20 Best MMA Fighters Competing Outside of the Octagon

Sean SmithAnalyst IJuly 16, 2014

20 Best MMA Fighters Competing Outside of the Octagon

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    The UFC is home to an overwhelming majority of the best fighters in MMA. However, many elite competitors still do battle outside the Octagon.

    Although most fighters would gladly take less money to compete on the sport's biggest stage, the UFC has missed out on some high-profile free agents like Eddie Alvarez and Ben Askren recently. It also made surprising decisions to part ways with former title challengers Jake Shields, Yushin Okami and Jon Fitch.

    With Viacom, NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network showing some serious interest in the sport, MMA has a landscape that is currently changing drastically. That has opened up opportunities for good fighters to make noise outside the UFC occasionally.

    Here are the 20 best male fighters who are not currently competing under the UFC banner. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Alexander Shlemenko

    Alexander Shlemenko didn't look good against Tito Ortiz, but the Russian's recent loss to the former UFC champion doesn't erase all his recent success.

    In 21 fights, Shlemenko has only lost to Ortiz and current UFC contender Hector Lombard. He remains the Bellator MMA middleweight champion and should continue to dominate in that division despite his loss to a larger Ortiz at Bellator 120.

    Now 30 years old, Shlemenko probably isn't going to get much better than he already is. However, the flashy striker should remain among the best non-UFC fighters in the coming years.

    Marlon Moraes

    At 26 years old, Marlon Moraes might have the brightest future of all these honorable mentions.

    The bantamweight has really hit his stride with World Series of Fighting and could become one of the best fighting outside the Octagon with some bigger matchups. Recently, Moraes' biggest wins have come against Tyson Nam and a fading Miguel Torres.

    He'll need one more big win to break into this top-20 list.

    Shinya Aoki

    The Japanese standout has long been among the best to have never stepped into the Octagon.

    However, his level of competition has dropped off significantly over recent years. Aside from Alvarez, who knocked him out in the first round, Aoki has not faced any elite fighters since 2010.

    That said, Aoki has been beating everybody he's been expected to win against. However, he'll need to see some elevated opposition in order to reclaim a spot near the top of this list.

    Tito Ortiz

    Yes, that Tito Ortiz is back on the map.

    He had a significant size advantage, but submitting Alexander Shlemenko in less than three minutes is nothing to scoff at. Ortiz is also only a few fights removed from a submission win over Top 10 UFC light heavyweight Ryan Bader.

    At 39 years old, Ortiz doesn't have many fights left in him. However, he's a UFC Hall of Famer for a reason and can still compete against some tough opposition.

    Winning the Bellator MMA light heavyweight title would go a long way toward proving Ortiz might be the best light heavyweight not included on the UFC roster.

    Vitaly Minakov

    He's probably not the next Fedor Emelianenko, but Russian Vitaly Minakov is developing into a darn good heavyweight.

    Minakov is undefeated in 14 MMA appearances. Most recently, the Bellator MMA champion defeated former UFC contender Cheick Kongo.

    Bellator MMA will need to beef up its heavyweight roster in order to give him a chance to move up this list, but Minakov is definitely headed in the right direction.

20. Eduardo Dantas

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    With nine wins in his past 10 outings, Eduardo Dantas is looking to become the best bantamweight outside the Octagon.

    An upset loss to Tyson Nam served as a setback for Dantas. However, Dudu has been dominant inside Bellator MMA, where he has defended the 135-pound championship twice.

    Only 25 years old and with a strong Nova Uniao team behind him, Dantas is only going to get better. Since Joe Warren recently became interim bantamweight champion, Dantas should soon have a chance to pick up a noteworthy win over a tough veteran, which could move him closer to the top 15 on this list.

19. Bibiano Fernandes

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    Hardcore MMA fans have long recognized Bibiano Fernandes as one of the best competing on non-UFC shows. However, fighting in Japan, he has flown under the radar a bit more than he otherwise would.

    Fernandes was good enough that the UFC came calling in 2012, but he turned the promotion down to sign with One FC, where he became the 135-pound champion. In May he defended his belt with a decision win over Masakatsu Ueda.

