Join me as I take a look through ten years of mixed martial arts in this countdown of the top ten mixed martial artists of the 2000s.
10. Wanderlei Silva (22 Wins, 8 Losses, 1 Draw and 1 NC in the 2000s)
Wanderlei Silva was the PRIDE FC Middleweight Champion from 2001 to 2007, successfully defending his title four times in the process. That alone is a good enough reason as to why he belongs on this list, but it doesn’t stop there for “The Axe-Murderer”. Easily the craziest and most violent fighter in the sport (he has a tribal tattoo on the back of his head!), Wanderlei Silva was the king of PRIDE before Fedor arrived. Wanderlei is most known for his fights with Kazushi Sakuraba and Quinton Jackson in PRIDE FC, both of whom he dominated. The first time Silva saw defeat in the PRIDE Middleweight Division was two events prior to the folding of the company against Dan Henderson, a fight which Silva seemed to have the upper-hand. Wanderlei hopes to get back on track at UFC 110 against Michael Bisping.
9. Chuck Liddell (17 Wins, 6 Losses in the 2000s)
Chuck Liddell was one of the most controlling fighters UFC has ever seen. Chuck Liddell started off the decade with a seven-fight win streak, and continued his hot-streak into Japan when he fought in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix where he lost in the semi-finals to Quinton Jackson. He returned to the UFC and went on ANOTHER seven-fight win streak, all won by knockouts, defeating Randy Couture for his UFC Light-Heavyweight Title in the process. Since then, Liddell has been on a slump with only one win in his last five fights, but he hopes to make another impactful return next year when he goes up against Tito Ortiz.
8. Randy Couture (13 Wins and 8 Losses in the 2000s)
With a total of eight losses in the 2000s, it is arguable that “The Natural” should be number eight, but you have to take several factors into consideration. Randy Couture won the UFC Heavyweight Title twice this decade and successfully defended his title four times which can easily lead one to the assumption that he was the elite heavyweight in America. His first light-heavyweight stint showed how versatile he was as he won the UFC Light Heavyweight Title twice, becoming the first five-time champion and the first man in the UFC to hold two belts of two different weight classes. The three fight series with Chuck Liddell elevated MMA to a whole new level and factor in that he is 46 years old and still going, it just goes to show that he truly is one of MMA’s top warriors of the decade.
7. Matt Hughes (30 Wins and 6 Losses in the 2000s)
Before Georges St. Pierre made his UFC debut, Matt Hughes was the welterweight powerhouse. Hughes is as strong as any other guy in his division or the one above him; the way he would pick guys up and slam them down on the mat was downright scary. He uncrowned Carlos Newton as UFC Welterweight Champion back in November of 2001 and made his mark as the most controlling UFC fighter at the time. It wasn’t until “The Prodigy” BJ Penn moved up a weight class that Hughes saw a loss, but he came back with a six fight winning streak which included an avenged victory over an outclassed BJ Penn. Since then Hughes has fallen on hard times, but a win over Matt Serra at UFC 98 has reignited the fire in his eyes.
6. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (28 Wins, 5 Losses, 1 Draw and 1 NC in the 2000s)
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, hands-down, would be the most feared fighter in the world if it wasn’t for Fedor Emelianenko. Before Fedor, Nogueira tore through his competition despite being battered and broken— his resiliency is his best quality. During his reign as PRIDE FC Heavyweight Champion, he used his astonishing mastery of brazillian jiu-jitsu to submit his opponents. While in the UFC, he defeated heavyweight-hopeful Heath Herring and then UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Syliva to become the first fighter to hold belts in the UFC and PRIDE FC. Following a disappointing loss to Frank Mir, Nogueira returned in top-form against Randy Couture, winning by way of unanimous decision.
5. BJ Penn (15 Wins, 5 Losses and 1 Draw in the 2000s)
“The Prodigy”… Never before has a nickname been so fitting. Penn started his MMA career in the UFC by knocking out all competition set before him until he lost a UFC Lightweight Championship match to Jens Pulver by way of unanimous decision. The interesting thing about BJ Penn and his losses is that they were internal victories as well; Penn studied his losses, learned from them and returned better than ever. Though he ran into the proverbial roadblocks of Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre, he still won the UFC Welterweight Title and the UFC Lightweight Title become the second man in UFC history to hold two different titles in two different weight classes.
