The Best Fighters outside of Zuffa

"Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads." - Erica Jong

Back on March 12th, Dana White blew everyone's mind when he announced that the UFC had purchased their chief rival Strikeforce. Similar to when they purchased Pride 4 years prior, Zuffa had control over the majority of the worlds best fighters.

Since that time, we have already seen some of the best talent Strikeforce had to offer move over to the UFC (Alistair Overeem, Nick Diaz and Dan Henderson being the first wave). With the Showtime contract getting ever closer to completion, we the fans could soon see the majority of the best fighters in the world all under the UFC banner. Well, mostly.

There are still a number of top flight fighters that are not currently under contract with Zuffa. What I intend to do here is take a moment to go over who are the best fighters not in the UFC, and what the potential chances are of us ever seeing them in the Octagon. I have omitted those who are currently under contract with Strikeforce, as well as fighters recently released by the promotion. These are in no particular order of importance or relevance, simply one fan's opinion.




Shinya Aoki

Career Record:  28 - 5

Best wins:  George Sotiropoulos, Joachim Hansen (x2), JZ Cavalcante, Eddie Alvarez, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Lyle Beerbohm, Vitor Ribeiro, Rob McCullough

Weight Class: Lightweight

SB Nation World Ranking : 4

Highlight Reel: Here

The Tobikan Judan is a master of submissions and brightly colored pants. With the potential to go down as one of the greatest Japanese fighters of all time, Aoki is a rare throwback talent in which he only has one excellent strength. On the ground he is otherworldly, making competent grapplers look idiotic as he works them and inevitably submits them. So much so, that 18 of his 28 victories have come via submission (an astounding 64%). To put that in perspective, Damien Maia has only finished 57% of his fights via submission, and he is one of the most decorated grapplers in MMA. There are current rumors that he is set to rematch Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez (who Aoki defeated back in 2008), which outside of a Gilbert Melendez vs Eddie Alvarez fight, is the biggest lightweight fight possible outside of the Zuffa umbrella.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC:  Very little. He is the biggest named fighter in Japan, and is revered as such. I would be very surprised if he were to ever leave permanently to fight in the US for Zuffa.



Bibiano Fernandes

Career Record: 8 - 3

Best Wins: Joe Warren, Joachim Hansen, Masakazu Imanari

Weight Class: Featherweight and Bantamweight

SB Nation World Ranking: 14

Highlight Reel: Here

Bibiano Fernandes, a 5 time World BJJ champion and 3 time Pan American BJJ champion, has made a living out of fighting tough guys.  In his second pro MMA fight, he fought former WEC posterboy Urijah Faber. He gave the then 15 - 1 Faber everything he could handle in the first round, taking the former WEC champions back early before ended up on the bottom and eating devastating elbows until a stoppage. A year later, "The Flash"'s next fight was against  Japan's 145 kingpin Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto. Although again coming up short in that fight, Fernandes was the first person to go to decision with "Kid" in 4 years.

Since those two loses, Fernandes would go on to win the DREAM Featherweight GP and win their inaugural FW championship. He would defend it once until losing a rematch with Hiroyuki Takaya.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Good. Despite fighting in the upcoming DREAM World Bantamweight GP, Bibiano has been critical of the Japanese organization for their lack of paying him in a timely manner. I guess whether we see him in the UFC depends on how well he fairs in the upcoming GP, and if DREAM can get him a paycheck on time.



