MMA began as a way to determine which martial art was the most effective, by pitting fighters from individual disciplines against one another.
In the modern-day, that’s not the case. If an athlete wants to be able to compete at the highest level, they need to be able to do it all. Their striking skills have to be backed up by their grappling game, and vice versa.
However, no mixed martial artist is a 10/10 at everything. Kron Gracie might be an ADCC World Champion, but he’s not got the stand-up skills to win a ONE Super Series World Title. Chances are that if someone has devoted their life to becoming the very best in the world at one thing, it is almost impossible for them to have developed their other skills to the same level.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we will ever see an athlete who could win Olympic freestyle wrestling gold, claim the WBC boxing World Title, clean up at the Mundials, and then combine all their attributes to win an MMA World Title.
But what if we could play the role of Victor Frankenstein and take the men who lead the way in each aspect of mixed martial arts, and splice their DNA together to create the perfect competitor?
These would be the athletes to choose.
Boxing – Anderson Silva
At the peak of his powers, there was no man more dangerous on the feet than Anderson “The Spider” Silva.
Though the record-breaking UFC middleweight champion scored some of his most famous knockouts with kicks, knees, and even a reverse elbow, the most mesmerizing part of the Brazilian’s stand-up game was his boxing.
He stood above most of his peers because he was a master of footwork and distance, his head movement left opponents swinging at air, and he could lead with both hands. He also had supreme knockout ability due to his combination of precision and power.
Silva was a sniper. At a time where many world champions still swung looping punches in search of a KO, his accuracy set him apart. Even though he did not look like he was throwing hands with full force, he could put down the most granite-chinned challengers.
The world saw that on the big stage when Silva kicked off his unmatched 16-bout UFC winning streak with an assassination of Chris Leben. Many more opponents were made to look foolish in the next few years.
Forrest Griffin was embarrassed as Silva bobbed and weaved out of danger, and then struck with ruthless efficiency. He also took a leaf out of Muhammad Ali’s book when he slipped Yushin Okami’s best shots and put him down with an anchor punch.
“The Spider’s” records speak for themselves, but for the ultimate validation, iconic boxing coach Freddie Roach described him as the best boxer in MMA during his prime.
Kicking – Mirko Cro Cop
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic’s supreme kicking ability struck fear into the hearts of men. Descriptions of his trademark roundhouse usually included the refrain: right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery.
The Croatian sensation was an import from K-1, so as an out-and-out striker, no man could match his devastating kickboxing skills when he first set foot in the MMA arena.
As a heavyweight, it’s not much of a surprise that he possessed tremendous power. However, unlike most of his peers in Pride Fighting Championships, Cro Cop had incredible flexibility. He could launch his most dangerous weapons with lightning speed.
His leg kicks would slow rivals down quickly, or even stop them altogether. His body kicks also had one-strike fight-finishing potential. Plus, in an era of legal soccer kicks, a few unfortunate souls bore the brunt of a terrifying salvo of shots on the ground.
However, it’s the left high kick that Cro Cop is most famous for – particularly a trio between 2003 and 2006 that will live on forever in highlight reels. Igor Vovchanchyn, Wanderlei Silva, and even the gigantic Alexander Emelianenko all fell to the most spectacular strike in MMA history. They knew it was coming, but they couldn’t do anything to stop it.
Wrestling/Takedowns – Khabib Nurmagomedov
For a long time, the archetypal mixed martial arts wrestler was a strapping, muscle-bound powerhouse with an explosive double-leg shot. However, the success of Khabib Nurmagomedov has turned that idea on its head.
“The Eagle” is not the most athletic man in the lightweight division, and his pure grappling technique is not on par with Olympians like Daniel Cormier and Ben Askren. However, the way he uses his skills for MMA is unmatched in the sport’s history.
Nurmagomedov’s wrestling is like Cro Cop’s kick – everyone knows it’s coming, but they can’t do anything to stop it. He rushes and blitzes forward to close the distance, and avoids damage as he makes contact with his opponents.
Once Khabib closes in, especially against the cage, his opponents have no place to go. It might take him a little while, but eventually, he’ll get them down on the mat. He’s also a master of chain wrestling. If an opposing athlete tries to get up, you can bet he’ll have another trick or two up his sleeve to put them right back down.
Beyond his takedown ability, Nurmagomedov is also unrivaled when it comes to control. When he finally has his man where he wants them, he’s a master of keeping them there. Plus, he can isolate an arm in a way that makes them wide open to striking and submission offense.
Submissions – Shinya Aoki
Nurmagomedov’s UFC title reign may have been defined by a trio of submissions against three of the world’s best lightweight, but even he cannot match Shinya Aoki in the submission stakes.
The Japanese icon’s excellence on the mat has earned him as many wins by submission (29) as Nurmagomedov managed in his entire career. What’s more, 25 of those finishes came in the first round.
