Wrestling might be the single best martial art background for MMA fighters. Today, 6 of 7 UFC male champions have a wrestling background. Better wrestler dictates where the fight takes place, so there is no surprise that MMA fighters with good wrestling make up the best fighters in the UFC.
Best wrestlers in the UFC:
- Khabib Nurmagomedov
- Daniel Cormier
- Jon Jones
- Yoel Romero
- Kamaru Usman
- Colby Covington
- Georges St-Pierre
- Henry Cejudo
- Dominick Cruz
- Tyron Woodley
- TJ Dillashaw
- Stipe Miocic
- Islam Makhachev
- Ben Askren
- Alexander Volkanovski
We have to mention that the given list of best wrestlers in the UFC is not ordered. We took many factors into consideration, like their UFC resume, wrestling resume, percentage of takedowns and takedown defenses, etc. So, let’s take a closer look at fighters who made it to the list.
Also, we made lists similar to this for every martial art. Take a look at best Muay Thai fighters in the UFC and MMA, best boxers in the UFC and MMA, best BJJ practitioners in the UFC, and best kickboxers in the history of UFC and MMA.
Best Wrestlers in the UFC:
Division: UFC Lightweight
MMA record: 28-0
We might have just started our list with the best wrestler MMA has ever seen. Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov is an unprecedented force inside the Octagon. He fought 28 times inside the cage. 28 men have tried, 28 have failed. Khabib is undefeated his whole career. In his UFC career, he has only lost a single round (against Conor McGregor in the biggest fight in the UFC history).
Nurmagomedov is the best ground and pound fighter of all time. There is just a matter of time when his opponents will be on the back and Khabib on top of them. Until now, nobody has yet figured how to solve a mystery of Khabib’s wrestling. Khabib also holds the record for most takedowns in a single fight (21 against Abel Trujillo; take a look at all of them).
He is the current UFC lightweight champion of the world with 2 title defenses to his name. But, Khabib’s biggest challenge is yet to come. If we are lucky, we might see Khabib going against Tony Ferguson in what is the most anticipated fight in the history of MMA.
Division: UFC Heavyweight, formerly UFC Light Heavyweight
MMA record: 22-2 (1 NC)
Daniel “DC” Cormier is an Olympic and NCAA Division I wrestler. He is one of the, if not the best wrestler in the history of the heavyweight division. In his extraordinary career, he came short of a win only three times. Two of those (actually one, because one is no contest) came from his biggest rival Jon Jones. One comes from the current UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.
Cormier is known for his height (only 5 ft 11 in) and reaches (only 72 and a half in). Despite those small sizes, when it comes to dictating the pace of the fight and setting up the pressure to his opponents, he is one of the best to ever do it. With his extraordinary cardio for a weight class, Daniel is always in his opponent’s face, leaving them no room to breathe.
As he is 41, Cormier announced that he has only one more fight inside the Octagon, a trilogy fight against Stipe Miocic. But who knows, if Cormier manages to win a fight and regain a heavyweight belt, we might see one more fight. And that would be the biggest trilogy fight ever, against his bitter rival, Jon Jones.
Division: UFC Light Heavyweight
MMA record: 26-1 (1 NC)
Jon “Bones” Jones is arguably the best fighter that has ever stepped foot inside the Octagon. He is the youngest man that has ever won the UFC championship belt (at the age of just 23 years old). Jones is undefeated for his whole career (actually, he has one loss, against Matt Hamill, when he was disqualified for 12-6 elbows in the fight where Jon was dominating completely).
In his first title reign, Jon, a young kid from Albuquerque, completely wiped out the whole UFC Light Heavyweight division. In the process, he absolutely dominated the best fighters and champions from that era, including Shogun, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Alexander Gustaffson, Glover Teixeira, and Daniel Cormier. He defended the belt on seven occasions.
But, in 2015, problems have started for Jones. He was involved in a lot of scandals and illegal substances usages, so he was stripped of the title and took some time outside the Octagon. He had problems for years, and when he finally came back in 2019, he quickly regained the UFC Light Heavyweight throne, and in just over a year, started to clear the division once again. In his second run, he is at 3 title defenses (Smith, Santos, Reyes).
