After Khabib Nurmagomedov's retirement, who really is the UFC GOAT?

Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre boast Championship longevity but Khabib Nurmagomedov has dominated like no other fighter before him… after the Dagestani’s retirement, who really is the UFC GOAT?

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement has re-ignited the UFC’s GOAT debate 
  • The Dagestani is arguably the most dominant fighter to ever compete 
  • However, Jon Jones believes that he has a greater claim to GOAT status
  • Sportsmail looks at the strongest contenders for the highly-debated title 

The UFC’s ‘Greatest Of All Time’ debate has raged for years on end and, when all is said and done, will unlikely result in a single unanimous answer.

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s recent retirement from the UFC has re-ignited the age-old conversation, with the Dagestani’s unblemished record and Octagon dominance pitting him against the most accomplished names in the sport.

But, as Jon Jones argued last week, the debate is far more convoluted than it would appear on the surface. The American shared a meme mocking the Dagestani’s UFC title wins, in an Instagram post that has since been deleted.

A whole host of factors such as title wins, dominance, win streaks and pioneering inevitably leads to different answers for different people. Here, Sportsmail rounds up the fighters with the strongest claim for GOAT status.  

The UFC’s GOAT debate has been reignited since Khabib Nurmagomedov’s recent retirement 

Jon Jones

Where better to start than with Jon Jones.

For some fans and pundits, the GOAT debate starts and ends with a fighter’s longevity, and Jones’ decade-long reign over the UFC light heavyweight division is yet to be matched by any other fighter.

In that time, Jones has put together one of the best resumes of any UFC athlete, having wiped out two generations of fighters including Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans and Daniel Cormier. 

Jon Jones’ decade-long reign at 205 pounds will be difficult to match at any weight class

The American has cleared out two generations of fighters and has a near impeccable record

Jones has the most title wins in UFC history with 14, the most UFC title defences with 11 and, barring a controversial disqualification in a bout he was dominating, ‘Bones’ is undefeated in 26 fights. 

But Jones’ record, remarkably, could have been even greater had he not been blighted by his chequered past that has included a hit and run, multiple failed drugs tests and much more.

Former arch rival Cormier believes that Jones’ failed drugs tests rules him out of the conversation. 

‘One of the most talented guys you’ll ever meet [Jones] but again for me bad [drug] tests eliminate you from the conversation,’ Cormier told MMA Fighting via talkSPORT. ‘That for me, it just kind of changes the conversation.’

However, Jones has been hit by failed drugs tests as well as run-ins with the law in recent years

Based on pure ability alone, Jones is one of the greatest athletes to compete in the UFC

His record speaks for itself, but it has been argued that Jones has not enjoyed the same dominant displays that other names of this list have put together, with wins over Alexander Gustafsson, Dominick Reyes and Thiago Santos that were fortunate to go in his favour.

Personal issues and close-fought decision wins aside, Jones could wrap this whole conversation up if he makes a successful move up to heavyweight. Should he become heavyweight champion, it will be virtually impossible to look past him as UFC GOAT. 

UFC GOAT rating: 8/10 

Khabib Nurmagomedov

The man that is far and away the best lightweight to ever compete in the UFC, Khabib Nurmagomedov has ridden into the sunset at the peak of his powers.

29 wins, no defeats and possibly not a single round lost in his UFC career, Khabib’s dominance has not been matched by any fighter on this list.

Moreover, the Dagestani has introduced a wrestling style never before seen in the UFC.

Khabib Nurmagomedov may have fewer title wins, but is one of the most dominant ever

His three-fight stretch of defences over McGregor, Poirier and Gaethje may be the best ever

However, just four title wins looks meek compared to other GOAT contenders. That low number can be attributed to long-term injuries and UFC politics, with other fighters, perhaps unfairly, being granted title shots before him.

But not all title defences are of the same weight, and Khabib’s three fight stretch of wins over Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje is arguably the greatest run of title victories ever seen, given the magnitude of the McGregor bout and the fact that Poirier and Gaethje were hitting peak form when they met the Dagestani. 

