The UFC’s 10 biggest draws

The fighters at the top of the UFC food chain command a lot of respect. Not only from their peers in the mixed martial arts community, but also from fans who shell out their hard earned cash in order to watch their favorite fighters compete inside the Octagon.

While some fighters are stars thanks to a loyal fan following within the industry, a few UFC superstars have built an appeal that extends beyond the mixed martial arts community and into mainstream American culture. For these select few, training for a fight is as much about maintaining their image as it is winning fights.

So which fighters have proven to be the UFC’s biggest draws?

10. Randy Couture

• Biggest Match: vs. Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 (1,010,000 buys)

Making his UFC debut in 1997, Randy Couture is one of the most well travelled of the UFC’s star players. With 22 UFC fights under his belt, Couture has acquired a solid fan following. By virtue of this lengthy career, Randy Couture was able to play an instrumental part in the UFC’s rise to the level of acceptance it currently enjoys. A five time UFC champion (three-time UFC Heavyweight champion, two-time UFC Light Heavyweight champion), Couture coached opposite Chuck Liddell during the first season of the groundbreaking reality television series “The Ultimate Fighter.” At 47-years-old he might not have too many more fights left, but Randy Couture will always be recognized as a pioneer and legend in the sport of mixed martial arts.

9. Anderson Silva

• Biggest Match: vs. Forrest Griffin at UFC 101 (850,000 buys)

Anderson Silva has had a somewhat odd UFC career. Between downright slaughters of tough fighters like Chris Leben and Forrest Griffin, Silva has also taken part in peculiar fights like his performances against Demian Maia at UFC 112.

Despite an inconsistent track record, Anderson Silva still delivers for most of his fights with flashy moves, a cocky attitude and spectacular knockouts. The mystique of the UFC Middleweight champion is such that fans tune into his fights regardless of opponent in order to see if losing is even possible for the elusive Silva.

8. B. J. Penn

• Biggest Match: vs. Georges St-Pierre at UFC 94 (920,000 buys)

Another former champion in two UFC divisions (Welterweight and Lightweight), “The Prodigy” has become one of the UFC’s biggest stars. Like Anderson Silva, most of B. J. Penn’s appeal comes from the way he outclasses opponents. Even when opponents approach his skill level, such as Kenny Florian, B. J. Penn normally finds a way to make himself look a step above the competition.

7. Lyoto Machida

• Biggest Match: vs. Rashad Evans at UFC 98 (635,000 buys)

Lyoto Machida has not managed to achieve the incredible peaks in his career as the previous names on this list, but comes after them due to consistency. Over his UFC career Lyoto Machida has managed to secure a place on some of the biggest events in UFC history, slowly building his way up from prospect to contender and finally champion.

The fans repaid him for that patience, leading to a loyal fan following. After suffering the first loss of his career to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 113, some of Lyoto Machida’s mystique as an untouchable fighter has been lost, but there is little doubt that fans will tune in to see what a new-and-improved Machida can do to his next opponent.

6. Forrest Griffin

• Biggest Match: vs. Rashad Evans at UFC 92 (1,000,000+ buys)

The original “Ultimate Fighter” was one of the first UFC fighters to break past the stigma of the sport and start collecting fans from the outside. Since winning the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2005, Forrest Griffin has overachieved by defeating incredibly tough opponents that made him somewhat of a working man’s hero. Most fans love him for his goofy demeanor and entertaining style, and if he continues to rack up wins his stock could even reach a whole new level.

5. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

• Biggest Match: vs. Rashad Evans at UFC 114 (1,050,000 buys)

Coming over from PRIDE Fighting Championships, few could have predicted just how big a star Rampage would become. After winning the UFC Light Heavyweight championship in only his second UFC fight from Chuck Liddell, Rampage continued to impress fans with a willingness to brawl and trash talk.

A surprising loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 86, following a stint as coach on the highly successful “Ultimate Fighter” TV show and preceding well publicized legal troubles, led to a higher profile than any win could have. A spot on UFC 92, one of the biggest events in the history of the UFC, helped increase his profile further, as well as a second stint as coach on “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Coaching opposite arch rival Rashad Evans, and with internet sensation Kimbo Slice featured on the show, the tenth season of the hit reality show turned out to be the most watched in the show’s history. Putting off a match with Rashad Evans to play the role of “B. A. Barracus” in The A-Team, Rampage gained more publicity before it all came to a head at UFC 114, where Rampage and Rashad battled in the most watched non-title pay-per-view event in the history of the UFC.

4. Rashad Evans

• Biggest Match: vs. Quinton Jackson at UFC 114 (1,050,000 buys)

What do the three previous names all have in common? Forrest Griffin, Lyoto Machida and Rampage Jackson all had the highest grossing fight of their career against Rashad Evans. Winner of the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Rashad has since became one of the most recognizable faces in the UFC.

With only one loss on his record, Rashad Evans has managed to outperform opponents with incredible wrestling and speed, mixed with a slightly unorthodox style and Greg Jackson’s expert coaching. A cocky attitude has only helped, while delivering on promised victories time and time again has made him a reliable contender. That big mouth of his should ensure that Rashad Evans is taking part in big time matches for some time to come.

3. Chuck Liddell

• Biggest Match: vs. Tito Ortiz at UFC 66 (1,050,000 buys)

“The Ultimate Fighter” is usually cited as the turning point of when the UFC started to become mainstream, but the coup-de-grace was UFC 66 when Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz fought in a rematch of their UFC 47 fight for the UFC Light Heavyweight title. UFC 66 went on to be the first UFC event to cross the 1,000,000 buy barrier.

Chuck Liddell has struggled to find his foothold since then, but it has not mattered to fans. To fans, “The Iceman” being listed on a UFC card simply means you will be getting your money’s worth regardless of who wins the fight. Unfortunately, Liddell has been on the losing end more often than not, though there is little doubt that fans will continue to support the former UFC champion if he chooses to fight again.

2. Georges St-Pierre

• Biggest Match: vs. Thiago Alves at UFC 100 (1,600,000 buys)

This list is largely made up of fighters who have built their public persona on pro wrestling archetypes. Chuck Liddell bares a striking resemblance to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Rashad Evans is the typical over-confident bad guy and Forrest Griffin is the do-gooding babyface. Where Georges St-Pierre is concerned, gimmicks can stay in the world of wrestling. Mild mannered and humble, GSP never leaves question of his opponents’ abilities prior to fight time. Once the build-up is done, however, St-Pierre takes to the cage to embarrass the unlucky victim placed with him inside the cage. Somehow, with every fight he takes Georges St-Pierre makes you think he has a chance of losing before he shows the world just how good he is. Of every fighter competing (in the UFC or otherwise), no one succeeds with the fans on pure fighting skill like Georges St-Pierre.

1. Brock Lesnar

• Biggest Match: vs. Frank Mir at UFC 100 (1,600,000 buys)

There have been six events held by the UFC to break 1,000,000 buys. Brock Lesnar has been a part of three of those events (UFC 91 vs. Randy Couture, UFC 100 vs. Frank Mir and UFC 116 vs. Shane Carwin). For the other two events Lesnar has taken part in he has never even fallen bellow 600,000 buys.

Bringing with him a fanbase originally made up of loyal wrestling fans, Brock Lesnar’s amazing size and athleticism have earned him an even greater following that no other fighter can boast. His brash attitude has only helped, as those who do not like Brock Lesnar will still buy his fights in order to see him lose. So far, the UFC Heavyweight champion has disappointed that contingent, as he continues to rack up wins inside the Octagon.

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Updated Monday, Jul 19, 2010