From UFC Hall of Famers like Maurice Smith to champions like Rashad Evans and Jon Jones, black athletes have played a central role in the UFC since its inception. Black fighters hold several of the most coveted belts in the sport, and there are many more gifted fighters waiting in the wings to challenge for the gold.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the best black UFC fighters and examine their lasting legacy in the MMA world.
Dutch fighter Alistair Overeem has been a pro fighter for more than half his life. He has amassed 47 victories in his professional career over some of the stiffest competition in the world.
Overeem began his pro career in 1999, and the buzz he created caught the attention of Pride Fighting Championship, who offered Overeem a contract to join the promotion. Alistair had several fights with Pride and later Strikeforce before arriving in the UFC in 2011.
Already a decorated fighter, Overeem entered the UFC as one of the top heavyweight contenders. Overeem has UFC wins over Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Junior dos Santos, Alexey Oleynik, and other top heavyweights. In 2021, Overeem and the UFC parted ways, and he currently fights for Glory Kickboxing.
A decorated collegiate wrestler and two-time All-American, it should surprise no one Aljamain Sterling has been such a dominant force in the UFC since joining the promotion in 2014.
After an impressive amateur wrestling career, Sterling caught the eye of UFC legend Jon Jones, who invited Sterling to train at The Bomb Squad in Ithaca, New York. Sterling hit the ground running, first with Ring of Combat and later with the Cage Fury Fighting Championship.
Sterling captured the bantamweight championship in CFFC and had three successful title defenses before leaving for the UFC in 2014. Aljamain immediately established himself, winning several fights before losing consecutive split decisions. Since then, Aljamain has been nearly perfect, capturing the bantamweight title at UFC 259.
Aljamain defended his title at UFC 273 and appears unstoppable in the bantamweight division.
An incredibly talented light heavyweight, Anthony Johnson was one of the country’s most decorated amateur wrestlers before entering the mixed martial arts world. Johnson had a highly decorated UFC career with victories over Phil Davis, Antônio Rogério Nogueira, Ryan Bader, and Glover Teixeira to his credit.
You’re always guaranteed an entertaining fight when Johnson steps into the octagon. Throughout his UFC career, Johnson has racked up Fight of the Night and Knockout of the Night honors, along with five Performance of the Night acknowledgments.
Rumble retired in 2017 at the pinnacle of his career and was the #1 ranked light heavyweight when he hung up his gloves. With so much buzz, it was difficult for Anthony to stay retired. He emerged in 2021 to join the Bellator Fighting Championship, where he defeated José Augusto Azevedo Barros by knockout in his first fight.
Benson Henderson burst on the pro fighting scene in 2006, creating an impressive highlight reel of victories over top opponents as he rose through the ranks. Before arriving in the UFC, Henderson was a dominant force in World Extreme Cagefighting, where he became the interim lightweight champion after defeating Donald Cerrone in one of the most talked-about fights ever.
Shortly after reaching the top of the mountain in WEC, the company merged with the UFC, with the UFC absorbing the entire WEC roster. Henderson wasted no time proving himself, collecting victories over several top competitors before defeating Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 to become the Lightweight Champion.
Henderson successfully defended his title against incredibly stiff competition, including a rematch with Frankie Edgar and defenses against Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez. At the height of his UFC fame, Henderson left the UFC for Bellator, where he’s been one of the most decorated lightweight competitors on their roster.
One of the most legendary black UFC fighters of all time, Cheick Guillaume Ouedraogo, better known as Cheick Kongo, has been a dominant force in MMA for over 20 years. Cheick began his pro career with a brutal knockout of Doug Ward.
Kongo’s UFC debut was at UFC 61, where he won a bout versus Gilbert Aldana due to a doctor stoppage. Cheick was a dominant heavyweight at the UFC, scoring victories over several premier fighters, including Mirko Cro Cop, Antoni Hardonk, Matt Mitrione, and Pat Barry.
Cheick left the organization after UFC 159, signing with Bellator shortly after that. Kongo remains a dominant force in Bellator’s heavyweight division, recently fighting for the heavyweight title at Bellator 280.
Even without his incredible UFC career, Daniel Cormier would be one of the world’s most accomplished combat sports athletes. DC is a three-time high school state champion, two-time junior college national champion, and Divison I All-American. After college, DC captured six straight national championships on his way to becoming captain of the 2008 Olympic team.
After the Olympics, DC applied himself to MMA. He hit the ground running, fighting to a 4-0 record and capturing the XMMA and KOTC heavyweight championships before signing on with Strikeforce, where he was undefeated. Cormier did not suffer his first MMA loss until long after he arrived at the UFC when Jon Jones defeated him for the championship.
In his time with the UFC, DC captured both the heavyweight and light heavyweight championships, and his lone three losses came in championship fights versus Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic. Cormier retired following his last loss to Miocic, and he is the current wrestling coach at Gilroy High School.
While he may only weigh 125 pounds, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson proves that huge things can come in small packages. Johnson is one of the most accomplished and talented MMA fighters ever, and many industry elites believe he is the greatest pound-for-pound MMA fighter of all time.
After a standout high school wrestling career, Johnson began training MMA in 2007 and quickly won his first ten fights, which earned him a contract with WEC. While Mighty Mouse lost his first bout to a decision, he was a rising star, and his performances caught the eye of Dana White, who added Johnson to the UFC roster.
Johnson lost his first bout to the legendary Dominick Cruz, but help was on the way in the form of UFC’s new flyweight division. With Johnson finally able to return to his most comfortable weight class of 125 pounds, he went on a tear as fight fans have never seen before.
Mighty Mouse defeated Joseph Benavidez to win the inaugural flyweight championship and defended the belt a UFC record 11 consecutive times before finally losing to Henry Cejudo. After the loss, Demetrious left the UFC for the ONE Fighting Championship, where he’s poised for another title shot.
Whether you’re a fan of mixed martial arts or not, you can’t help but love a competitor like Derek Lewis, affectionately known in the MMA world as The Black Beast. Lewis is a hulking heavyweight, and outside of the octagon, he’s one of the funniest and most candid personalities in sports.
Lewis racked up a 4-1 pro career before catching the eye of Bellator, who brought him onto the roster in 2011. His career with Bellator never got off the ground, and he left shortly after signing with the promotion, posting a 6-0 record after leaving and earning him a contract with the UFC.
Since joining the UFC, The Black Beast has been one of the most entertaining figures in combat sports. His 17-8 record with 13 knockouts is among the most impressive in the heavyweight division. Lewis holds the record for most knockouts in the UFC, so you’re always in for a show when he’s fighting.
Hailing from Cameroon, Francis Ngannou is the current UFC championship and one of the most accomplished black UFC fighters of all time. Ngannou holds the world record for hardest punch, which was recorded in 2017 at the UFC Performance Institute.
Francis didn’t get an early start in the fight world and began training as a boxer at 22 after moving to France. Ngannou had nothing at the time and was living on the streets while training. After turning pro, Francis quickly compiled an impressive 5-1 record and caught the eye of the UFC brass, who signed Ngannou in 2015.
Except for two losses against superstars Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis, Ngannou has been a dominant force in the heavyweight division. He avenged his defeat against Stipe Miocic in 2021 to capture the heavyweight championship, which he currently holds.
Unlike the other athletes on our list, Israel Adesanya had little interest in athletics and showed no inclination towards martial arts until after graduating high school. As a victim of bullying, Israel took up martial arts to defend himself and found kickboxing shortly after that. Within two years of training, it was clear that Israel was a gifted martial artist.
Israel relocated to China to train, and he posted an impressive 75-5 record as a kickboxer before he began his ascent as a mixed martial artist. After convincing victories over Melvin Guillard and Stuart Dare, Adesanya signed a contract with the UFC.
Since entering the UFC, Adesanya has an undefeated 12-0 record as a middleweight, with his only loss coming to Jan Błachowicz when Israel rose to the light heavyweight class for a title bout. He is the current middleweight champion and one of the most exciting athletes in the UFC today.
Coming from a gifted family of athletes (both of his brothers played in the NFL), Jon Jones chose a different path, excelling in martial arts instead of football. Jones was a state champion wrestler at Union-Endicott High School and captured an NJCAA national championship before turning his focus to MMA after college.
Jones fought to a 6-0 professional record before accepting a contract offer from the UFC, where he has been a dominant force ever since. Bones Jones has fought to a 26-1 record with one no contest. Jones’ only loss came as a disqualification for using illegal elbow strikes in a fight. He has never been defeated in UFC combat.
