In mixed martial arts, every fight starts standing. With just two feet on the ground and two sets of limbs to do your dirty work, the striking realm of fighting is the meat and potatoes of combat arts. Grappling makes MMA unique, but it is the lure of a standing knock out that is embedded in our DNA. It is not just boxing. It is not even kickboxing or Muay Thai, but a new art form all together germinated from the need to punch and kick effectively while still defending against takedowns in a cage or ring. It’s an evolution in striking ability that is equal parts science, art, and balls.
Compiling a list of the most dangerous strikers in the world is like picking a nerd at MIT to do your homework, you can’t go wrong but on principle you pick the best. As always, specific criteria anchors this list of professional concussion givers with a mixture of enough subjective opinion to nullify any argument based on said criteria. Confused? Good. Let’s get started!
Element of Danger
To be on this list, the fighters needs to insight fear in whoever is standing across the cage from them. They do not have to necessarily be a one-punch KO fighter (it helps), but the damage they can do on their feat must be impeccable.
In the Present
This is a current list of active MMA fighters at the tops of their game. Sorry Bas Rutten, Igor Vovchanchanchyn, Semmy Schilt, Chuck Liddell, and Maurice Smith, you are not eligible. My apologies to Cro Cop, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, and Mark Hunt that this list was not made five years ago. And where the hell has Cung Le been?
While this is a striking list and not purely a knockout list, who would we be fooling if the perfect result to perfect striking was not represented? The more knockouts, the better. If decision wins are the name of your game, we’ll see you on another list.
Striking is an art where the fighter’s fists, elbows, knees, shins, and feet act as the paintbrush. The more diverse the attack, the higher up the list you go.
The little something that cannot be quantified—a fighter’s ability to bounce back from punishment, come up big when it matters most, or leave fans on the edges of their seats are represented as well.
33. Miguel Torres
Before the mulleted mauler was the WEC Bantamweight Champion, he was knocking out guys on the sawdust floor of shady bars throughout Indiana. He prefers to use his pugilistic skills to get the fight on the ground so he can lock in a triangle, but he has KO power in those lanky arms.
At WEC 47, Torres throttled Manny Tapiain the second round of their title fight, knocking down the challenger twice before finishing the assault on the ground.
32. Hector Lombard
Judo’s answer to Mike Tyson, Lombard is built like he could squat a Caterpillar then rip it apart using only his gi and a can opener. The judo Olympian has steam rolled fighters on three continents, losing only his two fights in Pride. True, we can’t name one all-star fighter he has knocked out, but beating up everyone else you face has to count for something.
With his car apparently double parked out front of the Monroe Civic Center, Lombard blasted Jay Silva in a mere six seconds at Bellator 18, one of the fastest knockouts in MMA history.
31. Dominick Cruz
No one on the list fights with more creativity than Cruz. Opponents and fans alike are left mesmerized by Cruz’s crazy combinations. It’s not every day that you see a flying uppercut, left kick, right knee, left hook combo. Now, if he can just harness the KO power of his earlier days.
Before Cruz was a household name, he KOed Kenneth Aimes in the first round of Total Combat 27. The KO impressed the right people, and less than three months later, Cruz was a permanent fixture in the WEC.
30. Chris Leben
The only object harder than Leben’s fists is his skull. One of the last people in the world that fighters should ever get into a brawl with is “The Crippler.” Even more dangerous after taking a 2×4 to the head, Leben seems to always come up biggest when he is hurt the most. He is not that pretty or creative, but you are never safe with Leben in the cage.
At UFC Fight Night 11, Leben was in a firefight with Terry Martin. After losing a point in the first round and likely behind on all scorecards, Leben needed a miracle. Instead, he received a bevy of hooks to his chin causing him to stumble like a drunkard through an alley. On his last leg, Leben launched a left hook that landed flush on Martin’s chin in a win that stopped a two-fight losing streak and solidified Leben’s status in the UFC.
29. KJ Noons
One of the few lightweight boxing converts, Noons has managed to progress nicely, rounding out his game while still maximizing the Sweet Science. A winner of the Best Striker Award at the 2005 Pride Fighting Championship auditions, the Hawaiian turned heads right away and has continued to reign as one of the only pure strikers at 155 pounds.
No other knockout articulates Noons’ progression better than his third-round pasting of Edson Berto at 2007’s Sho XC. Aweary and debilitated Berto shot yet another desperate takedown that Noons timed perfectly, landing a knee and putting Berto out cold. Just a boxer, eh?
