Who are the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time? We hope to answer that question in this article.
There have been many top-notch Octagon warriors since UFC kicked off in 1993. Great fighters dominated their divisions and annihilated every opponent along the way.
When these names were fighting, the commentators were using two syntaxes very often – “one-sided a** whooping where (fighter’s name) was swinging the hammer” or “what a (finish, submission, knockout, demolition…the list goes on)”.
The best MMA fighters of all time are primarily well-rounded masters of chess games and tactical wars.
Quick finishes happen from time to time, but when two super-skillful Octagon fighters share the cage, the tiny details make the difference between the winner and the loser on the judges’ scorecards.
Here's the list of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time.
Yes, some of them have never inked UFC contracts, but their names are written in the history of mixed martial arts forever.
Best Pound-For-Pound MMA Fighters Of All Time
Georges St-Pierre is a real legend of this sport and, according to many diehard MMA fans, one of the best pound-for-pound fights of all time.
“GSP” out-wrestled the best wrestlers, out-struck the best strikers, and dragged the quickest fighters of the division to the canvas with revolutionary reactive takedowns. Also, he’s known for one of the quickest progress in the history of UFC rankings.
St-Pierre used to be great potential. His career exploded after his first title loss to Matt Serra.
Despite being a massive underdog, Serra TKO’d “GSP” with a violent barrage of bullets. Yet, “GSP” then scored 13 wins in a row, earning 170 and 185-pound belts. For example, he outpaced cardio machines, Nick Diaz, and Carlos Condit, controlled grappling experts Jake Shields on the ground, and dominated kickboxing phenom Dan Hardy on the feet.
Georges is remembered as the master of five-round wars and the Octagon warrior with some of the greatest fight IQs in the history of the game.
His worst performance happened at UFC 167, where he defended the belt against Johny Hendricks via a controversial split decision. He vacated the title later but returned four years later to steal the middleweight belt from Michael Bisping. Nevertheless, one of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time.
Jon Jones is arguably the most dominant Octagon name in the history of UFC light heavyweight rankings. Jon is a very controversial name and the only fighter who was stripped three times of the title due to his out-of-ring actions (USADA policy violations and hit-and-run incident).
Yet, the former 205-pound champ was ahead of his time due to his top-notch fight IQ, new, modern strikes, and excellent anticipation – “Bones” is undoubtedly one of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time.
Jones is known for oblique kicks, sidekicks to the knee, and all kinds of unusual strikes – spinning back kicks, elbows, and body punches. It is impossible to anticipate his next move. Also, Jon is right-handed, but he can fight southpaw for five rounds with ease!
Jon is a world-class all-around fighter with tremendous mental strength, but also a slow starter. For example, he lost the first two rounds in his last 205-pound title defense against Dominick Reyes but then dominated for three rounds for a close unanimous decision win.
He suffered only one loss in his career when controversial referee Steve Mazzagatti disqualified him because of 12-6 elbows in 2009 against Matt Hamill (Steve, it was legal 11-5 man). The youngest belt owner in the history of this sport moved to heavyweight.
Referee Steve Mazzagatti disqualifies Jon Jones for hitting Matt Hamill with illegal 12-6 elbows.
This is recorded as the only loss of Jones' professional career. pic.twitter.com/xsB1RIKBL9
— MMA History Today (@MMAHistoryToday) December 5, 2020
Anderson Silva is the best name on the list of UFC middleweight rankings in the history of this competition. His style was awkward and tricky, but very few fighters could defeat this master of boxing, Taekwondo kicks, elbows, and footwork, which makes him one of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time.
Silva has never been the greatest trash-talker in the world, but he scored great KO wins over Forrest Griffin, Yushin Okami, Vitor Belfort, James Irvin, and many other high-level names.
Unfortunately, the former middleweight champ was knocked out due to his cocky attitude to Chris Weidman at UFC 162, then broke his leg when Chris checked a low kick at UFC 168. Unfortunately, Silva has never been the same after that loss. Now he competes in boxing.