Joe Warren

Career Record: 7 -2

Best Wins: Chase Beebe, Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, Joe Soto, Patricio Freire

Weight Class: Featherweight and Batamweight

SB Nation World Ranking: 11 (Featherweight) 21 (Bantamweight)

Highlight Reel: Here

The self described "most dangerous man in the world", this highly decorated Greco Roman wrestler has had an excellent start to his MMA career. His first pro fight came against former WEC champ Chase Beebe in the first round of DREAM's Featherweight GP back in 2009. He would defeat the former champ in the first round, moving on to fight the heavily favored and P4P fighter Kid Yamamoto, coming off a 17 month layoff . Despite being a +400 underdog, Warren would turn the MMA world upside down by taking a split decision from the former K-1 Heroes champion, ending Kid's 14 fight win streak . Although he would later lose in the finals against Bibiano Fernandes, Warren had made a name for himself. He would go on to sign with Bellator, and has since won their Featherweight tournament, defended his title, and now looks to enter the bantamweight tourney that is upcoming this season. With fantastic wrestling, and an incredible chin, Joe Warren has a bright career ahead of him in this sport. At 34 he needs to make his mark soon if he wishes to get to the top of the heap (Edit: At Bellator 51 on Sept 24th, Warren got blasted by Alexis Villa in the first round of the FW tourney as I was going through the final edit of this piece. Guess I overestimated Warren's chin.)

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Good. Dana White has crushed any and all competitors who try and compete with him in the MMA landscape. One thinks it is only a matter of time before Bellator gets added to the grave stone in Dana's office. Even if they do maintain for an extended period of time, eventually Warren will probably want more money and more exposure than Bjorn Rebney can provide.



Eddie Alvarez

Career Record: 22 - 2

Best Wins: Joachim Hansen, Tatsuya Kawjiri, Toby Imada, Katsunori Kikuno, Josh Neer, Roger Huerta, Pat Curran

Weight Class: Lightweight

SB Nation World Ranking: 5

Highlight Reel: Here

In my own humble opinion, Eddie Alvarez is the best fighter currently outside of the Zuffa umbrella. Outstanding boxing and footwork, combined with a solid sprawl and good wrestling, Eddie Alvarez is legitimately one of the best lightweights in the world. Currently the reigning Bellator lightweight champion after winning their inaugural Lightweight tournament back in June of 2009 , Alvarez has only ever lost to Shinya Aoki and former UFC vet Nick Thompson during his 8 year career. A training partner of current UFC Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Alvarez has fought almost every notable lightweight outside of the UFC. This is frustrating as a fan of his work, as he should be fighting the best in the division, which a move to the UFC would ensure.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Slim. Alvarez on numerous occasions has spoken about the UFC and hasn't had the best things to say about them. Things such as "I’d be disposable immediately the day that my contract was taken over by Zuffa, so… I feel like I still can have some sort of say with where my career goes and what sponsors I want to get and whether I want to be in a video game or not. There’s a lot of things. The whole signing with Zuffa thing is a big control issue with me". Obviously things can change as time moves on, and I sincerely hope they will. If Alvarez were never to fight in the UFC, it would be a damn shame.



Mamed Khalidov

Career Record: 23 - 4 - 2

Best Wins: Igor Pokrajac, Jason Guida, Daniel Acacio, Jorge Santiago, James Irvin, Matt Lindland

Weight Class: Middleweight

SB Nation World Ranking: 15

Highlight Reel: Here

Khalidov is a legitimate wrecking machine. Of his 23 career victories, he has 10 (T)KOs and 12 submissions. Obviously he is a man who finishes fights. He is an extremely well rounded fighter, possessing both explosive strikes and a competent and well rounded ground game.  Mostly know for his two excellent fights with Jorge Santiago, the current KSW middleweight champion would be an excellent addition to the relatively shallow UFC middleweight division.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Anyone's guess. While he certainly has the talent to do well in the UFC, he seems to be content to stay in Eastern Europe and fight there. But, as we have seen in the past, Uncle Dana can be persuasive when he wants to be. So I am sure if Dana wants him there, he will be there, and with Anderson Silva cleaning out the division, they could stand for some new blood.



