Who is the best MMA fighter at every age from 19 to 46?

Few sports worldwide have a wider age range of professionals participating in it, such as MMA.

Just look at one particular Saturday in February as an example. At the PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions event, Yoel Romero, 46, added another victory — a unanimous decision win over Thiago Santos — to his lengthy career ledger. Later that same night at UFC Mexico City, Francisco Prado, 21, and Raul Rosas Jr., 19, each had scheduled fights on the card. Prado was defeated by decision, while Rosas had to withdraw from his contest due to sickness.

Across the three major MMA promotions, there are fighters ranging from age 19 (Rosas) to 46 (Romero) who not only have been active within the last 12 calendar months, but are also still winning at a high level. All this talk of age begs the question: Which fighters in the sport are the best at their respective age?

ESPN’s reporters and editors came together to vote on each age. After tabulating the results, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim, Andres Waters and Eddie Maisonet analyzed the winning fighters.

19 – Raul Rosas Jr.

Rosas was just 17 when he stepped into the Octagon in 2022 for his sixth pro fight. He brought with him a highly developed grappling game and unbridled confidence. That self-belief did not dissipate after he suffered his first career defeat last April. He bounced back five months later with a finish of Terrence Mitchell in under a minute. Who knows where this young fighter’s ceiling is? It’s going to be fun watching how far he goes. — Wagenheim

20 – Igor da Silva

A standout from Dana White’s Contender Series last year, this 20-year-old from Brazil provided exactly the kind of style White looks for on that show: violent and all gas. He’s 8-0 with eight finishes and will make his UFC debut in March at the Apex in Las Vegas. If he wins, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in a showcase fight when the UFC hits Rio de Janeiro in May. — Okamoto

21 – Francisco Prado

Prado’s start to the UFC has been rocky, as his record fell to 1-2 after a tough decision loss to Daniel Zellhuber at UFC Mexico City. However, Prado’s 10-0 record before the UFC, along with his overall skillset, should yield him a bit more runway to find his footing in MMA’s top promotion. Prado flashed his potential last July with an impressive spinning back elbow that landed crisp on Ottman Azaitar’s chin, leading to Prado forcing the referee to call the fight in the first round after landing multiple ground-and-pound strikes.

If Prado can again find that form and string along a few more wins, he may find himself on this list next year at age 22 and 23. — Maisonet

22 – Iasmin Lucindo

Lucindo (15-5) suffered a loss to fellow strawweight prospect Yazmin Jauregui in her UFC debut in August 2022, but she has rebounded quite well, putting together back-to-back wins the following year. With 11 of her 15 wins coming via finish (eight knockouts and three submissions), she has proven that she is a well-rounded fighter capable of ending fights with her striking and submission game.

Now, entering her third year competing in the UFC, Lucindo, who ranked No. 14 in ESPN’s 25 under 25 list, can keep building momentum. She’s competing in a stacked division, but that only means there are plenty of opportunities to test her skills. — Waters

Others receiving votes: Joshua Van

23 – Muhammad Mokaev

Mokaev is going to fall short of his aim to be the youngest champion in UFC history. He would have had to win the title this month to eclipse Jon Jones’ record. So, the record won’t fall, but the flyweight championship might still go around this young man’s waist soon. The most impressive thing about Mokaev’s 10-0 run thus far is his level of maturity. He carries himself and competes like someone much older than 23. In addition to that striking maturity level, his skills are also very good. He’s physical and opportunistic with submissions on the ground. He is the full package, and this could be his true breakout year. — Okamoto

Others receiving votes: Felipe dos Santos

24 – Erin Blanchfield

The New Jersey native was ESPN’s top-ranked fighter under 25 years old in 2023. She is a perfect 6-0 in the UFC with three submission finishes and could be one win away from a women’s flyweight title shot. Blanchfield, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist, will headline a card in her home state on March 30 at UFC Atlantic City against Manon Fiorot. If all goes well for her in that bout, Blanchfield could be on tap for a monster 2024. There’s little doubt that she is one of the best young fighters in the world, regardless of gender. — Raimondi

25 – Usman Nurmagomedov

The undefeated Bellator lightweight champion has quite the pedigree, as a longtime training partner of Islam Nurmagomedov. Both got their start in MMA under his uncle, the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who was Khabib’s father and trainer. This Nurmagomedov is a more well-rounded fighter than his fellow Dagestani, with a more refined standup game. Now that the PFL has bought Bellator, Nurmagomedov has a new crop of potential opponents standing in his path. — Wagenheim

26 – Song Yadong

At just 26 years old, Song has plenty of professional experience. He’s been competing in the UFC for nearly seven years and has had wins over some of the best bantamweight fighters in the sport, including Marlon Vera, who will challenge Sean O’Malley for the UFC title in next week’s UFC 299 main event.

