3 of the best fighters living or training in Denver

There are three amazing UFC fighters who call Denver home.
Kamaru Usman
Kamaru Usman / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

Denver, Colorado is a beautiful vacation place and a powerful place to hold a gym for UFC fighters. A useful feature of Denver is it being thousands of feet above sea level, as fighters getting used to elevation can help with their cardio when fighting. If the UFC ever fights at high-elevation places, Denver athletes can have cardio advantages over their opponents, who likely do not even train at elevation. Many fighters who came out of Denver, whether birth or training camps are top contenders who have been close to fighting for or winning the title. These fighters are known for having fights that include spectacular highlight-reel knockouts, grueling wars, or maybe even both at times. As the UFC returns to Denver on July 13, the best fighters from Denver will be discussed.

3. Justin Gaethje

Justin Gaethje is the No. 3 ranked contender in the lightweight division who trains at Elevation Fight Team, in Denver. That gym has other skilled fighters, from different divisions, such as Curtis Blaydes, Cory Sandhagen, and Neil Magny, who are each solid contenders. Gaethje's longtime coach is Trevor Wittman, who is funny and motivational to his fighters in intense fights. Wittman can also be smart and strategic at times when he needs to. In 2021, he was awarded Coach of the Year at the World MMA Awards, due to the success of the main athletes he coached for success.

Gaethje is one of the most entertaining fighters in the UFC. He can't be boring in fights, as he looks to hurt his opponents and finish them in every fight. Gaethje has great punching power, hard calf kicks, and firm recovery ability. Most of the time, he is not afraid to go into the fire to win, even if it leads to him getting hurt. An interesting fact about Gaethje is that he comes from a wrestling background but does not like to use it, as striking is his go-to fight style. His takedown defense remains intact when he needs it, though.

He started MMA in 2011 and knocked out nearly everyone for many years until he won the lightweight championship in Dec 2016 against Luiz Firmino. This was at the fight promotion, World Series of Fighting. Gaethje was so dominant in competition, he got signed by the UFC and booked in a main event against a top-five contender. He won by getting a second-round stoppage over Michael Johnson in a war, that earned him bonuses for performance of the night and fight of the night. That was one of the best introductions for a UFC debut an athlete could produce in 2017. From that night, Gaethje showed elite potential to the company and the fight fans.

Though he received his first two career losses, Gaethje put on heart-filled battles against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, earning himself fight of the night bonuses both times. He luckily bounced back as he went back to knocking out fighters and winning bonuses until he earned his first UFC title shot. Dominant lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov became the first fighter to submit Gaethje in Oct 2020, at UFC 254, his retirement fight. The fight was entertaining as long as it lasted, as Nurmagomedov was forced to face adversity, getting his leg battered while receiving hard punches. Gaethje took a year off for personal growth until he returned to face top-five contender Michael Chandler in Nov 2021, at UFC 268. That ended up being the fight of the night and fight of the year, at the same time, as Gaethje won a unanimous decision.

Gaethje earned yet another title shot against the new lightweight champion, Charles Oliveira, in May 2022 at UFC 274. It was one of the most explosive first rounds ever as the fight went from Gaethje getting hurt, to Oliveira being dropped, to Oliveira getting up and getting a submission from executing a knockdown. This was the second fight where Gaethje did not get a bonus, following his first title fight, but that did not stop him from making the winners work. After another year-long layoff, Gaethje earned victories with bonuses as he disposed of rising contender, Rafael Fiziev, and avenged a major career loss, knocking out Poirier to win the BMF belt. In April 2024, Gaethje lost the BMF belt against Max Holloway, another fan favorite, as he got knocked out after displaying heart for most of the fight, earning a fight of the night bonus. Though he may not have won a UFC title, Gaethje is always entertaining in his hard work to earn title shots, as he always puts dominant champions in danger.

