Most Under-Appreciated MMA Champions
2013 still has many great fights to go, including some pretty exciting title fights. Jon Jones, Benson Henderson, Georges St. Pierre, Chris Weidman, and Cain Velasquez will all be defending their belts in the remainder of the fight year. These champions are recognized as some of the best fighters in the world, and receive respect from fans and fellow fighters. However, not every current or former champion receives the respect they deserve. Whether their fighting style doesn’t excite fans, or they are on the downside of their careers, some world champions get forgotten and receive little to no respect for their accomplishments. Here are some of the most under-appreciated MMA champions of all time.
Saffiedine was the clear underdog coming into his title fight against UFC vet and then Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt. But that didn’t stop “Sponge” from coming in and getting the job done. Saffiedine used effective leg kicks en route to a unanimous decision victory, becoming the last Strikeforce welterweight champion. So when many of Strikeforce fighters were signed over to the UFC, there was an expectation that Saffiedine would get a top opponent.
That wasn’t the case. They offered him Robbie Lawler, who was coming off an impressive win, but his overall record in the last few years hasn’t been so great. The man Saffiedine beat, Marquardt, actually got a better opponent in his first bout back to the UFC. Talk about a lack of respect for Saffiedine. Currently sidelined with an injury, no new opponent has been announced for Tarec. Hopefully when he returns he will get the respect he deserves.
Someone who should be recognized as a legend of the lighter weight classes, Mike Brown just doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves. The former WEC featherweight champion upset the ultra-popular Urijah Faber by knocking him out in the first round to earn the title in 2008. He’d prove it was no fluke by defending that title twice, one of those victories coming against Faber in a rematch. He’d lose the title and 3 of his next 5 bouts, but has since resurrected his career with back-to back wins. Still going strong at age 37, Brown will look to make it three in a row next Saturday.
Despite his accomplishments and winning streak, Brown is still being pitted against B level fighters (at best). The man he beat convincingly twice, Faber, is battling the best in the world right now in his weight class. This is puzzling since Brown is 8-4 in his last 12 while Faber is 7-5. Brown never got the respect he deserved, so let’s hope a third straight win Saturday will change that.
Shamrock has picked up just about every major title you can get. A former UFC, WEC AND Strikeforce champion, Shamrock still isn’t considered what he truly is: a legend. A perfect 5-0 in the UFC, Shamrock won the light heavyweight strap and defended it successfully four times – the last defense coming against MMA legend Tito Ortiz, (he would later vacate the title and go fight elsewhere). A two fight losing streak prompted his retirement in 2010.
Shamrock is a case of what could have been. When he ruled in the UFC, he was the best of his time. Had he stayed in the UFC he could have defended his belt many more times likely, and then secured a spot in something he has expressed he has always wanted to be in; the UFC Hall of Fame. Unfortunately he left the promotion, and now will always be in the shadow of older brother Ken, regardless of the fact that he has accomplished more than him. Maybe it’s his own fault, but Shamrock is none the less underappreciated.
The late and great Evan Tanner might not be disrespected because he is deceased, but he isn’t exactly appreciated either. Holding a respectful UFC record of 11-6 and an overall record of 32-8, Tanner was the middleweight champion of the UFC. He never was able to successfully defend his title, being beat in his first title defense by Rich Franklin. He would go 1-3 in 4 UFC fights before dying in 2008. Tanner wasn’t the greatest middleweight champion in the UFC, yet he still isn’t talked about as much as he should be. Tanner is unknown to new MMA fans, and at this rate may be forgotten in a few years, something that is truly sad considering what the man accomplished and that his life was tragically cut short.
Tim Sylvia is one of the most hated champions in MMA history. I’m not sure why, but he never connected with fans, despite his best efforts. It wasn’t his style, Sylvia was a huge knockout artist who was putting heavyweights to sleep. It wasn’t that he was a bad fighter – Sylvia won the heavyweight title and defended it twice. Why he was so hated is a bit of a mystery. Now he is disrespected because he is journeying into “tomato can” status in the fight business, but disrespect is nothing new to Tim. As a man that was a former two-time heavyweight champion, Sylvia is undeservingly underappreciated.