    A victorious Bibiano Fernandes celebrates his 5-round title defense against Ueda at #RiseOfHeroes. Photo: @ONEFCMMA pic.twitter.com/z0obOeBrQV

    — ONE FC News (@ONEFC_News) May 2, 2014

    The win over Ueda, who defeated Dantas in July 2009, was more than enough to earn Fernandes the No. 19 position among non-UFC competitors.

18. Attila Vegh

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    Heading into his rematch with Emanuel Newton, Attila Vegh had not lost in 10 consecutive fights.

    One win during that streak was a split-decision victory over Newton. At Bellator 113, Vegh and Newton met in another bout that was very closely contested. This time around, Newton came away with the win and became the undisputed Bellator MMA light heavyweight champion.

    Vegh's stock may have taken a hit with him losing his belt, but he still has wins over Newton and Christian M'Pumbu within the past two years. At 28 years old, Vegh has plenty of time to earn another crack at the 205-pound championship.

17. Emanuel Newton

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    Emanuel Newton's rise into MMA relevance was completely unexpected.

    Heading into Bellator 90, Newton was viewed as a steppingstone on Muhammed Lawal's path to the Bellator MMA light heavyweight belt. Instead, Newton shocked the MMA world with a spinning backfist that knocked King Mo out cold.

    With a second win over Lawal at Bellator 106 and by avenging his lone Bellator MMA loss to Vegh, Newton proved his ascension was no fluke. Newton is the champion in a rapidly improving Bellator MMA 205-pound division, and that makes him deserving of a top-20 position.

16. Quinton Jackson

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    When Quinton Jackson finished his UFC career with three straight losses, it looked as though Rampage was headed for a downward spiral.

    The former UFC champion has revived his career with Bellator MMA, though. Wins over Joey Beltran, M'Pumbu and Lawal don't exactly bring Jackson back to his heyday, but they showed Rampage still has some gas left in his tank.

    A run at the Bellator MMA light heavyweight title won't do much to improve Jackson's already solid legacy, but he has proved that he's among the best competing outside the Octagon.

15. Thiago Silva

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    I don't think Thiago Silva ever reached his full potential, but that doesn't mean he's not one of the better fighters in the light heavyweight division.

    Currently riding back-to-back wins over Matt Hamill and Top 15 UFC light heavyweight Rafael Cavalcante, Silva is a tough fight for anybody. Unfortunately, issues outside the cage have held him back over the past several years, and a recent run-in with the law caused his release from the UFC roster.

    UFC vet Thiago Silva sets his legal trouble aside to enter the cage at Fight Time 20. Can he find his way back to... http://t.co/9HRYQ60Byk

    — Shameless MMA (@ShamelessMMA) July 9, 2014

    Fighting won't be the hard part for Silva moving forward. Staying out of trouble and finding a big promotion that can trust him will be the real challenge.

14. Daniel Straus

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    American Top Team product Daniel Straus has helped legitimize the Bellator MMA featherweight division.

    Prior to Straus' rise through the ranks, Pat Curran appeared ready to dominate the promotion's 145-pound class. However, Straus gave Curran a wake-up call at Bellator 106, where he captured the featherweight crown with a dominant decision win.

    In an immediate rubber match, Straus might have been on his way to another victory over Curran. However, Curran was able to lock up a rear-naked choke in the final minute of the fifth round to take the judges out of the equation.

    With two losses to Curran, Straus is in a tough position in terms of the Bellator MMA featherweight title equation. That said, at 29 years old, he might become a UFC target when he ends up in free agency.

13. Patricio Freire

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    Before Straus made his way to the top, Patricio Freire appeared to be the only real threat to Curran at 145 pounds.

    At Bellator 85, Freire took Curran to a split decision. Pitbull owns a win over Straus and has only lost to Curran in his past eight outings. With four straight wins since that loss to the champion, Freire has positioned himself as the top contender once again.

