The sport of mixed martial arts loves itself a good set of rankings and awards, doesn’t it?
Every year, we debate topics such as best fighter, best submission and best knockout. Heck, nearly every week, the UFC awards for performances of the night and fight of the night. We rank athletes within their respective weight classes … and pound-for-pound. We compare eras and title reigns. It’s just what we do.
So, it was only a matter of time before someone broke all of the UFC’s athletes down by age — and this is the week ESPN decided to do precisely that.
It’s fun because age is a compelling topic in sports, especially in MMA. When does a fighter hit their peak? That much we’ll probably never agree on. The sweet spot, currently, feels like something between 32 and 34. But we also just saw a 42-year-old Glover Teixeira win a belt last year.
But this list isn’t about which age is best for a fighter. Before UFC 278 last week, ESPN gathered a group of experts to look at the top fighters in the world and vote on who is the best at each age. It wasn’t easy, but here’s what we came up with.
Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Megan Anderson provide breakdowns of the winning fighters.
ESPN’s eight-person panel: Okamoto, Raimondi, Wagenheim, Anderson, Andrew Feldman, Eddie Maisonet, Andres Waters, and Andrew Davis — voted based on overall achievement in the sport and present-day talent.
42 – Glover Teixeira
It’s so rare to find someone at this age winning at this level that Teixiera is, especially against the level of competition he has been facing. Teixeira has been fighting in UFC for a long time (over 10 years), and he’s continued to adapt his style as he’s faced many of the best fighters to come through the light heavyweight division. Teixeira even held the UFC light heavyweight title earlier this year, before a loss to Jiří Procházka at UFC 275 in June. Even with the loss, you can’t take anything away from the veteran or his performance. He’s still among the best this sport has to offer. — Anderson
Notable fight: Second-round submission vs. Jan Blachowicz at UFC 267 in October 2021. In nearly his tenth year fighting in UFC, Teixeira claimed the light heavyweight title for the first time with a rear-naked choke on Blachowicz.
Brown has been fighting for a long time. With 44 professional bouts, he’s had more fights than years on this earth. In his 14th year with UFC, he’s still fighting the best of the best in the sport. At 41 years old, he still faces tough opponents and competes well. His nickname ‘The Immortal’ is fitting, and after so many years, he’s still showing that willingness to keep coming forward. He’s a pioneer in this sport. — Anderson
Notable fight: Unanimous decision win over Stephen Thompson at UFC 145 in April 2012. Beating Thompson, who was considered one of the best prospects in the promotion at that time, propelled Brown to his most successful stint in the UFC, a seven-fight win streak.
Miocic is the greatest heavyweight of all time, with (perhaps) one final chapter to write. In his 12th year as a pro, odds are he doesn’t have too many left. But he’s still operating at a very high level. The UFC hasn’t announced a timeframe for his next fight, but whenever it is, there’s a good chance it will come with a title on the line. He has not been extremely active, but he’s 2-1 in his last three appearances, with both wins coming against a fellow legend in Daniel Cormier. — Okamoto
Notable fight: First-round knockout of Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198 in May 2016. Miocic had several landmark fights in his career, but his step-back, one-punch KO of Werdum in a Brazilian soccer stadium to win the championship tops them all.
39 – Jan Blachowicz
Blachowicz will always have that ‘Polish Power’ in his corner, but he’s shown much more than just power in recent years, and it doesn’t feel like he’s slowing down. He surrendered the UFC championship to Teixeira last year, but beyond that one miscue, Blachowicz has been easy money at light heavyweight. At 39, he’s no spring chicken, of course, and he’ll turn the big 4-0 in February. But 40 might be the new 30 for Blachowicz because he is still looking elite. — Okamoto
Notable fight: Unanimous decision over Israel Adesanya at UFC 267 in March 2021. Blachowicz’s devastating knockout of Dominick Reyes to win the title in 2020 was a big one, but defeating a world-class fellow champ in Adesanya is No. 1.
