Since MMA’s current pound-for-pound list was so prevalent in my last Spew, it got me thinking about the all-time version:
1. Fedor Emelianenko – 36-4, 1 No Contest (10 KO, 17 Sub) – Unbeaten streak over his first thirty-two bouts remains the most impressive in MMA history. Unquestionably the number one heavyweight on the planet for over half a decade, longer than any other heavyweight can claim. Remarkably quick, powerful hands and nimble feet, unreal jiu-jitsu, best ground-and-pound ever witnessed, a cast-iron jaw, and unwavering determination made him a nightmare match-up for almost anyone. Had the best resume in heavyweight history. Was undersized and out of shape for the division. Due to contract disputes, never competed in UFC. Unbeaten streak halted by three-straight losses from 2010-12, and instead of permanently retiring has insisted on sporadically fighting second-tier heavyweights in Russia and Japan ever since.
2. Anderson Silva – 34-8, 1 No Contest (20 KO, 6 Sub) – Unquestionably the best striker ever. Won the middleweight title in brutally destructive fashion, and ruled the division for nearly seven years, sixteen victories, and ten title defenses—all UFC records. Ventured up to 205-lbs. a couple times with even greater success and three Matrix-style knockouts. Considered unbeatable for much of his career; his only only perceived weakness for years was boredom. Had remarkably tricky, counter-attacking style and unbelievable speed, agility, and athleticism. Devastating losses to Chris Weidman shocked the MMA world, and the nature of them definitely hurt his legacy. Age and wear and tear prevented full recovery from the Weidman fights, and he hasn’t been the same since.
3. Jon Jones – 22-1 (9 KO, 6 Sub) – Current pound-for-pound champ since 2011. The only fighter on the list without a true loss. Became the youngest UFC champ ever at 23. Ridiculously physically gifted (UFC record 85-inch reach, for example), athletic, and versatile. Wide array of unorthodox strikes, the best wrestling in the division, razor sharp submissions, and superior ability to fight through adversity. Has the frame of a heavyweight, and might be one by now if not for self-inflicted exiles and inactivity. Biggest career obstacle by far has been himself. Several wasted years as of late have him failing to live up to his limitless potential. Upcoming re-match with Daniel Cormier will either resurrect or wreck his career.
4. George St-Pierre – 25-2 (8 KO, 5 Sub) – Most dominant welterweight champ in the UFC history. Avenged two losses with three emphatic victories. Despite no amateiur background, explosiveness and athletic ability make him best offensive wrestler in UFC. Maybe the best jab in the sport. Unpredictable offense often utilizing turning side kicks and Superman punches. Shocking upset loss made him cautious and decision-prone in later career. According to Compubox, took unprecedented punishment over last few fights. Controversial decision victory in his last fight then abrupt retirement left fans perplexed. Still unfulfilled promises and rumors of a comeback have been sporadically surfacing since.
5. BJ Penn – 16-11-2 (7 KO, 6 Sub) – Maybe technically the best pound-for-pound fighter ever because he won both the UFC lightweight and welterweight titles, and also competed at featherweight, middleweight, and once at light heavyweight against a heavyweight opponent. The first lighter-weight MMA star. Superior boxing and ungodly jiu-jitsu, aided by quickness, and remarkable toughness and grit. Lack of training and focus by far the biggest detriments to his career. Almost like MMA’s Oscar De La Hoya, a hall-of-famer that didn’t ascend to the true heights his talent demanded. Repeated comebacks from retirement with steadily declining results (1-6-1) marring record somewhat diminish legacy.
6. Demetrious Johnson – 26-2-1 (5 KO, 10 Sub) – Arguably the current number one pound-for-pounder. Undefeated at flyweight. Has essentially flawless technique—there’s literally no weaknesses to his game. Physical marvel and genius at fighting combined with great coaching and preparation. Lack of depth at flyweight somewhat minimize accomplishments. Not very marketable. Has yet to prove he can fight through adversity, since he hasn’t had to. Might be becoming overly cautious, turning down a recent bout against another fighter who damn near made this list. Huge, irreparable hit to current standing if that situation’s not properly resolved.
