Ever been unsuspectingly punched in the face? To those fortunate enough to say ‘no’, well, let me tell you, it isn’t pretty. Your head gets rocked back and if it’s hard enough, you can actually feel the force make your brain hit the inside of your skull. Of course usually afterwards you immediately lose consciousness so you don’t have much time to dwell on it. Getting caught off guard with a strike can be devastating, but you know what? Even if you’re getting ready for the strike, it still hurts like all hell, and I’m not speaking exclusively about hits to the head. A well-placed kick to the thigh (from someone who knows what they’re doing) can leave you walking weirdly for the next 2 days.
Although Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners dominated the early days of MMA, once people learned enough about BJJ and how to defend against it, striking came back into style in a big way. Modern MMA striking is largely derived from three styles, muay thai, boxing, and kickboxing. Muay thai is popular amongst MMA fighters for its lethal combinations of kicks, knees, punches and elbows, while traditional boxing is useful because of its emphasis on head movements and positioning. The kickboxing style pioneered by the Dutch that was used in K-1 and, nowadays, GLORY have also been a huge source of inspiration, with many kickboxers like Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem and Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic successfully making the transition to MMA. There are of course a plethora of other combat schools that make appearances in MMA. Lyoto Machida famously uses a karate-based style and taekwondo has been making its presence felt in the octagon over the past few years.
No matter which style of striking is preferred, fighters have to have a striking plan in order to leave the octagon with a victory. Some fighters prefer to use striking sparingly, using it as a distraction to lock in a takedown or a sweep and transition into a submission. Other fighters, well, they prefer to unload on their opponents and keep the fight standing. The UFC tracks total strikes landed and all of these men have punched and kicked their opponents literally thousands of times throughout their careers, but who’s landed the most strikes in UFC history?
10. Randy Couture – 1,337 strikes landed
Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture is a pioneer of the sport. If there’s a UFC record that’s being tracked, you can count on seeing him somewhere in the top 10. Over a career that saw him be crowned both UFC Heavyweight champion and UFC Light Heavyweight champion on multiple occasions, and despite being a wrestler at heart, Couture landed many, many strikes. Throughout 24 fights in the UFC, stretching from 1997 to 2011, Couture successfully landed 1,337 hits. He retired in 2011 after a loss to Lyoto Machida, but only after a long and successful career that’s left him with UFC records he still holds and one of the first spots in the UFC Hall of Fame.
9. Matthew Riddle – 1,350 strikes landed
Matthew Riddle made his debut during The Ultimate Fighter 7, and started off his UFC career on a strong note. Riddle’s actual record in the UFC is 9-3, but his official record is 7-3 because of two post-fight disqualifications after testing positive for cannabis. After his second positive result, which was the 2nd that year, UFC was forced to comply with their drug policies and he was released from the promotion. During his tenure Riddle landed 1,350 strikes, an impressive figure considering his relatively short stay, and had the 3rd best takedown defense (89.3%) in UFC history.
8. Nate Diaz – 1,377 strikes landed
I tend to play up the power of the Diaz brothers, simply because they’re two of the most unique and exciting, albeit polarizing, characters in MMA. At first glance their behavior both in and out of the ring resembles pro wrestling villains. They taunt their opponents in the ring and talk incredible amounts of trash outside of it. In a sport that is, necessarily, becoming increasingly sanitized, they’re a breath of fresh air. Most importantly, they can back up the bravado with in-ring performances. Nate Diaz, the younger of the two, fights at lightweight and is the winner of the Ultimate Fighter 5. Despite consistently strong performances, he’s failed in his attempts at UFC and WEC gold. Even so, he’s landed 1,377 total strikes in his career, and will be looking to add to that as he moves forward.
7. Chael Sonnen – 1,467 strikes landed
Chael Sonnen is another MMA fighter who, in a world without the UFC, would have had a successful career in the WWE. Undisputedly the best talker in MMA, Sonnen has created tons of hype behind each and every one of his title fights. Prior to Chris Weidman, Sonnen was the only man to truly test longtime UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Sonnen comes from a wrestling background, so it may be surprising to see him on a list of prolific strikers. However, his tendency to land rapid-fire hammer fists when he’s grappling in top control has clearly, somewhat artificially, inflated his 1,467 strike number. It may be quantity over quality in this case, but that doesn’t take away from the fact Sonnen is not someone you want to stare down across the octagon.