Cannonier is coming off a loss to Adesanya in a bid for the UFC middleweight championship last month. It was Cannonier’s first title shot in a UFC run that began in 2015 — when he was a heavyweight. He moved to light heavyweight the following year, then to middleweight in 2018. That transformation is impressive, considering Cannonier weighed 235 pounds for his UFC debut. But what he has done at 185 pounds is even more eye-opening, as he owns a win over a former champ, Anderson Silva, and has lost only to Adesanya and Robert Whittaker, both of whom have worn UFC gold. — Wagenheim
Notable fight: Second-round knockout vs. Derek Brunson at UFC 271 in February 2022. The fight was on the same card as Adesanya’s second title defense against Robert Whittaker and was a No. 1 contender showdown. Cannonier’s win earned him the title shot.
Other fighters receiving votes: Derek Brunson, Thiago Santos
Now closer to 40 than 30, Cyborg is still one of the world’s best and most dominant female fighters. The Brazilian slugger has lost just once since her pro debut in 2005, and that came against Amanda Nunes, who is considered the greatest women’s fighter of all time. Cyborg isn’t too far behind in that discussion. She has won major MMA titles in the UFC, Bellator, Strikeforce and Invicta FC. She still holds the Bellator women’s featherweight title and is about to try her hand at boxing in September. — Raimondi
Notable fight: Unanimous decision win over Holly Holm at UFC 219 in December 2017. The win was Cyborg’s first of two featherweight title defenses.
At an age when many fighters start fading, Chandler is deeply into his second act. He made his mark over a decade ago by choking out Eddie Alvarez to become Bellator lightweight champion. He went on to have two more reigns with that title. Last year he moved to the UFC and immediately jumped into the deep end of the talent pool, knocking out Dan Hooker to set up a matchup with Charles Oliveira for the vacant UFC lightweight belt. Chandler lost that bout and the fight that followed against Justin Gaethje, but his aggressive style kept fans entertained. That continued in a big way when Chandler knocked out Tony Ferguson with a front kick to the face at UFC 274 in May. — Wagenheim
Notable fight: First-round TKO vs. Dan Hooker at UFC 257 in January 2021. The big finish against the veteran in his UFC debut set the stage for what was to come.
Other fighters receiving votes: TJ Dillashaw, Patricky ‘Pitbull’ Freire
Despite coming off the first loss of his UFC career, Usman is still, hands down, the best fighter of his age — and one of the best fighters on the planet, period. His loss to Leon Edwards at UFC 278 came in heartbreaking fashion, as he was just 56 seconds away from tying Anderson Silva’s 16-fight win streak. But he was winning that fight handily up until the final minute, and that should give him a lot of confidence going into a likely trilogy against Edwards later this year or in 2023. Usman is still one of the most well-rounded fighters in the world. His wrestling has always been dominant. And he was comfortable on his feet against Edwards until the devastating head kick. There will be a ton of intrigue in how he comes back from this, but in the meantime, he’s still world-class. — Okamoto
Notable fight: Third-round TKO vs. Gilbert Burns at UFC 258 in February 2021. He’s most proud of that fight because of his relationship with Burns. It was challenging for Usman to get up and perform in that fight, facing an opponent who had been to his house. He knows Burns’ family. If that fight means more to Usman than any other, who am I to disagree?
34 – Amanda Nunes
Nunes had a small crack in her once-thought-to-be impenetrable armor, evident last December when she lost to Julianna Peña. But Nunes won the rematch dominantly last month at UFC 277 and still must be considered the best women’s fighter in the world — and the best women’s MMA fighter of all time. Nunes holds the UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight belts and has stopped the likes of Cyborg, Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm and Miesha Tate. “The Lioness” has defeated everyone who has ever held either of her belts. She also owns a pair of wins over Valentina Shevchenko, the UFC women’s flyweight champion. — Raimondi
Notable fight: Split decision win over Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 215 in September 2017. The fight, Nunes’s second bantamweight title defense, was a rematch of their first meeting in 2016. Nunes won that bout by unanimous decision.
