In the sport of MMA we see great fighters come and go every couple of years. Some stay longer than others and some sit on top of the UFC, become household names and perform as frustratingly consistent champions like Georges St-Pierre, Ronda Rousey and Anderson Silva.
For every champion who dominates his or her division however, there are usually a couple of top contenders and a whole bunch of fighters who get a contract with the UFC, fight a few times and then float back to the relative anonymity of the smaller promotions. However, there are some fighters who get stuck in the middle ground. They are the competitors who stay with the promotion for a while, make names for themselves but never manage to fight for the title.
For some of them, it's an issue of timing, as they just happen to enter their peak when two or three others fighters are dominating the top of their division. For others, injuries sustained on the way to the top can be headaches that hold back careers. But for the most part, it comes down to there being something about their game, whether it be striking, grappling, defense, cardio, or any of the other uncountable number of things important to performance in MMA, that is not up to an elite standard.
Here is our list of the greatest mixed martial artists who fought in the UFC but didn't or have yet to fight for a championship belt. This list will include former and present fighters, regardless of whether they held belts in other promotions. Finally, we will not include those fighters who as of November 11th, 2015 (the time of completion of this article) have been scheduled for title fights in the near future, so Donald Cerrone, Conor McGregor, and Luke Rockhold will not be here but get honorable mentions.
15 Amanda Nunes
I'll throw down a "spoiler alert" right away and say that Amanda Nunes is the only woman on this list. We decided to start with her because of the fact that the Strawweight division is too new to start a conversation like this in addition to the fact that she is the only high-ranking contender in the Bantamweight division who has yet to be ripped apart by Ronda Rousey. Holly Holm's dismantling is less than a week away at the time of writing, so she will not be included for the same reason as Conor McGregor and Luke Rockhold, as we noted above.
Nunes has had an impressive career so far and has fought well at the highest level, currently holding a 4-1 record in the UFC. Her single loss was to number two contender Cat Zingano. Her four wins have come in the first round of her fights, with one being a convincing submission of one of the division's most gifted wrestlers, Sara McMann. Nunes shows flashes of being phenomenal and stands among the next who would be in line to take a crack at Rousey, though it is looking more and more like she may leave fighting in the near future. Either way, Nunes will likely have to get through Miesha Tate, and possibly Zingano in a rematch, if she wants to hold or compete for that belt.
14 Cub Swanson
The case for Cub Swanson is a tough one to make, but we'll make it anyway, because he is a gifted fighter and one of the finest strikers in the Featherweight division. His last two fights ended in losses (both fights were absolute wars) to top five contenders Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar.
Prior to that, he was on an outstanding six fight win streak that involved four knockouts, two Fight of the Night honors and a single Knockout of the Night. Again, he's a well-rounded fighter, but with four of his losses coming via neck-related submissions (three chokes and one neck crank), we're not out of line saying his submission defense, especially from those techniques that target the neck, could use some work. He suffered a broken jaw and hand against Max Holloway earlier this year and has indicated that he still wants a title shot, with the knowledge that he will need some impressive wins to earn it.
13 Gegard Mousasi
Admittedly, Dutch fighter Gegard Mousasi has not dominated the UFC in his two and half years with the promotion. The former Strikeforce and DREAM champions has gone 4-3 in the UFC, most recently losing via a huge finish by Jamaican striker Uriah Hall. His most notable win was against Dan Henderson, one of the most prolific warriors in the business.
At just age thirty, Mousasi already has over forty fights to his name; that can happen when one starts competing at age 18. Three of his six career losses have occurred in UFC competition and given his relative youth, he still has a few good years left fighting. He's a solid fighter, but his entire game will need some fine tuning if he is to rise above eighth in the Middleweight division, as his two other losses have been to some of the most technically sound Brazilians in the UFC; Lyoto Machida and Ronaldo Souza.
Mousasi will need a strong fight soon, as his loss to Hall a month and a half ago was a surprise.
12 Mike Pierce
One of those reliable names who always put up a great show, Mike Pierce suffered from a tough 2011 and 2012, losing two of his four losses. He's 9-4 in UFC competition, with three of those losses coming to Welterweight stars Josh Koscheck, Johny Hendricks, and Jon Fitch. His fourth and most recent loss was to Rousimar Palhares, who was kicked out of the UFC after cranking the heel-hook submission he had applied on Pierce to win their 2013 fight. Pierce damaged some ligaments in his ankle, which originally caused him to miss what is now two years of MMA competition.