6. Chris Lytle – 1,533 strikes landed
Chris ‘Lights Out’ Lytle had a long relationship with the UFC. Debuting at UFC 28 with a loss, he would disappear into the MMA underground before reemerging at UFC 47 and being a finalist on The Ultimate Fighter 4. Lytle’s fights never lacked excitement, and he became a fan favorite with six ‘Fight of the Night’ bonuses. Throughout his career Lytle landed an impressive 1,533 total strikes, a number that was boosted by his boxing-based style of fighting. He retired in 2011 at 36-years-old, after a long career, in order to focus on his family and spend time with his 4 children.
5. Nick Diaz – 1,536 strikes landed
Enter the oldest of the Diaz Brothers. Nick Diaz, unlike his younger brother Nate, competed in the Welterweight division of the UFC, WEC, IFC, and Strikeforce. He’s a former Strikeforce, IFC, and WEC Welterweight champion, but never could capture the title in the UFC, coming up short in his lone attempt at longtime champion Georges St-Pierre. Now retired (or on hiatus, depending on who you ask), Nick spends his time teaching at the BJJ school he and his brother operate. If Nick Diaz ever makes his return to the octagon to add to his 1,536 strikes, his vocal fan base will be waiting with open arms.
4. BJ Penn – 1,676 strikes landed
Lightweight pioneer BJ Penn is a bona fide MMA legend. He was the longest reigning UFC Lightweight champion of his era, and is the only man to hold both the UFC Lightweight championship and the UFC Welterweight championship (albeit at different times). Penn has been called the greatest lightweight fighter of all time, if only because his exciting performances had huge drawing power. Penn is scheduled to complete his trilogy of matches against longtime rival Frankie Edgar sometime in 2014, in which he will undoubtedly add to his 1,676 strike tally.
3. Chris Leben – 1,791 strikes landed
Chris ‘Lights Out’ Leben had a reputation as a tough nut to crack. His strategy, more often than not, was to take a few shots to open up opportunities for his own strikes, and he took many shots. It was also a strategy that, at least on some level, worked. He amassed 1,791 total career strikes throughout his 33-fight MMA career. He retired recently after a loss at UFC 168 against Uriah Hall, his 4th in a row. Leben’s decision to call it quits was quietly celebrated as a smart and mature decision, rather than sticking around to take needless brain damage, which his reckless (but extremely exciting) fighting style almost certainly would have caused.
2. Jon Fitch – 2,185 strikes landed
The story of Jon Fitch is somewhat perplexing. He was a fighter with a 14-1-3 record in the UFC, which is extremely impressive. He landed 2,185 total strikes in his career, a huge jump from #3 Chris Leben at 1791. In 2013 he was released from the promotion after a single loss, even though many fighters go through 3 or even 4 consecutive losses before being released. Many accused the UFC of releasing Fitch simply because his style was not exciting enough, even though it was undoubtedly effective. His lone title shot was against Georges St-Pierre in 2008, and although he came up short, he proved that he was a top quality fighter. He currently fights in the World Series of Fighting, where he is among their biggest draws.
1. Georges St-Pierre – 2,523 strikes landed
As I’ve discovered, when working on a top 10 UFC list, regardless of subject, there’s a 60% chance that the #1 spot will go to this man, Georges ‘Rush’ St-Pierre. The longtime UFC Welterweight champion landed 2,523 total strikes in his career, a ridiculously high number. GSP was not known as a striking-based fighter, but rather one who used effective striking as part of a well-rounded and complete MMA strategy. His leg kicks and knees both in the clinch and on the ground were deadly, as Matt Serra discovered when GSP defeated him for his 2nd Welterweight championship with a barrage of knees to the body. Now retired, the future of GSP remains uncertain. If he ever decides to make his return to the octagon he’ll only be reinforcing his status as one of the best to ever set foot in the cage.