“The Spider” is the most dominant southpaw fighter ever in UFC. His front-kick KO against Vitor Belfort is still among the nicest knockouts ever.
Dana White has never been a fan of Demetrious Johnson despite him being one of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time. The former 11-time flyweight champion has never sold many PPV buys due to his lack of trash-talking skills, but his cage skills have always been on a whole new level.
For example, his victory over Ray Borg at UFC 216 perfectly combines two almost impossible moves – lifting the opponent in the air and locking the armbar before the opponent’s feet touched the canvas.
Johnson dominated the division thanks to his outstanding physical preparation and superb grappling and wrestling skills. His chin can take many shots too.
Demetrious was sick of UFC’s despicable treatment and lack of respect. After his split decision title loss to Henry Cejudo at UFC 227, “Mighty Mouse” tested his luck across the pond.
Yet, when Johnson transitioned to ONE FC, he was having a hard time because ONE allows knees to the head of the grounded opponent. It led to his title loss against Adriano Morais.
Fedor Emelianenko has never stepped into the UFC’s ring, but his 30 wins in a row are one of the most impressive streaks in the history of mixed martial arts.
Fedor was Pride FC and WAMMA Heavyweight champion. The Stary Oskol-native is a Combat Sambo and Judo master with excellent boxing skills, who scored victories over many legendary names – Mirko Cro Cop, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, Gary Goodridge… the list goes on.
The power of Fedor’s neck is on a whole new level. Kevin Randleman slammed Fedor to his head with a brutal German suplex, but Emelianenko survived and finished the fight via kimura. This guy is a toughness king and an auto-include on the list of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time.
Even at the age of 45, Fedor dominated the Bellator circuit. “The Last Emperor” is not going to retire any time soon.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is an undefeated name and arguably the best wrestler who has ever stepped inside the UFC Octagon. Nurmagomedov showed the power of Dagestani wrestling – controlling the opponent on the ground, landing ground and pound shots from time to time, and staying away from finishing the opponent by any means necessary.
Khabib’s worst performance happened at UFC 148 when he started crying after the fight because he believed that the judges would give the victory to Gleison Tibau.
Yet, the Dagestani native changed a lot of tiny aspects of the game later. Nurmagomedov’s angle creation, penetration steps, and takedown offense significantly improved, which turned him into a real nightmare for his opponents.
Many analysts put Khabib on the list of top 5 UFC fighters of all time. He scored wins over legendary Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor, Edson Barboza, Dustin Poirier, Rafael dos Anjos… the list goes on.
Khabib survived the most powerful leg kicks of Gaethje, a spinning heel kick from Barboza, and a brutal counter-punch from Poirier, which speaks about the power of his chin.
Nowadays, Khabib is the owner of Eagle FC, one of the fastest-growing MMA promotions in the world.
Jose Aldo is the most dominant fighter in the history of UFC featherweight rankings. The Brazilian striking phenom destroyed many fighters in his 145-pound career. He was super-dominant until UFC 194 when Conor McGregor stopped him via a short left counter-hook after only 13 seconds in Jose’s home country of Brazil.
Aldo is a master of Muay Thai leg kicks, liver shots, and flying knees. He turned the lights out on Manny Gamburyan, Chad Mendes, and Cub Swanson, and destroyed Urijah Faber with violent thigh strikes (Faber was unable to walk for a few weeks after that fight).
“Scarface” was losing to high-level Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway, which forced him to cruise 10 pounds south. His bantamweight career looks ok at the moment. Aldo is on a three-fight win streak, with back-to-back decision victories over Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz, and Rob Font. It seems the retirement hints in the past were fake news, as he plans to fight until the age of 40.
Conor McGregor is Dana White’s golden goose and cash cow, and the former UFC two-division king. McGregor stormed the 145-pound weight class after a knockout win over Marcus Brimage. He’s known for being one of the best left hands in the history of this sport. The Irishman was on the top of UFC pound-for-pound rankings in the past.
