"To be the man, you have to beat the man" - Ric Flair
For each and every MMA fighter, you have to believe that they dream of one day having Dana White strap a UFC title around their waist, as Herb Dean raises their hand and Bruce Buffer calls out their name. There can be only 7 UFC champions (maybe 8 someday if they ever open up a Flyweight division), and literally hundreds and hundreds of fighters who want to be the top dog. Many have tried to climb the mountain, and only few have succeeded.
Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Don Mattingly. These are just a handful of great players in their respective sports who never were able to win a championship. They all got so very close to being a champion, but had it snatched away from them. There are men such as these in this great sport that we all love. Men who have gotten so close to the top, but were never able to reach the ultimate goal of being a champion. In the piece after the jump, I intend on going over some of the best fighters in the history of the UFC that have never been a champion. The rules I am using are that the fighter has to have fought in the UFC at some point in their career (eliminating Fedor Emelianenko from the discussion). I also count UFC tournament champions as having won a championship (eliminating Dan Henderson), as well as the Super Fight Championship (which would eventually turn into the UFC HW championship). These aren't in any kind of order, at all, just a list to spark debate and whatnot.
Fighter breakdowns after the jump.
Pedro "The Rock" Rizzo
MMA Record: 19 - 9
UFC Record: 9 - 5
Rizzo challenged for the UFC Heavyweight title on three separate occasions. He lost his first attempt at UFC gold back at UFC 26 against two time NCAA Division 1 champion Kevin Randleman (which would be Rizzo's first career loss at the time). After submitting former UFC tournament champion Dan Severn, and knocking out the then undefeated Josh Barnett, he would get a second shot at the championship at UFC 31. He would go on to lose that fight to MMA legend and future UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture. The fight was very close with Rizzo landing a number of chopping leg kicks to the champion which left "The Natural"'s thigh a purple mess. Many believed that Rizzo was robbed, and a immediate rematch was made at UFC 34. Couture would go on to win the second fight convincingly, TKOing the Brazilian in the 3rd round. Rizzo would go 3 - 2 in his next 5 fights (with wins over future champion Andrei Arlovski and former champ Ricco Rodriguez) before moving over to Pride FC. Out of all the fighters we will go over in this piece, Rizzo would fight in the most championship fights (until Kenny Florian matches up with Jose Aldo on Saturday). He is literally the Buffalo Bills of the UFC.
Jeremy "Gumby" Horn
MMA Record: 88 - 21 - 5
UFC Record: 6 - 7
One of the most active fighters in the history of the sport having literally having fought most of the relevant fighters of his generation. His opponents literally take you through MMA's history. Dan Severn, Chael Sonnen, Chuck Liddell, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Ricardo Arona, Randy Couture, Forrest Griffin and Anderson Silva are just some of the fighters that have all been in the cage or ring with Jeremy Horn. Horn has twice fought for the UFC Light Heavyweight title. His first attempt would come against the legendary Frank Shamrock at UFC 17 in Mobile Alabama. After over 16 minutes of fighting (15 minutes longer than either of Shamrock's previous 2 UFC opponents put together) he would succumb to a kneebar. Over 7 years later, Horn would again challenge for the Light Heavyweight strap against Chuck Liddell. At the time, Horn been one of only 3 men who held a victory over the Iceman, choking him unconscious 6 years earlier at UFC 19. He would proceed to get battered by Liddell for the better part of 4 rounds, until getting clipped with a right hand on the eye socket, which caused him to quit due to loss of vision. Horn would go on to finish his UFC career with a 2 - 3 record after that fight. Amazingly, the 36 year old is still very active, fighting 7 times over the last year and a half.