Tom "Kong" Watson

Career Record: 14 - 4

Best Wins: Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Alex Reid, Matt Horwich

Weight Class: Middleweight

SB Nation World Ranking: NR

Highlight Reel: Here

The current BAMMA Middleweight champion, Tom Watson possesses dynamite in his hands in feet. His crisp boxing and solid Muay Thai have lead to him having 6 victories via KO . Although not having beaten many big names in his career thus far, he shows great promise. Currently training at Tri Star gym in Montreal, this can only help the 29 year old Brit become much more well rounded (a British fighter that can wrestle!?!), and could eventually lead to a shot at the UFC.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Good. Watson is an entertaining, exciting fighter, both in and out of the ring. (I mean, he comes to the fight dressed like a gorilla) Considering the UFC can always use another British striker who entertains the public, I would be shocked if we do not eventually see Watson get a crack that the best 185 pounders in the world.



Tatsuya "Crusher" Kawajiri

Career Record: 29 - 7 - 2

Best Wins: Yves Edwards, Vitor Ribero, Joachim Hansen (x2), Charles Bennett, JZ Cavalcante, Josh Thompson, Drew Fickett

Weight Class: Lightweight, Featherweight

SB Nation World Ranking: 12 (Lightweight)

Highlight Reel: Here

Crusher is a rare breed for a Japanese fighter. Excellent wrestling combined with dynamite in his hands has led him to 12 (T)KO victories, as well as being one of the best lightweights in the world. He also has a very compitent submission game, holding 7 submission victories. His recent stateside appearance against top 3 lightweight Gilbert Melendez didn't do him any favors in the eyes of American fans, as he was essentially dominanted by the Gracie fighter but regardless Kawajiri still is a force to deal with at 155 lbs.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Slim. Like Aoki, Kawajiri is a big time draw in Japan. Unless there is an absolute collaspe of JMMA (which doesn't seem to be that far off), it is hard to see Crusher leaving his home country to come stateside and fight full time in the UFC.




Hector Lombard

Career Record: 30 - 2 - 1

Best Wins: James Te Huna, Brian Ebersole, Khalib Starnes, Jay Silva, Alexander Shlemenko, Joe Doerksen, Jesse Taylor

Weight Class: Middleweight

SB Nation World Ranking:12

Highlight Reel: Here

Hector Lombard is somewhat of a conundrum for MMA fans. The former Olympian Judoka and current Bellator middleweight champion  owns devastating and crowd pleasing power, finishing 16 of his opponents via (T)KO, (as well as having 2 submission victories via punches). The problem most hardcore fans have with him, is despite his impressive record, he has not fought many big named fighters during the course of his career. His two losses came against possibly his two best opponents in Gegard Mousasi and Akihiro Gono back when he was with Pride FC. With middleweight arguably being the weakest division in MMA, especially outside of the UFC, Lombard may not get to fight any big named MW fighters until he potentially moves to the UFC.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Average. Lombard is currently signed with Bellator, and continues to fight around the world. Over the last two years he has fought in Bellator, Australian Fighting Championship as well as Cage Fighting Championship. He has a habit of calling out big named fighters (once saying he would take Anderson Silva's head off., as well as recently calling out Renato "Bablu" Sobral). Should he actually wish to fulfill some of these threats, he will need to get into the cage with the best middleweights in the world and prove it by moving to the UFC.



Ben Askren

Career Record: 8 - 0

Best Wins: Dan Hornbuckle, Lyman Good, Nick Thompson

Weight Class: Welterweight

SB Nation World Ranking: 17

Highlight Reel: Surprisingly I couldn't find one (I guess people don't make highlight videos of laying in guard and pounding on people). He does have a highlight reel from his NCAA wrestling career that can be found here.