He knocked out Chad Mendes, Eddie Alvarez, Dustin Poirier, and many other high-level names. Yet, Conor is a PPV selling specialist thanks to his big mouth and outstanding trash-talking skills. Undoubtedly one of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time.
The Irishman went too far in the build-up for the Khabib Nurmagomedov bout, when he mocked Nurmagomedov about his religion and family, which resulted in a UFC 229 post-fight brawl.
Ronda Rousey is the first-ever female champion and the greatest on the list of UFC bantamweight Judokas. Her trademark was an armbar. This move brought her title fight wins over Sarah Kaufmann, Liz Carmouche, Miesha Tate, and Cat Zingano.
Unfortunately, Ronda was unable to follow the evolution of the sport but remains one of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time. She paid the price due to the lack of her stand-up skills.
Holly Holm stopped her at UFC 193, then she quit her UFC career after a brutal loss to Amanda Nunes at UFC 207. Nowadays, “Rowdy” takes part at WWE, and she’s married to Travis Browne.
Amanda Nunes is the first-ever two-division female champion in the history of the competition. Nunes is an all-around fighter, great brawler, and superb striking machine. She destroyed Raquel Pennington, Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm, and Megan Anderson with ease.
Nunes is very strong but her cardio is questionable as she wastes a lot of energy on her weaving overhand right. It cost her a title loss in the match against Julianna Pena, who survived the early storm and finished the bout via rear-naked choke in the second.
Amanda is still UFC’s 145-pound queen, and Dana has already approved her rematch against Julianna Pena. “Leoa” trains hard, but she cuts many pounds to drop to 135, so we’ll see what happens at UFC 277.
Many other high-level UFC names deserve the spot here, so it’s time for honorable mentions on our list of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time.
- Kamaru Usman is nowadays the most dominant welterweight, and one more victory could put him ahead of Georges St-Pierre. Usman significantly improved his striking skills, so he could advance on the list in the days to come.
- Valentina Shevchenko is the most dangerous striker on UFC’s female roster. Her left high kick, spinning techniques, counters, elbows, and leg strikes are a legitimate threat. She’s the reigning defending 125-pound champ.
- Matt Hughes is the former 170-pound king and the first fighter who carried his foe across the Octagon before the slam. Please rewatch his title bout against Frank Trigg and enjoy the moment!
- BJ Penn is far from a perfect score, but he’s the former UFC two-division champ. He owns BJPenn.com, one of the best MMA news websites at the moment.
- Stipe Miocic has been at the top of UFC heavyweight rankings for a long time. He’s the only man to defend the 265-pound strap three times in a row. The belt was wrapped around his belt five times in the past.
- Cris Cyborg is the only woman to win Invicta FC, Strikeforce, Bellator, and UFC titles. The legendary Brazilian is a toe-to-toe Muay Thai striker who attacks her opponent with barrages of hooks and ground-and-pound shots until the ref stops the fight. She’s the Bellator champ at the moment.
- Israel Adesanya is one of the most interesting names on the list of UFC middleweight rankings. Adesanya is the 185-pound champion thanks to his weird movement patterns, superb footwork, and tricky kicks. The Nigerian-born New Zealander lost a 205-pound title match to Jan Blachowicz, but victories over Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker, and Marvin Vettori discuss his domination at 185.
- TJ Dillashaw and Petr Yan are the two most promising names on the list of UFC bantamweight rankings.
- Alexander Volkanovski currently dominates the UFC 145-pound division, thanks to his superb strength and toughness.
- Wrestling phenom Henry Cejudo is not competing at the moment, but he’s the former two-division title holder.
- Daniel Cormier is the former two-division champion. His high-level wrestling and clinch punching skills helped him dethrone Stipe Miocic at UFC 226. Before that, he choked out Volkan Oezdemir to win the 205-pound strap.