Ranking Fighters With The Best Footwork In MMA History

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Across mixed martial arts, you’re guaranteed to see an array of talents like one-punch KO power or submission mastery.

But one thing that often goes under the radar, is how some of the best talents always have incredible footwork. After all, it is the bedrock to an elite fighting style.

Moving with your feet in inventive ways makes it very hard for your opponent to hit you and opens up all kinds of new angles for offense.

In this article, I’ll rank who I think are the fighters with the best footwork in MMA history—including new and retired competitors. Let’s get to the list.

1. Dominick Cruz

Dominick Cruz holding WEC title belt
Ryan McKinnell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: The Dominator
  • Born: March 9th, 1985
  • Height: 5’8″ / 172.72cm
  • Weight class: Bantamweight
  • From: San Diego, California, United States
  • Gym: Alliance MMA
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

Cruz has a legendary history with the UFC, competing in the promotion since 2011 with notable wins over the likes of Urijah Faber, Demetrious Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw.

It’s no wonder, then, he continues to be my top pick for footwork mastery in MMA.

“The Dominator” is often regarded as having Matrix reactive abilities in the octagon, leaving his opponents expelling shots at nothing but air while he moves off-line and creates new angles in split seconds using his footwork.

He’s consistently displayed this kind of elite-level movement that allows him to stay out of the firing line of strikes.

Whenever Dominick discusses his techniques in public, he pinpoints that most martial arts forms require their target in a midline—meaning strikes or takedowns require your opponent being in front of you.

So, instead, Cruz focuses on moving off the train tracks at any opportunity to make it hard for enemies to connect a shot onto him.

And this perception makes sense when you think about it. And especially when you watch Cruz display it so effectively.

By always throwing his own attacks that put him out at an angle off from his opponent, he is immediately ready to counterattack from a dangerous position.

It’s his footwork that allows him to move off-centre so quickly as he constantly swings his weight from one hip to the other and repositioning his stance between orthodox and southpaw.

You’ll often see him tip-toeing between stances at speed, throwing feints, ducking under hooks, and creating openings.

When Dominick entered professional MMA, he went on a tearing nine-fight win-streak while at promotions Range in the Cage (RITC) and Total Combat (TC).

It was a streak that was broken by Urijah Faber at World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) in 2007 during their first matchup, but Cruz rebounded to go on yet another tirade for a thirteen-fight win-streak between WEC and his entry to the UFC in 2011.

But his unique style isn’t always perfect. Largely because it relies on his hands being held low as he uses his momentum to switch quickly.

That tactic has resulted in being caught a few times by the likes of Henry Cejudo and more recently, Marlon Vera, with a head kick KO.

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He’s still my number one for best footwork in UFC history and all of mixed martial arts. Don’t agree? Come at me, bro (in the comments).

2. T.J. Dillashaw

T.J. Dillashaw
K.O. Artist Sports, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: N/A
  • Born: February 7th, 1986
  • Height: 5’6″ / 167.64cm
  • Weight class: Bantamweight
  • From: Angels Camp, California, United States
  • Gym: Ludwig Martial Arts
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Retired

Dillashaw has had a rocky history in his MMA career, as he served a long-time ban for performance drugs use.

After returning from a long hiatus of bans and injuries, he dislocated his shoulder one final time when facing Aljamain Sterling and that pushed him to retirement.

But even so, he still remains one of the most talented fighters we’ve ever seen and in large part down to his footwork.

T.J. implements a few particular strategies that make him a nightmare to fight against. His style was incredibly fluid and reliant on his natural strike detection and countering.

The footwork strategies that Dillashaw implemented gave him options to push the opponent into a weaker position, opening striking advantages.

He is a prolific user of the switch cross (a quick fake stance switch, followed by a rear cross whilst moving the head off-center) to dazzle the opponent and move to their weaker/open side for easy hits.

After using the switch cross enough times to confuse the opponent, it then opens up new attacks like the head kick and takedowns when they’re not expecting it.

These are just a few samples of what T.J. Dillashaw was capable of in his prime. Extremely hard to predict and would constantly throw jabs that dampen enemy vision and hide his movement.

That’s what makes him a high addition to this list, he was one of the greatest at confusion tactics and that comes down to how he moves his feet to position—never letting the opponent settle on an angle.

