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Since the very first show, many good fighters have come and gone, leaving a lasting legacy in the process. The question has been raised, who is MMA’s GOAT (Greatest of All-Time).
MMA is a relatively young sport in today’s day and age. Back in November of 1993, the UFC opened its doors on Friday the 12th of November at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver Colorado.
Who made the biggest impact on the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, who was the best skilled? Which fighter brought eyes to the sport? Who faced the best opposition amongst other criteria?
Here is a look at a select few fighters who can be considered in the conversation for GOAT status. They can still fight in the present day or were considered the out and out GOAT at some point.
Who will be the GOAT GOAT?
GOAT run: 1993-1995
The Case: When you think of the sport of MMA, hardcore fans will immediately mention the Gracie family. The name is royalty in the sport, known for their revolutionary methods of Brazilian Jujitsu, without the Gracie’s, the sport would never have got off the ground the way it did, and the UFC would certainly not be in the place it is today without them.
Its most popular family member, is to no one’s surprise, Royce Gracie. He was the first to introduce his family’s fighting style and roots to a worldwide platform. His UFC record is an interesting one. With him going unbeaten in 11 consecutive bouts from UFC 1 to UFC 4, fighting up to 4 times in one night on each event while wearing his iconic white karate uniform.
Gracie was the original GOAT, in terms of style, presence, aura, and for being the standard for MMA. No one can question him being the pioneer of the sport, bringing Brazilian Jujitsu to the masses and is by far the most influential man in the sport in terms of its beginnings.
Again, Gracie was the UFC’s main star at the time, he began the GOAT conversation merely by being the first one to stand out in an era filled with meatheads and brawlers. His UFC record stands at 11-1-1 in the UFC made him the original GOAT.
Gracie fought numerous fighters often and easily submitting so-called tomato cans to boost his professional record. His only two losses being by TKO, with his most famous loss being to Hall of Famer Matt Hughes at UFC 60 back in 2006. Only fighting 20 times in total, taking years away from the sport on more than one occasion detracts from other competitors on this list. In terms of ability, his boxing took a back seat to his main weapon of jujitsu, which was very noticeable throughout his career.
Is he the GOAT GOAT?
Quite simply, no. Gracie was the pioneer of the sport, but nowhere near GOAT status.
GOAT run: 2001-2010
The Case: When it comes to the heavyweight scene in MMA, one particular fighter stands out above all else, that man is Fedor ‘’the last emperor’’ Emelianenko. One of a handful of Heavyweights who can contend for GOAT status, the Russian was a silent killer in the sport, rarely speaking English or barely speaking at all, he would barely emote any emotion which only made him even more intimidating than he already was.
His legendary career from 2001 to 2010 while signed to promotions Rings, PRIDE Affliction and Strikeforce at the time was bizarre. In that time period he went 28-0-1, matching up with many top UFC heavyweights of that era, he withstood them all, showing a superhero villain sense of immortality with each fight. His fight with head-kick assassin Mirko Cro Cop was the fight of the decade, and for a time he was unstoppable.
In June 2010 he lost his unbeaten run, being submitted by a Fabrício Werdum triangle armbar while signed to Strikeforce. This was the beginning of the end for the Russian, losing his next three fights, two by TKO, never being the same fighter again or having the same aura. His losing streak and not signing with the UFC cooled any talk of GOAT talk for many fans, never competing on the biggest stage was the main reason from Fedor detractors.
He was the greatest Heavyweight in MMA history, for a decade he slew opponents with relative ease. Defeating the likes of Frank Mir, Andrei Arlovski, Mark Hunt, Mark Coleman(twice), Mirko Cro Cop, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Kevin Randleman and Tim Sylvia. Pretty impressive.
He never really hit worldwide recognition by not signing with the UFC, missing out on the lucrative fight with then UFC champion Randy Couture. Fighting in promotions like PRIDE also takes away from GOAT talk, often blurring the line between fact and fiction with some of the bouts made. He took some visibly hard beating after his decade long run was over.
Is he the GOAT GOAT?
No. Fedor was a great competitor, fought good competition, but compared to other high-profile names in the Heavyweight division through the years, he falls flat.
GOAT run: 2012-2018
The Case: DJ was the king of UFC’s Flyweight division since the weight’s inclusion in the company. After moving down from the Bantamweight division in a unanimous decision loss to Dominick Cruz in 2011, ‘’Mighty Mouse’’ took over the newly introduced division with ease. Starting his 6 years of dominance with a victory over rival Ian McCall.
Johnson got so good that he eventually broke Anderson Silva’s incredible record of 11 title defensives by defeating contender Ray Borg, before winning 13 consecutive fights. With an incredible movie like finish versus Borg being a standout.
However, for a fighter who dominated one division for so long, he never truly became a star like Conor McGregor or even Ronda Rousey. Lacking in star power and pay-per-view pull.
