The 10 Greatest Fighters of the Decade

The 10 Greatest Fighters of the Decade


Many fighters achieve brilliance on a single night. Far fewer achieve a few years of greatness. And an elite group can point to a five or 10 year stretch at the top of the mountain when they fought the best and almost always won. Here are my picks for the top 10 fighters of the last decade.

10. Georges St-Pierre, 19-2

UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre claims his spot on the list from Matt Hughes’ misfortunes. The French-Canadian stopped Hughes with strikes to avenge his first career loss—a 2004 armbar defeat to the future UFC Hall of Famer—at UFC 65 and forced him to verbally submit in their third fight—an embarrassing moment for “the most dominant welterweight of all-time.” He cleaned his improbable loss to Matt Serra off his slate too and goes into the next decade as one of the sport’s most unstoppable and popular (see: Gatorade endorsement) champions.

9. Chuck Liddell, 21-7

Chuck Liddell is the greatest light heavyweight of all-time. Two wins a piece over former UFC Light Heavyweight Champions Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture added to a UFC 79 win over parallel divisional king Wanderlei Silva proves it. His inability to defeat Quinton Jackson in two bouts as well as demoralizing losses to Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua hurt the UFC Hall of Famers reputation nearing retirement but appearances on The Simpsons, Entourage, and Dancing with the Stars cemented “The Iceman”‘s place as MMA’s pop culture embassador.

8. Matt Hughes, 43-7

A strong grappler, Hughes successfully added submissions to his top control and steady ground and pound with the weapon that pushed him into his greatest moments—his will to win. Until Georges St. Pierre passed him by, Hughes’ two-time seizing of the title and record seven title defenses rendered him the greatest welterweight to date.

7. Randy “The Natural” Couture, 17-10

The first champion to win titles in two different weight classes, Randy Couture’s consummate underdog breakthroughs shaped the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions for the majority of the decade. An ambassador of the sport, Couture is one of the sport’s best draws, only appearing in four non-title fights in 20 UFC bouts (not counting a two-fight UFC 13 tournament win).

6. Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva, 32-10-1

Wanderlei Silva reigned as PRIDE’s Middleweight (205 pounds) Champion from 2001-2007 with the kind of violence that makes megastars in Japan. His relentless, murderous strikes saw him put together 16 wins over four years until a decision loss at heavyweight began slowing the Brazilian, who is 5-6 since but maintains his killer aura.

5. Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira

Antonio Rodridgo Nogueira is synonymous with heart in mixed martial arts. An underdog in life and in fighting, Nogueira survived being run over by a truck at nine-years-old to become the only man to win titles in PRIDE and the UFC. His humility is as revered as his classic comeback victories and the ability to preserve through sometimes unworldly beatings. A win over UFC Hall of Famer and fellow legend Randy Couture at UFC 102 cemented his place as the second best heavyweight of all-time behind Fedor Emelianenko, who he lost two twice in classic battles.

4. “The Prodigy” BJ Penn, 15-5-1

BJ Penn’s first outings were glimpses into one of the world’s best talent. Then the Hawaiian lost a majority decision to Jens Pulver at UFC 35, coming up short of the lightweight strap. It was the last lightweight fight he lost. Seven years later, Penn would become the second fighter to hold a title in two different weight classes (155 and 170-pounds). Penn has key wins over Matt Hughes and Renzo Gracie at higher weights and even competed at heavyweight versus future UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida.

While his stock dipped from the divisional journey, he only lost to Machida and the two greatest welterweights of all-time in Hughes and St. Pierre, all the while developing lightweight into one of the sport’s best divisions and becoming a top draw in the process. His prodigious skill set often draws Penn praise from his peers as being the world’s pound-for-pound best alongside Fedor Emelianenko.

3. Dan Henderson, 25-7

The former Olympian is the only fighter to hold two divisional titles simultaneously. The Team Quest pioneer won the prestigious Rings “King of Kings” tournament in 1999 at an open-weight before crafting a Hall of Fame career at 183/85 and 205-pounds. He helped close PRIDE out by blasting Wanderlei Silva to achieve the unique positioning of ruling two different mountains at once, furthering his reputation as a heavy-handed world class fighter—a reputation he carried through a return to the UFC and now into Strikeforce.

2. Anderson “The Spider” Silva, 25-4

Anderson Silva has successfully eliminated world champions in three different weight classes with landmark wins over Hayato Sakurai at welterweight, Dan Henderson at middleweight and Forrest Griffin at light heavyweight. The Brazilian’s striking offense and defense coupled with underappreciated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills and playful yet scary swagger have carried him to the UFC’s longest win streak with 10 in a row.

Silva tied Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz’s shared record of five title defenses and has a chance to break it in 2010.

