How Many Main Event-Caliber Fighters Does the UFC Truly Have?

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2012

How Many Main Event-Caliber Fighters Does the UFC Truly Have?

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    As the process of exposing mixed martial arts in mainstream America continues, it's extremely crucial that the UFC puts its best foot forward.

    Today, guys like Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre are the company's biggest draws, but what other fighters possess the same appeal?

    How many main event-caliber talents does UFC president Dana White truly have at his disposal?

    Here's a list of top-level combatants capable of holding down a main event.

On the Fence

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    Some titleholders simply don't attract the same following as other mainstays in the sport.

    UFC champions like Dominick Cruz, Benson Henderson and Carlos Condit have been successful in the past, but their headlining potential is somewhat limited compared to others.

    And even for once prominent fighters like Wanderlei Silva, Josh Koscheck, Minotauro Nogueira and Rich Franklin, the days of fronting a main card are seemingly evaporating.

20. Vitor Belfort

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    Besides Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo, Vitor Belfort is arguably the biggest main fight draw in Brazil's MMA market.

    And considering that that demographic is one of the UFC's biggest, you can consider Belfort's stardom a triumphant accomplishment.

    He may not be the championship fighter he once was, but Belfort's international appeal is leaps and bounds beyond others.

19. Lyoto Machida

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    Lyoto Machida has been able to headline a few PPV events throughout his career, including two title bouts against Mauricio Shogun Rua.

    As a former UFC light heavyweight champion, the karate-based fighter has turned a once-thought-to-be-lost art into a practical MMA weapon.

    He's one of the best counter-strikers in the sport, possesses tremendous appeal on the international level and puts 100 percent into every fight, every time.

18. Chael Sonnen

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    Maybe the quickest rise to stardom in MMA history, Chael Sonnen's historic title loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 117 has catapulted the wrestler's career beyond belief.

    On top of gaining massive amounts of respect after nearly ending Silva's reign as the UFC's middleweight champion, Sonnen has become the most controversial trash talker possibly ever in the sport.

    If the 35-year-old happens to beat Silva in their rematch in two weeks at UFC 148, Sonnen's popularity and main event appeal could reach top-10 status.

17. Nick Diaz

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    Nick Diaz may be a serious liability outside of the cage, but inside, he's one of the biggest draws around.

    As a trash talking, do-what-he-wants welterweight title contender, Diaz has proven in the past that he has what it takes to hold down a main event.

    So while it may be difficult to get him to attend press conferences, conduct interviews and steer clear of marijuana usage, once the Octagon closes, Diaz is one of the biggest gamers around.

16. Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua

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    Despite losing three of his last five fights, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua stills maintains one of the biggest followings in MMA.

    His international appeal is borderline legendary, having headlined numerous Pride fights.

    Since coming over to the UFC in 2007, Shogun's ability to fight the big fights and gain more fans by each round has not let up.

    And at 30 years old, Rua's future within the UFC as a top-caliber draw remains intact.

15. Urijah Faber

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    Even before the WEC merged with the UFC, Urijah Faber possessed main fight potential.

    He's charismatic, personable and a promotional machine.

    As his UFC career continues, alongside a well-known nickname like "The California Kid," Faber's main event ability will grow even greater than a Dominick Cruz or Renan Barao.

14. Cain Velasquez

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    Some people may put Cain Velasquez higher on this list, but as of now, his main event appeal is where it belongs.

    Don't get me wrong, the former heavyweight champ has all the skills in the world, but bigger heavyweight draws like Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem and even Frank Mir continue to force Velasquez to the back of the line.

    That can all come to an end when he meets Dos Santos for a championship rematch in September, but nothing is for certain.

13. Rampage Jackson

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    Rampage Jackson's Hall of Fame career may be coming to an end, but the 34-year-old is still regarded as one of the most heralded names in the sport.

    Since coming to the UFC in 2007, Jackson has headlined a total of six events, including title fights against Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin and Jon Jones.

    Not to mention the mainstream popularity Jackson has gained via The A-Team and coaching on The Ultimate Fighter.

12. Rashad Evans

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    With a UFC record of 12-2-1, former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans has made quite a name for himself throughout his professional career.

    Add in his time as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter and his hard-noised persona, and you have one of the most well respected fighters in MMA today.

    Not to mention his recent bout with Jon Jones at UFC 145, in which Evans became the first challenger to last all five rounds with the young phenom.

11. BJ Penn

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    Even though BJ Penn has been absent from the MMA scene for nearly one year, his return to the UFC instantly makes him one of the top main event draws around.

    People need to remember that Penn was once arguably considered the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, having amassed title victories over Matt Hughes, Joe Stevenson, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.

    While the 33-year-old doesn't come off as the same dominant fighter he once was, Penn's legendary status within the sport of MMA makes him a top-level candidate to headline any event in any promotion.

