When it comes to the pinnacle of MMA sport, there is nothing greater than witnessing UFC president Dana White putting the UFC belt around your waist! Allow me to put it this way: What NFL is to footballers, UFC is to MMA fighters!
For more than a decade now, UFC has dominated the fighting market and got established as the ultimate MMA organization. That being said, winning the UFC title represents the greatest achievement of every fighter’s career.
It’s something that gives them the necessary motivation to sacrifice everything, go through a tremendous amount of pain and put their pride against the best competition inside the octagon.
Throughout the UFC history, we’ve perceived many great fighters holding the UFC belt and leaving a once in a lifetime legacy behind. On the other hand, there are plenty of fighters who despite being perceived as incredible talents and “uncrowned kings” have not won a UFC belt for some reason.
It seems like many stars need to align for a fighter to become a champion and pure talent and sharp skillset are just not enough! Also, there are plenty of different factors including the string of bad luck, contract dispute, injuries or simply the lack of opportunities to do so.
For the purpose of our research, we took these factors into consideration and turned our focus towards the overall fighter’s skill sets, achievements, and experience inside the UFC Octagon. Taking this approach helped us to determine for whom we think is the best fighter that never won the UFC championship belt!
11. Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva
Silva is arguably the scariest fighter in the history of the sport! He is largely recognized for his explosiveness, insane power and killer instincts which brined him a lot of success. Although he would go down in history as one of the greats, Silva never got the opportunity to hold the UFC belt.
Silva appeared in the UFC Octagon a couple of times during the early beginnings of the Company. After losing against Tito Ortiz at UFC 25, Silva moved to the land of the rising sun to join the prominent PRIDE promotion and his career literally exploded! From 2000 to 2004, Silva scored 17 victories, 15 of which by a knockout!
He won the PRIDE Middleweight Championship, World Grand Prix and holds a record for most victories (22) and knockouts (15).
Silva made a return to the UFC Octagon in 2007 and many fans reasonably expected of him to duplicate the same PRIDE success. However, things turned out to be different. His UFC record stands for 4 wins and 5 losses and we don’t have to mention he never received the title shot opportunity. The reality is, Silva fought his best fights in PRIDE and his UFC run came late.
The devastating losses against Quinton Jackson and Chris Leben proved that those PRIDE wars have started affecting him and that he will never be the same.
However, we still remember the Axe Murderer as one of the most violent human beings and accomplished fighters!
10. Mirko “Cro-Cop” Filipovic
During one UFC press conference, Cro-Cop perfectly described himself in a single sentence: “Right leg hospital, left leg cemetery!” Cro-Cop is the former member of the Croatian anti-terrorist squad and is known as one of the greatest kickboxers ever (26-8-0)!
It’s always worth mentioning he competed in the glory days of K-1 (from 1996 – 2003) and scored spectacular victories over the huge kickboxing names like Remy Bonjasky, Peter Aerts, Sam Greco, and many others.
Right from the K-1, Mirko jumped into the PRIDE organization and had instantly started demolishing people. During his prime days, Cro-Cop was recognized for his technical boxing and vicious round kicks which have sent many opponents into oblivion.
The fact that he was able to quickly add decent takedown defense to his game made him even more dangerous. His success in Japan was enormous, and he holds notable KO victories over Josh Barnett, Mark Coleman and the most famous one against Wanderlei Silva.
Throughout his successful career, Cro-Cop won the K-1 World Grand Prix 2012 Final, 2016 Rizin World Open-weight Grand Prix, and 2006 Pride World Open-weight Grand Prix. By doing so, he established himself as the only person to win K-1, Pride and Rizin championships. However, what about his UFC career?
As in Wanderlei’s case, fight fans all over the world naturally expected nothing but head kick knockouts! But also, Mirko’s arrival on US soil was a bit late. Although he enjoyed early success, the brutal head-kick KO loss to Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 70 changed his career completely. Cro-Cop finished his UFC career with the record of 5 wins and 6 losses, never receiving the title shot.
9. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Before he started demolishing people inside the Octagon, Souza was a famous athlete in the martial arts world. Just take a look at his grappling resume:
- ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship gold medalist (2x) and silver medalist (3x)
- World Jiu-Jitsu Championship gold medalist (8x!) and silver medalist (2x)
However, don’t let this fool you! Right from the start of his MMA career, Souza demonstrated great striking potential which combined with the best grappling skill set made him a well-rounded fighter. On his road to the Strikeforce Middleweight title, Souza showed nothing but sheer violence and spectacular finishes which will mark his UFC career as well.
After conquering Japanese DREAM promotion and Strikeforce, Souza joined the UFC and demonstrated he means business by putting away huge names like Yushin Okami, Gegard Mousasi, and Chris Camozzi! The possible title eliminator bout was set against the powerful wrestler, Yoel Romero at UFC 194.
Although both fighters had their moments, Souza failed to put on a strong performance and Romero took home the split decision. He immediately bounced back with the two finishes and got another opportunity to secure a title shot, this time against Robert Whittaker. However, Whittaker landed that highlight real head kick and crushed Souza’s dreams about UFC gold.
The Brazilian had all the skills needed to become a champion, and momentum was on his side both times. He is one of the best examples of a fighter losing the fights at the wrong time.
To be completely honest, Souza had serious battles with the back and shoulder injuries which likely cost him these important victories. Considering his age and that he passed his prime, we can’t expect anything big off him in the future.
8. Gegard “The Dreamcatcher” Mousasi
For many, Gegard Mousasi is the most underrated fighter in the history of the sport! For almost 26 years now, Mousasi has been smashing people with his incredible Dutch kickboxing skills and tricky submission game.
Although he was the Dream Middleweight and Light Heavyweight Champion, Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion and Cage Warriors Middleweight Champion, Mousasi never got the opportunity to claim the UFC title!
Upon his arrival, Mousasi was already portrayed as the future UFC Middleweight king. However, he struggled in his first two years (2013-2015) and lost the important fights against Ronaldo Souza (UFC Fight Night 50) and Uriah Hall (UFC Fight Night 75).
As a true warrior, Mousasi made the necessary adjustments and changes which encouraged him to finally unleash his potential. After he bounced back with the decision victory over Thales Leites, Mousasi would score four TKO stoppages, two of those against former champions Vitor Belfort and Chris Weidman.
Rightfully, Mousasi wanted a shot at the UFC Middleweight crown. However, after going back and forth with UFC Management, Mousasi shocked the world by announcing he’s leaving the company! Although he’s feeling comfortable in Bellator, many fight fans are still wondering: What if?!
7. Nick Diaz
The Diaz brothers are among the most popular MMA fighters all around the globe. Their fighting style and overall perspective of the fight game have always been unique and attractive.
Way back in 2003, Nick Diaz stepped into the UFC Octagon and demonstrated exceptional boxing skills, conditioning, and slick submission skillset. However, after going 7-4 inside the cage, Diaz left the promotion in 2006.
He went on to win the Strikeforce Welterweight title against Marius Zaromskis and after defending it three times (most in Strikeforce history) he left the promotion and signed with the UFC.
Riding on the ten fight winning streak, Diaz immediately faced the fearsome B.J Penn in a title eliminator fight at UFC 137. To this day, the memorable win over B.J Penn is one of his finest performances! Plus, the victory secured him a shot at the Interim Welterweight Title against Carlos Condit at UFC 143.
Although both fighters have put on a show, the fight ended up in a massive controversy. Many fans typically scored the fight as “Diaz in 1, 2 and 5”, but the judges gave the unanimous decision to Condit and have left the world in shock.
Diaz being Diaz quickly talked his way to another shot at the title, this time against his great rival George St. Pierre at UFC 158. However, GSP left no doubts about who is the better man by leading the dance and controlling the majority of the fight.
Diaz would go down in history without the UFC title simply because of bad luck. If the decision against Condit went the other way, Diaz would be described as one of the UFC best Welterweights for sure.
6. Alistair “The Demolition Man” Overeem
Overeem is one of the most rounded Heavyweights in the history of MMA. However, he is primarily known as a vicious striker and is one of the few MMA fighters to win K-1 World Grand Prix championship (2010)!
It’s always fascinating to remember that Overeem started his MMA career as a Middleweight! After his not quite successful PRIDE career, “The Demolition Man” decided to make a move to the Heavyweight division. Whether its horse meat or Mexican supplements, Overeem instantly became a very violent man.
