Greatest UFC Fighters – MMA Legends and Icons
The word “legend” is tossed around like an old football these days.
But when it comes to the legends of the UFC, it is frowned upon to be so glib. The sport of mixed martial arts is still rooted in the trailblazers, icons, and pioneers that have pushed MMA to its limits.
Here we discuss the greatest legends in UFC history. Some of the names on this list might be controversial, but we are sure that our arguments in favor of each and every person on this list are sound.
This list of UFC legends follows no particular order, other than the first name on the list.
It’s only right to start with the man responsible for what MMA is today.
- Titles: 3
- Defining Division: Openweight
- Defining Period: 1993 to 1995
Royce Gracie’s name shines brightly among the pantheon of UFC legends.
The man who popularized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu around the world, Gracie was also the face of mixed martial arts in the early days.
In terms of influence, there are fewer fighters that have, or will ever, come close to what the Brazilian has done for MMA.
Gracie stormed to victory in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC 1) tournament in 1993.
Despite being the lightest competitor in the tournament, the Brazilian used his superior grappling skills to outmaneuver the various men that stood in his way.
|Royce Gracie’s Legendary UFC Run|
|Opponent||Tournament||Record After Fight||Method of Victory|
|Dan Severn||UFC 4||11–0||Submission (triangle choke)|
|Keith Hackney||10–0||Submission (armbar)|
|Ron van Clief||9–0||Submission (rear-naked choke)|
|Kimo Leopoldo||UFC 3||8–0||Submission (armbar)|
|Patrick Smith||UFC 2||7–0||TKO (submission to punches)|
|Remco Pardoel||6–0||Submission (lapel choke)|
|Jason DeLucia||5–0||Submission (armbar)|
|Minoki Ichihara||4–0||Submission (lapel choke)|
|Gerard Gordeau||UFC 1||3–0||Submission (rear-naked choke)|
|Ken Shamrock||2–0||Submission (sleeve choke)|
|Art Jimmerson||1–0||Submission (position)|
Royce would add the UFC 2 and UFC 4 championship titles to his inaugural tournament win and embark on a historic 11-0 record entirely comprised of first-round finishes.
Ken Shamrock halted his winning run when both men fought a 36-minute bout that ended in a draw in the very first UFC Super Fight Championship.
Gracie left the promotion in 1995. The UFC icon would make just one further appearance in the championship, losing to Matt Hughes in 2006.
Among the best mixed martial artists of all time, Gracie is also one of the true legends of the UFC. His outstanding grappling skills would change the game forever, making it necessary for mixed martial artists to have a grappling base.
- Titles: 6
- Weight Classes: Light Heavyweight; Heavyweight
- Defining Period: 2000-2007
Quite simply, one of the best UFC fighters of all time.
An icon of MMA.
“The Natural” deserves his title as one of the most celebrated UFC legends of UFC. Given his achievements, it’s not hard to see why.
Aside from beating the likes of Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, and Vitor Belfort, this iconic MMA fighter was also a serial record-breaker.
Couture was even one of the first men to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport.
When you see some of his accomplishments on paper, you can’t dispute that he is one of the very best mixed martial artists of all time.
Here are some of Couture’s greatest achievements in the UFC.
- UFC Heavyweight Championship (x3)
- UFC 13 Heavyweight Tournament Champion
- UFC Light Heavyweight Championship (x2)
- Most Title Fights in UFC history (x15)
- Most Title Reigns in UFC history (x6)
- Oldest UFC Champion of All Time (45 Years and 60 days)
- Oldest Fighter to Win a UFC Fight (47 Years and 68 Days)
This UFC all-time great has even more records and accomplishments to boast about.
Couture stands among the best of the best.
He is one of a small number of truly iconic UFC fighters who did more than just win a title and shoot their mouths off. He taught us that age is just a number, providing you have the nuts, the heart, and the skills to prove ’em all wrong.
If there was such a thing as a UFC grandmaster, this is your guy.
- Titles: 1
- Weight Classes: Light Heavyweight
- Defining Period: 2004-2007
A legendary MMA fighter and UFC champion, Liddell is a fighter responsible for bringing the sport to the wider masses in the early to mid-2000s.
An incredibly exciting fighter, “The Ice-Man” was all-action. His wars with Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz saw him raised to the status as one of the best UFC fighters to grace the cage.
A menacing brawler, Liddell goes down as a UFC legend for many reasons. But one of the most important of them all was his ability to define an era in the light heavyweight division.