3. Max Holloway

  • Nickname: Blessed
  • Born: December 4th, 1991
  • Height: 5’11” / 180.34cm
  • Weight class: Featherweight
  • From: Waianae, Hawaii, United States
  • Gym: Gracie Technics
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

He’s a fighter that has explicitly claimed he’s the best boxer in the UFC (during his matchup with Calvin Kattar) and there aren’t many of us who could disagree.

Max Holloway has had a long history with the UFC with a high fighting and footwork IQ despite his young age.

His methods match to that of a traditional boxer, but with a greater level of freedom and flow.

His hands are dropped low often, absorbing punches and slipping the most dangerous strikes to stay in a close range where he deals multiple strikes.

Not only does he throw a lot of strikes, sometimes even breaking records for number of strikes, but utilizes stance-switching during a flurry that opens up his opponents for more impactful angles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_suQG_MpY0

The volume of punches and angles he can throw from comes from his strength in moving his feet intelligently.

His style involves planting his feet firmly in a modified boxing stance that opens up for kickboxing and he isn’t shy at using his feet for more than just movement with abilities that make him one of the greatest strikers in UFC history.

And he is one of the greatest!

4. Israel Adesanya

Israel Adesanya
MMMAnytt, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: The Last Stylebender
  • Born: July 22nd, 1989
  • Height: 6’4″ / 193.04cm
  • Weight class: Middleweight
  • From: Lagos, Nigeria
  • Gym: City Kickboxing
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

Israel Adesanya was an undefeated champion in the UFC for a long time, only earning his first loss after moving up a weight division.

Although his strategies have been picked apart in recent years with the likes of Alex Pereira and Sean Strickland defeating the Nigerian, his movement and footwork is still some of the best we’ve ever seen in the octagon.

Adesanya can keep his opponents at range, moving in to deliver quick combinations, and dart backward again to avoid damage and deliver head kicks as counters.

With his unique size advantage against most opponents, he can stay agile and on his toes for most of the fight.

Usually, Israel doesn’t get involved in trading blows and prefers to work at a distance, picking each opponent apart.

Izzy constantly moves around his opponents to make them follow him around the cage, even from the outside, so they use up energy and burn out trying to chase him down.

When the moment is right, he’ll use switching stances to open his opponent for clinical strikes. Often constantly changing up the region he attacks, whether legs, torso, or head.

This is all possible from years of high-level kickboxing that creates footwork patterns that are hard to deal with.

Some might say Adesanya wins tons because he avoids the fight. But his record speaks for itself, he’s still overcame huge opponents in his MMA career and doesn’t avoid any fighters.

This is all thanks to his fast footwork that’s always changing and keeping the enemy guessing.

5. Sean O’Malley

Sean O'Malley
Optic Gaming, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: Sugar
  • Born: October 24th, 1994
  • Height: 5’11” / 180.34cm
  • Weight class: Bantamweight
  • From: Helena, Montana, United States
  • Gym: MMA Lab
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

“The Suga Show” was once Dana White’s next hype-up project, but he recently put all doubters back into their box with a KO victory over the dominant Aljamain Sterling and became Bantamweight champion.

O’Malley has proved that he can knock out opponents and make it look a breeze. I’d argue any day that this is down to his unique movement patterns, fake-outs, and footwork.

Sean O'Malley celebrating inside the ICF cage
User:Weistyguy12, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

With his speed, accuracy and positioning, he can deliver force that turns off the lights.

His unique Ectomorph body type allows him to have a very light frame, whilst remaining very tall and fast compared to his opponents at the same weight class.

This makes Sean light on his feet and gives him the physical ability to spring in and out of range of opponents easily, whilst also keeping them at his long range.

By maintaining distance with his footwork, Sean can work his feints in to bait a strike and allow him to counter with that right hand straight down the middle.

He’s also an expert of lateral movement, persistently faking towards one direction of movement and bouncing into the opposite, throwing a jab as he recovers space or moves off the cage.

Even when he is up against the cage, he utilizes it beautifully to persuade an attack so he can counter and punish their approach.

Sean might have a few more fights to go to prove himself in being able to apply that footwork with some of the best aggressive fighters in his division, but everything seems set for him to shine by continuing to build up experience until then.

6. Anderson Silva

Anderson Silva in the octagon
Elite Sports Tour, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: The Spider
  • Born: April 14th, 1975
  • Height: 6’2″ / 187.96cm
  • Weight class: Middleweight
  • From: Curitiba, Parana, Brazil
  • Gym: Team Nogueira
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Retired

The Spider. The Legend. Anderson Silva goes down in all of our books as one of the greatest to have ever done it.