Penn is the reigning UFC Lightweight Champion and has finished every single fight in that division since he became champion. The only man who could possibly be seen as a challenge to Penn is “The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi, a man who BJ Penn already submitted back in 2003. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, BJ Penn is right where he should be: top lightweight fighter in the world.
4. Georges St. Pierre (19 Wins and 2 Losses in the 2000s)
The current UFC Welterweight Champion Georges “Rush” St. Pierre is the reason why many fans became loyal followers of the sport of mixed martial arts and made history when he became the first mixed martial artist to be sponsored by Gatorade and Under Armour. As incredible feats as they are for any competitor, those are not the reasons why GSP earned to be on this list. He walked into the UFC willing and ready to learn. He blasted through Karo Parisyan and Jay Hieron in impressive fashion to earn a shot for the vacant UFC Welterweight Title. He lost the bout to Matt Hughes by submission, and sought out to find the best wrestling coach he could find. He returned to the UFC and went on a five-fight winning streak, which led him to a rematch for Matt Hughes’ Welterweight Title. After winning it in dominant fashion, he lost it to Matt Serra after getting knocked out. He regained rights as Undisputed Welterweight Champion after defeating Matt Hughes for the interim-Welterweight Title and Matt Serra to unify the two belts— and he hasn’t lost since. GSP is the most complete fighter I’ve ever seen, and I doubt he will lose a fight, let alone a title, in a very long time.
3. Dan Henderson (19 Wins and 7 Losses in the 2000s)
As one of the most popular fighters to ever step into a ring or a cage, former olympian Dan Henderson earns bronze on this list. Henderson started 2000 off with two consecutive wins, leading him to debut in PRIDE Fighting Championship. While in PRIDE, Henderson won the PRIDE FC World Welterweight Title (defeated Murilo Bustamante) and PRIDE FC World Middleweight Title (defeated Wanderlei Silva) to become the first MMA fighter ever to hold two titles in two weight classes in a major MMA organization at the same time. His second UFC run was nothing to be ashamed of either as he defeated Rich Franklin and Michael Bisping. His recent signing with Strikeforce should lead to exciting middleweight and light-heavyweight bouts, but his rumored first fight may be against Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields for the title.
2. Fedor Emelianenko (31 Wins, 1 Loss and 1 NC in the 2000s)
If one were to look at who Fedor Emelianenko has defeated while in PRIDE Fighting Championship, they would know it was essentially a “who’s who” in the UFC Heavyweight Division- both past and present. With only one loss to his name (a controversial stoppage due to a cut) Fedor tore through Mark Coleman, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia (all former UFC Heavyweight Champions), and others in PRIDE FC and Affliction to solidify his position as the top heavyweight mixed martial artist in the world. His recent knockout over top Strikeforce heavyweight Brett Rogers was the most brutal I’ve seen all year, and I can guarantee there will be more to come over the next decade for Fedor.
1. Anderson Silva (25 Wins and 4 Losses in the 2000s)
Anderson Silva is arguably the most diverse and dangerous fighter on this list. Proven that he has learned from his past losses (decision, disqualification and two submissions) Anderson Silva decimated most competition in PRIDE Fighting Championship, Cage Rage (capturing their Middleweight Title), and has gone undefeated in two of Ultimate Fighting Championship’s most-stacked divisions.
Though some can argue that Fedor’s dominance around the world should give him the number one spot, he simply is not seeking out the best competition for himself. Strikeforce should give Fedor some more exciting fights and highlight-reel knockouts, but it’s clear that his biggest challenges await him in the UFC’s Heavyweight Division. Anderson Silva, on the other hand, has cleared out the UFC Middleweight Division and ventured into the UFC’s Light-Heavyweight Division for more diverse opponents. The thing is, Anderson Silva did not fight in the light heavyweight division for the fans, nor did he do it for attention. He did it to challenge himself and to see if there was anybody in the UFC that could truly beat him. Above his record and above his highlight reel knockouts, it was his mindset that got him top bill as “Number One Mixed Martial Artist of the Decade”.