Sometimes you’ve just got to give it up to the men and women who consistently bring the excitement each and every time they step into the Octagon.
While everyone likes an intriguing championship matchup or compelling clash of styles, there is something about hearing a fight announcement featuring those all-action types who can be counted on to deliver an entertaining fight, win or lose, no matter what, whenever they cross the threshold into the UFC cage.
The trouble with a list like this is that it can only contain 10 fighters. I mean, sure, I could just sit here and rattle off all of the amazing high-output, “never in a boring fight” talents who have graced the Octagon over the years – from Don Frye and Evan Tanner to more recent additions like Gregor Gillespie and Israel Adesanya – but then this series would need to be called The 48, which is how many fighters made my short list.
What’s cool about having to whittle that collection down to the 10 fighters below is that it opens the door for the discussions and debates that almost always accompany the publication of a piece like this.
Here’s my squad.
This is The 10.
Joe Lauzon (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
If I were going to name a Team Captain, I would give the “C” (or armband if you’re into soccer) to Lauzon, the lightweight stalwart who has made 26 appearances inside the Octagon, amassing a 14-12 record while collecting 15 post-fight bonuses, including six Fight of the Night awards.
While the now 34-year-old has delivered a ton of entertaining performances over the years, arguably the best example of what makes Lauzon a must for a list like this were his back-to-back efforts against Jamie Varner and Jim Miller in August and December of 2012. Both bouts earned Fight of the Night honors, with the former being selected as Fight of the Year and the latter being in the running as well.
Justin Gaethje (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
“Carnage” was the word Gaethje used to sum up his style prior to his UFC debut and since then, the former World Series of Fighting champion has delivered a trio of bonus-winning battles with Michael Johnson, Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Perhaps what makes Gaethje an even more obvious and mandatory addition to this list (for me) is that he’s always acknowledged the risks inherit in his approach, but refused to play it safe inside the Octagon.
Much like Lauzon delivered a pair of “Fight of the Year” contenders in 2012, Gaethje pulled the double in 2016 as his promotional debut against Johnson and sophomore slobberknocker with Alvarez were 1-2 on many year-end lists.
Robbie Lawler (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Although he’s not a high-output striker like Gaethje or a well-rounded threat like Lauzon, hearing that Lawler is fighting makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up because you just know that come fight night, the former welterweight champion is going to be walking forward, adjusting his gloves with a smirk on his face, ready to unleash hell on his opponent.
The veteran’s 12-fight run since returning to the UFC has been littered with action-packed performances and iconic battles, including his back-to-back title defenses against Rory MacDonald (UFC 189) and Carlos Condit (195).
If you feel like digging in the crates to find some vintage Lawler violence that solidifies his place on this list, peep his Strikeforce: Miami scrap with Melvin Manhoef from January 2010 where the Dutch kickboxer pressed forward for three minutes, brutalizing Lawler’s lead leg before a single overhand right ended the contest in a flash.
Chuck Liddell (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
There is a reason “The Iceman” was one of the first truly transcendent UFC stars and it wasn’t just because of the Mohawk and tattoos on the side of his head.
From his first fight with Tito Ortiz at UFC 47 through to his final appearance in the Octagon at UFC 115, Liddell was in one exciting fight after another, and while they didn’t go his way down the stretch, those contests still had fans riveted and produced signature moments that stand out in UFC history.
While his twin stoppage wins over Ortiz bookend one of the most impressive seven-fight runs the Octagon has ever seen – two wins over Ortiz and Randy Couture, plus victories over Vernon White, Jeremy Horn and “Babalu” Sobral, all by stoppage – there is something fitting about the final win of Liddell’s career – his victory over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79 - being a Fight of the Year winner that sums up why he’s a part of this collection rather perfectly.
Ronda Rousey (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Ronda Rousey never went to a decision in her career, not once. She only saw the third round once (against Miehsa Tate at UFC 168) and the only other time she ventured into the second round was the 59 seconds it took for Holly Holm to put her away at UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia.
Literally every fight the first UFC women’s bantamweight champion was in was exciting, with her four-fight run of success against Sara McMann (66 seconds), Alexis Davis (16 seconds), Cat Zingano (14 seconds) and Bethe Correia (34 seconds) taking just 130 seconds total remaining one of the most insane feats ever accomplished inside the Octagon.
Some may try to diminish her accomplishments, but truly dominant fighters are supposed to steamroll the competition and in the midst of her title reign, there was no one as dominant and electric to watch as Rousey.
