Who are the absolute most exciting fighters currently competing in the sport of mixed martial arts?
FiveOuncesofPain.com is here to answer that question, as we have pain stakingly reviewed the careers of hundreds upon hundreds of the game’s top athletes in an effort to help establish the most complete inventory of the most electrifying performers in MMA.
Among the most contributing factors in the decision making process involved in compiling this extensively researched list were (in order):
A) Consistency. More than two or three boring fights in a career will make it hard for any fighter to make this list. Loud jeers during previous bouts due to lack of activity are big no-no’s.
B) Recent activity. The last year is the most relevant, with the year prior to that being second, and so on, and so forth. If you had a terrible fight in 2004 but you’ve been bringing it ever since, I’m not going to hold it against you.
C) Finality. Decisions can be exciting for sure, but more often than not there’s nothing more exciting than decisive finality. Taking your fate out of the judges hands consistently is what the fans like to see, and will be rewarded here.
D) Competition. If you’ve been doing nothing but highlight reeling guys all over your hometown in North Dakota somewhere, there’s a good chance a lot of people haven’t heard of you yet, so you’re not making this list, sorry.
1. Wanderlei Silva: Like many of the fighters on this list, Wanderlei is a modern incarnation of a Samurai from the old days. It doesn’t matter if Silva was competing inside of massive arenas in Ancient Rome, or currently inside of the Octagon, “The Axe Murderer” is a natural born fighter. The man knows no fear and he’s coming to either knock you out, or get knocked out. Not that Wand hasn’t been involved in real stinkers in the past, which he has, but the blame of those fights being boring rest solely on the shoulders of Hidehiko Yoshida and Ricardo Arona.
2. Fedor Emelianenko: A certified third degree black belt in Bad Ass, “The Last Emperor” hasn’t gone the distance since his PRIDE showdown with Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic back in 2005. Very possibly a cyborg sent back from the future on a mission to lay beatdowns on anyone that crosses his path, Fedor finds a way to win every single time he puts his aura of invincibility on the line. Whether you’re watching in hopes to catch his very first defeat, or simply to observe one of the greatest fighters on the planet doing what he does best, Emelianenko has a long history of sending the crowd into a frenzy.
3. Nick Diaz: I don’t care who you are, if you sit down and watch four or five random bouts involving Nick Diaz in succession and you’re going to want to either A) Punch someone in the face; B) Attempt a gogoplata on a training partner, or depending on your circumstances, perhaps you girlfriend or dog, but we’re getting away from the point now. The bottom line is that Nick brings it every single time. A true fighters fighter, you just get the sense that Diaz is completely willing to give his life inside of the cage as opposed to suffering defeat. You could watch any scrap involving Nick and you know you’re going to be watching a REAL fight. Nick Diaz is a violent dude, flat out. If you haven’t seen his fights with Karo Parisyan, Diego Sanchez, Joe Riggs, Sean Sherk, or Takanori Gomi; Watch them! If you already have; watch them again. More exciting than most fights 60% of the time, all the time.
4. Chuck Liddell: Notorious for his one punch knockout power, “The Iceman” has been involved in some of the most memorable bouts in the history of the sport; including battles with the likes of Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva. Anytime you watch a Liddell fight there’s always the possibility that the bout can end at any given second.
5. Eddie Alvarez: Alvarez is like a 155 pound MMA Rocky Balboa. A heavy handed slugger with a never say die attitude that never seems to disappoint those in attendance. Well known for his ability to seal the deal with his fists at any given moment, Alvarez has evolved his game as of late, with all four of his last four victories coming by way of submission. His consecutive battles with Andre Amade, Joachim Hansen and Tatsuya Kawajiri were the type of fights that legends are forged out of.
6. Chris Lytle: If you watch a Chris Lytle fight, you’re watching a brawl. The guy has a jaw-dropping total of six “Fight Night” bonuses with the UFC, including four “Fight of the Night” checks, with his last three performances against Paul Taylor, Marcus Davis and Kevin Burns each grabbing the honors. That’s just ridiculous.
