I Was listening to a podcast from several weeks ago where Bas Rutten was discussing, among many other things, how important it is for fighters to fight in the UFC because, as he put it, the UFC is the NFL of mixed martial arts. Few would disagree with that statement and that statement got me thinking. Who are the 25 best fighters who have never fought in the top promotion in MMA? While the number 2 picks are pretty glaringly obvious, the rest of the list was pretty hard to round out. While I dont like to include active fighters in these sorts of list, I have included a few, also this list is only for fighters that were in the actual UFC era. It would be kind of silly to throw Helio Gracie on a list like this. Let me know what your thoughts are
25. Melvin Manhoef - The extremely dangerous striker holds impressive victories over tough opponents like Cyborg Santos, Ian Freeman, Sakuraba, Mark Hunt, Kaz Misaki and Denis Kang. Always prepared for a war, its shocking the nearly always exciting Manhoef hasnt been inked to a deal with the Zuffa "Just Bang Bro" brand. From absolute wars with the likes of Robbie Lawlor to beating the young upstart Hisaki Kato recently, Manhoef is certainly one of the most dangerous fighters out there that haven't stepped inside the famed octagon.
24. Kiuma Kuniouku - Extremely tough little man who was fighting in the early days when there really wasnt a steady 155 pound weight class for the talented little men of the sport (outside of Shooto). Because of this he spent his early prime fighting some of the "biggest" names in the sport. He even managed to beat some of the talented bigger men, defeating Guy Mezger, Frank Shamrock, John Lober, Yuki Kondo, Genki Sudo and Nate Marquardt (all before 2004). He also lost to Mezger, Pete Williams, Bas Rutten and had draws with Sean Sherk and Yuki Kondo (rematch). By the time he found a home at his natural weight class he was past his prime. He still competes and is a much more talented fighter than his 35-26-9 record would suggest.
23. Michael Chandler - Some will probably disagree with him being on the list, some may say he is too low, its hard to rank active fighters but I still think he likely deserves a spot on this list. His win over Eddie Alvarez was impressive and wins over Don Rickels and Gono are nothing to scoff at. He hit a rough patch losing the Alvarez rematch and dropping two bouts to Will Brooks, despite this he is one of the top lightweights in the world currently and he isnt in the UFC. Time will likely tell whether or not he truly belongs on the list.
22. Mikhail Ilyukhin - He was an extremely short Light Heavyweight (5'9) but that didnt stop him from submitting Igor Vovchanchyn and Randy Couture in the 90's. He also had wins over Tsuyoshi Kosaka and Brad Kohler. Very tough light heavyweight who spent the majority of his time winning bouts in RINGS accumulating a 30-11 record. From 1995 to 1999 he was one of the top guys floating around in MMA. Top fighter from the Dark Ages, slips through most historical cracks because he never fought in the UFC during one of the hardest times to view mma.
21. Joachim Hansen - the hellboy was one of the top little men in the world hovering around 145-155 with wins over top fighters such as Takanori Gomi, Shinya Aoki, Caol Uno, Yves Edwards and JZ Calvacante. While he would often drop bouts that he should have won, when he was focused Hell Boy was one of the best out there for a brief period of time in the middle of the 2000's. Many people assumed he would be coming to UFC after PRIDE folded but that wasnt the case. Instead, Hansen publicly trashed the UFC and continued to fight in other mma promotions eventually sliding down the rankings with age.
20. Shaolin Ribiero - This guy dominated Shooto for several years when it was basically the home of some of the best lightweights in the world. Considered one of the best BJJ grapplers in the world, "Shaolin" impressed beating the tough Joe Hurley, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Ivan Menjivar and Joachim Hansen. While some would label him as a boring fighter he still was one of the top fighters in the world for a period of time. Finally lost to Kawajiri and then later to JZ Calvacante. However, from 2002-2007 he was one of the most debated fighters in the sport as it was hard to tell if he truly was one of the best in the world because while he still beat top fighters, some of his competition was lacking. Finished with a 20-5 record.
