It’s easy to understand the appeal of mixed martial arts. For fans, mixed martial arts provide a haven for those who want the physicality and immediacy of wrestling, but can’t stand the soap opera storytelling. The best MMA fights are brutal, crunching affairs in which the combatants struggle for their lives and nobody’s ever sure who will come out on top.
As with every other sport, MMA has its leading lights and its also-rans. The greatest MMA fighters mix physicality with grace, raw strength with agility, and skill with pure charisma making them incredible to watch on the mat.
Here, for your consideration, are the greatest mixed martial arts fighters of all time.
No list of the greatest MMA fighters is complete without UFC Hall of Famer Mark Coleman. His approach to wrestling marked him out among his competitors, but it was his analytical skill and calculated approach to each fight that made him a legend. There’s no doubt that Coleman should be in the annals for every MMA fan.
Talking to Betway, Coleman discussed the changing landscape of combat sports and his popularisation of the “ground and pound” style. It’s well worth checking out the interview; Coleman talks eloquently about his impact on the sport and how it’s looking today, and he even throws in a little tidbit about the Paul brothers!
Jones shares his name with Martian Manhunter, a DC superhero often overlooked in favour of the flashier and more marketable Superman. In many ways, that parallels Jones’ career in MMA; his first-ever great match was actually a loss, as he was disqualified for using illegal moves, but it solidified his place in the hall of fame (lower-case).
Despite Jones’ slightly inauspicious beginnings, he went on to absolutely dominate the UFC landscape, battling no fewer than seven future Hall of Fame alumni and coming out on top against all of them. In more recent times, Jones has shown some signs of slowing down, but he had such a high peak to come down from that he’s just now reaching the same level as everyone else.
There really is almost nobody in women’s mixed martial arts that matches Rousey in terms of sheer skill, dedication, and power. Her career has seen her rise through the ranks of UFC, and although her time in mixed martial arts looked like it might be at an end after a defeat to Holly Holm, she’s gone on to achieve success in the WWE.
Of course, that isn’t the only string to Rousey’s rather impressive bow. She’s also since become a celebrated actor, appearing in franchises as diverse as The Expendables, Fast and Furious, and Charlie’s Angels. If you want a butt-kicking diva who takes nothing from anyone, then Rousey is your go-to actor.
There’s a good reason Amanda Nunes is known as “The Lioness”. She has the most victories amongst women in UFC history, marking her out as arguably the most talented female MMA fighter the world has ever seen. Nunes counts Rousey among her defeats, as well as Rousey’s conqueror Holly Holm and fellow powerhouse Cris Cyborg.
Nunes’ style works because she has range, dynamism, and power in her kit. She’s versatile, but she’s also got tons of endurance, meaning she can outlast even the most grueling opponent. She’s the best because she knows where her limits are and when to push them.
Georges St. Pierre
What more is left to be said about the titan that is St. Pierre? He is, according to many outlets, the greatest fighter in UFC history, and it’s difficult to argue with that. His absolute domination is only matched by his dedication; he’s got a superhero origin story that meant he was only ever destined for UFC greatness.
St. Pierre came from a rough background, with his parents having to choose between sports and karate as they didn’t have enough money to encourage his burgeoning interest in both disciplines. He says that having a rough childhood “shaped [his] character”, allowing him to become the demon he is today.
Despite a long run battling some of UFC’s greatest fighters, it could be argued that Nurmagomedov has never really enjoyed a true competition. His fights are one-sided bouts of sheer strength and raw power, and it’s always hard to watch him shred opponent after opponent with nary a care.
Nurmagomedov is known as “The Eagle”, and that’s because he brings a lot more than raw strength and physicality to his fights; he’s also a nimble, agile fighter who’s more than capable of meeting speedy opponents in the ring. To put it simply, Nurmagomedov will go down in history as one of the greats.
Cris Justino, aka Cris Cyborg
One of the few UFC fighters to compete under a nickname, Cris Cyborg – or Justino, to give her her real name – is a truly terrifying opponent to face off against in the ring. Cyborg is one of the few fighters to hold a truly impressive 20-0 record, and although that record was eventually ended by The Lioness, Cyborg can be proud.
She’s not just an excellent fighter, though; she’s also an extremely charitable human being. Back in 2019, Cris Cyborg helped the Batwa Pygmies in Uganda by drilling the first two water wells on their land. Truly, she’s an exemplar, and someone to whom everyone else in UFC can turn for a role model.