Although nobody in the UFC has a resume even nearly similar to Jones’, people are still doubting his status as the greatest of all time (because of his actions outside of the Octagon). To clear that doubt, Jones said, that in the near future, he might step up, and go to the UFC Heavyweight division to clear that one as well, and secure his status as “the baddest man that has ever walked the Earth”.
Divison: UFC Middleweight
MMA record: 18-5
Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero is a Cuban Olympic Silver wrestler. When you see him, Yoel is just scary. The UFC Middleweight fighter might just be the most athletic and fittest fighter that has ever lived. At the age of 43, he has a body and strength that absolutely defies all laws of human aging.
Romero’s outstanding wrestling and control of opponent is matched just with his insane one punch KO power. Cuban wrestler is a fighter that absolutely nobody wants to face. Just as Dana White said:
“I never get anybody calling me and saying, ‘Hey Dana, I want to fight Yoel Romero,’” White said. “When do you ever hear a guy call him out? It doesn’t happen. Guys wind up fighting him because the rankings dictate it or whatever, but no one is volunteering for that. [Adesanya] just kept blowing up my phone: ‘I want Romero. I want Romero. I want Romero.’ I respect that. You want to fight a guy like that, I respect it and so we made it happen.”Dana White
Division: UFC Welterweight
MMA record: 16-1
Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman is the current UFC Welterweight champion of the world. In his title fight against former champion Tyron Woodley, Usman absolutely dominated the whole five rounds. He set an unbelievably high pace, and with his amazing wrestling abilities, Kamaru took Tyron down almost at will. Worth noticing is that Woodley’s takedown defense before that fight was incredible (94% takedown defense), but Usman still took him down whenever he wanted.
Usman is an NCAA Division II wrestler. His wrestling background enabled him the achieve current success in the UFC. He averages 3.44 successful takedowns per 15 minute fight, which is incredible. His takedown accuracy is incredible with half of his takedown attempts being successful. When we talk about Usman’s takedown defense, it stands at an extraordinary 100%. No fighter in the UFC has yet managed to take Usman down.
Divison: UFC Welterweight
MMA record: 17-2
Colby “Chaos” Covington, an NCAA Divison I wrestler. Probably the most hated guy inside the UFC. After his first nine UFC fights, UFC was set to release him. They said, that his wrestling style and boring personality just wasn’t the right fit for the company. Soon, Colby realized he had to change something.
After his fight against Demian Maia in São Paulo, Brazil, where he completely outclassed Maia, he called a whole country of Brazil “a bunch of filthy animals” and “Brazil, you absolutely s–k”. The post-fight interview soon went viral, and everyone started to hate Covington. For UFC, that meant one thing, money. They gave Colby a new contract, and Covington’s rise to notoriety started. Soon, he managed to get the whole world to hate him, insulting absolutely everyone in the process.
But, to set Colby’s marketing strategy aside, he is one of the best wrestlers the UFC has ever seen. His cardio and pressure are off the charts. Colby scores an insane 4.91 takedowns per 15 minutes with a 51% takedown accuracy. The pressure and control that he puts on his opponents are absolutely incredible. Colby dominates almost all of his opponents, and that earned him a title shot against Usman. Although he lost via TKO in the 5th round, the fight was an absolute war.
In his fight against Robbie Lawler, Covington set the UFC record for most strikes thrown in a single fight with an absolutely incredible amount of 541 strikes.
Divison: UFC Welterweight, UFC Middleweight (retired)
MMA record: 28-2
Georges “Rush” St-Pierre is a Canadian MMA fighter. He is a true legend of the sport, inside and outside of the Octagon. GSP comes into talk both when talking about the fan favorite fighters, and when talking about the best to ever do it. Georges is often regarded as one of the best ground and pound fighters in the history of MMA.
