Well, certain fighters like Nate Diaz are not fans of the UFC signing CM Punk: "I don't dig it, He's got no fights. I know he's a big draw, I looked him up. Everyone's going to buy tickets. It's going to be great for the venue and the UFC, but at the same time, it downgrades all the fighters." Sometimes it's hard to understand the wisdom of a Diaz brother, but in this case, it's hard to argue with Nate's logic. Punk has even gone on record saying that he understands his point of view.
The key word in Diaz's quote is "downgrade." Fighters that have been plugging away for years will now get pushed down the card in order to make room for Punk. The main card is an opportunity for young talent with great records to finally get some exposure. When a celebrity like CM Punk enters the fold, it just pushes them further away from the mainstream audience. This is not an article to demean Punk's ambition (as Michael Landsberg did on TSN's Off The Record this past week), or to criticize the fact that he's pursuing a dream. It's simply to acknowledge the fact that fantastic fighters will continue to slip through the cracks.
The UFC has been put on blast for putting on too many shows, resulting in an over-saturated product. There's some merit to that claim, but there's also some undervalued talent in the UFC that would most likely be wearing gold in other fight promotions. Here are the top 12 undervalued fighters in the UFC!
12 Stephen Thompson
Thompson has quietly gone 5-1 in his UFC tenure, and is 10-1 overall. He's the type of fighter that the UFC should (and will) get behind because he brings a unique and exciting brand of fighting to the table. His combination of kickboxing and kempo karate make him a very unique and difficult puzzle to solve in the octagon. When his opponents try to close the gap on him, they end up getting hit with a kick that seemingly comes out of nowhere. His last win was a solid performance against a gritty Patrick Cote. Next on tap for "The Wonderboy" is a potential "Fight of the Night" against Brandon Thatch at UFC Fight Night on February 14th. Thatch is only 2-0 in the UFC, but is 11-1 overall and every single win has come via stoppage. This is a fight that will catapult the winner to the next level.
11 Bethe Correia
Correia has caught the ire of champion Ronda Rousey recently (mind you, it doesn't take much). Reason being, Correia's last two victories have come against Rousey's friends, Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler. After her TKO victory against Baszler, she put two fingers up, signifying that she had taken out two of Rousey's "horsewomen" and that she would be next.
This was an extremely intelligent approach by Correia, as building a storyline that fans can get behind has proven to be a successful tactic for building fighters. But she isn't just blowing smoke, as she has the record to back it up. Correia is 9-0 in her career and 3-0 in the UFC. Look for her to square off against Rousey in the new year, as the division is starved for new arm bar victims...I mean contenders.
10 Dennis Bermudez
Some of you might be asking, Dennis who?! Unbeknownst to many, Bermudez has fought nine times in the UFC and has amassed a solid 7-2 record against more than formidable opponents. He's also currently ranked seventh in the featherweight division. He participated on The Ultimate Fighter as a member of Team Mayhem and got blitzed in the finale against Diego Brandao. Many thought that would be the end of Bermudez, as it was a relatively weak season in terms of talent (Diego Brandao and Bryan Caraway being the exceptions). This was not the case at all as Bermudez went on to rattle off seven consecutive victories until he got upset by Ricardo Lamas at UFC 180. Speaking of Lamas...
9 Ricardo Lamas
The 32 year old Chicago native was all but written off after his decisive loss to Jose Aldo last February. People were questioning why he was even given the title shot to begin with. He was given the shot partly because Chad Mendez and Frankie Edgar had already been defeated by the champ and because Conor McGregor hadn't emerged yet (he was also injured). But he was also given the shot due to his body of work. No other Featherweight can make the claim that they've finished Cub Swanson, Eric Koch, and Dennis Bermudez, two out of the three being top 10 opponents. Perhaps Lamas is the fighter that fans should be excited to see when the UFC comes to Chi-Town.
