The Top 7 Strikers in MMA History

November 1993, I sat shocked at what I had just witnessed. A 185 pound Jiu-Jitsu fighter named Royce Gracie had just won the first-ever televised mixed martial arts tournament, The Ultimate Fighting Championship. After having practiced years of Jeet Kune Do, Filipino Kali, and Muay Thai, it seemed that I had wasted the last ten years of my life becoming a master of the impact arts – grappling had just won it all!


Admittedly, I had been training on and off with Shoot fi ghting coach Yori Nakamura, and had trained for years in Sifu Larry Hartsell’s (RIP) class with soon-to-be MMA star Eric Paulsen, yet I was stunned. How did a grappler so easily defeat any and all comers from multiple striking arts? Over the next few years, the world would be witness to the rise of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as the dominant martial art.



Fast-forward to today, and you can fi nd a mixed martial arts event pretty much anywhere in the US on any given weekend. MMA has come into its own. Nowadays, it is hard to find any dominant style or method for winning in the cage, as the development of well-rounded fighters has transcended the methods of old. Now, one can watch a match and see any method of victory: KO, TKO, submission, or decision. The rules have changed, and the game has changed.


The evolution of MMA from a style vs. style tournament into a martial system all its own began in the sweaty dojos of Brazil, and found its way onto mainstream TV and into American popular culture. MMA is now the largest combat sport, eclipsing kickboxing, boxing, and wrestling combined. And from a striker’s point of view, it’s a relief. Indeed, it turns out that I did not waste all my years training to punch, kick, elbow, and knee. It has come full circle. The strikers are back, and now the question is, who is the best?



Today’s fighters are setting a new standard, having mastered counter-takedown and

counter-submissions skills that keep many fi ghts standing. Who is the best? Well, that depends. When looking at the history of MMA and deciding upon a best in the striking arena, I decided to look at a few factors: knockout percentage, technical ability, accuracy, speed, application (standing vs. ground and pound), and tools (hands, feet, elbow, knees). Each area has an obvious winner.


Vitor Belfort at his prime was considered the fastest hands in the Octagon. He boasts a

62% T(KO) rate, but that is based more on speed than power or technical ability. Combine this with his use of hands as a primary weapon and he falls below the line.

A former opponent of Vitor, Tank Abbot, wins hands down for power, but technical ability… yikes! My mom has better punching form. As a result, he and many other up and comers who boast up to 100% knockout percentages are out of the running. What is left is a group of strikers who have made a mark on the history of MMA. Here they are:


7. Andrei Arlovski

One of the most exciting fighters of his time, “The Pitbull” unleashed vicious low leg kicks and lighteningfast accurate hands on his opponents. His athletic ability lent itself well to a striker’s game and made him dangerous even while on his back. Despite losing to Tim Sylvia for a second time, his ability to kick ass keeps him on the list.


6. Maurice Smith

A world-class kickboxer, Maurice fought in Japan’s Shooto tournaments to learn the ground well enough to win a UFC title. At UFC 14, he became the first striker to do so. Though his overall MMA record is mostly a wash, his contribution to the striking side of MMA and his own stellar abilities places him fi rmly on the list of all-time greats.


5. Chuck Liddell

With an unorthodox wide base and open stance, “The Iceman” baits his opponents into a straight line attack where their momentum makes them vulnerable to his devastating power shots. His other amazing tool, the sprawl, mandates a standup slugfest for those opponents who plan on taking him down.


4. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic

Statesman, anti-terror commando, ass-kicker. This Croatian renaissance man comes to

MMA with striking experience from his K-1 days, and a rear leg kick that is feared by all. Add to that a formidable arsenal of hand and knee strikes, and you have a world-class striker in any fighting venue.


3. Igor Vovchanchyn

This former kickboxing champ turned MMA fighter has been around, fighting consistently since 1995. With striking subtleties that are part Systema, part Western Boxing, and part Sambo, Igor’s ability to strike at odd angles with amazing power places him firmly on the list.


2. Bas Rutten

At a mere 205 pounds, Rutten took on all comers in a weight class that boasted 250 pound behemoths. His ability to seamlessly combine leg kicks and a distinct lead jab with pinpoint accurate rear straights, make him one of the most dangerous fighters of all time.


1. Anderson Silva

Anderson Silva’s fi ghts are a thing of beauty: grace, power, speed, amazing accuracy, and technical ability as both a striker and on the ground. His absolute decimation of Rich

Franklin not once, but twice, is a testament to his abilities. A Muay Thai and BJJ trained fighter, “The Spider” has effectively adapted the Thai clinch to MMA better than any before him. His ability to keep opponents off balance while simultaneously striking nullifies most counters. Is it unbeatable? Hell no, but so far, no one who has entered the ring with him has figured it out. Until then, I just keep on watching and smiling.

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