There will always be a debate about who is the greatest pound-for-pound fighter, and there will always be a debate about whether pound-for-pound rankings are even worth anything.

Whilst it is not easy to measure greatness between the vastly different weight classes, you can perhaps measure what single aspect of MMA that one fighter has excelled in more so than any other and use this as a formula with which to mold the ultimate mixed martial artist.

Many attributes go into modern-day MMA, some of which rely heavily upon the instincts of a fighter in the heat of the moment. But the attributes we will use as our framework for creating this supreme fighter will be as follows:

  • Fight IQ: How smart is a fighter when the cage door closes to nullify his/her opponents, come what may?
  • Chin: How much punishment can a fighter take and still remain in the fight?
  • Striking: Who has the ability to dole out the most punishment to their opponent on the feet?
  • Ground Skills: Who has the abilities on the ground to cause more problems for their opponent than any other?
  • Footwork/Movement: Who has the ability to move and evade the attacks of his/her opponents more effectively than any other?
  • Size: Who has the biggest size advantage of anyone in MMA?
  • Heart: Who has the heart to pull a victory out from the jaws of defeat?
The Picks

Fight IQ: Randy Couture was always noted as one of the best when it came to game-planning. But when it comes to IQ and general intelligence in MMA, the immediate name that springs to mind is Georges St-Pierre, who has acknowledged himself that it is not his athletic ability that has gotten him to the top but his ability to adapt and control where the fight takes place so as to best suit his abilities.

Chin: There have always been fighters noted for their ability to walk forward and take a punch, but overall it is fair to say that Dan Henderson has shown this ability as much as any other. Although, the punishment Junior Dos Santos survived against Cain Velasquez is definitely also deserving of an honorable mention. And one cannot forget Fabio Maldonado, who is making a late surge for this particular title.

Striking: Whilst there are many facets to MMA striking, it is fair to say that in MMA these days the vast majority of the striking comes from pure boxing skills with the odd kick in there to keep an opponent guessing. It should first be acknowledged that boxing in MMA brings with it a completely different mindset and mentality than that of just pure boxing. The stance that an MMA fighter has to adopt is completely different than you would see a world-class boxer utilize. The added threat of a takedown in MMA means that you have to always be ready to drop your hips to defend the takedown or at least drop your hands in order to utilize underhooks in an effort to create distance on the break.

Even the best strikers from other disciplines have needed to adapt their striking attacks to cater for the variety that MMA allows. This is evident when looking at not just high-level kickboxers like Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Alistair Overeem, but can be extended wider to include those with high-level boxing abilities, like the aforementioned Dos Santos.

In terms of all-around striking ability, there can be no other fighter to choose than Anderson Silva, who burst into the UFC with pinpoint striking and lethal knees in the clinch. Throughout his reign over the middleweight division, he showcased some of the best striking in MMA history and did so with a swagger that provided that extra ingredient which struck fear into many of his opponents.

Ground Skills: There have always been a number of MMA fighters who have grappling as their dominant art form and will look to take the fight to the floor at the first opportunity. The problem for these individuals is that fights start on the feet, so the onus is on them to take the fight to the floor, whereas a striker begins the bout in his/her element.

The sport of MMA as we know it today began with the Gracies, and Royce Gracie in particular. Royce’s sole intention was to get the fight to the floor as soon as possible. We are now seeing a similar thing with Ronda Rousey in the women’s division. She is so dominant on the mat and will end a fight quickly if her opponents cannot prevent the fight from taking place there.

In recent years, we have seen the likes of Rolles Gracie and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza enter MMA with incredible grappling resumes. However, when you think of submissions in MMA, the first name to jump out would be Frank Mir, thanks to his ability to tear limbs off his opponents in a heartbeat.

Despite Mir’s impressive body of work in MMA, one name stands out above all others in terms of pedigree in not just pure grappling, but in adapting that to grappling for MMA. Demian Maia is the most successful at adapting his grappling game to suit MMA. Whilst he ultimately recognized that his grappling alone would only get him so far, it pretty much got him a shot at the middleweight champion, Anderson Silva, without much need for skills in other areas until that point.

Footwork/movement: The best footwork is most often displayed in the lighter weight classes, where the fighters possess enhanced agility. In the past, we have seen quality displays of footwork from champions Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson, to name just a couple. However, it is karate stylist Lyoto Machida that has developed the most elusive and unpredictable movement inside the cage, which leaves his opponents guessing throughout. This elusive style took him all the way to the light heavyweight title and now looks set to afford him the same opportunity at his seemingly much more natural weight class at 185 pounds.

Size: When it comes to the traditional aspects of martial arts, students are often taught that the skills learned will be applicable no matter the size disparity between the two combatants. However, whilst in theory technique should overcome strength and size, it certainly can’t hurt if you have the natural size to go along with it. In terms of size, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the aforementioned Overeem is the man most befitting of the title as fighter with the biggest size advantage, thanks to his much debated and publicized physique.

However, in my view, this title lies with Jon Jones, who in his short career has utilized his size differential to the absolute maximum, with only Alexander Gustafsson showing any true ability to deal with it.

Heart: All of the above measure the physical attributes of a fighter, but as the sport of MMA evolves, the talent gap will slowly erode with it. As a result, the difference between the elite and the ones who nearly made it will be the ability to dig deep, gut it out and work through on nothing but pure heart and determination.

We have seen many displays of this kind throughout MMA history already. For the large part, these attributes cannot be taught, but are natural qualities that a fighter either has or he doesn’t.

One true example of this can be seen in what is now the most famous fight in UFC history, the inaugural TUF finale. On that night in 2005, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar laid it all on the line for the coveted contract and title to the point that even those who are not fight fans still couldn’t stop watching because of its primal appeal.

Furthermore, you can’t just measure a fighter’s heart based on how often they get in brawls with their opponent. The heart of a fighter is measured best when he/she is losing but summons strength from somewhere to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat. This turning-of-the-tables type of moment is no better exemplified than Anderson Silva’s last-gasp submission victory over a Chael Sonnen who had dismantled the Brazilian over four rounds in a way that nobody thought possible.

Despite that incredible effort from Silva, though, Scott Smith still must hold the title for the most impressive come-from-behind victory. The win came when Smith somehow managed to knock Pete Sell out cold whilst still doubled over in apparent agony over a body shot he had received just seconds earlier.

Yet, despite the achievements of Smith and Silva, the title of the biggest heart in MMA history surely goes to Frankie Edgar for his tireless mentality and ability to take an absolute battering but still keep fighting. Not only did Edgar fight and win in a weight class higher than his physique naturally allowed, but he survived one of the most lopsided rounds in MMA history and somehow managed to come back to get the win and retain his title.

The Story So Far

Overall, Georges St-Pierre gets my vote for the most supreme fighter to grace the cage in MMA history thus far, given his devotion to all aspects of the game. You will currently see GSP gracing the silver screen as Georges Batroc in the blockbuster film Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This character on paper seems tailor-made for St-Pierre, in that he is an athletic martial artist of French origin and a skilled tactician, though ultimately he has no superpowers, something that Dan Hardy was all too keen to point out about GSP after their fight at UFC 111.

On the whole, it is clear to see that a lot of attributes go into making an elite fighter. What’s more, you have to have a healthy mix of all of the above in order to rise to the top in the current world of MMA, even with the sport still in its infancy.

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.