Best Fighters to Never Wear UFC Gold
There's an awfully thin line between the elite fighters who've garnered UFC championships and those who've—one way or another—failed to ever reach the top of the mountain.
Some of these fighters simply didn't have what it took to outshine the champion in their respective division. Others, although amply talented, never made their way to the UFC.
Regardless of their excuse for never getting to the pinnacle, these fighters just barely missed out on their chances of etching their names into the UFC history books as champs.
They've made their marks on the sport but never got the ultimate payoff. Here are the best fighters to never wear UFC gold.
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1. Pedro Rizzo
2. Jon Fitch
3. Nate Diaz
4. Fabricio Werdum
5. Shinya Aoki
10. Kenny Florian
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The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 runner-up Kenny Florian neared the sport's zenith three times, only to fall short in each of his bids for a UFC title.
The 36-year-old Florian, who got talked into retiring early by several doctors, first suffered a unanimous-decision setback to Sean Sherk at UFC 64 in 2006 for the vacant lightweight championship.
Nearly three years later, Florian again fought for the lightweight strap, this time getting outclassed and choked by BJ Penn at UFC 101.
While beating the likes of Takanori Gomi, Clay Guida and Joe Lauzon handily, the Massachusetts native got outlasted by Gray Maynard at UFC 118 in a lightweight title eliminator, a loss that swayed Florian to drop to 145 pounds.
In his last chance at UFC immortality and with the featherweight title on the line, Florian scrapped valiantly against Jose Aldo at UFC 136, but once again, he couldn't get the nod from the judges.
A dynamic talent who evolved tremendously from his time on TUF, Florian could have been remembered as one of the company's best lightweights had he been more proficient in pivotal tilts.
9. Urijah Faber
Granted, Urijah Faber got nipped in each of his two UFC title fights against Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao at UFC 132 and UFC 149, respectively. But "The California Kid" bounced back in each of his ensuing fights, proving once again that he's still a bona fide contender at 135 pounds.
Faber earned his way onto this list by winning six straight title fights in the WEC between March 2006 and June 2008. In that span, Faber submitted Cruz, Jeff Curran and Jens Pulver, among others.
With 27 wins, including 15 by submission, the 33-year-old Faber could always go on another submission spree to the top. After all, he just proved he's still got it by slapping a slick rear-naked choke on crafty fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt Ivan Menjivar at UFC 157.
8. Jeremy Horn
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With exponentially more fights (115) and wins (89) than any fighter on this list, Miletich Fighting System's product Jeremy Horn became a victim of revenge in his only UFC title fight.
Horn, who choked former champion Chuck Liddell unconscious with an arm triangle at UFC 19 in 1999, got TKO'd by "The Iceman" in their rematch for the light heavyweight title at UFC 54 in 2005.
Even though he's yet to hang up the gloves, the 37-year-old Horn, who owns three wins over Chael Sonnen and a KO over Forrest Griffin, probably won't ever fight in the UFC again, let alone fight for a title.
7. Mirko Filipovic
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Like his rival in Japan, Wanderlei Silva, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic entered the UFC at the tail end of his career and with a softened jawline.
A feared striker, Cro Cop tore through competition in Japan's Pride Fighting Championships en route to a 17-4-2 record.
But by the time Cro Cop made his way to the UFC in 2007, the then 32-year-old Filipovic was clearly out of his prime.
Cro Cop, who dropped three of his first six fights in the UFC, experienced the low point of his career when he absorbed a nasty head-kick knockout against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 70.
Granted, Filipovic found his rhythm in Japan and knocked out some of the world's best, but a 4-6 record in the UFC debunked his legend. It certainly wasn't because of a lack of talent, though. Chalk it up to age and a weak chin.
6. Kazushi Sakuraba
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Already a budding star in Japan, Kazushi Sakuraba made his bones in mainstream MMA when he shocked and submitted Brazilian jiu-jitsu savant Royler Gracie with a kimura at Pride 8 in 1999.
Not long after, Sakuraba cemented his legacy as "The Gracie Hunter" by TKO'ing Royce Gracie in the Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals, brutally submitting Renzo Gracie at Pride 10 and then decisioning Ryan Gracie at Pride 12.
The Gracie Hunter won an unprecedented 18 fights in seven years in Pride, becoming one of the most recognizable athletes in the country.