2. Rose Namajunas

This fighter was a champion, as Rose Namajunas also trained with Wittman for many years. Namajunas has distanced herself from Wittman in recent times ever since her title loss to Carla Esparza also in May 2022, at UFC 274. Her fiancé, Pat Berry, is a former heavyweight UFC fighter and kickboxer who serves as her main coach right now. Namajunas is a skilled, well-rounded fighter, as she can strike well and wrestle well. These skills have helped her become a champion, even when underestimated.

Namajunas started mastering basic martial arts at a young age, such as karate, taekwondo, and BJJ. Her MMA career began at Invicta FC, a women's MMA organization, in 2013 as she won by submission over Emily Kagan and Kathina Catron. Despite her first career loss by decision to Tecia Torres, Namajunas received a title shot for the inaugural strawweight division against Esparza, who won by third-round submission. She later bounced back as she won fights again, including exacting revenge over Torres by unanimous decision. Namajunas eventually earned a title shot against dominant champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk, who won the belt against Esparza, who Namajunas could not beat. She shocked the world as she won by getting her first career knockout in the first round against Jędrzejczyk, in Nov 2017 at UFC 217.

Jędrzejczyk received an immediate rematch, due to being a dominant champion, which Namajunas won by unanimous decision in April 2018 at UFC 223. As soon as Namajunas proved she was an elite champion, she lost her belt as she got slammed on her head by Jessica Andrade, in May 2019 at UFC 237. Namajunas did not fight for a whole year until she returned for a rematch against Andrade, who lost her belt sometime during that year to Zhang Weili. The major loss was avenged as Namajunas won a hard-fought, split decision in the fight of the night at UFC 251. Namajunas earned another title shot as she ended the 21-fight winning streak of Zhang Weili by first-round knockout, at UFC 261. She seemed to be a queen of rematches as she got the best of Weili in her immediate rematch, later at UFC 268.

In 2022, Namajunas was set to defend against Esparza, the one fighter who bested her majorly early on in her career. She lost a rematch for the first time, as Esparza won in one of the most boring title fights in UFC history. Namajunas was barely aggressive and active in striking, which was likely a mix of fearing the takedowns and Berry not giving her the best fighting advice. She took a year and a half off as she bulked up to flyweight to seek another title opportunity. Despite coming up short against top five contender Manon Fiorot, Namajunas outclassed Amanda Ribas to get ranked in the flyweight top 10. Her well-rounded skills to overcome odds to be a champion twice make Namajunas one of the best fighters out of Denver.

1. Kamaru Usman

He is an absolute legend of UFC champions, as he had a long winning streak and championship reign in the welterweight division. Kamaru Usman lapped his division twice, showing improvement in skills with each fight at the time. His background is in wrestling, as his fight style is all about pressure and out-hustling his opponents. Usman was also very durable and carried good power in his hands. He is best friends and teammates with Gaethje as his head coach is also Wittman.

Usman started as a major wrestling champion in college. After being consistent with knockout victories starting in MMA, he earned a shot at a UFC contract when he made it to the UFC finals to face Hayder Hassan. Usman earned a spot in the UFC when he submitted Hassan in the second round in July 2015. He won eight fights in a row following his signing, which included notable names such as Leon Edwards, Sean Strickland, Demian Maia, and Rafael Dos Anjos. Usman finally earned a title shot against welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in March 2019 at UFC 235. He earned the belt in one of the most dominant title wins in history, as he out-struck and out-wrestled Woodley for all five rounds.

A dominant title reign followed as Usman lapped the division twice, beating top title contenders, Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal twice at different times. Each rivalry included one highlight moment from Usman, as he produced a war with Covington in 2019 and the knockout of the year over Masvidal in 2021. Usman also produced a skillful stoppage over teammate Gilbert Burns during his title reign. Usman finally lost his title in Hail Mary fashion as Edwards head-kicked him in the final round of a fight he was losing in August 2022. Two losses followed in the immediate trilogy match and a short-notice middleweight war with hot prospect Khamzat Chimaev. Usman may be out of his prime now, but the dominance he had as champion easily makes him Denver's best fighter.