Pierce was on a four fight win streak at the time and even his two losses to Hendricks and Koscheck were split decisions that could have gone either way. He currently has a scheduled return fight at the finale of the finale of the 22nd Ultimate Fighter. It will be interesting to see if Pierce, now 35 years old, will return with the level of skill he held in 2013.
11 Travis Browne
Currently the number five in the UFC's Heavyweight division, Travis Browne has been competing in the promotion since the middle of 2010. It wasn't until he went up against Antonio Silva in 2012, that he lost his first professional fight. At that point he was 13-1-1 for his career. He's beaten Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem, Brendan Schaub and of course Josh Barnett; not a slouch of an opponent among them. His two other UFC losses have come to two of the sport's finest, current champ Fabricio Werdum (in a title eliminator back in 2014) and former champ Andrei Arlovski.
He puts up an amazing show every time, but Travis Browne has not shown the elite striking needed in today's Heavyweight division, having been dominated by Werdum and TKOd by Arlovski. He's on the cusp of being a top contender and anyone who trades bombs with Arlovski like he did, deserves a medal, a high five, and a morphine drip.
10 Jim Miller
In a career that is (at the time of writing) just over a week away from being ten years old, Jim Miller sits at 25-6, with 21 fights in his seven years with the UFC for a record of 16-5. The Lightweight has shown brilliant wrestling throughout his MMA career, but has seldom impressed anyone with knockout power. Like quite a few on this list, Jim Miller doesn't have a part of his game that is "poor." He's currently sitting at 15th in the Lightweight division rankings, but for some time between 2008 and 2011, he was one of the sharpest in the division, going 7-0 at one point. His loss to Benson Henderson back in 2011 (after which he claimed to be sick with a kidney problem and mono) and subsequent loss to Nate Diaz in the title fight eliminator derailed what was an impressive streak that many fans hoped would lead to a title shot. After losses to Donald Cerrone and Beneil Dariush in 2014 and 2015, his recent win over Dannu Castillo is a good start to getting back on track.
9 Phil Davis
Now one of Bellator MMA's Light Heavyweights, Phil Davis used to be a top contender in the UFC. Between February 2010 and August 2013, Davis went 9-1-1. His wins during that period included victory over a younger Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alexander Gustafsson and Lyoto Machida, although the Machida decision was disputed. After a loss to Rashad Evans, he remained in contention but after two losses in under a year to Anthony Johnson and Ryan Bader, his contract was up and he signed with Bellator. Davis has a wide array of skills and has shown that he can compete with the best in the world, he just needed to do it on a consistent basis.
8 T.J. Grant
As a Welterweight, Grant put up a 16-5 career from 2006 to 2010 and went 3-3 in UFC competition. Moving to Lightweight after getting handily beaten by Ricardo Almeida, Grant went 5-0, with a two-minute knockout of Gray Maynard in what was, at the time, considered a title eliminator. He was there! But with two injuries in mid and late 2013 keeping him out of competition, he lost his place and hasn't fought since. He's 31 and could still stage a comeback, but he's indicated that with two small kids at home, a comeback is a bigger decision than it would be were he a single man with fewer commitments.
7 Chris Lytle
I'll throw out an honorable mention here to Matt Brown, a two time victim of Chris Lytle who remains a solid competitor in the Welterweight division to this day and lost a title eliminator to Robbie Lawlor back in the summer of 2014.
With over fifty professional fights at the time of his retirement in 2011, Chris Lytle first fought in the UFC back in 2000, after some success in Pancrase and other smaller American promotions. Three years later he became a promotion regular and became one of the big names in a Welterweight division that is one of the best in the history of the promotion. Lytle's time in the Welterweight division saw him go the distance with Matt Hughes, Matt Serra (twice, winning once) and a 5-1 career finish, which culminated in a retirement announcement due to the desire to spend more time with his family. Lytle went 10-10 in an era when the UFC had a shocking number of great fighters in his division. A couple of times he was close to a title shot, but due to untimely losses we never saw him in such a position. He held the Cage Rage championship belt for some time, which is a decent but I imagine unsatisfying consolation.