8 Yoel Romero
If you listen closely, you can hear Tim Kennedy complaining about this addition. In an incident at UFC 178, unofficially coined as "stool gate," Kennedy did get shafted out of a win against Romero. In between the 2nd and 3rd round, Romero sat on his stool for an extra 30 seconds. According to the rules, if you can't answer the bell to start the round, you lose the fight. But much to the dismay of Kennedy, the fight was allowed to continue and Romero viciously TKO'ed him. It will go on record as a victory for Romero, adding another win to his 5-0 UFC career.
Regardless of "stool gate," Romero is one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC, and is without a doubt the most underrated wrestler. Everyone talks about Daniel Cormier's wrestling credentials (and rightfully so), but Romero's accomplishments vastly outweigh Cormier's. He represented Cuba in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, taking home a silver in 2000. He even holds two victories over Cael Sanderson, who will go down as one of the best Olympic wrestlers of all time. If he can round out the rest of his game, he can make a serious run in the Middleweight division. If he can knock off Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in his next outing, a title shot may be in line.
7 Luke Rockhold
Many fans were making the case that "Jacare" Souza deserved the next title shot against Chris Weidman rather than Vitor Belfort. But people forget that Rockhold holds a victory over Souza. He's also won 12 out of his last 13 fights with his only loss coming to Vitor Belfort. It's also unknown if Belfort will be a fraction of the same fighter without being "pharmaceutically enhanced."
His personality is rather dull, and he will never be a Conor McGregor or Chael Sonnen. But, luckily for him, his fighting speaks for itself. In his career, 11 of his 13 wins have come by way of stoppage. This bodes well with the UFC brass, as they've been pretty open in regards to their thoughts about leaving it in the hands of the judges.
But hypothetically, despite his accolades, if Rockhold's next fight was on the same card as Punk's debut, who would draw more eyes?
6 T.J. Dillashaw
T.J. Dillashaw's Featherweight title victory of Renan Barao was the unanimous "feel good" moment of the year. Dillashaw was an insane underdog going into that fight. As a matter of fact, he was the biggest underdog to actually win a title fight since Matt Serra's win over Georges St. Pierre in 2007. Team Alpha Male is one of the most talented MMA teams/camps on the planet, yet they could never get over the hump and bring a title back to their gym. In other words, they were always the bridesmaid, but never the bride.
Despite all that, people don't seem to understand the magnitude of the victory or simply don't care about Bantamweights. Dillashaw's first title defence generated roughly 125,000 buys, which is abysmal. There are however some things to consider. For one, his first title defence was supposed to be against Renan Barao, which would have been a highly anticipated rematch but Barao wasn't medically cleared to fight due to a weight cutting issue and Joe Soto was moved up from the undercard to take his spot. The rest of the card was also putrid. The co-main event involved two lightweights that were not even in the top 10. But there is a common theme here and it's that fans are generally having a tough time getting behind the lighter weight classes.
5 Myles Jury
The 26 year old Jury is 15-0 in his career and 6-0 in the UFC. For some reason, his name seems to slip people's minds when discussing contenders in the Lightweight division. It's not as if he's fighting bottom-feeders either, as he's made easy work of Ramsey Nijem and former TUF winner (and top 10 contender) Michael Johnson. He most recently demolished Takanori Gomi. But his most impressive win was against veteran Diego Sanchez, as he basically rag dolled him for three rounds. His only lackluster performance was against Mike Ricci, where he won by split decision. Jury's inability to pull the trigger in that fight is also a testament to how underrated Ricci is, who has since been unfortunately cut by the UFC. This is where some of the frustration lies, as you lose one disputed fight to the #8 ranked guy, and you get served your walking papers. Yet the promotion is bringing in someone with a 0-0 record, but we digress (and exhale)...
Jury will undoubtedly face the toughest test of his career at UFC 182, when he takes on Donald Cerrone. "Cowboy" is also mad at Jury for making reference to how "easy" it was to defeat Corrone's friend and teammate Diego Sanchez. This one will be awesome.