One of the most electric and diverse fightings displays that we’ve ever had the pleasure to see and especially down to his fantastic footwork.

Silva captivated the entire sporting world when he knocked out Vitor Belfort with a front kick (or “teep”) to the face.

We’ve seen others do it like Michael Chandler against Tony Ferguson—but nothing compares to Silva’s highlight.

In many of the other great moments of Silva, we have seen him avoid punches with Neo precision like he’s already watching the code of The Matrix. Only to deliver a single blow that drops the opponent.

After Anderson Silva left the MMA world, he dove into his childhood dream of becoming a professional boxer. He’s continuing to show that he can move with the best of them as he still looks spritely despite his age.

It’s clear to me that Silva has always had a lot of study in the boxing methodologies of movement and using his feet to position advantageously against the opponent.

It’s what made him so effective with the UFC and how he has continued it into the boxing realm at his age.

7. Jon Jones

Jon Jones
K.O. Artist Sports, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: Bones
  • Born: July 19th, 1987
  • Height: 6’4″ / 193.04cm
  • Weight class: Heavyweight
  • From: Rochester, New York, United States
  • Gym: Jackson-Wink MMA
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

He may go down as one of the greatest fighters of all time, that’s a given due to his dominance in the Light Heavyweight and now Heavyweight divisions of the UFC.

An incredible grappler who’s strong up against the fence and the ground, handy with choke submissions or the ground ‘n’ pound.

But one thing that maybe goes under the radar for Bones’ expertise is his footwork ability.

Jon does have a mastery of distance management and forces his opponents to engage with him so he often has the upper hand.

He’ll confidently switch between stances, teep the gut of his opponent to frustrate them or manage distance and step back into a position where he’ll deliver a nasty strike to destabilize.

His movement is subtle but effective and I’d recommend watching back fight tape to see just how special it is.

8. Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor
Andrius Petrucenia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: Notorious
  • Born: July 14th, 1988
  • Height: 5’8″ / 172.72cm
  • Weight class: Lightweight
  • From: Crumlin, Dublin, Ireland
  • Gym: SBG Ireland
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

Conor may have had some less-than-ideal results in the latter end of his career, but he still remains one of the footwork masters in UFC history and that’s why he’s right here.

Conor McGregor would have been unlikely to reach the phenomenal heights in his career, like becoming the Champ Champ, without having the exceptional ability to move his feet in and out of range.

It’s exactly this ability that enabled him to knock out Jose Aldo in the first round and make quick work of Donald Cerrone and Eddie Alvarez before then.

I’ve noticed that it’s not just because Conor has a difficult southpaw stance to deal with which makes him so successful but because he has an uncanny natural ability to bait his opponents.

He’ll anger the opponent to dive in with an overeach and specializes in delivering the punishment from it.

Even in his late losses against Dustin Poirier, he showed a few moments of well-timed ducks and slips that created new awkward angles for counters.

It all comes down to a greater-than-normal ability of reaction, timing, and footwork. And Conor has always had all three in truckloads since his early days of boxing specialty.

9. Cory Sandhagen

Cory Sandhagen
MMAnytt, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: Sandman
  • Born: April 20th, 1992
  • Height: 5’11” / 180.34cm
  • Weight class: Featherweight
  • From: Aurora, Colorado, United States
  • Gym: High Altitude MMA
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

The Sandman is another fighter on this list who has entered high rankings of the Bantamweight division in large part thanks to his impeccable footwork skills.

A few of Cory’s highlights include the infamous flying knee that knocked out Frankie Edgar and a special display of footwork maneuvering around Petr Yan in the early rounds of their clash at UFC 267.

Cory made it difficult for Petr to isolate his movements, dominating with lead jab pressure and changing the angle constantly—tricky for a boxing specialist like Yan.

Cory throws out his lead hand jab often to control distance against his opponents.

Occasionally, he’ll move forward with the jab to force the opponent to ‘shell up’ while switching stance out to a 45-degree angle and opening up free hits in an unguarded area.

He’s a technician of the fight game and uses his feet to do the talking.

The 45-degree angle switching is something that Cory utilizes beautifully, and he did so against T.J. Dillashaw too.

