Who is MMA's best of all time? Anderson Silva says it's B.J. Penn

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Mixed martial arts is not yet 20 years old. As professional sports go, it is still in its infancy. So perhaps debate regarding the sport's superlatives lack the proper context for any real analysis and search for deeper meaning. It is a small sample size. On the other hand, this is all we have. For now, those conversations must be viewed through a short-sighted lens.

So take it for what you will that the man considered to be MMA's best has an alternate view.

Anderson Silva believes that it is not he, but instead B.J. Penn that is the best fighter mixed martial arts has ever seen.

Silva made the statement on Tuesday, during a conference call to discuss his UFC 162 matchup against Chris Weidman. According to him, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Royce Gracie rounded out the top four. Who stops at a top four? Anderson Silva, that's who.

This isn't the first time he's made the declaration. He did it as early as 2009, although Penn boomeranged the compliment right back at Silva. But Silva has stayed with it through the years, even after Penn's career began a rough streak.

Penn is currently pondering retirement having won just once in his last six fights. His 16-9-2 career record isn't jaw-dropping, but he gains bonus points for his willingness to fight anyone in any weight class. He won UFC championships at 155 and 170 pounds, won twice at middleweight, and even fought an open weight match against Lyoto Machida, giving up nearly 30 pounds in a fairly close match that went Machida's way. At his best, Penn was quite literally a pound-for-pound fighter, willing to challenge technique against size. In that way, he is the epitome of fighter.

Penn has career wins against five former UFC champions: Matt Hughes, Sean Sherk, Matt Serra and Jens Pulver.

Couture had a similar career, finishing just 19-10 but reigning five times in the UFC in two different divisions. Liddell (21-8) was arguably the most popular fighter during the UFC's mid-aughts surge, and Gracie (14-2-3) was inarguably the sport's launching pad.

Others worthy of some consideration? Georges St. Pierre, Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, and that's really about it. If he continues on his current course, Jon Jones will soon rocket on to the list, too.

But for now, Silva says it's Penn, even though most people will likely disagree with the pick. They're more likely to throw their support behind a certain Brazilian who recently celebrated the 16th anniversary of his pro debut, who's headed for what many believe will be the most challenging showdown of a still-perfect UFC run. All this time later, Silva is 38 years old, with a 33-4 record and the best streak, by far, the UFC has ever seen. They'll disagree with him, but they'll just make sure to do so respectfully.

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