his hands, he could probably adopt a conservative, counterstriking style, simply hanging back in his fights until he spots an opening for a fight-ending bomb. But that's just not his style. The Brazilian they call "Borrachinha"—Portuguese for "The Eraser"—pairs his power with the aggression of a rabid wolverine.
He plows forward, throwing heat for as long as the fight lasts. Oftentimes, the result is a dazzling knockout win, like the ones he scored over Adriano Balby, Garreth McLellan, Oluwale Bamgbose, Johny Hendricks and Uriah Hall.
Former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt, who is now plotting a drop down to the flyweight division—the promotion's lightest men's weight class—punches well above his weight. And he pairs his concussive power with all of the speed fans expect from lighter-weight fighters.
If we could make you a mixtape of Garbrandt's greatest hits, here's what it would include: His 2013 win over Shane Manley; his 2016 wins over Augusto Mendes and Thomas Almeida; and, of course, his June knockout of Raphael Assuncao. That last one was so fast, so devastatingly powerful, that we're compelled to compare it to something cosmic, like a comet.
We hinted at the start of this article that we intended to include the UFC's female fighters. The moment you read that note, you surely knew you would see Amanda Nunes' name at some point.
Nunes, who holds the UFC women's bantamweight and featherweight titles, is almost universally considered the greatest female fighter of all time. She's also one of the most powerful.
Over the course of her career, she's picked up devastating stoppage wins over the likes of former Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd, multiple time UFC title challenger Germaine de Randamie, and former UFC bantamweight champions Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm. She also used her punches to set up her title-winning 2016 submission defeat of Miesha Tate.
Really, the only woman with power to rival the reigning champ-champ's is Cris Cyborg, but Nunes knocked her senseless, too—in less than a minute.
UFC featherweight veteran Jeremy Stephens is perhaps best known for coming up short in a brief bit of verbal warfare with "Notorious" trash talker Conor McGregor.
In that exchange at the UFC 205 press conference in 2016, Stephens called himself "the real hardest-hitting 145'er," adding that when he knocks his opponents out "they don't f--king move," while McGregor simply "TKOs people." McGregor famously responded by asking, to the laughter of viewers everywhere, "who the f--k is that guy?"
It was not a great moment for Stephens, but if we're being honest with ourselves, he was bang on. McGregor has a few one-punch knockouts on his record and is undeniably a faster and more accurate striker than Stephens, but he is not a harder puncher.
Stephens has several violent knockout wins on his record, such as his one-punch defeats of Rafael dos Anjos and Marcus Davis. Yet the most notable example of his power came in his 2018 fight with Josh Emmett, which he won with a looping left hook and a storm of follow-up elbows. The impacts he landed in that fight-ending exchange were so powerful that Emmett required emergency surgery and didn't fight again for over a year.
Junior dos Santos
There's a common adage in MMA that says that, when it comes to aging fighters, power is the last thing to go.
Former UFC heavyweight Junior dos Santos is evidence of that fact.
For many years, Dos Santos stood out as one of the best heavyweights in the world, and he might have been the best outright were it not for the existence of Cain Velasquez. During that period, he produced a slew of vicious stoppage victories over the likes of Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Gabriel Gonzaga, Frank Mir and even one over his two-time foil, Velasquez.
Dos Santos has slowed significantly in recent years, but his recent knockout wins over Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa are the proof you need that, even if he's losing a step, he's still got fight-ending pop in both hands.
UFC light heavyweight contender Thiago Santos might be the hardest puncher in his division today. Not even Blachowicz and his "Legendary Polish Power" could withstand the Brazilian's might when they collided in early 2019.
Beyond Blachowicz, Santos has also picked up knockout wins over a long list of respectable foes across the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions. Among his victims are hockey enforcer turned mixed martial artist turned boxer Steve Bosse, former King of Pancrase Nate Marquardt, current middleweight contender Jack Hermansson, current light heavyweight contender Anthony Smith, and former light heavyweight contender Jimi Manuwa.
The Brazilian has the kind of power that can ruin any fighter's night in a blink. In his case, the division doesn't even seem to matter.
The only thing hotter than Derrick Lewis' balls are his hands. The man they call "The Black Beast" packs sizzling knockout power in each of his gloves.
While the hulking Lewis is a notoriously slow starter, occasionally going multiple rounds without doing much of anything, it doesn't seem to matter in his case. All he needs his one well-placed punch to win, and he's more than content to bide his time until he sees an opening for that punch.
Among the many victims of his Octagon-shaking firepower are Gabriel Gonzaga, Shamil Abdurakhimov, Travis Browne, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov and Aleksei Oleinik. And those are just six of the 11 men he's knocked out in the Octagon—the highest number of any heavyweight in the promotion's history.
You had to know whose name you'd find at the end of this list.
Francis Ngannou is not only the hardest puncher in the UFC right now, but maybe the hardest puncher in MMA ever.
When your average fighter lands a knockout blow, you usually feel impressed or excited. When Ngannou does, the first emotion fight fans with even a thread of compassion feel is worry. Worry for his opponent. The same kind of worry you'd feel if you saw somebody get hit by a transport truck on the highway. He really hits that hard.
Still not convinced? Revisit the French-Cameroonian heavyweight's latest four wins: first-round demolitions of Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik—all in less than three minutes combined.
Need more convincing still? Fire up his late-2017 fight with former Strikeforce, K-1 and Dream heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, which ends with as dizzying a knockout as you'll ever see. All it took one was one rocket-fuelled uppercut for Ngannou to send his foe's head into orbit. Some say that, with a powerful enough telescope, you can still see it out there, ricocheting off satellites and pieces of space junk.