Tomorrow, UFC 215 takes place and reigning UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson was expected to take on Ray Borg until Borg had to withdraw last night due to falling ill. Only one win away from breaking the all time title defense record, verbal exchanges have been well under way between the MMA community on where a potential record breaking win would rank Johnson amongst the very best of all time.
When it comes to MMA debates and discussions, there are none quite like arguing over who is the very best to ever compete in the sport. Which is normal for fans of any sport. It's something everyone has an opinion on and everyone has their specific reasons for what it is that makes a certain someone that much better than all the others. Whether it be longevity, pure dominance, win streaks, title defenses, finishing ability, quality of competition...or all of the above. What ever it may be, it will always be a fun topic to discuss with friends and fellow fans. But who exactly are some of these athletes receiving the highest of praise when it comes to being classified as one of the Greatest Of All Time...?
Disclaimer: This is the part of the article where things will begin to get heavily opinionated. Also, rankings mentioned below when talking about top 10 victories are according to the UFC official rankings and Sherdog.com's rankings(for the rankings prior to the UFC rankings existence). Stats are according to Fightmetric.com.
Seven men come to mind when I think of the absolute elite of the elite in the history of Mixed Martial Arts. Unfortunately for two of those fighters, they have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs(PED) in the more recent chapters of their careers thus putting a big fat question mark on each of their legacies. Therefore, I can't bring myself to include them in my top five list of GOATs anymore. But if you wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they only did their PEDs when they were caught...or just ignore it completely, they would be among that five.
Starting with the obvious and freshest of the two positive testings is eight-time UFC Light Heavyweight champion, Jon Jones. He most recently returned from a year long suspension after failing a previous drug test that had already put his career into question. Assuming no conspiracies come true with this recent test...then there will be no question that his legacy is indeed tarnished.
Jones made his return at UFC 214 against bitter rival and champion, Daniel Cormier who he defeated via third round knock out. If Jones wasn't already the #1 in terms of best to ever do it before this fight, this victory in the eyes of many(myself included) had established him as so. The first man at Light Heavyweight or Heavyweight to ever finish the former Olympian, Daniel Cormier as well as just the only man to beat him ever in MMA. It was pretty incredible...I mean...at the time anyway.
Jones' resume speaks for itself and his dominance can't be denied. But his dominance was aided by a little more than strictly just hard work and dedication. Ignore the PED abuse or exclude it, he's likely going down as the best ever. But excluding it would probably make him a different fighter. So in the end, Jon Jones was the greatest cheater to ever do it and truly...truly wasted potential.
Anderson Silva in his prime was one of the most mesmerizing and amazingly talented fighters to ever grace the inside of a cage. Which is why it was such an absolute heart breaker for fans around the world when he had tested positive for PEDs after his 2015 bout with Nick Diaz.
From 2006 to 2012, Silva went on an incredible 17 fight win streak with all but 2 of those wins coming by way of finish(11 KO/TKO and 4 Submission). Silva was a human highlight reel and the first man to set the title defense record as high as 10 defenses before finally losing. Not to mention that he took some fights at Light Heavyweight along the way. Most all of his wins were in the most spectacular of fashions. Whether it be front kicks, last second triangles, matrix style counter punches, elbow uppercuts...he has a knock out or submission in practically any way you can think of.
When looking at careers, I can't help but look at them as a whole. What I mean by that is from beginning to end. This may sound obvious to you, but over the years, I've seen many arguments, some of which stating that the end of fighters' careers should be judged less than during their primes(unless they retired in their prime). I have even seen some say it shouldn't even count at all. But my counter argument for that is: Yes, fighters get old, bodies break down and skills diminish, but if they can end it as well as it was during its peak or something close to that, then that just shows how much greater they really were/are. So with that in mind, despite Silva's one hiccup with PED use and it coming towards the end of his career it still becomes a question for me because if he was willing to take it at all he could have been willing to take it earlier on in his career and get away with it. Especially considering the height of his career was before the UFC brought in the USADA. Ignore it all(also ignoring for Jones)...I would have Silva comfortably at #4 on the all time list.
Yes! I said the word LIST. Well, let's get on with it then! But first, we'll take a look back at some requirements...I try to take as much as possible into account when doing things like this so repeating what I said earlier: longevity, pure dominance, win streaks, title defenses, finishing ability, quality of competition, performance, adversity overcame and career overall. Yeah, I might have thrown in two more there than were up top but good job for paying attention. Okay, here we go...
