Over the past few decades, there have been several years that have stood out as ones that not only bolstered the appeal of MMA but also put fighters on the map as some of the greatest of all time. The following fighters had some of the best runs we have ever seen in MMA.
1994 – Royce Gracie
If you had to ask MMA fighters in 2022 who their inspirations were, more than a few would say, Royce Gracie. In the early days of the UFC, there were few rules, no weight classes, and often no limit on how many times someone fought in a night.
However, 1994 was arguably one of the best years in MMA history and definitely the best year in Gracie’s MMA career. He fought nine times, going 8-1, and defeated giants such as Dan Severn in easily one of the most impressive runs in fighting.
1994 – Ken Shamrock
1994 was a stellar year for Ken Shamrock as well. “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” was a trailblazer for the sport of MMA, having started one of the first MMA gyms, the Lion’s Den.
Not only did Shamrock fight 12 times in 1994, but he also had a record of 11-1, and established himself as the best MMA fighter at the time.
1996 – Don Frye
Don Frye is a name that many MMA fans might not recognize, but in 1996 he was as close to a god as possible. For a man who only spent one year in the UFC, Frye made a name for himself quicker than almost everyone else in the sport.
He fought 11 times in 1996 and went 10-1. While many believe he would have gone on to be a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest ever if he had stayed in the UFC for longer, 1996 will always be the Year of the Don.
2004 – Mirko Cro Cop
Mirko Cro Cop is a kickboxing legend that is still praised today. While he spent the majority of his career in Pride, not necessarily facing the strongest opponents, 2004 was notable due to his 7-1 record and who he beat in the process.
His last three fights of 2004 were victories against Josh Barnett, Kevin Randleman, and Alexander Emelianenko. As stated, while the competition could have been tougher, going 7-1 in Pride during the 2000s is an almost impossible challenge on its own.
2004 – Fedor Emelianeko
2004 was also one of the best years for The Last Emperor. Fedor started the year off with a win over Mark Coleman, as well as Kevin Randleman. He would then face Minotauro Nogueira twice, with one fight ending in a no-contest and the other being an easy win for the Emperor.
2005 – Shogun Rua
Shogun Rua is a name that should be very familiar to most MMA fans. While he is easily one of the best light heavyweights the sport has ever seen, his 2005 run is widely regarded as the best year in his career.
He started with an easy win against Hiromitsu Kanehara, which he followed up with a victory against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. He would then go on to beat Minotauro Nogueira and then Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona, both at Pride Final Conflict 2005.
2007 – Anderson Silva
The Spider is widely regarded as one of the greatest UFC and MMA fighters of all time. He also holds the record for the longest title reign in UFC history, which started in 2006 and ended in 2013, lasting over 2,450 days.
Coming off the back of giving Rich Franklin one of the worst beatdowns we have ever seen, Silva would keep his belt through 2007 in the face of strong competition. While it may not be the most impressive run, this period was instrumental in cementing Silva as one of the G.O.A.Ts of MMA.
2007 – Quinton Jackson
2007 was all about Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and his immense strength and skill in the cage. The year started with UFC buying World Fight Alliance simply to take over Rampage’s contract, and his first fight would be the destruction of Marvin Eastman.
Rampage would then go on to break Chuck Liddell’s seven-fight win streak, taking the title off him as well. He would then defeat Dan Henderson, taking the UFC light heavyweight belt and Pride middleweight belt and unifying the two to become the undisputed champion.
2011 – Jon Jones
Finally, 2011 was the year of Jon Jones. Bones started the year with a win over Ryan Bader, then Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, and finally, Lyoto Machida. Not only were these fighters still at the top of their game, but Jones made the wins look easy.
He also won the light heavyweight belt against Shogun and then defended it against Rampage and Machida, a feat most fighters would never have been able to achieve.