In that fight, he used his jab to control the distance and distract but would follow up with a rear cross whilst switching stance.

This lands him in the southpaw, jabbing now with his right hand and allowing him to choose whether to fire a cros, switch again to a new angle or move backwards to avoid any counters.

All of this isn’t just understanding how to throw strikes, but it’s his knowledge in moving his feet rhythmically with his hands.

Sandhagen is a specialist in footwork because he understands and displays all of these elements.

10. Stephen Thompson

Stephen Wonderboy Thompson posing with fans
Cpl. Devin Nichols, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: Wonderboy
  • Born: February 11th, 1983
  • Height: 6’0″ / 182.88cm
  • Weight class: Welterweight
  • From: Simpsonsville, South Carolina, United States
  • Gym: Upstate Karate / Pitch Black MMA
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

He’s the nicest mofo in the UFC, rarely smack-talking any of his opponents no matter how bad it comes his way.

“Wonderboy” Thompson has proven that his unique fighting method, using a Karate style with a Taekwondo bounce (in my opinion), can and does work even in mixed martial arts.

His agility on his feet could be combined in understanding his overall footwork ability.

Unafraid to bounce in and out of range with his opponent, switch stances and lead them into his high kick which he’s knocked out several opponents with.

As he has such a high IQ for movement and speed, he can often predict the next step of his opponent and meet where they arrive with a straight 1-2 or devastating kick.

Having great footwork yourself also helps a ton with observing the movement of your opponent and this is where Wonderboy shines.

11. Ciryl Gane

  • Nickname: Bon Gamin
  • Born: May 6th, 1990
  • Height: 6’5″ / 195.58cm
  • Weight class: Heavyweight
  • From: Paris, Ville de Paris, France
  • Gym: MMA Factory
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

The Frenchman is one of the more dynamic martial artists at the Heavyweight level as he specializes in movement and a kickboxing style.

Gane constantly positions himself to poke at his opponent with teep kicks and stabbing jabs until the opponent tries to move off the center line and he’ll deliver a harsh upkick to the gut.

He’s incredibly light on his feet with a bouncing Karate/Taekwondo style and is always moving out of his opponent’s range through footwork and delivering nasty counters.

It’s a fighting style that is rare to see with the heavies and has only come undone in recent years against grappling styles from Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones.

Ciyrl might be a big man but he certainly knows how to move his feet and apply the agility of a Middleweight to his fights which always makes it exciting and worth including him here.

12. Michael Page

Michael Venom Page
Hrhr prph, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: Venom / MVP
  • Born: April 7th, 1987
  • Height: 6’3″ / 190.50cm
  • Weight class: Welterweight
  • From: London, England
  • Gym: London Shootfighters
  • Current Promotion: Bellator
  • Status: Active

Michael Page enters this list as the only non-UFC fighter that began his MMA career at Ultimate Challenge MMA (UCMMA) then moved on to his current promotion Bellator by 2013.

He’s one of the more unique personalities in all of mixed martial arts, constantly showboating before, during, and after he wins with posing, dancing and heckling his defeated opponent.

The Brit has a very fluid fighting style where he uses low hands, slipping punches and delivering several rear-overhand knockouts.

Venom’s fighting style resembles a low-hand Karate stance, as he often bounces in and out of range to irritate his opponent and cause them to miss and get exhausted.

Several of his knockdowns have come from his ability to predict an enemy strike, which he’ll counter during their movement to cause maximum damage.

Being able to move with such fluidity has brought him two flying knee KOs, instantly ending fights with Richard Kiely and Evangelista Santos.

Lately there have even been talks of MVP coming to the UFC, likely thanks to his exciting movement and showmanship.

13. Valentina Shevchenko

Valentina Shevchenko
MMAnytt.se, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: Bullet
  • Born: March 7th, 1988
  • Height: 5’5″ / 165.10cm
  • Weight class: Women’s Flyweight
  • From: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
  • Gym: Tiger Muay Thai
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

Valentina stands out as one of the most incredible talents in women’s MMA.

Her combination of skills adds up to one incredible fighter with lightning speed that rivals even the men and devastating Taekwondo spinning kicks.

It’s clear that she is obsessed with perfectionism in her craft, as nearly every strike she throws is with perfect form.

Whether it’s a jab, a body kick, or a spinning back kick—it looks crafted by an artist.

