With over two decades of bloodletting action, the UFC has not only become the success story that Dana White and the Fertitta brothers envisioned, it has made its way into the mainstream and is now surpassing boxing as the most popular combat sport in the world.
One of the ways it has accomplished this is by developing mixed martial arts fighters to a level never seen before. Just as the name implies, mixed martial arts is a combination of kickboxing, karate, Judo, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and many others. In the early days of UFC, fighters would specialize in one particular martial art while having some basic grasp on the others, but times are changing. The fighters of today are becoming so proficient in the use of a greater variety of martial arts that they are not only developing into great fighters, they are becoming certified killers. The one-dimensional fighters that were once on top of the world are now getting left in the dust by the more versatile Amanda Nunes’ and Cody Garbrandts of the world.
Just a year ago, armbar specialist Ronda Rousey was considered to be unbeatable until she was nearly decapitated by the kickboxing queen Holly Holm. However, Holm would only hold the belt for a minute before Miesha Tate strangled her unconscious. And Tate enjoyed the gold for an even shorter period before being mangled by current champ, Amanda Nunes. And of course it was Nunes who brought everything full circle by pummeling the one-dimensional Ronda Rousey with a volley of strikes that would make Mike Tyson proud. One time great BJ Penn was exposed for his one-dimensional style, while Donald Cerrone and Cody Garbrandt were pulling off moves akin to The Matrix.
With the unprecedented development of UFC fighters, there has never been a more exciting time to be a fan of mixed martial arts. However, this is only the beginning for Dana White and friends who want to see their baby continue to grow. With that said, we have compiled a list of certified UFC killers who will take The Company to the next level.
15. Cody Garbrandt
Cody Garbrandt shocked the world with his dismantling of champ Dominick Cruz. Entering the fight, Cruz was the favorite and many had believed that he had gotten into the challenger’s head with an endless array of badgering and trash talk. However, from the opening minutes of the fight, it was evident that Garbrandt was not a part of the Cruz party, he was there to crash it, and crash it he did. Not only was Cody beating Cruz, he was toying with him. It was almost an embarrassment. Garbrandt moved like a snake on crack. He slid right, he dodged left. He avoided Cruz’s punches with Matrix-like precision, and he struck back with a quickness and ferocity that had both Cruz and his fans mired in shock and disbelief. Cody Garbrandt showed the world that night that he is a certified killer who will take the UFC to the next level.
14. Amanda Nunes
In what was one of the most anticipated match ups of the year, Ronda Rousey made her return to the octagon to take on the current 135 lb women’s champ Amanda Nunes. Leading up to the fight, the world was focused on the return of Rousey, the fallen queen who had disappeared from the face of the earth after her demolition at the hands of Holly Holm. What was most disrespectful to Nunes was the fact that she was nowhere to be seen. Not because she was in hiding, but because UFC television promos were all about the return of the “armbar specialist,” the fallen queen who would surely return to her devastating form, judo slam Nunes to the ground before submitting her in a vicious armbar. Unfortunately for both Rousey and the UFC, Nunes had not gotten the memo. The Brazilian Tigress embarrassed the former champ with an avalanche of blows to the face that made Rousey wish she were back on that sandy beach surrounded by makeup people and photogs from ESPN. 48 seconds later, it was a wrap and the disrespected Nunes proved that she is every bit a certified killer ready to take the UFC to the next level..
13. Yair Rodriguez
The way that once-proud UFC champ Penn was taken apart by this young fighter shows just how far the talent pool has progressed. Yair Rodriguez dismantled Penn and placed what was left neatly in the corner of the octagon for Monday morning recycling. From the opening minutes, the once mighty Hawaiian looked both perplexed and over-matched with the younger and more talented Yair. Famous for being a spectacular boxer, Penn is another example of a one-dimensional fighter who was surpassed by an up and coming killer who made use of an arsenal of punches and kicks that he landed at will with the precision of an F-14 fighter. While it is true that BJ Penn is in his late thirties and at the end of his career, his demise at the hands of Rodriquez should not have been so easy. Yair proved that he is every bit a certified killer and ready to take the UFC to the next level.
