As we look forward to 2020's sure to be stacked MMA calendar, it's time to rundown the top UFC fighters competing in the organization today.
Once infamously decried by senator John McCain as “human cockfighting”, the sport of mixed martial arts has continued to expand over the course of the last decade, with Ultimate Fighting Championship remaining the undisputed market leader. Comprised of fighters from nearly every continent, the UFC roster features some of the most elite athletes in all of sports. Spanning sixty countries and almost six-hundred highly trained competitors, there are potential championship-worthy prospects on their payroll than at any other time in the company’s history.
As we reach the precipice of a new decade, it’s time to take stock of the top active fighters in the UFC today. Note the word “active.” As to be in contention for this list, fighters need to have fought at least once within the calendar year of 2019. So without further ado, let’s look at the most dominant, skillful, explosive or otherwise prosperous MMA fighters in the UFC today.
Honorable Mention: Tony Ferguson
Throughout his career, there’s always been a sense that Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson is on the cusp of greatness. A practitioner of Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet jiu-jitsu but capable of delivering a picture-perfect KO when the moment calls for it, Tony—who’s been on an unfaltering win streak since 2013—seemed to be finally ready to embrace the bright lights when he masterfully synched in a triangle on Kevin Lee and scooped the interim Lightweight Championship at UFC 2016 -- only for an injury to leave him stripped of the position he’d fought and clawed for.
After starching the inhumanly durable Cowboy Donald Cerrone in June of this year, it seems that, after five attempts, Ferguson will finally get to test his versatile skill-set against the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov. Should he topple the man that he’s been pursuing for years on end, these rankings—and that of the UFC’s pound-for-pound list- could look very, very different indeed.
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10. Jorge Masvidal
Talking about the year 2019 in MMA without allotting time to “the resurrection” of Jorge Masvidal would be an impossibility. Once thought of as an unshakably tough journeyman that would leave himself spent in the pursuit of a victory, the past 12 months have seen a recalibrated “Gamebred Fighter” go on a tear and ascend to the ranks of a bonafide draw. After taking Liverpool’s Darren Till to task within two rounds at UFC Fight Night 147, the cataclysmic left hook he landed on the former kickboxer set the stage for one of the most memorable knockouts in recent memory.
A deeply personal contest sparked by Ben Askren’s unrelenting trash talk sideshow, a visit to the Joe Rogan Experience saw Jorge lay out his plan to leave the pedigreed wrestler slumbering in record time. Sure enough, Masvidal would put the world on notice with a picture-perfect flying knee that echoed around the world. Capped off by capturing the newly minted BMF title from Nate Diaz, it remains to be seen whether he’s barrelling towards a title match with the Welterweight king Kamaru Usman or if he’ll hold out for the lucrative showdown with “The Notorious” Conor McGregor.
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9. Daniel Cormier
Admittedly, the prolific wrestler and all-round powerhouse Daniel Cormier has one foot out the door of MMA and seems increasingly comfortable in the commentary booth. But until he officially calls it a career, any list of the sport’s finest is incomplete without him. A sterling example of everything a champion should be, DC is a natural-born winner, having dismantled countless formidable challengers while making them look second-rate by comparison.
Labored with the albatross of his one loss—their 2017 title fight was overturned to a no-contest-- to Jon “Bones” Jones, the relentless Louisianan now has his sights set on, in his words, “righting the wrong” that was his fourth-round KO defeat at the hands of Stipe Miocic. If he does, it’ll be a fitting exclamation point to a career defined by undeterred ambition.
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8. Valentina Shevchenko
If the term “underappreciated” ever applied to a women’s MMA champion, it’s undoubtedly the Kyrgyzstani phenom Valentina Shevchenko. Debuting in the UFC as a last-minute replacement for Germaine De Randamie against Sarah Kaufman in a flyweight bout, the “Bullet” wasted little time in showcasing the attributes that would take her to the summit of her field. Armed with impeccable technique in a stand-up capacity, Valentina is no slouch when it comes to the ground game; she counts an armbar on Julianna Pena on her record as well as a vicious rear-naked choke that heralded her arrival back to the flyweight division.
Since then, she’s been on an absolute tear, snatching the division’s vacant belt from Joanna Jędrzejczyk in a strong showing before delivering a highlight reel KO to Jessica Eye in her first defence at UFC 231. Upon avenging her 2010 loss to Liz Carmouche in August, Shevchenko all but solidified her spot as a contender for the greatest women’s flyweight of all time and perhaps one day, will get a chance to try and avenge her controversial loss to Amanda Nunes.
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7. Kamaru Usman
When a UFC title fight ends in a judge’s decision, seldom if ever will the challenger find himself with his hand raised. Think Hendricks against GSP for a clear-cut example. But in the case of Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman’s drawn-out battle with Tyron Woodley, there was no shred of doubt as to who deserved to walk away with that strap around his waist. After proving that he was far more than a grappling maestro with his knockout win over Sergio Moraes, Kamaru has continued proving himself to be one of the most unshakable fighters in MMA today and his victory over a prolific welterweight champion set him up for an emphatic year.
Fresh off of a bitterly contested scrap against Colby Covington that saw both men renounce their ground game in order to slug it out, Usman breaking his opponent’s jaw and finishing him in the fifth round leaves a welterweight division in which he has bested every man in the top 5 -- with the exception of the BMF champion Jorge Masvidal. Wherever he goes from here, it seems almost inconceivable that Usman will be entering the losing column anytime soon.
