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Debating the Top 10 MMA fighters of this decade

By Zach Arnold | December 22, 2009

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Jonathan Snowden compiled his list and you can click the link to read not only his list but why he picked the fighters he did. His list includes:

I’m sure his list will stir up a hornet’s nest in terms of who got excluded and who got included. Take a look at what the basis for this Top 10 list is:

It took some breakthrough stars to get us there, of course, and this list runs down the ten fighters most responsible for the sport’s success.

It’s a lot easier to come up with names to include than it is to exclude, but let’s give it a go here with some fighters who weren’t select who could make a case for inclusion on this list:

Kazushi Sakuraba. By far the most star power of those outside on this list. There has been so much MMA activity this past decade that it’s hard for some people to remember that his run against the Gracies peaked in 2000 at the Tokyo Dome in the 90-minute match with Royce. He was the Japanese ace of PRIDE for a long time (even when Yoshida came into the mix years later) and his defection to HERO’s during the negative campaign by Shukan Gendai against PRIDE essentially bruised the image of PRIDE as they were struggling to stay afloat.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Nogueira will be forever tied to two of the names on Mr. Snowden’s list, Fedor and Sapp. Nogueira’s win against Sapp at Kokuritsu Stadium in August of 2002 really propeled Sapp’s start in K-1 (if you remember, the next month Sapp got booked against Cyril Abidi with Kazuyoshi Ishii as a referee) and the juggernaut went on from there. Nogueira also fought Fedor multiple times and those bouts were tied into the famous New Year’s Eve TV wars in Japan. He’s done so much this decade that it’s hard to imagine but he’s underrated as far as what he has accomplished in MMA.

Randy Couture. Until his financial spat with UFC (where his image took a real hit) a year-or-so ago, Couture’s fairytale comeback was incredible in terms of heat and reaction. Much like Sapp and Nogueira, Liddell will be forever tied with Couture in terms of their fight history. Couture’s popularity is/was such that his fight style in the ring didn’t get him booed despite the fact that if other fighters did the same thing, they would be booed out of the arena. Business-wise, Couture peaked a while back but his career became red hot after dethroning Tim Sylvia. Nobody will ever forget that fight in Columbus, Ohio. I, of course, remember it vividly because of the close-ups in between rounds of Tim Sylvia constantly burping and gasping for air.

Wanderlei Silva. He went from IVC to knocking Kazushi Sakuraba around in scary fashion in the PRIDE ring. Silva presented the scariest aura out of any fighter on the PRIDE roster. His brutal wins over Sakuraba and Rampage Jackson became so famous and so ingrained in the mindset of the MMA fan base that Silva continues to live off of his past reputation to this day — and people don’t discount him one bit at all. His crowd-pleasing fight with Chuck Liddell in UFC cemented his forever-likeable status with the fans. Look at some of the big names he beat this decade: Dan Henderson, Kiyoshi Tamura, and Hidehiko Yoshida (man who got the biggest payday in the history of PRIDE). He’s had an absurd amount of fights involving big-name opponents (lost some big ones, too).

Mirko Cro Cop. His jump from K-1 to PRIDE during the 2003 New Year’s Eve war became the biggest political hot-potato move in Japanese MMA. After breaking Bob Sapp’s eye socket in Saitama in a K-1 fight, Mirko was going to face Yoshihiro Takayama at the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye event at Kobe Wing Stadium in Hyogo. If that fight would have happened, PRIDE certainly wouldn’t have had as much momentum as they did. Without Mirko, the Inoki show turned into a complete disaster. Mirko’s run in the PRIDE ring culminated into a gigantic big-money fight against Fedor. (Who can forget some of the video packages done by Fuji TV leading up to that fight? First-class production.) As PRIDE was on its final legs in September of 2006, Mirko won the one-night tournament beating Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett in an amazing performance. His jump to UFC at the time was big news. Then came the ultimate shock when he lost to Gabriel Gonzaga, which set up Gonzaga taking a beating from Randy Couture in ’07. Mirko had been such a big figure in Japan for both K-1 and PRIDE, then flopped in UFC when it was expected that his high-level striking would set him up for big fights. Despite the UFC tenure not being a success, Mirko made enough splashes this decade to warrant his inclusion on the Top 10 list.

Topics: Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 32 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

32 Responses to “Debating the Top 10 MMA fighters of this decade”

  1. Anders L. says:

    Who cares about another top ten list, whoever puts Lesnar as second place top ten fighter of the decade obviously has no clue about this sport.

    And yes, Saku is a must on any top ten list, it’s like leaving out Wayne Gretzky on a hockey top ten list.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    Despite having two losses this decade, GSP is without question the fighter of the decade. His strength of opponents and how dominant he has been throughout basically the entire decade is proof of this. And he even avenged his two losses.