Although he was not the most well-rounded fighter in mixed martial arts, Liddell had power, heart, and was always up for a scrap. And what else could fans expect for their pay-per-view bucks?
A UFC Hall of Famer, Chuck Liddell remains one of the most popular UFC fighters of all time. He did things his way and ultimately went out on his sword.
- Titles: 1
- Weight Classes: 2
- Defining Period: 2012-2018
Clearly one of the best MMA fighters of all time, some still refer to Demetrious Johnson as the greatest fighter in UFC history.
While there have been some fantastic athletes that have come before and after Johnson, he is an MMA legend assured of his place among the best to ever do it.
The diminutive Johnson, know to fans as “Mighty Mouse,” wreaked havoc on the UFC flyweight division from its inception in 2012 until he departed the promotion in 2018.
The first-ever UFC champion at 125, Johnson would embark on a 13-fight win streak in the division and set a record for 11 consecutive title defenses.
|Demetrious Johnson’s Historic UFC Title Run|
|UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Reis||Wilson Reis||Submission (armbar)||Apr. 15, 2017|
|Tournament of Champions Finale||Tim Elliott||Decision (unanimous)||Dec. 3, 2016|
|UFC 197||Henry Cejudo||TKO (knees and punches)||Apr. 23, 2016|
|UFC 191||John Dodson||Decision (unanimous)||Sep. 5, 2015|
|UFC 186||Kyoji Horiguchi||Submission (armbar)||Apr. 25, 2015|
|UFC 178||Chris Cariaso||Submission (kimura)||Sep. 27, 2014|
|UFC 174||Ali Bagautinov||Decision (unanimous)||Jun. 14, 2014|
|UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Benavidez 2||Joseph Benavidez||KO (punch)||Dec. 14, 2013|
|UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Moraga||John Moraga||Submission (armbar)||Jul. 27, 2013|
|UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Dodson||John Dodson||Decision (unanimous)||Jan. 26, 2013|
Although he stood at just 5’3″, Johnson was an absolute monster inside the cage.
He was one of the most technically gifted mixed martial artists, and one of the best UFC fighters of all time.
Is Mighty Mouse the UFC G.O.A.T? That, of course, is a matter of opinion. But what’s not up for debate is his status as one of the true MMA legends.
- Titles: 1
- Weight Classes: Middleweight; Light Heavyweight
- Defining Period: 2006 to 2013
One of the greatest UFC fighters and most accomplished MMA legends, Anderson Silva is assured of his place on this list.
The Brazilian was simply untouchable in the promotion’s middleweight division from 2006 to 2013, where he served as the champion for an insane 2,457 days.
That’s enough to justify Silva as a true UFC legend. Especially as he nailed 16 consecutive wins in his pomp. Silva was considered the greatest UFC fighter in the world at that time.
Fans and pundits alike had already nailed him down as a mixed martial arts legend, well before his nosedive and subsequent retirement.
Check out some of his records.
- Most UFC Middleweight Finishes (11)
- Most UFC Title Fight Finishes (9)
- Most UFC Knockdowns (18)
- Most UFC Knockdowns in Title Fights (10)
- Most UFC Knockouts in Title Fights (7)
- Longest Championship Run in UFC history (2457 days)
- Longest Win Streak in UFC history (16)
- Most UFC Middleweight Wins (13)
- Most UFC Middleweight Title Fight Wins (11)
- Most UFC Middleweight Title Fight Defenses (10)
- Most Consecutive UFC Middleweight Title Defenses (10)
Fans who missed Silva in his prime will probably have a different impression of him than those who saw the slick striker dominate the realm of 185-pounds.
He was not only the best MMA fighter of all time for a period, but pretty much held the keys to the promotion. The Brazilian was an absolute Rockstar of mixed martial arts.
Silva helped push MMA to a new level and was undoubtedly responsible for attracting new spectators to the sport.
One of the best UFC fighters of any era and a true icon of MMA, Silva also goes down as the greatest middleweight of all time.
- Titles: 3
- Weight Classes: Open, 145, 155, 170, 185 pounds
- Defining Period: 2001 to 2003; 2006 to 2010
If you were to judge B.J. Penn on the latter stages of his career, he would be about as close to being a legend of the UFC as Earth is to Mercury.
He was nowhere near the top UFC fighters on the planet at the point of leaving the promotion.
But he is one of the most legendary mixed martial artists ever.