12. TJ Dillashaw
TJ has parlayed his status as a finalist on The Ultimate Fighter into a fast moving UFC career where he took his opponents apart limb from limb and eventually jacked the Bantamweight title away from Renen Barão with ease. Dillashaw eventually went on to lose the belt by a slim margin to Dominick Cruz, but by all accounts, the former bantamweight champ and slugger from Cal State, Fullerton has now positioned himself for another shot at the title, this time against Garbrandt who manhandled Cruz to win the gold. Dillashaw’s power and quickness ranks with the likes of his contemporaries Cruz and Garbrandt, and his 14 wins to only 3 losses with six of those wins coming via KO make Dillashaw the real deal and a certified UFC killer ready to take the UFC to the next level.
11. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Although “The Eagle” Khabib Nurmagomedov has been around for a minute, he has yet to win a title, but this is not because he is undeserving. Every time Khabib is on the verge of greatness, he runs into another injury. Don’t get things twisted, he is NOT a fragile cupcake, it is because he has only one speed: light speed. While the average fighter may take it easy in training to avoid injury, Khabib goes full bore. While some fighters may avoid sparring, Khabib spars like he’s in a fight with Money Mayweather. His recent failure to make weight for his much anticipated fight against Tony Ferguson is a concern for the critics who are claiming that, in addition to being prone to injury, the bear wrestler from Kazakhstan is also lacking in the discipline necessary to wear the coveted belt; however, there will come a time when all of the stars fall into alignment, and it will be Khabib time for real, making Nurmagomedov a legit certified killer for The Company and a man on a mission to take the UFC to the next level.
10. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
The world cannot stop talking about Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Spending a decade dominating the Muay Thai theater where she walked away with nine championships in both European and world competitions, Joanna is not a novice to the combat arena. This sensational 29-year-old from Poland is simply a terror who continues to wreak havoc on everyone in the strawweight division. At 13-0 as a professional, seven of those coming in the UFC, Joanna has yet to taste the agony of defeat. What makes Jedrzejczyk so fearsome is the relentless pressure she puts on her opponents through combinations of strikes high and low, a style that has quickly made her the fighter that no 115 pound woman, or man for that matter, wants to deal with. If Jedrzejczyk continues on this path as one of the certified killers she will definitely take the UFC to the next level.
9. Max Holloway
Holloway, the 25-year-old featherweight from Hawaii has made a name for himself as a Muay Thai kickboxer who has accumulated an impressive 17-3 MMA record with seven of those coming via the knockout. The Interim Featherweight Champion is on a dominating, 10 fight win streak demonstrating that he is both the real deal and a certified UFC killer. Like previous UFC stars Georges St. Pierre and Ronda Rousey, Holloway is making the crossover into mainstream entertainment with an acting part as a bank robber in the upcoming Gerard Butler and 50 Cent action movie Den of Thieves. Dana White and the UFC brass love when their fighters are introduced to an audience of non-MMA fans who will then be drawn to the UFC world. The combination of Holloway’s dominance in the octagon and his crossover appeal make him a shoo-in to take the UFC to the next level.
8. Conor McGregor
It feels almost like I’m cheating by adding the “Notorious One” to a list of certified killers who will take the UFC to the next level simply because he has already done so. Prior to McGregor’s monumental rise, top fighters like Anderson Silva were pulling in an average half-million pay-per-view buys per event. To up the ante, the legend, Georges Saint Pierre pulled in 750,000 per contest, and the ever grumpy Brock Lesnar averaged the top end of 900,000. Fast forward to the brash Irishman who averaged a whopping 1.5 million PPV buys per event between December of 2015 and November of 2016. This six million dollar number is more than double of what the entire UFC roster achieved in 2014 combined! It is without argument that Conor McGregor is a certified killer who will continue to take the UFC to the next level.
7. Kelvin Gastelum
Although Kelvin Gastelum has made a career out of not making weight, he has also made a career out of kicking ass and taking names. Gastelum has faced either fines or being outright scrapped from fights for his failure to make weight more times than he has actually faced defeat in the octagon; with that said, all hope is not lost. At the order of the UFC head honcho, Dana White, Gastelum moved up from welterweight to middleweight where he has been nothing short of God-like. He is proving that he has a chin akin to the likes of Mark Hunt, and with his most recent one-punch annihilation of the legendary Brazilian, Vitor Belfort, the Mexican phenom and winner of The Ultimate Fighter 17 is making a name for himself as the “comeback kid.” At only 25 years of age, this certified killer from San Jose is deserving to be amongst that ranks of fighters who will take the UFC to the next level.
