Top 10 Best UFC Fighters From California

The Golden State is home to some of the best UFC fighters of all time.

It’s no surprise considering California is host to some of the best MMA gyms in the world, including Team Alpha Male and AKA.

There have been countless MMA fighters from California to compete in the UFC, so in this list, we did our best to file it down to the top 10 best Californian UFC fighters.

10. Dan Henderson

Born in Downey, CA, Dan Henderson is the first MMA fighter from California on our list.

A legendary OG figure in the UFC, Henderson won UFC 17 all the way back in 1998, during the promotion’s formative years.

In addition to that signature championship, Henderson is also remembered for his legendary knockout of UFC middleweight Michael Bisping, in which he landed a “people’s elbow” on an unconscious Bisping as revenge for all the Englishman’s trash talk.

“Hendo” grew up in Apple Valley, California. He was a wrestling star at Victor Valley High, with his team winning the state wrestling championship in 1988.

He also placed second in the California State Wrestling championship in 1987.

For a time, Hendo was coached by legendary wrestling figure Bob Anderson as part of the now defunct California Jets.

9. Nick and Nate Diaz

It’s impossible to think of California MMA fighters without immediately thinking of Stockton’s own, Nick and Nate Diaz.

The brothers from 209 are so iconic that we felt it best to include them as a package deal on our list for California.

Both Nick and Nate were born on the mean streets of Stockton, California, something that they have factored into their iconic personas.

Both brothers trained with Cesar Gracie’s team and currently operate their own BJJ academy in Stockton.

The two are outspoken advocates for cannabis use and legalization, with Nick Diaz having been suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for an unprecedented 5 years following his fight with Anderson Silva.

8. Luke Rockhold

Hailing from Santa Cruz, California, Luke Rockhold is the former middleweight champion of the UFC.

He wrestled at Soquel High School in Soquel, California while taking Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes, eventually leveraging that experience into an MMA career.

Rockhold joined AKA in San Jose, California, where he met legendary MMA coach Javier Mendez.

Mendez took a special interest in Rockhold, identifying his championship-caliber talent and ability immediately.

Luke Rockhold became UFC champion when he knocked out Chris Weidman at UFC 194 in December 2015.

He came out of retirement to fight Paulo Costa, losing via unanimous decision. After the bout, he retired once again.

7. Robbie Lawler

The next champion on our list of the best UFC fighters from California is Robbie Lawler.

Born and raised in San Diego, California until the age of 10, Lawler is the former UFC welterweight champion.

Although he won the title against Johnny Hendricks at UFC 181, his most iconic fight was his first defense against Rory MacDonald at UFC 189.

Considered by many to be the greatest UFC welterweight championship fight of all time, Lawler retained his title via fifth-round TKO.

The bout was voted as the Greatest MMA Fight in History by ESPN in 2017.

6. Tito Ortiz

One of the most recognizable Californian UFC fighters is none other than the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” himself, Tito Ortiz.

If his moniker didn’t already give it away, Ortiz was born in Huntington Beach, California, where he still lives to this day.

Like others on this list, Tito Ortiz was a decorated champion in the UFC.

He won the UFC Light Heavyweight championship against Wanderlei Silva at UFC 25 and went on to defend his belt 5 times, which was a record at the time.

Ortiz is one of the most recognized figures in those early UFC years, having been one of the first fighters to feud with UFC president Dana White.

However, he is perhaps most remembered for his rivalry with the next MMA fighter from California on our list.

5. Chuck Liddell

Born in Santa Barbara, California, “the Ice Man” Chuck Liddell is one of the most important figures in UFC history.

Largely credited with being the UFC’s first star, Liddell’s career helped bring MMA into the mainstream and make the UFC what it is today.

Liddell attended San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara, California, where he played football and wrestled.

He went on to attend California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California, where he was a Division I wrestler.

Liddell had an amazing career in the UFC, becoming the Light Heavyweight champion by knocking out Randy Couture at UFC 52.

