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From perceived barbarity to "the fastest growing sport in the world,’’ MMA has come a long, bloody way and trust us when we say that it wasn’t easy, especially for the fighters. Despite being a major sport for the past two decades, there have been many great champions who have become mainstream attractions. Here are eleven of the finest warriors who have offered big doses of blood, sweat, and glory inside the cage.

Written By Theodoros II ForTCmag


Fedor Emelianenko never signed a contract to fight in the UFC, and frankly, who gives a shit! Fedor is the most loved Russian athlete in the history of American sports. Never have so many American fans cheered for a Russian athlete and in most cases against their fellow American athletes. Fedor was probably the first global superstar of the relatively new sport and his fame expanded from Russia to Japan and from the US to Brazil.

He was the RINGS Open-weight Champion from 2001 to 2003, the PRIDE Heavyweight Champion from 2003 to 2007, and WAMMA Heavyweight Champion from 2008 to 2010, remaining undefeated for over 10 years in an incredible career in which he beat numerous champions and hall of fame fighters. Emelianenko is also the longest-reigning top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in MMA history and was recently voted the greatest MMA fighter of all time with a whopping 73% of the votes in the biggest MMA online poll that ever took place in Brazil, the native country of the runner-up, Anderson Silva, a fact that indicates the global acceptance and respect Fedor enjoys from the fans.


Georges St-Pierre recently decided to leave the sport of MMA for an undetermined amount of time. During his career however, GSP won the belt off the previous “most dominant Welterweight on the planet” (Matt Hughes) and then went on to face every single 170-pound challenger to his belt. To borrow a phrase from Joe Rogan, St-Pierre faced (and beat) a “murderer’s row” of contenders including Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, BJ Penn, Thiago Alves, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, and Johny Hendricks.

In the meantime GSP did nearly everything a mainstream athlete ever could to maximize his earnings outside the Octagon. He appeared on reality TV, has already appeared in two films, and he’s expected to portray the villain in the new Captain America movie. He also has huge endorsements, is a best-selling author, a fitness guru, and a certified ladies man. That, my friends, is why GSP is not only one of the three greatest fighters of all time but also one of the smartest, if not the smartest ever.


The “Spider” was recently destroyed twice by the younger and stronger Chris Weidman, but he remains one of the best fighters to ever step foot in the Octagon. The Brazilian Master holds the longest title defense streak in UFC history, with 10 title defenses. Now, for all the fans Silva has made over the years, he has just as many haters, who discredit him over his five losses to lesser-known opponents and accuse him of near-starving himself in order to stay in one of the weakest UFC divisions around, the middleweight. Despite what the haters might claim, facts and numbers don’t lie.


Matt Hughes is simply one of the most dominant figures in the history of mixed martial arts. Beginning his professional fighting career in 1998, Hughes quickly established himself as one of the most dangerous fighters in the world, running his record to an astonishing 35 wins and only 3 losses. Hughes went on to win and subsequently defend the UFC Welterweight Championship five times, before losing it in an upset to B.J. Penn in 2004. Hughes holds career wins over a who’s who of the mixed martial arts world, including Dave Menne, Akihiro Gono, Carlos Newton (twice), Hayato Sakurai, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg (twice), B.J. Penn, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Matt Serra and the greatest of all, Georges St. Pierre. 


During his incredible career Randy Couture broke several records, including most title belts (6) and most title fights (14). He is also the oldest to win a major championship and the first to win major titles in two weight classes at Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight. Despite all his amazing achievements and victories inside the cage against other legendary MMA fighters, Couture will always be remembered for submitting and humiliating former world boxing champion James Toney, who claimed that he would expose Couture and MMA for being a sport for soft white untalented boys. Toney found out first-hand that they don’t call Randy Couture “Captain America” and “The Natural” for nothing after all.


Penn is one of only two fighters to date to hold belts in two different weight classes with Randy Couture being the other. Along the way, the man fought guys like Lyoto Machida, a natural light heavyweight, to a decision loss. Many of his matches were against some of the best in the world, including wins over Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Kenny Florian, Sean Sherk, Takanori Gomi, Matt Serra, Renzo Gracie, and Caol Uno among others. In the end, a prime Penn was one of the most exciting and electrifying fighters ever. 


Chuck  Liddell was to MMA what Babe Ruth was for baseball, Roger Federer is for tennis and Cristiano Ronaldo for football, the ultimate superstar. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he’s, to this day, the most popular UFC fighter of all time, and probably one of the very best fighters as well. He became the UFC light heavyweight champion by beating Tito Ortiz, and defended his title four times during his dominant reign. Unfortunately, his prime didn’t last very long, and several disappointing losses followed near the end of his career. Liddell’s prime, however, was still one of the most colorful and intense of all time. Arguably the biggest star in UFC history, he helped bring MMA into the mainstream of American sports.


El Guapo is another case of an old school master who contributed like no other to the spreading of the sport during its early days. Bas was a Dutch Karate blackbelt and a kickboxer, who made a very successful transition into the world of MMA. He had the size, the look, and the style to become one of the most intimidating champions of all time, and he didn’t waste his chance. He became the UFC Heavyweight Champion, and finished his career on a 22-fight unbeaten streak. During his reign, he became widely popular for one of his favorite tactics, a liver shot that usually paralyzed his opponents. Rutten’s charisma in and outside the Octagon helped him to become one of the first celebrities of the sport. While he’s still involved in the field today as a TV commentator, he has also appeared in several movies and video games.


To make a long story short, this man ladies and gents revolutionized the sport of MMA. He’s the son of the legendary Jiu jitsu master Helio Gracie. He also paved the way for today's fighters especially guys like Anderson Silva who is a Gracie Jiu jitsu student. He was so dominant during his prime that they had to change the rules and forbade the wearing of shirts because it was helping him to submit his opponents with ease. His only flaw was that he wasn't the best striker but there is no question that he was one of the best, if not the best ever in ground fighting. In a total of 19 fights he achieved a record of 14 wins, 2 losses and 3 draws. 


Dan Henderson is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most durable fighters of all time, and what’s more impressive is that he still fights against modern, younger fighters to this day. He is also one of the very few men who have become a superstar in both Pride and the UFC.

A former Olympic wrestler, Henderson competed for the majority of his career in the middleweight and light heavyweight division, winning notable titles in three different weight divisions. He won the UFC 17 Middleweight Tournament, became the first fighter to win PRIDE championships in multiple weight classes (welterweight and middleweight,) became the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion, and was the RINGS King of Kings 1999 Tournament winner. He has won more titles in more major organizations than any other fighter in history.


Fighting at a time when the sport was still new and every opponent was dangerous because he was unknown, Vovchanchyn carved a name for himself early on as the iron man of MMA. From October 1995 to February 1998, he fought in 10 tournaments, clocking in as much as 66 minutes of fight time in a single night. In 1996, he fought 13 times, 12 of them in tournament format—a staggering accomplishment of consistency. Additionally, Igor’s the man with the longest undefeated streak in history (37) and in his prime, was one of the most dominant fighters of all time. Igor was also one of the shortest heavyweight champions ever (5’8″) which makes his records and accomplishments even more impressive.

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