Very recently here on the Big Kick Off we talked about the greatest UFC champions to ever grace the octagon. While doing this you come to really realise the true depth of talent that worked in the company throughout the years. Due to this many big stars go through their entire tenure with the UFC without ever holding the gold. Its even came to the point that plenty of fighters who never held a championship are bigger names and fan favourites than some that did.
That’s what we want to look at today while we are on the topic of UFC greats. We will again go through every division and pick the best star to never win the big one.
Unfortunately, this time around we won’t be able to look at the women’s divisions. They are simply too new in the grand scheme of things and pretty much every big star has held the gold at some point in each division. There are plenty of female talent coming up in the ranks like Aspen Ladd and Tatiana Suarez, but they are yet to become huge stars in the eyes of more casual fans. Especially when talking about the women’s flyweight division while having good fighters it’s still a one-woman division with Valentina Shechenko having a tight stranglehold on it.
Also like our previous list we won’t be going into the old tournament format and Super Fight Champions from the early days of the UFC. Honourable mentions also won’t be a thing this time around because could you imagine the amount of them. We will be taking UFC careers into consideration, ability, opinion and general legacy into account. With that bit of fun admin out of the way let’s get on with the list.
UFC Flyweight Division (125lbs)
There has been a lot of great fighters to be involved in the title picture at flyweight over the years. Benavidez is the one that always seems to be closer than anybody with half of his career defeats coming in title fights. Benavidez came into the UFC with many other fighters when the company merged with the WEC. He was a part of the four-man tournament to crown the inarguable UFC Flyweight champion. Unfortunately for Benavidez he lost in the final to Demetrius Johnson who as we mentioned in our champions list went on to dominate the division for almost six years.
Since that defeat Benavidez has went on to only lose three more times with another defeat to Johnson, a decision loss to Sergio Pettis and a defeat in his most recent bout against Brazilian Deiveson Figueiredo. Despite this Benavidez has won 15 times in the UFC 13 of those wins at flyweight. He beat big names like Ian McCall, Tim Elliot, Alex Perez and Henry Cejudo. He also holds UFC records for most wins at flyweight tied with Johnson at 13, most fights at flyweight with 17 and most knockouts at flyweight with five.
He’s a fighter who always seems to be just a fingertip away from reaching glory and aged 35 with his activity and ability he could turn that around especially with a win over current champ Cejudo already to his name.
UFC Bantamweight Division (135lbs)
Always a fan favourite due to his laid-back personality the California Kid was a pretty easy choice for the list. He is a UFC Hall of Famer and a respected coach founding the now famous gym Team Alpha Male that has produced plenty of successful fighters including our first entry Joseph Benavidez. Like Benavidez Faber came into the organisation from WEC where he was a former champion.
He’s just as respected for his work in the cage too holding a professional record of 35-11 with four of his seven UFC defeats coming in title fights against Dominick Cruz twice as part of their epic trilogy and twice against Renan Barao. Even his other defeats came against stiff competition like Frankie Edgar and against younger guys like Jimmie Rivera and Petr Yan later in his career.
Its not all bad for Faber he still runs an award-winning gym and is beloved by pretty much every fan of the sport. He returned from his original retirement to lose to Yan as we already mentioned so you would think that would be it for Faber in the octagon. He holds UFC records for most submission wins at bantamweight with six and most bantamweight fights with 17. With all of this and everything he has going for outside of the cage you feel he has nothing else to prove despite the lack of gold in the UFC.
UFC Featherweight Division (145lbs)
Another entry from Team Alpha Male joins our list in the form of Chad Money Mendes. He also came in as part of the WEC merger where he went undefeated. He holds an overall professional record of 18-5 with all five defeats coming against some of the biggest names at featherweight. He came up short against Jose Aldo twice for the title, Conor McGregor for the interim title, Frankie Edgar and current feather champ Alexander Volkanovski before he won the gold. He has big wins in the UFC against Darren Elkins, Clay Guida, Ricardo Lamas and Myles Jury.
Despite been known mostly for his wrestling ability he holds the record for most knockouts at featherweight in the UFC joint top with Conor McGregor with six. Following his loss to Volkanovski he decided to retire from the sport to focus on his young family and coaching the batch of new talent at Team Alpha Male with all his vast experience in big fights.
UFC Lightweight Division (155lbs)
Everyone loves Cowboy he really is one of these fighters that live by the motto any place, any time and any weight with him taken plenty of short notice fights in the past. Cerrone has fought at lightweight and welterweight but we put him in here to make room for others later, but his place was never in doubt. He has a pro record of 36 – 14 and has been in the UFC since coming in from the WEC in 2011 and has fought 34 times for the organisation. During this time, he has only had one title fight where he was quickly beating by then champion Rafael Dos Anjos. His attitude to take fights anytime has made Cerrones record fluctuate over the years but it has made him a huge fan favourite.
Perfect example of how he operates would be the look at his run from November 2013 to December 2016 in that time he fought a mad 13 times and went 12-1 with the only defeat coming in that title fight. He has wins over names like Jeremy Stephens, Edson Barboza, Eddie Alvarez, Jim Miller Benson Henderson, Rick Story, Matt Brown, Alex Olivera, Mike Perry and Al Iaquinta just to name a few tough battles.
