Skip to Content

Top 14 Best Fighters to NEVER Fight in the UFC

Credit: Gage Skidmore (left pic), (middle pic), Evolve MMA (right pic)

UFC is by far the biggest and most elite MMA promotion, and its roster of fighters is considered to be the best of the best in the industry. However, although the majority of professional fighters dream about fighting under their banner, there have also been some great fighters who have never fought for the UFC.

In fact, some of the fighters the MMA community considers among the best in history never set foot inside the UFC octagon. So, in this article, we are bringing you these 14 best fighters who never fought for the UFC that you should know about. We will take a closer look at their impressive careers that should have led them to the UFC, but somehow, it never happened.

14. Vadim Nemkov

Photo by Mybestpromotion

Vadim Nemkov is one of the most dominant Bellator champions in history and certainly the best light heavyweight fighter outside of the UFC. The former member of the Russian Special Forces “Spetsnaz” also had a lot of success competing in Combat Sambo, where he was a world champion four times.

On his road to becoming the Bellator champion, Nemkov showcased nothing but dominance against top-tier opponents and former UFC fighters like Phil Davis, Ryan Bader, Corey Anderson, and Yoel Romero. Without a doubt, he has all the skills and experience to deal with the upper level in the UFC light heavyweight division.

At the UFC 294 post-fight presser, Dana White was asked about signing Nemkov; although he didn’t give a direct answer, the UFC president said, “Sounds good to me. We will see what happens with Bellator.” 

13. Alexander Shlemenko

Source: Wikipedia/CC-BY-3.0

Shlemenko is the former Bellator middleweight champion and a Russian Muay Thai champion. Although he has over 63 professional MMA fights on his record, which includes knockout and submission wins over some of the best fighters, Shlemenko never fought for the UFC, but he was close to signing a contract.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian set his eyes on signing with the UFC. After winning the Bellator and M-1 titles and defending them multiple times, Shlemenko finally wanted to test himself against the best of the best in the UFC, but for some reason, the deal never materialized.

Shlemenko even refused to sign a long-term deal with the RCC promotion in Russia because he believed he would soon sign with the UFC, which did not happen. 

Many believe Shlemenko miscalculated his possibility of signing with the UFC, as he was already 36 years old at the time and had nearly 60 fights on his record, a good indication of his past prime. The UFC probably didn’t see the value in him in the long run, despite the fact that Shlemenko is a superstar in Russia.

12. Sergei Kharitonov

Despite never fighting in the UFC, Kharitonov remains one of the scariest heavyweights. He came into the MMA from professional kickboxing, and he developed all-around skills under the close guidance of Fedor Emelianenko, with whom he primarily worked on improving his grappling skills. After dominating the regional scene, he signed with PRIDE in the mid-2000s, where he demolished some of the best fighters like Semmy Schilt, Fabricio Werdum, and Alistair Overeem, but he never won the title.

After PRIDE collapsed, he continued to fight for the eastern promotions such as Dream and M-1, and he also fought a couple of times for Bellator and Strikeforce, but never for the UFC.

When the UFC purchased the Strikeforce organization in 2011, a dispute between the UFC and management firm Golden Glory resulted in the release of several Strikeforce fighters represented by Golden Glory.

One unfortunate case involves Sergei Kharitonov, who was represented by Golden Glory. Initially, the UFC acquired Kharitonov’s contract, but later released him, leaving MMA fans unsure of the reasons behind the decision. As a result, Kharitonov continued his career elsewhere, fighting in organizations like Bellator MMA and M-1.

11. Rickson Gracie


Rickson Gracie is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend and, according to many, the most skilled family member of the Gracie Jiu-jitsu, the family who pioneered the art of BJJ. Like many other Gracie family members, he also competed in MMA during the 90s and managed to compile an undefeated record of 11–0.

However, fans often bemoan him for not fighting in the UFC and facing more formidable challenges during his prime.

It has been reported that Rickson Gracie’s decision not to participate in the UFC was due to a rift between him and his older brother, Rorian Gracie. Instead, Rickson primarily fought in Japan, where he participated in events such as Vale Tudo and PRIDE but never won any major belts.

Rickson’s legendary career began to gain mainstream recognition around 1994. By many, he really should have been the one who fought in the UFC instead of Royce Gracie to showcase the effectiveness of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, but unfortunately, that never happened as fate would have it.

