Ranking the Best UFC Fighters Who Have Never Won a Belt

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2018

Ranking the Best UFC Fighters Who Have Never Won a Belt

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    The UFC has seen almost every legendary figure in modern MMA walk through its cage doors, but not every great fighter was good enough to win the ultimate prize in the sport.

    Some fighters may have had a single off night while never getting another opportunity, while others were stuck in a division with an all-time great they could never beat. Whatever the reason, some fighters were never meant to wear the 12 pounds of gold.

    One of the criteria for the list was that a fighter had to have at least one title fight. It would be difficult to be considered one of the best and have never fought for a UFC title at least once in their career. Their performances outside of the UFC, if applicable, were taken into consideration as well.

    So, who are these greats who failed to claim a title?

    Here are our top 10 rankings of UFC fighters who failed at reaching the pinnacle of the sport while carving out their own legacies that will never be forgotten.

No. 10 Alistair Overeem

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    Record: 43-17 (1 NC)

    UFC Title Fights: 1


    By the time Alistair Overeem made it to the UFC, he was already a decorated heavyweight with titles in Dream and Strikeforce. His UFC debut, a win over Brock Lesnar in 2011, went as smoothly as it could have. Everything looked ripe for a title shot. But he would be out of action for over a year after failing a drug test.

    When he returned, he dropped three of his next four. That could have been the end of the run.

    Instead, Overeem pieced together a four-fight win streak to earn a crack at Stipe Miocic and the heavyweight title in 2016. A guillotine choke nearly netted him the belt, but Miocic survived and finished Overeem.

    The Reem is still active, but it would appear his title-challenging days are behind him. His inability to capture UFC gold doesn't quite diminish the legacy he carved out as one of the most feared and devastating heavyweight strikers the sport has seen.

No. 9 Kenny Florian

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    Record: 14-6

    UFC Title Fights: 3


    New fans may only know Kenny Florian as a Fox Sports commentator or the co-host of BattleBots. But fans who have been around since the UFC boom of the mid-aughts will remember him as a staple of the exciting rebirth of the lightweight division.

    Florian's first title bid came when the UFC reintroduced the division and had Florian meet Sean Sherk. Nasty elbows split Florian open and sent him to the back of the line. Inexplicably, it would take a six-fight win streak, where he finished five of his opponents, for Florian to get a second try for gold.

    Unfortunately, BJ Penn was the champion and at his height. He dominated Florian.

    Florian once again rebounded, but no lightweight shot would come. His final try, and final MMA bout, would come against Jose Aldo. Another all-time great and divisional king who would ruin Florian's dream.

    Still, let us never forget The Ultimate Fighter runner-up who carved out a niche at lightweight and provided fans with numerous outstanding performances.

No. 8 Nate Diaz

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    Record: 19-11

    UFC Title Fights: 1


    He is one of the UFC's most popular fighters, but Nate Diaz has yet to wear gold.

    His one attempt came in 2012 against Benson Henderson. Diaz made it to the cards, but Henderson got his hand raised on that night. He has never gotten another chance at the belt.

    While he never got back to title contention, Diaz still made his mark in two of the biggest UFC bouts in recent memory. And it all started with a short-notice bout that Diaz accepted. Diaz met Conor McGregor at UFC 196 in a welterweight clash, and he upended the superstar to shock the world.

    Diaz would lose the rematch to McGregor, but his status as one of the sport's current stars was locked in during that first contest. Perhaps being able to cash in means more than holding the belt.

No. 7 Donald Cerrone

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    Record: 33-11 (1 NC)

    UFC Title Fights: 1


    Donald Cerrone is tied with Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre atop the all-time UFC wins list with 20. What separates him from the other two? UFC gold.

    Cerrone only got one chance, but Rafael dos Anjos made quick work of Cowboy to retain the belt.

    Cerrone's exciting fighting style has made him a fan favorite. That is something that cannot be taken away from him. He was always willing to step in and take fights on short notice or at any weight. Cowboy is the ultimate gamer.

    Cerrone fought 12 times from 2014 to 2016 and went 11-1. Six of those fights earned him a performance bonus. History will never show him as a champion, but sometimes things are a bit more important than that. The three-year run against some of the best fighters while only dropping his title bid shows just what kind of fighter Cowboy was.

No. 6 Joseph Benavidez

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    Record: 25-5

    UFC Title Fights: 2


    Joseph Benavidez went 0-2 in his two flyweight title shots, but it is not a shame to go winless against the greatest fighter the sport has ever seen.

    Benavidez has good power and excellent wrestling. He came up just shy against Demetrious Johnson in their first bout for the inaugural flyweight strap. The second encounter was more emphatic, as Johnson knocked out Benavidez. Such a defeat could have sent a fighter on a downward spiral, but not Benavidez.

    After that second loss to Johnson, Benavidez went on a six-fight win streak. He was, without debate, the No. 1-ranked contender with that record. After injury setbacks, Benavidez returned at UFC 225, but Sergio Pettis would come out on top in Chicago.

    The talent and length of time as a top contender illustrates how talented Benavidez was, but being stuck in a division with Mighty Mouse kept the title out of reach.