After crowning himself with “Strikeforce” and “Dream” Heavyweight titles, Overeem joined the UFC with the title in his sight. However, Antonio Silva and Travis Browne would knock his plans out and force him back to the drawing board.
He came back with the four-fight winning streak and the TKO victories over Junior Dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski earned him a shot at the title at UFC 203 against Stipe Miocic. Despite the fact that he sent Miocic to the canvas with the hard right hand, the Croatian recovered and went on to close the show with the devastating ground and pound.
To be honest, we’ve all expected from Overeem to capture the Heavyweight gold! The man was in his prime and had tremendous momentum and support behind him. On the other hand, what cost him crucial victories are his low durability and conditioning. The losses against Travis Browne and Stipe Miocic have clearly shown that he can’t take a punch as before.
5. Uriah “The California Kid” Faber
Uriah “The California Kid” Faber is one of the most recognized MMA faces worldwide! Before stepping into the UFC octagon, Faber had already built a solid fan base around him by capturing the WEC Featherweight title and dominating the promotion.
What made him so special is the unique combination of elite NCAA Division I wrestling background and slick Jiu-Jitsu game.
Faber came to the UFC organization as a huge prospect. Immediately after his successful debut against Takeya Mizugaki, he got the opportunity to take the Bantamweight belt out of Dominick Cruz at UFC 132. Unlike in their first fight at WEC 26, Cruz dominated Faber and retained his title.
After an injury forced Dominick Cruz to withdraw from the title bout against Renan Barao at UFC 149, Faber gratefully took the opportunity to step in and shock the world! However, Barao controlled Faber throughout the entire five rounds and had successfully defended his title.
Faber picked himself up and went on to win the next four fights which secured him third title shot and rematch with Renan Barao at UFC 169. This time, Barao stopped Faber via spectacular 2nd round TKO!
As a true warrior, “The California Kid” would bounce back once again and earn the fourth shot at the title against the old rival, Dominick Cruz! Unfortunately, Faber closed the trilogy and long rivalry with one more unanimous decision loss at UFC 199.
We can all agree that Faber got every opportunity in the world to win a UFC title. While other fighters may complain about the injuries or short notice, Faber isn’t one of them. The explanation for his failure is simple: Primetime Renan Barao and Dominick Cruz were clearly better than him.
4. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
For many years, Cerrone has been the fan-favorite fighter! At least, everybody needs to respect Cerrone for the love he has for this sport. He is one of the best kickboxers to ever compete in a cage (28-1-0) and his ground game is often underrated!
In his career, Cerrone won many kickboxing tournaments and awards but is still missing the most important one: UFC belt!
Despite enjoying the early four-fight winning streak, the losses against Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis, and Rafael Dos Anjos pushed Cerrone away from the early title shot opportunity. However, after the RDA loss, Cerrone was on a mission! He went on winning the next eight fights, scoring the victories over Edson Barboza, Eddie Alvarez and Benson Henderson which ultimately secured him a shot at the Lightweight gold.
Cerrone met Rafael Dos Anjos once again at UFC on Fox 17, and his dreams about the title got destroyed early in the first round. We know it’s hard to believe, but this is the only time Cerrone got the opportunity to become a champion.
In this case, we don’t have to dig deep to discover the explanation. Cerrone is a wild man who has taken more short-notice fights than the regular ones! Cerrone never cared that much about winning the title. He was focused on capturing the fans’ hearts and to always put on a show. To confirm this fact, let me drop you some of his accomplishments:
- Most wins in UFC history (23)
- Most finishes in UFC history (16)
- Most post-fight bonus awards in UFC history (18)
- Most knockdowns in UFC history (20)
3. Demian Maia
Hands down, Demian Maia is one of the greatest grapplers the MMA world has ever seen! What he is capable of doing inside the Octagon could only be expressed as an art! He is the 2007 ADCC World Champion and 2004 ADCC South American Champion and a 4th-degree black belt in Jiu-Jitsu under Fabio Gurgel!
Maia kicked off his UFC career with five submission stoppages and the decision victory over Dan Miller earned him the opportunity to claim the Middleweight crown. However, standing on his way was one of the greatests of all time, Anderson “The Spider” Silva!