28. Pat Barry
You know you’re dangerous when your legs are more feared than your fists. Pat “HD” Barry is one of the UFC’s most credentialed heavyweight kickboxers, having fought in K-1 and the WCL. Barry is still getting his bearings in the striking heavy UFC heavyweight division, but few pugilists have more promise that Barry.
It took Barry three—count’em THREE—leg kicks to put Dan Evenson on the deck in his UFC debut at UFC 98 in Las Vegas, resulting in the rare, yet out of this world, TKO by leg kicks.
27. Melvin Manhoef
Lists like this are invented for fighters like Manhoef. He may never be a top 10 fighter or wear UFC gold, and he probably doesn’t even know what a wrestling mat smells like, but you have to respect the power in each limb. The Suriname-born, Dutch-trained kickboxer’s blitzkrieg style of fighting is more suited for ancient Roman gladiatorial battles. And yes, I would pick Manhoef over the rabid lion.
Giving up more than 100 pounds and facing a man who had never been knocked out in MMA, it took Manhoef all of 18 seconds to finish Mark Hunt with a right hook at K-1 Dynamite!! 2008. The following day, cats chased dogs.
26. Rich Franklin
Whether he’s an oversized middleweight or an undersized light heavyweight, “Ace” gives everyone trouble in the stand-up department…unless your name is Lyoto, Anderson, or Vitor. Honing a disciplined stand-up game, Franklin is capable of picking you apart for three rounds with punches and kicks or knocking you straight silly with one punch.
Guess where we’re going with this? At UFC 56, Franklin defended his title for the first time with a straight left to the jaw of original Ultimate Fighter cast member Nate Quarry, putting him both to sleep and on highlight reels for decades to come. If the overhand right is known as the “Dan Henderson,” the straight left is the “Rich Franklin”from UFC 56 and on.
25. Gegard Mousasi
ormer Dutch Amateur Boxing Champion is not opposed to crushing a few eye sockets. Of his 30 wins, more than half have come via (T)KO, using an assortment of strikes, kick, and elbows. If he has a free appendage, you can bet it’s headed to his opponent’s face.
At 10 seconds into their Deep 22 Impact fight in 2005, Tsuyoshi Kurihara simply went to sleep. Of course, he was aided by a Mousasi knee. Lights out, nighty night.
24. Rashad Evans
Like so many before him, Evans came into fighting a wrestler and walked out a KO machine. Under the tutelage of kickboxing coach wunderkind Mike Winklejohn, “Suga” now complements his Michigan State Spartan wrestling chops with fast hands and a victory dance that makes the ladies swoon.
Some guys just look awesome when they get knocked out, Sean Salmon being the king of that castle. With all due to respect to the veteran Salmon, when Evans connected with that head kick at UFC Fight Night 8, he buckled backward like his brain stopped working and his bones turned to Jell-O at the exact same time.
23. Lyoto Machida
This guy was born to strike. Crafted and forged to be a stand-up fighter, Machida encapsulates the striking version of a Rubik’s Cube. With a karate heavy, in-and-out striking movement, Machida is able to frustrate his opponents into making mistakes and capitalizing with quick punches to the head and kicks to the body. We are still waiting for the legendary Crane Technique.
“If do right, no can defense!” In a battle of undefeated fighters, Machida faced Greg Jackson product Rashad Evans at UFC 98. After spending the first round confusing and discouraging the champ, Machida flurried together a string of punches to Evan’s head, winning the UFC title and causing MMA fans the world over to dig up their Karate Kid VHS movies to re watch the final scene as practice.
22. Wanderlei Silva
While not the “Axe Murderer” we all grew to love in his stint with Pride, the old dog is still chucking his fists of fury at anything and everything that crosses his path in a cage. In true Chute Boxe fashion, Silva is most dangerous with his fists…and kicks…and knees…and stomps and soccer kicks if they were still allowed. If it were possible to strike another man with your neck, he would figure out how.
In his second shellacking of the esteemed “Rampage” Jackson, the then light heavyweight blasted his foe with knee strikes while walking backwards, consequentially heaving an unconscious Jackson head first out of the ring. It was a sight that still gives Freddy Kruger nightmares.
21. Quinton Jackson
Why kick, knee, or elbow when you can punch really, really hard? He should be named Captain Hook for the way he is able to counter with hooks to the head and body and finish with a deadly uppercut. Honestly, Rampage is so gifted athletically he could stick with nothing but women’s self defense classes at the local YMCA and still have enough knockout ability to cash big enough checks to put all his kids through college.
It was a legacy cementing fight for Chuck Liddell. Up until the main event of UFC 71, “The Iceman” had avenged two of his three career losses, with the only man holding the lone blemish standing in front of him. The fairytale did not even get to, “Once upon a…” before Jackson landed a crushing left hook at 1:53 into the first round, ending Liddell’s title run and nearly taking his soul. Liddell went 1-4 after that.
