Grapplers and wrestlers thoroughly dominated the early days of mixed martial arts. Still, once the striking boys learned how to stop a takedown, more prolific hitters started reaching the top.
Some of the most dominating champions in MMA have relied mainly on their striking prowess to destroy the opposition. There is nothing MMA fans like more than a good stand-up scrap.
Here is a list of 10 of the best strikers in MMA of all time. We can add many more names to this list, but few can argue that each fighter here represents the elite of the elite in striking in MMA.
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10 Best Strikers In MMA
While this list is not a chart, it would be fair to put Anderson Silva in the number 1 spot as the best striker in the history of MMA. The Spider is not only among the top contenders for the greatest fighter of all time, but he is also a pioneer as a striker in MMA.
He was one of the first fighters to dominate in the cage with truly elite, slick striking. Silva won the UFC middleweight title in 2006 and had the longest title reign in UFC history at 2457 days, defending the belt 10 times and amassing several other records during this time.
In his prime, Andreson Silva was a marvel to watch. Combining Muay Thai, boxing, and taekwondo, very few fighters could hold their own in a striking battle with the Spider. He was an expert in both stances and used an impressive hand-down style to bait counter-attacks regularly.
His insane head movement was worthy of a world champion boxer and was second to none in the cage. Silva had everything that an elite striker needs-accuracy, technique, and knockout power. Silva deserves the title of the best striker to ever compete in MMA.
The current UFC middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya, is the spiritual successor of Anderson Silva as the UFC’s top striker. Adesanya symbolically took the torch from Silva when he defeated him at UFC 234 in a virtuoso striking battle.
Aside from a single dent at a light heavy height, The Last Stylebender looks unstoppable in the cage. Adesanya came to MMA with more than 100 kickboxing fights under his belt.
Many expected him to be an elite striker in MMA. Still, few predicted he would become a champion in his second year in the UFC and one of the biggest stars in the sport.
Adesanya is as refined a striker as any and relies mainly on precision and mastery of range. What truly makes Adesanya exceptional is his simple but highly sophisticated fighting style.
Israel uses just a few simple techniques but sets them up in a way that no fighter has managed to decipher yet. On the offensive, Adesanya uses a couple of feints from which he throws either a solid jab, a rear straight, or a rear kick.
But he uses those simple weapons that make him nearly impossible to read.
Few fighters have made a splash in MMA as big as Connor McGregor. The Irishman took the UFC by storm and changed the fight game forever.
While he has become well-known in recent years for his out-of-cage antics and obnoxious behavior, his success would not have been possible if he had not been a deadly striker.
McGregor became the first ever simultaneous double weight class champion in the UFC after he defeated Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight belt in 2016.
The Notorious had a spectacular striking style in the featherweight division, combining traditional karate style and kicks with precise boxing punches and complete mastery of range and distance.
He possesses a true “touch of death” left hand from a southpaw stance and will remain one of the best strikers to compete in MMA.
Mirco Cro Cop
The Croatian Micro “Cro Cop” Filipovic had one of the most legendary runs in MMA history. Before transitioning into MMA, Mirco fought in K1 during the promotion’s golden days and fought with the sport’s biggest names, like Ernesto Hoost, Peter Aerts, and Andy Hug.
In 2001, he exploded onto the MMA scene with a legendary run in Pride. He holds the records for most wins through kicks, first-round finishes, and head kick knockouts and is tied for most finishes in the promotion with 16.
The Croatian is famous most of all for his deadly kicks. The southpaw famously explained his style: “right kick hospital, left kick cemetery.” Even a notoriously hard-headed fighter like Mark Hunt fell prey to the Cro Cop left high kick. Mirco had two runs in the UFC before finishing his incredible career on a 10-fight win streak.
The king of Rio, Jose Aldo, has been one of the sport’s premier strikers for two decades. Aldo reigned supreme at featherweight in WEC before the merge with UFC, where he defended the crown an incredible 7 times.
His accolades in the promotion are extraordinary, and his claim to be the greatest Brazilian fighter is well backed up.
Jose Aldo has been fighting professionally for nearly 20 years, and his style has changed and evolved. Early on, he was a Muay Thai stylist with vicious leg kicks but started relying more on his hands later.
