Demian Maia, Nate Diaz and the Best Active UFC Fighters to Never Win UFC Gold
Marino. Malone. Moss. Maia?
The jiu-jitsu world champ and current UFC contender has torn off six straight wins, several of them over the company's top welterweights.
However, at age 39, the end of Demian Maia's career, or at least his athletic prime, is growing more prominent at the horizon. What's more, consistent dominance notwithstanding, his style isn't the most pyrotechnic of things, and that rather than simply winning is critical to a shot at UFC gold.
This Saturday at UFC 211, Maia faces Jorge Masvidal, himself an accomplished fighter who hasn't yet obtained a title fight. The winner may earn that elusive contest. Or not.
In the meantime, it got us thinking. Who, along with Maia, are the best active UFC fighters to never wear UFC gold? Who are the Dan Marinos, the Karl Malones and the Randy Mosses of MMA? Let's take a look and count them up.
First, a few ground rules. Admittedly, we're threading a bit of a needle here. We're looking for non-title-winning fighters with the most impressive career resumes, but who are not only active but viable today. So there's a sweet spot. For example, while there's a case to be made that Khabib Nurmagomedov is the best lightweight on the planet right now, his actual career accomplishments don't carry him as far as those of, say, Dustin Poirier, who has a much longer UFC tenure.
(Poirier also competes this Saturday at UFC 211, facing Eddie Alvarez with a potential title shot on the line.)
Entire careers are considered, but UFC success receives heavy emphasis. We are talking about UFC titles, after all.
All fighter record information courtesy of Sherdog.com.
Listed in no particular order:
- Jorge Masvidal
- Donald Cerrone
- Stephen Thompson
- Nick Diaz
- Dustin Poirier
- Gegard Mousasi
- Sara McMann
- Mark Hunt
- Gilbert Melendez
- Khabib Nurmagomedov
- Tony Ferguson
- Claudia Gadelha
T-5. Nate Diaz
Record: 19-11 (14-9 UFC)
Official Ranking: 8
Signature UFC Wins: Conor McGregor, Michael Johnson, Donald Cerrone, Takanori Gomi
Welp, instead of a nice, clean top five, here we are with a tie to kick things off. I sincerely hope that I may be forgiven for my indecision.
One gains the impression that this distinction doesn't much bother Nate Diaz. Rather than methodically climb the lightweight ladder, he has shuttled between 155 pounds and 170, most recently and famously for those two 2016 welterweight bouts with Conor McGregor.
Diaz has always unapologetically chased dollars before titles. And he has, by just about any metric, achieved that. At 32 years old, Diaz remains in his prime and is enormously popular. It will be interesting to see whether he gets the itch to pursue what is arguably the only line item still missing from his resume.
T-5. Alistair Overeem
Record: 42-15 (1) (7-4 UFC)
Official Ranking: 3
Signature UFC Wins: Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Frank Mir, Brock Lesnar, Fabricio Werdum
Alistair Overeem might be a lot higher on this list if not for one thing: his UFC resume.
The long-time kickboxing kingpin made his MMA bones in Pride and his native Netherlands. And, of course, he held the Strikeforce heavyweight crown.
Once he hit the UFC, there were, shall we say, certain hurdles in place that perhaps didn't exist earlier in his fighting life.
Nevertheless, Overeem keeps inflicting plenty of Octagon damage, knocking out Mark Hunt in March and taking four of five with three knockouts before that.
His best chance to date was a September bout with Miocic, which saw the champ defend with a first-round knockout.
Next up? A July rubber fight with ex-champ Werdum, confirmed last week.
4. Alexander Gustafsson
Record: 17-4 (9-4 UFC)
Division: Light heavyweight
Official Ranking: 1
Signature UFC Wins: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Thiago Silva, Jimi Manuwa
His stats aren't gaudy until you remember that Alexander Gustafsson gave the best fighter of all time the best fight of his life.
That, of course, was UFC 165 back in 2013, when Gustafsson gave then-champ Jon Jones all he could handle. Gustafsson marked up Jones from range but eventually fell to a razor-thin decision. Plenty of observers dubbed it the fight of the year.
Consider that, then consider the other three who beat him: Daniel Cormier, Anthony Johnson, Phil Davis. That's pretty good competition. One of them holds the UFC light heavyweight title (Cormier), one of them holds the Bellator light heavyweight title (Davis), and Johnson just finished fighting Cormier for the UFC version.
Gustafsson is scheduled to return to action on May 28 against Glover Teixeira.
3. Joseph Benavidez
Record: 25-4 (12-2 UFC)
Official Ranking: 1
Signature UFC Wins: John Moraga, Eddie Wineland, Henry Cejudo, Ali Bagautinov
Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson. That's the list.
No one else has ever defeated Joseph Benavidez in a pro MMA fight. Cruz, the longtime bantamweight champ, did it twice, as did Mighty Mouse, the reigning and only UFC flyweight champ.
Benavidez is so fun to watch, a terrifically well-rounded fighter with intensely good athleticism. Will he get a third shot at Johnson? As of now, Johnson's next opponent has not been announced. And that's a big dance, too, as a win will push Mighty Mouse past Anderson Silva as the record-holder for consecutive UFC title defenses.
Will they enlist Benavidez to oppose him? It will be interesting to see what UFC brass will do, though it may be a long shot.
2. Cris 'Cyborg' Justino
Record: 17-1 (2-0 UFC)
Division: Women's Featherweight
Official Ranking: N/A
Signature UFC Wins: Leslie Smith, Lina Lansberg
Of all the fighters on this list, Cris "Cyborg" Justino stands on the strangest footing.
Yeah, a 2-0 record is pretty thin. So is the UFC women's featherweight roster, which doesn't even contain enough folks for an official top-15 ranking.
But there's a counterbalance that most fans will see coming from a mile away: Cyborg is the best women's MMA fighter in the world, and it isn't close.
It's a shame current champ Germaine de Randamie makes injury noises as an apparent way to keep Cyborg at bay. It's a shame Cyborg has felt the need to ask for her UFC release. It's a shame Megan Anderson, the charismatic interim 145-pound champ in the all-female Invicta promotion, may be pressed into service here before she's ready.
Without getting into who does or doesn't have a good case here, Cyborg is short on options. If anyone—including the champ—will sign up to face her, the timing becomes a matter of when, not if.
1. Demian Maia
Record: 24-6 (18-6 UFC)
Official Ranking: 3
Signature UFC Wins: Carlos Condit, Gunnar Nelson, Jon Fitch, Dong Hyun Kim, Chael Sonnen
I know, Demian, I know. It's bittersweet.
Maia has now been under UFC contract for a full decade. That is not easy to do. His jiu-jitsu is among the best of any weight class in MMA. He takes backs like it's a bodily function. It's hard to break free of him.
And there's your trouble.
Maia works in subtler strokes, relatively speaking. The Brazilian isn't going to fire off a lot of spinning wheel kicks in there. And Hollywood isn't out here looking for guard-passing.
As great as Maia is, given how UFC leaders insist on passing him over, it looks like his resume will lack the UFC champion bullet point on a matter of style.