Tuesday, April 23

10 Best Wrestlers in UFC History

Highlights

  • Wrestling skills crucial for UFC success – past champions excelled in takedowns and control.
  • Elite fighters like Fitch, Sonnen, and Velasquez dominated with wrestling strategy.
  • From Jones to GSP, top UFC stars showcased the importance of wrestling in creating a career legacy.



Wrestling is one of the fundamental components of becoming a successful mixed-martial artist. Many of the greatest champions in UFC history have come from wrestling backgrounds, developing striking skills later in their careers.

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Wrestling gives a competitor a distinct advantage, since it allows a fighter to take down their opponent at will and control their body movement. There have been many prolific wrestlers who stamped their names in the record books. With wrestling continuing to be a key tool in a fighter’s arsenal, here are the 10 best wrestlers of all time in Dana White’s promotion.


10 Jon Fitch Was An Unspectacular But Dominating Fighter

Fitch Showed How To Out-Muscle Opponents

Jon Fitch fights in the UFC octagon


Date of Birth

Feb. 24, 1978

Age

45

Place of Birth

America

MMA record

32-8-2 (1 NC)

Notable Victories

Jake Shields, Yushin Okami, Diego Sanchez

Despite a significantly long and successful career as one of the UFC’s best welterweights, Jon Fitch wasn’t that exciting. However, he displayed some of the best MMA wrestling in the game. It began at Purdue University, with Fitch’s prowess being recognized and honed by former PRIDE fighter, Tom Erikson.

Fitch’s strength was taking his opponents down at will and dragging out fights. Some saw it as boring, but the judges often gave him convincing victories by unanimous decision. He faced some of the best in the division, beating the likes of Diego Sanchez, Thiago Alves, and even drawing with B.J. Penn. Unfortunately, he laid down a template that Georges St-Pierre would evolve, and beat him with.


9 Chael Sonnen Almost Ended Anderson Silva’s Legendary Reign

‘The Bad Guy’ Proves Wrestling Was A Killer Tool

Date of Birth

Apr. 3, 1977

Age

46

Place of Birth

America

MMA record

31-17-1

Notable Victories

Quinton Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Michael Bisping

Chael Sonnen may be known as a smooth trash-talker in the world of MMA. However, he was also a cerebral wrestler, who made a career out of taking his opponents into deep water repeatedly and bashing them into submission. He rose to prominence at the University of Oregon, where he became a medal-winning NCAA Division I All-American wrestler.


Notably, Sonnen once had a WCW tryout. He would see success commercially, though, with the UFC. He debuted in the promotion at 2005’s UFC 55, got released and would later return to carve out his superstar status. Sonnen averaged 3.81 takedowns per 15 minutes throughout his UFC career and faced rival Anderson Silva for the middleweight title twice. He battered ‘Spider’ for four rounds, only to be submitted late in the fifth in what should have been a dominant wrestling win. Sadly, Sonnen got TKO’d in the rematch, but throughout his career, he showed why wrestling matters in MMA.

8 Cain Velasquez Cut A Relentless Pace

Velasquez Was A Cardio Monster

Cain Velasquez prepares for a UFC fight


Date of Birth

July 28, 1982

Age

41

Place of Birth

America

MMA record

14-3

Notable Victories

Brock Lesnar, Junior dos Santos, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira

Cain Velasquez competed in collegiate wrestling at Arizona State, winning a slew of medals as he excelled in the PAC-10 championships. All his life, he was an athlete, but clearly, his results on the mat showed he was meant for MMA, not football. Velasquez developed a legendary training regimen that included conditioning, strength training, and technique drills — all of which were vital to the success of his MMA career.


Velasquez averaged a whopping 5.13 takedowns per 15 minutes throughout his UFC tenure. Along with powerful striking, his wrestling helped him win the UFC heavyweight championship in 2010. After ending his UFC career, Velasquez would actually switch to professional wrestling, including a run with WWE. All of this is why the sport’s best wrestlers, particularly AKA teammate Daniel Corner, hold him in high esteem.

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7 Demetrious Johnson’s Wrestling Base Made Him Nearly Impossible To Deal With

‘Mighty Mouse’ Remains A Grappling Legend

Date of Birth

Aug. 13, 1986

Age

37

Place of Birth

America

MMA record

25-4-1

Notable Victories

Kyoji Horiguchi, Adriano Moraes, Henry Cejudo


Demetrious Johnson did not get enough credit during his prime years with the UFC. The former UFC flyweight champion is one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, having defended his title a record 11 consecutive times. His technical prowess included fast hands, slick submissions, and an incomparable ability to not get hit.

He was able to utilize offensive and defensive wrestling smartly, even against an elite grappler like Olympic gold medalist, Henry Cejudo. It stemmed from his amateur wrestling days at Washington High School. Although Johnson did not pursue a wrestling career in college, he incorporated the skill into his toolbox sharply under the eye of MMA veteran, Matt Hume. In time, ‘Mighty Mouse’ would become a well-rounded wrestler, averaging 3.55 takedowns per 15 minutes and exercising relentless top control — which has seen him garner success now at ONE FC.


6 Jon Jones Could Take Down Most Opponents At Will

‘Bones’ Proved He Could Do So At Different Weight Classes

Date of Birth

Aug. 13, 1986

Age

37

Place of Birth

America

MMA record

25-4-1

Notable Victories

Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson, Chael Sonnen

Jon Jones is the youngest UFC light heavyweight champion in history, winning the title at 23. He has a versatile fighting style that is unmatched inside the octagon. While he has a deadly striking capability, he sets up his ground-and-pound game through near-immaculate wrestling. He was a notable high-school wrestler, winning the National NJCAA championship during his time at Iowa Central Community College.