GSP is the fourth multi-divisional champion in UFC history. He was the UFC Welterweight champion for more than 2000 days with 9 title defenses to his name. In 2017, he came out of retirement to win the UFC Middleweight belt also (against Michael Bisping). But soon retired once again.
Georges is well known for his incredible fight IQ. In combination with his extraordinary wrestling abilities, he always chooses where the fight will take place. In his case, that is often on the ground. GSP holds the UFC record for most takedowns in history (90). He takes his opponents to the ground, secures a good position, and then ground-and-pounds them until he wins. Georges also has a takedown accuracy of 74%, which is just unreal.
Divison: UFC Bantamweight, formerly UFC Flyweight
MMA record: 17-2
Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo, also known as “Triple C”, is the first man to be the champion of two UFC divisions (flyweight and bantamweight) and to have an Olympic Gold.
Henry is an Olympic Gold medalist in freestyle wrestling. In 2018 he won his first UFC gold (flyweight division) against Demetrious Johnson, ending his 11 title defenses reign (which is the longest title reign in the UFC history). Next year, he made his first title defense in flyweight against one of the best bantamweights of all time, TJ Dillashaw, knocking him out in just 32 seconds.
Later that year, Henry moved up to the UFC Bantamweight division where he challenged Marlon Moraes for the vacant belt. In the third round, he TKOed Moraes, thus becoming the 4th fighter to hold two UFC belts simultaneously. With two UFC belts around his shoulders and Olympic Gold medal around his neck, he earned his new nickname, “Triple Champion”, or shorter, “Triple C”.
Division: UFC Bantamweight
MMA record: 22-2
Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz is one of the greatest UFC Bantamweights of all time. But, his tremendous career is overshadowed by his injuries. He was the UFC Bantamweight champion until 2011 when he had to postpone his career due to injuries.
Cruz came back in 2016 to immediately challenge the then-current champion, TJ Dillashaw. Dominick regained his title by split decision in what was for most the biggest comeback in the MMA history. At the end of the year, he lost his belt against Cody Garbrandt, and due to injuries went out of the game for another 4 years. We except his return to the Octagon in 2020.
Dominick is well known for his fighting IQ, cardio, and incredible wrestling skills. He comes from a strong wrestling background, thus, the number of 3.17 average takedowns per 15 minutes is no surprise at all.
Division: UFC Welterweight
MMA record: 19-4 (1 draw)
Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley is an American NCAA Division I MMA fighter. He has a strong wrestling background, which he successfully translated to MMA. Woodley has 3 UFC Welterweight title defenses to his name; against Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia, and Darren Till.
Although, having an incredible wrestling background, Tyron is known for his one-punch KO power. Actually, he rarely uses his wrestling abilities to take opponents down (average of just 1.21. successful takedowns in 15 minutes), he puts his wrestling skills to use to defend the takedowns. Woodley has an astonishing takedown defense. Of all the times when his opponents tried to take him down, Tyron successfully defended 92% of those attempts, which is absolutely high number.
View this post on Instagram
364 more days until I can return. 2019 was the toughest year of my life, it was an uphill battle but life is looking bright in 2020! Join me as I count this year down with monthly seminars at the @treigning_lab! Let’s come back and reclaim what’s our’s! I will post more info soon!!!
Division: UFC Bantamweight, UFC Flyweight
MMA record: 20-4
T.J. Dillashaw is an American mixed martial arts fighter. He began his martial arts journey in a high school wrestling team. Through his education, his wrestling has evolved all the way to NCAA Division I. He holds the record for most UFC Bantamweight title defenses (tied with Dominick Cruz; both have 3 title defenses).
While he was the bantamweight champion (135 pound limit) in 2019, he decided to challenge Henry Cejudo for the UFC Flyweight gold (125 pound limit). TJ already had problems with making the 135 weight limit, and when he said that he is ready to go down in weight class, it was absolutely ridiculous.
During the weight cut to 125, he looked like a walking skeleton; no fat, no water, nothing. Nonetheless, he hit the scale successfully, making the 125 pound limit. He lost to Henry in that fight. Sometime later, it was revealed that Dillashaw used forbidden substances during the weight cut, which resulted in his 2 year ban. He is expected to return to the Octagon in 2021.