Jon Jones’ name is peppered throughout the UFC record books, and he owns the record for most successful title defenses, most consecutive wins, longest unbeaten streak, and several others. Jones’ dominant UFC career has often been clouded by controversy, as he’s gotten into trouble for recreational and performance-enhancing drug violations and run-ins with the law.
The Nigerian-born Kamaru Usman came to America with his family at age eight, and it wasn’t long before the young Usman showed promise as a star wrestler. He captured an NCAA Division II national championship at the University of Nebraska and set his sights on Olympic gold. Unfortunately, injuries sidetracked Kamaru’s Olympic dreams, leading him towards MMA.
Kamaru compiled a 5-1 pro record before trying out for a spot on season 21 of The Ultimate Fighter. The aptly-named Nigerian Nightmare made quick work of all his TUF opponents, earning a UFC contract. To date, the one blemish on Usman’s record came in his second pro fight, and he’s one of the winningest African-American UFC fighters since signing with UFC.
Usman captured the welterweight championship in a decision over Tyron Woodley in 2019, and he hasn’t looked back. Since then, Usman has convincingly defended the belt twice each against Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal, and one versus Gilbert Burns. Kamaru has earned several Fight of the Night bonuses, and he’s one of the UFC’s most exciting fighters.
One of the most impressive black UFC fighters of the early days of the UFC, Kevin Randleman, began his career in combat sports as an accomplished wrestler. Randleman captured the state championship for Sandusky High School as a senior before dominating his weight class for Ohio State.
Randleman was a three-time All-American and two-time NCAA champion during his tenure at Ohio State, which was cut short due to academic issues in his senior year. Still, Randleman was nominated as Ohio State’s Wrestler of the Century in 2002.
After college, Randleman joined up with his OSU coach, Mark Coleman, to fight in Universal Vale Tudo Fighting. Randleman’s performances spoke for themselves, and soon after his time in Brazil, he was offered a UFC contract.
Kevin wasted no time, capturing the UFC heavyweight championship in his third fight for the promotion. Randleman joined the ranks of the UFC at a time when it was looked at as a dangerous and violent bloodsport-like competition. Today, many view Randleman as one of the many competitors who helped legitimize the sport. He is also enshrined in the UFC Hall of Fame.
After his tenure with the UFC, Kevin had a decorated career fighting for PRIDE until he retired in 2011. Tragically, Kevin passed away in 2011 while traveling on business.
This Jamaican-born MMA fighter has stormed up the rankings, quickly becoming the #2 ranked welterweight in the UFC. These days, the road appears to be paved in gold for Edwards, but it wasn’t always that way.
As a teenager, Leon Edwards fell in with the wrong crowd and found himself in trouble with the law for drug dealing, fighting, and weapon possession. Leon’s mother urged him to find a positive outlet, and he took her advice, joining an MMA gym.
Edwards hit the ground running, putting together an 8-1 pro record across several promotions in the UK before joining the UFC roster in 2014. Leon lost his first UFC bout earning Performance of the Night honors in a fight against Seth Baczynski. His only other loss in the UFC came at the hands of the legendary Kamaru Usman.
Leon has been on a tear ever since, with victories over Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz to his credit. As the #2 ranked welterweight, it won’t be long before Edwards gets a shot at UFC gold.
A true legend in the MMA world, Maurice Smith, is a UFC hall-of-Famer with one of the most decorated records of any fighter in history. As a teenager, Bruce Lee’s Chinese Connection inspired Smith to take up martial arts, first training taekwondo, and karate before settling on kickboxing as his discipline of choice.
Mo’s first professional fight came in 1982, and he fought as a professional kickboxer worldwide for various promotions throughout the 80s, often participating in mixed rules competitions. In 1997, Smith made his UFC debut, capturing the heavyweight championship in a bout versus the heavily favored Mark Coleman.
Smith defended his title against the legendary Tank Abbott before losing the belt in a controversial bout with Randy Couture. Smith was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2017 as a pioneer of MMA.
A former state wrestling champ, Melvin “The Young Assassin,” Guillard realized at a young age that mixed martial arts would be his ticket to stardom. Guillard debuted in the UFC as part of the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, and although he was eliminated, his fighting style made him scores of new fans.
Through his tenure in the UFC, Guillard fought a “who’s who” list of top talent and scored victories over Dennis Silver, Gleison Tibau, Jeremy Stephens, and Mac Danzig, among many others. Guillard won Knockout of the Night three times and currently shares the record for most knockouts by a lightweight at seven with Edson Barbosa and Dustin Poirier.
