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Vitor Belfort and 5 More Unlikely UFC Title Challengers

Nathan McCarterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2016

Vitor Belfort and 5 More Unlikely UFC Title Challengers

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    UFC 152 puts Vitor Belfort back in a title fight for the first time since being front kicked in the face by Anderson Silva. The middleweight contender will challenge for the light heavyweight gold due to contenders turning down fights and a string of injuries.

    When Dan Henderson pulled out of UFC 151, Belfort's name did not come up in the discussion of replacements. When the event was canceled, it was just assumed Lyoto Machida would then accept the fight against Jon Jones. That did not happen.

    Now, Belfort takes advantage of an unlikely opportunity in Toronto.

    Over the course of UFC history, there have been several other unlikely title challengers.

    Here are five other unlikely title contenders that have challenged for UFC gold.

Vladimir Matyushenko

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    UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz was scheduled to defend his title for the fourth time against none other than Vitor Belfort, but an injury prompted the UFC to look for other options.

    UFC 33 saw Vladimir Matyushenko step up on short notice.

    Matyushenko, who was on a three-fight win streak, only had one UFC bout under his belt. In his UFC debut, he defeated Yuki Kondo by unanimous decision.

    Matyushenko's record was 10-1 when he got the call to battle with the champion.

    The fight itself was nothing spectacular. Ortiz controlled the fight and ground out a unanimous decision victory over Matyushenko. It would be his only shot at UFC gold, but Matyushenko has put together a fine career inside the cage.

B.J. Penn

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    "The Prodigy" BJ Penn stepped in to face the dominant Matt Hughes at UFC 46 for his shot at the UFC welterweight championship.

    Hughes had been dominating the division. He defended the belt a record five times, and the UFC was having trouble coming up with fresh opponents. Enter Penn.

    Penn was coming off a split draw against Caol Uno for the vacant UFC lightweight championship, and a victory in Hawaii against Takanori Gomi. He was a lightweight and there was no way he would be able to defeat the powerful Hughes in a higher weight division.

    Except he did.

    With Hughes on his back, Penn landed a solid punch that disoriented the champion and forced him to give up his back. Penn sunk in the rear-naked choke for one of the most memorable upsets in UFC history.

Jeremy Horn

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    Chuck Liddell had just knocked out Randy Couture to capture the UFC light heavyweight championship and the question turned to who he would face next. The answer would not come from the UFC roster.

    Jeremy Horn received the title shot by going on a six-fight win streak outside of the Octagon, but probably more accurately by defeating Liddell at UFC 19. It was an opportunity for Liddell to erase his early defeat.

    And he did.

    He punched Horn routinely until he could no longer continue. UFC 54 saw Liddell batter Horn for just a little over four rounds.

    The title bout would be Horn's last glimpse of the spotlight, as he returned to fighting on the undercard.

Travis Lutter*

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    You may notice the asterisk. That is because the fight between Travis Lutter and Anderson Silva was not for the UFC middleweight championship thanks to Lutter missing weight. However, he did earn a title shot and fought Silva.

    The Ultimate Fighter season four featured a full cast of UFC veterans. The prize would be that the two winners, middleweight and welterweight, would earn automatic title shots. The middleweight field had numerous obstacles to overcome for Lutter.

    He submitted Scott Smith in the first match, and then picked up a unanimous decision over Pete Sell to earn a spot in the finale against Patrick Cote. At the live finale, Lutter submitted Cote and earned his shot at Silva.

    And in that fight, much to the surprise of everyone, he took Silva down and even had the champion mounted. Unfortunately for him, Silva locked up a triangle choke in the second round and hit him with stiff elbows to force the tap.

    In spite of all of that, few would have mentioned Lutter as a UFC title contender, and it was an accomplishment just to earn that right.

Brock Lesnar

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    A 2-1 professional record, 1-1 inside the Octagon, was good enough to earn Brock Lesnar a shot at the UFC heavyweight championship.

    The unlikely rise was all thanks to a weak division and a contract dispute.

    Randy Couture was the current champion, but he was having a dispute with the UFC. That led to the organization creating an interim championship that Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira would capture by defeating Tim Sylvia.

    Frank Mir, who had just made Lesnar tap to a kneebar, would then earn a shot against Nogueira as Couture was sidelined. After the bout had been signed, Couture settled his dispute and was an active member again. This left the UFC with few options.

    The call was made to have Couture fight Lesnar, with the winner meeting the victor of the Interim Championship bout. A mini-tournament was set.

    The 2-1 heavyweight would TKO Couture and capture the coveted prize. The unlikely contender found himself as the top heavyweight in the UFC.

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