UFC Contenders, Gatekeepers, and Journeymen: The Middleweights (Part 2)

Justin Fuller@FightFactorLIVECorrespondent IDecember 29, 2010

MONTREAL- MAY 8: Alan Belcher (R) kicks Patrick Cote in the stomach in their middleweight bout at UFC 113 at Bell Centre on May 8, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

This article is Part 2 of "UFC Contenders, Gatekeepers, and Journeymen: The Middleweights"

Just like "gatekeeper", the definition of "journeyman" in boxing differs slightly from how it should be used in MMA. A journeyman boxer is said to have little or no expectation of winning his fights, so he is "along for the journey."

Although they are said to be competent boxers, their limitations have since been exploited and reduced them to their journeyman status.

Although MMA journeymen have visible weaknesses in their game, they never, under any circumstances, enter the Octagon with the expectation of losing.

This is where the two sports differ greatly, because even though in boxing everyone has a "puncher's chance," in MMA "anything can happen," and that's exactly what these fighters shoot for every time they compete.

Fan Favorites

Some of these fighters are favorites because of their ability to finish a fight in style. Some are favorites because they have lost to fighters who top the rankings.

All have been main draws at some level in the UFC. These are, for one reason or another, the fan favorite journeymen.

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Chris "The Crippler" Leben (25-6, UFC: 11-5)

Whom he has beaten: Yoshihiro Akiyama, Aaron Simpson, Jay Silva, Alessio Sakara, Terry Martin, Jorge Santiago, Jorge Rivera and Patrick Cote

Whom he has lost to: Joe Doerksen, Anderson Silva, Jason MacDonald, Kalib Starnes, Michael Bisping and Jake Rosholt

What has kept him from a title shot: Most recently back-to-back losses to Jake Rosholt and Michael Bisping, as well as past losses to Canadians Kalib Starnes and Jason MacDonald.

Chris Leben is among the most well known Middleweight fighters in the UFC to never have a title shot, second only to Michael Bisping. His polarizing attitude and workhorse mentality have kept him in the good graces of the UFC and fans alike.

Although Leben has seen both better and worse days, he is currently riding a two-fight winning streak, including a third round submission of Yoshihiro Akiyama, and will look to make Brian Stann his third. A win over fellow journeyman Stann will most definitely earn Leben top competition next time.

Jorge "El Conquistador" Rivera (18-7, UFC: 7-5)

Whom he has beaten: Nate Quarry, Rob Kimmons, Kendall Grove, Dennis Hallman, David Loiseau and Travis Lutter

Whom he has lost to: Rich Franklin, Anderson Silva, Chris Leben, Terry Martin and Martin Kampmann

What has kept him from a title shot: Rivera has faced a who's who of the division, but unfortunately he's lost to most of them. Inactivity and the still fresh loss to Kampmann at UFC 85 have stifled any chance at a title shot.

Rivera will have his work cut out for him, as he is set to face Michael Bisping at UFC 127 in February. A win over such a popular fighter will make big waves in the division, but a loss will cause the 38-year-old veteran to make a serious consideration at retirement.

Win, lose or draw, there is no doubt Jorge Rivera has faced top opponents and difficult match-ups in his 10 year career.

Dan Miller (14-4-0-1, UFC: 5-3)

Whom he has beaten: Joe Doerksen, John Salter, Jake Rosholt, Matt Horwich, Rob Kimmons and Ryan McGivern

Whom he has lost to: Chael Sonnen, Demian Maia and Michael Bisping

What has kept him from a title shot: Simply put, Chael Sonnen, Demian Maia and Michael Bisping.

After claiming the IFL Middleweight Title, Miller went on a three-fight tear in the UFC before going on a three-fight losing streak to some of the biggest names in the division.

Miller was able to end the losing streak with a submission finish over John Salter and then go on to claim a unanimous decision over Joe Doerksen. Now 3-3 in his last six, let's see if Miller can make it 4-2, or stay batting .500.

Alan "The Talent" Belcher (16-6, UFC: 7-4)

Whom he has beaten: Patrick Cote, Denis Kang, Ed Herman, Kalib Starnes, Sean Salmon and Jorge Santiago

Whom he has lost to: Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jason Day, Kendall Grove and Yushin Okami

What has kept him from a title shot: Despite defeating one-time contender Patrick Cote, Belcher has failed to put together more than two wins at a time since entering the UFC.

His most recent losses came at the hands of Akiyama and Day, and his past losses to the likes of Grove and Okami have outweighed victories over the likes of Kang, Herman and Santiago.

Expected to make a return in early 2011, let's see if The Talent can string together three wins and be considered a serious contender, or suffer another loss and remain one of the division's top journeymen.