  3. BOB says:

    Top ten most popular/influential mma fighters of the decade… not top ten most dominant.

  4. Coyote says:

    45 Huddle

    Come on? GSP is not the fighter of the decade. ¿Or you are canadian?

    The Fighter of the decade are this two:

    North America: Chuck Liddell
    Japan: Kazushi Sakuraba

    This two guys open te doors for people like GSP, Nogueira, and all the stars of this sport.
    Dont say stuff without sens, please.

  5. No Sakuraba? This list shouldn’t be taken seriously at all.

  6. Jonathan Snowden says:

    Looking closely at Sakuraba’s career, it was honestly such a short run. He was essentially irrelevent by 2003 and his star power diminished significantly. Best fighter in Japanese MMA? Fedor. Best draw? Bob Sapp. So, where does Sakuraba fit here? Does he bump Hughes off the map? Hughes has probably made the UFC almost as much money as SAKU did PRIDE….and he also has a track record of excellence.

    Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, this was a list for American fans and for a casual audience. But, since Leland Rolling, the spitting image of TUF noob, wants to call me out on it: I’d like to hear which of these fighters you would bump Leland?

    Zach: your list includes every other fighter who was seriously considered for this list except Royce Gracie.

  7. Dave says:

    Sakuraba, honestly, had one good year between 2000 and now and that was 2000. While he was important, his importance was in the late 90’s. By 2003 we were all crying for him to retire after getting murdered by Wanderlei for fun.

    Bob Sapp still holds the record for the highest rating of a MMA bout and Japan has proven that they are all about fads and MMA is dead to them.

  8. GassedOut says:

    I could make an argument for Forrest Griffin and Stepahn Bonnar. Their first fight generated a whole new generation of fans referred to as the TUF fans (as opposed to hardcores).

    Another guy I have to mention is Fedor Emelianenko. You can’t go 31-1 without somekind of mention at least.

    Wanderlei Silva. The reason I kept watching fighting when my “career” (amateur though it may have been) was ended by a firefighting accident. That might be a personal thing though. I don’t know though…he tossed Sakuraba around like a rag doll in PRIDE. He beat down Hendo, Rampage, etc. Did he always win? No, but he always fought to win.

    As good as GSP is, I can’t give him Fighter of the Decade. That has to be Fedor just on his record, freak shows included.

  9. REDRUM says:

    How is Matt Serra not in this list?
    Only man to KNOCKOUT GSP! and He beat BJ PENN albeit he got skrewed by the judging again. 2 Tuf Shows, Welterweight champ, best grappler on that list.

  10. Isaiah says:

    Hilarious that a writer and thinker the caliber of Roling would have the nerve to say that Snowden’s list shouldn’t be taken seriously. Snowden has forgotten more about MMA than Roling will ever know.

    That said, I didn’t find the list as interesting as it could have been. I’d be more interested to see who Snowden thinks have been the top 10 fighters of the decade in terms of what they’ve done in the ring/octagon (with more in-depth analysis) than a biz-orientated list that just has a brief paragraph on everyone.

  11. Mark says:

    That list is pure BIZ BIZ BIZ~! Brock Lesnar but not Nogueira? What the hell is wrong with you, Jonathan? You’re talking about an elite HW who has had a whole decade of great moments versus a guy who had a year of big buyrates. Sakuraba is excluded for not enough important fights, but Lesnar is allowed to count February 2008 – July 2009, 17 months of a decade.

    And Kimbo?! Ugh, 45 Huddle is making more sense than you, think about that. So I guess N’Sync are the band of the decade by your reasoning? And American Idol is the best show ever?

  12. It would be interesting to make a list of the best and most accomplished fighters of the decade. I just made a list that the people with the money wanted..but in-ring/cage. Wow.

    1. Fedor: Clearly the best fighter of all-time.

    2. Georges St. Pierre: This gets tricky here. Hughes is an obvious candidate as well, but bottom line in that feud is 2-1 St. Pierre.

    3. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: I am biased here maybe, but if there was no Fedor, he would be considered the top heavyweight ever.

    4. Matt Hughes: The most dominant fighter in UFC history-until he ran into St. Pierre

    5. B.J. Penn: The most gifted fighter of the decade and essentially unbeatable at lightweight. Of course, BJ being BJ, he wants to move back up to welterweight….

    6. Anderson Silva: an amazingly fluid athlete. I think he is the most impressive fighter to watch, toying with opponents like a cat with a bird.

