Number Ten-Chuck Liddell
From March 31, 1999 to December 30, 2006, Liddell achieved an 18-2 MMA record, gaining the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and defeating the likes of Tito Ortiz (twice by KO/TKO), Renato Sobral (twice by TKO), Jeff Monson (decision), Guy Mezger (KO), Murilo Bustamante (decision), Amar Suloev (decision), Kevin Randleman (KO), Vitor Belfort (decision), Alistair Overeem (KO), Vernon White (KO), and Randy Couture (two out of three times by KO). He defended his UFC light heavyweight belt on four occasions, and generally had one of the better primes of all time.
Liddell had solid, though unspectacular longevity, in that he started fighting in 1998 and continued at a very high level until 2006. That said, from May 26, 2007 until his retirement after a June 12, 2010 loss to Rich Franklin, Liddell lost five of his last six bouts, with nearly all of his losses coming by way of stoppage. Along with Randy Couture, he served as one of two coaches on TUF 1, the reality show that allowed the UFC to continue. He was one of the organization’s first true superstars. In addition, he showed the world anti wrestling at its finest, or the ability to avoid takedowns so as to be able to knock people out. Few were able to do that like Liddell was. Chuck was one of the hardest hitting fighters of all time. And he was beloved by his fans. He beats out Hendo due to his having held an upper level championship belt longer.
Number Nine-Kazushi Sakuraba
From December 21, 1997 to December 9, 2000, Sakuraba went an impressive 11-1-1 while fighting for the PRIDE Fighting Championships. Not bad at all. But the most noteworthy piece of his prime was the fact that he was able to defeat Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie , Renzo Gracie, and Ryan Gracie during that time period, earning him the moniker of “The Gracie Hunter.” Further, beyond the Gracies he was able to defeat fighters like Marcus Silveira, Vernon White, Carlos Newton, Vitor Belfort , Guy Mezger, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson during his best days, all coming by way of stoppage other than Belfort (decision).
Through October 25, 2009, Sakuraba continued to find ways to win fights, with his final victory coming over Zelg Galesic by kneebar. That said, from November 3, 2001 through September 24, 2011, he posted a 13-13 record (with one no contest).
By defeating the Gracies, he proved that Gracie Jiu Jitsu by itself was not infallible, nor was Royce or any other Gracie unbeatable. His wins over the first family in MMA changed the sport’s landscape forever.
Number Eight-Bas Rutten
Between April 8, 1995 to May 7, 1999, Rutten posted a 20-0-1 record, fighting mostly for the Pancrase organization. Along the way, he also achieved the UFC heavyweight championship with a close and controversial split decision win over Kevin Randleman. During his now famous winning streak, Rutten defeated top flight competitors of the time like Maurice Smith (heel hook), Jason DeLucia (twice- toe hold, TKO), Minoru Suzuki (guillotine), Guy Mezger (heel hook), Frank Shamrock (TKO and split decision), Masakatsu Funaki (TKO), and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (TKO). Considering the length of his prime and record during it against some good competition, Rutten’s best days have to be considered some of the best ever. Though Rutten’s earlier days from September 21, 1993 to March 10, 1995 were not as good as his prime- he posted a 7-4 record including two submission losses to Ken Shamrock and one decision loss to his brother Frank- Rutten’s prime was so long that his longevity was decent. But those injuries cut his career down a significant amount. Thus, longevity hurts him to an extent.
Rutten was one of the first high level stand up fighters to have success in MMA. Along with this, he’s also one of the first fighters to realize he needed to cross train extensively so that he could be as good on the ground as he was on his feet. Eventually, he became an excellent submission fighter, which led to his amazing streak. He has also bettered the sport as a commentator and trainer. Rutten gets the nod over Henderson, Sakuraba, and Liddell due to his championship belts coupled with being a pioneer in actual mixed martial arts training, as he developed himself in grappling tremendously over time. We’re talking about a three time King of Pancrase champion, and a UFC champion here.
Number Seven-Randy Couture
Another hard to figure prime period, in that Couture never really went on a very long winning streak. One could make an argument that his true prime happened between October 9, 2000 to November 2, 2001 when he won 6-of-7 fights, defeating high level competitors of the time like Jeremy Horn (decision), Kevin Randleman (TKO), Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (decision), and Pedro Rizzo (twice, once by TKO, once by decision). Along the way, he won the heavyweight belt and defended it twice. Couture started fighting on May 30, 1997. He stopped on April 30, 2011, having won three of four fights. In other words, his longevity was outstanding. What’s more, he started fighting professionally at age 33, which is a time when many have found themselves already on the downside of a career. Beyond that, Couture always fought upper level competition in that time period (save James Toney). So anything he did was against the best of the best, with the exception of the PRIDE fighters whom he could not throw down with.
