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Grapplers dominated the early days of mixed martial arts, with Royce Gracie winning three out of the first four Ultimate Fighting Championship tournaments. Royce would have won all four if he wasn’t forced to pull out of the third tournament due to injury.
Other grapplers like Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, and Khabib Nurmagomedov have also had impressive runs in MMA. This article will highlight the best grapplers who currently compete in mixed martial arts.
The Ten Top Grapplers In Mixed Martial Arts
Let’s dive right into our list of the best grapplers in MMA:
1) Islam Makhachev
A native of Dagestan, Makhachev is the most likely to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov as the king of the 155-pound division. A lifelong Sambo practitioner, Makhachev won multiple combat Sambo championships before transitioning to mixed martial arts.
Makhachev came into the UFC with an 11-0 record, winning his debut via submission. Things didn’t go so well for him during his next outing as Adriano Martins knocked him out cold in the first round. It seemed like Makhachev was all hype for a moment, but he’s been on a rampage since then, winning ten consecutive fights. That’s earned him a shot at the UFC’s lightweight title currently held by Charles Oliveira.
2) Kamaru Usman
A high school wrestler, Usman won multiple national division II championships as a wrestler before making the transition to mixed martial arts. He got off to a bumpy start winning his first fight and getting submitted during his second fight.
That was the last time Usman experienced defeat inside the cage.
Usman has won 19 consecutive MMA fights since then, claiming the UFC’s welterweight title on the way and defending it five times. Usman’s grappling skills have undoubtedly been his biggest weapon inside the cage, and he’s out grappled some of the best grapplers in his division like Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns, and Tyrone Woodley. Usman has significantly improved his striking in recent years to become a more complete fighter.
3) Khamzat Chimaev
Chimaev is a Russian-born Swedish national that made a name on the wrestling circuits, sporting a 24-0 record with six national titles to go with it. He’s been just as successful in mixed martial arts, winning all 11 of his professional fights.
What makes Chimaev so unique is how most of his opponents have no answer for his wrestling. He’s ragdolled tough guys like Li Jingliang and went toe to toe with former number one contender Gilbert Burns. Chimaev is currently one fight away from earning a shot at the UFC’s welterweight title.
4) Jon Jones
Our list wouldn’t be complete without “Bones” on it. Jones gives opponents a unique look that’s impossible for sparring partners to replicate inside the gym. A tall, rangy fighter, Jones looks more like a kickboxer, but it’s his wrestling that made him arguably the pound-for-pound best fighter in mixed martial arts history. He started wrestling in high school and competed at the Division II level in college.
Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history when he defeated Mauricio Rua to win the promotion’s light heavyweight belt.
Jones defended the belt 11 times before announcing his intention to move up to the heavyweight division. With 27 MMA fights under his belt, Jones has yet to taste real defeat inside the cage. The only loss on his record is from being disqualified during his fight against Matt Hamill due to downward elbows. He was winning the fight before the disqualification occurred.
5) Henry Cejudo
Henry Cejudo started wrestling as a child, and he’s won pretty much every accolade he could win as a wrestler, including a gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Cejudo used his wrestling to outpoint Demetrious Johnson during their rematch, ending DJ’s long reign as the UFC’s flyweight champion. Cejudo then went up a weight class for his next fight and dethroned bantamweight champion, T.J. Dillashaw, becoming one of the few MMA fighters to win belts in two different divisions.
Cejudo is currently taking a break from MMA, primarily due to contract issues with the UFC, but he’s made it clear he plans to compete many more times in the future.
6) Charles Oliveira
Charles Oliveira might not be as accomplished as some of the other grapplers on our list, but there’s no denying his high-level grappling skills. He’s not the lay and pray type either: Oliveira loves finishing off opponents with submissions. He holds the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s record for most finishes, submissions, and performance bonuses.
Oliveira became the lightweight champion by knocking out Michael Chandler, and he’s defended the belt twice, winning both fights by submission.
7) Mackenzie Dern
Mackenzie Dern is the most decorated female fighter in mixed martial arts. The daughter of BJJ champion Megaton Dias, Dern has been grappling since she could crawl and has too many accomplishments as a submission grappler to list.
Her grappling has been her biggest tool inside the cage, with seven out of her twelve wins coming via submission.
8) Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida
Almeida is still new to the world of MMA, with only three fights under his belt, but he’s one of the most decorated grapplers to step inside the cage. Almeida currently fights in ONE Championship’s heavyweight division, where he’s amassed three first-round victories.
Almeida is posed to make waves in ONE Championship’s big boy division with 12 BJJ world titles and over 120 submission grappling wins under his belt.
9) Jacare Souza
Jacare came into mixed martial arts with lots of hype surrounding him and over a dozen gold medals in international BJJ competitions. He was arguably the most feared grappler in mixed martial arts at his peak, but his style slowly changed over time as he started falling in love with striking. Jacare is currently a free agent, so it’ll be interesting to see which promotion picks him up.
10) Kron Gracie
Kron came into mixed martial arts after winning a pair of gold medals at international BJJ tournaments, two silver medals, and three bronze medals. All eyes were on him due to his last name, but he lived up to expectations, winning his first five fights by submission. He lost his sixth fight to Cub Swanson as he struggled to take him down.