7. Jose Aldo – 26-3 (14 KO, 3 Sub) – More years spent in the top five pound-for-pound than anyone on list. Unbeaten for over a decade. Best years were in WEC, where he was truly unstoppable and the best fighter on earth. Extraordinarily explosive, heavy hands, hardest leg kicks and best takedown defense in the sport, and slick jiu-jitsu. Super fast starter, but tends to fade as fight wears on. Front-running tendency and slowing down over the last few years led to a lot of decision wins piling up. Thirteen-second KO and recent third round TKO massacre in last two fights somewhat taint legacy.
8. Dominick Cruz – 22-2 (7 KO, 1 Sub) – One of longest unbeaten streaks ever across eight years and thirteen fights. Best movement in all of MMA history. Ridiculously hard style to train for. Non-stop multi-directional movement and stance-switching, lightning-quick hands, and dominant wrestling. Iron will, bouncing back from seemingly career-ending injuries time and time again. Until last fight, had only lost his belt due to injuries. Incredibly tactical mind about fighting, including post-fight press conference analysis of last loss. Doesn’t finish many fights. Mediocre submission game. Brittle hands, and overall fragility causing a plethora of injuries have lead to years of inactivity.
9. Bas Rutten – 28-4-1 (12 KO, 13 Sub) – Most fearsome knockout artist of his time, particularly in Pancrase where closed fists were not allowed. Instead he scored countless KO’s with open palm strikes, knees, and his famous “liver shot” with both punches and kicks. Vicious streetfighting syle. Never KO’d or even knocked down. Ended career on 22-fight unbeaten streak (21 wins, 1 Draw). Submissions were glaring weakness until he taught himself jiu-jitsu. Injuries derailed and shortened career. Undersized for heavyweight, more of a natural light heavy.
10. Frank Shamrock – 23-10-2 (5 KO, 13 Sub) – The initial prototype for the evolution of MMA fighters. Supremely well-rounded. Had combination of great stand-up, incredible wrestling, and high-level submissions never before seen in the sport. Spent years as pound-for-pound king in his prime. Master of head games and one of MMA’s best trash-talkers. Sport was dying when he was at his peak, the resulting retirements and inactivity hampered later career. Past his prime by the time he got on the big stage in Strikeforce and EliteXC.
11. Wanderlei Silva – 35-12-1, 1 No Contest (27 KO, 1 Sub) – Perhaps the most awe-inspiring unbeaten streak in MMA, given the ferocity and varying weight classes. One of the most intimidating and ferocious fighters ever. Human tornado of pulverizing knees from the clinch, booming right hands, and frenzied soccer kicks and head stomps. Would take any fighter’s best shot to land his own. Black belt in jiu-jitsu only used for defense with just one career submission. Career faded quickly due to accumulation of punishment. Well past his prime by the time he got to the UFC. Never the same after string of three career-altering knockout losses in four fights.
12. Kazushi Sakuraba – 26-17-1, 2 No Contest (4 KO, 19 Sub) – Known as the Gracie Hunter for his streak of spectacular victories over several members of the family, including a 90-minute epic. Most entertaining MMA fighter ever, and one of the most beloved. Cagey stand-up, solid wrestling, and excellent submission ability. Master showman. Super undersized and still fought everybody. Career slid downhill quickly. Injury-plagued career meant he rarely entered a bout healthy. Saddest, longest, most loss-filled end to a legendary career in MMA history, including having his ear punched off. Lost seven out of last nine bouts including five straight before retirement. Might be chiefly remembered for brutal ending to career more than stellar majority.
Dan Henderson, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Randy Couture, Daniel Cormier, Matt Hughes, Vitor Belfort, Uriah Faber, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Chuck Lidell, “Big Nog” Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, TJ Dillashaw, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Takanori Gomi, Shinya Aoki, Ken Shamrock, Don Frye