    Freire is now expected to meet Curran in a rematch on September 5. A Freire win in that matchup could lead to another entertaining Curran rubber match.

12. Pat Curran

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    Following a lopsided loss to Straus at Bellator 106, Curran didn't seem deserving of an immediate rematch. Bellator MMA gave him one, though, and he capitalized.

    Curran's rubber match with Straus did not go exactly to plan, but Paddy Mike ultimately got the result he wanted. A late submission win to reclaim his title was a big addition to Curran's legacy, which includes two Bellator MMA title defenses and two Bellator MMA tournament titles.

    If Curran can score a more decisive win in his second meeting with Freire, it could be smooth sailing ahead for him in the 145-pound class.

11. Jon Fitch

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    Once considered a clear No. 2 behind Georges St-Pierre in the welterweight division, Jon Fitch has really declined quickly over the past couple of years.

    Fitch had long been criticized for his conservative fighting style, but his release from the UFC roster following a loss to a then-surging Demian Maia was still surprising. The American Kickboxing Academy product hasn't done much to prove that UFC decision wrong, though.

    In his World Series of Fighting debut, Fitch was submitted by Josh Burkman. He responded to that loss by returning to his cautious ways and went to decisions with two opponents he might have had the ability to finish.

10. Josh Burkman

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    With a 9-2 record since being let go by the UFC in 2008, Burkman has been solid outside the Octagon.

    It was really a submission win over Fitch that cemented his place on this list, though. Wins over other UFC veterans like Aaron Simpson and Gerald Harris were also impressive, but stopping a former UFC title challenger like Fitch took Burkman to another level.

    The People's Warrior followed that huge win up with a submission loss to Steve Carl, but don't expect Burkman to fade away in the World Series of Fighting welterweight division. Aside from Carl, only Jordan Mein has beaten Burkman since he left the UFC roster.

9. Steve Carl

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    With seven straight wins culminating in a victory over Josh Burkman, Steve Carl made his case to be the best non-UFC welterweight during 2013.

    However, 2014 has not gone as well for Carl. In March he met Rousimar Palhares, who took Carl's 170-pound belt and left him with a broken leg.

    Oh man, that looks painful! Have a safe & speedy recover @Steve_Carl! http://t.co/Xm2fruviI6

    — WSOF (@MMAWorldSeries) May 1, 2014

    Carl should remain in title contention, though. Palhares is as inconsistent as they come, which means Carl's decisive loss to the Brazilian might not hurt him in a race for a title shot since Toquinho is bound to slip up soon.

8. Douglas Lima

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    Probably the most talented challenger to Askren's Bellator MMA crown, Douglas Lima was widely expected to replace Askren as the promotion's 170-pound champion.

    He delivered.

    Since losing to Askren, Lima has score five consecutive knockout wins. On two separate occasions, UFC veteran Ben Saunders was not able to make it out of the second round against The Phenom. A win over former Bellator MMA fighter Steve Carl also significantly helped Lima's position in these rankings.

7. Ben Askren

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    A two-time NCAA champion in wrestling, Ben Askren could be the best welterweight in the world. Unfortunately, he hasn't been getting the opportunity to prove it.

    With a spotless record in 13 MMA bouts, Askren deserves to be fighting elite 170-pounders. Unfortunately, his fighting style has not been popular among MMA fans, which caused the UFC to pass on him when he parted ways with Bellator MMA.

    Now competing under the One FC banner, Askren doesn't have much high-level competition. Burning bridges with UFC President Dana White, Askren may never get his chance to test himself against top welterweights.

    All that said, Askren took care of business on his way to a Bellator MMA championship. Lima, Jay Hieron and many more fell against the smothering wrestler.

6. Rousimar Palhares

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    Rousimar Palhares lives and dies by his heel hook, but that one technique has taken him a long way.

    In October 2013 it got him booted from the UFC roster, as he held onto a submission too long against Mike Pierce despite the referee's attempts to break his hold. With a history of cranking on his heel hooks, Palhares was lucky to find a new home so quickly.