Renato "Babalu" Sobral
MMA Record: 36 - 9
UFC Record: 6 - 5
A participant along with Jeremy Horn in the notable King of Kings1999 tournament (which included such fighters as Alistair Overeem, Antonio Rodrigo Nogeuira, Dan Henderson, Maurice Smith, Gilbert Yvel and Renzo Gracie) eventually losing to Dan Henderson in the finals, Babalu would challenge for the UFC Light Heavyweight title back at UFC 62 against Chuck Liddell. In their first fight, Babalu had been an early addition to the Iceman's highlight reel when he ate a big head kick when trying to shoot for a takedown at the end of a Chuck combination. The second fight would go no better for Sobral, as he decided that trading punches with perhaps the most devasting puncher in the history of the sport was a good idea. After getting KOed by Liddell again, over the span of 2 fights, Sobral was only in the cage with Liddell for a combined four and a half minutes. After his loss in the title fight, Sobral would get KOed again by underdog Jason Lambert at UFC 68. At UFC 74 against David Heath, Babalu locked in an anaconda choke in the second round, causing Heath to tap. But despite the tap, Sobral held the choke, even as referee Steve Mazzagatti attempted to break the hold to call the fight. This would lead to Babalu's eventual release from the UFC, where he hasn't returned.
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
MMA Record: 27 - 9
UFC Record: 4 - 5
"Right kick hospital, left kick cemetery". Those words spoken by the man himself sums up Filipovic's run in Pride during the early to mid 2000's. When the UFC signed Cro Cop in 2006, the Croatian kickboxer was coming off the most impressive stretch of his MMA career. He had just come off 4 wins over Ikuhisa Minowa, Hidehiko Yoshida, Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett to win the Pride Open Weight GP. He was only 18 months removed from one of the best heavyweight clashes in history between him and Fedor Emelianeko. He was a top 5 heavyweight and an absolute destroyer. In his first UFC fight, he was set up in an old school squash match against Eddie Sanchez at UFC 67, which he won easily. His second UFC fight would forever alter the trajectory of Filipovic's career. In a #1 contender match at UFC 70 with Gabriel Gonzaga, Cro Cop got brutally KOed by a head kick that remains one of the most violent KO's in UFC history. That would be as close as he would ever come to a title shot in the UFC. After his loss to Gonzaga, Cro Cop was never the same fighter. Losing an unanimous decision to Cheick Kongo at UFC 75 , Cro Cop fled back to Japan and fought in DREAM for 3 fights before coming back to the UFC. He has had a bit more success in his second stint, going 3 - 3, but to most MMA fans he is a faded shadow of his once fearsome self.
Nate "The Great" Marquardt
MMA Record: 31 - 10 - 2
UFC Record: 10 - 4
The former 7 time King of Pancrase, Nate Marquardt started his UFC career at the first UFC Fight Night back in 2005. He would begin his UFC run 4 straight victories that would earn him a title shot at all time great Anderson Silva. They met at UFC 73, where he was simply outclassed by the future UFC Hall of Famer. Unable to mount much offense, Nate would go on to be finished in the first round via strikes. Famously called a "choker" by Dana White, Nate would twice make it back to title eliminator fights with Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami respectively. He would lose a decision to both men, causing him to look at dropping down to welterweight. He would be forced to pull out of his first fight at 170 lbs due to a failed medical test, which resulted in his release from the promotion. Only time will tell if he will ever find himself back into Dana White's good graces again, but in the meantime he will test his mettle in the BAMMA organization.
Diego "The Dream" Sanchez
MMA Record: 23 - 4
UFC Record: 12 - 4
A contestant on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, Diego Sanchez has had an up and down career in the UFC. He began his career by winning the first season of TUF, and rang off 6 wins in a row before losing to both Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Shortly after he would move down to 155 lbs, where he engaged in a war with top contender Joe Stevenson, and one of the best fights in UFC history against Clay Guida at the Ultimate Fighter Finale 9. That victory earned him a shot against then lightweight champion BJ Penn at UFC 107. In a one sided fight, he was beaten up badly by the Hawaiian champion, opening a horrific cut on Sanchez's head in the 5th round with a vicious head kick. After the loss to Penn, Diego would move back up to 170, where after dropping a decision to prospect John Hathaway, he is currently on a 2 fight winning streak. He is still one of the top contenders at welterweight and may get another title shot before his career is finished.
