Today Mixed Martial Arts is the fastest growing sport in the world. The year 2006 saw MMA set pay-per-view records surpassing both boxing and pro wrestling. In 1993, MMA or Ultimate Fighting was introduced by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The first tournament was conceived with the intention of finding out which martial art was superior. In the end a young Brazilian, Royce Gracie was left standing defeating his opponents with an almost unknown style of grappling, Brazilian jiu jitsu. The top fighters of today are well-rounded athletes with expertise in striking (boxing, muay thai) and grappling (jiu jitsu, judo, wrestling) as well as some of the best cardiovascular training in sports. Pankration, a version of wrestling including strikes was an event in the ancient Olympic games. While the first modern events had few rules and no time limits, since 1999 state athletic commissions under the Unified Rules of MMA, which includes 32 fouls, have sanctioned competitions. No one has ever died in sanctioned MMA competition.
10. Rickson Gracie 11-0
Family champion of the infamous Gracies of Brazil, Rickson is said to have over 400 victories in jiu jitsu, vale tudo, amateur wrestling and various other combat sports. His pro record stands at 11 wins with no losses. Son of Brazilian jiu jitsu’s founder Helio Gracie, Rickson is a 7th degree black belt in Gracie jiu jitsu. Always promoting Gracie Jiu Jitsu as the best fighting style in the world, the only spot on his record came in an American Sambo tournament. Gracie claimed the rules were not properly explained to him. Forever a legendary figure to all mixed martial artists, he doesn’t rank higher because his professional wins came against some less than stellar competition.
9. Frank Shamrock 22-8
Younger brother of original UFC participant Ken Shamrock, Frank is the only man to retire as UFC champ. He is the first truly well rounded fighter in MMA history. Excellent submissions and wrestling as well as sharp striking helped Shamrock cut a swath through the UFC in the late 90′s. While his heart and dedication are easily questioned, his talent is undeniable. Shamrock started down the comeback trail in 2006 after being largely inactive since 1999, but critics say he doesn’t have the desire to fight top level competition anymore.
8. Chuck Liddell 20-5
“The Iceman” was at the forefront of the UFC’s popularity explosion that began in 2005. His consecutive knockouts of Randy Couture solidified him as the UFC’s poster boy. Easily recognizable in blue shorts and trademark Mohawk, Liddell holds the record for most wins in the UFC. Liddell has mythical punching power and the ability to end any fight with one punch. Multiple KO’s of Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture make him one of the most feared men to ever step in the cage.
7. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic 22-6
A member of Croatia’s Parliament and anti-terrorism squad, hence the moniker, “Cro Cop.” Filipovic is notable for being the first athlete to become a champion in MMA after first becoming a star kickboxing’s highest circuit, K-1. Numerous head-kick knockouts make him the owner of the most vicious looking highlight reel in the sport. Cro Cop won the most prolific tournament in MMA history, the 2006 Pride FC Open Weight Grand Prix defeating Olympic (judo) gold medallist Hidehiko Yoshida, Former UFC champion Josh Barnett and Pride FC champion Wanderlei Silva along the way.
6. Matt Hughes 41-5
Matt Hughes entered the cage at UFC 22 in 1999 and over the next decade asserted himself as the most dominant 170-lb. fighter in the world. Hawaiian whiz kid B.J. Penn ended Hughes’ title reign in 2004, however Hughes regained his championship later in the year. When Royce Gracie made his return to the UFC in 2006 it was Hughes who proved that today’s mixed martial artists are worthy competitors, dominating Gracie with his own style, Brazilian jiu jitsu. He would go on to avenge his loss to Penn, before being knocked out by young Canadian Georges St. Pierre. Hughes has been featured as a coach on two seasons of the popular TV series, “The Ultimate Fighter.”
5. Kazushi Sakuraba 22-10
While mainly competing in Japan’s elite MMA organization Pride FC no other fighter has come to symbolize the heart and soul of the sport as Mr. Sakuraba. His 90-minute classic in 2000 with Royce Gracie was a defining moment in MMA. Known as, “The Gracie Hunter” after defeating four members of the first family of MMA, Sakuraba’s fighting style is all his own. Complete with double judo chops and cartwheels, an uncanny ability to withstand punishment and a true warrior spirit there is no figure in the sport more beloved than Kazushi Sakuraba.
4. Randy Couture 16-8
UFC Hall of Famer Randy “The Natural” Couture is one of those athletes, like Gretzky or Jordan who become bigger than the sport itself. Ask any frat boy who the current heavyweight boxing champion is and you’ll get a blank stare, ask them who the UFC heavyweight champ is and they’ll drop Couture’s name without missing a beat. He’s the only man to have held a UFC title on six separate occasions. A three-time All American and Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling, Randy along with other wrestlers such as Mark Coleman showed that a fighter who can control where the fight happens holds an advantage. Couture made history in 2007 when at age 43 he defeated the much larger, much younger Tim Sylvia to again become UFC champion.
3. Wanderlei Silva 31-7
Wanderlei Silva is one scary looking individual. Head tattoos and a stare that might kill a small woodland creature, Silva is a fierce competitor above all else. One doesn’t acquire the nickname, “The Axe Murderer” through being a laid back individual. Silva likes to finish what he starts, and his list of knockout victims includes current UFC champion Rampage Jackson (2x) and Kazushi Sakuraba. (3x) He reigned as Pride FC champion for an unprecedented six years. An expert in Thai boxing and a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, Silva trained for most of his career at the prestigious Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil. A move to the U.S. and the UFC, as well as a long awaited showdown with Chuck Liddell are in Wanderlei’s future.
2. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 30-4
Widely regarded as the best submission fighter in MMA, Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira’s ability to take a punch (and to throw one back) is what really makes him a formidable opponent for anyone. Nogueira has never been knocked out or submitted, all the while fighting the top competition on the planet. When half of your losses are by decision to the #1 fighter on this list, it’s safe to say you’re a world class fighter. With almost 2/3 of his wins coming by way of submission, Minotauro’s jiu jitsu game is second to none. Nogueira is one of only two men to ever hold the Pride FC heavyweight title and the only man to submit Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.
1. Fedor Emelianenko 27-1
Russia’s Fedor Emelianenko is the best-mixed martial artist we’ve seen to date. You’d be hard pressed to find any honest coach or fighter who would argue that point. Never showing an ounce of emotion during any of his fights, stone-faced Emelianenko has defeated every fighter he’s ever stepped in the ring with. And he’s been in there with the best. Olympic wrestlers, NCAA champions, K-1 champs, UFC champs, Fedor has beaten them all. His lone loss (due to a cut) was avenged 5 years afterwards. Numerous publications have named him the top fighter in the world over the past 5 years. A national hero in his homeland, Emelianenko counts Vladimir Putin among his supporters. Unbeatable in the eyes of some, until someone finds the key to defeating him Fedor checks in as the #1 MMA fighter ever.