    7. Chuck Liddell: Behind the celebrity and the marketing there was a deadly knockout artist lurking.

    8. Wanderlei Silva: Reputation grew fat by knocking out overmatched opponents. But the success is undeniable.

    9. Tito Ortiz: When the sport needed a star, Tito emerged. He also beat Silva and was a dominant champion.

    10. Randy Couture: He is hit and miss, but the record of success in two weight classes was unprecedented. Cro Cop was the other one to consider, but the bottom line is that he lost to his top rivals. Couture at least tasted gold.

  13. 45 Huddle says:

    The headline from Zach is misleading then. I assumed it was based on fighting.

    If we are talking more influential… Not sure about overseas… But in America, it comes down to one of 3:

    Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, & Brock Lesnar

    I know Lesnar was barely around this decade, but his influence on the popularity of the sport is far beyond anybody else.

    Chuck Liddell was the face of the UFC for a few years during it’s huge rise.

    Forrest Griffin for basically making the UFC popular.

  14. Fluyid says:

    1. Tiki

    2. Kerry “Meat Truck” Schall

    3. That Black Mamba guy

  15. Dave says:

    Fluyid, I’d add Dirty Bob Schrjiber to that list as well.

  16. Fluyid says:

    Agreed and added to my list, Dave.


    Among the things on the NSAC agenda for their 12/28 meeting. Aren’t some of these things matters that should have already been disposed of? And is there any chance whatsoever that Kizer won’t give Zuffa everything it asks?

    **Request by Zuffa, LLC for permission to exceed the 4% limit on complimentary tickets per NAC 467.332 on the event of November 18, 2009 and to have the fees waived on the 150 complimentary tickets provided to Firefighters of Southern Nevada, and the 100 complimentary tickets provided to Nellis Air Force Base.

    **Request by Zuffa, LLC for permission to exceed the 4% limit on complimentary tickets per NAC 467.332 on the event of November 21, 2009 and to have the fees waived on the 800 complimentary tickets provided to Nellis Air Force Base.

    **Request by Zuffa, LLC for permission to exceed the 4% limit on complimentary tickets per NAC 467.332 on the event of December 19, 2009 and to have the fees waived on the 150 complimentary tickets provided to Nellis Air Force Base, the 60 complimentary tickets provided to Firefighters of Southern Nevada, and the 10 complimentary tickets provided to Burk Horizon School.

  17. The Gaijin says:

    I am shocked and appauled that the most influential fighter of the ‘aughts – Dan Quinn has been completely ignored. This man discovered the miracle effects of Stevia, was a youtube ICON that challenged Kimbo, not only to a fight, but in terms of pure entertainment value and was just a phenomenal fighter and college football star to boot.

  18. jr says:

    No list is complete without Joe Son

  19. Zack says:

    Terrible list. If you’re doing it strictly on businesses, why not throw in Ken Shamrock as well for the Tito fights? Josh Gross did a list that was way better.

  20. It’s not strictly based on business. It’s a combination of business, influence, and excellence. Kimbo and Bob Sapp are powered by their obvious drawing power and cultural influence.

    Fedor and Anderson Silva are in based on their fighting accomplishments and skill.

    Someone like Chuck Liddell combines both.

  21. Zack says:

    Might as well have Shamrock in there as well then. He’s the first guy to get a decent PPV rating during the Zuffa era. He was one half of the biggest PPV @ the time vs Tito, and one half of the biggest rated cable fight vs Tito.

    Also, if you’re going to include Bob Sapp, you gotta include Sakuraba. Pride 17 was in 2001….that’s the first Tokyo Dome sellout for MMA. And Sakuraba also headlined Dynamite against Cro Cop for the highest attended MMA/K-1 card in history.

  22. Brendan Maher says:

    I like the list. Reasonable folks will disagree (for me, Sakuraba and Nog displace Kimbo and Sapp), but a thoughtful list.

    I don’t see why some commentators are attacking Mr. Snowden as some sort of oblivious know-nothing. Disagree with his opinion, fine. But the gentleman literally wrote the book on modern MMA, so please don’t confuse disagreement with ignorance.


    Brendan Maher

  23. Zack says:

    Fluyid…That’s another LOL worthy article. I love the closing statement:

    “Based purely on accomplishments as fighterse, Fedor Emelianenko and Couture have been MMA’s dominant athletes of the era, by a wide margin.”

    Randy Couture was one of the 2 most dominant athletes of this era? Please. He is the perennial spoiler and an upset special that could never be counted out…but when exactly was Couture dominant? He’s never put three wins in a row together in the last ten years.

  24. smoogy says:

    It’s a trap folks. Don’t get sucked into debating this completely pointless list. Snowden’s stated criteria doesn’t even make sense.

  25. edub says:

    Forrest has to be on there.

    I love Sak in all but he really doesnt belong on this list. I would put Gomi on there before him.