20. Maximo Blanco
Here is a man that is dangerous everywhere, whether he is punching and kicking standing up, dropping face-smashing ground-n-pound, or illegally soccer kicking you in the face. If you were a Venezuelan boy wrestling on scholarship in Japan and got picked on for not speaking the language, you would find an outlet too. Just thank all of heaven and earth that he didn’t choose mercenary work. I doubt America could have afforded him.
At Sengoku 12, Blanco wanted to clarify to fans that he could both punch AND kick. He blasted Chang Hyun Kim into a corner with strikes, kicked him in the head, and punched him again just to make sure Kim forgot what he had for breakfast that morning.
19. Takanori Gomi
This little rascal has fallen upon some hard times as of late, but he still packs dynamite in both hands. Another punch-heavy-nearly allergic-to-kicks striking style, Gomi’s hooks come with lightning quick speed, and he is even a member of the prestigious fraternity of men who have knocked down Nick Diaz. But that fight never happened according to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
At Pride: Bushido 7, Gomi was getting picked apart by Luiz Azeredo, frustrating and stymieing the offense of the soon-to be Pride champion. Once he remembered he was Takanori freakin’ Gomi, he landed just two punches to the kisser of Azeredo, laying him out cold. The four punches he landed after the referee attempted to tear Gomi off the unconscious Azeredo don’t count.
18. Vitor Belfort
What can we say? When the guy decides to turn it on, there isn’t a middleweight in the world whose light he can’t turn off. “The Phenom” has a highlight reel long enough for a fourth Lord of the Rings movie in his 15-year fight career, and he’s still only 34 years old.
Oh, the memories. He recently gave Rich Franklin, Matt Lindland, and Terry Martin a reason to go to church on Sundays by giving them a taste of what the other side may look like. However, it’s his 30-foot sprint across the Octagon teeing off on Wanderlei Silva’s head like it was the ninth hole at Augusta at UFC 17.5 Ultimate Brazil that people remember.
17. Marlon Sandro
Remember when fight fans complained that Nova União fighters were boring? Me neither. Sandro, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt, gave up making his living scrapping on the mat when he realized knocking them unconscious was way more fun than takedown, pass, mount, armbar. Teammate Jose Aldo is technical and ferocious, but Sandro is the Nova União second coming of violence.
When Masanori Kanehara signed the dotted line to fight Sandro at Sengoku 13, even he must have thought it wasn’t going to end well. In all of 38 seconds, Kanehara was literally vaulted into the air by a Sandro uppercut and face planted himself on the canvas. For all we know, he’s still there.
16. Cain Velasquez
They don’t call it the American Kickboxing Academy for their judo skills. The AKA product came in an All-American wrestler and came out as one of the most well rounded strikers in the heavyweight division. His athleticism and work ethic leave his ceiling higher than the nosebleed sections at UFC 129.
With dozens of Mexican flags waving in attendance in the Honda Center at UFC 121,Velasquez showed Brock Lesnar what good ole’ fashioned American humble pie and leather taste like.
15. Shane Carwin
Five fi ghts in the UFC, four first-round knockouts. Carwin is batting .800, and that is still lower than it should be, considering the shots he rained down on Brock Lesnar would have permanently paralyzed a bull elephant. While not always the prettiest punches in the world, no one can deny their effectiveness.
At UFC 96, Gabriel Gonzaga looked like he might be the first one to blemish the spotless record of the NCAA Division II wrestling champion…that is of course, until Carwin remembered he was C
arwin and torpedoed a right hand across the jaw of Gonzaga.
14. Anthony Pettis
Who said 2nd grade Taekwondo classes were useless? “Showtime” has arguably the most diverse arsenal of striking attacks outside of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Spotty takedown defense early in his career turned him into a submission machine on his back, but he was later touched by the wrestling hand of Ben Askren, allowing him to keep his fights upright.
Before you start bombarding the editor with hate mail, yes, it was not a KO, but how can you not include this? In the final minute of the final round in the fight of the final card for the final WEC title belt, Pettis jumped off the cage wall, kicked champion Ben Henderson, and sealed his reputation as the most electrifying fighter in the world. Now you can bombard the editor with hate mail.
13. Mauricio Rua
The last guard of the original Chute Boxe crew that we grew to know and love for their violent beat downs in the Pride ring is still alive and well, and he is one of the few to have tasted what a Pride and UFC title is like. Few have a more dynamic and dangerous fighting style. He made his biggest impression smashing opponents in Pride with everything from punches to knees to soccer kicks to hammer fists to whatever limb he had to throw on any body part of his opponent. Making Shogun fight in an organization that doesn’t allow soccer kicks and foot stomps is like watching Rocky V after watching Rocky IV. It looks the same, but something is missing.