Diehard MMA fans of a certain age will remember when Penn was one of the most skillful UFC fighters of all time. For a period, “The Prodigy” did the impossible. He would emerge from danger with wins when other fighters would have been swallowed up by the occasion alone.
Penn, who came from Irish and Korean stock, became the first non-Brazilian to win gold in the black-belt division of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in 2000.
This was an incredible achievement and one that would set him on the path to becoming one of the best UFC fighters of all time and a legend of MMA.
Penn is regarded as one of a select few legendary UFC fighters that proved he could do it in various weight classes. But at lightweight, he goes down as a true icon.
A fighter who never knew when he was beaten, this attitude ironically worked against him in later years. But still, The Prodigy will always be assured of his place among the best MMA fighters of all time for what he did in his prime.
- Titles: 2
- Weight Classes: Welterweight; Middleweight
- Defining Period: 2006 to 2013
Georges Saint-Pierre is one of the greatest UFC fighters and bona fide MMA legends.
He’s up there on the Mount Rushmore of the most elite mixed martial artists and will forever be regarded as a shining example of what a great MMA fighter should be.
A two-weight world champion, “GSP” did most of his magic at welterweight. There is no 170-pound athlete in mixed martial arts history that will ever come close to the Canadian was in his pomp.
Saint-Pierre’s legacy puts him among the most elite legends of the UFC.
|George St-Pierre’s Legendary UFC Title Defenses|
|UFC 167||Johny Hendricks||Decision (split)||Nov. 16, 2013|
|UFC 158||Nick Diaz||Decision (unanimous)||Mar. 16, 2013|
|UFC 154||Carlos Condit||Decision (unanimous)||Nov. 17, 2012|
|UFC 129||Jake Shields||Decision (unanimous)||Apr. 30, 2011|
|UFC 124||Josh Koscheck||Decision (unanimous)||Dec. 11, 2010|
|UFC 111||Dan Hardy||Decision (unanimous)||Mar. 27, 2010|
|UFC 100||Thiago Alves||Decision (unanimous)||Jul. 11, 2009|
|UFC 94||B.J. Penn||TKO (corner stoppage)||Jan. 31, 2009|
|UFC 87||Jon Fitch||Decision (unanimous)||Aug. 9, 2008|
But even mixed martial arts legends lose fights.
Although he suffered two, Saint-Pierre avenged both. Matt Hughes and Matt Serra are the only men to ever beat Rush, and he made sure to exact his revenge on both.
More than being one of the most fearsome fighters in the sport, this MMA legend conducted himself like a true practitioner of the great arts.
When it comes to the greatest UFC champions of all time, you will not find many candidates as humble, as gracious, and as truly committed as St-Pierre.
One of the most popular fighters in history, the great GSP often appears at the top of any list that ranks the greatest MMA fighters in history.
- Titles: 2
- Weight Classes: Featherweight; Lightweight; Welterweight
- Defining Period: 2013 to 2016
Is Conor McGregor one of the UFC’s greatest fighters of all time?
Compared with some of the true icons of MMA, he does lag behind. But there is no doubt that McGregor deserves to be here for his contributions to the sport.
Put simply, if you consider the mark McGregor left on the sport, you have to include him.
The Irishman helped popularize mixed martial arts, bringing it to a wider audience than previously considered possible.
In McGregor’s prime, he was one of the most popular sports people on the planet, setting record after record in pay-per-view sales.
- UFC 229 – McGregor vs Khabib – 2018 (2.4 million)
- UFC 202 – Diaz vs. McGregor 2 – 2016 (1.65 million)
- UFC 257 – McGregor vs Poirier 2 – 2021 (1.6 million)
- UFC 100 – Lesnar vs Mir 2 – 2009 (1.6 million)
- UFC 196 – McGregor vs Diaz – 2016 (1.5 million)
- UFC 194 – McGregor vs Aldo – 2015 (1.4 million)
- UFC 251 – Usman vs Masividal – 2020 (1.3 million)
- UFC 205 – McGregor vs Alvarez – 2016 (1.3 million)
- UFC 200 – Tate vs Nunes – 2016 (1.2 million)
- UFC 116 – Lesnar vs Carwin 2010 (1.16 million)
But that’s not to say that “The Notorious” was not one of MMA’s best ever fighters.
For a short period, he was electric. He was the great “Mystic Mac,” who didn’t just
McGregor’s legendary UFC run through the promotion’s featherweight division culminated in a 13-second knockout win over Jose Aldo.