10. Douglas Lima

Photo by Franklin atl

Douglas Lima is a former three-time Bellator MMA champion widely regarded as one of the best strikers in MMA. He has been with the promotion since 2011, and despite all the talent, impressive win streaks, titles, and stoppages, signing with the UFC never came to fruition.

Unfortunately, Lima is over 35, and in the closing stages of his career, so it’s highly unlikely the fans will ever see him make a transition.

The entertainment value that Lima would bring to the UFC is still there, as UFC fans would no doubt be amazed at Lima’s aggressive and technical striking. Considering he beat fighters like Paul Daily, former UFC champion Rory McDonald, Andrey Koreshkov, and Michael Venom Page, it’s almost certain he would enjoy great success inside the octagon as well.

9. Gina Carano

Credit: flickr@xploitme

Gina Carano is a former mixed martial artist, actress, and pioneer in women’s combat sports. Carano began her career in Muay Thai before transitioning to MMA, back in the day when women’s MMA was still forbidden in the UFC.

She competed in organizations like EliteXC and Strikeforce, where she showcased incredible striking skills and toughness. Carano’s notable fights include a clash with Cris Cyborg, which drew significant attention to women’s MMA.

Along with Ronda Rousey, Carano played a significant role in popularizing women’s MMA. However, she decided to retire from the sport in 2009 just as the sport of MMA started to take off, and by many, she never unleashed her full potential.

Carano’s marketability helped her transition to acting and secure roles in popular movies such as “Deadpool” and “Fast Furious 6.”

It has been reported that the UFC had planned to bring Gina Carano out of retirement in 2014 for what could have been a mega fight against Ronda Rousey, but the fight did not come to fruition. During an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience 360, Carano confirmed the story.

8. Adriano Moraes

Credit: ONE FC

Adriano Moraes is the former ONE FC flyweight champion widely known for beating the former UFC champion and one of the best in the history of the sport, Demetrious Johnson, back in 2021. This win was actually a big deal back then because Moraes demonstrated the strength of the ONE FC roster and challenged the notion that UFC champions are the best fighters in the world.

Although he is a well-rounded fighter with solid striking skills, Moraes is mainly known for his exceptional submission grappling game, which he has showcased on many occasions. If Moraes ever competes in the UFC, he would have a hard time dropping to the 125-pound flyweight limit due to weight class differences between ONE FC and UFC. The 135-pound bantamweight division looks like a more realistic option.

This also means that he would potentially face physically bigger opponents like Aljamain Sterling, for example. Whether Moraes would have enjoyed success inside the UFC remains a mystery. But if anyone proved he was ready for that challenge, it’s him.

7. Megumi Fujii

Megumi Fujii (left)
Photo by Matthew Walsh

Fujii is a legendary Japanese fighter who played a key role in putting women’s MMA on the map. She started her journey in 2004 fighting for different Asian promotions like Shooto, where she managed to compile an undefeated record of 19–0 before she received a chance to fight in Bellator, where she extended her streak to 22–0 before losing the fight for the inaugural 115-pound championships.

What always stood out in her game were her exceptional grappling skills. In fact, her grappling was so much ahead of her time as Fujji used to mix different styles together, like wrestling, Sambo, BJJ, and Judo, which made her superior to most other fighters and grapplers of her era.

Fujji never fought for the UFC, and the reason is quite obvious. She was active from 2004 to 2013, during which time the UFC didn’t have women’s weight divisions.

6. Igor Vovchanchyn

Photo by Thaifighter911

With 56 wins on his record, out of which 41 were knockouts, Igor Vovchanchyn is widely regarded as one of the scariest fighters in MMA history. Standing 5’8″ tall, Vovchanchyn was undersized in almost every match in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. However, he managed to make up for the lack of physical size with a fearless mindset, technique, and sheer power.

Over the course of his career, he had the most success competing in PRIDE FC during the 2000s and Vale Tudo in the 90s, where he beat many legends of the sport. Between 2000 and 2005, PRIDE FC was the biggest promotion in the world and home to the best fighters, so Vovchanchyn never really considered leaving and joining the UFC.

