The UFC is in a bit of a bind at the moment, as they've lost PPV Kingpin Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and pound for pound best Jon Jones. They also have more events booked than ever and it's difficult to sell them without three major stars. The company is relying heavily on the likes of Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, and umm...that's about it, to carry the ball right now.
However, there has been a resurgence of fighters that have garnered a lot of interest lately and have helped the UFC fill these events with credible names rather than resorting to sub-par fighters to fill the spots. Let's face it, as fans, we love to see the old dog that was all but written off, come back and steal the show. It's the natural progression of things, as a sport evolves, the athletes simply get better and the old guard gets pushed aside. But in the UFC over the last few years, there have been a number of fighters that have defied father time (and logic).
How cool was it to see Ken Shamrock do his thing at Bellator a few months back?...NAH, totally kidding, that was a train wreck.
In all seriousness, some of the fighters that will make this list were average fighters for the bulk of their careers and have gone on to win world titles. Rafael Dos Anjos for example, in 2010-11, had lost two out of three fights. The losses didn't exactly come at the hands of studs either as he got bested by Clay Guida and Gleison Tibau. Everyone did a collective people's eyebrow when he was given a title shot against Anthony Pettis. Guess what? Dos Anjos is now the Lightweight Champion. There's some other fighters that have risen from the ashes, let's take a gander, shall we?
15 Thiago Alves
From 2009 to 2012, the former #1 contender did a whole lot of nothing. He lost four out of six fights and then disappeared for two years due to multiple injuries. Fans had simply forgot about Alves (and rightfully so). When a fighter disappears for two years and dropped four out of six prior to the hiatus, it's a safe bet that the comeback will not be a Cinderella story. Alves stuck it out and scored a unanimous decision victory over Seth Baczynski in his first fight back, but didn't look like himself. He was then supposedly fed to the lions for his next fight, taking on up and comer Jordan Mein. Alves got battered in the first round but came out hard in the second and ended the fight with a vicious body kick. Despite a promising future, Mein promptly went into retirement after that fight. Atta boy Thiago!
14 John Howard
John Howard's record since returning to the UFC has not been spectacular by any means, but his road back to "the show" was definitely a feel-good story. Howard got axed from the company in 2011 and went on to crush a few cans that don't even have Wikipedia pages. At UFC Fight Night 26, Uriah Hall was slated to face Josh Samman, but Samman was forced to pull-out of the fight due to injury. Not one Middleweight on the UFC roster was willing to step up and fight Hall, as he was a highlight-reel knockout artist. From the depths of obscurity, John Howard raised his hand and agreed to take the fight. In everyone's eyes, he was about to be slaughtered. Howard managed to avoid Hall's power punches and took the decision. He's been with the UFC ever since.
13 Anthony Johnson
Anthony Johnson never lacked in skill. He just lacked the ability to make weight in basically any weight class he was in. It's incredible to think that the now massive 205 pounder was once a Welterweight getting choked out by Josh Koscheck (yeah, that happened!). He then moved up to Middleweight, couldn't make the weight again and proceeded to get dismantled by Vitor Belfort. Between the losses, and Johnson's inability to make weight, the UFC served him with his walking papers. Johnson then went on to rattle off six wins in a row in Titan Fighting and World Series of Fighting and finally got the call to come back to the UFC. He wasted little time redeeming himself as he dominated Phil Davis, KO'ed Antonio Nogueira and then did the same to upset Alexander Gustafsson. Not too shabby for a dude that couldn't even make weight.
12 Raphael Assuncao
Raphael Assuncao is an extremely good fighter that nobody gives a crap about. Regardless of people's thoughts, he's certainly resurrected his career and is on the cusp of a title shot when he recovers from injury. Way back at UFC 128, Assuncao and Erik Koch had a very heated stare down at the weigh in, but the fight wasn't so intense as Koch savagely knocked out Assuncao two and a half minutes into the fight and was then "let go" temporarily. He decided to move from featherweight to bantamweight and has been on a war path ever since, winning seven fights in a row, including a win over current champ T.J Dillashaw. He had a chance on the MMA Hour last year to call out the champ, but chose to meekly offer to fight whomever the UFC puts him up against. That's not how to get things done nowadays, see Chael Sonnen.
