Light Heavyweight was for much of its existence the glamour division in mixed martial arts. It has been home to savages, trendsetters, technicians, pioneers, and transcendent talents. Today we’ll be looking at 10 of the historically greatest Light Heavyweights in MMA history. The ranking criteria will be based on the following in order:
- Resume – Elite fighters that a fighter has defeated, when the elite fighters beaten were in their prime, or close to their prime
- Longevity – Period of time a fighter has managed to be at the very top of the game
- (Tie-Breaker) Title Wins – The amount of times a fighter has won and defended a title in a top promotion
- (Tie-Breaker) Official MMA Record – The amount of wins & losses a fighter has on their record
Now , before we go on to the Top 10, here are some honorable mentions: Lyoto Machida, Ryan Bader, Rashad Evans, Phil Davis, Gegard Mousasi, Alexander Gustaffson, Anthony Johnson, Glover Teixeira, Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
#10 – Tito Ortiz: Ortiz was the very first superstar out of UFC’s early stars, and brought the promotion to a whole other level, in a time where it was struggling to get attention. Tito was a force to be reckoned with in his prime. An exceptional wrestler & ground fighter, especially for his time, Ortiz brutalized opponents after slamming them to the canvas, in similar fashion to the fictional superhero “Hulk”. Afterwards, his opponents were forced to endure a cascade of elbows, forearm strikes, punches and hammer-fists until the fight was over. Throughout his 23 year career, Ortiz has defeated the likes of Guy Mezger, Wanderlei Silva, Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Ken Shamrock (x3), Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin, Ryan Bader, Stephan Bonnar, Chael Sonnen, Chuck Liddell. When looking at the competition he has beaten, you would wonder why he’s only at #10. There are several reasons why: Ken Shamrock was 11 years Ortiz’s senior and way past his prime when he fought Tito in 2002 and 2006. Shamrock’s prime was in the early-late 1990’s. He took 4 years off to pursue a career in the WWE, and by the time he returned to MMA, he was in his late 30’s and his body was messed up from the damage he took in pro wrestling. Forrest Griffin was a fighter with a lot of heart, but no real technical talent, and Ortiz lost the trilogy to Griffin, 2 fights to 1. There was controversy in the fight with Chael Sonnen, as it looked like Tito tapped at one point, right before Tito ended up submitting Chael. And Chuck was 49 years old, and hadn’t fought for 8 years, when he faced Tito for the third time. Tito wasn’t in his prime either, but he was at a way better point in his career than Chuck. When they both faced off in their primes, Chuck knocked out Tito twice. So for those reasons, Tito is at the bottom of my list. Still a great Light Heavyweight, but not as great as everyone ranked above him on the list.
#9 – Randy Couture: Being the first of only 7 people in history to win UFC gold in 2 different weight classes, Couture has cemented himself as an all time great in MMA History. Being the only fighter in UFC history to win a division belt 3 times, he was also a double champ in another division. From 1997 to 2008, he fought at the highest level of the game, at both 205 lbs and 265 lbs. His 19-11 record is deceiving, when you look at it. In his 14 year career, he has picked up wins at Light Heavyweight over Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort, Brandon Vera, and Mark Coleman. Chuck, Tito, and Vitor were all at the top of the Light Heavyweight division, when Randy beat them. He has picked up additional wins at Heavyweight over Vitor Belfort, Maurice Smith, Jeremy Horn, Kevin Randleman, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Pedro Rizzo, Tim Sylvia, and Gabriel Gonzaga. The Heavyweight wins aren’t important for this list, but I just wanted to emphasize how great Randy was, which is why I went into detail about his whole career. Because I am including only his Light Heavyweight career, he is this low on the list.
#8 – Frank Shamrock: Being the first true Mixed Martial Artist, Frank Shamrock remains one of the most influential figures of all-time. Shamrock was the first to put all the training pieces together, and was arguably the most successful fighter of the 1990s, winning the “Fighter of the Decade” award for the 1990’s. Being the first ever UFC Light Heavyweight champion with 4 defenses to his name, as well as being a WEC Light Heavyweight champion & and Strikeforce Middleweight champion, Shamrock has cemented his legacy in MMA history. He was ranked the No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world during his UFC Light Heavyweight title reign, and never lost the title; he instead vacated it, citing a lack of competition. What’s even more amazing is, he was undersized for the Light Heavyweight division. In the span of 5 years, Frank has picked up wins over Bas Rutten, Minoru Suzuki twice, Masakatsu Funaki, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Enson Inoue, Jeremy Horn, and Tito Ortiz.