As expected, the striking of prime time Anderson was too much for Maia and lost vs Anderson in decision. In the next four years, Maia remained a relevant name in the division but was unsuccessful to secure another shot at the title.
After going 9-4 as a Middleweight, Maia made a decision to try his luck in the Welterweight Division. In 2014, he went on a seven-fight winning streak, scoring the crucial victories over big names like Gunnar Nelson, Carlos Condit, and Jorge Masvidal! Another crack at the title, this time against the powerful Tyron Woodley was inevitable!
At UFC 214, Woodley managed to execute the perfect game plan and stay away from the grappling exchanges. Although the fight would go down in history as one of the most boring ones, Woodley had done enough to take home the unanimous decision.
From the beginning of his MMA career, Maia remained loyal to grappling. This one-dimensional approach and apparent lack of striking techniques certainly cost him a greater career. In both of his championship fights, he failed against the elite strikers with good takedown defense.
2. Dan “Hendo” Henderson
Although he never won the UFC title, Dan Henderson will always be remembered as one of the most accomplished MMA fighters ever! Hendo built his successful career on brutal knockouts and pure violence.
However, he is naturally coming from the elite NCAA wrestling background. During his wrestling career, Henderson won the Pan American Championship and is a World Cup Silver medalist. As far as his MMA career is concerned, just take a look at his accomplishments:
- PRIDE Middleweight champion
- PRIDE Welterweight champion
- Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion
At UFC 17, Hendo won the first two UFC fights and left the company to prove himself in the Japanese organizations. During the wild PRIDE days, Henderson stood up as one of the greatest fighters by winning the Middleweight and Welterweight championships.
Immediately upon his UFC return in 2007, he received back to back titles shots against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 75 (Light Heavyweight) and Anderson “The Spider” Silva at UFC 82 (Middleweight) but failed both times.
Despite being on a three-fight winning streak, Hendo left the UFC and signed with the Strikeforce promotion. He immediately won the Light Heavyweight belt and even beat the great Fedor Emelianenko in his prime!
When he got back to the UFC for the third time, Henderson was 41 years old. Still, by a strange sequence of events, the UFC gave him the last opportunity to capture the Middleweight crown against Michael Bisping at UFC 204. Although Hendo stepped into the Octagon at 46 years of age, he put on a strong performance and gave Bisping a solid beating in a unanimous decision loss.
1. Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson
Remembering Gustafsson being defeated in those title fights always makes us feel sad. The Swedish fighter stormed through the European promotions and came to the UFC as the undefeated prospect (8-0).
What always stood up in his game are the extended physical attributes which combined with great boxing and wrestling defense made him a very dangerous fighter.
After he knocked out Jared Hamman in his official debut at UFC 105, Phil Davis would stop the hype train for a moment by adding the first loss on Gustafsson’s record. The loss forced Gustafsson to fully demonstrate his capabilities by winning the next six fights.
At that moment, we’ve all thought that Gustafsson’s fighting style and size could overthrow Jon Jones off the throne!
What occurred between Gustafsson and Jones at UFC 165 will go down in the history books as one of the most exciting title fights! Both fighters had their moments, and the decision could go either way. That said, judges gave the shocking unanimous decision to Jones, and by doing so triggered many controversies.
After he had bounced back with the TKO victory over Jimi Manuwa, Gustafsson got another opportunity to secure the shot at the title, but this time a heavy-handed Anthony Johnson knocked him out at UFC on Fox 14. With the help of the MMA gods and strange sequence of events, Gustaffson received the call to face Daniel Cormier at UFC 192 for the Light Heavyweight belt!
Once again, “The Mauler” got defeated by a better man and we’ve all thought that this was his last chance to claim the title. However, “The Mauler” had put on a show against Jan Blachowicz and spectacularly knocked Glover Teixeira out in front of the home crowd. In his last title appearance, Gustafsson faced the old rival Jon Jones at UFC 232 and literally got demolished.
Like Uriah Faber, Gustafsson enjoyed many opportunities to win the Light Heavyweight title. Whether it’s a psychological thing, lack of skills or simply bad luck, the Swedish fighter will forever be in the shadows of Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier.