Sports is like politics. People can twist the facts to fit whatever narrative they wish to be true. It is a branch of confirmation bias and general biases toward our favorite fighters and against those we dislike. Yes, the greatest of all time in any sport will always be debatable since it is a matter of opinion. But this seven part series presents as lucid an argument for the best MMA fighter of all time that you will find anywhere on the Internet. And if you disagree, jump right in and let’s have an open debate. But just remember one thing: sports, like politics, may boil down to what one wants to believe….but it also does contain cold hard facts. This list is not about favorites or media darlings or the most popular fighters, it’s about objective facts. And by the end of this series, the evidence will show who is as factually close to being the greatest fighter of all time as possible. The seven parts of this series are as follows:
Part 1: The Honorable Mentions
Part 2: The Notorious Mention
Part 3: Explanation of the Fifth Greatest Fighter of All Time.
Part 4: Explanation of the Fourth Greatest Fighter of All Time.
Part 5: Explanation of the Third Greatest Fighter of All Time.
Part 6: Explanation of the Second Greatest Fighter of All Time.
Part 7: Explanation of the Greatest MMA Fighter of All Time.
Let’s begin part 1.
Part 1: The Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)
Honorable Mention #1 of 2: Dominick Cruz
Dominick Cruz has fought the same number of fights as Jon Jones and technically, they share the same exact record (and I do mean technically). If you look at Cruz’s record and the competition he has faced, it is perplexing why his name is absent from discussions on the GOAT list. Cruz only has one defeat, and being that it was via first-round submission, it can be argued that he has never been outfought by any of his opponents through an extended period of time. He has, however, had some split-decision victories, most recently in a peculiar scorecard rendered in his title-unification bout with T.J. Dillashaw (48-47, 49-46, 46-49). Cruz also has split decision wins over Joseph Benavidez (certainly no shame in that), and Ian McCall. Cruz’s trademark fighting style reliant on fugitive footwork and spotless technique is what makes him one of the best P4P fighters in the world, but it also is perhaps the biggest reason why he is not the GOAT: he does not have as many decisive victories as the other contenders for the GOAT title. The lack of finishes mixed with the four split-decision wins are two major factors to Cruz not being the GOAT maybe even more so than his loss to Faber. After all, as stated, Faber did not necessarily outfight Cruz, he just got the better of a decisive scramble. Also, based on many, if not most MMA fans giving the GOAT nod to Anderson Silva, one loss is definitely not an instant disqualifier for GOAT status. But the lack of finishes on the other hand is. With only three finishes at the WEC/UFC level (one by doctor stoppage), the only way Cruz would have a strong argument to GOAT glory would be to have an impeccable decision-victory record. The split decisions prevent that.
BUT, Cruz still very much has the potential to be the GOAT, which reflects how underrated he is in this discussion. At the end of the day, he only has one loss and has had the same number of fights as Jon Jones, someone who without question is in discussion of being the GOAT. That shows a level of consistency you would want from the greatest ever. Most importantly, he has a victory which may very well be the biggest victory of ANYONE in the GOAT discussion, that being a victory over Demetrious Johnson. Most MMA pundits would agree that Johnson was not at the level then as he is now, but he was already an elite fighter and was still Mighty Mouse however you want to spin it; therefore, this is without question the hallmark victory of Cruz’s career, and anyone who wants to make an argument for him as the GOAT must start with this win.
From there, you can consider wins over Joseph Benavidez (two), avenging his lone loss to Uriah Faber with two decisive victories, and another monumental win over TJ Dillashaw after a one-and-a-half-year layoff—which succeeded a mammoth three-year layoff. December 30th will be very important for Cruz’s argument for both the P4P rankings of today and any future arguments for him being the GOAT. Cody Garbrandt is still so young and new to the game that some fans may not give this win the respect it deserves should Cruz be victorious; but anyone who subscribes to the eye test could argue that Cody Garbrandt is easily one of the biggest challenges of Cruz’s career. We are still learning about Cody, who is only 10-0, but should Cruz make Garbrandt 10-1, and then Garbrandt goes on to have the post-Cruz-loss career that shows his elite status (i.e. Demetrious Johnson), that would make two monumental victories that are difficult for anyone else to match. Garbrandt has all the tools to be that important of a victory for Cruz. Garbrandt contains devastating KO power, accuracy, fight IQ, timing, athleticism, and something many fans are unaware of: proven wrestling ability. Do not be surprised if Garbrandt ends up with an incredible MMA record, which would strengthen Cruz’s GOAT argument with a W on the 30th. But even for the time being, both the oddsmakers and the eye-test-ready MMA fan see that Garbrandt would instantly be one of the biggest wins of Cruz’s career and would majorly boost his legacy.
