They say that second place is the first loser.
However, there is some twisted logic contained within the expression. If you’ve ever had the honor of fighting for a UFC title, it's unlikely you’d trade that in for mediocrity despite walking away empty-handed.
Think of Kenny Florian, who will likely be fighting in his third title fight later this year, when he challenges Jose Aldo for the featherweight strap. Will another expression hold up in “the third time is the charm”?
Beyond fighters who have already challenged for a UFC title and came up short, there are fighters who were champions with other organizations, but that success failed to translate inside the Octagon. Lastly, fighters who have never competed for a title—and despite how good they are—will likely never challenge for a title for various reasons.
With Zuffa Inc. (parent company of the UFC) purchasing Strikeforce, relevant fighters from that organization who could eventually find their way over to the UFC will be included. While this list may seem unbecoming on the surface, think of it as deference to the best fighters that simply fell shy of a success that so few get to revel in. While some on the list may be obvious, it is always good to be comprehensive.
With all that said, let’s get to it.
After losing to Alistair Overeem in the opening round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, Fabricio Werdum finds himself in no man's land. The UFC may not be overly enthusiastic to bring him over save for the fact that its heavyweight division is thin and it could use another body with some name recognition.
Even if the UFC does decide to bring Werdum back, he has shown over the course of his career that he is a threat against anyone on the ground. However, his incomplete game makes him an unlikely candidate to put together a long enough winning streak to get a shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
As long as Fedor Emelianenko has competed in Pride, MMA fans have wondered what the UFC heavyweight belt would look like around his waist. Whatever reasoning you want to believe, Emelianenko has never stepped foot in the Octagon.
Now it looks like his career will be on the line when he makes his next appearance against Dan Henderson. A win might finally allow us to see Emelianenko in the UFC, but it is extremely doubtful we'll ever see UFC gold around his waist.
Roy Nelson's spot on this list might seem obvious now. However, Nelson was only one fight away from a title shot at this time last year and there were plenty of people aboard the "Big Country" bandwagon.
After back-to-back losses to Junior Dos Santos and Frank Mir, though, it looks like Nelson will return to life as a gatekeeper.
Two years ago, Cheick Kongo was considered one of the most feared heavyweights in the UFC and a win over Cain Velasquez would have put him in position to fight for the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
However, Kongo ended up losing to the up-and-coming Cain Velasaquez and now looks to be a shadow of his former self. Kongo is winless in three of his last four fights and desperate for a win over fellow kickboxer Pat Barry at this weekend's UFC on Versus 4.
After winning the 2006 Pride Open-Weight Grand Prix, Mirko Filipovic was brought over to compete for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. However, Filipovic suffered an upset loss of epic proportions against Gabriel Gonzaga and hasn't been the same since.
With losses in his last two fights, Filipovic was nearly released from the UFC. However, the organization decided to give him one last chance, but Filipovic's days as a serious contender are clearly in the past.
This pick will probably receive some flak since Bader is still a developing fighter who is a hulk of a young man. However, as long as Jon Jones is reigning over the light heavyweight division, it might be hard for any of the current 205-pound prospects to get their chance to win a title.
By the time Jones does potentially move up to heavyweight, will Bader or Phil Davis be the fighter to take his spot? If it comes down to Bader and Davis…well, as you can see, Davis didn’t make this list.
Dan Henderson has had two cracks at wearing a UFC crown. He took a fight with Quinton Jackson in a title unification bout at light heavyweight and came up short in a grueling five-round war of attrition. He then took on Anderson Silva in a middleweight title unification bout and got choked out in the second round.
Henderson is the current Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and is set to take on Fedor Emelianenko on July 30th. If he knocks off the legend, there may be some momentum for him to come over and take on UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. While it would be a great achievement for Henderson, it would likely end in a valiant loss.
Thiago Silva has constantly flirted with becoming a serious light heavyweight contender in recent years, but losses to Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and injury woes have held him back from getting a shot at a title.
After recurring back injuries in 2010, Silva attempted to use banned substances in order to remain healthy for his fight with Brandon Vera at UFC 125. In an effort to mask these substances from the athletic commission, Silva cheated on his pre-fight drug test, for which he will now serve a one-year suspension.
By the time Silva returns from suspension, he will have wasted the last two years of his career. Even if Silva does come back healthy for once, he will have to earn the UFC's trust and run through a light heavyweight gauntlet before he can even get a shot at the title.
It almost seems unfair to put such a young and accomplished fighter on this list. It wasn’t long ago that Gegard Mousasi was tearing it up at middleweight over in Japan.
Coming off a draw against Keith Jardine, though, Mousasi now finds himself staring down the barrel of possibly no longer being relevant as an elite MMA fighter.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira made his highly anticipated UFC debut brandishing a 17-3 record. A blistering win in his first fight inside the Octagon had people talking about him as someone who could possibly challenge for the light heavyweight belt
However, losing his last two has pretty much assured everyone that a UFC title is not in Nogueira's future.
Stephan Bonnar has never really been a serious threat to become light heavyweight champion during his career, but you might not have guessed that if you blindly looked back at the wins and losses on his record.
Aside from a doctor stoppage against Krzysztof Soszynski—a loss he has since avenged—Bonnar's only losses have come against eventual or former UFC champions. Still, Bonnar has never been able to pick up that big win to catapult him into the mix of contenders.
Sonnen gave Anderson Silva hell for 4.5 rounds before finally succumbing to a submission. However, Sonnen is 34, currently not eligible to compete in MMA and has a swirl of activity surrounding his legal issues.
In a perfect scenario for Sonnen, he would be the front-runner to replace Silva upon his return, as he already has a convincing win over Okami. It seems like karma is kicking Sonnen right now, though.
With 43 fights under his belt, Nate Marquardt has gone into desperation mode and dropped to welterweight in a last-ditch effort to capture a UFC title.
In order to get to the pinnacle of the 170-pound division, though, he may have to go through Jon Fitch, Jake Shields and Georges St-Pierre. All three of those fighters have excellent wrestling skills, which has been the downfall of Marquardt in his last two losses.
Much like Fabricio Werdum, Demian Maia could beat just about any middleweight fighter in the world on the ground. However, his striking is lacking and it showed in losses to Anderson Silva and Nate Marquardt.
Though Maia's striking looked much better in his last fight against Mark Munoz, he is now 33 years old and running out of time to fill in the holes of his game.
After being released from the UFC in 2006, Jorge Santiago won 11 of 12 fights and became recognized as one of the best middleweights in the world. Last month, Santiago was brought back into the UFC and expected to contend for a title.
However, Santiago was disposed of in a second-round technical knockout by Brian Stann. Maybe, not much has changed for Santiago since he left the UFC after all.
It seems like the UFC has given Michael Bisping every chance to earn a shot at a championship. However, Bisping has continually fallen short in big fights.
He has turned himself into a very complete fighter, but the only way it seems conceivable for him to win a title would be to pull off the perfect game plan à la Forrest Griffin against Quinton Jackson.
Wanderlei Silva says he wants to keep fighting for years and fans of this legend have to revel in that to some extent, but there is always that fear of a fighter going beyond the point of recognition in their skill set.
Silva last recorded a decision win over Michael Bisping. Unfortunately, injury has robbed him of precious time. Silva will turn 35 the weekend he takes on Chris Leben at UFC 132, and even with a win, it seems like there will be too much working against the “Axe Murderer” to win a UFC title.
With wins over fighters like Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck, it appeared only a matter of time until Thiago Alves was holding a UFC belt around his waist.
However, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Fitch exposed Alves, and Rick Story recently bounced him out of title contention. A move to middleweight may be in Alves' future.
Josh Koscheck has been an excellent fighter over the course of his UFC career. However, he proved in his recent title shot against Georges St-Pierre that his most valuable weapon may be his mouth.
Koscheck will go down as one of the better welterweights in recent MMA history, but he won't capture a title as long as St-Pierre is competing in the same division, and up-and-comers like Rick Story are already beginning to surpass Koscheck as well.
Diego Sanchez has found success in multiple divisions during his UFC career, but has never been able to parlay that success into winning a title.
Sanchez is one of the most intense and hard-working individuals in the sport, but sometimes that can only take a fighter so far.
After knockout wins in his first two UFC appearances, Paul Daley looked to be a serious welterweight contender. However, he lost his cool after being out-wrestled by Josh Koscheck and threw a punch after the fight was over.
After Dana White promised that he would never compete in the UFC again, Daley won four straight fights and earned a shot at Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz. However, Daley ended up losing to Diaz and White now has little reason to go back on his word.
Kenny Florian's spot on this list may come as a surprise since he is preparing for a title shot against UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. However, Florian will likely be a heavy underdog against Aldo.
This is the last chance at capturing a belt for Florian, who has fought for the lightweight title twice and came one win shy of competing in a third lightweight championship fight. The odds are against him once again, though.
Clay Guida's ground game has carried him on his way to becoming one of the top contenders in the lightweight division. However, the two best lightweights in the world have wrestling that is arguably superior to Guida's.
In order for him to become champion, he is going to have to show a level of striking that he has never before displayed in his MMA career.
Mike Brown once competed in the UFC before becoming WEC featherweight champion. With the merger of the UFC and WEC, Brown has once again been given an opportunity at greatness in the UFC.
It looks like that opportunity has come a few years too late, though, as Brown has lost back-to-back fights and could be fighting for his UFC career against Nam Phan at UFC 133.
After losing his WEC Bantamweight Championship to Brian Bowles and then dropping a second straight fight to Joseph Benavidez, Miguel Torres looked to be back on track with a big win in his UFC debut.
However, Torres lost his most recent fight to Demetrious Johnson and it now appears Torres' days as a real title threat have passed him by. Like Mike Brown, it looks like Torres' chances at UFC gold came a few years too late.
(Thank you to Brian Oswald for his idea and research for this article)