#7 – Dan Henderson: Being one of only very few fighters to hold MMA gold in two different weight classes at the same time, Henderson has forged a legacy that will stand the test of time, and cemented himself as an all time great. Being a Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion, as well as a Pride FC Welterweight (183 lbs) champion & Pride FC Middleweight (205 lbs) Double Champion, Dan was the very last fighter to hold all 3 of those belts. He was also the UFC 17 Middleweight (205) Tournament Champion. Throughout his career, Henderson has defeated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Renato Sobral twice, Renzo Gracie, Murilo Rua, Murilo Bustamante twice, Yuki Kondo, Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Rich Franklin, Rafael Cavalcante, Fedor Emelianenko, and Shogun Rua twice, which allowed him to craft a resume that only a very few can rival.
#6 – Quinton Jackson: Better known as “Rampage Jackson”, or simply “Rampage”, Quinton Jackson helped pioneer MMA’s growth into a worldwide sport. Rampage rose to prominence & became a star in Pride FC, due to his eccentric personality and aggressive fighting style. He then went on to UFC and became the Light Heavyweight champion. Throughout his career, Rampage has beaten Igor Vovchanchyn, Kevin Randleman, Murilo Bustamante, Chuck Liddell twice, Ricardo Arona, Matt Lindland, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva twice, Lyoto Machida, Matt Hamill, and Muhammad Lawal. Rampage was vicious & intimidating, and you knew that you were always gonna be in for a violent delight when you were tuning into see a Rampage fight. He had numerous highlights, including a power-bomb slam where he knocked Ricardo Arona’s lights out, ending Chuck Liddell’s reign on top with a vicious right hook, and avenging his losses to Wanderlei Silva with a jagged left hook. Rampage Jackson is notably the only fighter to beat Chuck Liddell twice, and the only fighter prime Chuck Liddell lost to that he was unable to avenge.
#5 – Mauricio Rua: Better known in the MMA community as “Shogun Rua”, or simply “Shogun”, Rua is undoubtedly a Top 5 Greatest Light Heavyweight in MMA history. Having been fighting since 2002, Rua is a former UFC Light Heavyweight champion, and the 2005 Pride FC 205 lbs Grand Prix Champion, and is still fighting today, being able to stay in the rankings, despite being 38 and at the end of his career. Shogun started his illustrious career off in Pride FC, and quickly seized control of the 205-pound division. He won all but one of his fights in Pride FC, and that one loss was because of a stoppage due to his arm being dislocated. When he got to UFC, he was battling through a lot of injuries, that had taken their toll as time passed. But regardless, it didn’t take him too long to claim the Light Heavyweight title, reaching the pinnacle of the 205-pound division in yet another organization. In his 18 year career, Shogun has defeated the likes of Rampage Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira three times, Alistair Overeem twice, Ricardo Arona, Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin, Brandon Vera, and Corey Anderson. Shogun has cemented his legacy in MMA history, and easily makes the Top 5 entry on the list.
#4 – Daniel Cormier: One of the greatest mixed martial artists in history, Daniel Cormier enjoyed success in both the Heavyweight division and the Light Heavyweight division, holding both UFC belts simultaneously. Cormier is the second fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously and is the first to defend titles in two different divisions. Starting out as an NCAA Divison 1 All American, and then going on to become a member of the USA Olympic wrestling team, Cormier transitioned perfectly to MMA. After dominating in Strikeforce, he then went to UFC, and eventually settled in the Light Heavyweight division for 4 years, winning the title, and defending it 3 times. With an excellent record of 22-3 over a 11 year career, Cormier has defeated the likes of Dan Henderson, Anthony Johnson twice, Alexander Gustaffson, Anderson Silva, and Volkan Oezdemir. He additionally has wins over likes of Antonio Silva, Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, Stipe Miocic, and Derrick Lewis., all at Heavyweight. His Heavyweight career has nothing to do with his placement on this specific list, I just wanted to emphasize on just how good he was. Also, he cannot go any higher on the list, as he wasn’t ever truly the very best in the Light Heavyweight division in his time. The only reason he held the belt, was because Jon Jones was suspended from competition. Moreover, he was fighting at Light Heavyweight for less than 4 years, and beat only 5 opponents in the division, which is not a lot compared to everyone else on the list. Nonetheless, the opponents he beat were of the highest caliber and/or the best in his division. Cormier’s only loss at 205-pounds was to a known drug cheat, and since Cormier fought clean his whole career, he deserves to be at least this high up on the list.
