A reader recently asked me who the top 20 fighters were of the past 20 years. With the start of the UFC in 1993, I find the question to be quite relevant.
I have decided to go year by year, trying to add fighters as they entered or were in their prime. Unfortunately, I only have a few minutes to work on this a night, so it is currently a running list.
1993- Royce Gracie- Royce was the scrawny Brazilian hand picked by Rorian Gracie to show the world the effectiveness of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Royce steamrolled the competition at UFC 1 and 2, notching wins over Ken Shamrock, Gerard Gordeau, Jason Delucia, Remco Pardoel and Pat Smith. He fought an epic battle with Kimo Leopoldo at UFC 3, and came back to win the UFC 4 touranment.
1994- Dan Severn- The Beast broke onto the no holds barred scene with an insane suplex sequence before submitting Anthony Macias at UFC 4 before submitting Marcus Bossett. After winning the first 15 minutes against Royce Gracie, he was submitted in the finals of UFC 4. He came back to win the UFC 5 tournament, TKO'ing Oleg Taktarov and submitting Joe Charles and Dave Beneteau. Won superfight(HW) belt at UFC 9 against Ken Shamrock. Insanely long career with well over the 101 documented wins include career wins over Forrest Griffin, Travis Fulton, Mario Neto and Paul Buentello.
1995- Bas Rutten- A former King of Pancrase and UFC champion, Rutten was one of the first great kickboxers to learn the submission game. Rutten went 8-1 in 1995, submitting Maurice Smith twice, submitting Jason Delucia and winning a decision over Frank Shamrock. Rutten would notch wins over Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Guy Mezger, Masakatsu Funaki and Kevin Randleman.
1996- Mark Coleman- UFC 10 tournament champion, UFC heavyweight champion, 2000 Pride World Grand Prix champion, Coleman was the godfather of ground and pound. An NCAA and Pan Am champion wrestler, he'd hit you with everything including the kitchen sink when he got the takedown. Wins over Dan Severn, Don Frye, Igor Vovchanchyn, Shogun Rua and Stephan Bonnar.
1997- Igor Vovchanchyn- "Ice Cold" was the first top fighter to emerge from the former Soviet Union out of the Ukraine. Using his kickboxing prowess, he threw punches in bunches, winning several tournaments in the Eastern Block including IFC 1, Powerman SEKAI, DNRF, IAFC Russia and World Vale Tudo 5. He became a star in Pride with wins over Mark Kerr, Gary Goodridge, Kazushi Sakuraba and Yuki Kondo. In 1997, Igor went 9-0 with 7 KO's.
1998- Frank Shamrock- Frank was dominant in both Pancrase and the UFC, winning the first UFC 205 pound title by armbarring Olympic wrestling champ Kevin Jackson in 16 seconds. In 1998, Shamrock defended the title 3 times, slamming Igor Zinoviev in 22 seconds for a KO, submitting Jeremy Horn, and submitting John Lober via punches. His last UFC fight was a 4 round battle of attrician against Tito Ortiz, where Shamrock eventually defeated Ortiz via submission via elbows and punches. Shamrock had other victories in his career over Bas Rutten, Masakatsu Funaki and Phil Baroni.
1999- Kazushi Sakuraba
2000- Randy Couture
2001- Antonio Rodrigo Noguira
2002- Wanderlei Silva
2003- Matt Hughes- Hughes, a 9X UFC champ is known for his wrestling, submissions and ground game defended his 170 pound title for the fourth and fifth time in 2003. Hughes holds victories over Frank Trigg, Georges St. Pierre, Carlos Newton, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Sean Sherk, Hayato Sakurai and split with BJ Penn.
2004- BJ Penn- after submitting Takanori Gomi at the end of 2003, Penn subbed Matt Hughes at UFC 46 to take the welterweight championship, then ventured to K-1 where he submitted Duane Ludwig before winning a decision over Rodrigo Gracie. Won the UFC lightweight championship by submitting Joe Stevenson, defended with a TKO of Sean Sherk, after dropping a fight to GSP, defended the LW title by subbing Kenny Florian and TKO'ing Diego Sanchez.
2005- Dan Henderson- Won the Pride Welterweight 183 Grand Prix by KO'ing Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono before winning a split decision over former UFC champ Murilo Bustamante. Career wins over Fedor, Shogun, Michael Bisping, Rich Franklin and Toquino. UFC 17 tournament champion, Rings Kings of Kings champion, Pride Middleweight champion, Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champ.
2006- Chuck Liddell- Liddell will always be remembered for his epic knockouts of his opposition. The Iceman notched UFC wins over Kevin Randleman, Vitor Belfort, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Wanderlei Silva and owns Pride wins over Guy Mezger and Alistair Overeem.
2007- Quinton "Rampage" Jackson- In 2007, he KO'd Marvin Eastman and Chuck Liddell before winning a decision over Dan Henderson to unify the Pride and UFC belts.
2008- Fedor Emelianenko
2009- Georges St. Pierre- GSP, a 10X UFC champ, has TKO's over BJ Penn and Matt Serra, while submitting Matt Hughes and taking decisions over Dan Hardy, Jake Shields, Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck. Other victories over Sean Sherk, Josh Koscheck, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Frank Trigg, Jay Hieron and Karo Parisyan.
2010- Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
2011- Anderson Silva- Worked over James Irvin, Stephen Bonnar and Forrest Griffin in the first round at 205. Won the belt in his second UFC fight over Rich Franklin and has defended eight more times. Victories over Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Dan Henderson, Rich Franklin 2X, Nate Marquardt, Travis Lutter, Thales Leites, Demian Maia and Chris Leben.
2012- Jon Jones- Jones has dominated all foes, looking vulnerable only on one occasion when Vitor Belfort had an armbar briefly locked in. Jones has won over Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson and recently Chael Sonnen despite a dislocated and gnarly toe injury.
On the fence- Josh Barnett, Cro Cop, Ken Shamrock, Masakatsu Funaki, Takanori Gomi, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort, Jake Shields, Rich Franklin, Guy Mezger