Who is the greatest MMA fighter of all time?

Jason Tulio Roar Guru

By Jason Tulio, Jason Tulio is a Roar Guru


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    Mixed martial arts has certainly come a long way, hasn’t it?

    I still recall when the only way to catch UFC events in Australia was to hire out old VHS tapes and delayed DVDs at the local video store.

    Forget about live coverage – live results meant waiting until after the event was over to check them online in writing. A grainy video upload was a blessing at best.

    Since then the sport has exploded into the mainstream in Australia and across the globe.

    It was the fairy tale story of The Ultimate Fighter reality show that got MMA’s momentum going.

    Heck, the U.S. based UFC has even hosted events on our shores. Not bad for a young sport.

    And since it is such a young sport, the question of which fighter is the greatest of all time (GOAT for short) oftentimes amounts to little more than a heated pub argument.

    Sure, we could trace it back to the Ancient Olympics and the Gracie challenge fights but we’re really only talking about the last 30 years since the first UFC event took place.

    Besides, there are different weight divisions and “pound-for-pound” is subjective.

    Still, it’s fun to argue.

    So who is the GOAT?

    For me, it’s the guy who dominated his division undefeated for nearly a decade – his only “loss” prior to that was via a cut from an illegal elbow.

    The guy who trained diligently outside of the media spotlight in the cold Russian countryside. The guy whose blank expression in the ring and quiet persona outside of it made you wonder if he was a science experiment.

    The guy that never stepped foot in a UFC cage.

    I am of course talking about Fedor Emelianenko. “The Last Emperor” dominated the heavyweight division in a time when many of the best fighters were plying their trade in Japan under the auspices of the PRIDE promotion.

    Fedor was widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter of his era, beating the best heavyweights the sport had to offer.

    He proved that looks can be deceiving. At a mere 6-foot and a doughy 230lbs, he hardly seemed like the best hand-to-hand combatant on the planet. And yet he beat a lot of larger, well-built fighters.

    His style was odd yet effective: he mixed a strong judo and sambo background with a striking style that consisted mostly of wide hooks and a few kicks.

    He didn’t throw straight punches often and didn’t train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Yet he out-struck Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and beat Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera while sitting in the latter’s guard.

    He wasn’t great at any one facet of the sport – he was simply very good at all of them. It was this threat of versatility that kept opponents guessing and allowed him to beat them at their own game.

    While it’s easy to say that Fedor’s competition hasn’t/wouldn’t fare well in today’s heavyweight climate because of the sport’s continued evolution, this isn’t exactly a fair comparison.

    To analyse an athlete’s legacy, you have to consider what they accomplished in their era with the competition available to them. In this regard, Fedor excels. In all, he defeated 5 UFC champions and 3 PRIDE champions.

    Another factor to consider is how they fared when faced with adversity, for it is during these times that their true mettle is shown.

    Fedor was on wobbly legs courtesy of a Kazuyuki Fujita right hand and was dropped on his head by a mid-air suplex from Kevin Randleman.

    When all seemed lost, Fedor came back in both instances to submit his opponent.

    Quiet and soft-spoken, Fedor inadvertently created a mystique that surrounded him his entire career.

    He trained in snowy Russia away from cameras with low-tech equipment that would have made Rocky Balboa proud. He walked into fights with the same blank look you have when you get a haircut.

    It often seemed like he simply appeared for fights, beat his opponent and was gone again.

    His difficult and eventual failed negotiations with the UFC and later losses will count against his legacy.

    Many say that he avoided the best competition by not moving to the UFC and that the losses proved he was overrated.

    I would argue that it’s hard to judge someone on they-should-have’s and what-could-have-been’s.

    Again, all we have to base it on is what they did against whom. As for the losses, even the best have their falls from grace. Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre aren’t undefeated, are they?

    Some may call it rose-tinted nostalgia, but I feel it may be a bit difficult for newer fans to appreciate the dominance and mystique that Fedor possessed in his prime or the true calibre of his opposition.

    I can understand, given that his best days were during the video rental era and that we’ve watched these fighters age and decline over the years.

    But until someone exceeds his accomplishments, Fedor Emelianenko will always get my vote as the greatest MMA fighter of all time.

    Argue away.

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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • March 17th 2013 @ 8:46am
      Jon said | March 17th 2013 @ 8:46am | ! Report

      I’d have to say The Spider is the best. Anderson Silva cleaned out everyone in his division.