Volkanovski had some tough competition in this age group, but his body of work is what sets him apart here. As No. 1 in ESPN’s P4P rankings, he’s showing that there are levels in this sport. He is the most well-rounded fighter of all people in his age group. And on a 22-fight win streak, Volkanovski is one of the most dominant fighters in the sport. — Anderson
Notable fight: Unanimous decision win over Max Holloway at UFC 276 in July 2022. In a trilogy bout, Volkanovski ended the saga with Holloway as he dominated a legend in the featherweight division for five rounds.
32 – Charles Oliveira
Through nearly 12 years in the UFC, the way Oliveira has evolved over the years is so impressive. In a sense, as fans, we’ve watched him grow up in the Octagon. After debuting at lightweight, Oliveira moved down to featherweight before eventually settling in the back in the lightweight division. And he has lost only one fight since moving back to 155 pounds in 2017. He’s one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners the sport has ever seen, as he currently holds the UFC record for the most finishes with 19. — Anderson
Notable fight: Third-round submission over Justin Gaethje at UFC 274 in May 2022. In a fight that was (kind of) for the lightweight title, Oliveira recovered after getting knocked down within the first minute of the fight. Then, he went on to drop Gaethje in unbelievable fashion to set up the submission finish.
31 – Leon Edwards
As I stated prior to the match-up with Usman last week, this version of Edwards is the real deal. Since 2016, Edwards’ only loss was to Usman, and during the time between the first fight and the rematch, Edwards has constantly been improving. He’s developed into one of the top fighters in the sport. His stand-up game is always lethal even when it appears that he’s virtually out of the fight, we saw that first hand last Saturday. — Anderson
Notable fight: Fifth-round KO vs. Kamaru Usman at UFC 278 in August 2022. After falling behind on all three scorecards, Edwards pulled off the unthinkable with a head kick that shut down Usman. The win earned Edwards the welterweight title.
30 is a loaded age group, with two former UFC champions (Max Holloway and Rose Namajunas) and two reigning champions in Bellator. Even with such talent fighting at the same age as him, Makhachev has the utmost respect in this sport despite not yet having competed for a title. There’s a Khabib 2.0 aura around the guy and his smothering ground attack, and that was enough for our panel to hold him in even higher regard than all those more accomplished fighters. — Wagenheim
Notable fight: First-round submission vs. Dan Hooker at UFC 267 in October 2021. The win, over a respected UFC veteran, helped propel him toward his run to a title shot.
29 – Jiří Procházka
In just three UFC fights, Procházka has made an incredible impression. The Czech Republic-born star is already the UFC light heavyweight champion and considered one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Procházka, a former Rizin light heavyweight champion in Japan, beat Teixeira at UFC 275 in June to claim the belt in one of the greatest action fights in UFC history. Procházka has only been to a decision once in his ten-year MMA career and has finished his opponent in each UFC fight thus far. — Raimondi
Notable fight: Fifth-round submission vs. Glover Teixeira at UFC 275 in June 2022. Just moments after it appeared that Teixeira was on pace to defend the light heavyweight title successfully, Procházka pulled off the finish with under a minute to go in the fight.
Chimaev’s rise from obscurity to budding UFC champion and superstar has been a complete shock. This is a difficult sport to blow up in overnight, but that’s what Chimaev did in 2020. He’s skipping lines now and getting opportunities ahead of schedule — but he appears ready for it all. His most recent fight against Burns was the closest of his career, but he still managed to get the win. He’s been the beneficiary of some real hype, but no one can deny the skills behind that hype. We’re talking about a genuine phenom if he reaches his true potential. — Okamoto
Notable fight: Unanimous decision over Gilbert Burns at UFC 273 in April 2022. This instant classic was the type of fight that raised both men’s profiles. And it was a potential lesson for Chimaev, without taking a loss.
McKee is in the second phase of his rise in the sport. For years he was known as Bellator’s top homegrown talent, winning his first 18 fights. He often wins by spectacular finish, with every one of his pro fights taking place inside the Bellator cage. When he choked out Patricio “Pitbull” Freire in less than two minutes last year, McKee earned the featherweight title, and there was some noise that he was the best 145-pounder in the whole sport. But Freire regained the belt in a rematch this past April, and McKee’s response was to move up to lightweight, where he makes his debut on Oct. 1 against Spike Carlyle. Can McKee resume his dominant ways? — Wagenheim
Notable fight: First-round technical submission vs. Patricio Freire at Bellator 263 in July 2021. The win capped an 18-fight win streak and earned him the Bellator featherweight title.
