Whether on the pitch, the gridiron or inside the Octagon, longevity in any sport is a mixture of physical toughness, mental strength, luck and winning more than losing.
The UFC has been around for nearly 23 years and, thus far, 32 fighters have reached the benchmark of 20-plus fights in the organization. Of the 10 fighters with the most fights inside the Octagon, some are former UFC champions and some are current UFC Hall of Famers but, more than anything, they all are fan favorites who entertained time and time again.
Frank Mir - 27
In the dog eat dog world of heavyweights, Frank Mir has been an undeniable presence in arguably the most fickle division for the better part of 15 years. The former UFC heavyweight champion and former interim UFC heavyweight champion made his Octagon debut with a 65-second armbar win in November 2001 and he also competed in the most recent UFC main event last weekend in Australia against Mark Hunt. In between those two bouts, Mir has fought practically every single heavyweight of note to lace up a pair of gloves in UFC history, from his armbar of Tim Sylvia to his two finishes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to his rivalry with Brock Lesnar to name just a few. Mir has been not only a fixture of the heavyweight ranks longer than any other, but he’s one of the UFC’s greatest winners, finishers and submission artists.
Tito Ortiz - 27
At his peak, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was the five-time defending UFC light heavyweight champion, which was a divisional record that stood for over ten years. But those accomplishments only cover a fifth of Tito Ortiz’s 15 years as an Octagon superstar. Making his debut at UFC 13, Ortiz spearheaded the second wave of UFC talent out of the tournaments and into the championship belts, and he would help bridge the gap as The Ultimate Fighter craze began to unfold. As much as he was known for his takedowns and ground-and-pound, Ortiz’s passion for the sport and ability to generate interest in his rivalries - whether with Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture or Forrest Griffin - were practically unparalleled, as he made us believe his fights were the most important. Even in the twilight of his UFC career, Ortiz continued to provide that magic by earning three fight night bonuses across his last four bouts.
Gleison Tibau - 26
Without a doubt, the most surprising name on this list is that of this Brazilian takedown machine. The longtime American Top Team product made his Octagon debut against Nick Diaz at UFC 65. Since then, Gleison Tibau has fought the who’s who of the UFC lightweight division for the past decade, getting the better of many and providing an inordinately difficult test for others. Tibau has been a relentless takedown artist, amassing 84 inside the Octagon, which is second to former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre’s record 87. Some of Tibau’s most prominent showings were his split decision win over current UFC lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos, his Fight of the Night against Piotr Hallmann and his unanimous decision wins over Francisco Trinaldo and Pat Healy. While still an active fighter with three UFC bouts in 2015, Tibau unfortunately was suspended for testing positive in an out-of-competition drug test and is under a ban for the next two years.
Michael Bisping - 25
Amazingly, The Ultimate Fighter 3 winner may be just hitting his stride at 37 years old and with 25 Octagon appearances under his belt. Michael “The Count” Bisping is, easily, the biggest UFC star to come out of England and he’s currently enjoying a three-fight win streak, including the most recent unanimous decision win in London over former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Although he’s been a relevant contender at 185 pounds for the past eight years, Bisping has never received a single title shot. But The Count has been in 10 main events, which shows the seriousness of his UFC celebrity. Whether revered or vilified due to his sizable personality, Bisping has had an incredibly positive effect on the growth of the sport in the US, his native UK and the world over with his competitive spirit in and out of the Octagon.
Matt Hughes - 25
Dominance. Once rules, weight classes and the modern era of the UFC were ushered in, no fighter inside the Octagon better laid the framework for what a truly dominant athlete was than Matt Hughes. The UFC Hall of Famer’s 12-1 streak from UFC 34 to UFC 63 displayed not only a winner and a champion, but a finisher. Before Anderson Silva and Jon Jones, the former two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler out of Eastern Illinois University won the UFC welterweight title, defended it five times, lost the belt and then went on a six-fight win streak where he won the belt back and defended it two more times. Unlike the rest on this list, Hughes’ 25 UFC bouts do not even comprise half of his overall 54 total pro fights, which is mind-boggling. Hughes was an uncompromising force as a wrestler, a finisher, a champion and, simply, as a UFC fighter.