      • March 17th 2013 @ 11:04am
        nickoldschool said | March 17th 2013 @ 11:04am | ! Report

        Agree. I actually have him slightly ahead of GSP that’s why a super fight will settle the score.

        I like Fedor but I think he had quite a few ‘easy’ fights in his career. Pride was nowhere as consistent as the UFC and the heavywieght division isnt the strongest one either. Great fighter nonetheless.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 17th 2013 @ 3:18pm
      Stumpy said | March 17th 2013 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

      Anderson is exceptional I wouldn’t argue against him

      Nor the domination of Fedor Emelianenko he is a freak.

      But for me it’s Kazushi Sakuraba he changed the way people thought about MMA he was creative, brave and pure entertainment.

      At his best he was mercury and could find a way to beat even the seemingly unbeatable, he would fight at whatever weight he was asked to make or any rule set (this cost him dearly with injury) and he was the destroyer of the Gracies. To the extent the Royce took steroids in an attempt to beat him.

      Sakuraba may not be the first name that springs to peoples minds but he defines the excitement, bravery and brilliance of MMA for me

      • Roar Guru

        March 17th 2013 @ 5:31pm
        Jason Tulio said | March 17th 2013 @ 5:31pm | ! Report

        I agree on most points about the Gracie killer. He is definitely a living legend of the sport and deserves every bit of praise for changing the game during the dark ages. He was as brave as they come – what other natural welter/middleweight would take on a prime Wanderlei Silva? Like Fedor, he also beat a lot of bigger guys and had his own mystique to boot.

        • Roar Guru

          March 17th 2013 @ 11:45pm
          Max Kenney-Herbert said | March 17th 2013 @ 11:45pm | ! Report

          have to argue fedor over anderson, anderson has not fought the same calibre of guys, he has the leites win, cote win to name two that are hardly overly impressive. fedor simply didnt leave on top he had those fights against werdum, hendo, (hardly that bad a guy to lose too, Makes a top 5 GOAT list for me every time) and Bigfoot. had he gone out on top he most certainly would have been the greatest hands down.

    • March 18th 2013 @ 10:14am
      MMADoggzofwar said | March 18th 2013 @ 10:14am | ! Report

      To this point in MMA history IMO Fedor. Yes he fought some fighters people would argue really didnt belong but the sport was in its infancy really, the UFC were getting a really bad rap from officials stateside at the time and Japan was a hotbed for all sports combat. Pancrase, K1, shooto etc and pockets of fighting all over the world cage rage/ rumble on the rock/BODOG/RINGS etc Fedor came out of that and fought considerably bigger, taller stronger and skilled fighters nearly every time. He was able to compete whether the fight was standup or went to the ground and yet remained very competitive. PRIDE as a fight fan for a 10 year period was the place to watch and had it not encountered financial difficulties and UFC never discovered “TUF” I suspect would still have been a major players in the MMA world. UFC fans nowadays really dont appreciate the foundations guys like Fedor, Sakuraba, The Gracies laid down and t times mix the notion of MMA as “UFC”. eg you fight MMA? asking boxer if he fights WBA/WBC?
      Fedor always fought waht he had in front of him and at times it was Hong Man Choi and Zulu, but most of the time it was quality, CroCop, Nogeira,Coleman,Randleman,Hunt etc like Maxikh mentioned not walkovers in the least.
      Greatest impact ad figther up til now Fedor. In the future, SIlva/GSP/Jon Jones? who knows

      • Roar Guru

        March 18th 2013 @ 1:54pm
        Jason Tulio said | March 18th 2013 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

        Some grea points there mate. I agree that the TUF generation would be hard-pressed to appreciate the fighters of the past, especially one that never fought in the UFC B

      • Roar Guru

        March 19th 2013 @ 12:56am
        Max Kenney-Herbert said | March 19th 2013 @ 12:56am | ! Report

        agree enitrely, whilst the UFC monopoly has provided us with some great fights it has brought so many people who truly dont resect the history of the sport, I am a young guy who first saw MMA through the UFC but I have since gone back and viewed as much PRIDE, K1 eg bj vs machida haha and even Dream stuff, I love the sport and it gets to me that so many people stay think its called UFC, i really hope World series of fighting, bellator and BAMMA etc can make something bigger to really compete with the UFC so that people realise that whilst anderson silva is a great fighter he is not the be all and end all of the sport. I really think Jon jones could be the greatest if he keeps finishing the calibre of people he has so far

        • Roar Guru

          March 19th 2013 @ 4:59am
          Jason Tulio said | March 19th 2013 @ 4:59am | ! Report

          I think some competition for the UFC again would be good, though I think this won’t happen for quite some time. The closest thing we’ve had since PRIDE was Strikeforce, and Zuffa bought out both of them. Monopoly indeed!

