How Many Fighters Can We Legitimately Call "All-Time Greats"?


As the sport of MMA continues to grow in terms of mainstream popularity and global appeal, the term "Greatest of all time", or simply "GOAT", seems to be getting thrown around more and more anytime a dominant champion emerges. The use of this term has become exceedingly loose and careless in recent years, as it seems like any champion who defends their title more than a few times begins to be praised as a potential GOAT. This is purely unacceptable and dilutes the prestige of being called one of the greatest to ever to do it. Seats at the GOAT table are reserved for fighters who have sustained long win streaks, accumulated many title defences, etc. Much goes into the criteria when considering who the greatest fighters of all time might be, and in this article I will list nine fighters we as fans can legitimately refer to as "GOATs" or "All-time greats". Each of these fighters have had legendary careers and managed to reach the pinnacle of the sport in terms of skill, dominance, and achievement.

Note: This list is NOT a ranking. Order is basically random and does not signify who I consider to be the best of this group.

Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0, 13-0 UFC)

Khabib is something of an anomaly on this list, as his title reign did not last particularly long and he only defended his championship three times. However, you could argue this man had the most dominant style in UFC history. It is not necessarily WHAT he accomplished that made him great, but rather HOW he accomplished it. Having never been put in legitimate danger and only losing 1-2 rounds throughout his entire 29-fight career, Khabib was a truly special and unprecedented talent. He proved to be unstoppable for as long as he was competing, as nobody he ever fought was able to challenge him in any significant capacity. He ran through all of his opponents with relative ease. The only shame on Nurmagomedov is that he retired young and in the midst of his absolute prime, which is very unfortunate. He is the greatest lightweight of all time, and perhaps if he had stuck around for a few more years, he could have become the undisputed greatest fighter of all time. Now, we will never know. One thing is for certain, he had the most flawless UFC career ever. Notable wins: Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor, Rafael dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, Michael Johnson, Al Iaquinta, Gleison Tibau.

Jose Aldo (31-7 MMA, 13-6 UFC)

The King of Rio, Jose Aldo, is the greatest featherweight of all time. He dominated the division for nearly a decade, putting together a remarkable 18-fight win streak along the way. This win streak included winning the featherweight championship in both the WEC and the UFC, with a collective total of 9 title defences across both promotions. Aldo is a two-time champion at 145lbs under the UFC banner, and convincingly defeated every elite featherweight the UFC had to offer him between 2010-2015. Despite falling short against fellow elite featherweights toward the end of his divisional run, his accomplishments are second to none at that weight. In addition to his obvious skill, Aldo's longevity and durability have been on full display in the twilight of his career, dropping down to bantamweight and finding commendable success against top contenders in that division as well (he even challenged for the belt). At the time of this writing, Aldo is riding a 3-fight win streak at 135lbs and appears to have one last run at gold left inside him. Let's see if the Brazilian legend can create magic one last time before he calls it a career. Notable wins: Frankie Edgar (x2), Chad Mendes (x2), Chan Sung Jung, Jeremy Stephens, Urijah Faber, Mike Brown, Cub Swanson, Ricardo Lamas, Rob Font, Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz.

Stipe Miocic (20-4 MMA, 14-4 UFC)

How could you possibly make a list of the all-time greats in MMA without including the best heavyweight to ever do it? Stipe Miocic climbed his way through the UFC rankings relatively undetected, receiving little attention and even less praise for his ability. This all changed when he finally got the opportunity to challenge for the heavyweight championship in 2016. Miocic claimed the heavyweight crown via knockout in the very first round, forever altering the way people looked at him. What followed was the best heavyweight reign in UFC history, which saw Miocic rack up a record-setting three title defences. Miocic possessed well-rounded ability and abnormally good movement relative to what we normally see in the heavyweight division, which is what allowed him to stand above his contemporaries throughout his prime. A trilogy with fellow legend Daniel Cormier certainly helped solidify Miocic as an all-time great, as he bested his rival twice in a row after initially dropping the first fight via an early knockout. Miocic is nearing retirement at the time of this writing, but if his career has shown us anything up until now, it's that we should never count him out. Notable wins: Daniel Cormier (x2), Francis Ngannou, Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, Roy Nelson.

Fedor Emelianenko (40-6 MMA, 14-0 PRIDE)

Fedor 'The Last Emperor' Emelianenko is by far the greatest and most revered fighter to have never competed under the UFC banner. The fact that we never got to see him compete in the UFC is one of the great tragedies in the history of the sport, but this does not diminish all of the great things he accomplished throughout his illustrious MMA career. An extremely skilled martial artist with a background in multiple combat disciplines, Fedor is best known for his time in PRIDE FC, wherein he won their heavyweight championship, defended it three times, and even won the promotions 2004 Heavyweight World Grand Prix. At his peak, Fedor was riding an astronomical 28-fight unbeaten streak that saw him defeat former UFC champions, K-1 champions, Olympic medalists, among other stiff competition. Many argue that Fedor was far ahead of his time due to the considerable gap in skill between him and other heavyweights of that era, which is a further testament to how talented/dominant he was for much of his career. Despite not being the fighter he once was, Fedor remains active to this day and is currently riding a 2-fight win streak in Bellator MMA. At 45 years of age, the great Fedor is poised to capture one last major championship in Bellator before hanging up the gloves for good. Notable wins: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (x2), Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Coleman (x2), Kevin Randleman, Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, Matt Lindland, Quinton Jackson, Chael Sonnen, Frank Mir, Pedro Rizzo, and more...