Kendall "Da Spyder" Grove (12-8-0-1, UFC: 7-5)

Whom he has beaten: Goran Reljic, Jake Rosholt, Jason Day, Evan Tanner, Alan Belcher and Ed Herman

Whom he has lost to: Joe Riggs, Patrick Cote, Jorge Rivera, Ricardo Almeida, Mark Munoz and Demian Maia

What has kept him from a title shot: Grove was on the fast track after becoming the TUF season three winner, but was stopped dead in his tracks by Patrick Cote and then Jorge Rivera.

Grove rebounded with back-to-back victories over Evan Tanner and Jason day, but since then has gone 2-3 with losses to top fighters such as Demian Maia, Mark Munoz, and Ricardo Almeida.

It is unlikely Da Spyder will be cut after one more loss, but it sure won't help. In order to save his career, and possibly make a title run, he'll have to not only face, but also defeat a top 10 fighter.

Rousimar "Toquinho" Palhares (11-3, UFC: 4-2)

Whom he has beaten: Tomasz Drwal, Lucio Linhares, Jeremy Horn and Ivan Salaverry

Whom he has lost to: Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt

What has kept him from a title shot: Just like Miller, this one is simple—Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt

Although Palhares seems to have a decent record, he lacks the drawing power of Michael Bisping and has yet to defeat any top opposition.

Until he faces and defeats a ranked opponent, he will remain a journeyman. Palhares does have a record good enough to keep him employed for the foreseeable future, which is ample opportunity to either improve or fade away.

The Second Chancers

These are fighters who have been given a second lease on life and their careers. Some were once considered the future of the division, while others have struggled their whole careers to stay alive.

Some have returned to the UFC for a second chance while the rest have dropped weight in search of greener pastures and a new lease on life. So for many different, yet similar reasons, these are the Second Chance Journeymen.

Phil "The New York Bad Ass" Baroni (13-12, UFC: 3-6)

Whom he has beaten: Yosuke Nishijima, Yuki Kondo, Ryo Chonan, Ikuhisa Minowa, Dave Menne, Amar Suloev and Curtis Stout

Whom he has lost to: Matt Lindland (twice), Evan Tanner (twice), Ikuhisa Minowa, Frank Shamrock, Joey Villasenor, Joe Riggs and Amir Sadollah

Why he has been given a second chance: Aside from being tough as nails, win or lose, Baroni guarantees an exciting fight.

The New York Bad Ass didn't quite have the homecoming he wanted when he faced off against TUF winner Amir Sadollah, but he'll look to turn his luck around against Brad Tavares this Saturday at UFC 125.

Jason "The Athlete" MacDonald (24-14, UFC: 5-6)

Whom he has beaten: Vernon White, Jason Lambert, Joe Doerksen, Rory Singer, Chris Leben and Ed Herman

Whom he has lost to: Matt Horwich, Jason Brilz, Shonie Carter, Patrick Cote, Rich Franklin, Yushin Okami, Demian Maia, Nate Quarry, Travis Lutter and John Salter

Why he has been given a second chance: One look at his record will tell you Jason MacDonald has faced, and lost to, nearly every contender in the UFC, but after stringing together three wins in Canada, good ol' DW decided to give The Athlete a second chance.

Aside from being a second-chancer, MacDonald is the quintessential definition of a journeyman fighter. He's never been able to get past top competition, but his ability to finish fights 21 out of 24 times makes him a definite crowd pleaser.

Alessio "Legionarius" Sakara (15-7-0-1, UFC: 6-4-0-1)

Whom he has beaten: James Irvin, Thales Leites, Joe Vedepo, James Lee, Victor Valimaki and Elvis Sinosic

Whom he has lost to: Assuerio Silva, Dean Lister, Drew McFedries, Houston Alexander and Chris Leben

Why he has been given a second chance: After going 3-3 since his debut in the UFC, Sakara made the move to middleweight and was welcomed by Chris Leben, who gladly handed him another loss.

But that didn't stop the veteran Italian from putting together three wins in his last three outings since his Middleweight debut loss.

Legionarius faces dark horse contender Maiquel Falcao in March at UFC on Versus 3, and we'll see if his move to Middleweight was the right choice to move him up the ladder, or just another attempt at prolonging a journeyman career.

Brian "All American" Stann (9-3, UFC: 3-2)

Whom he has beaten: Mike Massenzio, Rodney Wallace, Steve Cantwell and Doug Marshall

Whom he has lost to: Phil Davis, Krzysztof Soszynski and Steve Cantwell

Why he has been given a second chance: Despite landing on the winning side of his rubber match with Steve Cantwell, the man who took his WEC belt away, the former WEC Light Heavyweight champ has been defeated by journeyman (Krzysztof Soszynski) and future prospect (Phil Davis) alike at Light Heavyweight.