Breaking Silva’s title defence record is a clear standout, easily beating opponents in his division and was the last one standing, age caught up with him after his defeat to Cejudo in their second fight. Beating the likes of Joseph Benavidez (twice), John Dodson (twice), Henry Cejudo, Tim Elliott, and Ray Borg.
As a result of a poor and thin era in his division, Johnson fought in a weight class that was only getting started, the Flyweight division was so paper-thin that DJ had to fight some of the competitors he already dominated twice just to keep the division afloat. One wonders if he was in his prime in today’s era, with great fighters such as Brandon Moreno, Deiveson Figueiredo and Adriano Moraes. They would have been worthy competitors and much-needed competition.
Is he the GOAT GOAT?
No. Some fans will make a case for the former champion, but all in all, his division and era let him down so much that he cannot be considered for GOAT GOAT.
GOAT run: 2017-2020
The Case: The latest fighter to enter the GOAT conversation, Nurmagomedov has had many fans labelling him the true GOAT of the sport after his last fight with Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in 2020. His UFC career has been nothing short of immaculate. Going 13-0 in the Lightweight division is ridiculous, especially in this era, with many great fighters. The Dagestan wrestler only lost two rounds in his entire career, one to Conor McGregor at UFC 229 and one to Justin Gaethje in his latest bout. Although he submitted both fighters to retain his title.
No one can argue he was the most dominant and soul-crushing fighter in the history of the sport, boasting great cardio and a wrestling style that sucked the life out of his competitors, no one really knows how good Khabib is, until they are locked in the cage with him. His last three fights all ended in submission victories, mauling McGregor, making Dustin Poirier gas out and putting a pace on Gaethje not seen before.
Retiring after his UFC 254 victory, leaving his gloves in the middle of the octagon after the death of his father.
Remaining unbeaten throughout his career, losing two rounds in total, holding the record for most takedowns in a fight (21) in a three-round fight against Abel Trujillo, beating the likes of McGregor, Poirier, Gaethje, Dos Anjos and Barboza on his way to claiming the belt is impressive.
Pulling out of fights with Cowboy and Cerrone and never facing off against Tony Ferguson, not being able to make weight on numerous occasions, only defending his title three times, retiring in his prime and fighting unknowns before his last three fights.
Is he the GOAT GOAT?
No, but he could have been. Retiring so young and in his prime due to his father’s death is commendable in its own right. He still has so much more to prove in order to be the ultimate GOAT.
GOAT run: 2013-2020
The Case: Daniel ”DC” Cormier, will go down as one of the greatest of his era in his respective division, competing as a Heavyweight in his earlier career, before dropping down to Light-Heavyweight to dominate. Staying unbeaten before meeting his match in Jon Jones, his great rival defeating him twice in the greatest rivalry in UFC history.
After Jones was suspended and stripped of his UFC title due to PED usage, Cormier won the vacant title against Rumble Johnson, defending it three times where he overcame Alexander Gustafsson, Anderson Silva and Johnson for a second time before meeting Jones once again at UFC 214. Ultimately losing via TKO.
Cormier was in Jones’s era, but his overall quality cannot be looked down on. He may have put on ”boring” wrestling clinics to ground out victories but with a record of 22-3 and a UFC record of 11-3-1, his legacy is forever.
He eventually moved up to Heavyweight at the end of his career, defeating Stipe Miocic to become double-weight world champion, before losing twice to Stipe in their trilogy.
Becoming the fifth multi-divisional champion in UFC history (Light-Heavyweight & Heavyweight), defeating Stipe in such brutal fashion, three consecutive title defensives at LHW and beating the likes of Frank Mir, Dan Henderson, Anthony Johnson (twice), Alexander Gustafsson, Anderson Silva and Stipe Miocic.
Never winning a rivalry. Losing twice to Jon Jones, and twice to Stipe (albeit defeating Miocic the first time around) takes away from his legacy when discussing the best of his era.
Is he the GOAT GOAT?
Boasting an incredible resume, beating some of the best the Light Heavyweight division had to offer before moving up to Heavyweight. Defeating Stipe before losing to him twice in the Heavyweight GOAT decider, his two losses to Jones also are a blemish on his record. He comes close but not quite GOAT GOAT material.
GOAT run: 2006-2013
The Case: Silva was a massive star for the UFC and showcased his greatness, with Steven Seagal taking credit for his infamous knockout win over Vitor Belfort. He hit the mainstream in more ways than one.
Some of his performances in the octagon are some of the greatest to ever grace the sport, fights against Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort dropped many of the jaws of MMA fans all around the world. But it was his performance against Forrest Griffin which saw him channel his inner Matrix, showcasing incredible movement and reflexes to then knockout Griffin.
A fighter can dominate all they want, but it’s how they overcame trouble when faced. Silva has done this in his amazing comeback victory over Chael Sonnen, getting pounded for four and a half rounds before making a movie-style comeback to submit his American rival.