Just when the UFC started to rise in the mid-2000s, Vovchanchyn decided to retire, and he never looked back. In his prime, he would certainly be a force to be reckoned with in the light heavyweight division, and he had all the skills to be a champion despite being one of the most undersized fighters in his weight class.

5. Muhammed Lawal AKA “King Mo”

Photo by Aukerits

King Mo is among the most underrated light heavyweight fighters, and it’s kind of weird he never fought for the UFC. In his career, he has fought for just about every major promotion like StrikeForce, M-1, and Bellator, and he beat some great fighters, including UFC stars Rampage Jackson, Cheick Kongo, and Gegard Mousasi.

In his own words, King Mo got into MMA to make money and have a lot of fun inside the cage. He was a big star and paid well in Bellator and Strikeforce, and he simply never felt the urgency to move to the UFC to possibly boost his earnings.

I only care about what I have to do to win. Everybody has different goals at the end of the day, and mine is to win and get paid.

Muhammed Lawal AKA King Mo

One thing is for sure: King Mo could have been a huge UFC star. He was a very powerful and aggressive fighter with well-rounded skills and was funny and charming in front of the camera, which made him very marketable.

4. Shinya Aoki

Photo by Evolve MMA

Shinya Aoki is a Japanese mixed martial artist renowned for his exceptional grappling skills and submissions. He became a global star fighting for Asian promotions, primarily PRIDE FC, ONE FC, and Dream, where he was a lightweight champion. In his career, he scored an amazing 30 submission finishes against top opponents, and many consider him to be the best grappler in MMA ever.

Despite his domination and recognition on the global MMA stage, Aoki never competed for the UFC. This absence can be attributed to a combination of factors, such as his contractual commitments to other organizations and potentially the timing of his peak years not aligning with UFC opportunities.

In fact, Aoki would rarely compete in Western promotions. Out of his 58 pro-MMA bouts, he fought once for Bellator and once for Strikeforce.

3. Masakatsu Funaki


Funaki is a legendary Japanese martial artist and one of the pioneers of modern MMA fighting in Asia. He fought during the wild and chaotic days in the 90s when the sport was in its initial stage of development. The majority of fight fans remember him for winning the Pancrase Championship in 1996 and being King of Pancrase two times.

Funaki was a force to be reckoned with, especially when it came to grappling. Between 1993 and 1999, he managed to score an astonishing 34 submissions. He did it against top-level opponents like Semmy Schilt, Yuki Kondo, Guy Mezger, and Frank Shamrock. He even managed to finish Bas Rutten in their first bout.

Like most Japanese MMA fighters of his time, Funaki did not fight for the UFC. He was committed to Pancrase as his options were limited, and he couldn’t go anywhere else other than fighting in Japan because the UFC wasn’t as established as it is today.

2. Patricio Pitbull

Courtesy of @PatricioPitbull on X

Patricio Pitbull is probably the most famous Bellator champion in history and certainly one of the best MMA fighters to never compete in the UFC. In his long career in Bellator, he managed to become champion in two separate weight classes, lightweight and featherweight, by defeating Michael Chandler in a cross-weight superfight in 2019. On top of that, he holds a record for most wins and finishes in Bellator history.

He is known for his aggressive style, intense pressure, knockout power, well-rounded skills, and fearless mindset, which made him a global superstar.

Although he never expressed the wish to sign with the UFC, Patricio was interested in doing a cross-promotional fight against their champion. However, the UFC never showed an interest in doing such a thing.

1. Fedor Emelianenko

Credit: Wikipedia/CC-BY-2.0

Fedor Emelianenko is, without a doubt, the best MMA fighter to never fight for the UFC. The legendary Russian fighter spent the majority of his career fighting in PRIDE FC, where he was undefeated and a heavyweight champion. At one point, Emelianenko was on a 26-fight winning streak, which is the main reason why so many people believe he is the greatest heavyweight of all time.

It is a universally shared view that Fedor Emelianenko should have fought in the UFC, and the entire MMA community spent years waiting for this to happen. Dana White, the president of UFC, claimed that he tried everything in his power to sign Fedor, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Just imagine the possibilities if Fedor had fought against Randy Couture or Brock Lesnar. It would have been a massive event, and Fedor could have proved himself as the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time. Sadly, we’ll never know what could have been.