T-4. Jose Aldo (26-3)
Alright...I know what you're thinking. Starting things off with a tie entry?! Yes, and the reason is primarily for recent results in the fighters that are tied for #4's careers. Because again...looking at careers as a whole. Neither fighter is retired yet and are currently interchangeable entries. But both are legends and one placed over the other is nothing to be ashamed of for who ever is considered lower than the other.
Jose Aldo has been one of the very best over the past decade and at a point was the Pound-4-Pound best to some. He has flawless striking technique, impeccable takedown defense, speed for days and of course, his patented Baseball bat-like leg kicks. During his career defining run, it looked like he would never lose. And after losing for the first time in his eighth professional bout, he didn't really. Aldo went 18-0 after his first career loss and tore through the WEC Featherweight division which eventually became the UFC Featherweight division from 2008 to 2015. Aldo defended his crown twice in the WEC and seven times in the UFC along with a UFC Interim title victory.
Aldo has beaten the who's who when it comes to 145 pounders including names such as Frankie Edgar(twice), Chad Mendes(twice), Mike Brown, Ricardo Lamas, Urijah Faber, Cub Swanson, Kenny Florian, Mark Hominick, Chan Sung Jung and Manny Gamburyan. Adding all these names up equals to 11 top 10 wins, 6 top 5 wins, and 6 top 3 wins. Of Aldo's 26 career victories, 16 have been finishes(14 KO/TKO, 2 Submission).
The career of Jose Aldo has been a pretty solid blend of dominating to a decision along with putting his opponents away. There have only been a few instances where he received a good challenge through five rounds. Fights that come to mind would be later on in the Hominick fight, Edgar 1, Mendes 2. Most recently, there's his loss to current champion, Max Holloway who gave him a competitive bout until beating him via third round TKO. But on the judge's scorecards, Aldo still won the first two rounds of what was a great fight. Holloway is just a young and incredibly talented fighter himself who's looking to take Aldo spot on everyone's GOAT list one day. Time will tell, but it isn't crazy to imagine.
Losing to Conor McGregor in 13 seconds definitely hurts Aldo's legacy. Possibly more so than the Holloway fight. You can always say it could have been a fluke but just knowing how sneaky good Conor McGregor is and the fact that we'll likely never see this rematch makes it not seem very "flukey". A rematch that a GOAT like Aldo deserved immediately, it's a shame we probably won't get to see it.
Aldo is still one of the very best in the world today and only at the age 30, he still has time to further build onto his great legacy. Even with these two recent losses, he's still in the top 5 of the Greatest Of All Time.
T-4. Dominick Cruz (22-2)
The Dominator, Dominick Cruz is one of the most incredible fighters to ever compete. A true innovator and defensive master with his awkward and unique movement that was and still is unlike anyone else in MMA. Cruz at a time had a striking defense percentage as high as 80%. It's at 74% now which is still pretty damn remarkable. That along with his speed, wrestling and arguably the highest fight IQ of any fighter ever, Cruz is the full package.
Owner of the greatest career comeback in all of sports history, there was a time where it looked like Dominick Cruz's career would be stolen from him by injuries. After a few years of build up without doing anything about it, Cruz's knee finally gave out on him. In 2011, he tore his ACL in preparation for a trilogy bout with Urijah Faber at UFC 148. Cruz then ended up requiring a second surgery due to his body rejecting the cadaver tendon that was used to repair his ACL.
After finally healing up, all systems go, and he was booked to defend his UFC Bantamweight title against the Interim champion, Renan Barao. That was...until he ended up tearing his groin and being forced to vacate his title. It took Dominick three years after his last title defense to get back into the cage as he returned in 2014 and when he did, he looked better than ever. Dispatching of rising title challenger and top 5 Bantamweight, Takeya Mizugaki in only 61 seconds, Cruz was ready to get back the belt he never lost. Then disaster struck again. Cruz had now torn the ACL in his other knee and would be sidelined for one more year.
