Contracts in sports are a funny thing. In the NFL and NBA, contracts were a significant reason as to why both leagues suffered a work stoppage this past year. In the MLB, terrible contracts that overpay players have limited some team's chances of competing in the post-season (see: Soriano, Alfonso).
As it regards to the UFC, the largest Mixed Martial Arts organization in the world, contracts have deprived the UFC of some of MMA's top talent. Although the majority of those fighters end up signing on the dotted line with the UFC (see: Lombard, Hector), there are still a few fighters that fall through the cracks (see: Emelianenko, Fedor).
With the UFC running what seems like an endless amount of events, a logical person would assume that there would be a scarcity of talent outside of the number one MMA organization. Unfortunately for that logical person, that'd be an incorrect assumption as there are still a myriad of talented fighters that would provide good value to the UFC.
In fact, there are so many talented fighters that I decided to make a list of the top 25 most valuable non-UFC fighters to the UFC. Just so we get things clear, what I consider valuable is a fighter who is talented as well as marketable.
25. Bryan Baker (18-3)
With the benefit of hindsight, moving down to the welterweight class was a smart decision Bryan Baker, who has won two straight fights since making the cut. A Bellator welterweight tournament final against Karl Amoussou is on the docket next for Bryan Baker, and if the athletic, 26 year-old California native doesn't get his hand raised then you can color me shocked. Baker is an energetic welterweight whose best days are a head of him.
24. Mamed Khalidov (25-4-2)
What has Mamed Khalidov done recently? To be frank, a lot. In his last five fights, Khalidov has dispatched five fighters who have each at one point fought under the UFC banner. The value for Khalidov isn't entirely defined by his talent either. Being a star in Poland, signing Khalidov could open the doors for the UFC to run a show in Poland.
23. Josh Thomson (19-5, 1 NC)
In Josh Thomson's last fight against Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez, Thomson proved that a fighter could still win despite losing. The fight against Melendez was a nail-biter, and Thomson's stock rose despite being the loser. Although he doesn't have that much upside, Thomson promises a high-octane fight, and he could be responsible for making a number of future lightweight stars.
22. Tyron Woodley (10-0)
Woodley has put together quite the resume in Strikeforce winning eight fights without a blemish. He certainly has the tools to win at a high level, but some of his performances, most notably his fight against Nathan Coy, have left more to be desired. Woodley also isn't the most entertaining fighter, but he does have a bit of a swagger to him and his talent makes him a valuable fighter.
21. Cole Konrad (9-0)
Bellator's Heavyweight Champion has enough talent and potential to be higher on this list, but he has two large negatives that hurt his value. Those two detractors are his personality, or lack thereof, and his boring fighting style. Konrad's nickname is the "Polar Bear" which is appropriate based on the fact that his fights look like two bears spooning during a hibernation period.
The top 20 after the jump
20. Robbie Lawler (19-8)
Similar to Josh Thomson, Lawler is a talented fighter with name and an aggressive fighting style that'd make him a valuable stepping stone in the UFC. The potential Lawler fights would make any MMA fan drool in anticipation. Seriously, imagine fights against Chris Leben, Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, and Hector Lombard.
19. Tim Kennedy (14-3)
It's pretty easy to make the comparison between Brian Stann and Tim Kennedy due to their military backgrounds, but the similarities don't stop there. Both fighters are talented in the cage as well as on the microphone. Kennedy would be a great addition to the UFC as he'd add a colorful face to a middleweight division that certainly needs a couple of more captivating personalities.
18. Douglas Lima (21-5)
Starting on October 10th, 2009, Douglas Lima went on quite the run, winning nine consecutive fights. Lima is an aggressive fighter that is well rounded as evident by the fact that he has a KO/TKO-Sub-Dec victory ratio of 3:3:3 in his last nine victories. A loss to Ben Askren was the only bump in the road for Lima, but the 24 year-old Lima has a world of potential to have a large amount of success in the UFC.
17. Jussier da Silva (13-1)
The flyweight division is just in it's infancy, and it needs to add some serious flyweight firepower. Look no further than Jussier da Silva, arguably the top non-UFC flyweight on the planet. The Brazilian's lone loss is to that of Ian McCall, and since then he has been a wrecking machine submitting three of his next four opponents.
16. Nate Marquardt (31-10-2)
Despite his problems with the UFC, Nate Marquardt is still a top fighter with a name. Moving down to the welterweight class may be just what the doctor ordered for Nate Marquardt (the doctor also ordered testosterone, but don't tell Uncle Dana). The welterweight division could use Marquardt as a lot of the top welterweights are fighters that haven't completed translated to the regular UFC audience.