1. “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko, 31-1-1

Fedor Emelianenko’s record is unparalled. The Russian suffered a dubious TKO from a cut in 2000 and won 27 consecutive bouts over the nine years since. The longest and last reigning PRIDE Heavyweight Champion, the stoic Russian bested Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on two separate occasions to become the world’s best heavyweight.

His skills have elevated him to an untouchable myth of sorts. “The Last Emperor” defeated five UFC Heavyweight Champions and two PRIDE champions in a run that will likely stand the test of time.

FIGHT! Fans: Did we get it right? Would you shuffle the order, take a fighter out or put one in? Tell us what you think!


    • Pepa – That’s probably because Machida only rose to prominence three years ago. If he spends the first half of this decade at or near the top of the 205-pound class he’ll surely make our next best-of-decade list.

  1. This list looks good but maybe Frank Shamrock should be on it.Retired a undefeated UFC middle weight champion, he beat a future Light Heavyweight in a superfight and ushered in the era of the complete fighter. Not to mention he had three fights under a minuet.

    • MMA-King,

      Frank would definitely be on a top ten greatest list…for the 1990s. A great fighter but only 4-3 between 2000-2009 with no wins over top-ranked guys.

  2. Good list. Fedor belongs way at the top for sure. Although I’m not sure about Henderson being #3. Is FIGHT magazine another US MMA oriented fight mag? If so, I guess this is good enough for you. You’d have to add a Sakuraba for sheer impact on MMA in the international arena.

    • Kyu – We’re an MMA-oriented magazine, regardless of where the fight takes place. I agree that Sakuraba is an important figure in the sport. I actually lobbied for him to be included in our inaugural Hall of Fame class last year. But his greatest years were 1997-2000 and he hasn’t beaten a top-notch fighter since 2005 so he couldn’t seriously be considered for this list. Thanks for reading!

  3. good list, dont know if you can put st. pierre behind bj penn though not that penn doesn’t deserve to be ranked that high. also wish media could consider fedor or silva up there with other top sportsman of the decade.

  4. I am really surprised that GPS is last on the list. I thought he would rank higher than BJ Penn since he beat him last. Also I’m surprised that Machida didn’t make the list though his last fight was quite boring and he didn’t finish the fight.

  5. GSP is 10th and BJ 5th? LOL. GSP should be higher, in the top 5 at least. (you’re obviously a BJ fan)
    No Machida?
    No Rampage?
    this is a not-good-enough list.

    • It’s not a pound-for-pound ranking, it’s Danny’s subjective take on who had the greatest decade. Thanks for reading!

  6. i think dan should be replaced by GSP george st. pierre, i mean i think we all know he belongs on it. i also didnt see machida and he greatly deserves a place

  7. I thought, Sakuraba! But then I read through the comments and went through the timeline and I would have to agree with leaving him out of the list for the last decade. As for the GSP thing, maybe he should be ranked higher. Quantifying the greatness of a fighter is difficult, and I could be wrong, but I think one less than half of GSP’s wins are by decision, where as BJ Penn has two decisions. I also think that beating guys last named Gracie helped place BJ and Hughes where they are in our minds.

  8. CoffeeCures – i agree with you. decision wins are getting jon fitch one hell of a record, but no closer to a rematch.

  9. I think that GSP should be ranked higher for a couple of reasons. His vast array of skills such as beating top wrestlers at their own game when he was not a wrestler. He not only defeats them, he makes it look easy. His preparation and game plans are flawless. His aggressiveness is constant, his conditioning is great, and he has come back and beaten anyone who defeated him. He is the tops in his weight class with no true potential challenges left. Not to mention that he never makes excuses and exhibits true class.

  10. Top 10 is far too restrictive, there needs to be at least 25 before you can get away from the fact that the last fighter on this particular list could easily be the first and any other fighter in the continuum could be interchanged with any other on this list. I think sometimes you guys try to say too much without qualifying your logic. Therefore I see these 10 great fighters thrown on the page in the order that YOU think they should be, no more, no less. Cheers.

  11. This list is not even close. The number one slot should not be Fedor. His scared to face anyone to give him a challege like Brock L. GSP should be higher, least 3! Dan H., Antonio N., and Wanderlei S. should the last three. Theres no way that they should be in front of Liddell or Couture. The top 3 should be Anderson Silva, GSP, and Baby Jay P…

  12. Well I think that your picks are only considering currant fighters–and not really recognizing fighters from the recent past–


    In his only real loss (to Matt Hughes) Royce Gracie was in his early forties and Hughes in his prime–No one was close to Royce during UFC 1,2 and 3

    Royce should be at the top of the list

    • The list is the 10 greatest fighters of the decade, therefore Royce should NOT be at the top of it, or on it at all, actually. Thanks for reading!

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