No. 5 Nick Diaz

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    Record: 26-9 (2 NC)

    UFC Title Fights: 2


    A polarizing figure in his own right, but one whom no one can deny the talents of when the cage door closes.

    Nick Diaz in Rounds 1, 2 and 5? Perhaps that is what you've been holding on to for all these years as Diaz failed to capture UFC gold in a fight against Carlos Condit at UFC 143. If that had been the case, Diaz would not be on the list and he'd have a golden puzzle piece for his MMA legacy.

    Diaz's ground game is highly regarded, but the distinct striking style he developed has given him some of the more notable victories on his resume. His 2004 knockout of Robbie Lawler is still played on highlight reels today.

    Diaz also holds wins over legendary names such as BJ Penn, Takanori Gomi and Frank Shamrock.

    He will forever represent Stockton, California, but he will not represent the UFC as a champion.

No. 4 Alexander Gustafsson

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    Record: 18-4

    UFC Title Fights: 2


    No one else on the list has come as close, on two separate occasions, to being named UFC champion. Alexander Gustafsson is still active and in contention, but as of right now, he checks in at No. 4 on the list.

    Jon Jones was the most dominant figure the UFC had seen in 2013. Gustafsson was the first man to show a crack in the armor of Jones as he stood toe-to-toe with him in an instant classic. And fans never got the rematch of such a spectacular bout.

    In Jones' absence, Daniel Cormier rose to the top of the light heavyweight division. Gustafsson got even closer, as at least one judge saw it in his favor, but Cormier nabbed the other two and kept the title away from Gustafsson.

    There is still time for Gustafsson to work his way off the list, and with Cormier's upcoming retirement while being heavyweight champion and Jones' upcoming return, the window is still open for him to stand atop the division at least once in his career.

No. 3 Demian Maia

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    Record: 25-9

    UFC Title Fights: 2


    Demian Maia made his name in the UFC in the middleweight division. The submission ace breezed through his first five UFC fights, which included a submission win over Chael Sonnen. After a brief setback against Nate Marquardt, Maia got a title shot against Anderson Silva.

    In spite of an odd performance from Silva, Maia got to show his heart and growing striking game.

    After mixed results at 185 following that title bid, Maia dropped to 170. Once again he ascended the ladder to the top. A seven-fight win streak gave him one more opportunity at UFC glory.

    Maia was not able to play his game against Tyron Woodley and lost a decision.

    Very few men or women have been able to find continued success in two separate weight divisions. Maia proved his talent by being one of those fighters.

No. 2 Urijah Faber

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    Record: 34-10

    UFC Title Fights: 4


    Urijah Faber was the face of the WEC when Zuffa owned the promotion. He lost his belt to Mike Brown and never reclaimed it, but his time in the upper echelon was not done. Not by a long shot.

    After winning his UFC debut against Eddie Wineland in the UFC bantamweight division, he got his first UFC title shot against rival Dominick Cruz. It wasn't to be. After an injury sidelined Cruz, Faber got another crack at the 135-pound title against Renan Barao.

    After the loss, Faber rebounded with four straight to earn a rematch with Barao. The Nova Uniao product dispatched of Faber in under four minutes in their rematch. Once again, that could have been the end of Faber's run. But his resolve and spirit kept him moving forward.

    Faber's final title bid came at UFC 199 against Cruz. For the fourth time, he came up short.

    The California Kid got to ride off under his own terms in front of his hometown crowd against Brad Pickett at UFC on Fox 22. Any of the title losses could have broken him, but Faber's high energy and positive outlook helped him to build a brand without ever being UFC champion.

    The creator of Team Alpha Male got to see his protege, Cody Garbrandt, realize the dream he never could. And that made Faber just as happy.

No. 1 Dan Henderson

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    Record: 32-15

    UFC Title Fights: 3


    No one sees Dan Henderson as the greatest fighter of all time, but his resume stacks up well to at least make him worthy of a mention. He was the PRIDE welterweight and middleweight champion, and he held those titles at the same time long before Conor McGregor did it in the UFC.

    But Henderson never got to wear the UFC belt.

    The UFC purchased PRIDE and Henderson re-entered the company with immediate title shots in both divisions. The UFC 17 tournament champion fell in both of those fights to Quinton Jackson and Anderson Silva, respectively.

    After rebounding against the likes of Rich Franklin and Michael Bisping, Henderson once again exited the company. Outside of the UFC, Henderson captured the Strikeforce light heavyweight belt and knocked out Fedor Emelianenko at heavyweight. And when Henderson returned at UFC 139, he put on an all-time classic against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua that was recently inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame's fight wing.

    Henderson's mixed results kept him in the running for a title bid until his final bout against longtime rival Bisping. There was little expectation for Henderson to win, but he very nearly did. It just was not enough to end a legendary career with UFC gold.

    When looking at the length of his career and his total accomplishments from winning the UFC 17 tournament to being a dual PRIDE champion to knocking out Fedor, Henderson is clearly the greatest fighter never to hold a UFC championship.