The UFC is the fastest-growing sports league in the United States for a reason. It is often misunderstood by outside observers as a mindless and archaic form of brutality that has its fighters consistently put themselves at risk. It is true that the UFC is a dangerous sport with fighters who risk traumatic brain injuries every time they step in the octagon. But the fighters are privy of the dangers and avid fans do not watch the sport solely for the exchange of fisticuffs. It is an incentive, no doubt, but MMA entails a wealth of skill and strategy that plays out like a chess match in many ways, especially when it comes to ground fighting. Even the striking techniques require fighters to get a feel for their opponent and draw them in with a series of combos that utilize various ranges.
The UFC is filled to the brim with fighters ready to climb up the ranks and get a shot at the title. It is a simple premise grounded in extraordinary athleticism and overcoming odds and adversity. It ticks all the boxes other sports do to make it a legitimate form of entertainment.
With that in mind, there is considerable talent within the UFC that makes it an elite league in MMA. It is a difficult task to stand out among the crowd but the elite fighters find a way and cement themselves in UFC history. So with all that out of the way, let’s take a gander at the top 15 best pound-for-pound fighters currently in the UFC:
15. Anderson Silva
Anderson Silva’s stock has dropped since losing consecutive fights—and consequently his middleweight title—against Chris Weidman. His cocky demeanour got the best of him in the octagon when he put his guard down to taunt Weidman and got knocked out in the process. In the rematch, Weidman was convincingly in command when Silva broke his leg on a kick and lost yet again. But Silva is not be taken lightly with his lethal striking and capable submissions. He still has an incredible 33-6 record and his upcoming comeback bout against Nick Diaz could mark a triumphant return for the Brazilian.
14. Johny Hendricks
“Bigg Rigg” is coming off a loss against Robbie Lawler in which he lost his welterweight title in his first defense of the championship. It also marked his second loss in three fights, which doesn’t bode well for his confidence. Johny Hendricks, however, still has an impressive 16-3 record at 31 years old and is a dangerous opponent due to his powerful strikes and elite wrestling. He’ll likely have to fight his way back into contention for the title considering his record lately—despite how close both his losses were—but don’t be surprised if he and Lawler fight in a trilogy match in the future, as Hendricks is far from finished in the UFC.
13. Robbie Lawler
Robbie Lawler has finally claimed the welterweight title after edging Johny Hendricks in a five-round decision. He lost the previous fight against Hendricks from unanimous decision but he fired back guns blazing in the rematch and didn’t provide the former champion an inch of breathing room. He attacked from the outset and utilized his heavy strikes to wear down Hendricks, who was criticized for being overly conservative. Lawler’s biggest strengths are his power and conditioning, a lethal combination that allows him to dish out considerable damage in lengthy bouts. At 32 years old, the time is now for Lawler to go on a run of title defenses and cement himself as one of the best in the UFC.
12. Lyoto Machida
“The Dragon” imported an unorthodox style into the UFC that incorporates karate. He has since been lauded for his versatile skill set and incredible 22-5 record that has him regarded as a future Hall of Famer at 36 years old. It’s worth mentioning, however, that Machida lost two of his last fights—against Chris Weidman and Phil Davis—but his latest win could generate some serious momentum. He unleashed a violent kick against CB Dollaway in UFC Fight Night 58 that ended the bout in just over a minute and had his opponent grimacing in pain. His next fight could well be against #5 ranked middleweight Luke Rockhold.
11. Alexander Gustafsson
Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson came closest to taking down light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Some might even argue he marginally won that bout, with Jones benefitting from champion bias to edge out the win. Gustafsson is a lanky Swede standing at 6’5 with an 81’’ reach that allows him to adjust to his opponent and unleash a combination of jabs, hooks and uppercuts from a conservative range. While an injury derailed his shot at a rematch with Jones, he has an upcoming match against Anthony Johnson and, if he wins, it’s only a matter of time before Gustafsson and Jones are in the octagon for another barn burner.
10. Renan Barao
Renan Barao has a truly ridiculous 35-2 record and appears to be virtually unstoppable in the UFC. Did T.J. Dillashaw catch him on an off-night or has Barao finally met his superior? We’ll know once and for all when the inevitable rematch takes place—it’ll be shocking if Barao doesn’t burn through his fights to get that opportunity. He is a strong striker and submission artist who had held a UFC-best 22-fight MMA winning streak. Barao’s loss to Dillashaw ranks as one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, but it’s worth mentioning Georges St-Pierre still holds that distinction when he lost against Matt Serra, so Barao’s legacy remains safe.
9. T.J. Dillashaw
His upset win over Renan Barao will forever accompany his name. It was an incredible accomplishment, and a convincing one at that, as Dillashaw punished the former champion throughout the five rounds. With 45 percent of his wins coming by way of knockouts, Dillashaw is an effective striker that can end a fight with a submission as well. He’s in his prime at 28 years old and when he eventually fights Dominick Cruz he’ll have the opportunity to solidify himself as one of the most lethal fighters in the UFC. That won’t be an easy feat, though, and having both Barao and Cruz nipping at his heels should provide viewers with some classic fights.