With a victory over Garbrandt, and even 2-3 title defenses after that, which is not many at all, there is no reason why Cruz should not be right in the middle of the GOAT debate. Interestingly enough, with a victory over Cruz, Garbrandt could then be entering stage one of someday getting into that conversation himself.
Honorable Mention #2 of 2: Khabib Nurmagomedov
OK. Cool your jets. I am in no way saying that Khabib Nurmagomedov is in the discussion right now of being the GOAT. But here is something that may shock you: He is only FOUR wins away from being completely out of the conversation to arguably being at the very top of the list.
Before you write that statement off as X-click-worthy, let’s start off with his record of 24-0. That is, on paper, the best record in the UFC. Better than Demetrious Johnson’s, better than Dominick Cruz’s, and yes, even better than Jon Jones’s, even discounting Jones’s DQ loss. Jones would be 22-0 if not for that loss (23-0 if not ruled a DQ), while Khabib is 24-0. Now I know what you’re thinking, “But who has he faced!? They don’t even compare to who the Joneses and Cruzes of the world have faced!” And you would be right. But with Khabib’s injury problem and his lack of consistent visibility that comes with it, it seems many forget that he has beaten tough opponents: Gleison Tibau, Thiago Tavares, Michael Johnson, and others. None of these names do much damage when arguing for future GOAT status, but it does when you depend on a concept that will continue to show up in this series: the eye test. You see, it’s not just that Khabib is 24-0 and 8-0 in the UFC, it’s the WAY he is 24-0 and 8-0 in the UFC. The level of ease, dominance, and consistency in which Khabib has performed is easily reminiscent of what a GOAT would look like. With four victories, those dominant victories will become all the more laudable. Khabib already has one hallmark victory over Rafael Dos Anjos in an insanely dominant performance which in comparison to Dos Anjos’ other opponents, including those who have defeated Dos Anjos, shows how head and shoulders above his peers Khabib appears to be. So what are the four victories he would need to go along with this hallmark victory?
First, a victory over Tony Ferguson who right now is competing at a very elite level and riding a 9 fight win streak. ANY win over Ferguson would be a huge boost to Khabib’s legacy, but if he wins in dominant fashion that would continue to show the “man amon boys” quality that seems to ooze from his performances. Next, a win over the biggest UFC star of all time, Conor McGregor, even if one disagrees that it would be his biggest victory in merit, would without a doubt be his biggest victory in notoriety (no pun intended). And whether you like McGregor or not, he has proven to be an elite fighter, even if a bit one-dimensional. With those two wins, Khabib would be halfway there to the GOAT marker. At this point, Khabib would be 26-0 with three hallmark victories. Any two title defenses, especially in dominant fashion, would have him at 28-0, a record in MMA that we have never seen before and with 12 of these wins coming in the UFC. If this scenario were to play out, not only would Khabib be in the conversation, but depending on his performances, and on the level of the last two opponents, he may very well have my vote for being at the top.
So Khabib is not the greatest….but he IS the greatest example of the “stay-tuned” class. I happen to believe that this scenario will happen, and that Khabib as it is right now, is ability-wise arguably the best P4P fighter in the world, and that it’s just yet to be proven. After he proves it with these four victories, the meteoric rise from not even being a consideration for GOAT to being at or near the top of the list would be unprecedented.
Tomorrow is part two of The Most Lucid Explanation of the Greatest MMA Fighter of All Time series, and given the title: The Notorious Mention, it will come as no surprise whom it will be about.