6. Claudia Gadelha
Claudia has a great backstory. As a youth, she began running with the wrong crowd, using drugs, and engaging in a never ending battle with her parents. When all seemed lost for the rebellious Brazilian, she found mixed martial arts, something that she credits as the event that pulled her away from her destructive ways and put her on her current path to greatness in the octagon. Before arriving at The Company, Claudia amassed a ridiculous 14 national and world titles in the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. At the age of 28, she has compiled a professional MMA record of 14 wins to only 2 losses, both of which came at the hands of the strawweight division’s best, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Prior to these losses, Claudia was ranked #1 in the class of 155 pounders. She is surely qualified to be a certified killer who will take the UFC to the next level.
5. Valentina Shevchenko
Valentina Shevchenko, otherwise known as “the Bullet,” was born in Frunze, Kirghizia, USSR. Before joining Dana White and co, Shevchenko laid claim to a mind-numbing professional record of 56-2 as a Muay Thai and K-1 kickboxer and taking the great Joanna Jedrzejczyk apart piece by piece along the way. Since arriving at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, she has defeated the tough Julianna Pena, and made a mockery of the woman who banished UFC darling Ronda Rousey into a year-long sabbatical, Holly Holm. Shevchenko’s only loss came in a closely contested fight at the hands of the other woman to banish Ronda Rousey, the current bantamweight champ, Amanda Nunes. A rematch is currently in the works but has been bogged down due to negotiation issues. With that said, Valentina Shevchenko has proven her value as a certified killer and will undoubtedly play a large role in ushering the UFC to the next level.
4. Julianna Pena
Pena, who hails from Spokane Washington, was winner of The Ultimate Fighter 18 before entering the octagon for real at UFC Fight Night 63. It was there that she made a statement by knocking out Jessica Rakoczy in the first round, which was a sign of things to come as she continued her dominance in the 135 pound bantamweight division. In her five fights since joining the UFC, the Venezuelan Vixen is 4-1 with her only loss coming to the Russian “Bullet” Valentina Shevchenko. Pena’s background in both kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu make her an excellent fit for the division occupied by other elite strikers such as Nunes and Shevchenko, and she is definitely capable of competing and taking the UFC to the next level.
3. Dooho Choi
This guy takes hits better than an Abrams tank in the Persian Gulf. Choi, a 145 lb featherweight from South Korea, has already achieved a 14-2 professional record in mixed martial arts and what’s even more impressive is that 79 percent of those wins came via the KO. In his UFC PPV debut against veteran Cub Swanson, Choi was so impressive that he had the arena up and cheering for him by the final horn. Even after a brutal back and forth, blood soaked battle with Swanson, the “Korean Superboy” even apologized to the fans for not doing better as well as expressing gratitude for their support. His young age, tenacity and humility make him an ideal example of a torch bearer for The Company. He is a legitimate certified killer and represents exactly what the UFC needs to take the company to the next level.
2. Nate Diaz
Even though the younger of the Diaz brothers is already 31 years old, this certified killer from Stockton has plenty in the tank to be putting on incredible fights for the next decade. While McGregor may lay claim to the biggest fanbase in the company, Nathan is not far behind with what is described as more of a cult following than average MMA fans. In addition, with his anarchist attitude and a vocabulary that is light on pleasantries and heavy with profanities, Nate has brought trash talking to epic levels and in doing so, represents the one thing that every successful promotion must have: a villain. Between Nate’s never say die attitude in the ring, and his f**k the world attitude outside of it, he is a perfect candidate to take the UFC to the next level.
1. Jon “Bones” Jones
Like McGregor, it doesn’t really seem fair to add the former light heavyweight champ to this list because, like McGregor, Jones has already taken the UFC to the next level. It’s difficult to believe that Jonny Bones is only 29 years old because he has been dominating the most fearsome that the UFC has to offer for what seems like a generation. Although the man from Rochester, New York has had run-ins with both the law and anti-doping associations, he is still a feared competitor and fan favorite. Recently, Jon had his suspension reduced and the word on the street is that he will be practicing the art of utter dehumanization in the octagon by this coming July. If Jones continues to keep himself in good standing with The Company, this legend in the making may just be the standard bearer of certified killers ready to take the UFC to the next level.