This was the same, peerless Aldo that had not lost a fight in ten years, and sat atop the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings with pride.
McGregor would go on to win the 155-pound strap, becoming the first fighter in the history of the promotion to hold two separate titles, simultaneously.
Although not the best MMA fighter of all time, McGregor has more than earned his place on this list of UFC legends.
- Titles: 2
- Weight Classes: Bantamweight; Featherweight
- Defining Period: 2016 to 2021
Although some class Ronda Rousey as a legend of UFC, she could not hold a candle to Amanda Nunes.
For instance, Rousey fell where the iconic Brazilian continued to climb.
Nunes is one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, regardless of gender. She is an icon of the sport and an inspirational figure for all athletes aiming to fulfill their potential.
Some of the best fighters in UFC history have exploded onto the scene with a bang. Nunes didn’t quite arrive at the top in the same fashion. She had lost four fights before her UFC debut in 2013 and had clear issues with conditioning.
But when the Brazilian choked out Miesha Tate to win the UFC women’s bantamweight crown, everything changed. She got better and better with each fight, becoming the dominant champion at 135.
Nunes added the 145-pound strap to her collection when she defeated Cris Cyborg to become the first woman to hold titles in separate divisions simultaneously.
The Lioness has beaten all of the elite female mixed martial artists in her era. A true legend of the UFC, she will always be remembered for her contributions to MMA and combat sports.
- Titles: 1
- Weight Classes: Light Heavyweight; Heavyweight
- Defining Period: 2011 to 2015
Who is the best UFC fighter of all time?
There are fewer candidates as outstanding as Jon Jones, that’s for sure.
An MMA legend once labeled the Muhammad Ali of mixed martial arts, Jones exploded onto the scene like a bomb, breaking the record for the youngest ever UFC champion.
At just 23-years-old, Jones smashed Mauricio Rua to earn a spot in the record books and has never looked back.
When ranking legends of the UFC, Jones’ name is going to up there forever. That’s a testament to how special the New York-native is.
Jones’ records and achievements are staggering. Here’s just a handful of them.
|Jon Jones Most Impressive UFC Accomplishments|
|Longest Reign as Light Heavyweight Champion||1501 days|
|Longest Unbeaten Streak Streak||18 Fights|
|Most Consecutive Light Heavyweight Wins||13 Fights|
|Most Consecutive Light Heavyweight Title Defenses||11 Defenses|
|Most Wins in UFC Title Fights||14 Wins|
|Most UFC Light Heavyweight Wins||20 Wins|
Although considered one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time, Jones is also one of MMA’s true bad boys.
Unfortunately, Jones was drenched in controversy throughout his career. A series of unfortunate incidents such as hit and runs, positive tests for steroids, and DUIs led to many fans turning their back on “Bones.”
His status as one of the top UFC fighters was brought into question by some, which influenced his standing in the sport.
Regardless, Jones is one of the greatest MMA legends in history.
- Titles: 1
- Weight Classes: Lightweight
- Defining Period: 2016 to 2020
Khabib is, hands down, one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time.
The man who ruled the UFC lightweight division with an iron fist set the bar so high throughout his reign on the top.
The Dagestani was a master of sambo and one of the best wrestlers in UFC history.
Although he fought at 155-pounds, Khabib had the strength of a man much heavier. He would actually spar with teammates Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, who were iconic champions of the UFC heavyweight division.
This intense approach to competition clearly paid off, as he dispatched even the best fighters in the UFC lightweight division as though they were kids half his age.
No one had the answer for Khabib, ensuring that he would retire from the game unbeaten. A true UFC luminary, his legacy as a whole is more than just an unbeaten record.
Khabib one of the best UFC fighters in history; a legend of MMA that leaves behind a trail of destruction in the 155-pound division.
He was a fighter that was respected for his humility but also greatly feared for how easy he made things look inside the confines of the fences.
Nurmagomedov is one of the greatest UFC legends of all time, and will always be remembered as such.
Final Words On These UFC Legends
In order to make this list what it is, we had to leave out some real MMA greats.
It’s not easy to do. But when it comes to the legends and icons of the UFC, there is no room for just anyone.
Even some of the best UFC fighters of an era have missed out, but that’s how it goes. The most legendary mixed martial artists of all time are in a different league.
Not only did they represent an era, or rule over a division with absolute control, but their contributions to the promotion see them elevated to iconic status.
Who will be the next UFC legend to make this list?