    • Roar Guru

      March 18th 2013 @ 12:20pm
      Mantis said | March 18th 2013 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

      Randy Couture, the peoples champ

      • March 18th 2013 @ 2:23pm
        MMADoggzofwar said | March 18th 2013 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

        your not wrong Mantis, RC is up there and for a little period of time, the super fight that was being touted was Fedor v RC, but it never eventuated, even forcing RC to opt out of contract with the UFC (p****d DW off to no end! LoL) so he could pursue it and could have happened but it didnt…

    • Roar Pro

      March 18th 2013 @ 2:29pm
      JazzyJase said | March 18th 2013 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

      MMA has so many athletes / fighters burst onto the scene and at the time you think that person is never going to be defeated.

      You’ve alluded to this with your GSP and Anderson Silva records.

      The nature of the sport is that a fighter is only one short right hand or choke hold away from tasting defeat.

      There has been relatively minimal “dynasties” in the sport today where someone dominates a division (s)

      I don’t envy you for trying to determine the GOAT. I don’t disagree with your nomination also, it is a subjective choice.

      I like the way GSP goes about his business though, he’d get my nod.

      • Roar Guru

        March 18th 2013 @ 4:36pm
        Jason Tulio said | March 18th 2013 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

        Cheers mate. It is a subjective thing to decide. I do think a lot of it comes down to who was dominant during “your day” so to speak – I’ve always been a big fan of Fedor because he was dominant when I was a teenager.

    • March 19th 2013 @ 2:25am
      The TMF said | March 19th 2013 @ 2:25am | ! Report

      The Roar is a sports blog guys.

      • Roar Guru

        March 19th 2013 @ 3:21am
        Max Kenney-Herbert said | March 19th 2013 @ 3:21am | ! Report

        trolling mate? good to see you’re up to date with what the roar’s mission statement is

        • March 19th 2013 @ 2:39pm
          The TMF said | March 19th 2013 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

          If you want to provide a link to the roar’s mission statement for me that would be great.

          Trolling would be if i went looking to bait someone into an arguement. I can guarantee not many people would be looking for and no one should be looking for entertainment opinions on this website. I was stunned to see it on here and had a look to make sure MMA wasn’t something else.

          • March 19th 2013 @ 2:47pm
            MMADoggzofwar said | March 19th 2013 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

            And that’s more than I’ve ever even said to my own parents, so there you go…

            Wht did you think MMA was? DODGEY MUCH?

            • March 19th 2013 @ 3:13pm
              The TMF said | March 19th 2013 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

              Sorry to hear that man… you should talk to your parents more.

              MMA is known as an acronym for the entertainment franchise, so when i saw it i was a little startled. I then went into the article to make sure i wasn’t mistaking it for something else. Given MMA in the title as an acronym isn’t completely clear and this being a sports blog site it was not an obvious assumption. With so many boxing federations these days who the hell knows what it could of stood for….

              I am remembering the first episode of “The Games” now with John Clarke trying to figure out what what the IBBF was and coming up with “The Institute for Women’s Polevaulting Accreditation” as an answer to what is the IWPA.

              • March 19th 2013 @ 3:31pm
                MMADoggzofwar said | March 19th 2013 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

                LoL@ TMF..the line is from “almost famous” and alludes to your reference about “entertainment opinions”
                I remember a young John Clarke with shoulder length hair, wearing a black singlet, rugby shorts and gumboots back in NZ early 70s…
                misunderstanding cleared! MMA LIVES!

              • March 19th 2013 @ 11:57pm
                The TMF said | March 19th 2013 @ 11:57pm | ! Report

                ha…while i know the quote I can’t connect it to entertainment opinions in the movie.

                Fred Dagg was a decent character, but I don’t think Clarke had really honed his talents by those days. Maybe it’s just that Dawe as the straight guy made Clarke that bit edgier.

      • March 19th 2013 @ 8:03am
        MMADoggzofwar said | March 19th 2013 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        (?) LoL@ Max!