He also had two iconic KO victories over the aforementioned Tito Ortiz, including in a championship fight.

4. TJ Dillashaw

The first (but not the last) UFC bantamweight champion on our list is TJ Dillashaw.

Born in Sonora and raised in Angels Camp, California, Dillashaw is a two-time UFC bantamweight champion and is considered by many to be one of the best 135-pounders of all time.

TJ Dillashaw attended Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp, California, where he was a wrestling star.

He qualified twice for the California Interscholastic Federation, including placing 5th in the CIF state championships as a junior.

He placed 2nd in the CIF championships as a senior, graduating with a high school record of 170-33.

Because of his high school wrestling success, he won a full scholarship to Cal State Fullerton Titans.

Dillashaw became UFC bantamweight champion when he defeated Renan Barao at UFC 173.

Despite Barao being considered the best pound-for-pound fighter on the UFC roster at the time, Dillashaw completely dismantled him.

His title reign lasted until he met the next fighter on our list, but won it again at UFC 217 by knocking out Team Alpha Male product Cody Garbrandt.

3. Dominick Cruz

The second (but still not the last) UFC bantamweight champion to make our list is the “Dominator” himself, Dominick Cruz.

Born in San Diego, Cruz still trains there to this day at Alliance MMA.

A WEC champion before the merger, Cruz retained his belt when the promotion merged with the UFC.

His first title defense was against Urijah Faber at UFC 132, the inaugural bantamweight championship fight of the UFC.

Cruz went on to defeat Faber and Demetrious Johnson before having to vacate his belt due to injuries.

However, Dominick Cruz refused to let injuries hold him back.

4 years after having to vacate his belt, he won it back by defeating the aforementioned TJ Dillashaw at UFC Fight Night 81.

Injuries and setbacks have held back his career, but Cruz is still considered by many to be the greatest bantamweight champion in UFC history.

2. Ronda Rousey

There would be no female fighters competing in the UFC if not for Ronda Rousey.

Born in Riverside, California, “Rowdy” is far and away the most important woman fighter in MMA history, in addition to being one of the UFC’s biggest stars.

UFC President Dana White announced that Ronda Rousey would become the first woman fighter signed with the promotion in November 2012, during the broadcast of UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Diaz.

She retained the women’s bantamweight title when Strikeforce merged with the UFC, inaugurating the division at UFC 157, where she beat Liz Carmouche with her signature armbar in the first round.

Rousey’s championship run ended up being one of the most dominant in UFC history, defending her belt 6 times with multiple first-round finishes.

Her record-setting armbar against Cat Zingano remains the fastest victory in a women’s championship bout at 14 seconds, which was the UFC record until Conor McGregor’s knockout of Jose Aldo.

1. Henry Cejudo

The final UFC bantamweight champion on our list also happens to be our choice for the greatest UFC fighter from California.

The only UFC fighter from Los Angeles to make our list, Henry Cejudo happens to be one of the most successful combat sports athletes of all time.

Cejudo’s wrestling credentials include a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, making him the only UFC champion in history to have an Olympic gold medal.

He is also one of the UFC’s few two-division champs, at one point holding both the bantamweight and flyweight belts simultaneously.

Henry Cejudo won his flyweight belt in a rematch with Demetrious Johnson, winning via unanimous decision at UFC 277 in August 2018.

He went on to defend his belt against the number 4 fighter on our list, TJ Dillashaw, who dropped down to flyweight for the first time in his career.

After defeating Dillashaw, he moved up to bantamweight to challenge Marlon Moraes for the vacant belt.

He won via TKO in the third round, making him only the fourth fighter in the UFC to be a “champ-champ,” joining Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, and Amanda Nunes.

California’s Future

This might be the most stacked list of top 10’s I’ve ever seen.

California has produced so many legends over the years.

I look forward to seeing who’s next, as more elite contenders come out of The Golden State.