Perfection apparently runs in the family. Nurmagomedov’s career is off to a 15-0 start, a little more than halfway to tying his cousin Khabib’s mark of 29-0. Nurmagomedov’s resume includes three wins in the UFC, where he’s shown much of his potential. Judging from the namesake alone, you know the discipline and the grappling ability are there. Nurmagomedov has also shown his well-rounded game and superb athleticism. The UFC’s bantamweight division is full of dangerous contenders, but Nurmagomedov has the potential to stand out. — Okamoto
Notable fight: First-round submission over Brian Kelleher at UFC 272 in March 2022. Kelleher is a veteran with plenty of UFC experience and Nurmagomedov ran him out of the cage in less than four minutes.
Other fighters receiving votes: Charles Jourdain
As far as young talent goes, Tsarukyan is near the absolute top. His skill set is complete. He has finishing ability on the feet and the ground. He’s quick, but he’s also very physical. Before a recent five-round loss to Gamrot (a fight some felt Tsarukyan won), his only loss in the UFC was to Makhachev. Tsarukyan is probably too developed to be referred to as a “prospect.” He’s essentially already a lightweight contender. But regardless of what you want to call him, he’s a special talent with his best years still very much ahead. — Okamoto
Notable fight: Unanimous decision loss to Gamrot at UFC Fight Night in June. Even though Tsarukyan lost this fight, it’s one of if not the best performance of his career. This was a high-level main event for a 25-year-old.
Song is at an age where many fighters are just beginning to develop their game, but he began his pro career in China at 15 years old and already has 26 bouts on his record, including 10 in the UFC. He has lost just one of his last 13 fights, a run of success that extends back to when he was a teenager fighting only in his home country. There are several other promising 24-year-olds — Casey O’Neil and Ian Garry, for starters — but Song has set himself apart with a more fully realized game. He’s already impressed UFC matchmakers enough that they’ve booked him against top-five bantamweight Cory Sandhagen next month. — Wagenheim
Notable fight: First-round knockout over Marlon Moraes in March 2022. The finish extended Song’s current win streak to three in a row and earned him a crack at the top five in the division.
Blanchfield is just beginning to climb the flyweight ranks with three UFC appearances on her resume. But when you watch Blanchfield in the cage, you might be fooled into thinking she’s a veteran fighter, as she displays the poise and maturity of someone with far more experience. Those qualities, combined with her well-rounded skill set and confidence, could carry her a long way in this sport. We might get a sense of how high Blanchfield’s ceiling is when she gets locked in with Molly McCann on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden, a big stage for any athlete, especially for a young New York-based fighter. — Wagenheim
Notable fight: Unanimous decision win over Miranda Maverick at UFC 269 in Dec. 2021. Blanchfield set a women’s flyweight record in that fight with eight takedowns.
One of the top young prospects in the sport, Mokaev has been dominant with two decisive victories in the UFC. Mokaev was considered the best amateur fighter in the world before turning pro in 2020. The Dagestan-born wrestler, who fights out of England, has future UFC flyweight champion written all over him. It seems only a matter of time before “The Punisher” climbs the ranks. — Raimondi
Notable fight: First-round submission vs. Cody Durden in March 2019. Mokaev put UFC fans on notice in his UFC debut as he needed less than a minute to set up the guillotine choke and get the finish.
Zabit may have retired, but his younger brother is one of MMA’s best blue-chip prospects. Magomedsharipov is already 2-0 in Bellator since signing with the promotion last year as a featherweight. The Dagestan-born fighter trains out of New Jersey with coach Mark Henry, much like his older brother did. And Khasan has all the tools of Zabit, as well, including suffocating wrestling and flashy striking. — Raimondi
Notable fight: Unanimous decision win over Jose Sanchez at Bellator 275 in February 2022. Following the step up in competition to Bellator, this was Magomedsharipov’s biggest fight to date.
Other fighters receiving votes: Aviv Gozali