The 25 Best Fighters Outside the UFC
There's no question the UFC has a stranglehold on MMA competition. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for others.
Strikeforce is a good starting place. Though they are owned by UFC parent company Zuffa, they are not (yet, anyway) one and the same with the larger promotion. Bellator and overseas outfits like DREAM and Shooto also have a few tasty morsels lingering in their cupboards.
Here are the 25 best fighters orbiting the outer reaches of that eight-sided center of the MMA galaxy.
For the record, some on the list have fought previously in the UFC, but don't currently. So, you know, don't freak out when you see one of those.
25. Gunnar Nelson
Every list needs a deep sleeper, and here's mine. Just don't ask him to sing "Love and Affection" any time soon. Or do...maybe he'll sing it. I don't know.
This undefeated Icelandic welterweight took a break from the sport to train for the 2011 ADCC championships, where he performed well despite not earning any hardware.
The 23-year-old is expected to resume his MMA career next month at Cage Contender XII. Hopefully a return to BAMMA, and perhaps even greener pastures, is not far off.
(Photo credit: Nelson.is)
24. Alexander Shlemenko
After winning the recent Bellator middleweight tourney, Shlemenko (and that sounds really made up) is now the proud owner of a rematch with champ Hector Lombard.
That's a tough matchup for anyone. And I mean anyone. What happened to new cars and dinette sets and stuff?
23. Mamed Khalidov
Time to get this talented Chechen middleweight out of the MMA hinterlands.
(Photo credit: Sherdog)
22. Tyron Woodley
The undefeated welterweight is dangerous in all phases. His most recent win came Jan. 7 over Jordan Mein.
21. Masakatsu Ueda
The bantamweight veteran hasn't seen defeat since he lost his belt nearly two years ago.
(Photo credit: Tapology)
20. Cole Konrad
The NCAA wrestling champ and Bellator heavyweight belt-holder has been impressive, but his slate of opponents is starting to smell a little tomatoey.
When Paul Buentello is the biggest name on your hit list, it's probably time to step it up.
19. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza
Still one of the best BJJ players on the planet, but his stock fell when he relinquished his middleweight belt to Luke Rockhold.
(Photo credit: ESPN)
18. Tim Kennedy
Plenty of rumors about Kennedy heading Octagon-way, but unless or until that happens (and his name still isn't listed on the UFC website), his convincing defeat of Robbie Lawler last July is more than enough to show the Army Ranger belongs on this list.
17. Gegard Mousasi
Promotion: Strikeforce and DREAM
For his career to take the next step, the very talented young Armenian will one day need to show and prove against a truly elite foe.
Some wrestling lessons wouldn't hurt, either, unless he's content to relive the King Mo Lawal fight whenever he bumps up against top light heavyweights.
Luckily for the 26-year-old, there's time.
16. Hiroyuki Takaya
Don't let the record fool you—DREAM's reining featherweight champ has defeated some of the best featherweights in the world, including Hatsu Hioki, Joachim Hansen and Bibiano Fernandes.
15. Ben Askren
Bellator's welterweight champ may have run out of road in the promotion after besting Jay Hieron in October.
The 2008 Olympic wrestler would be a handful for more than a few bigger-name 170-pounders.
14. Eddie Alvarez
Not long ago, plenty of people thought the tough and sure-handed Philly native was one of the best lightweights, in any promotion, on the planet.
He still could be. But his recent upset loss to Michael Chandler put that talk on ice for the time being.
13. Michael Chandler
Speak of the devil.
(Photo credit: 5thRound.com)
12. Rafael Cavalcante
The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ lost his belt before he could defend it.
But seeing as how all 14 of his pro fights have ended in a striking-related stoppage, he's always one punch away from getting it back.
11. Nate Marquardt
10. Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal
King Mo rebounded from his loss to Cavalcante with strong wins over Roger Gracie and Lorenz Larkin.
No one knows, but the light heavyweight with rock-solid wrestling may some day move under the UFC banner. His verbal war with Quinton Jackson can't hurt his chances for a cross-promotional showdown at the least.
(Photo credit: ESPN)
9. Marlon Sandro
The only two losses in the Nova Uniao ace's last eight engagements came to featherweight standouts Hatsu Hioki and Pat Curran.
8. Luke Rockhold
In defeating Keith Jardine last weekend, Rockhold showed his title-winning turn over Jacare Souza was more than a one-hit wonder.
I know it was Keith Jardine, but still. The well-rounded Rockhold looked great in the effort.
He hasn't lost now in more than four years.
7. Daniel Cormier
After his run through Jeff Monson and Antonio Silva in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, the Olympic wrestler with bowling ball hands is No. 7 with a bullet.
He can take another huge leap up by upending Josh Barnett in the grand prix finals.
6. Jussier Da Silva
The Ant's only loss came to current top-ranked flyweight and recent UFC signee Ian McCall.
That's probably why he's the world's No. 2 flyweight in a lot of people's eyes.
5. Pat Curran
When Curran bested Marlon Sandro last August, he became the first Bellator fighter to win tournaments in two different weight classes.
The popular Curran would be the best fighter in Bellator, if not for...
4. Hector Lombard
I know the bloom is off the rose to an extent with Lombard. And granted, the devastating Cuban hasn't faced great competition. But the thing is, he absolutely mows everyone down. He hasn't lost since 2006. I did some math, and it turns out that's over five years.
The math-doing worked so well, in fact, that I did some more. His last five fights in Bellator (all of them T/KOs) lasted an average of 33 seconds. Yeah, maybe they're cans, but he's crushing those cans like a frat boy after last call.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: sign this guy, UFC. Make it happen. I know you're reading this.
Bottom line: if you're scaring off Babalu Sobral, you are one scary dude.
3. Shinya Aoki
Aoki is the current DREAM lightweight champion. He's also the reining WAMMA lightweight champion, which I'm sure means he hasn't paid for a meal since he won it.
The world keeps turning, and Aoki just keeps winning.
Interesting side fact: before his most recent decision win, he had three straight victories by neck crank. Thanks, Wikipedia.
Hard to believe this guy is only 28 years old.
2. Josh Barnett
The dynamic and charismatic catch wrestler will (allegedly) fight Cormier soon for dominance in the Strikeforce heavyweight division.
Who knows? He might have once been (hell, still could be) one of the best heavies in the game. But thanks to his own scorching-hot urine, we'll never really know.
(Photo credit: MMAonTap)
1. Gilbert Melendez
Last month, in defending his lightweight title for the fifth consecutive time, Melendez proved again that he's the best lightweight out there right now not named Frankie Edgar. Or maybe even including the ones named Edgar.
I think they should have a UFC/Strikeforce super-fight between these two. But hey, that's just me. I'm sure no one else would want to watch that. Forget I brought it up.