While he maintains blinding speed and slick head movement throughout his career, Aldo has added a lot of high-level footwork since he moved to bantamweight. If you are looking for perhaps the best striking defense in MMA, look no further than Jose Aldo. Whether he ever competes for a title again, Jose Aldo is a certain hall of famer.
At just 30 years of age, Max Holloway has already cemented his name as a sure hall of famer and one of the greatest MMA fighters ever to do it.
The former featherweight champion is a certain attraction whenever he enters the cage. He has developed into one of the sport’s best strikers. From 2014 to 2018, Max had a 13-fight win streak.
The fight against Calvin Kattar would be enough to include Max Holloway in this list. In January 2016, Max set the UFC single-fight records for total strikes landed and attempted, significant strikes landed and attempted, strike differential, distance strikes landed, significant head strikes landed and significant body strikes landed against Kattar.
What Max Holloway lacks in pure power, he more than compensates for with his heavy volume striking style. Built upon an endless gas tank, supreme accuracy, and a true warrior’s heart.
When he captured the UFC light heavyweight belt in 2009, Machida became the first karateka to win a major MMA title. While his reign was brief, Lyoto had a spectacular career in the UFC and then Bellator.
The Dragon is known for his karate-based striking in the cage, but he also holds a black belt in BJJ and has trained sumo since he was a child, making him a deadly all-around MMA fighter.
The foundation of Machida’s unique fighting style is traditional Shotokan karate. The lightning-fast in-and-out movements and karate stance were very foreign to MMA fighters of that generation and presented an unsolvable puzzle.
Machida prefers fighting at a much greater distance than most fighters, which makes him very elusive. Early in his UFC career, he was racking up only decision wins. Still, once he found his power, Lyoto produced some of the most spectacular knockouts seen in the octagon.
Lyoto Machida was a flag bearer for karate in MMA and one of the finest strikers. He inspired many successful fighters after him to use more traditional moves and concepts in the cage.
Another karate phenom in MMA is Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Many would place Thompson’s striking at the level of Anderson Silva’s, and only the lack of championship-level grappling prevented Thompson from winning the welterweight title.
An outstanding karateka from a very young age, Wonderboy was undefeated in 58 kickboxing fights before he ventured into MMA.
Thompson is known for his American karate fighting style, which incorporates a wide sideways stance and a very low guard. He uses this stance to quickly cover distance and control the range of the fight. Wonderboy’s trademark sidekicks further help him maintain the range.
Overall, his kicks get most of the attention. Still, Thompson’s straight punches from odd angles have been responsible for as many knockouts. If you look at how you can incorporate American karate into MMA, there is no better example than Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.
Edson Barboza may be less successful title-wise than the other fighters on this list, but none can match the viciousness of his kicks. In his 26 fights in the UFC, the Brazilian Muay Thai specialist has fought the best fighters in the lightweight division, winning many battles.
While his fight record may not be the most impressive, his highlights are second to none. Barboza is the author of the first wheel kick KO in the UFC, the only fighter to finish 3 opponents with low kicks, knockouts from low, mid, and high kicks, and so on.
As his career progressed, he incorporated a lot of boxing footwork into his vicious kicking game, which turned Barboza into one of the premier strikers in MMA. If you ever need a reminder of the effectiveness of Muay Thai, look no further than the early career of Edson Barboza.
During his light heavyweight championship reign in the UFC, Jon Jones was considered the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. Jon “Bones” Jones became the youngest champion at 23 and hasn’t lost in his career except for a controversial disqualification against Matt Hamill.
His list of records makes him undoubtedly the most incredible light heavyweight in history. While his wrestling and all-around skills made him unbeatable, Jon’s striking is so dynamic that it deserves to be here.
While most other elite strikers rely on specific moves and tactics, Jon Jones is highly adaptable and fluid. He has used various techniques against different opponents, adapting to and defeating each one.
But if we have to pick one signature move, it has to be the nasty oblique kick targeting the opponent’s knee.
We can’t contain the list of the best strikers in MMA to just 10 fighters. Many more deserve to be included, but none can argue that these 10 men represent the cream of the crop. These fighters have very different combat tactics and approaches, each excelling at the beautiful violence of striking in mixed martial arts.