As UFC and mixed martial arts have developed since the Ultimate Fighting Championship began in 1993, fighting has become popular worldwide.
It’s no surprise, then, that some people from the black community became inspired and motivated by fighting sports. More black men joined their local MMA gyms to become some of the greatest UFC fighters and champions of all time.
In this article, I’m going to highlight 17 of the best black UFC fighters who have grown to become champions in the UFC, or at the very least, pioneers as African-American, Nigerian, and Brazilian (among others) sports icons from their UFC careers. Let’s take a look.
Jon “Bones” Jones enters this list as he is often considered the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter globally.
Jones has always had a diverse set of abilities across grappling and striking that has led him to success. Aged 23 years old, he defeated Maurício Rua for the Light Heavyweight Championship belt.
That victory made him the youngest UFC champion in history. So it’s no wonder, then, that MMA fans across the globe have kept singing his name for so long, even with a meager number of fights in recent years.
Jon was born in New York but lived and fought mainly out of New Mexico, making him an all-American fighter.
Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman is undoubtedly one of the strongest Welterweight fighters there has ever been in the UFC, having won the Championship belt and defended it multiple times against the likes of Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal.
When writing this piece, Usman had only one defeat in his entire career. His second fight at CFA, all the way back in 2013.
Kamaru has always depended on his Wrestling abilities to secure wins back to back for many years and multiple title defenses.
His fighting origins go back to competing in professional wrestling as he became the National champion at NCAA Division II back in 2010. Kamaru hung up his wrestling singlet in 2012 to dedicate full-time to MMA.
Kamaru was born in Auchi, a city of Edo State in Nigeria. He and his family moved to Dallas, Texas, USA, when he was eight years old.
He is just one of the many great UFC fighters from Nigeria on this list.
Francis, “The Predator” Ngannou, has one of the most fascinating origin stories on this list. While Francis now resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, he comes from the humble streets of Cameroon.
The exceptional Heavyweight with one of the most forceful punches on record was born in the small village of Batié in Cameroon. In his young years, Francis lived in poverty. At 10, he began working in a sand quarry to bring income in for himself and his family.
Francis kept himself away from local gangs long enough to pursue Boxing. He moved to Paris, France, aged 26, and lived on the streets until Fernand Lopez allowed him to sleep and train at the MMA Factory after seeing his potential.
He remained with MMA Factory until 2018. Although they built him into a UFC fighter, two consecutive losses to Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis resulted in moving teams to Xtreme Couture. He was undefeated to become the Heavyweight Champion, beating Stipe Miocic on this rematch.
The Cameroonian has faced challenges throughout his life and career. It seems that he’s even had several disputes with the UFC and, specifically its president, Dana White, over pay disputes.
Whatever the drama, The Predator is undoubtedly one of the greatest knockout hitters in the UFC’s history.
Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya is one of the greatest Middleweights ever, proving himself to be nearly unbeatable time and time again.
Quickly, let’s just get his full birth name correct because it’s a long one: Israel Mobolaji Temitayo Odunayo Oluwafemi Owolabi Adesanya. That’s better.
Israel has an exciting heritage as he is Nigerian by descent, born in Lagos in 1989. He spent some time in Ghana in 1999 with his family before moving on to Rotorua, New Zealand, to seek a better level of education.
While this Stylebender experienced bullying during his high school years, he dove further into his passions for Japanese Anime. His nickname “The Last Stylebender” originates from “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which is an Americanised anime-inspired cartoon.
Israel started kickboxing aged 18, being inspired by the movie Ong-Bak. His amateur career took off so well that he decided to pursue fighting full-time, which led him to join other UFC fighters (of today) at City Kickboxing.
A tattoo across Adesanya’s chest reads “Broken Native,” a title he gives to himself from his days in a dance crew and his personal feelings about the difference from his Nigerian roots.
Nevertheless, Israel stands as one of Nigeria’s and New Zealand’s greatest mixed martial artists that there has ever been. Quite a triumph for this “Broken Native.”
Anderson “The Spider” Silva is one of the most famous names in UFC’s entire history. His extraordinary striking abilities awarded him his “The Spider” nickname and has inspired millions of fans.
While Silva was born in São Paulo, Brazil, he resides in California, USA.
This legend is a former UFC Middleweight Champion. He has an astonishing record that still exists today, with the longest title reign of 2,457 days. In that time, he defended his title 10 times.
Anderson has also dabbled in the Light Heavyweight division during and after his Middleweight belt, successfully overcoming Stephan Bonnar and James Irvin.
Eventually, his reign was taken by Chris Weidman. Towards the latter end of Silva’s career, he suffered 6 more losses before retiring from MMA completely.