He dropped out of college, but kept working on his wrestling as he ironed out his MMA career. Jones would handily get his opponents to the ground using offensive wrestling and rain down numerous elbows and punches before his opponents had endured enough. Even fellow grapplers like Sonnen and Glover Teixeira couldn’t deal with him. Jones only averages 1.86 takedowns per 15 minutes, but it’s due to his precise ability to finish fights on the first takedown. He moved to heavyweight in 2023, where he won the belt in the first round after quickly wrestling and submitting Cyril Gane as well, affirming weight classes don’t matter.

5 Daniel Cormier’s Olympic Pedigree Is Unmatched

‘D.C.’ Is One Of The Most Accomplished And Respected MMA Wrestlers

MMA: UFC 210-Cormier vs Johnson

© Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports


Date of Birth

Mar. 20, 1979

Age

44

Place of Birth

America

MMA record

22-3 (1 NC)

Notable Victories

Derrick Lewis, Stipe Miocic, Anderson Silva

Daniel Cormier is a highly-decorated legend from Strikeforce and the UFC. He has numerous freestyle wrestling medals from high-school, as well as from Oklahoma State University. Whether it’s the U.S. National Championships, Pan American Championships, or NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, Cormier had everyone taking notes.


Cormier became an All-American wrestler, being named in the 2004 and 2008 American Olympic teams. When he transitioned to MMA, his strength was unsurpassed, as seen in fights with Josh Barnett, Anthony Johnson, and many others. His takedown defence was staunch, but he also bullied wrestlers and non-wrestlers alike around. While he wasn’t able to top Jones in their storied rivalry, Cormier still held the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight titles simultaneously, making him a legend in his own right.

4 Matt Hughes Dominated The Ground Game In UFC’s Early Days

Hughes Paved The Way For Future Wrestlers

matt-hughes-talking-with-a-microphone
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Date of Birth

Oct. 13, 1973

Age

50

Place of Birth

America

MMA record

45-9

Notable Victories

Georges St-Pierre, Matt Serra, B.J. Penn


Matt Hughes competed in the UFC between 2000 through 2011 and is known for his dominant wrestling ability. He overpowered his opponents by controlling the ground game, taking them down with relative ease. Between 2001 and 2006, Hughes was considered the best welterweight around, becoming a two-time UFC welterweight champion.

Hughes was one of the best power-grapplers in MMA history, made easier by being much physically stronger than the rest of the roster. He had this in him since his youth. He wrestled at Hillsboro High School, Southwestern Illinois College and Eastern Illinois University before heading to MMA in 1998. As such, he had the perfect base, informing why he could land 2.95 takedowns per 15 minutes throughout his UFC career. He was very much a trailblazer at the time, going on to accomplish the rare feat of submitting GSP.

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3 Randy Couture Used Greco-Roman Wrestling To Control The Clinch

Couture Carved A Path For The New Generation

Randy Couture wrestles a UFC opponent

Date of Birth

June 22, 1963

Age

60

Place of Birth

America

MMA record

19-11

Notable Victories

Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort

Randy Couture is the most elite Greco-Roman wrestler in MMA history. He competed successfully in the Pan American Games, Pan American Wrestling Championships, and the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Couture had always been good at wrestling since his Lynnwood High School days, but while serving in the U.S. army, he leveled up after accidentally enlisting for the Greco-Roman tryouts.


He made the team, excelled, and in time, became an Olympic alternate. When Couture debuted in MMA in 1997, he was already feared without even entering the cage. He would add dirty boxing to the mix to intimidate opponents. He averaged 2.78 takedowns per 15 minutes, winning UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight gold on multiple occasions. In 2006, he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

2 Georges St-Pierre Is A Wrestling Prodigy

GSP Rose To The Wrestling Summit Through Unbridled Dedication And Talent

Georges St. Pierre gets ready for a UFC fight

Date of Birth

May 19, 1981

Age

42

Place of Birth

Canada

MMA record

26-2

Notable Victories

Nick Diaz, Matt Serra, Matt Hughes


When it comes to taking down your opponents at will and keeping them there, look no further than former UFC welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre. GSP averaged an impressive 4.16 takedowns per 15 minutes and was known for dominating his opponents from start to finish. He made it look so easy, too, as he only lost twice in his MMA tenure.

What makes him stand out even more is his background was karate, but at 19 years, GSP decided to mix it up, add wrestling and become a better athlete. He would use creative striking techniques to open up his opponents and then shoot in for an explosive takedown. Many saw it coming, but no one could stop him. Once on top, GSP’s versatility and top control would allow him to keep his opponents there for as long as he desired. He is widely considered the best UFC welterweight, and a true MMA legend.


1 Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Sambo Background Made Him An Outstanding Wrestler

‘The Eagle’ Showed His Wrestling Cards Openly But Everyone Crumbled

Date of Birth

Sep. 20, 1988

Age

35

Place of Birth

Russia

MMA record

29-0

Notable Victories

Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor

No other UFC combatant has been able to translate their wrestling skills into MMA as successfully as Khabib Nurmagomedov. The former lightweight champion once landed 21 takedowns in a single fight. Despite his dominance, his sportsmanship and humility remained unparalleled. Nurmagomedov averaged over five takedowns per 15 minutes throughout his UFC career and is widely considered the best offensive wrestler in MMA thanks to his sambo background.


Once he was able to get a hold of his opponent, it was only a matter of time before the fight would end up on the ground. He always told them what he would do before the fight, yet they couldn’t do anything. Nurmagomedov utilized a smothering style and quite literally forced his opponents to quit, even talking to the likes of Michael Johnson in the cage. He compiled an undefeated professional record of 29-0, before retiring in 2020. His wrestling was so good, he never really got cut in any fight, which is why folks held out hope thinking he would come out of retirement — as he was too good to stay on the shelf.

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