6 Ryan Bader
One of the big questions in the UFC a couple of months ago was "what does Bader have to do to get a title shot?" It's a fair question, and the answer is "beat Anthony Johnson in January and stop complaining." Ryan "Darth" (but I prefer the nickname "Master") Bader entered the UFC in 2008, winning season 8 of TUF and then going undefeated in his first four fights, which saw wins over Keith Jardine and "Little Nog."
A pair of losses to Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz slowed him down at the start of 2011 and he had a rough 2012 and most of 2013, going just 2-2. However, since December 2013, Bader has five solid wins; his most recent a dominating victory over Rashad Evans. In a couple more months, Bader could well be removed from this list.
5 Michael Bisping
There's still time for Bisping although many of his fans and critics alike are skeptical. With Ryan Bader out of the way, we'll discuss another former TUF winner, Michael Bisping. The Count was a Cage Warriors Light Heavyweight champ for a year and a half before winning season three of the UFC's reality TV show.
After a 6-1 start to his career, he lost via a beautiful KO to Dan Henderson in a title eliminator. There is no shame there at all. Two and a half years later, after going 5-1, he got another title eliminator, but lost, this time to Chael Sonnen. He's 2-0 in his last two and at 36 still looks like he has some gas left in the tank.
4 Stipe Miocic
After going 6-0 in the Ohio-based North American Allied Fight Series and winning their Heavyweight title, Stipe Miocic was called up to the UFC. The boxer with awesome reach dominated his first three opponents, before getting manhandled by Stefan Struve. Since then he's beaten Roy Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga, Fabio Maldonado and most recently Mark Hunt. His only loss was to Junior Dos Santos and is expected to face Andrei Arlovski in a couple of months. That fight could put either Miocic or the Pit Bull into a title eliminator, depending on the outcome of Dos Santos' fight with Alistair Overeem in December and the outcome of the now-unscheduled but "hinted-at-all-but-confirmed" fight between Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum.
3 Ronaldo Souza
Though he used to hold the Strikeforce Middleweight belt, Jacare has yet to get the opportunity in the UFC. The accomplished grappler, who has earned the name "Jacare" (Portuguese for a type of South American alligator), has won sixteen of his twenty-two professional wins by submission. He's scheduled to face Yoel Romero a month from now at UFC 194, which is actually looking like an unbelievable event. If he beats Romero, chances are we'll see him take on the winner of the Weidman/Rockhold title fight a few months after.
2 Khabib Nurmagomedov
Sitting at 22-0 professionally with six solid wins in the UFC, including a unanimous decision over the current Lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, Khabib Nurmagomedov was ranked as the number one contender. Three injuries have kept him from competing since mid-2014. No matter where the fight takes place, on the ground, standing, clinch, on Mars, wherever...he seems to be able to dominate. If he can get healthy and stay that way, he shouldn't have a problem securing a title fight shortly after his return.
1 Mirko Filipovic
Someone new to MMA fandom who looks at Mirko Cro Cop's recent record in the UFC may not be too impressed. He didn't join the UFC until he was heading into his mid 30s and already had almost thirty fights to his name. Until that point, he had been in the Croatian army and an anti-terrorism police force. During this time he started boxing and eventually got into MMA, the rest is history.
He's one of the greatest strikers in the history of the sport with over twenty knockouts on his record. His time with Pride FC was amazing and he was on the giving end of some of that promotion's most incredible KOs. He lost two championship fights in Pride, getting submitted by Antonio Nogueira (Big Nog) and getting dominated by Fedor Emelianenko in 2003 and 2005 respectively. In 2006, he won the Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix, beating Josh Barnett. Barnett is the current number six in the UFC and a former Pancrase champ. Cro Cop's other victims include Wanderlei Silva and most recently Gabriel Gonzaga, in a long awaited rematch back in April. Despite consistently entertaining fights in the last several years, he just hasn't done enough to earn a title fight. It'd be great to see it happen for Filipovic, but at age 41, and looking at the (this is meant positively) meat covered robots currently dominating the UFC Heavyweight division, we don't see it happening.
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