During his time on top, Silva was the GOAT. Going 16-0 in that time frame and defending his title 10 times (a record at the time). Cleaning out the Middleweight division with wins over Rich Franklin (twice), Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin, Demian Maia, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen (twice) and Stephan Bonnar.
Silva can be excused as the true GOAT just for his use of anabolic steroids in 2015, two years after his GOAT run ended by the hands of (and legs) of Chris Weidman, getting knocked out for showboating and breaking his leg in their rematch. Losing nearly every fight since his leg break, bar his controversial victory over Derek Brunson at UFC 208.
Is he the GOAT GOAT?
At one time he was considered the GOAT, even more so than GSP. But after his run ended, his career has gone downhill quickly. Falling short compared to others on this list.
GOAT run: 2011-Present
The Case: Easily the most complicated fighter in MMA history, Jonny Bones Jones has an acute record, winning all of his fights bar his DQ to Matt Hamill for 12 to 6 elbows, which in today’s MMA landscape is nothing short of a ridiculous decision by the judges. Testing positive for anabolic steroid use in his rematch with Daniel Cormier along with his numerous DUIs, his hit-and-run of a pregnant woman, being stripped of his titles on more than one occasion.
All that being said, Jones went on a legend killer run at the start of his career, making great fighters look average compared to him, defeating Cormier twice was massive, along with his two victories over Gustafsson, it is a very easy argument to place him as the one true GOAT of MMA, and if he is successful in Heavyweight, he may just snatch the crown.
Arguably having the best resume of any fighter in MMA, beating the likes of Daniel Cormier (twice), Alexander Gustafsson (twice), Chael Sonnen, Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort, Glover Teixeira and Dominick Reyes
Jones has fought 22 times in the UFC, dominating most of his competitors with relative ease and skill. Becoming the youngest champion in the company at the age of 23 defeating Shogun Rua via TKO at UFC 128 capturing the LHW strap. His only blemish being a ridiculous DQ loss to Matt Hamill.
Where do you begin? The numerous PED offences (the UFC 200 debacle stands out), multiple arrests, substance abuse outside of the octagon. It got so embarrassing for Jones that he literally hid under the ring to avoid USADA testing and in his rematch against Gustafsson, the UFC had to move location just to accommodate his positive drug test.
Is he the GOAT GOAT?
It depends on where you stand. You can make a strong case to place him as the GOAT, and before his career is over, he may be the top dog. But given his PED issues, outside troubles with the law and how close his recent fights have been, he just falls short.
GOAT run: 2007-2017
The Case: When you think of class and professionalism in MMA, St-Pierre comes to mind. He was the first real fighter to add a level of grandeur to the sport that badly needed it. Wearing high-profile suits, speaking with respect, and always showing up on time for press conferences, he was never one to dabble in ‘’trash talk’’ and when he did, he admitted to being embarrassed of it.
His loss to Matt Hughes was the making of him, losing to his long time ideal before coming back after winning five consecutive fights, claiming the Welterweight title in the process. Before being embarrassed by underdog Matt Serra in his first title defence.
What was his worst loss, turned out to be the best thing to happen to him in his career, coming back and defeating Serra to become a two-time Welterweight champion. Since then, he won every fight he competed in, never really showing a real urge to get his opponent out of the cage in style, instead, he wore down his rivals, before finishing them. Some applauded this, some hated it.
His level of competition is truly elite, beating Matt Serra, Matt Hughes (twice), Nick Diaz, Johny Hendricks, Carlos Condit, Jake Shields, Josh Koscheck (twice), Dan Hardy, B.J. Penn (twice) and Jon Fitch all in their prime.
GSP is a rare champion in many ways, he retired from the sport on top, defeating Michael Bisping to capture Middleweight gold, nailing down his legacy as the true GOAT in style, in reality, GSP did not need to come back and win another title, he merely came back to show the world that he could.
The Greatest Welterweight of All Time, no debate to be had. Two-time welterweight champion. Ten consecutive title defences against killers. Fourth Multi-Divisional Champion in UFC history (Welterweight and Middleweight). Came back from a four-year hiatus, moved up a division and won the Middleweight strap.
Most Welterweight title fights (14), most wins in UFC Welterweight division (19), Most wins in UFC Welterweight title fights (12).
Need I go on?
GSP was a squeaky-clean champion and mixed martial artist, the only cracks in his glorified career are the Johnny Hendricks win. The greasing scandal where his coach illegally rubbed his body with Vaseline in between rounds. Taking long hiatus’s and when he did come back, he left immediately after.
Is he the GOAT GOAT?
Yes, as of today, GSP is the GOAT GOAT, faced great Welterweights in their prime, two divisional world champion, numerous title defences and he knew how to come back from a loss in style. Besides Khabib, no one has been able to manhandle and dominate their division or opponents as GSP did.