7. Donald Cerrone: With nine of his ten wins coming by way of submission and a striking game that will make any lightweight think twice about exchanging, “Cowboy” has quickly established himself as one of the most exciting fighters to watch in the business with amazingly barbaric tussles with Rob McCullough, Jamie Varner and Benson Henderson in the last year alone.
8. Scott Smith: Only once in Smith’s 23 professional bouts has he made it to the judges. Is there anyone that was a fan of the sport in 2006 that doesn’t have his legendary come from behind knockout of Pete Sell forever engraved in their brains? Some of the more memorable foes Smith has waged war with in the past include Tim Kennedy, James Irvin, Ed Herman, Robbie Lawler, Benji Radach and Nick Diaz.
9. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: One of the most feared mixed martial artists in the sport today, Shogun combines an intense predatorial instinct with a well rounded arsenal to make a fight out of it every time he wages war. Rua’s back and forth war with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was the Brazilian real-life version of a Rocky movie. Fellow UFC light heavyweights can thank their lucky stars that Mauricio is no longer allowed to soccer kick and stomp his downed opponents since making the trip to the states.
10. Miguel Torres: Torres is the epitome of a warrior. His relentless aggression combined with his flash submission arsenal and punishing stand up attack make Torres a lock for an exciting fight every time he wages battle. His fights with Yoshiro Maeda, Manny Tapia and Takeya Mizugaki were nothing short of pure epicness.
11. Gegard Mousasi: Gegard has left 24 of the 26 men that have come before him wondering if they chose the right profession. The Armenian finishing machine has gone to the judges a mere 3 times in 28 bouts as a professional. Whether he’s shattering eye sockets with strikes or strangling necks with chokeholds, “The Dreamcatcher” gets down for his town every time out of the gate.
12. Marcus Davis: With a pair of fight of the night honors in the UFC, and both a knockout, and submission of the night bonus to his credit, “The Irish Hand Grenade” is well established as one of the most consistently entertaining athletes of the game. Unforgettable battles waged by Davis include bouts with Paul Taylor, Chris Lytle and most recently, Dan Hardy.
13. Jose Aldo: Aldo, aka “Little Ong Bak”, is a living breathing highlight reel. There’s no two ways about it. One of the most breath taking strikers in the business, perhaps the scariest aspect about Jose is the fact that he is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, rumored to be more lethal on the ground than he is standing. Aldo has really come into his own since joining up with the WEC, finishing all five of his last five with the promotion via TKO.
14. Carlos Condit: It’s hard to imagine “The Natural Born Killer” going any other way than hard. Condit comes to fight every single time out, and you’d be hard pressed to find a fight he was involved in that failed to disappoint due to his unwillingness to engage. In twenty four victories, Condit has only been pushed to the judges scorecards once, and that was his most recent come from behind performance over Jake Ellenberger at UFC Fight Night 19. Other wars Carlos has engaged in recently include wild bouts with Hiromitsu Miura and Martin Kampmann.
15. Melvin Manhoef: If you’re a fan of devastating knockouts, you’re a fan of Melvin Manhoef. With 22 knockouts in 23 victories, it’s almost certain that if you lose to Manhoef, you will be in need of a cat scan.At 5?8? and 205 pounds of explosive KO power, Melvin truly is a “Walking Hand Grenade“. For the closest example of a real life Rocky Balboa fight, see Manhoef’s war waged with Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos.
16. Paul Taylor: Heavy hands, a high kick that would make Cro Cop proud and a seemingly endless gas tank make this fearless Brit one of the most brutal 170 pounders in the sport. How many guys do you know that have earned THREE fight of the night bonuses with the UFC. Taylor has taken the bonus check back to Walsall, England with him in dogfights with Marcus Davis, Paul Kelly and Chris Lytle.
17. Robbie Lawler: While not known for his eye dazzling submission game, the “Ruthless” one has concrete in his fists and a tenacious fighting style that leaves the crowd in a frenzy every time out. Some of Lawler’s trademark fights include electrifying tussles with Scott Smith, Murilo “Ninja” Rua, Frank Trigg, Mayhem Miller, Nick Diaz and Chris Lytle.
