The UFC came into existence to answer the all-pervasive question: what is the best martial arts style in the world?
Over the years, that question has been answered several times, with each answer being different from what came before. After Royce Gracie's dominant stretch of wins at UFC 1, Brazilian jiu-jitsu was revered as supreme.
Not long afterward, however, a different answer emerged. It soon became clear that there was no single greatest martial arts style. Instead, the greatest fighting style incorporates elements from all phases of unarmed combat. So a new question emerged: who is the greatest fighter in the world?
Throughout the years, the UFC has strived to answer that question. While many candidates have emerged in each generation, they've often been overcome by the new breed of fighters emerging from the next generation.
However, that isn't always the case. Thus, it raises yet another question: who would win between the current dominant fighters and UFC OGs?
#5. Kamaru Usman vs. Matt Hughes - UFC welterweights
Matt Hughes is a former UFC welterweight champion and an MMA legend from yesteryear. His legacy is of such significance in the 170 lbs weight class that he was idolized by one of the greatest fighters of all time - Georges St-Pierre. At the height of his career, the welterweight legend was an overpowering wrestler.
Meanwhile, Kamaru Usman is currently one of the most dominant forces in the division. He, too, is a former world champion. Furthermore, 'The Nigerian Nightmare' owns the record for the second-longest win streak in the promotion's history. What, then, would have happened if the two men had crossed swords in their primes?
Usman is much larger and more athletic than any welterweight was during Hughes' time. The Nigerian great wouldn't even seem out of place at middleweight, so his physical attributes would've been too overwhelming for Hughes. Furthermore, chain wrestling was largely unheard of during the American's reign, a style that Usman utilizes to perfection.
The deep pool of wrestling skills and size that Usman would have held over Hughes would've likely resulted in a mismatch.
#4. Alex Pereira vs. Anderson Silva - UFC middleweights
The MMA scene in Brazil has always been legendary. There has been no shortage of all-time great fighters who have represented the nation. Among those legends is Anderson Silva.
At one point, 'The Spider' seemed invincible. He was the greatest striker in the sport and dismantled his opponents in breathtaking fashion.
Countless fighters are part of his highlight reel of inimitable finishes. However, the next great Brazilian striker to emerge in the middleweight division is a far more cold-blooded fighter. Alex Pereira is a former two-division Glory kickboxing champion. He recently dethroned dominant champion Israel Adesanya to capture UFC gold.
While most fans might not know about it, Silva was in 'Poatan's corner when the latter faced Adesanya. So what would have happened if the two ever clashed? At his peak, Silva was an exceptional counterpuncher. Unfortunately, he didn't have much other than feints to goad his foes into throwing strikes he could counter.
Furthermore, 'The Spider' often leaned back to pull himself away from strikes. While his speed rendered this defense effective, it meant that he was vulnerable to triple straights. Against Chris Weidman, the middleweight GOAT was forced to lean too far back after the American tripled his straight punches, upsetting his balance.
This created an opening for the knockout blow. A highly educated striker like 'Poatan', who has nuclear knockout power and a humongous reach, would have surely flattened the legendary Silva.
#3. Tom Aspinall vs. Frank Mir - UFC heavyweight
The heavyweight division doesn't usually feature elite-level grapplers. There's only been a handful of Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizards who have fought at 265 lbs. Those who did, however, were always exceptional, even if sparse. Frank Mir remains one of the greatest BJJ specialists in heavyweight history.
Similarly, Tom Aspinall is this generation's great Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. The two men, however, aren't merely grapplers. Towards the second half of his career, the former UFC heavyweight champion improved as a striker. He possessed crushing punching power, and his boxing added a new dimension to his game.
Meanwhile, Aspinall is a speedy boxer who uses quick jab-right cross combinations to force his opponents into keeping a high guard. This allows him to duck under their high guard for takedowns.
If the two had clashed in their primes, Aspinall's superior speed would certainly favor him in the stand-up, but if a fight with Mir goes to the mat, the Liverpudlian would likely lose.
Frank Mir never lost via submission and submitted Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira with a kimura and Brock Lesnar with a heel-hook. The Aspinall-Mir bout would likely be an unpredictable affair.
#2. Gilbert Burns vs. Royce Gracie - UFC welterweight
Royce Gracie is responsible for introducing Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the world of mixed martial arts. Furthermore, he is the winner of the first four UFC tournaments. Meanwhile, Gilbert Burns is a former title challenger in Dana White's promotion. He is also highly credentialed as a BJJ grappler.
'Durinho' is a three-time BJJ world champion and gold medalist. While he's fully capable of grappling with Gracie on the mat, it's unlikely that he would if the two clashed in a hypothetical bout. Burns typically relies on his grappling when he's confident he holds a significant advantage over his foe.
During his bout with Demian Maia, another masterful BJJ grappler, he opted to strike. If he does the same with Royce Gracie, his win is almost guaranteed. Gilbert Burns is a fast and brutally powerful puncher. Meanwhile, the first-ever UFC tournament winner has next to nothing to offer as a striker.
Due to the widely held Gracie misconception that BJJ is all a fighter needs to succeed, his striking remained very poor. It's almost certain that Burns would crush him with a first-round KO if the two ever crossed paths.
#1. Jon Jones vs. Chuck Liddell - UFC light heavyweight
The comparisons between Jon Jones and Chuck Liddell don't seem to make much sense at first glance. While the two men are former light heavyweight champions, they don't resemble each other from a stylistic standpoint. Jon Jones' background in martial arts is in Greco-Roman wrestling while 'The Iceman's modus operandi was creating a barroom brawl.
Despite his base, 'Bones' developed a dynamic striking game that rendered him a technical kickboxer. Meanwhile, Chuck Liddell was the epitome of the sprawl-and-brawl archetype. He used his impregnable takedown defense to force his opponents into kickboxing exchanges, where he held the advantage due to his absurd punching power.
'The Iceman' has a history with 'Bones', having once claimed that he could have beaten him had their primes coincided. However, a fight between the two men wouldn't have ended well for the power-punching light heavyweight. While Liddell had a strong sprawl, that wouldn't have protected him from Jones' clinch wrestling.
Furthermore, Jones is a specialist at neutralizing his opponent's offense. With push-kicking and oblique-kicking his foe's lead knee, he stops them from entering range. Doing so also undercuts his opponent's punching power. So if he and Liddell ever fought, he'd probably win with supreme ease.