This Brazilian has some of the loosest and most effective styles that I’ve ever seen in the octagon, and rewatching his victories is never a bad idea to see just how good he was.
Jared “The Killa Gorilla” Cannonier is a Middleweight contender who originally began his career in Heavyweight in 2011, moving to Light Heavyweight in 2016, and finally Middleweight by 2018.
Most fighters struggle to change weights between two divisions. Still, Jared has successfully cut enough weight and fat to make him a challenge across three of the heaviest divisions.
Cannonier was born in Dallas, Texas, USA. Now he fights out of Phoenix, Arizona, with the MMA Lab team.
Lately, Jared has been very successful moving down weight divisions and become the #2 contender for the Middleweight Championship Belt in 2022 after defeating Derek Brunson.
Rashad “Suga” Evans was born in Niagara Falls, New York, in 1979 and is a UFC Hall of Famer after a robust career in mixed martial arts with some excellent performances.
Rashad specialized in Wrestling style for his MMA fights which is partly what made him so effective. In fact, it was so effective that Rashad was undefeated for his first 13 fights, of which 10 were within the UFC.
While his first loss to Lyoto Machida inspired Rashad into a four-fight win-streak, he was next undone by the infamous Jon Jones in 2012 at UFC 145. Sadly, this loss was the second of many more to come as Evans’ career took a downturn from that point before he eventually left the UFC in 2018.
That wasn’t the end of Rashad Evans’s appearances in the mixed martial arts world, though, as he has moved on to compete with Eagle FC by early 2022.
Regardless, Rashad Evans is a legend of the history of the UFC and inspired the combat sports world when he knocked out Chuck Liddell in brutal fashion at UFC 88. We will never forget it.
Alistair “The Demolition Man” Overeem was born in Hounslow, London, England but is of Dutch nationality. He moved to the Netherlands at a young age and began first training in martial arts.
Alistair was a rare fighter who started martial arts very early. He even began training in mixed martial arts when he was just 15 years old.
The Demolition Man shares similarities with Israel Adesanya. They both had early careers and successes in K-1 Kickboxing tournaments, where they refined a lot of their striking skills before applying them to mixed martial arts.
Overeem eventually left the UFC and mixed martial arts to return to his Kickboxing roots to sign to the Glory promotion. His debut was against Rico Verhoeven, but Overeem had to pull out due to injury.
José “The King Of Rio” Aldo is a true fighter’s fighter. The Brazilian has an incredibly long career, fighting since 2004 in MMA, defeating many other great names in his journey.
José specializes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but he has proven to have a unique style that utilizes aggressive Boxing and countering. If things end up on the ground, Aldo has a high level of grappling to deal with it.
Because of that, it seems like many opponents with Aldo try to keep the fight on the feet to beat him there. But many fighters are not successful with that mindset, as Aldo is a classic brawler.
Despite his swift loss to Conor McGregor in 2015, he isn’t typically easy to put out of the fight. Most of his fights go to the decision and Aldo often comes out as the winner.
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson (which is one of my favorite fighter nicknames, by the way) has had an incredible career across multiple fight promotions. Within 18 fights at the UFC he only suffered 2 losses.
Both those losses were against other legends of the game, Henry Cejudo (though he beat him the first time they faced off) and Dominick Cruz.
Various UFC commentators and media outlets have often called Mighty Mouse “the greatest mixed martial artist in the world,” comparing him closely to another UFC-great, Georges St-Pierre.
His fighting style has helped him defeat many difficult opponents, consisting of a solid Wrestling base to conduct the direct of fights. His skills to land quick strikes and move out of range make him able to control the pace of the conflict even further.
His style has allowed him to create records in the UFC like the most takedowns in UFC Flyweight history. His strengths in moving in for quick strikes, then just out of range to find openings for easy takedowns, have made him very difficult to beat.
Demetrious eventually moved on to compete in ONE Championship by 2018.
Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley had a career before the UFC, in Strikeforce, running undefeated, earning him his nickname with a good Wrestling base and heavy hands to wear down opponents.
Within his time in the UFC, Tyron had a mixture of winning streaks and rocky periods. Still, his style was difficult to deal with, which forced many fights to the decision.
While Woodley finally moved on to a professional Boxing career, with opponents that consisted of just one person in Jake Paul, his history in the UFC, exciting fights, and the fact he was a UFC Welterweight Champion make him deserving on this list.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has had a diverse career in mixed martial arts, fighting for various promotions. Still, he fits in nicely in this list as he had a solid record in the UFC at Light Heavyweight between 2007-2013.
Quinton fought for Bellator by 2014 but had a one-time return to the UFC in 2015. Despite having contractual disputes and even an injunction by Bellator, he could compete once again in the UFC and win over Fábio Maldonado.