After the UFC, Guillard went on to fight in the World Series of Fighting, Bellator, Rizin FF, and several bare-knuckle boxing promotions.
As one of the most gifted athletes in Penn State history, Phil Davis had high hopes after becoming a four-time All-American and national champion. Shortly after graduating, Phil began training at LionHeart MMA and showed immediate promise, winning his first four pro fights and catching Dana White’s and the UFC’s eye.
Davis began fighting in the UFC in 2010. He made short work of some of the stiffest competition in the light heavyweight division before finally suffering his first loss to Rashad Evans in a title elimination bout. While fighting under the UFC banner, Davis fought to an impressive 9-3.
After leaving the UFC, Davis immediately captured the Bellator light heavyweight championship, and he’s been causing havoc for their light heavyweight ranks since his arrival. While “Mr. Wonderful” is no longer champion, he’s vying for another title shot as one of the top light heavyweight contenders.
Another UFC legend that fought some of his toughest battles against Rashad Evans, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is a gifted wrestler and striker whose unorthodox and entertaining style made him an instant fan favorite.
Jackson was an All-State wrestler and thought he’d pursue a career as a pro wrestler after college. Around this time, MMA was taking off in America, and amateur wrestlers, in particular, were performing quite well in the sport. Rampage hit the ground running, fighting to a 10-1 record and catching the eye of the Pride Fighting Championship.
Jackson rocketed up the ranks in Pride before leaving to join the World Fighting Alliance, which was sold to the UFC shortly after Rampage signed on with the promotion. With Quinton’s contract absorbed by the UFC, it was time for him to begin his dominant reign in the promotion, where he captured the light heavyweight title.
A gifted collegiate wrestler and one of the most well-known UFC competitors of all time, Rashad Evans is a man who needs no introduction. Rashad first began wrestling at Niagara-Wheatfield High School, where he twice captured the regional championship in his weight class, earning All-State honors.
As a collegiate wrestler, Evans made waves at Michigan State, consistently finishing in the top five against the nation’s stiffest amateur competition. After college, Evans trained MMA under the legendary Dan Severn and quickly caught the eye of Dana White and the casting team for The Ultimate Fighter.
Rashad dominated TUF as a heavyweight, winning the competition and a UFC contract before dropping to light heavyweight to compete. The move was smart, as Evans was undersized as a heavyweight. Evans fought to a 13-0-1 record as a light heavyweight, capturing the title in a match versus Forrest Griffin.
Evans lost the title in his next fight and struggled to recapture the same dominance of his early career. Still, he’s a legendary competitor and UFC hall of Famer who is now part of their broadcast team.
As someone with twelve siblings, it didn’t take Tyron Woodley long to learn that he would have to fight for everything he earned in life. Woodley was a standout athlete as a youngster, winning a Missouri state wrestling championship to become a two-time All-American for the University of Missouri.
After college, Woodley began training in MMA. After a brief amateur career, he signed with Strikeforce, where he went on an impressive stretch of ten straight victories before losing a championship to Nate Marquardt in 2012, coinciding with the start of Woodley’s UFC career.
As an established commodity, Woodley hit the ground running. He defeated Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 to capture the Welterweight Championship and rattled off several title defenses before losing the belt to Kamaru Usman. Most recently, Woodley has entered the professional boxing world, losing two highly publicized bouts with internet personality Jake Paul.
This Jamaican-born fighter found martial arts in his teen years after experiencing bullying after relocating to New York City with his family. Uriah became a blackbelt, and after high school, he set his sights on a career as a pro fighter.
Hall hit the ground running, fighting to a 7-2 record in Bellator and Ring of Combat, capturing the ROC middleweight championship twice before joining the cast of The Ultimate Fighter Season 17. Hall was the most exciting fighter on TUF, scoring two of the most devastating knockouts in TUF history while competing on the show.
Hall lost the TUF season championship to Kelvin Gastelum and had a hard time regaining the momentum he built during TUF over his tenure in the UFC. Uriah is still on the UFC roster, and he’s fought to a 10-9 record within the promotion.
Top Black UFC Fighters, Final Thoughts
Looking at this vast collection of martial artists, it is clear that Black Excellence is on full display in the UFC. Not only are many of the current UFC champions African American, but several of the top up-and-comers are also black UFC fighters. Only time will tell the vast accomplishments these incredible fighters can rack up during their careers.