1. Chuck Liddell – Chuck Liddell became the face of MMA and the UFC in this decade. He has been at the center of launching mixed martial arts into a more mainstream position. He gets the number one spot because of his dominant time as the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion combined with his popularity outside the octagon. Chuck consistently fought tough competition and notched wins over legends like Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva. A 17-6 record this decade was good enough for the fighter of the decade title.
2. Fedor Emelianenko – Fedor had an amazing 31-1 record this decade. Some may question him not being the number one guy. I did not put him at number one because he has not consistently fought the top guys. With that said the Russian heavyweight has wins over guys like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, and Mark Coleman. It is hard to argue Fedor’s legendary status as the greatest heavyweight of all time. However, a close second will have to do for the “Last Emperor”.
3. Matt Hughes – It is hard to deny Matt Hughes longtime dominance of the UFC welterweight division. Hughes is now in the twilight of a hall of fame career. However, who can forget his fights with the likes of Hayato Sakurai, Carlos Newton, Frank Trigg, Matt Serra, Georges St. Pierre, and Royce Gracie? Combined he amassed a 30-7 record this decade. Making him one of the most active fighters of the decade. Hughes fought some tough guys and was dominant. He deserves this spot, in fact some may make a case for Hughes as the fighter of this decade.
4. Mirko Cro Cop – Newer MMA fans may have a hard time picturing Mirko Cro Cop as the most feared fighter in the sport, however that is the title he held for many years in PRIDE. A 25-7-2 decade record is impressive, but still fails to tell the story. Cro Cop perhaps had more highlight reel knockouts than any other fighters and his head kicks were deadly. Perhaps the sun has set on this career as well, but he is a legend of legends in the sport.
5. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has had an amazing career. He may be one of the most well-respected mixed martial artists in the world. He had a 28-5-1 record in the decade and earned himself heavyweight titles in both PRIDE and UFC. His record, his big wins, his legendary status, and his status as the best heavyweight jiu jitsu practitioner earn him the number 5 spot.
6. Randy Couture – His record is not as impressive as one would imagine (13-8 this decade), however his accomplishments are great. He wore the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles, he has notched big victories over big named fighters and at 46-years old he is still going. His shining moment had to be when he came out of retirement to defeat Tim Sylvia and to capture the UFC Heavyweight title. Randy gets this high ranking not only for his performance in the cage, but for being the most beloved MMA fighter.
7. Anderson Silva – Anderson may currently be the pound for pound best fighter in the world. His 25-4 record is impressive, but his continued improvement is even more impressive. I do not know if I have ever seen a fighter dominate like Silva. It looks like he has capped of this decade with a convincing win over Forrest Griffin in August. The UFC middleweight champion will end up being one of the best ever in the sport.
8. Miguel Torres –Maybe there are bigger names ranked lower than Torres this decade, but I give him this ranking for 2 reasons primarily. First, he is 37-2 this decade. That is incredible. The sheer number of fights he has had is staggering, but he has been dominant. Second, he single handedly made the lighter weight fighters such as the bantamweights (135 lbs.) relevant in the world of MMA. Plus, you gotta fear the mullet.
9. Georges St. Pierre – His stock is still on the rise. He is currently the champion of one of the deepest divisions in MMA. He is immensely popular, especially in his native Canada. He is a driving force of MMA becoming more popular as he signs endorsement deals with major companies. He is dominant inside the cage. He is a class act. He is what the sport needs. He is the best athlete in mixed martial arts currently and he is still improving. When all is said and done GSP may very well be viewed as the best ever.
10. B.J. Penn – Penn has held titles in two weight classes in the UFC. He went over to Japan and beat their lightweight king, Takanori Gomi. He is widely viewed as the greatest lightweight fighter ever. The scary thing is that he looks better now than ever.
11. Wanderlei Silva – Wanderlei Silva is a terrifying dude to fight. He is aggressive and exciting. The Axe Murder is a true legend as well. The former PRIDE champion dominated Japan for years and is now gaining a following in the U.S. His career may be winding down, but true fans cannot forget his performances throughout the decade.
