During the UFC 188 broadcast this past weekend, Joe Rogan pointed out once again that all of the world’s best fighters are in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Working for the UFC, it’s part of his job to do so, but that doesn’t mean the statement is above scrutinization.
Rogan was discussing the stature of Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez in the lightweight division, two fighters who had been deemed by some to be the best in the world in their weight class when they were at the peak of their powers.
There is no getting away from the fact that the UFC does have most of the best fighters in the world. The most recent list of Sherdog.com rankings drew 88% of its fighters from the UFC. Bellator Fighting Championships was next with only 5%; World Series of Fighting 3%; Invicta Fighting Championships 2%. KSW and ONE Championship filled the remaining gaps with 1% a piece.
Even looking at some of the fighters ranked who are not in the UFC, it is their performances within the industry leader’s cage that have put them there.
Phil Davis is ranked number 6 at light-heavyweight, due to his 9-3 (1 no contest) record in the UFC, having not yet stepped foot inside the Bellator cage.
Jake Shields is ranked at welterweight, but it has little to do with his achievements for World Series of Fighting, and more to do with what he accomplished when under the UFC and Strikeforce banners in the past.
The notion presented by Rogan, and just as often by UFC President Dana White, is that you can’t be the best if you haven’t fought the best. When Alvarez and Melendez were fighting in Bellator and Strikeforce respectively, we could not know for sure how they would fare against the top UFC lightweights because the fights could never be made.
When the two did arrive in the UFC, Alvarez’ loss to Donald Cerrone, and Melendez’ to both Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis, were served up as further proof that they were never the best fighters in the world.
No matter how strongly it is used as evidence, it’s little more than promotional spin because we never got to see the very best Gilbert Melendez or Eddie Alvarez in the UFC, both were marginally past their peak by the time they entered the octagon for the first time.
The “we’ll never know” point is key with the rankings as well, and it comes down to the way ranking systems work. Many hold the misconception that fighters are ranked based on their ability and who could beat who. They are not. Rankings are not determined by who you might beat, but who you have beat.
On that basis the UFC are bound to dominate the rankings on sites like Sherdog. How can you beat the fighters ranked above you to move up when you are fighting in another promotion? Fighting outside of the UFC you are almost handicapped and expected to achieve more to even get in there in the first place.
We all remember when the WEC lightweights were not going to be able to hang with those in the UFC. Then both Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis won the world title, and Donald Cerrone beat half of the division.
Strikeforce were a similarly inferior brand before being purchased by Zuffa. Now, Fabricio Werdum, Daniel Cormier, Robbie Lawler and Ronda Rousey all hold UFC gold. Turns out Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza are pretty good middleweights too.
With that in mind, here are the fighters with the most legitimate claims to be the best in the world in their division, despite fighting outside of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
MIDDLEWEIGHT – Mamed Khalidov 30-4-2 – Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki
Having fought just once in the United States — in 2008 for EliteXC — it is one of MMA’s greatest disappointments that Mamed Khalidov never had a run against the top middleweight’s in the UFC. Matt Lindland, Kendall Grove, Melvin Manhoef, Maiquel Falcao could all do nothing to stop Khalidov’s outstanding onslaught. If superhero MMA analyst Robin Black calls him “the single best fighter in the world that is not fighting in the UFC”, who are we to argue?
WELTERWEIGHT – Ben Askren 14-0 (1 No Contest) – ONE Championship
The former Bellator Welterweight Champion, and current ONE Championship King, Askren has often claimed to be the best 170 pound fighter on the planet. He is a world class wrestler with stifling top control and an unorthodox grappling style, who holds dominant victories over Douglas Lima, Karl Amoussou and Andrey Koreshkov. Of concern is Askren’s most recent performance where he struggled against Luis “Sapo” Santos, before the bout was stopped due to an eye poke with little more than two minutes gone.
WELTERWEIGHT – Douglas Lima 26-5 – Bellator Fighting Championships
When you’re the champion in the second largest MMA organization in the United States you have a fair shout at being one of the world’s best. Since a one sided defeat to Ben Askren in 2012, Lima has gone 5-0 and has shown continued improvement inside the cage. Sadly he has not fought in over a year due to injury, but makes his long awaited return July 17 against Andrey Koreshkov. He would be a definite threat to the top five in the UFC.
LIGHTWEIGHT – Will Brooks 16-1 – Bellator Fighting Championships
Well-rounded has become so overused in mixed martial arts that it now seems like the most backhanded of compliments, used to describe fighters who have no real point of excellence. That could not be further from the truth when it is used to describe current Bellator Lightweight Champion Will Brooks. Back to back wins over standout lightweight Michael Chandler put him on the map, before he outclassed tough challenger Dave Jansen over five rounds in April of this year.
FEATHERWEIGHT – Patricio “Pitbull” Freire 23-2 – Bellator Fighting Championships
Aiming to be the best in the world in a division that is headed up by Jose Aldo is a tough ask. Patricio Pitbull comes as close as anyone else at 145 pounds and would pose a significant threat for anyone in the UFC’s top ten. Freire is a violent striker with a legitimate Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt. With wins over Diego Nunes, Wilson Reis, Pat Curran and Daniel Straus already in the bag, Freire will defend his world title against Daniel Weichel on the Kimbo vs Shamrock card this weekend.
BANTAMWEIGHT – Marlon Moraes 14-4-1 – World Series of Fighting
If Justin Gaethje has become WSOF’s breakout star due to his nerve-shredding style, Marlon Moraes is their most talented. He also benefits from fighting in a significantly weaker weight class than Gaethje. Moraes gained attention when he beat Miguel Torres in his WSOF debut back in 2012, and has not looked back since. Moraes has won all seven of his WSOF bouts and will next defend his title against Sheymon Moraes in August. Fights against Renan Barao and T.J. Dillashaw would be a mouthwatering prospect were he to end up in the UFC.