We’ve seen some amazing fighters go through the UFC Octagon. In fact, we’ve seen the best of the best competing at the highest level of MMA in the world.
However, there’s only a handful of UFC fighters that reached superstardom. They are the biggest reason why UFC is the fastest rising sports franchise in the world and why MMA is becoming more popular than boxing.
This is a list of the 15 most famous UFC fighters that have made a difference and made the promotion as popular as it currently is.
The criteria used to make this list is how many people know about them, how popular they are on social media, how often they are present in the media, and how great their PPV sales are. This is a ranked list going from 15 to 1.
15. Randy Couture
One of the first real UFC stars was the incredible Randy Couture. He competed in the UFC almost since the beginning; his first appearance in the octagon was on UFC 13 in 1997. What made Randy so iconic is how he came back repeatedly after people thought he was washed.
He lost to Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez in 2002 but came back and demolished two rising stars in Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Then he lost to a cut against Vitor Belfort, only to crush him in the next fight. Chuck Liddell then knocked him out twice in 2005 and 2006. This was the end of his career, right? Wrong.
Couture came back and moved to the heavyweight division, where he won the title against Tim Sylvia. He then defended it against the overhyped Gabriel Gonzaga in one of the bloodiest matches ever. Again, everybody thought he was done when Brock Lesnar knocked him out to take the title, and Antonio Nogueira beat him in the next match.
Once again, he came back and won three times in a row, including a victory against another UFC legend, Mark Coleman. Couture’s spectacular career made him a fan favorite all around.
14. Royce Gracie
Many new-age MMA fans might not know who Royce Gracie is, but he’s definitely on the shortlist of the most famous UFC fighters ever. He’s the guy that won three of the first four UFC tournaments when there were still no weight categories or modern MMA rules. He’s one of the guys responsible for the development of MMA as we know it today.
He popularized BJJ worldwide, and his family name got to a whole new level thanks to him, his father, and his siblings. Royce finished his MMA career with a 15-2 record. The last time we saw him fight was in 2016 when he was 49, and he knocked out yet another MMA legend, Ken Shamrock.
Although he might be a part of the older MMA generation, Gracie still has almost 250k Instagram followers, and the fans love him.
13. Max Holloway
To think that Max Holloway is only 29 years old is unfathomable, considering his spectacular UFC resume. Blessed is one of the best MMA fighters in history, and his career isn’t even close to done. He was the UFC featherweight champion after dethroning Jose Aldo, who ruled the division for years before Max made his mark.
What makes him the fan-favorite is his relentless fighting style. When it comes to the average strikes per fight, he’s right at the top of the list in UFC history. Even when he gets damaged, he just keeps on coming, overwhelming his opponent with volume and precision.
Apart from his spectacular MMA skills, he’s one of the nicest people you could ever meet, humble in defeat and victory. Not only fans but his fellow fighters love him for his sportsmanlike attitude. Holloway’s social media profiles witness his huge popularity, as Blessed has over 2.5 million followers worldwide.
Although he lost his title and several recent fights, I’m completely sure he’ll get back to the top and win the title once again.
12. Nate Diaz
The Diaz brothers are the most famous bad boys in the MMA world. Although Nick was the first to leave a mark in the UFC, Nate became the more popular brother. The reason behind that is his legendary interviews and two spectacular fights against Conor McGregor, both in the top five highest-sold PPV events in UFC history.
Diaz has almost five million Instagram followers not only because of his MMA career but his nack for show business. He’s also one of the biggest advocates for legalizing marijuana, and he also has a company with his brother that makes high-quality CBD.
Fans love him because of his relentless fighting style. He’s known who can’t be knocked out. The only guy ever to do it is Josh Thompson in 2013. Nate can eat shots as greatly as he can deliver with his fantastic “sloppy” boxing and one of the strongest BJJ games in the promotion. We’re eagerly waiting for his return to action, and I’m sure it’ll be a huge PPV hit yet again.