When you were once a very successful mixed martial artist, it must suck when you are more often recognized as being a better trainer than fighter. That is the case for Pat Miletich, although it isn’t shocking.
Founder of Miletich Fighting Systems, Pat led fighters Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia and Jens Pulver to world titles. So yes, he was a great trainer. But Pat was also the first ever UFC welterweight champion, and he defended his title four times before losing it to Carlos Newton. I think because of his accomplishments as both a fighter and trainer, Miletich should have been in the Hall of Fame, or at least respected more. He is hardly talked about and few new MMA fans just coming into the sport even know who he is.
Newton looked like the next big thing when he submitted Pat Miletich to become just the second UFC welterweight champion all the way back in 2001. But then he was knocked out by Matt Hughes and just like that the hype was gone. He never won again in the UFC, and has a current MMA record of 16-14. Almost forgotten by fans, Newton doesn’t even appear to be an “okay” fighter anymore, but he was once a man with a lot of potential and deserves more appreciation for his accomplishments, albeit few, inside the cage.
It is getting painful to watch “Lil’ Evil” Jens Pulver fight. New fans to the sport would probably ask why the 38 year old fighter is still going, and why wouldn’t he just quit?
It is true, Pulver is looking pretty bad as of late. He is a poor 5-10 in his last 15 fights. Pulver’s record could be cause for disrespect and insults from ignorant casual fans, but Pulver should never be disrespected. This man put the lightweight division on the map. He was the first UFC lightweight champion and he defended his title twice.
One of those defences came against ex-champ, and MMA legend, BJ Penn. When Pulver beat Penn, it was at a time when many though BJ to be unstoppable. Despite being champ, Pulver was the underdog. Well, he showed everyone, beating Penn by earning a convincing unanimous decision victory. Pulver decided to leave the UFC after that.
When he returned, he wasn’t the same. He was knocked out by Joe Lauzon then lost to Penn in a rematch. A change in weight seemed to be the trick, as a win against Cub Swanson in the WEC earned him a shot at the then featherweight champion Urijah Faber. Pulver lost, but took Faber all five rounds, and this might be one of Pulver’s greatest accomplishments. All things considered, that loss marked the decline of Pulver’s legendary career.
Jens continues to fight on, despite his poor record and the hate he receives from some. Pulver should be in the UFC Hall of Fame in my opinion, hut he’s not (and likely never will be). He remains one of the most underappreciated champions ever.
It is a shame Rutten didn’t stick around in the UFC longer. Not proving himself on the biggest stage in MMA long enough might be the only thing stopping Bas Rutten from being recognized one of the pound for pound greatest fighters in the world. After controversially winning the UFC heavyweight title, Rutten retired from the sport in 1999. He returned in 2006 for one more fight, risking leaving the sport on a win. He won again, by TKO in the first round. He walked away from the sport on a crazy 22 fight unbeaten streak. Yet it hasn’t been enough to earn him the respect he deserved. Rutten is better recognized by new fans for his appearance in the 2012 comedy “Here Comes The Boom” alongside Kevin James… and of course, his schlocky infomercials.
The first middleweight champion in the UFC is also probably one of the most disrespected/underappreciated fighters, ever. Maybe it’s because after winning the title he would never go on to win in the UFC again? Maybe it’s because he has never beaten anyone of worth since leaving the UFC? Still, a former champion is a former champion, and there is no reason Dave Menne should be forgotten and completely unknown to new fans.
Besides serious fans, few could probably tell you who the first UFC middleweight champion was. Menne, at the very least is significant for his role in UFC history. Many people don’t recognize that, and Menne is a very underappreciated former MMA champ, quite possibly the most underappreciated champion ever.
Champions in the sport will come and go. Some will be remembered, and others forgotten. Those who love the sport will remember those who are forgotten for what they did in their time.
Remember to check out Hammer MMA Radio on 93.3CFMU or find their latest episodes on our main page’s sidebar. Hammer Radio features interviews from some of the industry’s biggest stars. You can find the latest on the Hammer @SteveJeffery
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? Find more info at our “Join Our Team” page.