After ranking the best fighters in all men’s divisions in MMA history, the experts at CBS Sports sat down to tackle the difficult task of ranking the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in history. It’s been a hot topic lately with Conor McGregor — who made our list — making allegations on Twitter that he is the sport’s all-time leading scorer.
After discussion and voting, the top three fighters were separated by the smallest possible margin. But it was Jon Jones who emerged as CBS Sports’ pick for MMA’s all-time GOAT, while McGregor came in at No. 9 on the list. MMA remains a young sport and there are some potential all-time greats active in the game right now, meaning this list could be very different in five years.
Again, this is based on resume and overall ability displayed inside the Octagon.
The polls are in and you can see the rankings as voted by Brent Brookhouse, Brian Campbell, Brandon Wise and Jack Crosby below.
Be sure to check out our previous rankings for bandambarodown, light, medium weight, medium weightlight and heavy weight.
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10. Matt Hughes: The last place in the ranking was competitive with many worthy contenders. In the last of Hughes’ nine fights in 2001 (yes, nine fights in 12 months), he returned to the UFC to knock out Carlos Newton with a slam to win his first UFC welterweight title. Between his two runs as welterweight champion, Hughes had seven successful title defenses. In his most dominant years, Hughes beat Newton (twice), Sean Sherk, Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn and Matt Serra — all men who at one point held UFC gold. This is a stellar – and often overlooked – resume.
9. Conor McGregor: Although McGregor didn’t make the top five on CBS Sports’ list, there’s no denying that he’s one of the greats. McGregor is a world superstar not just because of his ability and willingness to promote himself, but because he is a dynamic, dangerous fighter. His run to the featherweight championship was one of the most impressive runs in UFC history, culminating in a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo. Adding the lightweight title by knocking out Eddie Alvarez gave him the distinction of being the first fighter to simultaneously hold championships in two weight classes. If McGregor’s resume has a weakness compared to others on the list, it’s a lack of championship legacy. While he won the featherweight and lightweight titles, he made no defenses in either championship.
8. Daniel Cormier: Cormier followed McGregor’s streak of holding two championships simultaneously, in his case at light and heavyweight. Cormier has knocked off top fighters in both divisions in Strikeforce and UFC, defending the lightweight title three times and the heavyweight belt once. Cormier was never able to truly establish himself as the world’s top light heavyweight, however, losing to Jon Jones twice — though one was eventually ruled a no-contest after Jones failed a drug test — and his title reign his was a product of Jones’ failures more than anything else. Cormier dropped the last two fights of his trilogy with Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight crown, but his DC resume still stands the test of time for his many accomplishments.
7. Jose Aldo: The Brazilian won 18 consecutive fights from 2006 to 2014. During that time, he established himself as the best featherweight ever. He won the WEC featherweight championship with a TKO of Mike Thomas Brown and defended the belt twice before becoming UFC champion when the division was absorbed by the promotion. He made seven more title defenses before meeting McGregor in 2014. He would lose more fights in the years to come, though only against Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovsky — a pair of champions. A drop down to the bantamweight division last December led to a controversial decision loss to Marlon Moraes, and now Aldo looks set to face Petr Yan for the now-vacant bantamweight title. A late-career title win in a new division would add a new dimension to Aldo’s resume.
6. Khabib Nurmagomedov: Nurmagomedov was perfect as a pro. With a 29-0 record and nearly every win a dominant performance, it’s hard to find much to complain about with “The Eagle’s” resume. If there’s a downside, it’s the lack of a win statement. Nurmagomedov’s wins over McGregor, Rafael dos Anjos, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje are all good to borderline great, but he lacks a marquee performance. That Nurmagomedov won the vacant belt with a win over Al Iaquinta doesn’t help his overall legacy. If Nurmagomedov’s scheduled fight with Tony Ferguson hadn’t fallen through five times, he would have had a second signature win to go along with McGregor’s thrashing.
5. Demetrius Johnson: Since dropping down to flyweight, Johnson has compiled a 16-1-1 record. For much of that time, Johnson was considered the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. After becoming the inaugural UFC flyweight champion, Johnson successfully defended the title 11 times. While competing with the best in the division, Johnson displayed unparalleled creativity in the Octagon. The fact that he was never a big draw made it easy for the UFC to part ways with “Mighty Mouse” after he lost a controversial split decision to Henry Cejudo. But Johnson continued to demonstrate his dominance of the ONE Championship, winning the flyweight grand prix tournament.
4. Fedor Emelianenko: During PRIDE’s heyday, Emelianenko was an unstoppable force in the heavyweight division. The Russian won 27 consecutive fights from 2001 to 2009, winning the PRIDE heavyweight title, dominating some of the best in the world — including a stunning rivalry with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and a huge victory over Mirko Cro Cop. His aura of unbeatenness was finally shattered by Fabricio Werdum in 2010. PRIDE’s method of matchmaking and footwork in the UFC Octagon has tarnished Emelianenko’s legacy for many, but it should not be disputed that his incredible run in the game’s most dangerous division made him ranked as one of the best to ever do it in the sport.
3. Georges St-Pierre: GSP is the greatest welterweight of all time, having won the UFC welterweight title twice and making nine successful title defenses. He only lost to two men in his career, Hughes and Serra, and made clear statements in rematches that he was the better man. His run saw him beat a killer string of contenders and show very few moments of weakness before retiring at the top of the fight following a brutal — and controversial — victory over Johny Hendricks. But returning to action after four years out of the sport to beat Michael Bisping to win the middleweight championship added something more to his all-time status.
2. Anderson Silva: A 17-fight winning streak and 10 successful title defenses give Silva the kind of resume shared by every man at the top of this list. Silva was a force of nature, seemingly playing a striking game that was light years ahead of the men he faced, no matter how talented the opponent. Silva also dipped into the lightweight division three times during his prime, knocking out James Irvin, Forrest Griffin and Stefan Bonnar. Silva also didn’t just beat men, he destroyed them while seemingly doing whatever he wanted from bell to bell. The end of his prime came hard and fast, but for years, Silva was the best fighter in the world.
1. John Jones: Jones cemented himself at the top of that list by challenging for the heavyweight crown against Cyril Gane. The ease with which he grabbed the submission and looked like a natural in the division confirmed all beliefs that he could truly dominate the land of the giants. Despite having his titles stripped and title wins overturned due to legal issues and failed drug tests, Jones’ prowess in the cage is still unmatched. Beyond his top-shelf wrestling or powerful striking, Jones is capable of making calculations and in-fight adjustments better than anyone in the sport. His place on the list also benefits from the fact that he didn’t see his prime end the way late-career losses to a Silva or Fedor have colored things. But, even if he never wins another fight, Jones has proven himself to be the best MMA has ever seen.