Tony Ferguson (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Part of what earns “El Cucuy” a place on this list is that he’s just so unpredictable and manages to make what looks like a reckless, “devil may care” approach work so well inside the cage.
The former TUF winner has rattled off 10 straight victories to land near the top of the lightweight division, amassing seven stoppages and a couple lopsided decision wins along the way while breaking out Imanari rolls and breakdance fighting techniques that would make Mugatu proud.
The performances that really salted away Ferguson’s spot on this team were his twin D’Arce choke victories over Edson Barboza and Lando Vannata in December 2015 and July 2016, respectively. In both outings, the perennial contender was pushed and forced to regroup, and while being put in danger prompts some fighters to tighten up and play it safer, Ferguson went the opposite direction, attacking more, hunting more, chasing more until he could find his favorite choke and secure the victory.
Chris Lytle (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
If Lauzon is the captain of this squad, Lytle is the first alternate.
“Lights Out” was never able to string together enough consecutive victories to work his way into contention during his various stints in the UFC, but once he returned to the Octagon for good following his run on Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter, you knew that if Lytle was on the card, you were guaranteed at least one highly entertaining contest that evening.
The veteran from Indiana won 10 post-fight bonuses in his final 15 UFC appearances, exiting the cage with a double-bonus triumph over Dan Hardy. As good as he was on the ground – and you can check the tapes because Lytle had a slick submission game – the former boxer liked to stand and bang, testing his hands and his chin against whomever the UFC put him in there against.
He wrapped up his career winning five of his last six fights, and his victory over Hardy in his retirement bout brought him to an even 10-10 inside the Octagon, which feels like the perfect illustration of why the tough out from Indianapolis was tailor-made to be a part of this kind of collection.
Max Holloway (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
“Blessed” debuted in the Octagon eight weeks after his 20th birthday, squaring off with Dustin Poirier on short notice in the final preliminary card bout at UFC 143. It was the fifth fight of his career.
That fight was exciting and every fight since then has been exciting as Holloway has honed his skills, sharpened his technique and developed into one of the most dangerous and entertaining fighters on the roster today. The wildness of his youth has been replaced by cold, calculated aggression – the flying knees and spinning back kicks that popped up in his early UFC appearances traded out for punishing body shots, three- and four-punch combinations finished with a chopping kick and acute finishing instincts.
While his twin stoppage wins over Jose Aldo last year represent the greatest example of his development and sharpness as a fighter, the final 15 seconds of his bout with Ricardo Lamas at UFC 199 tells you everything you need to know about why Holloway made this list.
When you call another man to the center of the cage to throw down and then proceed to beat him to the punch throughout that exchange and then have that exchange immortalized in the UFC video game, you’ve earned Hall of Fame status as far as being an all-action fighter.
Donald Cerrone (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Never mind that he would literally fight every third weekend if the UFC would let him.
Never mind that he strides on stage wearing a cowboy hat and looking the part of a modern day gunslinger brought in to deal with the riff-raff that just blew into town.
Never mind that after 36 fights at lightweight, he went up to welterweight, earned three straight bonuses and four straight wins while hitting Rick Story with a combination straight out of Tekken and knocked Matt Brown out by kicking him right in the mush.
The thing that really cements Cerrone’s place on this list is that you know when “Cowboy” is pissed off because his fight hasn’t been entertaining enough or he hasn’t performed up to his expectations because he starts unleashing angry, chopping low kicks that seem to carry all of his frustrations. He handed a bunch out to Vagner Rocha in Vancouver at UFC 131 and gave Myles Jury a steady diet of them to close their fight at UFC 182 as well.
While the results haven’t gone his way as of late, you don’t see Cerrone looking for a layup or avoiding tough matchups, as he’s scheduled to throw down with Mike Perry at home in Denver in the main event of the 25th Anniversary show in November.
Conor McGregor (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
There is a different energy in the building when McGregor is about to fight. It’s a feeling that something special is going to happen because more often than not, that’s exactly what happens.
People can say what they will about McGregor using his skills on the microphone to expedite his rise up the rankings, but at the end of the day, the SBG Ireland man stepped into the cage and handled business, often winning in a stylish manner. From his debut win over Marcus Brimage when he rocked basic black trunks and had far fewer tattoos to his emphatic lightweight title win over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in New York City, every one of McGregor’s fights has been an event and he’s consistently risen to the occasion.
McGregor is a born entertainer, but once that cage door closes, he is all business and all action.