7 Best Italian UFC Fighters of All Time (2022 Updated)

Are you wondering who the best Italian UFC fighters of all time are?

While there’s yet to be an Italian UFC champion, the fighters on this list are the best to have competed and have the greatest chance of becoming the first.

Italian UFC Fighters

This list is comprised of two parts. The first is Italian-born nationals, and the second part is fighters of Italian heritage or descent who are nationals elsewhere.

The reason for this is although Italian MMA continues to grow, there haven’t been too many successful Italian UFC fighters because the sport is still somewhat niche in Italy and behind other European countries such as Russia, Poland, and the UK.

Marvin Vettori – ‘The Italian Dream’ (19-7-1)

Height: 6’0” | Reach: 74” | Stance: Southpaw | Weight Class: Middleweight

By far the most successful Italian UFC fighter, Marvin Vettori challenged Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title in 2021 but came up short as he was easily picked apart from range. He was also the first Italian-born UFC fighter to headline a UFC card when he faced Jack Hermansson in 2020.

Before making it to the UFC, ‘The Italian Dream’ fought for various promotions such as Venator FC, one of Italy’s biggest. Here he won all 5 of his fights to become the welterweight champion and get offered a UFC contract.

So far in the UFC, he has displayed a well-rounded skill set and every chance of becoming a future middleweight champion.

Marvin’s best attributes are:

  • Granite chin, durability, and high fight IQ – he’s never lost by submission or knockout in 24 professional fights
  • Unrivaled champion mentality, heart, determination, and will to win
  • Crazy strength transferring to dominant grappling, takedowns, and submissions – 9 out of 18 wins are by submission
  • Great cardio and intensity allowing him to push the pace and use his slick boxing

On top of the skills Vettori brings to the octagon, it’s what he does outside of it that separates him. He’s well known for being relentless in his training and passionate about becoming the best. He trains 6 days a week and two or three times a day, never stopping and always looking to improve.

His best wins have been against Jack Hermansson, Paulo Costa, and Kevin Holland – all tough middleweight contenders.

Overall, he’s the best Italian UFC fighter ever and likely to get another chance at the middleweight title because of how hungry for success he is – he really believes he’ll be a champion. 

Alessio Sakara – ‘Legionarius’ (21-13-2NC)

Height: 6’1” | Reach: 72” | Stance: Orthodox | Weight Class: Middleweight

Alessio Sakara is another hugely passionate Italian UFC fighter who loves his heritage and the literature and history of the Roman Empire – hence why he has it tattooed all over his body. He even came out against Chris Weidman in a Roman chest plate and red cape at UFC on Versus 3.

Since joining the UFC in 2005, Alessio has been carrying the torch for Italian MMA and inspired much of the rapid MMA growth in Italy, especially in Rome, Napoli, and Milan.

Although Alessio was never a UFC champion or considered one of the best, he was a fierce competitor who had 15 UFC fights – amassing a 6-8 record with 1 no-contest before being released in 2013.

Sakara’s best attributes are:

  • Technical, speedy, and powerful boxing with knockout power – 15 KO/TKO wins out of 21 (former professional boxer)
  • An extremely composed and calculated striker
  • Entertaining fighter who loved to stand and bang in the center of the octagon – 11 out of 15 UFC fights finished in round 1
  • 78% takedown accuracy combined with effective top control and ground and pound – however, he lacked any real submission threat despite having a Bjj black belt

His best wins are against Thales Leites and James Irvin, while he faced and lost to great opposition such as Chris Weidman and Brian Stann.

Overall, he was a good fighter with the potential to reach the top 10, but he didn’t have the ability to take punches and lost many fights as a result.

Alessio Di Chirico – ‘Manzo’ (13-7)

Height: 6’0” | Reach: 74” | Stance: Orthodox | Weight Class: Middleweight

Alessio Di Chirico looks like a hitman and is an Italian UFC fighter with huge potential, winning the 2014 IMMAF amateur light heavyweight title and entering the UFC with a perfect 9-0 record.

Flying the flag high for Italian MMA, Manzo founded his own MMA team in Rome, known as the Gloria fight center.

Manzo hasn’t had the best start to life in the UFC with a 4-6 record, but he has huge potential and the skillset to become a top 10 middleweight in the coming years – he just needs a couple of consecutive wins and some confidence.

Alessio’s best attributes are:

  • 83% takedown defense in 10 UFC fights – 3rd highest in UFC middleweight history
  • Well-rounded skillset and finishing prowess – 6 wins by knockout, 4 by submission, and 3 decisions
  • Great technical striking aided by light footwork
  • Powerful leg strikes with knee and head kick knockouts

His best wins are against Julian Marquez and Joaquin Buckley, and his toughest fights and losses have been against Makhmud Muradov and Kevin Holland. His knockout of Joaquin Buckley was a highlight reel head kick that likely saved his UFC career.

Carlo Pedersoli Jr – ‘Semento’ (13-4)

Height: 5’11” | Reach: 75” | Stance: Southpaw | Weight Class: Welterweight

Carlo Pedersoli Jr is an Italian UFC fighter with a lot of potential. He entered the UFC with an 11-1 record which included an impressive win against the experienced Nicolas Dalby, while they were both in Cage Warriors.

As the UFC believed him to have a lot of skill, they chucked him into the deep end with his second fight against UFC veteran Alex ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira with only three weeks’ notice. The late notice and experience of Cowboy were too much for Carlo and he lost by knockout.

At the time of his third UFC fight and second loss to Dwight Grant, Carlo lost by a controversial knockout in which Marc Goddard decided to wave off the fight with 1 second left in round 1. Somewhat surprisingly, the UFC released Carlo after just 2 losses, maybe believing him to be too inexperienced at the age of 25.