11 Miesha Tate
The former Strikeforce Women's Champ wasn't looking so great at one point. She dropped three out of four fights (yes, two were to Ronda Rousey, so we can hardly fault her for those). But she also got TKOed by Cat Zingano and looked admittedly terrible in her win against a washed-up Julie Kedzie. Her performances were declining and certain pundits (not us) were saying that she was only keeping her job because she was hot and marketable. Since then, she's gone on to win four in a row against top contenders and is knocking on the door for another title shot. Actually, she is the rightful #1 contender but Dana White maintains that it's hard to sell the fight because Tate has already lost twice to Rousey. That is fair...so Holly Holm got scheduled to get mauled by Rousey instead.
10 Mark Hunt
Mark Hunt truly is a special story. When the UFC took over PRIDE fighting, Hunt was still owed two fights on his contract. The UFC was willing to pay Hunt his full salary to stay home and not fight. They felt as though he wasn't worthy of fighting in the UFC. Despite being offered to get paid in full to sit at home (every man's dream), Hunt chose to "fight on." We're not going to lie...it started off bad, real bad. Sean McCorkle just about broke Hunt's arm with a straight armbar, one minute into the fight. Hunt then went on a tear and knocked out three out of his next four opponents (there's nothing quite like a Mark Hunt "walk off" knockout). He went from a guy that the UFC was begging to stay home and collect a full salary, to a top ranked Heavyweight fighting for the interim title against Fabricio Werdum. Well done Mark, well done.
9 Tito Ortiz
He's not currently employed by the UFC but we're throwing him in here anyway (he's a UFC legend, it's legit), as Tito Ortiz is another case of a fighter that simply will not go away. He's had so many well documented neck surgeries (just ask him, he'll tell you) and probably should have been done fighting in 2008, but he soldiers on. Any time this guy is a loss away from obscurity, he somehow pulls one out of his rear-end to stay relevant. Dana White openly said that it would be the end of the road if he lost his fight to Ryan Bader. Now, let's put it in perspective. White hates Tito and wanted him gone, he basically gave him a nightmare of a matchup, where was a 5 to 1 underdog on fight day. Somehow, Tito dropped Bader in the first round and submitted him via guillotine. This fluke win bought Ortiz three more fights (he lost all three). He moved on to Bellator and was pitted against a supposed unbeatable Alex Shlemenko. Obviously, Tito's role was to be a gatekeeper in this one. Yeah, he pulled another win out of nowhere, submitting the Russian in the first round. He then went on to beat up Stephan Bonnar and fought for a world title. Tito just won't go away.
8 Ryan Bader
Speaking of one of Mr. Ortiz's victims, Bader was supposed to quietly fade off into oblivion as Mike Tyson would say. However, he did win two in a row after the Ortiz loss but they were far from impressive as he knocked out Jason Brilz (right, who?) and defeated an essentially crippled Rampage Jackson in Japan. Poor Rampage was so banged up that he was even struggling walking to the octagon. Bader then got his lights turned out by Lyoto Machida and got similar treatment against Glover Teixeira.
Since then, the man has emphatically risen from the ashes. He's riding a five-fight win streak and may just be next in line for a title shot. It's not as if he's been "can-crushing" either as he's taken out the likes of Phil Davis and former champ Rashad Evans.
7 Matt Brown
That's right, Matt F'in Brown is #6 on our list. Even talking about him makes me feel extra manly. Brown epitomizes all the UFC's cute slogans like "never leave it in the hands of the judges" and "stand there and bang." He's a huge fan favorite because you know you're in for a wild 15 minutes whenever he steps in the octagon. However, there was a time where Brown really struggled. Three losses in a row is usually the magic number for a fighter to be given the pink slip. In 2010, Brown dropped fights to Ricardo Almeida, Chris Lytle and Brian Foster. All decent fighters in their own right, but none of them were world-beaters. The UFC brass saw something in Brown and appreciated his style of fighting, so they gave him one last chance. Obviously a fire was lit under his butt as he went on to win seven fights in a row, finishing six of them via KO or TKO. The wins brought him from the outhouse to the penthouse of the Welterweight rankings in a very short period of time.
6 Frank Mir
Frank Mir will surely go down as one of the UFC's best Heavyweights of all-time. Sure, he's been on the wrong side of a few highlight reel knockouts but he's also a fighter that's faced top competition throughout his entire career. His pedigree does not lie, as he's taken out names such as Tim Sylvia (back when he was good), Antonio Nogueira, Brock Lesnar and Mirko Cro Cop.