He holds some crazy UFC records too he has the most wins in UFC history with 23, most finishes in UFC history with 16, most post fight bonuses in UFC history with 18, most fights in UFC history 34, most bouts in a 12 month period tied with Sam Alvey with six fights and most knockdowns in UFC history with 20. He has been involved in huge fights with the likes of Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson and his title fight with Dos Anjos. He still shows no signs of slowly down as he is scheduled to fight Anthony Pettis on May 9th at UFC 249 at Welterweight.
UFC Welterweight Division (170lbs)
This was a tough one to decide on with the welterweight division having plenty of talent in its ranks over the years who have never lifted a championship. Jon Fitch gets the nod which might not be the most popular choice. He certainly isn’t the most entertaining fighter to watch for fans who want to see a bloody brawl and even UFC President Dana White has publicly called Fitch out on his heavy ground game. However, Fitch is a seriously talented fighter with some impressive wrestling credentials.
In MMA he holds a professional record of 32 – 7 with 18 fights in the UFC. He went on an eight-fight win streak when he entered the UFC in 2005 beating the likes of Thiago Alves and Diego Sanchez on this run. This earned Fitch his first and only title shot for the UFC Welterweight Title against GSP at UFC 87 in 2008. Unfortunately, he lost by decision but again went on a five-fight win streak to bounce back. He only lost two more times in the UFC to former champion Johny Henricks and Demian Maia who could have easily found himself on this list and managed to draw against BJ Penn at UFC 127.
Unfortunately for Fitch Dana White just never fancied him and after the Maia loss he was shockingly released by the organisation. He went on to have a good run in World Series of Fighter and now fights for Bellator.
UFC Middleweight Division (185lbs)
It’s not a stretch to call Dan Henderson one of the greatest combat athletes of all time. I know we are keeping this based off UFC careers, but any self-respecting MMA fan can’t have a list like this and leave Henderson out. He is highly decorated as a wrestler at amateur, college and national level. He won championships everywhere he went including Pride, Strikeforce and even the old UFC tournaments when he won the middleweight tournament at UFC 17 in 1998. He has just never won a modern UFC championship.
For someone so successful elsewhere his UFC runs have been average only massing a 9-9 record. He re-entered into the UFC when they bought Pride, he was their welterweight and middleweight champion and got a title shot right away in both divisions. He lost both fights to Anderson Silva and Rampage Jackson respectfully. He bounced back quickly with wins over Rich Franklin and by knocking out Michael Bisping in with one of the best knock outs of all time at UFC 100.
He came back to the UFC in 2011 once again with an underwhelming record but a classic fight against Shogun Rua was so good it finds itself in the UFC Hall of Fame. He had the chance to finish off his career winning gold against long-time rival and then middleweight champion Michael Bisping. Nobody gave him a chance, but he almost pulled it off just falling short. What a way to cap off a legendary career that would have been.
Another fighter who did fight at different weight classes but we will slide him in as not only one of the best middleweights to never hold a UFC championship but one of if not the best fighter period to never hold a championship in the UFC.
UFC Light Heavyweight Division (205lbs)
Another hard decision with the amount of talented light heavyweights throughout the years but the Mauler it is. He holds a professional record of 18-4. He is probably the person on this list that has come the closest to winning the gold on two separate occasions. His first opportunity was against Jon Jones and he pushed Jones like nobody ever did or has till this day. He was the first fighter to show Jones had weaknesses and the two had a classic fight at UFC 165 that Jones won on decision. Its even in the UFC Hall of Fame today.
His second attempt was even closer when Daniel Cormier won the title in Jones absence Gustafsson challenged him at UFC 192. It was a razor close fight with many believing Gustafsson won the bout. He lost by split decision with even one of the judges scoring the fight in his favour.
Away from these fights he has impressive wins over Matt Hamill, Thiago Silva, Shogun Rua, Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira. Gustafsson suffered two back to back defeats against Jon Jones once again and Anthony Smith. After the Smith fight, he announced his retirement in the Octagon. There has been rumour recently that he is eyeing up a return to the UFC and only being 33 its very doable so maybe the story of Alexander Gustafsson isn’t just over yet.
UFC Heavyweight Division (265lbs)
Another fighter with a highly decorated career outside of the UFC that despite the rules of the list simply can’t be ignored. He was a world renowned K1 Kickboxer with a professional record of 14-4. He won heavyweight titles at Strikeforce and DREAM, he’s one of two fighters to win championships in MMA and K1 and he’s the only fighter to ever hold three belts at the same time as he was K1, DREAM and Strikeforce champion simultaneously.
He holds a professional MMA record of 45 – 18. He entered the UFC with all the hype in the world which only got bigger when he beat Brock Lesnar in his debut for the company at UFC 141 in 2011. His bubble was popped very quickly as he was out of action for over a year due to a failed drug test.
Since then he has always been very stop start in the organisation. He returned in 2013 to lose three out of four fights. He then went on a nice win streak beating Stefan Struve, Roy Nelson and former champions Junior Dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski. He then faced heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic for his first crack at the gold and looked like he had the fight won when he caught Miocic in a submission attempt but couldn’t get the job done.
He has since gone 4-3 with another patchy run of fights he’s beating big names like Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum but also getting horrifically knocked out against Francis Ngannou and losing to Jairzinho Rozenstruik where he suffered a stomach churning facial injury. Overeem quest for gold continues and who knows anything can happen in the heavyweight division.