After pounding out a quartet of unsuspecting Japanese fighters, Rua turned his sights to already veteran fighter Quinton“Rampage” Jackson, who just tw months earlier defeated Shogun’s brother Murilo. Defending their family honor, Shogun felled Rampage in the corner with punches and then soccer kicked him until the referee had seen enough. A beautiful and violent finish from a fighter than manages to meld the two adjectives perfectly.
12. Robbie Lawler
No one looks for and finds that one-kill punch better than “Ruthless.” The Miletich trained bruiser is vicious in his delivery and holds enough power in his fists to run a Russian submarine for eight months. There is never a time in a fight—when Lawler is on his feet—where he is not capable of endinga fight.
With all due respect to what he did to Frank Trigg, the comeback KO is the best. Melvin Manhoef needed just 11 kicks to Lawler’s right leg to get him limping. Lawler needed only one punch to put Manhoef down and one more to turn his lights off. The fact Lawler isn’t in a wheelchair now is a miracle.
11. Junior dos Santos
At only 26 years old, it’s scary thinking dos Santos is still approaching his physical prime in punching power. His vicious uppercuts have been known to make George Foreman giggle and Junior’s opponents forget where they parked their car. His last KO victim, Gabriel Gonzaga, has been taking the bus ever since.
In an effort to give fans a highlight reel knockout in the opening PPV bout of UFC 108, journeyman Gilbert Yvel was put on the platter for Cigano to victimize. Both Yvel and dos Santos fired left hooks at the same time in the first round. Junior’s landed, Yvel’s didn’t.
10. BJ Penn
Despite having some terrific wrestling and world championship caliber jiu-jitsu, Penn prefers the Sweet Science, and aren’t we glad he does. Almost a pure boxer, “The Prodigy” combines heavy, fast hands to counter those who dare trade with him, while sporting one of the best chins in all of MMA. This is like putting Panzer tank armor on a Ferrari. Don’t forget that a ton of his best submission wins are by first, bludgeoning his opponent until they don’t want to fight anymore, and then mercifully finishing with a rear-naked choke. I guess Penn really is a softy at heart.
In only his third professional fight, the 22-year-old Hawaiian needed all of 11 seconds to punch Caol Uno unconscious. If only Uno hadn’t wasted the first five seconds trying to do the flying running man, Penn might hold the KO speed record.
9. Thiago Alves
This stocky Brazilian is one of the only beacons of light for strikers in the wrestling heavy UFC welterweight division. A Muay Thai specialist, Alves is brutal with his leg kicks, power punches, and a knee strike that has been paying his bills since he first started fighting. “The Pitbull” has even started strategizing and game planning lately, looking to be a little more Apollo Creed and a little less Clubber Lang.
At UFC 85, 24-year-old Alves took on a 34-year-old Matt Hughes in a passing of the torch type of fight. Except the torch was Alves’ knee and he passed it into Hughes’cranium.
8. Eddie Alvarez
The fighting pride of Philly knows how to make his hometown proud. His boxing centered striking style is equal parts exciting and dangerous. Against Roger Huerta at Bellator 33, Alvarez simply decided to add vicious uppercuts and debilitating leg kicks to his arsenal. It is still up in the air if Alvarez has decided to solve America’s budget crisis.
After surviving a knock down, Alvarez escaped the mount of Tatsuya Kawajiri and released an onslaught of punches, dropping the “The Crusher” at DREAM 5. Apparently, referee Yuji Shimada doesn’t care for Kawajiri much and demanded Alvarez hammer-fist his head 3,792 times before calling the fight.
7. Paul Daley
You know those Brits are a fan of the gentleman’s fisticuffs, virtually explaining why Paul Daley chooses to ignore standard MMA training methods like guard work and…well, anything other than throwing really, really hard punches. But why change what isn’t broken? Of his 27 wins, 22 have come by way of strikes, leaving upcoming opponent’s gameplans rather straight forward and simple, if not fool hardy.
Whenever someone fights Scott Smith, that fight always ends up on some kind of “Best Of” list. Daley threw five left hooks in a matter of five seconds at Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu 2, the last of which sent Smith face first into the Rockstar logo at the center of the cage canvas. I wonder if Rockstar pays more for that?