18. Aleksander Emelianenko: You show me someone that has the ability to fall asleep during any one of eighteen professional bouts, and I’ll show you a person with a severe case of narcolepsy. Emelianenko knows know other way but to try to decimate his opponent. In eighteen fights for Aleks, only two have made it to the scorecards. Plus, the guy killed a freaking full grown bear with nothing but his bare hands, a knife, and a fork. That’s just flat out gnarly.
19. Thiago Silva: A throwback to the glory days of Chute Boxe, this American Top Team trained fighter is trying to take his opponents head off every time out of the gate. Throwing down like a true samurai in the cage, it’s kill or be killed for Thiago Silva. Some of the victims that have fallen under the feet of Silva include Houston Alexander, Antonio Mendes, and most recently, Keith Jardine.
20. Tim Credeur: If Tim Credeur beats you, he’s kicking your ass bad; that’s something you’re just going to have to deal with. 12 wins and 12 men left with no room to argue the outcome, Credeur knows he’s not getting paid by the hour in the cage. A slick black belt in Brazilian Ji-Jitsu, Tim has no problem twisting limbs or knocking his opponents senseless with sharp kicks and punches. “Crazy” Creduer has only been the distance once in his fifteen fight career, with the sole decision being his fight of the year candidate with Nate Quarry during UFC Fight Night 19.
21. Urijah Faber: A 5’6″ stick of dynamite, Faber is the living, breathing definition of relentless aggression. You almost need to down an energy drink just to keep up with watching “The California Kid” and the tireless pace he consistently brings to the cage. 22 wins, 18 finishes against some of the toughest little men on the face of the earth. That’s how Urijah rolls.
22. Kazushi Sakuraba: Hands down one of the most lethal ground fighters in the sport, Saku is perhaps the most beloved mixed martial artist in all of Japan for one very obvious reason: He performs. Out of 26 career victories for Sakuraba, 19 have been finished by submission, 4 by knockout, with only 3 men making it to the judges scorecards.
23. Frank Shamrock: Ever since his very first bout with Bas Rutten during round one of the King of the Pancrase tournament in 1994, Shamrock has been giving the fans what they’ve paid for all over the globe. Some of Frank’s more memorable battles include knock down brawls with the likes of Enson Inoue, Tito Ortiz, Phil Baroni and Cung Le.
24. Paul Buentello: The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a guy like “The Headhunter” is: That guy is a freaking warrior. Flat out. Not like all the other guys on this list aren’t, but Buentello just reeks of a willingness to die every time he enters the cage. Unbelievably, in 34 fights, only one of them has made it to the judges for Buentello. One way or another, someone’s catching a beating when Paul puts on for his city.
25. Shane Carwin: If Carwin’s 11 highlight reel finishes in 11 bouts doesn’t justify the massive heavyweight’s spot on this list, his come from behind destruction over Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 96 leaves little question. One of the most explosive and powerful athletes in the business, Carwin has the kind of power behind his punch that could bring a full grown elephant to its knees.
26. Kenny Florian: Kenny Florian finishes fights, no question about it. Out of 11 wins, Ken-Flo has put a decisive end to ten of them. Equally as dangerous on the ground with a slew of submission as he is standing with punishing Muay Thai, Florian makes it a point to put on a show every time he wraps his hands.
27. Brett Rogers: If you’re a fan of dudes getting bounced with absolutely no remorse, then “Grim” is your fighter. Standing at 6?5? tall, and tipping the scales at 265 pounds of bad times, Rogers has annihilated every opponent that has crossed his path with explosive knees and punches. There’s one guarantee when big Brett shows up to fight: Pain in generous portions.
28. Jamie Varner: I have had the privilege of watching Varner come up in the ranks on the Arizona circuit between the years of 2003 and 2005, and if there’s one thing I can tell you from first hand experience, it’s that Jamie knows know other way than to go hard. The Arizona Combat Sports trained WEC lightweight champion’s recent wars with Rob McCullough and Donald Cerrone have established Varner as one of the most entertaining athletes in the sport.
29. Joe Lauzon: Make the mistake of judging a book by it’s cover in Lauzon’s case and it may be the last one you make. A former I.T. that looks the part, Lauzon has never gone to the judges once in his entire career in mixed martial arts. Someone ends up getting hurt every time Baby Joe puts it down for Massachusetts. Lauzon’s victims in the Octagon include Jens Pulver, Kyle Bradley and Jeremy Stephens.