11. Daniel Cormier
Many consider Daniel Cormier to be in the top five best MMA fighters of all time. What makes his MMA career even more special is that he started training and competing very late. He got into the UFC when he was 34, just around the age where many fighters choose to retire. Still, he was incredibly successful, losing to only two fighters in his career.
And those two are also in the top five best MMA fighters in history: Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic. DC is one of the few fighters ever to become a UFC double champ, simultaneously holding titles in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. He retired with an impressive 22-3 career record and became UFC’s expert analyst and commentator.
He’s got almost 3 million followers on Instagram, too, not only for his MMA career but his television appearances and wrestling entrepreneurship.
10. Stipe Miocic
Stipe Miocic is widely considered to be the best MMA heavyweight fighter of all time, making him one of the best fighters of all time in general. His resume speaks for himself, as he defeated many legendary UFC fighters, including Daniel Cormier, Francis Ngannou, Junior dos Santos, Alistar Overeem, Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, and others.
Stipe is the fighter with the most consecutive heavyweight title defenses with three, and although he lost the title to Daniel Cormier, he avenged it by defeating DC twice in a row. He lost it again to Francis Ngannou, but he’s still looking to come back to take it.
He’d probably be even more popular if he were a bit more flashy and trash-talking, but he still has over 1.5 million Instagram followers. He’s a devoted firefighter and a gamer, and the fans love him for his respectful attitude and the high family values he loves to highlight.
9. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is probably the lousiest UFC champion of all time. However, he’s definitely one of the most popular fighters to ever compete in the octagon. The promotion hyped him up like crazy, and he somewhat justified it by defeating an old Randy Couture and surviving a carnage to choke out Shane Carwin.
His doping violations put a huge stain on it all, though, and he never returned to the octagon after he got caught cheating. Before (and after) his MMA days, he had a wrestling background, but what made him famous worldwide is his WWE stints. He’s the only fighter in history that held both the UFC and WWE titles.
He almost got a chance to compete for the UFC title once again when Daniel Cormier was the champion – he even had some ringside shenanigans with him. However, the fan backlash was too big, and Lesnar didn’t want to deal with USADA (anti-doping agency) once again.
Fans called it the biggest money fight ever, and they were right to complain. Imagine if Brock fought for the title after two consecutive knockout losses and a no-contest due to a doping violation and inactivity for two years. Yeah, that’s how popular Lesnar was.
8. BJ Penn
BJ Penn was always the fan-favorite. He never backed down from a challenge and gave us some of the best, bloodiest, and most exciting fights in MMA history. He’s also the first fighter ever to win championships in multiple UFC divisions. Several fighters did it after him, but he was the one that showed it’s possible.
I feel so bad that he didn’t know when to retire, as Penn lost his last seven fights to finish his career with a 16-14 record. However, he’s a much better fighter than the record shows, battling incredible fighters throughout his career, including Matt Serra, Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre, Nick Diaz, Diego Sanchez, Frankie Edgar, etc.
7. Chuck Liddell
I wondered whether I’d put Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz on this list, as both of them were incredibly famous at one point, but I opted for The Iceman, as he usually got the best of their rivalry. Liddell and Ortiz were the first super hyped matchup in UFC history, and their rivalry goes way beyond the octagon.
Chuck was UFC’s biggest star for a long time and is still a very beloved character among MMA fans. Unfortunately, he’s one of the legends that should’ve retired earlier, losing six of his last seven career fights. Although he’s over 50 years old, he still has almost a million Instagram followers and is still a very popular member of the MMA community.
6. Georges St. Pierre
Ask anybody who’s in their top three best MMA fighters of all time. If Georges St. Pierre isn’t on the list, they have no idea what they are talking about. The Canadian superstar has only two career losses and avenged both. He’s one of the longest-tenured UFC champions and finished his career on a 13-fight win streak.
He ruled the welterweight division for years, retired, and came back after four years to demolish Michael Bisping and take the middleweight title as well. GSP fought many wars in the octagon and usually prevailed, even when he got battered and bruised. He’s the definition of a warrior, and the fans love him to this day.