Aoki is a judo and jiu-jitsu black belt with possibly the most impressive arsenal of grappling offenses in the history of mixed martial arts. His record is like an encyclopedia of submission techniques featuring everything from flying triangles to gogoplatas.
However, though he is known as “Tobikan Judan” (The Grand Master of Flying Submissions), it’s his ruthless efficiency with bread-and-butter moves that makes Aoki so special.
Many top-tier athletes have found themselves trapped in double-quick time. Seconds later, they have surrendered to the kinds of chokes and armlocks they would expect to survive against any ordinary adversary.
Ground And Pound – Jon Jones
Jon Jones grabs the headlines for his creative flair on the feet and incredible takedown ability, but the most impressive part of his skill set might be the way he destroys opponents on the ground.
When “Bones” starts raining his punches and elbows down from the top position, it usually signals the beginning of the end for his opponents. His hard punches and bone-shattering elbows have forced many elite fighters to curl up and hope for a reprieve.
The American doesn’t even need to be in a dominant position to be effective. Even from the guard, his insane reach allows him to unload and land in volume. It rarely takes much effort for him to posture up and unleash the kind of salvos that cause referees to come running.
Alexander Gustafsson, Chael Sonnen, and Brandon Vera were stopped with JBJ’s all-out ground and pound assault. The likes of Vitor Belfort were beaten on until they all but offered a submission on a plate to their conqueror.
Speed – Jose Aldo
Speed kills, and that is why José Aldo’s achievements are still unmatched in the featherweight division.
The Brazilian star was untouchable at the top of the weight class for years as he tore through his challengers with blazing hand-speed and lightning-fast kicks. His cat-like reflexes also made him had to hit and near impossible to take down.
That quickness helped to make him so effective with leg kicks. Before opponents saw them coming, their thighs were hit with the force of a baseball bat.
It was also impossible to exchange with him because he’d land four punches in the time it took for his foe to throw two.
Aldo’s speed also helped him to pull off two of the most spectacular knockouts in MMA history. In WEC, he moved so fast he kneed Cub Swanson twice in the face, in mid-air, to score an unfathomable 8-second finish. In the UFC, he escaped a takedown, spun, and kneed Chad Mendes into oblivion in the blink of an eye.
Cardio – Cain Velasquez
The downfall of many heavyweights is their inability to match their explosive power with endurance. Who can forget Shane Carwin coming close to finishing Brock Lesnar in round one before he gassed out and was tapped out?
Cain Velasquez was different. The former UFC heavyweight champion maintained a high offensive output for 25 minutes – though his opponents were usually finished long before the end of the fifth round.
It’s not like the Mexican-American juggernaut ever seemed to try and conserve energy, either. He came roaring out of the gate from the first bell and kept his foot on the gas until he got his hand raised.
Whether he was attacking with relentless wrestling or launching a barrage of bombs at his unfortunate foes, Velasquez just did not stop.
The only time his cardio was ever in question was when he did not acclimatize to the high altitude of Mexico City. However, at sea level, Velasquez did not slow down.
Fight IQ – Georges St-Pierre
A shock KO defeat to Matt Serra was a turning point in the career of Georges St-Pierre. Before then, “Rush” was an offensive dynamo who overwhelmed his opponents with his high-level offense.
After he was caught and lost his UFC welterweight title, things changed. First and foremost, he made the decision to ensure his challengers would barely lay a glove on him. Then he’d dismantle them where they were weakest.
His smart approach saw him go almost untouched for five years of his welterweight reign.
GSP’s change in approach made him one of the most irresistible wrestling forces in MMA history as he neutralized the threat of dangerous strikers. His explosive double-leg took Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, and Carlos Condit out of their comfort zones and left them desperately defending as “Rush” unloaded with ground and pound.
He still went toe-to-toe when the time was right, too. Both Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch were dismantled over five rounds. The Canadian superstar even picked Nick Diaz apart when most fans thought the Stockton bad boy would have the edge in the stand-up stakes.
Also, he retired when he was on top – before the ravages of the world’s toughest sport took their toll on him like so many of his contemporaries. That may be the ultimate endorsement of his fight IQ.
Putting It All Together – Demetrious Johnson
No one has ever mastered all aspects of mixed martial arts and put them together with such excellence and fluidity as Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson.
Striking? He knocked out his two closest rivals – Joseph Benavidez with a single punch and Henry Cejudo with a knee to the body.
Wrestling? He could take and hold down anyone down in a division renowned for super-fast, scramble-happy grapplers.
Submissions? He made world-class BJJ black belt Wildon Reis surrender to an armbar and pulled off a unique finish by throwing Ray Borg and catching him with a decisive armbar.
The most extraordinary aspect of Johnson’s skills is that he can flow effortlessly between disciplines. He transitions from kickboxing to a double-leg, or from the clinch to a submission set-up without breaking his stride.
Few rivals can match his expertise and application, so it’s no wonder he’s been a beacon of MMA greatness for almost a decade.
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