As the sport of Mixed Martial Arts has evolved over the years, wrestling has emerged as a pillar of the sport. Elite amateur wrestlers continue to make the transition to MMA when their wrestling careers come to an end and they continue to make an instant impact on the sport.

There are many reasons why wrestlers do so well in MMA, but the biggest has to be the mentality that they bring to training and fighting. To be an elite wrestler you have to dedicate yourself to sacrifice and hard work; two qualities that translate to MMA very well. Aside for the mentality wrestlers bring to the game, they all bring an ability to control where the fight takes place.

While wrestling is a great base to have it’s just one piece of the puzzle; successful MMA fighters have to be at least competent in all phases of the fight game. Every wrestler utilizes their ability differently in the cage but, the fighters below do it better than anyone else in the game.

#10 – Johny Hendricks

There are few fighters in the sport today with an amateur wrestler pedigree as impressive as UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. During his time at Oklahoma State University, Hendricks was a three-time Big 12 champion, a four-time All-American, and a two-time National Champion.

Hendricks has emerged as a devastating knockout artist, but it’s his wrestling that has him wearing UFC gold right now. His ability to score late takedowns and keep opponents guessing gives him the edge when his power doesn’t put them to sleep.

#9 – Phil Davis

In one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC, light heavyweight Phil Davis stands as one of the best wrestlers in the division. At Penn State Davis was a four-time All-American and was the 2008 National Champion.

Unlike Hendricks, wrestling is Davis’ primary weapon. Davis looks to impose his will on his opponents and dominate them from the top position. When Davis is able to get the fight to the ground his top control and grappling ability are suffocating.

#8 – Henry Cejudo

Of all the great wrestlers on this list, none of them have what flyweight Henry Cejudo has. Cejudo was the youngest American wrestler to ever win an Olympic gold medal. Cejudo was such an elite wrestler in high school that he chose to forego college and chase his Olympic dream right out of high school.
It is still very early in his career, but Cejudo has already shown that his ability to control opponents is on another level. No one that steps in the cage with him will challenge his wrestling.

That is a major feather to have in your cap as a fighter.

#7 – Chris Weidman

UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman is an impressive fighter and his wrestling plays a big role in his success. As an amateur, Weidman was a two-time NJCAA All-American before going to Hofstra and becoming a two-time NCAA Division I All-American.

In only his sixth year as a professional fighter, Weidman has all the tools to become an all-time great and is continually getting better with every outing. His ability to threaten with his wrestling opens up his evolving striking game.

#6 – Yoel Romero

Weidman may be the current champion and an elite wrestler in his own right, but he doesn’t hold a candle to fellow UFC middleweight Yoel Romero. As an international competitor out of Cuba, Romero’s amature wrestling accolades include two Pan American Games’ medals, five World Championship medals and an Olympic silver medal.

His unreal wrestling base allows Romero to throw caution to the wind on the feet and unload his brutal striking game. When needed, taking opponents to the mat it is not a problem for the most decorated wrestler in the UFC.

#5 – Cain Velasquez

Already one of the greatest heavyweights to ever compete in MMA, UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez is a beast of a wrestler. Velasquez started his collegiate career by winning an NJCAA National Championship and garnering NJCAA All-American honors before going to Arizona State. While at ASU, Velasquez was a two-time Pac-10 champion and a two-time All-American.

Very few fighters use their wrestling as well as Velasquez. His constant pressure is enough to break most competitors and his ability to put opponents on their back and reign down ground and pound is a major reason he is a UFC champion today.

#4 – Jon Jones

The least decoraded amatuer wrestler on the list just might be the best functional wrestler in MMA today. UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is an animal of a wrestler, but only has a NJCAA National Championship to his credit.

Jones has shown time and time again that if he get someone in the clinch there is a really good chance that they will be going for a ride. His ability to utilize leverage and body control is what makes him one of the best wrestlers in MMA today.

#3 – Ben Askern

As the only fighter on the list not in the UFC, welterweight Ben Askren is a bit of an enigma; an enigma that is a truly elite wrestler. During his career at Mizzou, Askren was a four-time All-American, a three-time Big 12 Champion, a two-time National Runner-Up, a two-time National Champion, and a two-time Dan Hodge Trophy winner.

The 2008 Olympian didn’t have the international career many expected, but at 13-0 his pro MMA career is off to a strong start. Asken has an unstoppable takedown and his unorthodox top game creates a lot of openings for him to take advantage of.

#2 – Sara McMann

As the only woman on this list, Sara McMann is arguably the best wrestler in all of MMA today. Her amateur wrestling accomplishments are too many to list, but all you need to know is that she was the first American woman to win an Olympic silver medal one of the most decorated female wrestlers of all-time.

Even though she came up short in her title bid against Ronda Rousey, McMann showed her elite balance and leverage in the clinch and kept the Olympic Judoka from throwing her to the mat. McMann still needs to work on the rest of her game, but no one is going to be able to out grapple her and that is a huge advantage.

#1 – Daniel Cormier

Every fighter on this list is an elite wrestler deserving of consideration for the top spot in their own right, but UFC light heavyweight Daniel Cormier is the best wrestler in MMA today. In junior college Cormier was a two-time NJCAA All-American and a two-time NJCAA National Champion. At Oklahoma State he was two-time Big 12 conference runner-up, an All-American, and a National runner-up in 2001. On the international scene, Cormier was an elite competitor and always in the mix for a medal.

The best display of his wrestling ability can be witnessed in his manhandling of two-time Olympian Dan Henderson. Cormier made the MMA legend look like a rookie while throwing him around the cage. Cormier uses his wrestling to control every facet of the game and as his striking continues to evolve he will only become more dangerous.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.

  • WrestlersRuleMMA

    “Ben Askren” is how you spell his name. He’s a tremendous grappler and a hell of an MMA fighter. He belongs in the UFC.

  • WrestlersRuleMMA

    Also, Jared Rosholt should be on this list instead of Jon Jones. Read about Rosholt’s wrestling credentials and you will see why.