Although he hasn’t retired completely, it’s unlikely we’ll see him in the octagon ever again. Instead, he became an Instagram star with over three million followers and started acting in several Hollywood movies and TV shows, including highly popular Marvel Comics adaptations such as The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
5. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey is the only woman on this list, but there’s a great reason why she’s so high up. Rowdy rejuvenated the UFC in its hardest moment and was the biggest star of the promotion for years. She demolished her competition and racked up huge PPV numbers, easily making her one of the most famous UFC fighters of all time.
Even after the two devastating knockout losses that sent her into MMA retirement, Ronda remained one of the most popular MMA icons globally, racking up over 13 million Instagram followers, competing in WWE, and acting in several Hollywood productions.
4. Jon Jones
There’s so much controversy surrounding Jon Jones, but one thing is certain – he’s one of the best MMA fighters ever, and he’s also one of the most popular fighters, too. There’s not even a single casual MMA fan that hadn’t heard about Bones, his prolific fighting skills, but also his cocaine abuse, doping violations, hit-and-runs leading to his arrest, etc.
Whether you like him or not, he’s a huge MMA icon, and he only has a single loss in his entire career. And, he wasn’t beaten – he was disqualified.
Bones has a follower base of almost 6 million on Instagram, and his recent return to action only prompted even more fame for him. We’re waiting to see if he’ll go up to the heavyweights, as he announced, but even if he doesn’t, he’ll go down as one of the greatest ever. If there were no controversy surrounding him, there would be no doubt about who the MMA G.O.A.T. is.
3. Khabib Nurmagomedov
If you started watching MMA and UFC in the mid-2010s, you’d say that Khabib Nurmagomedov is the best MMA fighter in history without a doubt. Well, I’ve been an MMA fan since the mid-2000s, and I have to tell you – I completely agree.
The Eagle never lost a fight in his life. Better yet, in his 29 professional fights, one could argue that Khabib only lost a single round in all those fights (before demolishing Conor McGregor in the next few rounds before finishing him).
He was never a trash-talker or a trouble-maker outside the cage, which is why fans love him that much. He went inside, did his thing, and always showed respect, highlighting his biggest values: family, respect to his opponents, country, and culture.
His staggering 28.5 million followers on Instagram show just how beloved he is. He’s what every fighter should be: humble and respectful outside the cage but ruthless inside of it.
2. Anderson Silva
Even if you started following MMA after his prime, you know who Anderson Silva is and what he has done for the UFC and MMA. Spider is one of the best fighters ever to do it and a true icon of great sportsmanship with even greater skills.
He demolished people with his incredibly flashy fighting style, making him a fan favorite since day one in the UFC because of his never-before-seen striking abilities. It didn’t take long for him to become the middleweight champion, and he held that belt for over five years.
It was heartbreaking to see him ruin his goat status and not retiring when it was time. He won only one of his last nine bouts, but he’s still a fan-favorite and always will be. His 3.7 million Instagram followers would agree with me.
1. Conor McGregor
You knew this was coming. Conor McGregor is by far the most famous UFC fighter in history – nobody comes even close. Notorious has over 40 million social media followers despite being fairly inactive over the last several years, apart from a couple of losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier and a first-round knockout of Donald Cerrone.
Nevertheless, according to Forbes, he was the highest-paid athlete of 2020, and his PPV events break records time after time. He got the UFC to the glory days where it’s at right now, and he started the trash-talking trend among fighters seeking exposure. But, no one can be Conor except for Conor.
The guy single-handedly took MMA to level with boxing, which is just crazy, considering that boxing was untouchable for decades as the most popular combat sport in the world.
Whether you love him or hate him, the UFC and MMA can thank him for the stardom they are enjoying right now, and all the fighters can thank him for the increase in popularity, sponsorship deals, and UFC salary. McGregor is the most famous UFC fighter ever and will probably stay that way forever.