Nurmagomedov has not been marred by the controversies that Jones has experienced either, having never failed a drugs test nor fallen into trouble with the law. 

Despite still being at the peak of his powers, Khabib has decided to ride off into the sunset

Former welterweight challenger Stephen Thompson says that a fighter’s greatness inside the Octagon has to be matched outside it, too. 

‘I don’t think having more title defences puts you as the Greatest Of All Time,’ he said.

‘For a man like Khabib, who has kept his word, follows the rules, he is an honourable man. Do I think he deserves the pound-for-pound over Jon Jones? Yes I do. But then you have GSP…’ 

UFC GOAT rating: 9/10

Georges St-Pierre

Not one to be shouting his accomplishments from the rooftop, Georges St-Pierre has been somewhat overlooked in the recent GOAT debate.

The Quebecer has everything needed as a strong candidate for GOAT status: Longevity? Yes, having defended his title nine times. Strong opposition? Absolutely, GSP has victories over Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit and Matt Hughes on his record. Fighting style? One of the purest and most technical mixed martial artists to compete in the Octagon, without doubt. 

Georges St-Pierre has been overlooked in the Jones-Khabib shootout in the past few weeks

The modest Quebecer has the longevity, calibre of rivals and style that makes him a GOAT

GSP has also won titles in two separate weight classes, having defeated Michael Bisping in 2017 to add the middleweight belt to his welterweight crown. 

However, he does have two defeats on his record: to Matt Serra and Matt Hughes.

But the 40-year-old displayed the resilience to bounce back and avenge those two losses before reigning supreme over the welterweight division for seven years.

He has never failed a drugs test, and you would struggle to find any bad press regarding GSP. 

GSP is also a two-weight world champion, and has just two defeats on his professional record

‘Georges has had a couple of losses, but even coming back that in itself is more of a heroic tale in a career sense,’ former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker said.

‘So people like Khabib and Georges St-Pierre have that picture-perfect career.’ 

UFC GOAT rating: 9/10 

Anderson Silva 

A true pioneer of the sport, Anderson Silva is the benchmark that all aspiring UFC greats look to eclipse. 

The Brazilian, alongside GSP, was the first genuine global star, having overseen a 16-fight winning run that kept him at the summit of the middleweight division. 

In that run, Silva submitted Dan Henderson – arguably one of the strongest 185-pounders ever, knocked out Forrest Griffin with a jab and floored Vitor Belfort with a front kick, one of the best knockouts in the sport’s history. 

Anderson Silva is a true pioneer of the sport and has set the benchmark for aspiring greats

However, he has multiple failed drugs tests and has decided to fight on well past his peak

GSP once argued that there can be different GOATs for different eras, and a six-year unbeaten run, with the calibre of opponents defeated and the impeccable fighting style displayed, makes Silva one of the best fighters of all time.

However, a number of failed drugs tests has served to hamper the Brazilian’s claim for GOAT status. Moreover, since losing the middleweight title to Chris Weidman, Silva has lost seven of his last nine fights, with Dana White imploring the 43-year-old to call it a day.

Where Khabib and GSP ended their careers on a high, Silva has stubbornly carried on in what is a sad sight for fans and pundits. Make no mistake, though, the Spider is well and truly in the conversation.

UFC GOAT rating: 7/10 

Demetrious Johnson 

One fighter who has fallen by the wayside in the GOAT debate and is deserving of more recognition is former flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. 

Mighty Mouse is arguably one of the most well-rounded fighters to set foot in the Octagon, with his exceptional versatility in striking, wrestling and grappling seeing him enjoy a run of 11 successive UFC title wins, the longest consecutive run in UFC history.

Demetrious Johnson has all the attributes required of a GOAT, but is very rarely mentioned

Johnson made a somewhat subdued UFC exit after losing his flyweight title to Henry Cejudo, moving to rival promotion ONE. He has not failed drugs tests, either.

The 125-pound division does not hold the same glamour as light-heavyweight or middleweight, and the likes of Joe Rogan and Israel Adesanya believe that Johnson is deserving of GOAT status. 