Song is currently riding a two-fight win streak and is a highly skilled striker with legit knockout power. He’s already accomplished quite a bit in the sport. However, it certainly seems that his best days are still ahead of him. — Waters

Others receiving votes: Ian Machado Garry

27 – Ilia Topuria

This is the man of the hour right now in mixed martial arts. Topuria is making some lofty (perhaps, unrealistic) callouts — Islam Makhachev, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor — but hey, he’s earned the right to call out anyone he wants after knocking out Alexander Volkanovski.

Everyone in the sport is talking about Topuria’s skills right now. The fight community sometimes has a hard time agreeing on things, but it seems in full alignment on just how good Topuria is. Everyone, from fans, media, coaches and other fighters themselves, are impressed. He’s a pound-for-pound candidate and the best fighter of his age. — Okamoto

28 – AJ McKee

McKee reminded everyone of just how good he is last weekend in Saudi Arabia. On the PFL vs. Bellator: Champs card, the California native finished Clay Collard with a beautiful armbar from the bottom out of a triangle position — in just 70 seconds. McKee is a former Bellator featherweight champion, and it’ll be fascinating to see what’s next for him in this new era with Bellator now operating as one-off events under PFL ownership. Still not yet in his prime, McKee will be a key figure for PFL moving forward. He’s already one of the best fighters on the combined roster. — Raimondi

Others receiving votes: Benoit Saint Denis

29 – Sean O’Malley

There was a time when it was reasonable to view O’Malley as merely an attention-grabbing big talker. He had yet to face a top contender but was building himself up like one. Then “Suga Sean” faced former bantamweight champion Petr Yan, won a tight decision to earn a title shot, and captured the belt with a knockout of Aljamain Sterling. He defends his belt in a week in a rematch with the only fighter to defeat him, Marlon “Chito” Vera. The 135-pound division is packed with dangerous contenders, and O’Malley has the bold self-assurance to take them all on. — Wagenheim

Others receiving votes: Shavkat Rakhmonov, Khamzat Chimaev

30 – Tom Aspinall

The future of the heavyweight division has officially arrived in Aspinall. Many observers had hitched themselves to his wagon years ago, pegging him as a future champ, and he proved them correct in November with an interim title win over Sergei Pavlovich.

It’s hard to know when exactly Aspinall’s prime will hit, because heavier fighters seem to hit their peaks relatively later. The one thing we do know about Aspinall is that he is still improving. He has matured a lot since a scary knee injury in 2022. He’s always been such a precise, skillful heavyweight, and those skills appear to sharpen each time he fights. — Okamoto

Others receiving votes: Alexa Grasso

31 – Vadim Nemkov

Nemkov’s place in MMA history is at a pivotal point. He’s already arguably the greatest light heavyweight in Bellator history, as his five title defenses at 205 pounds are tops in the promotion’s history. He hasn’t lost in nearly eight years — at 23, he lost twice at Rizin — and now he’s pursuing success in his former weight class, heavyweight. One of those losses was a heavyweight match against eventual UFC light heavyweight champion Jiří Procházka.

Procházka would find ultimate success going down in weight, and there’s real potential for Nemkov to find glory with the heavyweights as he pairs a robust striking game with equally good grappling. With the PFL-Bellator merger, new stars await with big-money purses. The next “baddest man on the planet” might end up being Nemkov. — Maisonet

Others receiving votes: Cory Sandhagen, Marlon Vera

32 – Islam Makhachev

He’s the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. So, Makhachev was going to be the best fighter at any age. The UFC lightweight champion is coming off back-to-back wins over Alexander Volkanovski, who was the featherweight champion and neck and neck with Makhachev in the pound-for-pound conversation when the bouts happened. Makhachev knocked Volkanovski out with a head kick in the first round at UFC 294 in October. Not bad for the Dagestani star, who is known for his wrestling.