Division: UFC Heavyweight
MMA record: 22-3
Stipe Miocic is the current UFC Heavyweight champion of the world, and with that, has the title of “the baddest man on the planet”. In the heavyweight division, Stipe is one of the most explosive fighters, and his footwork and wrestling skills allow him to control other fighters almost at will.
Miocic is arguably the best heavyweight MMA fighter of all time. He is the only fighter that has defended the UFC Heavyweight belt three times in a row. He then lost the belt to Daniel Cormier, but soon regained the throne in the rematch, thus began his second reign.
Stipe has been involved with wrestling since high school and competed ever since. Eventually, in college, he went all the way through to the NCAA Divison I. Being in the wrestling his whole life, has unquestionably helped him in his MMA career. That was best seen in his title defense against Francis Ngannou.
Ngannou is probably the hardest hitter that has ever stepped foot inside the Octagon, but Stipe utilized his wrestling and was able to take down Francis to the ground almost at will. On his back, there was no danger of the Ngannou’s devastating KO punch power. He outwrestled Francis for the whole 25 minutes and went home with the belt.
Division: UFC Lightweight
MMA record: 19-1
Islam Makhachev is another Dagestani fighter on our list. As Islam has grown up with Khabib Nurmagomedov, and the two are training partners for years, Islam is just like Khabib, a world class sambo practitioner. Islam’s wrestling abilities are something that most of the fighters in the UFC have no answer to.
Right now, he is on a run in the UFC Lightweight division, with 6 consecutive wins to his resume. His plan is to take over the belt, once Khabib retires.
When we talk about wrestling and Islam, we have to take a look at the stats. On average, he scores 3.4 takedowns every 15 minutes, which is incredible. On top of that, he has an unbelievable takedown accuracy with 68%. On the other hand, if Islam’s opponents try to take him down, that won’t be easy as well. The fighter from Dagestan stops 93% of the takedown attempts from his opponents.
Division: UFC Welterweight (retired)
MMA record: 19-2 (1 NC)
Ben “Funky” Askren is a retired American mixed martial artist and former Olympic wrestler. He is one of the few fighters inside the UFC that have competed at the Olympics. Ben is known for his outstanding wrestling skills and abilities to control where the fight goes (in Ben’s fights, usually opponents on the ground, and Ben on top of them).
Askren is a former Bellator and ONE Championship welterweight champion of the world. For the years, people have talked about how well would he compete against the top guys inside the UFC. While he was in those two promotions, no opponent has found a way to survive Ben’s wrestling and grappling. He had an undefeated record of 18-0 (1 NC).
In 2019, when Ben Askren signed with the UFC, we got the answer. Although he submitted Robbie Lawler in his UFC debut, he then got brutally KO’d by Jorge Masvidal and submitted by Damian Maia. Ben truly was one of the best wrestlers in the game, but his lack of striking abilities was the cause he couldn’t compete with the best inside the UFC. After those two fight, Askren retired because of hip problems.
Division: UFC Featherweight
MMA record: 21-1
Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski is the current UFC Featherweight champion of the world. He began his martial arts career training in Greco-Roman wrestling and won the national title at the age of 12. Then he started pursuing a career in rugby. After some time, Volkanovski changed the sport to MMA.
With his wrestling and rugby background, Alexander is the cardio machine with an excellent ability to control his opponents with wrestling skills. He is currently on an unbelievable 18 win streak, with 8 of those coming inside the UFC.
Currently, he is in consideration for the UFC Featherweight GOAT status. He has an incredible resume inside the UFC, where he TKO’d former title challenger Chad Mendes, then proceeded to get a win over former UFC featherweight king, Jose Aldo, and in the end, get hold of the belt by absolutely outclassing former champion Max Holloway for 5 rounds. He is excepted to take a rematch with Max to cement his status as the greatest UFC featherweight of all time.