19. JZ Calvacante - After losing his third pro fight to Joachim Hansen, Calvacante went on a tear through the lightweight division from 2004 to 2007, a span that saw him go 12-0-1, winning fights over talented fighters like Michihiro Omigawa, Rani Yahya, Caol Uno, Nam Pham and Shaolin Ribiero (Big win). It really was debatable whether or not he was the top lightweight in the world (he was definitely in the discussion) then injuries seemed to derail JZ and he began dropping fights to tough fighters like Josh Thomson, Kawajiri and Shinya Aoki. He is still capable of beating the Bobby Greens and Tyson Griffins floating around out there, but he is not the same fighter he once was. Still its a shame we didnt get to see him in the UFC, especially before injuries derailed his career. 19-8 record.
18. Kazuo Misaki - Probably the most forgotten Pride tournament winner, Misaki defeated Phil Baroni, Dan Henderson and Denis Kang in somewhat controversial fashion (had lost to Paulo Filho but then served as his replacement in finals) to win the Pride Welterweight Grand Prix. Has other impressive victories over Ed Herman and Joe Riggs, had a draw with Jake Shields. Was last seen in an exciting brawl defeating Paul Daley back in 2012. Surprisingly has not fought since then. Seemed like he was still in good condition and a top fighter. 25-11 record.
17. Will Brooks - the current Bellator lightweight has looked impressive in victories over Michael Chandler, John Alessio and Marcin Held. Like I have said several times now, its hard to rank current fighters at the top outsidethe UFC, but I think he has proven he belongs on a UFC roster. Only time will tell and Im sure this will be an unpopular pick but as of now, this is about where I rank him.
16. Bibiano Fernandes - we came really close to seeing this guy in the UFC but for some reason talks fell apart at the last second. He won the Dream Featherweight Grand Prix with his biggest wins coming over Joachim Hansen and Joe Warren, he has been one of the top 145-135 pounders in the world as he has dominated in Dream and One FC. Hopefully we will get to see him come over to the States one day. 18-3 record with losses to Faber and Kid Yamamoto in his 2nd and 3rd professional fights.
15. Rumina Sato - Like a few others on the list, Sato was a little man having to compete in an era when there werent very many smaller weight classes. He smartly mainly just competed in Shooto where he could at least fight 155 pounders (he was closer to 135 pounder). In his first 5 years in the sport he had gone 13-2-1, becoming the Shooto lightweight champion and being recognized as one of the best little fighters in the world. Caol Uno beat him in a mild upset and then signed with the UFC leaving many to expect Sato to sign with the UFC as he was even shown seated at several UFC events. However he never did, by the time the 2000's rolled around it was clear Sato was no longer in his prime. The Moon Wolf finished with a record of 27-16, still he was one of the best lightweight fighters in the world at one time and his first round submission victory over Yves Edwards serves as proof.
14. Kaz Fujita - Good old Mr. Concrete head scored some huge victories in Pride and absorbed some ungodly amounts of punishment in defeats (shit and victories as well). Holding wins over Mark Kerr, Ken Shamrock, Gilbert Yvel and Bob Sapp show that he was a tough heavyweight, a division that has always been shallow in the UFC. Theres no reason he couldnt have become a top 10 heavyweight and its a shame he never got a chance to compete in the sports "top" promotion. One of the tougher fighters out there from 2000 to 2005.
13. Kiyoshi Tamura - Holds victories over some of the best fighters in the world, when they were in their prime. Victories over Pat Miletich, Jeremy Horn, Renzo Gracie and Dave Menne are extremely impressive (when they were in their prime). Add in wins over Minowa, Maurice Smith, Pat Smith, draw against young Frank Shamrock and wins in "legends matches" against Sakuraba and Matsakatsu Funaki show what a great fighter this guy was. Spent majority of his time in RINGS and then went to PRIDE. 32-13 career record. 23-5-3 prime record.