4 Raphael Assuncao
Not only does Assuncao boast a seven fight win streak, he also holds a win over current champion T.J. Dillashaw. Considering his undefeated streak, and the fact that he's actually beaten the champion, isn't it obvious that he deserves a title shot? You'd think so! But it's not that simple in the UFC. In many ways, Assuncao is his own worst enemy.
After his most recent win against Bryan Caraway at UFC Fight Night, he calmly counted to seven, informing everyone about how many wins he had in a row. He then smiled and politely asked for a title shot. Such niceties simply will not work with the UFC, as you need to sell yourself and make people interested. Take Nick Diaz for example, he marched around the octagon yelling: "WHERE YOU AT GEORGES!" There was so much interest in that matchup that even though he ended up losing to Carlos Condit in a #1 contenders fight, he still got the next title shot (after Condit), completely jumping the line. Chael Sonnen's case is an even better example, as he lost to Anderson Silva and was rewarded with a title shot in a higher weight class. At this current time, Assuncao is out with an ankle injury. But the next time Joe Rogan or Jon Anik give him the mic, he needs to call out the champ!
3 Khabib Nurmagomedov
This is one scary dude, and it would seem that the entire UFC Lightweight division would think so too. Unless your name is Donald Cerrone, there has been a clear reluctance to get in the octagon with Nurmagomedov. He is coming off a win against top contender Rafael dos Anjos (who is on quite the roll himself), but has not fought since April. Despite the layoff, Dana White maintains that Nurmagomedov is next in line to fight current champion Anthony Pettis.
Despite his 6-0 record in the UFC, and 22-0 record overall, Khabib remains relatively unknown to casual fans. He's another case of a fighter that lets his fighting do the talking, which obviously does not bode well. Fighters are uneasy to sign on the docket to fight Khabib, because it's arguably the toughest fight in the division, yet even if they win, they've beaten a relatively unknown.
2 Carla Esparza
Esparza's whole journey is undervalued and truly unfair when you break it down. This past year, the UFC introduced a Strawweight women's division. They put 16 women that they felt were contenders on The Ultimate Fighter show (many of them former Invicta fighters), and the winner would be crowned champion. Now, something doesn't add up because Invicta already had a Strawweight champion as Carla Esparza defeated Bec Rawlings for the belt. The UFC decided Esparza's win was moot, as they threw her into the house with the other contenders and made her start from scratch. Sweet deal, huh?
This did not deter Esparza, as she went on and steam rolled everyone en route to the finale, defeating Rose Namajunas. Not only that, but she didn't complain once about The Ultimate Fighter process unlike another women's champion we know...
1 Demetrious Johnson
As Michael Bisping so eloquently put it, "no one cares about little Flyweights." People were repulsed by Bisping's brutal honesty and rushed to the defence of the flyweights. But as it turns out, Bisping was correct, as sadly, nobody cares about little flyweights.
Demetrious Johnson is a phenomenal fighter that currently sits third in the pound for pound rankings. He hasn't lost a fight in nearly four years, and that loss was to Dominic Cruz, who could arguably fight two weight classes above him. He's also essentially cleaned out the Flyweight division, to the point where the UFC brass is scratching their heads as they have no idea who to match him up with next. Despite these incredible accolades, he generates very little interest, as the buy rates are atrocious when he headlines pay per views, thus making him extremely undervalued. But it can't be that bad, can it?
UFC 174, Johnson vs. Bagautinov, generated roughly 115,000 buys, making it the least watched pay per view since UFC 53. That train wreck of a pay per view involved Andrei Arlovski TKO'ing Justin Eilers in the first round, and it took place way back in 2005.
As you can see it's pretty bad, and it's very unfortunate that the flyweights are so undervalued. But it is what it is...despite how big of a jerk Bisping is.