12. Lyoto Machida – A relative unknown until recently, Machida quietly amassed a great record of 16-0. Now he owns wins over guys like Tito Ortiz, Rich Franklin, Shogun Rua, Rashad Evans and even B.J. Penn. Many believe that Machida can become a dominant champion. His unique style and karate base have endeared him to the fans. Machida is a real person to watch out for in the next few years.
13. Kid Yamamoto Many in the U.S. do not know of Kid Yamamoto, but the truth is that he is a dominant featherweight fighter. The one thing that hurt his status is that a fight between he and Urijah Faber never came to fruition. Nevertheless, Kid is a star in Japan and a pioneer in the lighter weight classes.
14. Dan Henderson – The former Olympian has made quite a career in mixed martial arts. Henderson is a 2 division PRIDE champion. He boasts big wins throughout his career including wins over Wanderlei Silva, Renzo Gracie and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He has really led the way with his ground and pound and greco-roman wrestling skills. In his late 30’s Hendo is still looking for big fights.
15. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua – Shogun burst onto the scene in PRIDE in Japan and became widely viewed as the best light heavyweight in the world. He lsot some momentum with some injuries and a loss to Forrest Griffin. However, Rua closed the decade with a KO win over Chuck Liddell and close decision loss to Lyoto Machida. Shogun has cemented his spot among the decades best.
16. Tito Ortiz – I do not believe Tito has had as good of a decade as Tito would tell you. However, he was light heavyweight champion in the UFC. He does have big wins over Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Evan Tanner, Ken Shamrock and Forrest Griffin. However, Tito will be remembered this decade for his feud with Dana White. Despite mixed feelings about Ortiz no one can deny his skill or popularity. A stint as a coach on the eleventh season of the Ultimate Fighter may boost that popularity and name recognition even more. Ortiz will look to have a a few more good years in the decade to come.
17. Urijah Faber – Urijah was a dominant champion in the WEC’s featherweight division before losing his belt to Mike Brown. Faber’s exciting and creative fighting style makes him a fan favorite. If you add that he went 22-3 this decade it gives a reason for him being on this list and in great company.
18. Takanori Gomi – Gomi’s collapse since the fall of PRIDE has hurt him, however for a long time he was one of the best lightweights in the world. The problem with Gomi is that he did not seem to be able to beat the UFC guys like Nick Diaz or B.J. Penn. However, Gomi is one of the more popular fighters in Japan and for a long time this decade was the guy at 155 lbs.
19. Rich Franklin – Perhaps his career has gone slightly under the radar. The former UFC middleweight champion has had a stellar career. He holds notable wins over Evan Tanner, Wanderlei Silva, Ken Shamrock, and Yushin Okami. The problem for Franklin is he can’t get past Anderson Silva. Franklin is well-liked by the fans and he is always a warrior in the octagon. He has had a stellar run this decade with a 25-5 record.
20. Vitor Belfort – The Phenom will take our last spot on top 20 fighters of the decade. His resurgence of late has moved him into the list. Vitor seemed to be on top of the world prior to a tragedy involving his sister going missing. That messed up his head. Vitor seems to be back and will challenge Anderson Silva for the middleweight title. His lightning quick hands and amazing power make him a force.
21. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson – Rampage has been a solid fighter throughout the decade. He was a real force at PRIDE, though he never beat the best of PRIDE. He came to the UFC and became the champion. He earned big wins over guys like Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva who have all had better decades than Jackson. A razor close decision loss to Forrest Griffin saw him lose his light heavyweight title. Two stints as an Ultimate Fighter coach, a role as Mr. T, and a road rampage incident that led to his arrest have all made him big news in the past few years. A showdown with Rashad Evans in necessary.
22. Kazuo Misaki – Misaki is a former PRIDE champion and the 2006 PRIDE Grand Prix champion. Many may argue for Misaki being ranked higher, but looking at his fight record he struggled against elite competition. He could never get past big names guys and has career losses to guys like Chris Lytle, Nate Marquardt, Ricardo Almeida, Dan Henderson, Paulo Filho, Frank Trigg, and Jorge Santiago. However, let us not undermine what Misaki was able to accomplish in the 2000’s. The Grabaka Hitman apparently has also made a career in the Japanese porn industry which led to a suspension from fighting at the tail end of 2009. Misaki may get one more fight in on New Year’s eve and a hope to end the decade on a winning note.