10. Dan Henderson

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    Dan Henderson easily cracks the top 10.

    His time spent in the UFC has been nearly perfect, having only lost a middleweight championship bout to Anderson Silva and a UFC/Pride light heavyweight title merger to Rampage Jackson.

    At 41 years old, "Hendo" is continuously defying nature.

    He never looks outmatched and doesn't seem to be slowing, which is only prolonging his ability to compete in some of the biggest and best fights in MMA today.

9. Frank Mir

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    It's difficult to argue that Frank Mir isn't one of the biggest main event draws for the UFC.

    Having headlined three PPV events in the past—all title bouts—it's easy to see that Mir has been around the block.

    And even though he has seemingly been surpassed by more complete fighters like Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem, the two-time heavyweight champion still remains a relevant piece to any main event puzzle.

8. Frankie Edgar

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    Like it or not, on top of all of the talented fighters in the UFC's lightweight division, Frankie Edgar is one of the biggest main event draws out there.

    With championship wins over BJ Penn and Gray Maynard within the past two years, Edgar has become one of the most recognizable fighters around.

    And despite a recent title loss to Benson Henderson at UFC 144, a scheduled rematch could once again make Edgar a pound-for-pound best candidate.

7. Junior dos Santos

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    With gigantically publicized KO victories over Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir, Junior dos Santos is on the fast track to becoming one of the most recognizable names in the industry.

    But what makes his undefeated UFC career even more impressive is the fact that his elite boxing skills are why people pay to see him fight.

    In the sport of MMA, you can only imagine how rare that is.

    Not to mention he's one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet.

6. Jose Aldo

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    If there was ever one fighter to compete with Anderson Silva for Brazil's MMA fanbase, it's Jose Aldo.

    Arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, "Scarface" has become an instant classic in the UFC after just three fights (all championship bouts).

    At this point, considering the rising star is only 25 years old, it's evident that he'll someday command the UFC throne alongside Jon Jones.

5. Alistair Overeem

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    After just one UFC fight, Alistair Overeem has become one of the most sought-after headliners known to man.

    And even though he may always be considered the man who retired Brock Lesnar (for now), Overeem's potential to create more magic inside the Octagon is boundless.

    When he comes back from his suspension, the former Strikeforce/Dream/K-1 champion will serve as the UFC's immediate fix for Lesnar's absence.

4. Jon Jones

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    At 24 years old, Jon Jones has already became the hottest ticket in the UFC.

    And even though some fans still have their reservations in considering Jones the best fighter in the world, his title defenses against Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Rampage Jackson speak for themselves.

    Dan Henderson is next on the chopping block. 

    If Jones can decisively knock him off, how could anybody deny him the No. 1 spot?

3. Anderson Silva

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    There's nobody on this list known more worldwide than Anderson Silva.

    Currently referred to as the greatest fighter to ever step foot inside the Octagon, Silva's career has been almost perfect.

    The only blemish throughout his undefeated 14-0 stint in the UFC would have to be his near loss to Chael Sonnen at UFC 117.

    Even though that's sort of a reach in finding a negative where there really isn't one, Silva will have an opportunity to correct that minute blip when he meets Sonnen again in two weeks.

2. Georges St-Pierre

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    It's possible that Georges St-Pierre doesn't deserve the No. 1 spot, considering he hasn't fought in over a year, but this list is comprised mostly off of potential, which is something of which the welterweight champion has an abundance.

    As arguably the greatest perennial champion in UFC history, Canada's own St-Pierre has been able to establish himself as seemingly untouchable inside the cage.

    And even though some fans don't consider him that entertaining based on his inabilities in the past to finish fights in fashion, they still pay to watch him.

    Currently, St-Pierre is the biggest main event draw in the UFC.

1. Brock Lesnar

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    Feeding off of what was just said, the key to being the biggest main event draw in the UFC is in fact being an active fighter.

    Former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar isn't there yet, but whenever he regains his strength and will to compete, the bruising wrestler will once again reap the benefits as the UFC's most prominent cash cow.

    People may argue that Lesnar isn't as talented as Junior dos Santos or Alistair Overeem, but the ratings don't lie.

The Future

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    Just like in life, age is just a number in mixed martial arts.

    But that doesn't necessarily mean the UFC can count on a handful of veterans to carry its name into the future.

    That's where young talents and future cash cows like Rory MacDonald, Joseph Benavidez, Nate Diaz, Alexander Gustafsson and Michael McDonald come into play.

    These are the guys the UFC will turn to to prolong ratings when all the other heavy hitters like Rampage Jackson, Dan Henderson, BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, Frank Mir, Vitor Belfort and Georges St-Pierre call it quits.

    So next time you find yourself watching one of these young talents fight, you could be witnessing the future ambassador to this list.


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