30. Forrest Griffin: Who has their arm snapped in half like a dried out tree branch and comes back to knock their opponent out with the other arm? Forrest Griffin does, that’s who. Let us not forget his legendary fight with Stephan Bonnar. The bottom line with Forrest is that you know what you’re going to get every time out. You’re going to get a fighter that lays it all on the line every time he steps foot into the cage.
31. Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos: This female chupacabra may very well be the single gnarliest woman currently walking the face of the earth. Santos is going to try to decapitate her opponent (victim) at every opportunity. Watching Cyborg lay vicious beatdowns on some of the female mixed martial artists that have crossed her path in the past can evoke that same violent/sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes after watching a series of one-sided street fights on Youtube.
32. Houston Alexander: I’m not sure who this Demian Decorah guy is, but he must be one tough SOB. The reason being, he’s the only guy that has ever gone the distance with the Nebraskan smashing machine known as Houston Alexander. Thirteen bouts, and only one has made it to the judges scorecards for Alexander. His fights end suddenly, and violently.
33. Dan Hardy: “The Outlaw” is going to bring it every single time, that you can be sure of. Known for big knees, punches and kicks, Hardy leaves it all in the cage every time he throws on a pair of 5 Oz. gloves. His back and forth war with Marcus Davis was undoubtedly one of the better brawls of 2009.
34. Phil Baroni: With a career record of 13-11, one doesn’t have to be an expert to come to the realization that “The New York Bad Ass” will never be the baddest ass of his weight class. Thankfully we have seen change of the tide begin in the UFC where fighters like Phil Baroni are being rewarded for their constant ability to entertain. Easily one of the hardest punchers in the business, Baroni has engaged in memorable fights with fighters such as Frank Shamrock, Ikuhisa Minowa and Pete Sell. Plus, who can forget Phil’s epic pummeling of Amar Suloev during UFC 37. Still one of the worst beatings ever caught on film.
35. Takanori Gomi: Along with being one of the most consistently entertaining fighters from the land of the rising sun, Gomi may very well be the hardest pound for pound puncher in all of Japanese MMA. His see-saw war with Nick Diaz during PRIDE 33 was MMA’s answer to Marvin Hagler vs. Tommy Hearns, a true battle for the ages.
36. Anthony Johnson: There are one of two guarantees when watching an A.J. fight: You’re either going to see someone take a horrifying beating or you’re going to see an absolute war. Both bouts with Kevin Burns were among the more savage fights in recent UFC memory, while some of the men that have been transformed into highlight reels for Johnson include Chad Reiner, Tommy Speer, Kevin Burns, Luigi Fioravanti and Yoshiyuki Yoshida.
37. Roger Huerta: Huerta’s relentless fighting spirit and heart make him nearly incapable of taking part in a lackluster bout, even when he’s fighting Gray Maynard. Some of the more memorable bouts Roger has taken part in recently include battles with Leonard Garcia, Kenny Florian, and who could forget his war with Clay Guida during the TUF 6 Finale.
38. Murilo “Ninja” Rua: Ninja is a natural born killer, no doubt about it. If he’s standing across from you in the cage, he’s trying to introduce you to your expiration date. Rest assured that if Murilo has taken part in a less-than-exciting bout in the past, it was because he was being pinned down and muffled by superior wrestlers. On the feet, it’s kill or be killed for Ninja. Only one of Rua’s last ten bouts have made it to the judges, which was a drag out, slugfest against Riki Fukuda at DREAM 8.
39. Dustin Hazelett: The most stunning statistic on McLovin’s resume has got to be the fact that he has finished four of his five Octagon victims with death defying submissions. It’s like you know it’s coming, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Flying armbars, reverse armbars, upside down armbars, triangles and anaconda chokes; if it can snap a limb or induce unconsciousness, Dustin’s an expert at it.