Cruz would return roughly over a year later to take on the now champion, TJ Dillashaw who he would end up defeating in an incredible fight and regaining his title. It's simply miraculous that Dominick Cruz was even able to fight again let alone return and win at the highest level. There has never been anything like it and it just adds to his legacy. I know you can't factor it in, but imagining if he never got hurt, it's safe to assume he would have just kept racking up title defenses and potentially partaking in super fights at Featherweight. Either way, Cruz was destined to be great.
Entering the WEC at 9-0, Cruz's first fight would be a Featherweight title bout against future long time rival and UFC Hall of Famer, Urijah Faber. Cruz would lose this bout then rattle off 13 straight victories solidifying himself as the greatest 135 pounder of all time. Along the way, he would avenge his loss to Faber(twice) as well as defeating the likes of Joseph Benavidez(twice), Demetrious Johnson, TJ Dillashaw, Brian Bowles, Takeya Mizugaki, Scott Jorgensen, Ian McCall and Charlie Valencia. Equalling out to 9 top 10 wins, 9 top 5 wins, and 6 top 3 wins. Cruz defended the WEC Bantamweight title twice and the UFC title three times(twice during his first reign, and once during his second). I like to say that Cruz had seven straight title defenses to his name since he never lost his belt in a fight during his time on top...but that's just me!
Cruz has never been much of a finisher throughout his career, but he was rather dominant. Cruz has only been out struck once in his entire career as well as only being out wrestled once. Neither by very wide margins. Usually winning his fights in majorly one sided fashion, with a couple competitive outings such as the second Faber fight, the Dillashaw fight then obviously his last fight which was his title losing effort to Cody Garbrandt. A fight that was closer than people like to remember. Now at age 32, Cruz could be argued as slowly slipping out of his prime. But with his smarts and ability to adapt and rebound, he could still be far from done.
3. Demetrious Johnson (26-2-1)
I've always had trouble placing Demetrious Johnson above Cruz on the GOAT list after how Cruz manhandled him when they fought(and I do think Cruz would beat him again). But after Cruz's loss to Garbrandt and Johnson's continued success/domination of his division, the swap seems pretty reasonable now. Demetrious Johnson has been mind bogglingly perfect since his departure from the Bantamweight division in late 2011. He started off with a draw at Flyweight then has since gone 12-0 with 10 title defenses and is currently on the cusp of breaking that all time defense record of 10 tied with Anderson Silva.
Demetrious Johnson is unbelievably well rounded. He does everything incredibly well and never tires and never slows down. The guy is the fastest fighter we've ever seen and he knows how to utilize his speed to its maximum potential. He will pressure you landing strike after strike then disappear once you're ready to attack back. It's really just amazing to watch. Two pretty crazy stats that I came across while writing this was that collectively, Demetrious Johnson has out struck all 13 of his Flyweight opponents 1385 strikes to 798 and out wrestled them 49 takedowns to 16.
Johnson probably receives the most criticism compared to his top tier peers. As I've touched on in past articles, primarily for the myth of Johnson having no competition and the Flyweight division is shallow. I have stated many times in the past, the Flyweight division is a good, competitive and talented division...Demetrious Johnson is just that much better. He's on another level and when criticized for not beating any champions he is to blame for that because he hasn't been losing and creating other champions. He was the very first UFC Flyweight champion so that argument has always been silly. Why isn't Joanna Jedrzejczyk judged for not beating champions...? Pretty similar situation.
Regardless...when you take a deeper look he has beaten champions. Ian McCall was the #1 Flyweight in the world and former Tachi Palace champion when Johnson defeated him. Ali Bagautinov and Kyoji Horiguchi(the guy Johnson arm barred with one second remaining before the fight was over) both defended titles in organizations native to their countries Russia and Japan. John Dodson was The Ultimate Fighter season 14 winner at Bantamweight and Tim Elliott was the Titan FC defending Flyweight champion as well as Ultimate Fighter season 24 winner. Henry Cejudo won a damn gold medal in the Olympics! What more do you want?
Throw in Chris Cariaso, Wilson Reis, and John Moraga at Flyweight, you also can't forget to add the former WEC Bantamweight champion, Miguel Torres who Johnson also defeated when he was 14-2 in the division before dropping down. Little do people remember, Johnson also defeated the much bigger, Torres after breaking his leg in round two. All of these guys give Johnson 12 top 10 wins, 8 top 5 wins, and 7 top 3 wins.