Stann is hoping the tides will turn in his favor at Middleweight, and his third round submission victory over Mike Messenzio is a good start. We'll see if the "All American" has found a new home at Middleweight when he faces Chris Leben this Saturday, or if he has run out of second chances.

Honorable Mention: Nate "Rock" Quarry (12-4, UFC: 7-3)

Nate Quarry is the journeyman's journeyman. He has an impressive record, has finished seven of his 12 wins by way of (T)KO, and two of his four losses came at the hands of Rich Franklin, in a title bout, and Demian Maia, who is the best submission specialist in the division.

There is little left for Quarry to prove, and at 38 years old, no one would judge him for retiring for good. Of course, if he does choose to make a return, I'm sure DW would be willing to give him a second chance, and win, lose, or draw, it is sure to be an exciting fight. After all, DW signed Antonio McKee, who is 40.

The Lesser-Knowns

These fighters also garner the title of journeyman until they prove themselves otherwise. They are the lesser-knowns because the casual fan has probably never seen them fight.

To the educated fan, they are experienced fighters who've been around the block. 

Hopefully they can remain successful enough to stay with the UFC and become the fan favorites they have the potential to be.

Tom Lawlor (7-3-0-1, UFC: 3-2)

Whom he has beaten: Patrick Cote, C.B. Dollaway and Kyle Kingsbury

Whom he has lost to: Aaron Simpson and Joe Doerksen

Whom he fights next: Nothing scheduled yet for Lawlor, but the division is deep enough that there are many exciting possibilities.

What has kept him from a title shot: Back-to-back losses hurt his climb up the ladder, but a win over Patrick Cote may have put him back on track.

Lawlor has two UFC Fight bonuses to his name, and the fact that he isn't better known is only a matter of time for the 27-year old native of Massachusetts. With youth on his side, Lawlor is one of the least likely to see his career ended anytime soon.

Aaron "A-Train" Simpson (7-2, UFC: 3-2)

Whom he has beaten: Tom Lawlor, Ed Herman and Tim McKenzie

Whom he has lost to: Mark Munoz and Chris Leben

Whom he fights next: Nothing scheduled yet for Simpson, but much like Lawlor, the possibilities are limitless.

What has kept him from a title shot: Like many on this list, Chris Leben is the cause of Simpson's fall from grace. Perhaps Leben should change his nickname to "The Dream Catcher."

Although Simpson came into the fight game with an impressive collegiate wrestling pedigree, at 36 years old, his failure to get past Munoz and Leben will be hard to bounce back from.

Of course, if there's anything Randy Couture has taught us, it's that you can't count out an old dog with new tricks.

Rob "The Rosedale Reaper" Kimmons (23-6, UFC: 3-3)

Whom he has beaten: Steve Steinbeiss, Joe Vedepo and Rob Yundt

Whom he has lost to: Joe Riggs, Ryan Jensen, Marvin Eastman, Dan Miller, Jorge Rivera and Kyle Noke

Whom he fights next: Nothing scheduled yet for Kimmons, but Aaron Simpson seems like a good match-up for the 29 fight veteran.

What has kept him from a title shot: After going 3-3 in the UFC, Kimmons is one of those guys who is always one fight away from a new contract or getting cut.

A true veteran of the sport, and at just 29 years of age, Rob Kimmons has been unable to find the same success he enjoyed before entering the UFC.

If Kimmons is able to string together two wins at once, then he'll get another crack at stiff competition, but if not, then he may go the way of Jamie Varner.

Ryan Jensen (15-7, UFC: 2-5)

Whom he has beaten: Jesse Forbes, Steve Steinbeiss and Travis Fulton

Whom he has lost to: Brock Larson, Thales Leites, Demian Maia, Joey Villasenor, Wilson Gouveia, Mark Munoz and Court McGee.

Whom he fights next: Nothing scheduled yet for Jensen, but hopefully something comes up soon, since his last fight was in October.

What has kept him from a title shot: His UFC record of 2-5 speaks volumes about any potential contender match-up, and at 33-years old, it is now or never for Jensen to make an impact on the division.

Jenson could have easily been in the "Second Chancers" section, but his lack of drawing power placed him with the other lesser knowns. More victories like his Submission of the Night win over Jesse Forbes are what will help make Ryan Jensen a name you can never forget.

Make sure you read  "UFC Contenders, Gatekeepers, and Journeymen: The Middleweights (Part 1)" where we take a look at the contenders and gatekeepers in the division and what they are up to.


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