He trains with Alessio Di Chirico in Rome and fights with a traditional karate style – a wide stance and kick dominant approach, where he’s also a brown belt.

Carlo’s best attributes are:

  • Calm, composed, and confident when fighting
  • Well-rounded in striking, grappling, and Bjj – 5 knockouts and 4 submissions in 13 wins
  • Great distance management and kicking technique because of his karate style and background
  • Excellent takedown defense

After his UFC release, Carlo immediately signed with Bellator, who appreciated his potential. He’s likely to be a fighter who has two separate runs in the UFC, coming back after getting some more experience and wins under his belt.

UFC Fighters With Italian Heritage

The above 4 are the best Italian UFC fighters of all time, so let’s take a look at some fighters with Italian heritage but who are nationals elsewhere. 

While there are many UFC fighters with some Italian in them from their early ancestors, the fighters below either have Italian parents or were born there.

Luis Pena – ‘Violent Bob Ross’ (11-3)

Height: 6’3” | Reach: 75” | Stance: Southpaw | Weight Class: Lightweight

Luis Pena is a former Italian-born American UFC fighter, who grew up in Naples but was adopted by a Latino-American couple at an early age and then raised in Arkansas, USA.

When fighting in the UFC, Luis Pena represents the Italian flag and is proud to have been born there. He got a UFC contract by winning The Ultimate Fighter season 27 in 2018 by guillotine submission in the final.

While the average height of a UFC lightweight is 5’10”, Pena is 6’3”, which gives him a huge advantage in the striking department as he can control the range of fights with his height and reach.

Luis Pena’s best attributes are:

  • Distance management and octagon control
  • Crisp technical boxing and versatile kicking
  • Slick footwork and great movement
  • Strong grappling despite being so much taller than other lightweights – he has amazing top and back control after taking an opponent down
  • Long limbs meaning he can execute submissions from various angles – his triangle choke is especially dangerous (2 wins)

Unfortunately for Luis Pena, he was arrested in 2021 for domestic violence charges and was subsequently released from the UFC despite winning his last fight, having a 5-3 UFC record, and showing great promise as a fighter.

Al Iaquinta – ‘Raging’ (14-7-1)

Height: 5’10” | Reach: 70” | Stance: Orthodox | Weight Class: Lightweight

Despite being an American national, Al Iaquinta is of Italian descent and is considered a UFC legend, having fought with the promotion for 9 years since 2012.

He grew up wrestling from a young age and throughout high school which helped him secure a 14-0 professional MMA record before turning pro in 2009.

Al’s best attributes are:

  • Strong takedown defense – 74% over 15 UFC fights (largely knocked down by fighting Khabib over 5 rounds)
  • Great submission defense and scrambles off the ground
  • Powerful, technical, and accurate boxing combinations – 7 knockouts out of 14 wins
  • Durability and mental toughness – only 1 knockout loss in his professional MMA career (his last fight)

Showing his class are his wins against Jorge Masvidal, Diego Sanchez, and Kevin Lee twice. He also had a title shot on 1 day’s notice against Khabib and managed to go 25 minutes with him (5 rounds) – Khabib’s first and only 5-round fight to go the distance.

After three consecutive losses and being knocked out (TKO) for the first time in his career against Bobby Green, Al Iaquinta decided to retire from MMA after 12 years in the game. He declared it not worth it, citing brain damage fears and admitting his body was no longer up to it at 34 years old.

Frankie Edgar – ‘The Answer’ (24-10)

Height: 5’6” | Reach: 68” | Stance: Orthodox | Weight Class: Bantamweight / Featherweight / Lightweight

Frankie Edgar is a UFC legend and former UFC lightweight champion of American nationality and Italian ethnicity as his mother and grandparents are Italian.

Frankie grew up wrestling where he competed at various state championships and NHSCA senior nationals throughout his childhood and college. He started his professional MMA career having only trained in wrestling because he was that good and could learn the rest along his journey.

After going 6-0, he was given a chance in the UFC, where he won 6 of 7 fights and landed himself a title shot against B.J. Penn at UFC 112. He won the fight via unanimous decision and went on to defend the lightweight title 3 consecutive times (tied most) before losing to Benson Henderson.

Frankie’s best attributes are:

  • Exceptional grappling and takedowns – he’s 4th for the all-time UFC takedowns landed with 73. He also has 2.3 takedowns per fight over 29 UFC fights
  • Dominant top control and ground-and-pound
  • Grit and fighting spirit – competed in three weight classes and became a UFC lightweight champion despite being a smaller fighter.

Frankie has always fought champions and elite fighters and his best wins have come against Yair Rodriguez, Chad Mendes, Urijah Faber, Charles Oliveira, and B.J. Penn three times.

Honorable Mentions

On the Italian-born side:

  • Danillo Belluardo (0-2 UFC record)
  • Mara Romero Borella (2-5 UFC record)

On the Italian heritage or descent side:

  • Michael Chiesa claims he’s Italian but it’s unknown whether his parents are Italian or not. He was also born in America and represents them when fighting (11-6 UFC record)
  • Matt Serra was born in America to an Italian-American family and represents America when fighting (7-7 UFC record)

To Summarize

Overall, these are the best Italian UFC fighters among the few that have made it to the biggest MMA promotion in the world. MMA is still considered a niche sport in Italy, so it may be a while before we see the first Italian-born UFC fighter, especially if it’s not a fighter from this list.

If more great Italian UFC fighters arrive, they’ll be added to this list.

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