12. Paulo Filho - Its hard to imagine but at one time a lot of people thought Filho would absolutely crush Rich Franklin. The UFC was trying to get him to sign with the promotion but when his friend Anderson Silva became champion he ended up deciding to go to WEC. He was the champion of the WEC before drugs took their toll and Filho checked himself into rehab. In a rematch agaisnt Chael Sonnen Filho appeared to be channeling his inner Sixth Sense ghost whisperer as he was mumbling to himself and focused on a fourth invisible person in the octagon. From there his career spiraled out of control but at one time Filho was 16-0 with wins over Yuki Kondo, Minowa, Amar Suloev, Murilo Ninja, Ryo Chonan, Kazuo Misaki, Joe Doerksen and Chael Sonnen. Injuries and drug problems further derailed his career.
11. Sergei Kharitinov - with the heavyweight division as shallow as it is, its shocking the UFC hasnt been able to get this guy in the cage. The Russian fighter holds massive power in his hands and is a crafty enough grappler. Holds victories over Fabricio Werdum, Andrei Arlovski, Alistair Overeem, Mike Russow, Pedro Rizzo, Semmy Schilt and Murilo Rua. Currently on a 5 fight win steak (all via stoppage) and currently fought last July. with wins over 3 of arguably the top 5 heavyweights in UFC its shocking this guy doesnt get more buzz.
10. Matsakatsu Funaki - one of the men most largely responsible for bringing mma to Japan, Funaki was a pro wrestler who brought catch wrestling matches to the country with the Pancrase promotion. Taught Ken Shamrock a lot about submissions and catch wrestling. From 1994 to 1999 he was one of the top fighters in the world holding victories over Ken Shamrock, Guy Mezger, Bas Rutten, Vernon White, Minori Zuzuki, Frank Shamrock Semmy Schilt, Yuki Kondo and Minowa. Was rumored to be coming to the UFC several times, likely could have won an early UFC tournament. Unfortunately injuries ended his career as a top fighter, from 1994 to 1999 amassed a prime 38-10-1 record.
9. Ricardo Arona - One of the best fighters in Pride and one of the top light heavyweights in the world, Arona had impressive victories over Jeremy Horn, Dan Henderson, Murilo Rua, Sakuraba and Wanderlei Silva. While he had lost in spectacular fashion to Rampage Jackson and eeked out some controversial decisions (Guy Mezger) but he was still one of the top fighters in the world. Everyone figured he would be coming to the UFC but injuries seemed to have ruined the talented Brazilian Tiger as he has only competed one time since PRIDE folded.
8. Mario Sperry - Sperry was one of the top grapplers in the world and one of the first to submit a Gracie in a grappling tournament when he became the first person to tap Royler Gracie. Won the world BJJJ championship from 1995-1998, won ADCC in 1998. Bounced around small promotions before settling in Pride, Wins over Igor Vovchanchyn, Vernon White and Hiromitsu Kanehara showed his skill. Dropped fights to TK, Murilo Rua, Yuki Kondo and Igor Zinoviev, still the aura of this guy was huge in the late 90's. 13-4 professional record.
7. Jose Landi-Jons or simply PELE - one of the most aggressive fighters in the game duing the Dark Ages, a dangerous muay thai fighter who also had a black belt in BJJ, the original king of Chute Box academy. Considered one of the best fighters in the world for a brief period of time. Outstanding welterweight with wins over Jorge Patino, Pat Miletich, Matt Hughes, Alexander Schlemenko and Cyborg Santos. Would seemingly alternate huge victories with losing streaks, fought bigger men, even had a 30 minute unanimous decision loss to Chuck Liddell. 20-4 prime record before finishing 29-16.
6. Shinya Aoki - While his striking has always been a little bit suspect, his grappling is so unworldly that many had him penciled in as high as the #2 lightweight in the world during BJ Penn's last title reign. While we all found out that placement was clearly too high when Gil Milendez soundly defeated him, Shinya had destroyed some of the best lightweights in the world. Victories over Eddie Alvarez, Joachim Hansen, Kawajiri, G-Sot, JZ Calvacante, Caol Uno, Shaolin Ribiero, Marcus Aurelio and Fancy Pants led many to believe the submission ace might be the #1 lightweight in the world. Managed to fight some of the top talent in the world despite not fighting in the UFC, still has currently slipped some, yet his current 8 fight winning streak (with Antonio McKee being the biggest win in the stretch) shows hes still a dangerous grappler. Currently set to face Sakuraba at Rizin FC.
