With "Shogun" Rua less than a week away from what many consider an unwarranted title shot agaisnt Lyoto Machida at UFC 104 and Vitor Belfort on the verge of a possibly premature title shot against Anderson Silva at UFC 108, there has never been a better time to list the top five most undeserved title shots in UFC history.
As the UFC and mixed martial arts continues to evolve, the number of elite fighters continues to rise. To become a champion in the modern era takes an amazing amount of talent and an ability to defeat all top contenders. Unfortunately, history has shown us that not all those who receive title shots are entirely worthy.
So what should it take to challenge for a title?
Well-rounded skills? Destruction of all other top contenders? Or perhaps a mediocre record on small shows?
The UFC has not always been full of elite talent the way it is now. Many times in the past, fighters who have shown little flare for the gold have been given title shots strictly because of lack of challengers.
This list looks at the top five more undeserving contenders in UFC history. It does not take into account how well the challengers did, just what they have done to deserve the title shot.
No. 5 Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Now, I know that “Shogun” did a lot in PRIDE and was one of their top talents near the end of their reign. However, that is not enough to receive a title shot. His 2-1 UFC record which includes a sloppy victory over Mark Coleman and a knockout of an over-the-hill Chuck Liddell have “earned” him a shot at UFC 104 against Lyoto Machida.
This again comes as a result of a lack of contenders. Forrest Griffin was put out of title contention with a dismantling at the hands of Anderson Silva. It seems as though Rua was granted the title shot in exchange for taking the fight against Liddell on short notice.
Rua comes in a heavy underdog, and rightfully so. He has done little to prove himself as a top contender since joining the UFC and, if he cannot show the form of yesteryear, it could be a short night.
No. 4 Matt Serra
With a 3-3 record in his last six UFC encounters, Matt Serra walked into UFC 69 a huge underdog. Few gave him a chance at defeating the new welterweight kingpin and many assumed GSP would walk through Serra.
Someone forgot to inform Serra he was supposed to lose. He walked into the fight with his head held high and full of confidence, and picked apart the young champion to take his throne.
This does not however diminish the fact Serra was not deserving of No. 1 contender status. He won a gameshow with fighters who were not relevant in the title picture and was coming off losses to other, more deserving talents such as Karo Parisyan.
Since then, Serra has coached a season of the Ultimate Fighter, which led to a war of words with Matt Hughes that continued for two years. He lost his rematch with St. Pierre and, earlier this year, lost a unanimous decision to Hughes. Where he goes from here is still in question.
No. 3 Gan McGee
Yeah, I had never heard of him either, but at UFC 44 Gan McGee had his opportunity at the UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Sylvia in a battle of the giants. With McGee standing 6’10" and Sylvia at 6’8", this was one of the tallest battle of Goliaths the sport has seen.
With Arlovski’s star still on the rise and Couture recently dropping to light-heavyweight, there was a considerable gap in competition in the heavyweight division. Sylvia was coming off of his destruction of Ricco Rodriguez and it was clear he was in no shape for a rematch. This left Gan McGee (2-0 in the UFC) as the default No. 1 contender.
However, it did not take long to realize that McGee was not on the same level as Sylvia. Less than two minutes into the encounter, “The Giant” had been slain by the “Maine-iac.”
After this fight, McGee never fought in the UFC again. He tested his luck in PRIDE, where he lost two straight fights to Heath Herring and Semmy Schilt.
No. 2 Frank Trigg
That’s right, folks, without ever fighting a single fight for the promotion, Frank Trigg took on Matt Hughes for the UFC Welterweight Championship. Sure, he had a 12-2 record outside of the promotion and sure most of these wins were in impressive fashion, but this does not explain why an unknown fighter could walk into the promotion and main event a PPV.
As with our other non-deservers, the shot was because of a lack of other contenders. Hughes had won five straight fights in the promotion and devastated all of the other competition. Another factor was that two of the other main stars of the weight class (Robbie Lawler and Pat Militech) were training partners with Hughes and therefore unwilling to fight one another.
Trigg showed a valiant heart early in the bout, but it did not take long for Hughes to fend off the attack and put Trigg in a rear naked choke in less than four minutes.
Trigg went on to have other success (and failures) in the promotion before moving onto other promotions. UFC 52 presented “Twinkle Toes” with a second shot at the UFC Welterweight Championship. The rear naked choke again proved to be Trigg’s Achilles heel, and the fight lasted only 11 seconds longer than their first encounter.
No. 1 Gil Castillo
Take your pick at which title shot you’d like to pick apart.
Let’s start with his first. At UFC 33, Gil Castillo took on Dave Menne for the UFC Middleweight Championship. It was his first fight for the promotion and only his sixth professional bout. Castillo went five rounds with the champion but ultimately lost a unanimous decision.
Following this, Castillo dropped down to welterweight, won a unanimous decision over Chris Brennan, and again was thrown into the spotlight against the UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes.
With a 1-1 UFC record and a 6-1 record overall, Gil Castillo entered the cage with Matt Hughes for the Welterweight Championship at UFC 40.
Following the first round, the fight was stopped due to a cut, and Castillo was never seen in the UFC or any other large promotion again.
Vitor Belfort — A 1-1 return since returning from Pride is what Belfort took into his rematch with Randy Couture at UFC 46.
Travis Lutter — Although he never actually received his title shot, Lutter won his title shot via The Ultimate Fighter with a 2-2 UFC Record. At UFC 73, Lutter missed weight for his title shot and was subsequently destroyed by reigning UFC Middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva.
Jeff Monson — Although Monson had a 4-2 UFC record heading into his title fight with Tim Sylvia at UFC 69, his wins were against lower level talent and he did little to show he was worthy of a title shot.