In the crazy world of mixed martial marts, fans and observers alike often engage in never-ending discussions, and chief among them is the GOAT debate, especially in the UFC.
When it comes to identifying the greatest fighter of all time, fans are unlikely to agree upon a common candidate, but perhaps we can, at the very least, recognize the greatest in each weight class.
So what is a UFC GOAT? Who is the ultimate greatest fighter in the organization’s history? And who is the best all-time fighter in every division?
We’ll attempt to answer all of the questions as objectively as possible.
What is a UFC “GOAT”?
The GOAT is an acronym that means “The greatest of all-time”. This term is common in almost every major sport, including MMA.
Since comparing athletes who were active in different eras isn’t a simple task, fans and pundits rarely agree on a single name, with every generation biased towards its own heroes.
In football, the GOAT debate usually includes late icons Pelé and Diego Armando Maradona, as well as modern-day legends Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. In basketball, the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird and LeBron James are all in the discussion.
So how about mixed martial arts, and more particularly, the UFC?
Who is the Greatest UFC Fighter of All-Time?
Although determining the greatest UFC fighter of all-time (aka GOAT) remains both complicated and disputed, the most universally accepted candidates are Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Georges St-Pierre and Demetrious Johnson.
Since none of the fighters mentioned above had ever shared the octagon with another member on the list, the debate remains unsettled. Furthermore, not even a fight between the GOAT contenders would put the matter to rest, as every one of them resided in a different weight class during his heyday, so size advantage would have played in favor of the bigger fighter.
So perhaps identifying the GOAT in each division would be a significantly simpler task.
The GOAT in Every UFC Division
In this section we’ll try to recognize the GOAT in every UFC weight class, beginning with the heavyweight division, all the way to the women’s strawweight division.
UFC Heavyweight GOAT
Due to the chaotic nature of the heavyweight division, not a single fighter has ever managed to defend his belt four times in a row. But with three separate title reigns combining for more than a thousand days on top of the division, Randy Couture is our pick.
“The Natural” was a relatively small heavyweight who had also found great success at light heavyweight, but still enjoyed defying the odds amongst the big boys.
It’s worth mentioning that Fedor Emelianenko is widely considered to be the greatest heavyweight of all time in MMA, but he never stepped foot inside the UFC’s Octagon.
Other viable contenders include Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou who left the organization while at the height of his power.
UFC Light Heavyweight GOAT
Despite all the controversy that marred his career, Jon Jones is without a shred of doubt the greatest light heavyweight in UFC history.
At the age of 23, the American became the youngest fighter to win UFC gold, and he went on to defend his belt on eight occasions against some of the biggest legends of the sport, the likes of Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort and Daniel Cormier.
UFC Middleweight GOAT
Anderson Silva is undoubtedly the UFC middleweight GOAT. With all due respect to the other great champions who either preceded or succeeded “The Spider”, he remains the ultimate face of the division.
During his prime, the Brazilian knockout-master was simply untouchable, cleaning the division with ten straight successful title defenses.
UFC Welterweight GOAT
In what is another easy pick, Georges St-Pierre is ultimate GOAT in the UFC welterweight division. In total, the Canadian icon reigned for 2,204 days on top of the weight class, cementing himself as possibly the greatest fighter in the sport.
GSP won the title on two occasions and defended it nine times before deciding to take a break from the sport. He eventually returned three years later to snatch the middleweight belt from Michael Bisping and before disappearing once again.
UFC Lightweight GOAT
Despite his relatively early retirement, Khabib Nurmagomedov had already accomplished enough to cement himself as the lightweight GOAT. The Russian steamrolled past every opponent during his 13-fight run with the company, with no other fighter proving to be a match for the dominant “Eagle”.
UFC Featherweight GOAT
This is probably a toin-coss between José Aldo and Alexander Volkanovski, but we’ll consider the Australian as the featherweight GOAT since he prevailed in the direct bout – although the Brazilian was past his prime at the time.
For one reason or another, “The Great” had often been overlooked during his first years with the company, but he eventually earned a title shot on the back of a seven-fight winning streak and made the most out of it.
UFC Bantamweight GOAT
Although the bantamweight scene has been in constant change, Dominick Cruz should arguably get the nod as the division’s GOAT. The American was the original champion in this weight class, and could have reached further heights if it wasn’t for his recurring injury woes.
UFC Flyweight GOAT
As the record holder for the most title defenses, Demetrious Johnson is undoubtedly the UFC flyweight GOAT. At his peak, “Might Mouse” was so dominant that entered the discussion for the greatest fighter of all-time.
UFC Women Featherweight GOAT
In the organization’s least active division, Amanda Nunes did enough to warrant the title of the UFC Women’s featherweight GOAT despite her part-time appearances in this weight class. “The Lioness” knocked out Cris Cyborg to become a double-division champion.
UFC Women Bantamweight GOAT
Amanda Nunes is also our pick for the UFC Women’s bantamweight division. While Ronda Rousey has a legitimate claim, the submission specialist was never able to recover from his maiden defeat at the hands of Holly Holm, which ultimately led to her early retirement.
On the other hand, the Brazilian bounced back after losing the belt to Juliana Pena by winning the rematch and ushering in a second title reign.
UFC Women Flyweight GOAT
Valentina Shevchenko is certainly the greatest UFC Women’s flyweight champion of all time. Between 2018 and 2022, she wiped out the competition by successfully defending her belt on seven occasions.
UFC Women Strawweight GOAT
This one might be a little tricky, but Joanna Jędrzejczyk is our pick for the UFC Women’s strawweight GOAT.
Although Carla Esparza, Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili had all won the title on two occasions, the Polish fighter was the only one – at least thus far – to enjoy a long and prosperous title reign, defending her belt on five occasions.
UFC GOAT List
In this section, we’ll reveal our own UFC GOAT list. While we do realize that rankings will inevitably be subjective, as we’re talking about fighters from different weight classes and various eras, we’ll try out best to adopt objective standards.
With 15 title-fight wins and three title reigns between the light heavyweight and heavyweight division, Jon Jones is our pick for the ultimate UFC GOAT.
|Light Heavyweight, Heavyweight
|2011-2015, 2020, 2023-present
|2006-2007, 2008-2013, 2017
|Middleweight, Light heavyweight
|2016-2021, 2018-present, 2022-present
|Light Heavyweight, Heavyweight
|1997, 2000-2002, 2003, 2004-2005, 2007-2008