Demetrious Johnson (30-4-1 MMA, 15-2-1 UFC)

Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson might just be the most underrated person on this list, despite being one of the most decorated. Johnson began his career at bantamweight and was considered an elite fighter in the division, even challenging for the UFC championship, before ultimately finding a home in the UFC's flyweight division the moment it was created in 2012. It only took three fights at 125lbs for Johnson to claim the flyweight title, and his reign as champion would end up being the most dominant we've ever seen in the UFC. Johnson's championship run lasted from 2012-2018, a run that saw him defend his title 11 times while dominating contender after contender. There came a point in which the idea of Johnson losing had become borderline inconceivable, as he was steamrolling contenders at the championship level with little-to-no resistance along the way outside of the occasional scare. His fight IQ is undeniably some of the best ever witnessed at the highest level of the sport, which allowed him to weaponize his wide variety of skills more effectively than anyone else on the roster while he was on top. Johnson is recognized for his lightning fast striking, elusive movement, relentless cardio, calculated wrestling, and cutthroat submission game. It is also worth mentioning just how durable Johnson has proven to be over the course of his career, having just gotten finished for the very first time in his 36th professional bout. It wouldn't be an understatement to call Demetrious Johnson the most well-rounded MMA fighter ever, but that is an entirely separate conversation. Despite parting ways with the UFC after dropping his flyweight title, Johnson has enjoyed recent success in ONE Championship, winning their Flyweight World Grand Prix in 2019. Although he came up short when challenging for the ONE flyweight title in 2021, Johnson remains one of the very best fighters in the world not currently signed to the UFC and continues to operate at an extremely high level. Notable wins: Joseph Benavidez (x2), John Dodson (x2), Henry Cejudo, Kyoji Horiguchi, Ian McCall, Miguel Torres, Wilson Reis, John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov.

Daniel Cormier (22-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC)

Daniel "DC" Cormier could perhaps be the the greatest fighter of all time, had he not competed alongside two other fighters on this list. Nevertheless, Cormier achieved more in the sport than the overwhelming majority of fighters could ever dream of achieving, solidifying him as one of the best to ever compete. Cormier dedicated much of his athletic prime to the sport of wrestling, putting together an incredibly decorated career, meaning he did not make his MMA debut as young as most fighters tend to do so. Cormier's wrestling translated very well into MMA, becoming the basis for the skills he would eventually develop to become a multi-weight world champion. Beginning his mainstream career under the Strikeforce banner, Cormier won their Heavyweight World Grand Prix in 2012, before eventually making his UFC debut in 2013. Not long after entering the UFC, he dropped down to the light heavyweight division where he would capture UFC gold and defend his crown 3 times. After essentially cleaning out the 205lb division, Cormier would move back up to heavyweight and knockout the great Stipe Miocic to win the heavyweight championship, becoming just the second fighter in UFC history to hold two titles simultaneously. Cormier affirmed his champ-champ status by defending his heavyweight title, making him one of the few fighters to ever successfully defend belts in multiple divisions. This laudable list of achievements makes Cormier's placement among the greatest of all time undeniable. Considering he was only ever bested by fellow all-time greats, MMA fans must wonder just how dominant his reign might have been in an era void of these competitive hurdles. Notable wins: Stipe Miocic, Alexander Gustafsson, Anthony Johnson (x2), Derrick Lewis, Josh Barnett, Anderson Silva, Frank Mir, Antonio Silva, Roy Nelson, Dan Henderson, Volkan Oezdemir.

Anderson Silva (34-11 MMA, 17-7 UFC)

Anderson Silva was, for a long time, rightfully considered the undisputed greatest ever. 'The Spider' had a legendary run unlike anything we have ever seen to this day, winning the UFC middleweight championship via first round knockout it what was just his second promotional appearance. While MMA insiders had caught wind of Silva prior to his UFC debut, either in PRIDE FC or on the regional circuit, it was the memorable reign of utter dominance in the UFC that made him the star we now know him to be. After claiming UFC gold in only two fights with the promotion, Silva proceeded to defend his middleweight throne 10 times between 2007-2012, occasionally moving up to light heavyweight for showcase fights near the end of his extraordinary run. Up until he finally suffered his first UFC loss in 2013, Silva put together a 16-fight win streak, which remains the longest in UFC history to this day. Silva possessed profound Muay Thai, boxing, and taekwondo skills, which made him an absolute master in the striking realm who used speed, power, and accuracy to frequently knockout his opponents. Silva had the ability to operate from both orthodox and southpaw in an equally effective manner, also using what many consider the best striking defence in MMA history to enable his counterattacks. His prowess as a striker was virtually unmatched in his prime, and he still holds up as perhaps the best striker to have ever competed in the sport of MMA. Many like to argue Silva's biggest hole was his grappling, but his 3rd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has helped him secure multiple key submission victories throughout his career. Silva was a man among boys during his reign, dispatching elite fighters and hardly breaking a sweat while doing so. Despite his unfortunate exit from MMA, Silva continues to find success in the boxing ring at 47 years of age. Nobody quite like him. Notable wins: Chael Sonnen (x2), Vitor Belfort, Rich Franklin (x2), Dan Henderson, Yushin Okami, Forrest Griffin, Demian Maia, Nate Marquardt, Derek Brunson, Chris Leben, Stephan Bonnar.