23. Forrest Griffin – Forrest is one of the most popular MMA fighters in the world. He makes this list for several reasons. First, he is a champion. He was the UFC light heavyweight champion. He holds huge career wins over Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua, and Tito Ortiz. Also, he was the Ultimate Fighter 1 champion. His fight with Stephan Bonnar at the finale is not just a huge fight in UFC history it was a huge fight in the sport’s history. Griffin’s popularity and his championship runs have earned him a spot on this list. However, inconsistency has caused him to be lower than some might expect. However, all in all a great decade for Forrest Griffin who has gone from police officer to star.
24. Hayato “Mach” Sakurai – Again, not the biggest name for America fans, but the former Shooto champion deserves some recognition. He may even be ranked higher on some lists, but much of his career dominance was in the latter part of the past decade and this is a list of the best fighters of THIS decade. Sakurai is still competitive with any fighter in the world today and had a good run as champion of Shooto.
25. Rashad Evans – I honestly think it may be unfair to rank Evans so slow, but the bottom line is that Evans did not debut until 2004 and really did not burst onto the scene until a few years later. The Ultimate Fighter 2 Heavyweight winner is not just a reality show alum, but he is a bona fide champion. He defeated Forrest Griffin in spectacular fashion to win the light heavyweight title. Since then Evans lost the title to Lyoto Machida. However, Evans still has a lot to prove and the next decade may even be better for him than this one. Evans has shown dramatic improvement since we first saw him. He started his career primarily as a wrestler, but now he is one of the most feared strikers in the business. A stint as coach on the most watched season of the Ultimate Fighter has gained him more recognition and popularity. Evans’ crowning moment had to be his highlight reel one-punch knockout of Chuck Liddell at UFC 88.
26. Tim Sylvia – Sylvia has his share of haters. Some call him overrated. Some call him one-dimensonal. All that may be true, but he was a long time UFC Heavyweight champion. He holds two career wins over Andrei Arlovski. Sylvia may have began the decade well, but he has closed it with a flop. Being submitted by Nogueira was bad, but hey it is Nogueira. A knockout loss to Fedor was bad, but nothing to be ashamed of. His career took a serious blow when he was knocked out by the much older former boxer Ray Mercer in 9 seconds. Sadly, that may be what mant will remember of Sylvia.
27. Andrei Arlovski – The Pitbull appeared to be one of the best in the world at one time. He was the UFC Heavyweight champion. I think Arlovski may have always been slightly overrated. He has struggled against top-ten fighters. He lost to Pedro Rizzo, Ricco Rodriguez, Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rogers, and twice to Tim Sylvia. However, a few solid wins he has on his ressume help put him on the list.
28. Kazushi Sakuraba – Sakuraba’s cult-like following will not like seeing him this low on this list, however let me defend my ranking. Some of his best says were is the last decade. His record this decade is 17-11. His biggest wins of the decade have been over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Ikuhisa Minowa, Ken Shamrock, Kevin Randleman, Renzo Gracie and Royce Gracie. While that list is impressive he has not beaten enough elite fighters to be higher on this list. His losses this decade have been to the likes of Igor Vovchanchyn, Wanderlei Silva (x3), Cro Cop, Rogerio Nogueira, Ricardo Arona, Royce Gracie, and Melvin Manhoef. A fantastic career for Sakuraba, but not any highter than he is ranked. With that said it does not undermine his solid decade.
29. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – Somewhat in his twin brother’s shadow, little Nog has himself put together a solid MMA career and a solid decade of fighting. A decade 18-3 record is impressive. His holds wins over Alistair Overeem (x2), Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kazuhiro Nakamura (x2), Vladimir Matyushenko and Luis Cane. A very good career for Nogueira with more to come as he makes a run at the UFC Light Heavyweight title in 2010.
30. Shinya Aoki – Aoki could really climb this list quickly. He would be higher, however he did not make his MMA debut until 2003 and really did not burst onto the scene until recently. Aoki has cemented a spot as the world’s number 2 lightweight. The DREAM lightweight champion has bested well-known fighters like Joachim Hansen, Eddie Alvares, Vitor Ribeiro, JZ Cavalcante, and Caol Uno. Aoki is still young and may be a guy to watch as a top ten fighter of the next decade.