    “It’s not strictly based on business. It’s a combination of business, influence, and excellence. Kimbo and Bob Sapp are powered by their obvious drawing power and cultural influence.

    Fedor and Anderson Silva are in based on their fighting accomplishments and skill.”

    I think the list is very good, but take off Kimbo and put on Gina Carano.

  26. Fluyid says:

    This could be considered a list of top Mike Goldberg flubs:

  27. david m says:

    In terms of actual accomplishments, here is my list for the decade:

    1. Fay-dor
    2. BJ Penn
    3. GSP
    4. Matt Hughes
    5. Nog
    6. Anderson Silva
    7. Henderson
    8. Machida
    9. Shogun
    10. Rampage

    I think Liddell and Couture are historically overrated; Wanderlei probably belongs on the top 10 of the decade but I don’t know who I would remove to add him. Tito is trash. In the decade he is 11-5-1, with 3 of those wins against Ken Shamrock, 3 more wins against 185ers (Tanner, Kondo, Cote), and other wins against notables such as Elvis Sinosic (8-11 record), a robbery win against Vitor Belfort (a fight in which Tito admitted he was unconscious in the 2nd round–and Vitor is 185 now too), and Vladdy, Wand, Forrest. BJ gets lots of bonus points for going up and testing himself (often succeeding) against the best guys in higher weight classes. When GSP goes up and fights Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson, and then goes and fights Fedor (3 weight classes above him, like Machida was to BJ), then we can talk about GSP. The most annoying thing about mma journalists and I speak specifically of assclowns like Josh Gross, is that they rank BJ lower on p4p for losing to the best guys at higher weight classes. That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. BJ went 1-3 against the 2 best 170 pounders ever, and that very easily could be 3-0 with a N/C due to GSP’s blatant cheating.

    On an aside, people who flame BJ for complaining about GSP’s cheating should be shot. Typical idiotic mentality of blaming the victim. The same kind of people who make fun of BJ for complaining about GSP’s cheating, also get angry at whistleblowers who expose corruption and women who are raped by athletes. “Just shut up about it, it doesn’t matter.”

  28. sammy says:

    What a crap list.

    Even if the list is a combination of business success and skills, Sak should still be on there over Lesnar.

    Sak has been fighting for the ENTIRE decade, and contributed greatly to the success of MMA in Japan. If he was only good from 2000-2003 (as some have said)..and brought in huge numbers, then thats still be higher than Brock who has done it for less time. And thats still not taking into account the next 7 years were Sak headlined many shows and brought in millions in revenue and viewership.

    Not to mention that if guys like Sak, Wand, and Nog had not contributed to the growth of MMA, there wouldnt be as popular/respected a sport for guys like Lesnar to just prance into during the last year of the decade.

    The list is absolute crap, even by its own standards.

  29. The bottom line is that guys in Japan drew demonstrably less money than the American fighters in the UFC because of PPV. Brock Lesnar has made the UFC almost as much money in two years than any fighter drew in PRIDE over the course of the decade.

    I could almost see an argument for Ken Shamrock in the Sakuraba role, as Ken was the top box office star pre-Liddell and pre-Lesnar. Unfortunately, he has no stand out wins in the decade. Even Royce drew huge against Takada, SAKU, Yoshida, and Hughes. He was a borderline pick.

  30. Fandango says:

    When I saw this article I thought what a great idea to debate. Then I read it and saw Kimbo Slice on the list and I realized at that point it was a joke.

    haha, thanks for the laughs.

  31. Mike Mad says:

    i normally don’t post on such things, but sorry no Sakuraba on a top ten list of fighters for the decade is rediculous.
    in 2000 he defearted 3 gracies. giving Royce and Ryan their first losses and Renzo his second. and going to a draw with Igor Vovchanyan in the same night he went 90 mins to beat Royce.
    From that point on he had his ups and downs, but lets have a look. he holds victories over shamrock, rampage, randleman,funaki,minowa, nakahara along with two of the most amazing comeback fights in smirnovas and galesic.
    His downs in that time obviously include losses to Wandy, Cro Cop and lil Nog. but i must ask have we ever seen GSP, Hughes or Anderson Silva for that matter fighting men with such large size advantages? nope. They’re content to be the big men of their divisions. (Anderson has fought 205, but he walks around at 215-220, so he still cuts to make 205 even)
    Now if you want to mention unfluence and Draw power, most MMA fighters when asked who their fav fighter was to watch the say Sakuraba. As for draw well Sakuraba and CroCop were the only two MMA fighters to headline an event and draw 91,000. that says something for drawing power.
    World Wide Sakuraba has had more of an impact on this great sport than anyone on that list. That includes his work in this decade.


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