15. Ronaldo Souza (15-1, 1 NC)
Who doesn't love "Jacare"? Souza is a fighter that has a charisma about him that almost demands the attention of the audience. He'd be another fighter that'd fit right into the middle layer of the UFC middleweight division, and he'd be a great audition as he'd add depth to an already deep weight class.
14. Patricio Freire (17-1)
The UFC featherweight division is in desperate need for stars. As other than Jose Aldo and Korean Zombie, there really aren't any. Between his unique demeanor, great nickname, enjoyable to watch fighting style, and legitimate skill, Freire has potential to be a star in the UFC.
13. Gegard Mousasi (32-3-2)
For a fighter that made his pro MMA debut in 2003, it's crazy to think that Gegard Mousasi is only 26 years old. The Armenian MMA fighter would add depth and diversity to the Light Heavyweight class which is a division that is lacking youth.
12. Ben Askren (10-0)
Ben Askren is in serious consideration for the most boring relevant fighter in MMA right now. His elite wrestling game would put him on the top of the UFC welterweight class. Although his fights are boring, Askren has a bit of a marketable personality. He has grown into quite the heel (bad guy) in Bellator, and that could easily translate to the UFC where he could have a similar career to Josh Koscheck.
11. Eduardo Dantas (14-2)
To put as simple as possible, Eduardo Dantas is the best bantamweight outside of the UFC. He is a Nova Uniao product, and the potential for the 23 year-old Bellator bantamweight champion is just as scary as that of his stable mate, Jose Aldo Jr. Dantas' speed on the feet and slick submissions combine to make quite the deadly combination for his opponents.
10. Luke Rockhold (9-1)
There is something special going on at the American Kickboxing Academy, and Luke Rockhold is just another example of that. Talented from all areas of the fight game, Rockhold has a good look that gives him the potential of becoming a significant if he were to get a shot in the UFC.
9. Michael Chandler (10-0)
Michael Chandler might be the best lightweight in the world, but we aren't going to know as long as he is under the Bellator banner. Starting his career off with his wrestling base, Chandler's stand-up has become deadly, and the most notable part about that area of his game is quick hand-speed.
8. Muhammed Lawal (8-1, 1 NC)
King Mo's marketability is off the charts due to his natural charisma and mic skills. Due to testing positive for a banned substance, we won't see Lawal in MMA for quite a while, but that doesn't hinder the fact that he is a valuable fighter.
7. Eddie Alvarez (22-3)
The only reason as to why Eddie Alvarez is ahead of Michael Chandler on this list is because of the marketability difference between the two. Alvarez has something about him that resonates with people. He seems like a normal guy, save for the fact that he'd kill a normal guy in a street fight. The loss to Chandler may have woken a beast in Alvarez. Don't think so? Ask Shinya Aoki.
6. Josh Barnett (31-6)
Josh Barnett has the total package. He has a great look and personality as well as the ability to compete with the best heavyweights in the division. Barnett also understands the business aspect of Mixed Martial Arts which makes him that much more valuable.
5. Daniel Cormier (10-0)
The winner of the 2011 Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix (that ended in 2012) is one of the best heavyweights in the world. His stand-up has improved greatly which bodes well for Cormier whose wrestling game is elite to say the least. The only tractor for Cormier is his constant hand injuries which could limit his time competing in Mixed Martial Arts.
4. Pat Curran (17-4)
The reason Pat Curran is so high is more because of the weight division he is in than he himself. Curran doesn't have a stand-out personality, but he is a stand-out talent in the featherweight divsion. By leaps and bounds, Curran is the best featherweight outside of the UFC, and he also may be the only fighter not named Frankie Edgar which chance of dethroning Jose Aldo.
3. Ronda Rousey (5-0)
Ronda Rousey could easily become the biggest star out of any fighter in this list. In fact, she has the potential of becoming a bigger star than Gina Carano. She has the personality and looks that Carano had, but she also has the talent to sustain herself on top of the sport, something Carano lacked.
2. Fedor Emelianenko (33-4, 1 NC)
Don't be fooled by Fedor's announced retirement, put a big UFC contract in front of him, and that retirement will be as long as Cro Cop's. Although his talent is starting to slip with his age, Fedor is still the biggest star outside of the UFC, and if you put the UFC marketing machine behind him then they could be quite a big PPV number with him in the co-main event slot.
1. Gilbert Melendez (21-2)
Gilbert Melendez has an argument for being the best lightweight in the world, and it's a shame that he isn't competing against the best in the UFC. If he were to go in the UFC, he should have no trouble garnering a following and establishing himself as a PPV draw in a weight division that needs one.