8. Ronda Rousey
“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey is simply too good for the women’s bantamweight division. She dominates every fighter in her path with a 10-0 record at 27 years old. Amazingly, eight of her 10 wins have ended by submission. But what’s even more impressive is that of those eight wins, all were won by an armbar. Her opponents know it’s coming but can’t stop it, solidifying Rousey as a walking tornado in the women’s division. Moreover, Rousey finished nine of her 10 fights in the first round, emphasizing her dominance in the octagon. Her next fight will be against the undefeated Cat Zingano, who was scheduled to battle Rousey last year, but an injury derailed the title fight.
7. Dominick Cruz
Poor Takeya Mizugaki had no idea what he was in for. Dominick Cruz had last fought in October 2011 before requiring two significant knee surgeries. He was then slated to fight Mizugaki in a comeback bout in September of this year and made short work of his opponent, knocking him out in 61 seconds. Cruz is 20-1 at 29 years old and his return to the UFC could spell trouble for current bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. Dana White has revealed that the two will clash on a date yet to be revealed, a bout that could fast-track Cruz back to stardom. With only a single submission in his win column, Cruz often opts for lighting fast footwork combined with deadly strikes, making him one of the most entertaining fighters in the sport.
6. Anthony Pettis
The lightweight champion is 18-2 and a versatile fighter with seven coming by TKO or KO, eight submissions, and three decisions. He’s dangerous whether he’s on the ground or standing and he’s a master counter artist—Gilbert Melendez being the latest victim of Pettis’ unpredictability and technical skill-set. At only 27 years old, he has plenty of time to forge a Hall of Fame worthy career and it helps that he aims to fight three times in 2015. Pettis is such an impressive fighter, in fact, that commissioner Dana White claimed he was the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC. That bodes well for some exciting fight cards in the new year.
5. Cain Velasquez
Cain Velasquez has proven himself as the top heavyweight fighter in the UFC. After an initial loss to Junior Dos Santos, Velasquez has fought him twice since to complete the trilogy and won the latter two in convincing fashion—by unanimous decision and a fifth round knockout. He is a well-rounded fighter who packs a powerful punch with 11 of his 13 victories ending with a knockout. At 32 years old and 13-1 record, Velasquez is in his prime and is looking to continue his dominance as champion of the heavyweight division. While injuries have held him back, with Fabricio Werdum holding the interim title, the two will eventually clash if Velasquez can put his injury troubles behind him.
4. Demetrious Johnson
“Mighty Mouse” has dominated the flyweight division. He’s 21-2-1 and on a seven fight win streak with six title defenses. He’s regarded by some as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC for his takedown of the division but it has been argued the competition within it isn’t as stiff as others. Johnson has blazing speed and the technique to accompany it to make him a formidable fighter. He also has a penchant for doubling his opponents’ striking output and winning by decision, utilizing his conditioning to wear down other fighters. At this point, it’s difficult to imagine any fighter in the division dethroning the 28-year-old.
3. Chris Weidman
The middleweight champion is on an incredible run having taken down Anderson Silva in consecutive bouts and then Hall of Famer Lyoto Machida. He’s up against #3 ranked middleweight Vitor Belfort next and if he keeps compiling wins he may well top this list in the future. Weidman has a 100 percent takedown defense and specializes in wrestling and deceivingly powerful strikes. In short, Weidman is as lethal a fighter as any in the UFC and his weaknesses are non-existent. If Silva goes on a winning streak we may well see a trilogy fight between the two, and if Weidman wins again, he’ll be cemented as one of the best in the sport.
2. Jose Aldo
The featherweight champion is a remarkable 25-1 and is almost too good for his division. He has won 18 straight fights including nine title defenses and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. Aldo is dominant on the ground or standing and has powerful strikes that can blackout his opponents. His most dangerous asset, combined with his versatile skillset, is perhaps his excellent conditioning and subsequent endurance. He appears destined to fight the rising 26-year-old Conor McGregor who has an impressive 100 percent takedown defense. If Aldo keeps torching the featherweight division, expect him to make the jump as a Lightweight fighter in the future.
1. Jon Jones
Jon “Bones” Jones is capturing all the headlines lately. His upcoming fight against Daniel “DC” Cormier is one of the most hyped in recent memory due to their scuffle at a press conference and then the subsequent exchange of words in a live interview on FOX Sports. They genuinely hate each other, to put it in simple terms. Jones is an explosive fighter who can knock out his opponent at a moment’s notice with a spinning elbow or back fist. With a strong wrestling background, lethal strikes and technical submission prowess, Jones is the total package and he’s an easy sell for the UFC with his larger-than-life demeanor.