‘Here’s what’s disappointing to me, that for whatever reason, Mighty Mouse never became a giant superstar,’ Rogan said on The Joe Rogan Experience via SportBible.

‘That confused the s*** out of me. When he took Ray Borg and suplexed him and caught him with an armbar on the way down… I was like, ‘What the f*** does this guy have to do to become a superstar?’ I mean, his skill level is off the chart.

Mighty Mouse is the complete fighter, with exceptional versatility across all disciplines

Joe Rogan says the former flyweight champion is ‘the best ever’, while Israel Adesanya agrees 

‘He doesn’t get hit. He’s a dazzling fighter. He puts on shows. [Johnson is] the best ever. He’s the best, physically, ever.’ 

‘Well, if you want to talk about ultimate GOATs, did everyone just forget about Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson,’ Adesanya said. ‘If you want to talk about the most consistent, you know you talk about records, fighter of all time.

‘F*** weight classes, just the perfect fighter, near perfect, never had one blemish outside the Octagon with steroids or anything like that. Few losses here and there from Cruz and Cejudo. But a phenomenal fighter.’

UFC GOAT rating: 7/10 

Amanda Nunes

There can be no argument, Amanda Nunes is the greatest fighter in the history of women’s MMA. However, her greatness should not be limited to just female fighters.

The Brazilian’s achievements are remarkable, she has truly wiped out all competition before her in an 11-fight winning streak. 

The UFC’s bantamweight division was created in 2012 and had three champions before Nunes: Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Holly Holm. Nunes has beaten all of them, each in the first round.

Amanda Nunes is the GOAT female fighter, but deserves to be in the mix with the men

The Brazilian has cleared out two divisions, including beating the incredible Cris Cyborg 

Dana White says it will be ‘very hard’ for any athlete to eclipse what Nunes has achieved 

The women’s featherweight division was created in 2017 to cater for Cris Cyborg, who had obliterated all before her. Nunes moved up in weight class and beat her compatriot convincingly. 

Nunes has comprehensively cleared out two divisions simultaneously, while she also has two wins over the UFC’s flyweight champion – Valentina Shevchenko’s only losses in a decade. 

‘I think [she is overlooked] because she is a woman,’ UFC chief White told TMZ Sports. ‘It is getting very hard now for people not to start respecting her. 

‘She is setting the bar so high it is going to be very hard for another athlete to accomplish what she has. Let’s not forget how everybody was saying how scary Cyborg was, and she absolutely destroyed Cyborg.’ 

UFC GOAT rating 8/10 

Conor McGregor 

A contender that would leave MMA purists fuming, but Conor McGregor’s pioneering of the sport has to put him in the GOAT conversation. 

While GSP and Silva laid the foundations, McGregor has almost single-handedly made the UFC the $4bn entity it is today, having trailblazed to the featherweight crown before becoming the first UFC star to hold two titles simultaneously.

Conor McGregor’s pioneering efforts sees him placed on the outskirts of the GOAT debate

The Irishman has the fastest KO in UFC title fight history and is the first ever ‘champ champ’

The Irishman’s elusive striking and charisma on the microphone saw him sweep through the 145-pound ranks, before securing the fastest knockout in UFC title fight history when he defeated the all-conquering Jose Aldo inside 13 seconds in 2015.

McGregor went onto capture UFC gold at lightweight after defeating Eddie Alvarez at Madison Square Garden, before earning a life-changing sum in a boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather.

However, the Notorious has never had his hand raised with the words ‘And Still’ ringing around the arena, having never defended his featherweight or lightweight crowns, denying him of the longevity of every other contender on this list.

However, he never defended his titles and looks a long way off returning to the top of the UFC

He has also been marred by misdemeanours away from the Octagon, running into trouble with the law following his bus attack in 2018 among other offences. 

McGregor could claw his way back as a genuine contender should he reclaim his lightweight crown, while he has ambitions to become the first athlete to win titles in three separate divisions with the welterweight belt in his sights. 

For now, those aspirations look some way off, having lost to former interim champion Dustin Poirier on Fight Island in January.

UFC GOAT rating: 5/10 

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