Demetrious Johnson has been virtually unmatched since winning the title minus a brief scare in round one against Tim Elliott. 15 of Johnson's 26 wins have come by finish(5 KO/TKO, 10 Submission). Of his 13 Flyweight bouts, he's ended 6 of them before the final bell. Johnson is only 31 years old and like his fighting style, appears to be far from slowing down. We can only imagine how much longer it will take for him to be universally recognized as the very best. Hell, it could have come tomorrow if he defeated Ray Borg. Others would like to see him return to Bantamweight for a super fight rather than continuing to pile onto his likely to soon be attained title defense record. What ever Johnson decides to do after his next fight, it's hard to imagine it negatively affecting his already dominant legacy.
2. Fedor Emelianenko (36-5)
Fedor Emelianenko...The Last Emperor. What a perfect nickname, huh? Fedor to this day is still considered by many as the #1 Greatest fighter Of All Time. He was mine too for as long as I've been watching and covering MMA...and I've been judged for factoring in this part as mentioned earlier... But it was until he fought Fabio Maldonado...a bottom of the barrel Light Heavyweight UFC reject. That might be a little harsh, but anyone who knows a lick about MMA knows that Fabio should not have been anywhere even close to competitive with someone like Fedor, yet he arguably should have beat him.
Sure, this was Fedor coming out of retirement but this was still Fedor. The man that at one time had a mind-blowing record of 31-1 with that one loss coming from a cut he suffered 17 seconds into his first fight with Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. Fedor obviously avenged the loss in their second fight(winning by TKO). And this was all amassed in the Heavyweight division! The hardest division to not get knocked out in. Yet Fedor managed to essentially avoid a loss for practically ten whole years. It's really an incredible feat.
Main criticism for Fedor is always that he never fought in the UFC, his record in America is below .500, and that he wasn't fighting the top guys at Heavyweight(because he wasn't in the UFC). Well, those first two are facts. Fedor didn't ever fight in the UFC and probably won't at this point and his record in America currently stands at 3-4. But it's that third critique that always gets to me because at the time that Fedor was dominating, Tim Sylvia was ruling as the UFC Heavyweight champion and people have always said that Sylvia was, for the most part, defending and beating "nobodies". Which is much more true for Sylvia than it was for Fedor.
Pride FC, the Japanese organization where Fedor cemented his legendary status, was also home to two more of the greatest Heavyweights of all time if not the division's all time top 3. Those other two being Mirko Cro Cop and Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira. Fedor defeated both of them(Minotauro twice) soundly. These aren't the only other legends Fedor defeated though... He also beat the likes of Mark Coleman(twice), Kevin Randleman, Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, Semmy Schilt, Heath Herring, Gary Goodridge, Ricardo Arona, Matt Lindland, Pedro Rizzo, Jeff Monson and Kazuyuki Fujita.
Now I'm not saying that every single one of those guys are "legends" but they are all quality names and wins on Fedor's lengthy resume. This isn't even to mention the freak show fights he had as well which were impressive in a different sort of way. The most famous being the bout with 7'2", Hong-Man Choi. Fedor is 5'11" and Choi towered over him. It really was a sight to see. But Fedor overcame like he always did and managed to submit Choi with an armbar in just under two minutes. I will admit, the fact that the much smaller, Minowaman was able to beat Choi as well makes it less impressive...but it is what it is. That was just one of Fedor's 27 career finishes(10 KO/TKO, 17 Submission). Overall Fedor has racked up 13 top 10 wins, 6 top 5 wins, and 5 top 3 wins.
The stoic Russian, Fedor had many amazing attributes whether it be from his incredible ability to absorb punishment as seen when he absorbed the Randleplex from Kevin Randleman to his vicious ground and proud strikes and out of nowhere submissions. Fedor is a master of Sambo and was as durable as they came in his prime. When Fedor began to unleash his violently wild onslaught of hooks, you knew the end was near. There's never been anyone quite like him in any division, Heavyweight in particular. At his best, he was completely unstoppable and I still understand why people have him at #1. The Maldonado fight and his three fight losing streak are just a little too much for me now. Not even the Mitrione loss affects him as much as those. It's just all been rough to watch. Especially when there's this next guy on the list...who when he returns, may very well put all future debates to bed for good.