Josh Koscheck - 25
No one wore the black hat as naturally as Josh Koscheck. While Chael Sonnen would cause a historic Renaissance to his career by becoming an anti-hero with sound bites and turns of phrase, The Ultimate Fighter 1 alum was an intimidating antagonist for even the most reluctant to fulfill the good guy role. The former NCAA Division I National Champion and four-time All-American wrestler was a phenomenal athlete to behold, with power to spare and grit for days. Koscheck could deliver immense excitement through explosive finishes like his knockout of Matt Hughes at UFC 135 or his rear naked choke of Anthony Johnson at UFC 106. And then there was the mercurial villain who relished in point-fighting Diego Sanchez at UFC 69 and Paul Daley at UFC 113. Needless to say, Koscheck was an entertaining character and a talented UFC welterweight for a solid decade.
Randy Couture - 24
Age is just a number, or at least it was to UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, who not only fought for almost 15 years inside the Octagon, but did so after debuting at 33 years old. With a background as both a highly credentialed collegiate wrestler and Greco-Roman wrestler, “The Natural” began his pro MMA career by winning the UFC 13 Heavyweight tournament. A few months later, Couture defeated the young freight train Vitor Belfort, and a few months after that, Couture outlasted Maurice Smith to become the UFC heavyweight champion. The Natural would go on to win the UFC heavyweight belt two more times, win the UFC light heavyweight belt two times and continue his career fighting some of the best the sport had to offer inside the Octagon well into his forties. It’s an overused phrase to say an athlete was once in a lifetime, but it would be nearly unimaginable that another fighter will accomplish what Couture did.
Chuck Liddell - 23
People absolutely loved watching Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell knock people out. The UFC Hall of Famer scored 10 KOs inside the Octagon during his career and, amazingly, seven of those occurred in consecutive fights and five of those fights had the UFC light heavyweight title on the line. More than half of Liddell’s UFC career can be accounted for in The Iceman’s two separate seven-fight win streaks, which is a unique UFC record to Liddell. Like Matt Hughes, there was a time where Liddell proved without question that he ruled the Octagon at his weight and was a championship dynasty unto himself. While grapplers justifiably ruled the sport, Liddell was the hero king who sprawled, brawled and gave the fans the knockouts they so desperately wanted to cheer for.
BJ Penn - 23
“The Prodigy” was a heavyweight presence in a lightweight’s body. With lightning fast knockouts and a near mythical Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu pedigree, BJ Penn took the UFC by storm delivering seven incredible performances in less than two years at 155 pounds before disappearing for a year to come back and defeat the undefeatable Matt Hughes for the UFC welterweight title. Penn’s career has been about monumental moments, whether in victory or defeat, like returning to the UFC lightweight division to become the three-time defending champion to challenging Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight strap and Nick Diaz in a welterweight title eliminator. There have been the highs like The Prodigy’s trilogy with Matt Hughes or the lows like Penn’s trilogy with Frankie Edgar, but Penn’s aura has continued to glow as a dangerous and exciting competitor inside the Octagon.
Diego Sanchez - 23
The “Nightmare” or “The Dream”? Who cares - it’s Diego Sanchez. The Ultimate Fighter 1 winner has captivated fight fans from the beginning. Sanchez kicked off his UFC career by winning six straight inside the Octagon, with his bouts against Nick Diaz and Karo Parisyan being emblematic of his pedal to the metal, scramble-friendly style that excited the audience to no end. Sanchez is a seven-time Fight of the Night winner, including performances against Clay Guida, Martin Kampmann and Gilbert Melendez that are truly must see to believe. Across four weight classes in the UFC, Sanchez has not shown an ounce of restraint, as he challenges his opponents to keep up the pace and the pressure that he sees fit to fight at. Now, in his 11th year in the UFC, Sanchez most recently picked up a unanimous decision win over Jim Miller at UFC 196.
Honorable mentions at 22: Nate Diaz, Clay Guida, Melvin Guillard, Chris Leben, Demian Maia, Jim Miller and Jeremy Stephens