As the global popularity of mixed martial arts continues to grow year after year, new superstars who can transcend the sport are sure to take the mantle from those who have set the modern drawing precedent. Up-and-coming fighters such as Khamzat Chimaev, Paddy Pimblett, and Sean O’Malley are certainly worthy candidates for fighters with a chance to break through the glass ceiling. Better yet, none of these fighters have tasted UFC gold yet, signifying plenty of room for growth should any of these fighters get their hands on the UFC belt.
As promising a future as the fighters of tomorrow have in store for themselves, MMA is still the home to at least five marquee prizefighters who know their worth and can maximize their talent and magnetism.
Here are the top five prizefighters in MMA, ranked by their popularity.
Even though he is currently out of commission tending to the broken leg he suffered in his summer 2021 fight with Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor is still the top most popular prizefighter in the sport today. His return fight is sure to do at least one million pay-per-view buys, and the list of fighters that meet this criterion is one person long. Even though the visual of McGregor holding up both the UFC lightweight and featherweight championships at Madison Square Garden in 2014 feels like a distant memory, he is still the sports’ top draw with no equals.
Recently, UFC President Dana White revealed to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that McGregor is expected to return to the Octagon next year, with former lightweight title challenger Michael Chandler serving as the likely opponent. Given how outcome-proof McGregor is, a fight with Chandler could be a shoo-in to top the 2023 pay-per-view buys list provided it happens.
Nate Diaz’s time in the UFC may be up for now, but the Stockton, Calif.-native’s status as the sport’s second-biggest draw is etched in stone and evident in the bevy of options in front of him. Diaz fought out his contract at UFC 279, which was scheduled to be headlined by a five-round main event between Diaz and Khamzat Chimaev. Constant shake-ups to the card may have plausibly altered the numbers, but Diaz’s UFC swan song against Tony Ferguson still crossed the 500,000 plateau. Diaz is also notable for his fights with Conor McGregor and received a considerable rub from fighting – and beating – the former two-division champion at UFC 196.
Now free to do whatever he pleases, the 37-year-old can take his career in various directions. Bellator could be a viable option for Diaz, as the company’s ties to Showtime could be of interest should he decide to throw his hat into the boxing ring (as has been teased). The UFC can always come back with a big offer to keep Diaz. A third fight with McGregor will surely do the kind of business that would get the Stockton native’s attention in contract talks. However, Jake Paul has also gotten the attention of Diaz as of late, and given Diaz’s desire to take some boxing matches, a fight with the younger Paul brother seems plausible for 2023.
Perhaps the most unlikely name to appear on a list like this dating back five years ago, Jorge Masvidal was, for a long time, just another name on the cards. The Miami native came to the UFC after the dissolution of Strikeforce in 2012 and has since gone on to grace the Octagon on 21 different occasions. However, his 2019 bout with Ben Askren on International Fight Week brought a different level of attention. His emphatic flying knee knockout of Askren set the stage for Masvidal to become a bonafide prizefighting draw into the pandemic era.
Since the Askren knockout, Masvidal has become nothing less than a pay-per-view main event mainstay, and his numbers are in line with some of the best to ever do it. His fight with Kamaru Usman on Fight Island sold 1.2 million pay-per-views, and the subsequent rematch sold 700,000. His fight with Colby Covington at UFC 272 did considerably less, but Masvidal remains a name on the tip of everyone’s tongue as far as money fights are concerned.
It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but regardless of how people personally feel about Jon Jones, the former UFC light heavyweight champion will reassume his place as one of the sport’s top draws when he makes his likely return in 2023. While Jones has never sold a million pay-per-views, he came close on one occasion and has been one of the company’s most consistent producers in the last decade.
Jones’ fight with Daniel Cormier at UFC 213 pulled 860,000 buys, and his fight with Rashad Evans did approximately 700,000 buys. "Bones" has also averaged more than 500,000 during his pay-per-view headlining career. Given his elongated absence from the sport, there is reason to believe a fight with Francis Ngannou could be in the ballpark of his fights with Cormier and Evans. Jones’ long-anticipated heavyweight debut is sure to add intrigue to what might be the biggest heavyweight title fight in company history, reported DailyStoke, a sports and betting journal.
Nick Diaz might be retired from the sport of MMA. If he is not, however, he still stands out as a huge name and draw. Even though he looked far from his best self against Robbie Lawler at UFC 266, Diaz still managed to deliver a performance on par with what made him one of the UFC’s biggest prizefighters of all time in the first place. With the right opponents, Diaz’s history on pay-per-view suggests he could still pop a big number for the industry leader.
Diaz’s fight with Georges St-Pierre at UFC 158 came within 50,000 buys shy of topping the one million mark, and some sources even speculate it may have topped a million. Regardless, Diaz is in rarified air among the sport’s greatest drawing fighters. It is for this reason that past welterweight champions such as Kamaru Usman and Tyron Woodley have called Diaz out for a title fight despite Diaz’s last fight before UFC 266 having taken place in January 2015.
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