1. Georges St-Pierre (25-2)
Georges "Rush" St-Pierre had been beating and dominating world class competition for his entire career. Hell, his very first fight was against the veteran, Ivan Menjivar! Well...Ivan may not have been a veteran at the time they fought but it was still a tough fight to have for your debut! And GSP finished him with a second to go in the first round. After that, a champion began paving his path. It only took him five fights until the UFC picked him up and the rest was history. Two fights in and St-Pierre had himself his first UFC title shot.
The young St-Pierre would lose his first title fight to the then Welterweight kingpin, Matt Hughes who was much more experienced at the time. GSP would go on a five fight tear on his way back to a rematch in which he won. By this time, Georges St-Pierre had established himself as one of the best in the world by beating the likes of Hughes, BJ Penn, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg, Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Dave Strasser. All quality adversaries and this was still early in Georges' career. But in his first title defense, he would fall victim to one of, if not the greatest upset in all of MMA history.
Matt Serra won The Ultimate Fighter season 4 thus earning himself a Welterweight title shot. No one gave him a chance but he pulled it off, TKOing St-Pierre in the first round, he was now the champion. Georges would rebound with two wins, including a second over Hughes then reclaim his title by beating down Serra in his hometown of Montreal at UFC 83. With both of St-Pierre's losses now avenged, he would fight until the end of his career without earning another and completely dominating everyone who got in his way until he decided it was time to hang up the gloves.
Now really there is only one thing that Georges St-Pierre can be and has been criticized for, and that's his lack of finishes during his second and final title run at Welterweight, in which he racked up nine straight title defenses...all in possibly the deepest MMA division there is and ever has been. It's not like he was fighting the opposition to close decisions either. GSP completely outclassed most all of his opponents after losing to Matt Serra. As a matter of fact, GSP only lost 5 rounds out of 51 to the 12 opponents he fought after Serra the first time. That's just absurd. All at the highest level too. Damn, just damn.
Over St-Pierre's career overall, of his 25 victories, 13 have been by finish(8 KO/TKO, 5 Submission). He's been fighting the best for the entirety of his career and proved he's always been the best at 170...well...until his last fight but we'll get to that. GSP's 27 fight resume includes wins over some of the sports biggest names such as BJ Penn(twice), Matt Hughes(twice), Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, Johny Hendricks, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Jake Shields, Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck(twice), Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg, Matt Serra, Mayhem Miller, Jay Hieron, Karo Parisyan and Pete Spratt.
I practically just named all of his opponents, I know...sorry about that. But look at those names! St-Pierre beat all of them at their best, combining for 16 top 10 wins, 16 top 5 wins, and 14 top 3 wins. What do you know...GSP dominates another category! Final stat, I promise: Over St-Pierre's whole career, he's collectively out wrestled his opponents with 99 takedowns to 10. I thought Demetrious Johnson's was impressive...jeez. I can't even do this anymore.
Alright so let's get it out of the way before we're done here. We all know Johny Hendricks was robbed of the win when he fought Georges. But GSP still hung in there and made things competitive. It's not as much of a legacy stain as some of the other legends' losses. Especially considering Hendricks was a legit #2 in the division. If anything it hurt Hendricks' career much more than anything else. He was robbed of being the man to dethrone GSP. Now look at the poor guy... I love Johny, but things have gone south since 2013 while GSP retired on top unlike most.
St-Pierre truly was a freak athlete. He was kind of like the Welterweight version of Demetrious Johnson if you think about it. Incredibly well rounded in all areas with virtually no weakness. No one has ever mixed wrestling and boxing together as beautifully as Georges St-Pierre did and it will be a treat to see if he can return to his former glory after a four-year layoff when he challenges Michael Bisping for the UFC Middleweight title at UFC 217. If he wins that fight, you can forget about the debates. He's hands down the best fighter to ever live and he could even further cement that status by potentially beating Interim Middleweight champ, Robert Whittaker afterward. Oh, the possibilities...
All of these fighters mentioned are truly spectacular all in their own ways and are key reasons as to why we watch this great sport. In the end, it's really not about how they're ranked or placed over the other, but acknowledging their greatness and understanding what makes them and hand to hand combat so exciting. Isn't this why we watch? To see who ends up earning the classification of Greatest Of All Time...?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below and follow me on Twitter: @Dre_Kriggs
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