Georges St-Pierre (26-2 MMA, 20-2 UFC)

Georges St-Pierre, better known as "GSP", is often regarded as the best representation of what a modern mixed martial artist should be. GSP might just be the most accomplished fighters on this list, being a multi-time welterweight champion and one-time middleweight champion. After joining the UFC with an undefeated record of 5-0, GSP challenged for the undisputed welterweight crown in just his 8th professional bout, getting submitted in the first round. After the loss, GSP regrouped and eventually made his way back to another title opportunity in which he would successfully become UFC champion. However, his reign was short-lived as he would go on to lose his title via first round knockout in his very first defence. Again forced to reconfigure himself as a fighter, GSP would have to embark on another journey back to the title, later reclaiming the crown and becoming a two-time undisputed champion. As a matter of fact, GSP would end up never losing another fight for the remainder of his career. His second reign as welterweight king would be much different than the first, successfully defending his championship 9 times before relinquishing it in 2013. After a hiatus of approximately four years, GSP would return to the UFC in 2017, moving up in weight to challenge for the middleweight crown and become a two-weight world champion in the process. After winning the middleweight title, GSP would end up relinquishing that belt as well, ultimately deciding to retire for good in 2019. Aside from his two losses, both of which he avenged, GSP had a stainless career inside and outside of the cage. He won titles in multiple divisions, defended his welterweight title 9 times (the third most ever), amassed a 13-fight win streak in the UFC, and defeated every fighter he ever fought. It is also worth noting he accomplished most of this in extremely dominant fashion, hardly ever losing rounds in his prime. GSP is another fighter with a claim to being the most well-rounded ever, as his striking and grappling proved to be too much for his peers to handle. When fighters wanted to strike, he would take them down. When fighters wanted to grapple, he would keep the fight standing and pick them apart. GSP's trademark jab became something of a staple later in his career, remaining one of the best in MMA history to this point. GSP is a model mixed martial artist, and has one of the most compelling cases in the GOAT discussion overall. GSP truly left no stone unturned. If only he had made one final octagon appearance to fight the aforementioned Khabib Nurmagomedov... Notable wins: B.J. Penn (x2), Matt Hughes (x2), Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, Michael Bisping, Jake Shields, Josh Koscheck (x2), Johny Hendricks, Matt Serra, Jon Fitch.

Jon Jones (26-1 MMA, 20-1 UFC)

Last but certainly not least, the polarizing Jon Jones. The early stages on Jones' career resembled a man getting shout straight out of a canon. The man made his UFC debut in his 7th fight and, other than a controversial disqualification loss, would go on to be unstoppable for his entire career. Jones is essentially undefeated. He is the youngest UFC champion of all time, first winning the belt at 23 years of age, and his reign included 8 thorough defences against a murderers row of legendary names. In terms of MMA resumes, it is incredibly hard to argue anyone has a resume better than Jones. His strength of schedule has been ironclad for the vast majority of his career, remaining champion and fending off three generations of light heavyweight contenders. After defending his crown 8 times in a row, Jones was stripped of his title due to legal trouble outside the octagon. He would eventually return to competition and capture interim gold, but was again stripped of his title due to his now infamous doping violations. Upon returning from his doping suspension, Jones would reclaim the undisputed championship, but the fight was overturned to a No Contest due to yet another failed drug test, meaning he was, once again, stripped of his title. Jones finally reclaimed his undisputed crown for good in 2018, proceeding to defend his championship 3 more times before vacating the belt in 2020, citing plans to move up to heavyweight. Jones' career is marred in controversy due to his doping issues, however, this has virtually no impact on his official record, which remains arguably the best we have ever seen. Jones has the most title fight wins in UFC history, looking to be levels above his competition more often than not. 'Bones' is a fighter with flawless technique, who possesses a dynamic and innovative set of skills. Whether it be striking or grappling, Jones was rarely ever challenged except for a few separate occasions. Perhaps the most creative and unorthodox fighter in history, Jones uses a wide variety of kicks, elbows, and knees to break down his opponents in one-sided affairs. He popularized the oblique kick in MMA, a technique used by many fighters today. Although his recent fights have been closely contested affairs, hopefully Jon can breathe new life into his career at heavyweight, should he ever make it there. Becoming a two-weight world champion would likely cement Jones as the undeniable greatest ever. Notable wins: Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson (x2), Glover Texeira, Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Chael Sonnen, Ryan Bader, Ovince Saint Preux, Stephan Bonnar, Dominick Reyes, Thiago Santos.

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