Rampage is another Wrestler on this list who had an eccentric attitude and aggressive fighting style that made him such a hit with the fans and landed top-dollar matchups against opponents like Chuck Lidell, Jon Jones, and others.
With his entertaining personality and infectious smile, Quinton was able to take his performance skills to film and has had many appearances in movies like Jackass (2001), The A-Team (2010), Acceleration (2019), and various others where he plays himself or appears as the focus of a docu-style.
Daniel “DC” Cormier is probably one of the most loved UFC legends and moved to become a ringside commentator for the UFC towards the end of his fighting career and continues calling fights today.
DC had a strong background in professional wrestling, winning the gold at various US National Championships in the 96kg weight class, among a selection of medals from other wrestling tournaments.
His wrestling abilities translated exceptionally well to mixed martial arts. His MMA career began with a 15-fight win-streak before the momentum was broken by Jon Jones at UFC 182.
After that loss, DC earned the Light Heavyweight Championship belt and continued his UFC win streak until Stipe Miocic defeated him twice in a row at UFC 241 and UFC 252.
Having only been undone a few times in his career, with almost half of all his fights being in the UFC, DC has a deserving spot on this list. A legend of the fight and a passionate entertainer on the mic.
Kevin Ferguson, better known as Kimbo Slice, sadly died in 2016 and was known as an internet legend of backyard fighting. It was only natural that this KO king brought his hands to the octagon when the UFC came to exist.
I distinctly remember watching low-quality videos on the early video-sharing websites in 2003, sharing it with my friends like a giddy teenager.
In one of his early videos, Kevin created a nasty cut above the eye of one of his backyard opponents, which earned him the nickname “Slice” from internet fandoms and forums. When added to his childhood nickname, “Kimbo,” he became the Kimbo Slice we know and adore.
Kimbo had just two official fights with the UFC in a short mixed martial arts career, but I just had to include him in this list as an icon and with some of the best punches in the sport.
On his debut, one win over Houston Alexander, then a defeat against Matt Mitrione, Kimbo moved to Bellator briefly before his passing.
Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis enters this list because he is one of the scariest fighters to go up against due to his incredible knockout power.
Lewis has 26 wins when writing this article, and 21 of them are by knockout (KO or TKO)!
In his UFC career, Derrick has dropped some of the best. You never know when he’s going to do it, but eventually, that big right-hand hits the chin or temple of his opponent, and they lose consciousness fast.
The Black Beast has KO’d the likes of Curtis Blaydes and Alexander Volkov with other notable wins over Alexey Oleynik and even Francis Ngannou in 2018.
It’s always exciting to watch Derrick Lewis get into the octagon. You’re never quite sure what’s going to happen against anyone he goes up against. For that alone, he is deserving of being included in this list.
Yoel “Soldier Of God” Romero is a Cuban freestyle wrestler, born in Pinar del Río, Cuba, in 1977.
Romero gladly sits on this list for his explosive power and athleticism against other great fighters of UFC’s history.
Not only is his physique eye-watering, but his diverse abilities to overwhelm and dominate opponents on the feet and on the ground leave very little to the imagination as he puts all his powers on for show every time he fights.
Yoel’s early MMA career was full of wins, and he reached the UFC after just five professional MMA bouts to fight against Clifford Starks.
This Soldier Of God then had a crazy win-streak over 8 fights, being eventually halted by the diverse skillset of Robert Whittaker.
Yoel went up against other big names on the latter end of his time with the UFC, like Paulo Costa and Israel Adesanya. They both beat him, but he still fought bravely, forcing his later fights into decisions. Not one to be defeated easily, that’s for sure.
Uriah “Prime Time” Hall makes it onto this list in large part for always working to correct his haters and non-believers.
Uriah has had setbacks during his MMA career, with multiple two-fight losses peppered throughout his history. Still, he just keeps coming back with new learnings and seemingly a new set of skills to deal with the changing pace of UFC competition.
Uriah has proven himself worthy of being on this list by defeating fighters like Anderson Silva, Chris Weidman, and Thiago Santos.
I, for one, am excited to see how this Jamaican-American fighter can progress over the next few years at Middleweight, where we might see him earn a shot for the belt someday soon.
Many more great black UFC fighters and legends missed out on this list but are worth mentioning. They are:
- Kevin Holland
- Aljamain Sterling
- Kevin Lee
- Neil Magny
- Bobby Green
- Curtis Blaydes
- Derek Brunson
Some of these fighters are still proving themselves as powerhouses in the UFC or find “legendary” status from their career. However, each is worth mentioning and considering as a top black UFC fighter.
As time goes on, more fresh fighters enter the fray and we could easily see many more greats to come in the next few years.