5. Ben Askren - The Funky one has some of the best wrestling to ever compete in the sport. He ran through Bellator's competition surviving a scare from Jay Hieron and then signed with One FC after being cut by Bellator and not offered a contract by Zuffa. While some find his style of fighting boring, he is simply one of the best welterweights in the world and had the wrestling skill set to have many wondering if one day he would be the man to dethrone GSP. While none of that clearly came to fruition he is still undefeated and making noise despite recently surviving a first round scare against Luis Santos. Wins over Hieron, Douglas Lima, Lymon Good, Dan Hornbuckle, Nick Thomson and Karl Ammoussou are impressive enough but not exactly a murderers row. Suspect stand up has many wondering if he would be exposed in the UFC. Hopefully we will get to find out sooner rather than later.
4. Cyborg - Simply put she was the face of women's MMA after smashing Gina Carano into retirement however she was not marketable as Carano or Rousey or even someone like Marloes Coenen or Miesha Tate. Sadly I feel that looks have played a part in some of this coupled with the fact that she reigns over a pretty shallow division and has steroid controversy surrounding her. Still she is easily one of the most dominant fighters ever to not fight in the UFC and fans are anxiously hoping one day she will step inside Reeboks favorite octagon.
3. Igor Vovchanchyn - He almost competed at UFC 11 but visa issues kept him from entering the country. At a time when grappling and wrestling was all the rage of MMA, Igor was determined to show that a bad ass striker could still be one of the top fighters in the sport and thats just what he did. Wins over Paul Varelans, Gary Goodridge, Sakuraba, Mark Kerr, Takada, Enson Inoue, Gilbert Yve, Yuki Kondo and Valentin Overeem. Prime record of 45-3 1 NC, retired with a record of 55-10 1 NC in 2005. Before there was Fedor there was Igor and its sad most people arent aware of what a bad ass this guy was.
2. Rickson Gracie - When a guy is claiming to be undefeated in over 400 fights and it takes nearly a decade before someone calls bullshit, you know said person is a pretty big bad ass. Its a shock that the uncrowned King of Gracie's never fought for the promotion that essentially started out as a infomercial for Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Yet the family decided it would be more impressive if the smaller Royce was winning the early tournaments rather than the massive Rickson, those in the know always claimed Rickson was a god on the mat, from another planet where the language was spoken in heel hooks, armbars and chokes. Rickson had fought two classic matches against Zulu in the 80's and was no spry chicken when he decided to enter Vale Tudo Japans 1994 and 1995 tournaments. He then signed with start up promotion PRIDE several years later and went undefeated defeating Nobuhiko Takada and Masakatsu Funaki before retiring. Rumored to have demanded huge sums of money to compete, essentially pricing himself out of the UFC and a coveted Sakuraba match. Still, while it isnt 400-0, 11-0 with 2 tournament wins and wins over a prime Rei Zulu (twice) and Masakatsu Funaki are impressive. Its a shame we never got to see how dominant Rickson could have been vs the early era fighters such as Shamrock, Severn, Ruas, Tank, etc.
1.Fedor - Does this really need explaining? Im sure a few people might argue about Rickson being number 1, which is kind of funny cause long before there were the Fedor fans who would die for the legend, there were the Rickson fans who would swear vengeance for any slight towards their god. Im only poking a bit of fun as I was in both camps at one time or another. While recent losses have tarnished Fedor's legacy ever so slightly, most realize that he is one of the best if not the best mixed martial artist to ever live. The fact that he has never fought in the UFC is a shame. While one cant blame the UFC for not signing him if it meant co promoting with M-1, the fact that he has never been introduced by a Buffer 360 is a crying shame.