Arguably one of the best prospects in MMA, Ben Askren is the tough, loud mouthed Bellator welterweight champion. A 4 time NCAA Division 1 All American and 2 time NCAA Division 1 champion, his wrestling and top control are outstanding. While still a work in progress, his excellent wrestling credentials are enough to have him remain undefeated in his relatively young MMA career. The former Olympic wrestler has recently moved to Roufusport, to train with noted striking coach Duke Roufus,  which should help in regards to developing his standup to go along with his wrestling. Once he becomes a more well rounded fighter, he has the chance to be the future of the welterweight division.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Good. Askren seems like a man who always seems to enjoy pushing himself in regards to competition. He has wrestled at the highest levels, and dominated. One thinks it is only a matter of time before he makes the move to the big show and works his way up the UFC welterweight ladder. He has a long way to go yet as a complete mixed martial artist, but one thinks it is only a matter of time. His eventual title defense against Bellator season 4 welterweight tournament winner Jay Hieron will give fans a good idea of where Askren's development currently is.



Guram Gugenishvili

Career Record: 11 - 0

Best Wins: Kenny Garner, Maxim Grishin

Weight Class: Heavyweight

SB Nation World Ranking: NR

Highlight Reel: Here

The #1 Heavyweight prospect in the world according to Leland Roling's excellent series of articles back in April (click here for his awesome breakdown), Gugenishvili is an excellent grappler who has been dominating the competition  in M-1 over the last two years. He owns an excellent and explosive double leg takedown, and his ground and pound and grappling are excellent. His biggest drawback currently is the fact that his competition hasn't been relatively good. He is still a young fighter though at 25, and has a lot of room for improvement, especially in the striking department.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Slim to none. Hmmm, lets see. A heavyweight Russian (technically Georgian) fighter under the thumb of M-1 Global. Where have I heard that one before? Expect Gugenishvili to never see the light of day in the US (under Zuffa anyway), as M-1 will more than likely continue to feed him lesser competition and build up his record since their cash cow, Fedor Emelianenko, is on the downside of his historic career. It is unfortunate because this kid shows a lot of promise, and would be a good addition to the ever increasingly good UFC heavyweight roster.



Fedor Emelianenko

Career Record: 31 - 4

Best Wins: Ricardo Arona, Renato Sobral, Semmy Schilt, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria (x2), Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Cro Cop Filipovic, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, Brett Rogers

Weight Class: Heavyweight

SB Nation World Ranking: 12

Highlight Reel: Here

Come on now, you didn't think a list like this could not have The Last Emperor on it right? Although the luster has come off of Emelianeko now that he is on a 3 fight losing streak, he is still an above average heavyweight. Possibly the greatest heavyweight fighter in MMA's brief history, during his prime he was basically unbeatable. Not much else can be said about Fedor that hasn't already been said. His legacy will more than likely go down as the one who got away from Dana and the UFC and being the best fighter to have never stepped into the Octagon.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Hell will freeze over before this ever ever happens. Fedor had his chance and didn't take it. That will forever be a black mark on his career in most fans eyes. 



Ricardo Arona

Career Record: 14 - 5

Best Wins: Wanderlei Silva, Alistair Overeem, Kazushi Sakuraba, Dean Lister, Dan Henderson, Guy Mezger, Joe Horn (x2)

Weight Class: Light Heavyweight

SB Nation World Ranking: NR

Highlight Reel: Here

Although essentially no longer competing regularly in MMA, Arona would easily be the best light heavyweight outside of the stacked UFC LHW division. The Brazilian Tiger has had a number of big wins while competing in Pride FC. A world class grappler, (although he only has 3 submission victories in his MMA career). Arona's career highlight was making it to the finals of Pride's Middleweight (light heavyweight) GP back in 2005, eventually losing to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. It seems like every year a story pops up of Arona looking to getting back to competing full time, but nothing ever comes of it.

Likelihood of ever signing with the UFC: Slim to none. Unless he starts competing in some smaller promotions first, I can't see Dana going out of his way to sign a guy who has had 3 fights in the last 5 years. Should Arona ever get the passion back, he would be a solid addition to the UFC light heavyweight division.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Bloody Elbow

You must be a member of Bloody Elbow to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bloody Elbow. You should read them.

Join Bloody Elbow

You must be a member of Bloody Elbow to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bloody Elbow. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.