10 Non-Champions with Targets on Their Backs
In the fight game, you can never sit still and rest on your laurels or past success. There is always someone out there who is gunning for your status, your name or to take money off your next pay cheque.
The men who hold the titles in each division are the obviously marked, with all others below them gunning to reach the top of the mountain. Those eight champions aside, there are many other men in the UFC who for various transgressions and reasons have a target dead in the middle of their back.
Anything from a personal grudge, a previous loss, current and future status or simply a sideways stare in the back hall can get one man gunning after another man's head in the UFC.
Here are 10 non-champions with targets on their backs.
10. Cheick Kongo
Why The Target? Gatekeeper
French heavyweight Cheick Kongo seems to be the guy that many big men like to face when they desire a step up to the borderline elite in the division. Kongo is a feared striker and poses a lot of danger there, but his lack of a dangerous ground game makes him a much requested opponent from guys thinking they can take it to the floor.
Recent cage pressing aside, Kongo has enough respect from the fans and his peers to make him an attractive name to fight to climb and boost yourself to the next level in the division. He is by no means an easy fight, but you can easily prepare for him and there aren't many surprises when the cage door closes and he stands in front of you.
9. Hector Lombard
Why The Target? The Hype
Hector Lombard made his debut in the UFC in July riding an incredible 25-fight and five-year unbeaten streak facing many fighters below the calibre of the UFC. His reputation as an in-your-face knockout artist thrust him into a main-card bout in his very first crack at the middleweight division.
That type of record and hype takes money and status from other men who feel that they have paid more dues and earned more of a keep in the top promotion in the world. Lombard faced and lost to contender Tim Boetsch in his debut and his performance dulled some of the polish and shine off of his previously feared reputation.
He remains a marked man for any middleweight who feels he has jumped the pecking order to a higher status and pay than he has earned or really deserves.
8. Nick Diaz
Why The Target? His Overall Status and Attitude
Not many guys want to get into the cage against Nick Diaz and due to his current suspension, right now they can't. That may seem like he is out of place on this list, but there are indeed a few high profile guys who reluctantly want to get at him.
Diaz knows how to pick a fight, he just sometimes does not know how to promote it once it's picked. Such was the case with welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Diaz called out the longtime champion and fan favorite from the middle of the cage and questioned St-Pierre's courage in the process. He then proceeded to mess up the matter by not showing up to promote the fight.
St-Pierre now wants a piece of him, as do many others who feel Nick does not play by the rules of professionalism that they do.
7. Rory MacDonald
Why The Target? His Current Rise and Streak
When you are considered by many who are very close to the sport as the next greatest thing to come along and the future champion of the welterweight division, it's funny how a target grows quickly on your back.
MacDonald is that guy and comparisons to Tristar gym mate GSP don't help him fly under the radar in his young career. He now finds himself a man marked for the likes of BJ Penn, Josh Koscheck and many other established stars looking to maintain their status in the promotion.
MacDonald is on the fast track to being a champion and many men want to knock him down and stall his current rise to the top.
6. Frankie Edgar
Why The Target? Controversial Decisions and Another Title Shot
It seems there are many right now who want to kick former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar while he is down. In my eyes, Edgar hasn't been beaten in a while and yet that didn't stop everyone from talking and writing him right out of the lightweight division.
Edgar is now set to debut in the lighter, featherweight division and who gets to welcome him in after his first real weight cut in the UFC? None other than champion and beast Jose Aldo. It will be a tough challenge for the tough New Jersey native and I'm sure that win or lose, many other featherweights will be lining up to get a fight with him.
5. BJ Penn
Why The Target? His future HOF status and his fading skills
It is very easy to put a target on the back of a fading fighting legend and that is why BJ Penn currently finds himself a marked man.
He has as big a name as anyone out there still active in the UFC today and he is still adamant about competing at 170 pounds. That makes him easy pickings for some up-and-coming young gun trying to make a name for himself.
The fact that he has accomplished so much but can sometimes fail to show up makes it an attractive risk for a fighter who needs a star on his resume. Rory MacDonald will be the first to see if this recipe leads to success. Penn can still fight with the best lightweights in the world, but he is not dedicated enough anymore to maintain and make that weight, so he has become a small, fading fighter in a division full of oversized sharks.
4. Josh Koscheck
Why The Target? Big Money Fight
Josh Koscheck is quickly becoming the gatekeeper of the welterweight division and due to the fame and recognition he has gained in his career, he is an attractive payday for an up-and-comer.
Koscheck wants only fights that will load his wallet, yet others below him see him as that opportunity for them and not the other way around. He has fans all over the world and just as many who love to see him get beat up. Those two things together mean big fights and big money on the horizon for the original The Ultimate Fighter cast member.
Koscheck was set to face rising star Jake Ellenberger on September 1 before a back injury forced him out.
3. Urijah Faber
Why The Target? A Champion in Name
Urijah Faber is the second best fighter in two different weight classes right now and that makes him a marked man for anyone gunning for a title.
After being the best at both weights early in his career, Faber has had recent unsuccessful attempts at the bantamweight title and now some of his fear factor has worn off of his armour. He is still the best of the best in his division, but his marketability as a title challenger has passed him by.
Renan Barao showed Urijah's age and vulnerability in his last fight in July and now many will try to line up and vault off of Faber's name and fame in the future.
2. Chael Sonnen
Why The Target? Big Money Fight
A fight with Chael Sonnen is widely watched and puts money in your pocket. That is what makes him a marked man in the UFC.
Fighters know and now concede that pre-fight hype is an integral part of selling tickets, pay-per-view buys and making money in the UFC. All fighters get paid to show and some get a bonus to win, but few reap the benefits of a carrying a pay-per-view and Sonnen is a good opportunity for that.
He is always a dangerous matchup stylistically, but his mouth does sometimes outperform his skills as witnessed by Silva-Sonnen II only a couple of months ago. Sonnen seems to have something to say about flyweights, light heavyweights and any other division of fighter he can pick on. The target grows with each taunting word.
1. Michael Bisping
Why The Target? His Mouth and Underrated Game
Michael Bisping is the type of guy that you just want to punch in the face and many in the UFC middleweight division are lining up to do so. Bisping brings that brash and cocky British accent with him wherever he goes and he is not afraid to push the boundaries between business and personal when he takes the microphone to promote.
Bisping has a very accomplished and well-rounded game to go along with his style, but many fighters don't see him as the danger that he is once they get inside the cage with him. His cumulative damage and point-scoring style does not always show how much pain and risk that he can inflict on an opponent and guys take him lightly because of it.
Bisping is right at the top of the middleweight food chain and guys want his spot before he gets his shot at the middleweight title.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report MMA and guest blogger for Sportsnet.ca.