First, Couture was a coach on the first TUF reality show opposite Chuck Liddell. Thus, he took part in the show that saved the UFC. Next, he was one of the first real stars of MMA after the blackout years. Couture is also one of only two fighters to date to ever hold belts in two different UFC weight classes (heavyweight and light heavyweight). And finally, he once again shut down the boxing vs. MMA talk with his dominant submission win over James Toney. Intangibles, therefore, add to his appearance on this list significantly.
Number Six-Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
From October 9, 2000 until February 2, 2008, Nogueira posted a 22-2 record with one no contest. During that time, he defeated the likes of Heath Herring (3 times, once for the first PRIDE Heavyweight Championship), Mark Coleman (triangle armbar), Bob Sapp (armbar), Dan Henderson (armbar), Ricco Rodriguez (decision- controversial), Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (armbar), Fabricio Werdum (decision), Josh Barnett (decision), and Tim Sylvia (guillotine choke for the UFC Heavyweight Championship belt). So he had an amazingly long prime with some huge wins to his credit, even if some of the best fighters in the world were competing for the UFC at the time. That said, his prime was hurt in that he was was only considered the best heavyweight in it for a short period of time, before Fedor Emelianenko defeated him in clear fashion. From 1999 to 2013, Nogueira fought at a very high level. He has defeated a list of who’s who in the MMA world, including a win over Randy Couture which was not otherwise noted. One of the best submission fighters ever, and the only person to date to hold championship belts in both PRIDE and the UFC.
Number Five-Wanderlei Silva
From August 12, 2000 to July 1, 2006, Silva went a combined 20-2-1 (with one no contest). Further, that streak saw him rattle off 18 fights without a loss. During one of the best prime periods any fighter ever had, he defeated the likes of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (twice by KO/TKO), Hidehiko Yoshida (twice by decision), Kazushi Sakuraba (twice by KO/TKO), Ricardo Arona (split decision), Ikuhisa Minowa (KO), Dan Henderson (decision), and Guy Mezger (KO). Not bad at all. Further, he was clearly one of the greatest PRIDE fighters of all time.
In addition to one of the greatest ever, Silva has been a high level fighter for a very, very long time. We’re talking about a guy who started fighting in 1996, experienced his entire prime in organizations other than the UFC, and won three of five fights in the UFC between February 21, 2010 to March 3, 2013 over the likes of Brian Stann (KO), Cung Le (TKO), and Michael Bisping (decision). Silva has defeated high level fighters in both the 205 pound class and the 185 pound class (UFC). He is known as probably the most ferocious stand up fighter in history, always willing to take a punch to give one. In addition, he was always willing to fight anyone, which may have impacted the length of his career, having fought battles against heavyweights like Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Mark Hunt.
Number Four-Royce Gracie
From November 12, 1993 to April 7, 1995, Gracie achieved a record of 11-0-1. During that time, he won three UFC tournaments, the most that anyone ever won during tournament style fighting in the organization. What’s more, during that one and a half year span, he stopped all 11 of his opponents via submission. In addition, he posted a winning record against his two greatest rivals: Ken Shamrock (1-0-1) and Dan Severn (1-0). Against Severn, a high level wrestler with a 90 pound weight advantage, Gracie proved his mettle, toughing it out for 15:49 underneath his opponent before finally defeating him via triangle choke. On one hand, Gracie defeated fighters who were not nearly of the caliber of those fighting today. Then again, he defeated multiple fighters on one night with no weight classes, making his wins unique and special. Further, his record was quite strong, and most believed he was literally unbeatable during that time period.
There was a near five year absence from the fight game after drawing with Ken Shamrock. In sum, the Gracies were not happy with the rule changes that included time limits and judge’s decisions in the organization. When Gracie finally did come back on January 30, 2000, he went a combined 3-2-2 (the two draws coming in matches without judges against Hidehiko Yoshida and Hideo Tokoro). Gracie has this category over every single fighter ever to compete. We’re talking about the man who ushered in modern MMA. As he won three of the first four UFC tournaments, we found out a couple of things. First off, grappling was king over the striking styles if you only knew one style. Next, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu really was the equalizer over a bigger opponent. Today, nearly every high level fighter uses his family’s art in training. That says something. There is no question that Gracie was the pound for pound king during his prime. He actually proved it in fights where there was no weight limit.