6. Nick Diaz
What’s worse than getting hit with a baseball bat? Getting hit a 1000 times by a Whiffle Ball bat. Diaz throws enough punches per round to wear Manny Pacquiao out, barraging his opponent with a smothering attack that uses a pace only a marathon runner could maintain. His pitter-patter style is not the most visually pleasing for boxing trainers, but the results speak for themselves. The bad boy from Stockton rarely has to dust off his BJJ black belt anymore, preferring to settle his disputes with his hands.
It was a while ago, but we haven’t forgotten. In what was supposed to be a coronation for Miletich fighter Robbie Lawler at UFC 47, but it turned into Diaz’s shining moment. The shortest hook in history somehow had enough power to drop Lawler face first and send a message that Diaz was no longer just a grappler.
5. Dan Henderson
Still baffling to this day is the fact one of the most credentialed American wrestlers in the sport all but abandoned the skills he spent his life developing to instead play Rock’em Sock’em Robots. The patented right hand has kept neurologists raking in the dough since its power was best owed upon him.
If you were to ask him which knockout he liked the best,
he would say it’s his left hook over Wanderlei Silva at Pride 33, butt his is my damn list. At UFC 100, on the biggest stage Zuffa ever put on, Michael Bisping managed to piss off Henderson so much that the American knocked out the Brit and then attempted to shatter the Octagon flooring by smashing Bisping’s head through it.
4. Jon Jones
Jones’ deep bag of stand-up tricks is diverse and dangerous, including such non standard staples as flying knees, spinning elbows, spinning back fists, and spinning back kicks. He is essentially Muay Thai’s version of the teacup ride at Disneyland. King Jon uses flying knees to set up clinches to set up spinning elbows. Not exactly Striking for Dummies.Wham Bam Jones has only one stand-up KO in the UFC, but he made it look easy. Jones beat up champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 in what was more of a coronation than a title fight. Rua, normally the guy delivering the jaw-dropping ass kickerey, fell apart at the hands of Jones, finished mercifully by a body shot/knee to the head combo.
3. Jose Aldo
Number three on this prestigious list and the kid is only 24 years old. In eight WEC appearances, Aldo has seven KOs. Luckily, he doesn’t get paid by the hour. A wicked mixture of diverse techniques combined with incredible power and cage savviness make this featherweight a crowd favorite after just a few fights. Who says MMA fans aren’t educated?
Why throw one flying knee when you can throw two? Against Cub Swanson at WEC 41, Aldo was showcased as the possible next contender for the title that was up for grabs between Urijah Faber and Mike Brown. Aldo answered the call with an eight second knockout by double flying knee opening up one of the nastiest gashes on Swanson’s forehead that we have seen in awhile. That’s what you call a résumé builder.
2. Alistair Overeem
If you could take Play-Doh and mold the scariest MMA striker, you’d make a copy of the Dutch monster. The K-1 World Grand Prix Champion has enormous power to go with a fine array of kickboxing techniques, including a vicious uppercut, jaw shattering knees, and a tank of a right hand.
One knee, that’s all it took. In what was more of an execution than an MMA contest, K-1 Dynamite!! 2009 saw the immovable object (Kazuyuki Fujita’s iron jaw) tested against the unstoppable force (any limb Overeem chose to hurl at it). In just more than a minute, “The Demolition Man” treated Fujita’s head like a piñata and landed a knee that echoed to Mars.
1. Frank Dux
April Fools. Turn the page before the ghost of JCVD gives you the Dim Mak.
1. Anderson Silva
Is anyone really surprised? “The Spider” has made it look easy, wowing audiences with his ballet of brutality, boasting a 13-0 record in the UFC with eight coming by way of strikes, but the stats do not do the man justice. The Brazilian makes the middleweight division look like a cheerleading squad, running roughshod over top 10 fighters easier than a bull running through a china shop made of popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue. His striking is so far superior to his contemporaries that he is actually getting bored defending his belt against the best in the world. Seriously, on his feet, he has resorted to making up moves to keep himself entertained long enough to put another scalp on his pelt.
Where do we begin? In the UFC alone, we have seen him front kick Vitor Belfort’s head nearly over Steven Segal’s ego, knee Rich Franklin’s face into abstract art, and knock the hard-headed Forest Griffin clean out with a JAB. However, his greatest knockout came after his exploits in Pride but before he steam rolled through the UFC. Across the pond in Cage Rage 14 against veteran Tony Fryklund, Silva, in the prefight interview, said he had not trained anything special for his championship fight and that he was going to stick to the basics. Apparently, “the basics” involved an inverted elbow strike while standing, which knocked out Fryklund in the first round. Two months later, he was fighting in the Octagon. Somehow, I doubt the upelbow strike is in the fundamentals section of his How-To DVDs.