    Check out these action shots of @ToquinhoMMA at #WSOF9 to earn the #WSOF Welterweight Championship! #BJJ pic.twitter.com/RfsuTKOYk0

    — WSOF (@MMAWorldSeries) July 14, 2014

    The Brazilian wound up with World Series of Fighting, where he scored an opening-round submission to become the organization's welterweight champion.

5. Jake Shields

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    Jake Shields was closing in on another welterweight title shot before he was surprisingly released following a loss to Hector Lombard at UFC 171. 

    Prior to his loss to Lombard, Shields was on a roll. Three straight wins, including decision victories over highly ranked 170-pounders Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley had Shields moving up the welterweight rankings in a hurry.

    While Shields has not fought since being released, he has signed with World Series of Fighting. He was booked to meet Fitch at WSOF 11, but an injury prevented that bout from happening.

4. Yushin Okami

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    Much like the Fitch and Shields cuts, Yushin Okami's UFC release seemed unwarranted.

    The Japanese middleweight had won three in a row heading into a September 2013 bout with Ronaldo Souza. Having beaten Lombard in his prior outing, Okami was still among the best in the world at 185 pounds. Nonetheless, with a knockout loss to Jacare, Okami was let go by the UFC brass. 

    Check out the entire fight of @OkamiYushin vs @svetlozarsavov1 ! http://t.co/VAKVuasg7Q

    — WSOF (@MMAWorldSeries) April 2, 2014

    Okami landed with World Series of Fighting, where he made his debut in March. The former UFC title challenger picked up a submission win over Svetlozar Savov, but bigger matchups can be expected for Okami moving forward.

3. Michael Chandler

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    For a brief period, some were looking at Michael Chandler as the best lightweight in the world.

    The Alliance MMA member rose through the 155-pound ranks quickly, earning a shot at the Bellator MMA lightweight title by beating Patricky Freire in his eighth MMA bout. Despite his inexperience, Chandler dethroned Eddie Alvarez, quite possibly the best fighter in Bellator MMA history.

    Chandler followed his win over Alvarez with title defenses against Rick Hawn and David Rickels before a rematch was finally booked. Again, Chandler met Alvarez in an outstanding clash, but he fell in a close decision at the end of their second meeting.

    A rubber match was booked, but an Alvarez injury threw a wrench in what would have been the biggest fight in Bellator MMA history. Instead, Chandler met Will Brooks, who scored an upset win to leave Chandler with back-to-back losses.

    Despite his consecutive defeats, Chandler is still one of the best at 155 pounds. A big win or two should put him right back in the mix for a shot at the Bellator MMA lightweight belt.

2. Will Brooks

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    It looked like Chandler would be the one to take the torch from Alvarez, but Will Brooks might be the future of the Bellator MMA lightweight division.

    By winning the Season 9 lightweight tournament, avenging his only career loss against Saad Awad along the way, Brooks earned a shot at the 155-pound championship. Rather than getting a shot at the undisputed title, Brooks met Chandler in a bout to determine an interim champion, while Alvarez recovered from injury.

    I don't care about any of the background noise. I just want my fight with Alvarez and then I want to lay hands on Chandler again

    — Will Brooks (@illwillbrooks86) June 18, 2014

    Brooks took care of business against Chandler, scoring a decision win to spoil the latter's rubber match with Alvarez. In winning, Brooks set himself up for a shot at Alvarez on a date still to be determined.

1. Eddie Alvarez

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    Undefeated in his first six Bellator MMA bouts, Alvarez was already considered one of the best lightweights in the world. However, a rivalry with Chandler has only upped his recognition.

    It started with a surprising loss at Bellator 58, where Alvarez was submitted by Chandler in the fourth round. Instead of being given an immediate rematch, Alvarez took fights with Shinya Aoki and Patricky Freire, who both suffered knockout losses in the opening round.

    Alvarez then entered a messy contract dispute with Bellator MMA, but he ultimately stayed with the organization and was booked for a rematch with Chandler. In the rematch, Alvarez recorded a decision win to reclaim his crown and his place as the best non-UFC fighter in MMA.