Makhachev has won 13 straight fights, including 12 in a row at lightweight, which ties Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson for the longest win streak in division history. — Raimondi

33 – Alexandre Pantoja

Following Demetrious Johnson’s record of 11 consecutive title defenses, the UFC’s flyweight title has been up for grabs between Henry Cejudo, Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo. Wild, because at one point, the UFC considered eliminating the division altogether. Pantoja might be the one to truly give it stability at the top. He is, frankly, dominant in every facet of the game. He has a world-class submission game, combined with power in his strikes. Pantoja has a high-octane style that requires energy, yet he was also able to win five-round fights against high-pace, high-cardio opponents in Moreno and Brandon Royval in his last two fights. — Okamoto

Others receiving votes: Kayla Harrison, Kyoji Horiguchi, Merab Dvalishvili

34 – Zhang Weili

Zhang is not merely the best 34-year-old in the sport. She’s the best in women’s MMA at any age. Zhang can do it all, whether the fight is standing or if it hits the canvas. She is in her second reign as UFC strawweight champion, and next month, she will make an especially emotional title defense, facing Chinese countrywoman Yan Xiaonan. If Zhang wins at UFC 300, she will have cleared out nearly all 115-pound contenders and could be on the verge of challenging for a second title at flyweight. — Wagenheim

Others receiving votes: Israel Adesanya

35 – Belal Muhammad

Valentina Shevchenko and Justin Gaethje were close calls here, especially given their status as a former champion and current BMF titleholder. Still, it’s hard to ignore a 10-fight unbeaten streak in arguably the toughest division in all of MMA. Muhammad’s rise as a star in the sport doesn’t come from a slew of highlights or salacious moments on the microphone. Instead, he’s a patient craftsman inside the Octagon with a bevy of tools in his arsenal. Muhammad blends a sharp jab and crisp strikes with a bruising grappling game and a marathoner-esque level of cardio.

Muhammad’s fighting style might not be sexy, but it’s practical and suited to get a winning result — 17 of his 23 wins in MMA have come by decision. And if he wins his next fight — likely against UFC welterweight title holder Leon Edwards — fight fans will have no choice but to “Remember The Name” as a champion. — Maisonet

Others receiving votes: Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor, Valentina Shevchenko

36 – Jon Jones

It’s hard to believe that Jones became the youngest UFC champion of all time when he was 23 years old — a record that has stuck for 13 years now — and he is still at the top of the sport. “Bones” is the UFC heavyweight champion and has still never truly lost a fight. His only defeat was via controversial disqualification in 2009. Since then, he’s been unbeaten in 19 straight fights, the longest stretch in UFC history.

Jones has had his issues with the law and drug tests. But on paper, there’s never been anyone better in MMA. And it’ll be hard for anyone to match his records. — Raimondi

37 – Demetrious Johnson

It’s a safe bet that whatever age Demetrious Johnson is, he’s the best. That has been the case his entire career. He’s one of the best minds in MMA. He’s one of the most well-rounded talents in MMA history. In this sport, when performances start to decline, they usually do so rapidly. With DJ, however, it’s easy to envision a soft landing into whatever retirement he wants. He’s just too smart, too technical and too athletically gifted to fall off a cliff.

Look for him to be the best 38-year-old in 2025. And the best 39-year-old in 2026. Johnson’s level of excellence likely isn’t going anywhere. — Okamoto

Others receiving votes: Michael Chandler, Henry Cejudo, Gilbert Burns

38 – Cris Cyborg

Cyborg’s continued dominance in her last thirties is nothing short of impressive. Her reign as Bellator’s women’s featherweight champion began in 2020, and her five title defenses have all been won dominantly. Her move to Bellator came after also holding the featherweight titles in UFC, Strikeforce and Invicta. With the merging of PFL and Bellator, Cyborg seemed primed to be in a potential superfight. Initial expectations post-merger pointed towards a dream matchup with Kayla Harrison, but Harrison’s sudden bolt to the UFC removed that option from the table.