40. Alistair Overeem: An absolute monster out of Holland, “The Demolition Man” is one of the most dangerous human beings currently breathing. Out of 43 fights, only 4 have made it to the final bell for Overeem. That’s nearly 40 bouts that have ended violently for Alistair. Whether he’s battering opponents with big knees and punches or locking in his trademark standing guillotine, Overeem looks to finish things decisively every time out.
41. Anderson Silva: What Silva lacks in consistency, he makes up two-fold with astonishing Ong-Bak, Matrix-esque finishes. Silva would be much higher on this list if it wasn’t for his very recent lackluster bouts against Thales Leites and Patrick Cote. However, the recent first round demolition of Forrest Griffin and a history of leaving the crowed shaking their heads in disbelief make “The Spider” one of the most closely watched fighters in the sport.
42. Benji Radach: Radach has made a name for himself in the sport as one of it’s most exciting competitors with his tenacious fighting spirit and ability to separate his opponents from consciousness. Benji’s throwdowns with Scott Smith and Murilo “Ninja” Rua will forever have a place among the most brutal battles waged in the history of the game.
43. Jon Jones: An unblemished record and an unorthodox striking style that includes spinning elbows, kicks, backfists, and only Jones knows what else, “Bones” has quickly become one of the premier showman to keep an eye on in the sport. Jones has acquired a massive fanbase in no time since making his Octagon debut, with impressive performances against the likes of Andre Gusmao, Stephan Bonnar and Jake O’Brien.
44. Brian Bowles: With a base in wrestling and 5 submissions in his 8 victories, Bowles has established himself as one of the few 135 pound fighters that can end a fight with a single punch. Fighters like Bowles and Miguel Torres have single handedly created an interest in a division there was little attention focused on in prior years. With 8 finishes in 8 bouts, Bowles has yet to meet a man that could push him to the scorecards.
45. Demian Maia: With every single one of his UFC victories coming by way of submission, Maia is one of the rare ground technicians with a rock steady ability to get the job done time and time again. During his career inside of the Octagon Demian has taken part in hard fought scraps with Ed Herman and Jason MacDonald, while notching dominant first round submissions over the likes of Ryan Jensen, Nate Quarry and Chael Sonnen.
46. Lyle Beerbohm: If Lyle Beerbohm dies without ever having to go the judges scorecards again, he will die a happy man. Having never been a big fan of easing into things, Beerbohm is notorious for getting right to work from the jump, and never leaving a fan in attendance disappointed. In 13 bouts as a professional, Lyle has been forced to the judges just once; In ten bouts as an amateur, Beerbohm gave the judges the night off every time out. A relentless pace, strong wrestling base, punishing stand up, slick submissions and terrifying ground and pound make “Fancy Pants” a serious problem for any lightweight that makes the fateful decision to “man up”.
47. Benson Henderson: Fighting out of the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, Henderson has come out of nowhere to establish himself as one of the top lightweights on the planet over the last year. Benson has a history of leaving it all in the cage with every single performance. Only twice in Henderson’s 11 professional bouts has he made it to the final bell, and his knockdown, drag-out war with Donald Cerrone was among the best fights of 2009.
48. Leonard Garcia: The “Bad Boy” made a name for himself as a submission artist out of the gate, notching seven wins by tapout in his first eight victories, but you’d never know it now as Leonard has completely reinvented himself as a bomb dropping knockout technician, finishing Hiroyuki Takaya and Jens Pulver with strikes in recent bouts. Garcia’s grueling war with Roger Huerta at UFC 69 was easily one of the best fights of 2007.
49. Martin Kampmann: “The Hitman” is a problem no matter where the fight ends up. Straight out of Denmark, Kampmann has the ability to end any fight standing or on the ground. Only 2 of Martin’s 18 bouts have gone to the judges. His battles against Drew McFedries and Carlos Condit were among some of the best bouts in recent UFC memory.
50. Rory Markham: In 21 professional scraps, Markham has yet to allow a single judge to to their job. Out of 16 wins, Rory has finished 11 of them by either KO or TKO, with the remaining 5 ending by way of submission. In his 5 defeats, Markham has either been KO’d ot TKO’d in every single one of them. Some of the men that have faced the wrath of Rory include Jason Guida, Mike Pyle, Brad Blackburn, Pat Healy and Brodie Farber.