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6. Stipe Miocic
With the notable exception of the UFC-evading, former PRIDE FC goliath Fedor Emelianenko, it’s getting increasingly difficult to avoid the truth. And that is, Stipe Miocic—the humble, All-American firefighter from Independence, Ohio-- has a record that puts him among the greatest heavyweight ever to don a pair of 8-ounce gloves. When you look at the resume of fighters that have fallen to Stipe’s division 1 wrestling and unmistakable knockout power, it reads like a who’s who of the sport’s greatest big men.
Dos Santos, Werdum, Hunt, Overreem and Arlovski all felt his wrath. Even a fast-rising star such as Francis Ngannou would be outclassed by his constrictive presence. Now, if he opts to let Curtis Blaydes cool his heels in the event of a win in January over JDS and plough ahead with the rubber match with DC, coming out the victor of that trilogy would position him in a way that would jeopardize “The Last Emperor’s” position as the widely acknowledged heavyweight GOAT.
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5. Henry Cejudo
Technically speaking, Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo is the most decorated athlete in the UFC’s history. Boasting more accolades than most competitors could ever dream of, not only does he hold an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling but as of 2019, he now holds two UFC titles. After capturing the flyweight strap from long-time champ “Mighty Mouse” Demetrius Johnson in controversial fashion at UFC 227, Cejudo dispersed any lingering allegations of unworthiness when he starched TJ Dillashaw within two rounds in February, even with the now-suspended Ludwig Martial Arts Fighter being on PED’s.
As Dillashaw’s two-year absence set up to leave a void at bantamweight, Cejudo swooped in and fulfilled his ambitions of joining the ranks of the double champs by seeing off Marlon Moraes in June. Reportedly gearing up to face former Featherweight champion Jose Aldo for the bantamweight belt upon returning from shoulder surgery, a strong showing over the beloved Brazilian would go some way to strengthening “Triple C’s” claim of being one of the finest that the sport has ever seen.
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4. Israel Adesanya
Armed with an infectious personality, Israel Adesanya is one of the most entertaining fighters in today’s UFC both in and out of the Octagon. Hailing from New Zealand by way of Lagos, Nigeria, the self-proclaimed “Last Stylebender” incorporates both traditional and trailblazing striking mechanics into his arsenal. Commencing the year with a passing of the torch contest against “The Spider” Anderson Silva that allowed one generation of kickboxing mastery to test their mettle against the other, the anime-inspired competitor demonstrated just how deep his endurance could go when he was awarded the interim Middleweight strap over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236 in April.
Informing the tenacious fighter that he was “ready to die” to get the win, this strength of mind would serve him well when it came time to fight Robert “The Reaper” Whittaker in a title unification bout in Melbourne, Australia. Held in the Marvel Stadium in Whittaker’s hometown, the crowd may have been against Stylebender but he remained unfettered by the shower of boos. Seeing Robert off within two rounds via KO, his charisma and unparalleled technical ability on the feet could pave the way for a historic career.
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3. Amanda Nunes
During her tenure in the UFC, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey found herself regularly adorned with the title of the “baddest woman on the planet.” Granted, her marketability and incredible string of efficient armbar finishes helped legitimize women’s MMA and in Dana’s mind, served as the catalyst for her fellow female fighters to compete in the UFC. But amid all the hyperbole, the real baddest woman in the sport was lurking just around the corner.
Undefeated since 2015, UFC 200 would serve as the coronation of a new queen when Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes tapped Meisha Tate within one round. From then on, Nunes has captured every scalp that women’s MMA has to offer from Ronda Rousey herself to doing the unthinkable and finishing Cris Cyborg within one round to win the featherweight strap and head-kicking her way to a victory over Holly Holm in July of this year. Armed with both the featherweight and bantamweight titles, her besting of Germaine De Rendamie at last week’s UFC 245 all but solidified her as the greatest female fighter in the history of the sport.
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2. Khabib Nurmagomedov
28 times in a row, Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov has stepped into the octagon. And 28 times in a row, he’s had his hand raised. Yet what’s even more remarkable is that throughout his career, it’s always the same story. Trained in the same Sambo discipline that made Fedor unstoppable for so many years, Khabib doesn’t only control his opponents, he utterly debilitates them.
Whether it’s Conor McGregor, Daniel Poirer or Michael Johnson, Khabib’s immobilizing pressure and pace surpasses anyone else in the history of the sport. On a collision course with Tony Ferguson for many years, defeating El Cucuy would bring about a real question of what else The Eagle has to prove. Not only that, it would be the gateway to a perfect ending, leaving one more fight before calling it a day with a perfect 30-0 record.
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1. Jon Jones
Brash, self-assured and armed with one of the finest resumes of any combat athlete, Jon “Bones” Jones is simply a once-in-a-lifetime competitor. Save for a preposterous DQ loss to Matt Hamill and a commissioned mandated no-contest with Cormier, there is rightfully not a blemish on Bones’ record, even after trifling with the best of the best at every turn. Becoming the youngest UFC champion of all-time after he defeated Mauricio Shogun Rua at the age of 23, the Jackson MMA-guided prodigy has never backed down from a challenge even as his personal life was thrown into disarray.
Where it could be argued that Khabib’s record is padded with contests against men that were far from elite level, Jones has fended off nothing but top tier competitors at every turn and aims to do so again when he stands across from the rapidly-ascending Dominick Reyes on February 8th of next year. Like every other industry, there’s levels to MMA and the light-heavyweight king Jonny Bones simply operates at the top-tier whenever he menacingly slinks into the octagon. Until such time that he retires, it’s hard to see this top spot being occupied by anyone else.