Now, all eyes point to current PFL featherweight champion Larissa Pacheco. Could Cyborg add a fifth promotional title to her trophy case? Cyborg still possesses strong takedown defense and powerful, technical striking. She would likely be a favorite against Pacheco. — Maisonet

39 – Jared Cannonier

Cannonier lost to Israel Adesanya in 2022 in his only title shot, and his only other losses over the last seven years also came against fighters who wore a title belt (Teixeira, Blachowicz, Robert Whittaker) or had a questionable decision deprive them of that honor (Dominick Reyes). Cannonier also owns wins over two champs, Sean Strickland and a past-his-prime Anderson Silva. Just weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Cannonier remains a top-five middleweight in a career that has also seen him compete at heavyweight and light heavy. — Wagenheim

Others receiving votes: Rafael Dos Anjos

40 – Ryan Bader

Unfortunately, Bader ran into a sledgehammer of a human being in his last appearance, a first-round knockout loss to PFL’s Renan Ferreira. Before that, however, he was 3-0 over the last two years, and his skill set is still there, even if it’s not operating with the same horsepower it once did.

Bader still has power in his right hand and his lifelong wrestling ability. He obviously had a big problem with Ferreira’s speed and explosiveness last month, but at these heavier weight classes, the age of 40 doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of the road. Bader likely still has a handful of wins in his future if he wants to pursue them. — Okamoto

Others receiving votes: Liz Carmouche, Derek Brunson

41- Jan Blachowicz

Although it’s been an unusual stretch for the former champ, only winning one of his last four bouts, Blachowicz is still on the shortlist of the top light heavyweights in all of MMA. And, while he is on the other side of 40 now, at 41 years old, Blachowicz could find himself back in the title picture if he can get back in the win column soon. His only losses since 2019 have come to some of the best fighters the 205-pound division has to offer: a title fight loss to Glover Teixeira in October 2021, and a loss to now champ Alex Pereira in a No. 1 contender fight last July. Between those fights, Blachowicz fought Magomed Anakalaev to a draw in a title fight at UFC 282 in Dec. 2022. — Waters

Others receiving votes: Stipe Miocic

42 – Holly Holm

Holm’s continued run in the UFC into her 40s hasn’t come with diminishing returns to her record. She’s 3-1 with one no contest in her last five matches, and she’s been tasked to face another Olympic judo gold medalist and former MMA champion at UFC 300, Kayla Harrison.

Holm, considered one of the best strikers in MMA history, famously dethroned Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 to become the promotion’s new women’s bantamweight champion. Nine years later, she won’t have an opportunity to win a title, but she could be the first roadblock in Harrison’s quest to add UFC gold to her resume.

At 42, there’s nothing Holm hasn’t seen in the Octagon. Holm’s ability to counterpunch and finish opponents could be dangerous for Harrison, and a win over the newest UFC signee could get her right back in contention for a title shot later this year. — Maisonet

43 – Matt Brown

Brown’s activity level has waned in recent years, but in winning two of his last three, he continues to show that he remains a dangerous man. Win or lose, this is a fighter who goes for the finish — only two of his most recent 11 bouts have gone to the judges.

“The Immortal” is a fitting nickname for this veteran of 43 pro fights, the last 30 inside the Octagon. Brown is an athlete who doesn’t back off from anyone or anything. — Wagenheim

Others receiving votes: Sara McMann, Charlie Ward

45 – Andrei Arlovski

Remember when Arlovski was the UFC heavyweight champion? You might not, if you began following MMA anytime in the last 18 years. Arlovski won the interim title in 2005, was promoted to undisputed champ six months later and reigned for less than a year. But he remained at the top of the game for several years, and even after experiencing a few losing spells, he always got back on track. Arlovski is still at it, one fight shy of the 60th of his career. And while Arlovski is not a contender in today’s heavyweight title picture, “The Pitbull” remains a significant presence. His 23 UFC victories are the most ever by a heavyweight. — Wagenheim

Others receiving votes: Lyoto Machida

46. Yoel Romero

Is this the most impressive stretch of Romero’s athletic career? That sounds absurd, considering this man medaled in Olympic wrestling and has beaten multiple former champions in MMA. But what he can still do at age 46 puts him in a league entirely of his own. No one competes like this at age 46. He just fought Vadim Nemkov, one of the top light heavyweights in the world, last year — and even though he didn’t win that fight, he won a round and held his own. Of course, Romero isn’t what he once was, but still competing at this high level at a time when some of his peers are well into retirement is remarkable. — Okamoto

Editor’s note: There are not any currently active fighters that represent age 44 in MMA, so it was left off this list.

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