MMA Record: 25 - 7 - 1
UFC Record: 6 - 4
Nick Diaz is one of the most polarizing figures in MMA today. He does not "play the game" as Dana White has said on multiple occasions. He doesn't do press conferences, he hates talking to the media, smokes a ton of weed and has a reported social anxiety disorder. But when the cage door closes, all of that doesn't matter, because one thing is always guaranteed, Nick Diaz always comes to fight. Breaking into the UFC as a 20 year old at UFC 44, Diaz started his UFC career with two straight finishes (including an excellent fight with a man who was thought to be the future of the sport in Robbie Lawlor). After dropping a very close split decision with Karo Parisyan, he would go on to finish his next two opponents. He would meet Diego Sanchez at the Ultimate Fighter season 2 finale in Nov of 2005, where they would put on one of my favorite fights of all time. He would lose to Sanchez via decision, and would drop his next two bouts as well (against Sean Sherk and Joe Riggs respectively). He would fight twice more for the organization before deciding to move on and fight for Pride FC. After upsetting then number 1 lightweight Takanori Gomi (later changed to a no decision due to Diaz testing positive for marijuana) he would go on an impressive run, only losing once over his next 12 fights (a loss to KJ Noons in Elite XC which has since been avenged). Now back in the UFC, he blew his chance at an immediate title shot (thanks to typical Diaz behavior) but will fight BJ Penn in what most consider a title eliminator. Time will tell if Diaz can climb the mountain in the UFC.
Wanderlei "The Axe Murder" Silva
MMA Record: 33 - 11 - 2
UFC Record: 3 - 6
One of the most feared men in the history of the sport, Wanderlei Silva is the legendary former Pride middleweight (205 lbs) champion, at one point going 18 fights without a defeat (16 wins, 1 draw and a no contest). Unfortunately, he has found very little success in the UFC. Debuting with the promotion back in 1998 at UFC: Brazil, he would lose in highlight reel fashion to Vitor Belfort. He would return a year later at UFC 20, winning a fight against Tony Pettara with a vicious knee. After 3 fights in Pride FC, he would return to the UFC to face then champion Tito Ortiz at UFC 25 in Japan. After 5 rounds of mostly being outwrestled by Ortiz (and dropped in the second by a Ortiz straight right. He would return the favor in the 3rd round by clipping Tito and chasing him around the cage). Wand would drop an unanimous decision to the Huntington Beach Bad Boy. After that loss, Wand would not return to the UFC until after the Zuffa purchase of Pride FC 7 years later. His second run would be much like his first, where he has found very little success thus far, holding only 2 wins in his 6 fights since his return. Silva's days as a championship contender are over, and his career is winding down now. He has an upcoming fight with Cung Le at UFC 139 in a co-main event slot, in what many feel could potentially be the final fight in his historic career.
MMA Record: 23 - 3 - 2
UFC Record: 13 - 1 - 1
Currently the number 2 ranked welterweight in the world on the SB Nation MMA Rankings, Jon Fitch receives little love from fans due to his grinding style (with a whopping 56% of his wins coming via decision). Despite no love from fans, Fitch has almost beaten every meaningful welterweight not named Georges St. Pierre. Making his first appearance in the Octagon in 2005 at Ultimate Fight Night 2, Fitch would go on to win his first 8 fights in the UFC, setting him up for a showdown with GSP. They would meet at UFC 87, where St. Pierre preceded to put a one sided beating on Fitch over the course of 25 minutes, the results that can be seen in the photo above. Since his loss in the title fight, he has gone on to win 5 fights in a row (including his second win over former title challenger Thiago Alves) and a draw with BJ Penn. Fitch has consistently asked for a rematch with St. Pierre, even going as far to request a title shot after a draw with Penn. Fitch may go down as the most talented fighter to never win a championship, unless St. Pierre moves up to 185.