But Sakuraba, who holds notable wins over Quinton Jackson, Kevin Randleman and Ken Shamrock, only ever competed outside of Japan once, losing to Royce Gracie at Dynamite!! USA in 2007.
5. Gilbert Melendez
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Perhaps the only reason former Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez hasn't won a UFC title yet in his illustrious career is because the 30-year-old Californian has yet to make his UFC debut.
In a rare gesture of respect, UFC president Dana White granted Melendez a lightweight title shot in his first fight with the company.
If Melendez, who won seven straight lightweight title fights in Strikeforce, can outshine current lightweight champ Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox 7, then the Mexican-American will cement his spot in history as one of the sport's greatest 155-pounders.
4. Nick Diaz
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Akin to several of his peers on this list, 29-year-old California native Nick Diaz won and defended a belt in a major organization. But Diaz, a former Strikeforce champ, squandered his lone crack at a UFC belt.
In back-to-back fights, Diaz used his post-fight speech to flirt with retirement, most recently doing so after losing by unanimous decision to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 158.
In his attempt to garner the interim welterweight strap at UFC 143, Diaz got outpointed by Carlos Condit before testing positive for marijuana metabolites in a post-fight drug screening.
With his future still in limbo, it appears improbable that Diaz, who admitted that he didn't get the proper help from his team at Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu heading into UFC 158, will ever reach his goal of snagging a UFC belt.
3. Wanderlei Silva
Getting his hand raised in just four of nine fights in his second stint with the UFC certainly marred the pristine resume of world-renowned knockout artist Wanderlei Silva.
But his remarkable and extraordinary run in Japan's Pride Fighting Championships between 1999 and 2007 far overshadowed the shortcomings "The Axe Murderer" experienced in the UFC.
Silva, the longtime middleweight kingpin in Pride, went 22-4-1 with a no-contest in the organization, besting the likes of Kazushi Sakuraba (three times), Quinton Jackson (twice) and Hidehiko Yoshida (twice), among many others, in the process.
However, The Axe Murderer suffered brutal knockouts in his past two fights in Pride at the hands of Mirko Filipovic (head kick) and Dan Henderson (punch), losses that set the stage for his subpar run in the UFC.
Fighting heavy hitters like Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin and Chris Leben—at least without the option of throwing kicks and knees to grounded opponents—just didn't work out for Silva.
Out of his prime and bounded by regulations, Silva essentially morphed from the hunter to the hunted when he finally rejoined the UFC in late 2007.
2. Dan Henderson
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The eldest of the company's 376 signed fighters, the 42-year-old Dan Henderson may have missed his last crack at a UFC belt when he pulled out of historic UFC 151 with a knee injury.
But it wasn't the first time that "Hendo" squandered a shot at harvesting a UFC belt.
In the prime of his career in 2007, Henderson got edged by Quinton Jackson at UFC 75 in a bout that unified the Pride middleweight and UFC light heavyweight straps.
Less than six months later, Henderson bumped down to 185 for another unification bout (for the Pride welterweight and UFC middleweight titles) with Anderson Silva at UFC 82.
He controlled the UFC champ on the ground in the first round, but in the second, Silva trashed and then choked Henderson to retain his belt.
Although he's still quite dangerous and efficient, earning a UFC title fight at this point seems unlikely for the Hendo.
1. Fedor Emelianenko
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In January, UFC president Dana White shocked members of the media by telling the story of how close the company once was to inking former pound-for-pound kingpin Fedor Emelianenko.
But shortly after his father passed on, Emelianenko, the darling of Japan's Pride Fighting Championships, turned down a lucrative offer from the UFC to lock horns with Brock Lesnar at Dallas Stadium.
Although pundits will always wonder, no one will ever know how "The Last Emperor" would fare against top-tier competition in the UFC like Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos.
One thing's certain, consecutive setbacks in the twilight of his career to upper-echelon foes Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson didn't do much to smudge Emelianenko's legacy.
Before his first legitimate loss, Emelianenko basically went unbeaten for more than nine years, going 32-1 with a no-contest.
Emelianenko's first loss came via controversial TKO due to a cut from an elbow from Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, a setback he later vindicated convincingly.
The Last Emperor finished unbeaten in 15 fights in Pride before prevailing in his first four fights outside the organization. Emelianenko then joined Strikeforce, where he went 1-3 and lost in the quarterfinals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Emelianenko never wore a UFC belt, but in his heyday, the bulk of the world's best heavyweights were fighting in Japan—he beat virtually every one of them.