What I’m talking about here is beautiful footwork.

Valentina is always well-grounded, moving around her opponent until the ripe moment to strike, counter, or maneuver.

The footwork that Valentina displays is exactly what allows her to deliver flashy kicks and damage consistently.

You can’t set up yourself well enough to hit with a spinning back fist, superman punch, or spinning back kick without understanding movement well.

Valentina is able to move her feet into all the right positions, adjusting for distance and her range swiftly, to deliver some of the fastest spinning attacks you will ever see.

That is why Bullet and her footwork are deserving of a spot on this list.

14. Cody Garbrandt

Cody Garbrandt speaking at UFC press conference
MMAnytt, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: No Love
  • Born: July 7th, 1991
  • Height: 5’7″ / 170.18cm
  • Weight class: Bantamweight
  • From: Uhrichsville, Ohio, United States
  • Gym: Team Alpha Male
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

Cody Garbrandt has had a rough last few years and struggled to get back to his heights.

But I’m still including him on this list since his footwork has been an especially critical factor in his past successes.

For a start, Cody went up against our #1 Dominick Cruz and beat him confidently, posing and showboating while moving better than Cruz for the Bantamweight belt at UFC 207.

When “No Love” has been at his best, he can predict the movement patterns of the opponent and change his position to interupt them with the perfect right hand.

He’s also not shy to use slips, ducks and weaving to make ’em miss and this takes a high degree of confidence and ability in foot positioning, balance and momentum.

Cody has had some incredible moments but has struggled to perform in recent years, I still think he deserves a place on this list for giving us some iconic UFC moments of flashy footwork.

15. Rose Namajunas

Trevor Wittman coaching Rose Namajunas
Photo Credit: Terrence Wittman. Used with special permission.
  • Nickname: Thug
  • Born: June 29th, 1992
  • Height: 5’5″ / 165.10cm
  • Weight class: Women’s Flyweight
  • From: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
  • Gym: 303 Training Center
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Active

“Thug” Rose is another female fighter that has brought some special moments to MMA fans.

Her strong victories over other legendary Flyweights in the UFC are a testament to her fighting capability.

The head kick knockout and rematch-win over Weili Zhang plus a similar double-victory over the respected Joanna Jedrzejczyk are each awards to her skill and footwork especially.

Rose has martial arts skills across striking and grappling but she has really shined when she can make her adversary miss their hits and display moments of brilliance.

16. Georges St-Pierre

Georges St-Pierre
Ryan Mallard, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: Rush / GSP
  • Born: May 19th, 1981
  • Height: 5’10” / 177.80cm
  • Weight class: Welterweight
  • From: St. Isidore, Quebec, Canada
  • Gym: Tristar Gym
  • Current Promotion: UFC
  • Status: Retired

GSP is one of the greatest fighters in mixed martial arts history. He might not be an undefeated name, but he always features high in the pound-for-pound all-time rankings.

Although his specialty was often in his wrestling style, his footwork played a signifcant role in his consistency.

Georges was always very observant of his enemy, moving and repositioning into advantageous areas while avoiding dangerous ones.

He’d always pull out the perfect moment to shoot for a takedown and that is thanks to strong fundamental understanding of footwork.

Considering his success in MMA and his feet manouvering, Georges “Rush” St-Pierre is on this list of top MMA footwork fighters.

17. Yair Rodriguez

Yair Rodriguez
Gobierno CDMX, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Nickname: El Pantera
  • Born: October 6th, 1992
  • Height: 5’11” / 180.34cm
  • Weight class: Featherweight
  • From: Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico
  • Gym: Valle Flow Striking
  • Current Promotion: UFC

“El Pantera” has to enter the list as a newcomer but rising star in the UFC and undoubtedly down to his flashy feet.

Yair has incredible agility and flexibility that allows him to pull off high and spinning kicks. But he’s also incredibly gifted with his feet.

The Mexican knows how to position himself at all times, only rarely being caught out, and makes it difficult for matchups to track him down inside the cage.

He’ll move out of range in an instant and follow up with swift flurry combinations that will dazzle, sometimes ending with one of those dreaded head kicks.

Rodriguez joins plenty of other fighters who are moving up the ranks in the UFC with fancy footwork but he seals the deal to enter this list by giving convincing challenges to other footwork masters like Max Holloway, Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung.

Did we miss out any of your favorite fighters? Let us know in the comments!

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