Michael "The Count" Bisping
MMA Record: 21 - 3
UFC Record: 11 - 3
Perhaps one of the most reviled fighters in the UFC today (especially by North American fans) Michael Bisping has been the British poster boy for the UFC since winning The Ultimate Fighter back in 2006. The former Cage Warriors Light Heavyweight champion would begin his UFC career with 4 straight wins, until dropping a close split decision with Rashad Evans at UFC 78. This loss would cause Bisping to move down to Middleweight, where he put together a 3 fight win streak before being matched up with Dan Henderson as opposing coaches on TUF. They would meet at UFC 100, where Bisping would be the victim of perhaps the most vicious KO in the history of the UFC. This would slow his momentum, and so far is the closest he has ever gotten to a title shot. Since the loss to Henderson, Bisping has won 4 of his last 5 fights and is currently set to fight Jason "Mayhem" Miller at the TUF finale in December. If he is able to come away from that fight with a victory, many suspect this will lead to Bisping getting a title shot sometime in the near future.
Yushin "Thunder" Okami
MMA Record: 26 - 6
UFC Record: 10 - 3
The last man to hold a "victory" over P4P great Anderson Silva, Yushin Okami is a strong wrestler and the best Japanese fighter in the UFC today. Making is organizational debut back at UFC 62 with a victory of Alan Belcher, Thunder would go on to win his first 4 fights in the UFC until meeting Rich Franklin in a title eliminator at UFC 72. He would drop an unanimous decision to the former Middleweight champion, losing his chance at a rematch with Silva. He would win his next two bouts against Jason McDonald and former champion Evan Tanner, setting him up with a UFC 90 fight with Silva. Unfortunately for the Judoka, he would be forced out of that fight due to a broken hand, losing yet another opportunity to face the champion. It would be almost 3 years and 5 fights later that he would finally get his shot at the title at UFC 134 in Brazil. In front of a packed house, Okami was essentially outclassed by the champion in all areas, before being finished in the 2nd round due to punches. With that, Okami has been sent back to the drawing board in hopes of getting back to the top of the heap.
Kenny "KenFlo" Florian
MMA Record: 14 - 5
UFC Record: 12 - 4
Another product of the first Ultimate Fighter (arguably the single greatest influx of talent into the UFC all at one time), Kenny Florian would make it all the way to the middleweight finals against Diego "The Dream" Sanchez. In that fight, Diego simply out muscled Florian, taking him down and eventually mounting him before finishing the fight with some ground and pound. After this fight, Florian would cut back down to welterweight where he picked up 2 wins before moving all the way down to lightweight. After defeating Sam Stout via rear naked choke, Kenny would move on to face Sean Sherk for the vacant Lightweight title at UFC 64. In that fight, Sherk would proceed to out wrestle Florian for 5 rounds, taking the unanimous decision over the BJJ black belt. Florian would respond to this loss by winning his next 6 fights (4 via submission) to earn a second shot at UFC gold. He would face lightweight great BJ Penn at UFC 101 in 2009, where he would eventually submit to a rear naked choke in the 4th round, not really threatening Penn at any point during the bout. Sent back to the drawing board again, Florian would pick up victories over Clay Guida and former Pride Lightweight champion Takanori Gomi, before dropping a title eliminator fight with current LW challenger Gray Maynard. After this setback, Florian decided to drop down another weight class to Featherweight, where he would take a decision victory over the dangerous Diego Nunes back at UFC 131 in June of this year. Florian has an opportunity to remove himself off of this list this coming weekend at UFC 136 when he is set to challenge Jose Aldo for the Featherweight Title. This very well could be the last chance for Florian to wear UFC gold, as he has just turned 35 and one thinks that he cannot have many fights left in him at this point.
Without a doubt, I probably missed some fighters that others would deem worthy, but I think I touched on most of the best fighters I could think of that hadn't quite made it to the top. What do you think?