Few fighters go out with a win in the fight game. Even fewer leave combat sports undefeated. With all the fighters on this list, a lot of questions surround their careers and legacies. Some of them did face some decent competition. But none of them retired from the top promotion (UFC) and none of them held a belt there.
What we need to keep in mind is how hard it is to go undefeated at any level in this sport. We also need to concentrate on their potential. I’m not going to argue anyone on this list should be considered a G.O.A.T or a pound for pound whatever.
These are men who showed great ability and took their fate into their own hands when they decided to go out on top. Honestly, after seeing so many fighters degrade into shells of their former selves, I believe there is something commendable about choosing when to start a new chapter in one’s life while they’re still young enough and have their sensibilities about them.
These are the top five MMA fighters to retire undefeated.
#5. Rulon Gardner
Notable Wins: Hidehiko Yoshida
Okay, this one may seem like cheating because Rulon Gardner only had one fight. The thing with Gardner is the potential the man possessed had he started MMA at an earlier age and had he put a legit effort in. Gardner is the owner of one of the biggest upsets in wrestling history beating Alexsandr Karelin for the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics. His lone MMA fight happened in PRIDE FC at in 2004 against Judo Olympic gold medalist, Hidehiko Yoshida.
The bout was billed as judo vs. wrestling and the first (and only time since) time two Olympic gold medalists would square off in MMA. To understand why this win was impressive, we have to look back at who Yoshida had already beaten. The judoka had taken out Mark Hunt, Don Frye and went to a draw with Royce Gracie in mixed martial arts before facing off against the wrestler. Gardner, trained by Bas Rutten for the fight, would win a unanimous decision in his lone MMA match.
Gardner decided to give up MMA because he didn’t enjoy it. “I just didn’t have the killer instinct to go out there and just try to hurt somebody”, Gardner said in a 2012 interview. In the same interview, he stated that he turned down a fight with Fedor Emelianenko, where Pride FC offered to pay him approximately 1 million dollas.
Since giving up his brief career in MMA, Gardner wrote a book, has been a motivational speaker, worked as an analyst for MSNBC sports, and was even a contestant on the 11th season of “The Biggest Loser”.
#4. Cole Konrad
Notable Wins: Damian Grabowski, Paul Buentello
Cole Konrad won gold at the 2005 Pan Am games and two NCAA titles in wrestling. Konrad entered and easily took the season three Bellator heavyweight tournament in 2010 to become the organization’s first heavyweight champion. The following year, he would face off against former UFC title challenger, Paul Buentello, in a non-title bout and easily outstrike him through three rounds to earn a unanimous decision. His final fight and only title defense was against the hard-hitting Eric Prindle. It’d take Konrad exactly one minute to dispatch Pringle with a kimura.
Cole Konrad retired in 2012 to focus on his career as a commodities broker. Media and fans have hoped that Konrad would return to MMA but with over five years of retirement, it looks like Konrad is done for good.
#3. Phillip Miller
Notable Wins: Mark Weir, James Zikic, Jake Shields, Shungo Oyama
Phillip Miller was a highly-skilled grappler with heavy hands. He had great top control and loved raining down powerful ground and pound on his opponents. In the early 2000s, it seemed apparent he would go far in the sport. Miller signed to UFC in 2002 and won his first two bouts with the promotion. After his win over Mark Weir, he was in talks with the UFC to take on Phil Baroni.
This would’ve been Miller’s chance to become a star in the sport. Yet, negotiations fell through and Miller would go on to fight Moacir Oliveira in the HOOK N’ SHOOT promotion. Over three rounds, Miller badly beat his opponent. So badly, in fact, it inspired him to retire out of fear that he would one day be on the receiving end of such a thrashing.
Though MMA fans spread the rumor that Miller had won the lottery, Miller actually left the sport to become a Los Angeles police officer.
#2. Rickson Gracie
Record: 11-0 (400-0 if you ask him)
Notable Wins: Koichiro Kimura, Nobuhiko Takada, Masakatsu Funaki
Rickson Gracie’s reputation is one cloaked in mystery, deceit and some top-tier grappling. Son of Helio Gracie, Rickson became a black belt at 18 and was handpicked by his father to represent the family’s art around the world. Gracie would enter a Vale Tudo Japan tournament in 1994 and easily submit everyone en route to winning the event. He competed in the first PRIDE event where he’d take out Nobuhiko Takada by armbar. Feeling the legend deserved a rematch, Gracie would again armbar the wrestler at PRIDE 4.
One of Takada’s student’s, Yoji Anjo, went to the Gracie Academy in Brazil to attempt to bait Gracie into a fight overseas. Seeing this as an act of disrespect, Gracie demanded the two fight there at the academy without the media. Allegedly, Anjo was severely beaten by Gracie and this lead to him stating, “ If I fight for money, I’ll stop hitting you when you ask me to. If we fight for honor, I’ll stop hitting you when I feel like it.”
While Gracie was obviously proficient in jiu-jitsu, people question the merit of many of his claims and his record. His own father said that Rickson’s fights are all well documented and there’s no reason to believe he’s 400-0. Though undefeated in MMA and submission grappling, he did lose a sambo rules fight to Ron Tripp in 1993. Afterwards, Gracie claimed he wasn’t aware of the rules of the bout. Gracie also only accepted some fights after the promotion and his opposition agreed to his rules set.
#1. “Funky” Ben Askren
Notable wins: Shinya Aoki, Andrey Koreshkov, Douglas Lima, Jay Hieron
Ben Askren appeared on the national stage in 2010 entering the Bellator season two welterweight tournament at 3-0. Askren entered with limited MMA training but as a seriously decorated wrestler. He’d won gold at the Pan Am games, was a four-time all American and a two time NCAA Division 1 champion.
He’d coast through the welterweight tournament, win the Bellator title and defend it four times, before parting ways with the promotion in 2013. “Funky” then signed with ONE FC and won the organization’s welterweight title after TKO’ing Nobutatsu Suzuki in the first round. He’d defend that title four times, the final time was last Friday against former ONE FC lightweight champion, Shinya Aoki.
Though he’s technically retired, he’s been on Twitter rallying for a fight against Georges St. Pierre. It’ll be interesting to see if anything comes from this and if the savvy grappler really does have his eyes set on the UFC