MMA has come a long way since the early days of UFC. During these early years, fighters were uniquely defined by a specific style and discipline and “the best MMA fighter” was easier to point out. In fact a 1996 issue of Black Belt Magazine had an article on “The top 10 No Holds Barred fighters” in which Rickson Gracie, Royce Gracie, Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock occupied the top 4 slots, and this was likely very accurate.
Royce was undefeated and had scored decisive victories over Severn and Shamrock, who had in turn both mauled all other fighters. Rickson Gracie’s alleged undefeated record was difficult if not impossible to verify but given that it was agreed that he was the “top Gracie” it was difficult to argue with his spot at number 1. At this point in “MMA” history, the top fighter(s) were easy to identify given that you could count on the grapplers always taking down the strikers. What’s more is there were no weight classes up until this point (making the 180 lb Royce Gracie that much more impressive), so classification was simpler.
Defining the top 10 MMA fighters can be tricky as there are different methods of determining how to define “best.” Do we use current championship? Current winning streak (and who they’ve won against)? Do we simply go by who they’ve beaten (meaning, does a newer fighter who has yet to garner a large collection of wins gain a berth because he happened to beat a couple of fighters who have)? Do we take category of wins into account (1st round wins as opposed to decisions)? Below are a couple of ways we can list the top 10, or something close.
Fabrício Werdum – Heavyweight
Daniel Cormier – Light Heavyweight
Chris Weidman – Middleweight
Robbie Lawler – Welterweight
Rafael dos Anjos – Lightweight
José Aldo – Featherweight
Conor McGregor (interim) – Featherweight
T.J. Dillashaw – Bantamweight
Demetrious Johnson – Flyweight