#3 – Chuck Liddell: Also known as “The Iceman”, Chuck Liddell became the UFC’s first legitimate crossover star, appearing on the cover of ESPN’s Magazine and in various films and television shows. Liddell is widely credited for being the one to bring MMA into the mainstream of American sports, due to his exciting fighting style, and rivalries, with guys like Tito Ortiz & Randy Couture. Along with those two, Chuck raised the UFC to unprecedented heights. Liddell’s extensive backgrounds in Kickboxing, Karate, and Wrestling paved the way for his success. Chuck had the killer combination of exceptional takedown defense, with ferocious knockout power & killer instinct. For 3 years, from 2004 to 2007, he was the UFC’s franchise player, and regarded as the best MMA fighter in the organization. The Iceman defended the Light Heavyweight title 4 times. Throught his 12 year career, Chuck Liddell has defeated the likes of Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons, Kevin Randleman, Guy Mezger, Murilo Bustamante, Vitor Belfort, Renato Sobral twice, Alistair Overeem, Tito Ortiz twice, Randy Couture twice, Jeremy Horn, and Wanderlei Silva. The Iceman became a UFC Hall of Famer in 2009, before he retired. Now even though Liddell got finished by Rampage twice, and never managed to avenge his losses to Rampage, Liddell belongs much higher than Rampage on the list. Rampage was a decade younger, and just a bad stylistic match-up for Chuck. Moreover, Chuck underestimated him going into the first fight, and Chuck was honestly getting old when the second fight came around. However, I feel like there are fighters that prime Liddell would beat, that Rampage would lose to. Chuck actually has an argument to be at the No. 2 Spot on this ranking, but I have him at the No. 3 Spot for several reasons, which will be explained in the next entry.
#2 – Wanderlei Silva: Nicknamed “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva was untouchable at his peak, during his time in Pride FC. Arguably the most intimidating & violent fighter in MMA history, Silva’s game-plan consisted of lethal punches, ferocious kicks, and deadly knees. He held the Pride FC 205-pound title from 2001-2007. Silva holds 4 records in Pride FC’s history. The most wins, with 22, the most finishes, with 16, the most title defenses, with 4, and the longest unbeaten streak, going 20 fights without being defeated. During his 22 years as an active fighter, Silva annihilated the likes of Guy Mezger, Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba three times, Hidehiko Yoshida twice, Rampage Jackson twice, Yuki Kondo, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Ricardo Arona, Kazuyuki Fujita, and Brian Stann. Now there are a bunch of reasons why I have Wanderlei at the No. 2 Spot on the list over Chuck. When they both finally faced off in the UFC, they were both out of prime, both on 2 fight losing skids, but Wanderlei was significantly more compromised than Chuck. While Chuck was 6 years older and in his late 30’s, Wanderlei had 41 fights before facing Chuck, many of them being wars, while Chuck had 25 fights, with not nearly as many wars. Age is definitely an important factor when looking at a fighter’s physical prime, but the amount of fights & wars a fighter has is even more important to factor in. Usually fighter’s careers peak from their late 20’s-mid 30’s, but not always. For example, fighters who dominat from their early 20’s, are no longer at their peak, by the time they are in their early 30’s. There is only so much time a fighter can be at the top of his game, and that is why Wanderlei Silva is the second-greatest Light Heavyweight in MMA history.
#1– Jon Jones: Come on, you know who was going to be at the very top of the list. There is only one guy, and his name is Jon Jones. There is absolutely no debate to who the greatest Light Heavyweight of all time is. Jones fights strikers on the feet, wrestlers in the clinch, and grapplers on the ground. Jones beats people at their own game period. Jones is a two-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, with 8 defenses in his first reign, and 3 defenses in his second reign. Becoming the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion at the age of 23, Jones is the youngest champion in UFC history. From 2011 to earlier this year, Jones dominated the 205-pound division, which is insane to think about. During much of his championship reign, Jones was been widely considered to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Throughout his 12 year career, Jon Jones’ list of victims include Stephan Bonnar, Ryan Bader, Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Alexander Gustaffson twice, Glover Teixeira, and Daniel Cormier. Yeah, I don’t think any more needs to be said.
In episode 5 of the Fight Sport Focus podcast, hosts Jeffery Hoffmann and Nicholas Sherlock are joined by “Thug Passion” Brandon Hebert to discuss UFC Fight Night: Covington vs. Woodley. Tune in and give it a listen!
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