But recently, Frank Mir suffered the first four-fight losing streak of his career. Like all his fights, they were against top tier competition but he looked like a shell of his former self. He was sluggish, his footwork was off, and his top notch Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was no longer a factor. Then,
Mir had an epiphany during a yoga class with his wife. "Soccer moms" (easy ladies, his words, not mine) were able to perform certain moves that he was not because he was too banged up. At that point he realized that he needed some time off to let his body heal. It turned out to be the right call as a year later he blasted both Antonio "Big Foot" Silva and Todd Duffee with devastating knockouts, putting himself back into the upper echelon of the Heavyweight rankings. Had he beaten Andrei Arlovski, a case could be made for a title shot. Sadly, he lost a razor sharp decision, one that many thought he won.
5 Andrei Arlovski
Guess what? It really doesn't matter who the fans think won the fight, or even who Dana White thinks won for that matter. The UFC abides by the judge's decision, regardless of how horrendous it may be. Andrei Arlovski was giving the nod over Frank Mir and is now knocking on the door for a title shot.
But let's take a look at Arlovski's past five years. This guy seemed like he was a loss away from "Tank Abbott" levels of sadness. After dropping four in a row from 2009-2011, Arlovski seriously considered retirement. He walked into Greg Jackson's gym and point blank asked him: "can you make me a champion again?" Jackson matter-of-factly responded with "yes." Arlovski has won 11 of his last 12 and is riding a four-fight win streak in the UFC. At 36 years old, "The Pitbull" has reinvented himself and looks better than ever. Yours truly would love to see a rematch with the returning Fedor.
4 Quinton Jackson
In 2013, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was injury ridden, taking shots at the UFC, and just burned out. He had lost four out of his last six fights and looked like he was ready to ride off into the sunset (never fully understood that expression). But man, he is one fighter that will just not go away. He earned two knockout wins in Bellator along with a unanimous decision victory over "King Mo" (who is no slouch himself, but certainly beats Rampage in the complaining department). All this to say, Rampage has made his way back into the UFC and still has a ton of fan interest behind him. He first fight back was a one-sided pounding over Fabio Maldonado. He's currently pushing for a rematch against "Shogun" Rua. Yes please!
3 Rafael Dos Anjos
The Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu ace has been in the UFC for almost eight years now. He had his spot at the top of the Lightweight rankings and would always be good for a solid scrap on the main card. Fans simply got acclimated with Dos Anjos' spot in the UFC as he was always going to be near the top of the hill but would never get a title shot. Nobody in their wildest dreams thought that Dos Anjos could compete with the likes of Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson and, most of all, Anthony Pettis. Not only did Dos Anjos defeat all of them, he made it look easy and he'ss now the Lightweight Champion. Even to this day, it seems to slip people's minds that he's actually the champion of one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC. Conor McGregor called him out during a press conference, to which Dos Anjos replied: "it would be easy money." I think it's time we start believing him.
2 Fabricio Werdum
Everyone and their uncle counted out Fabricio Werdum when he was booked to fight Cain Velasquez for the title. Pundits felt that he was put there simply because of the lack of contenders at Heavyweight. Velasquez had already put two devastating beatings on Junior Dos Santos and there was really nowhere else to go. Werdum was always a quality Heavyweight but he did have his share of losses to his name. Arlovski, Dos Santos and Overeem had all bested him at one point (granted, Overeem was on his "horse meat" at the time). The UFC had actually let Werdum go in 2008 after Dos Santos knocked him out due to contract disputes, as they felt that he didn't bring enough upside for what he was asking for. People sat there stunned as Werdum stuffed every single takedown attempt from Velasquez and proceeded to pick him apart, ultimately submitting him. It was sheer domination from the 38-year old Werdum.
1 Robbie Lawler
Robbie Lawler should be #1 on everyone's list, as his career resurgence is almost incomprehensible. When the UFC bought Strikeforce, many (myself included) were wondering why the UFC was even bothering with Lawler. Yeah, he's exciting and he likes to stand there and "bang," but he didn't win fights! From 2009-2012, he lost five out of eight. It's not like he was facing the top of the heap either, as he was losing fights to guys like Lorenz Larkin and a washed-up "Babalu" Sobral. Jake Shields also submitted him in two minutes and made it look easy. Lawler went from a mediocre Welterweight/Middleweight to the undisputed world champ in just over two years. What he's accomplished defies father time, the evolution of the sport, and all logic. It's not as if he pulled a "Matt Serra" (with all due respect) and snuck a lucky punch in. Lawler has beaten the best that the division has to offer, including Rory MacDonald who many feel will be the inevitable champ at some point, yet Lawler's beaten him twice. Incredible...keep making us eat crow, Robbie.