Number Three-Georges St. Pierre
St. Pierre holds a 24-2 overall MMA record since he started fighting on January 25, 2002. That’s technically an 11 year prime period, at least if you use his record to figure out when his prime was. His only two losses during this time were by stoppage to Matt Hughes (armbar) and Matt Serra (TKO). He avenged his loss to Hughes on two separate occasions, defeating one of the greatest of all time by TKO and armbar. He also stopped Serra, whose win over him goes down as one of the greatest MMA upsets of all time, with knees to the body. Beyond the aforementioned, St. Pierre has defeated the likes of Karo Parisyan (decision- when Parisyan was in his prime), Jay Hieron (TKO), Jason Miller (decision), Frank Trigg ( rear naked choke in dominant fashion), Sean Sherk (TKO), BJ Penn (decision and TKO), Josh Koscheck (two decisions), Jon Fitch (decision), Thiago Alves (decision), Jake Shields (decision), Carlos Condit (decision), and Nick Diaz (decision). In other words, some very, very high competition. The only thing that hurts St. Pierre in regard is that the majority of his wins in recent years have come by way of decision, which makes him different than the two top fighters on this list. That said, his decision victories have been dominant and clear. St. Pierre defeated Hughes two out of the three times he faced him, landing him ahead of the man who held the belt before he did. There is still a chance for this Canadian fighter to climb higher on this list.
Number Two-Fedor Emelianenko
From April 6, 2001 to November 7, 2009, Emelianenko went undefeated. That’s 28 straight matches with one no contest. On the positive end, he defeated some of the best heavyweights in the sport during that streak including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice by clear dominant decision) and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (clear decision). Further, after the PRIDE Fighting Championships came to an end he defeated Andrei Arlovski (KO) and Tim Sylvia (rear naked choke). Neither fighter was in their prime at the time. That said, these were two of the best heavyweights in the world competing for the UFC at the time when Emelianenko was in PRIDE.
The two weaknesses to Fedor’s prime were that he competed in PRIDE during a time when some of the better heavyweights were in the UFC. In other words, he did not compete against all of the best heavyweights of the time. In addition, PRIDE often fed their best fighters competitors who were not world class. Fedor benefitted from this some. That said, it was still one of the greatest primes ever. From a longevity perspective, he’s got it all over a lot of people in that his undefeated streak actually took place over the course of eight years. For a very long time, there was a mystique surrounding this stoic fighter. It seemed as if he was completely calm in the face of adversity and competition. He is also widely considered to be the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time, and was one of the most closely followed during an amazing 35-4 career.
Number One-Anderson “The Spider” Silva
From April 22, 2006 to the October 13, 2012, Silva simply mauled people. During a time when the UFC was clearly the top dog (no PRIDE Fighting Championships), and therefore the far majority of outstanding middleweight fighters competed for the UFC, he went a sterling 17-0 during the aforementioned streak. What’s more, he stopped 14 of 17 fighters during that time. Some of the names? How about Chael Sonnen (twice via triangle armbar and TKO), Yushin Okami (TKO), Vitor Belfort (outstanding front kick KO), Forrest Griffin (fighting in a higher weight class- dominant KO), Dan Henderson (rear naked choke), James Irvin (KO at light heavyweight), Rich Franklin (twice by TKO), Nate Marquardt (TKO), Travis Lutter (comeback triangle choke with elbows), and Chris Leben (KO). Said another way, when you consider the names, the lack of a valid competitor taking a lot of UFC fighters in the weight class away, and his absolute dominance with stoppages,
Forget his amazing and long prime for a moment. Silva has been fighting since 1997, and went 16-4 before that prime even started (with one disqualification). During those early years he defeated the likes of Hayato Sakurai, Carlos Newtown, Jeremy Horn, Lee Murray, and Jorge Rivera. He did lose four (really three) fights during that time. But he was already fighting top flight competition, and has been winning at it for a very, very long time. UFC President Dana White has called Silva “the greatest mixed martial artist ever.” The amount of intimidation people have experienced in the cage with him is clear and always present. Beyond that, Silva is one of those fighters who has taken traditional techniques like the front kick to the face and side kick to the knees and made them work in MMA when many believed they were not needed/useless. Silva dominated his division in the UFC with stoppages when there were no other truly valid competing organizations (not the PRIDE era). Simply put, he’s the greatest MMA fighter of all time.