Photo: Fedor Emelianenko, Credit: Dave Mandel, Sherdog.com
Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Muhammad Ali are all known as the greatest of all time in their respective sports. As an MMA fan, I occasionally ponder on who is the measuring stick of Mixed Martial Arts. When fighters begin their careers, who are those athletes that are the gold standards in their craft?
That's a question that I decided to answer. In each division, I've named a fighter that I believe to be the greatest in that division's history. In some divisions choosing the best fighter was simple, but in others there are plenty of debates and arguments to be made on whom truly is the greatest of all time.
Heavyweight: Fedor Emelianenko (34-4, 1 NC)
Fedor Emelianenko was an outlier in a division that lacked consistency. His 27 fight undefeated streak is one of the most impressive runs in MMA's history. In that streak, Emelianenko recorded victories over Mirko Cro Cop and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, two of the best heavyweights of that time period.
During the streak, Emelianenko had an aura about him that no other human had. He was the unbeatable machine. If Emelianenko was fighting three grizzly bears, I would put money on The Last Emperor. The arguments against Fedor being the best is the lack of competition he faced and his three fight losing streak at the end of his career, but there is no other heavyweight in the sport's history that was as dominant as Fedor.
The rest of the G.O.A.T.s of MMA after the break.
The idea of an athlete as young as Jones being considered the greatest in his division is preposterous, but so is becoming a UFC champion three years into your MMA career. The ceiling of Jon Jones is unlimited. He could very well end up as the greatest athlete of all time.
At 25 years old, he has already dismantled four former Light Heavyweight champions in Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, and Mauricio Rua. The scary thing about Jones is the fact that he hasn't even hit his prime yet. Love him or hate him, it is impossible for anybody to deny how great of a fighter Jon Jones is.
Middleweight: Anderson Silva (32-4)
Picking Anderson Silva as the greatest middleweight of all time was an easy choice. There is no other middleweight that has dominated the sport like Anderson Silva. The current UFC Middleweight holds the record for most successful title defenses (ten) and most consecutive wins in the UFC (fifteen).
Silva has been so dominant that he has scared multiple fighters out of the division, and due to the lack of the competition he took a few fights in the Light Heavyweight class where he finished former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. It's only a matter of time until age catches up to the 37 year old Brazilian, but his legacy at 185 pounds is one that will be hard to catch.
Welterweight: George St. Pierre (22-2)
The best thing to happen to George St. Pierre was losing to Matt Serra. GSP used the loss as fuel to become the best fighter in the world, and that fuel has been quite effective. The stranglehold that St. Pierre has put on the UFC Welterweight Division is one that can only be rivaled by Anderson Silva's of the Middleweight Division.
What's truly phenomenal about GSP is how complete his game is. Not only is GSP one of the best strikers in the division, but he is also one of the best wrestlers. Game planning against GSP is hopeless since he is great at practically every facet of the game. Due to an ACL injury, St. Pierre has been lost in the shuffle in the arguments about who is the best fighter on the planet behind Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, but a fighter of his caliber should find his way back in the argument once he returns.
Lightweight: BJ Penn (16-8-2)
The lightweight division is one where a fighter hasn't dominated it for an extended period of time like the other weight classes. With that in mind, it's hard to deny BJ Penn as the top lightweight of all time. He holds the record most successful title defenses (three), and he was a former welterweight champion.
Before losing his title to Frankie Edgar, Penn was regarded as one of three best fighters in the UFC alongside Anderson Silva and George St. Pierre. The reason being was the way he handled his opponents in the lightweight division. I wouldn't be surprised if someone in the future overthrows Penn from the lightweight mountain, but as of now I believe BJ Penn is the best lightweight of all time.
The other weight classes (featherweight, bantamweight, and flyweight) are still developing, so I decided not go to in depth on who I think is the greatest of all time in those divisions. If you are interested in my opinion, I believe that Aldo and Cruz are the greatest featherweight and bantamweight fighters of all time respectively, and Yasuhiro Urushitani holds that honor in the flyweight division.
This column does lead one big question, and that is who is the best pound for pound fighter of all time. In the future I believe that fighter will be Jon Jones, but currently I'd have to say it's Anderson Silva due to his unblemished and dominant record in the UFC. Disagree with that or any of my other selections? Let me know in the comments section.