There Are a Rare Group of Fighters in the UFC Who Have Managed to Become Fan-Favourites Without Winning a Title… Most of Them Have Had Title Shots, But Fell Short at the Final Stage…
Michael Bisping said it best. The former middleweight champion once explained on his Believe You Me Podcast, that the most difficult part of becoming champion was not the actual title fight. It’s the process of getting to that stage in the first place because you have to go through a whole line of hungry killers. One defeat could drastically set you back.
Becoming a champion is what all true fighters work for. It offers a sense of validation and prestige for your skills as a martial artist. From a prize-fighting sense, it also creates new commercial opportunities. Most fighters will never reach that stage.
With this in mind let’s take a look at ten of the best UFC fighters who have never managed to win a title within the confines of the world’s biggest MMA promotion. We’re only looking at established veterans and retired fighters, who have had title shots or at least been a top contender for a lengthy period of time in the UFC.
Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson
One of the ultimate nice guys in the game, ‘Wonderboy’ has one of the most unique fighting styles on the roster. Coming from a Kenpo background, he uses that points sparring style to great effect, especially his lead leg sidekick. However, he’s fallen short twice in welterweight title shots – both times against Tyron Woodley.
The first time he narrowly missed out on winning after the champion was award a majority draw, in a technical battle that saw ‘Wonderboy’ get dropped once. Their second fight went by way of majority decision once again to Woodley. Now that there’s a new champion in Kamaru Usman, Thompson might get another run, but at the age of 36, time is running out.
Probably the least glamorous and recognizable name on this list, the Brazilian bantamweight was never able to get on the right side of UFC President Dana White. Primarily a grappler, eight decision wins in the UFC definitely had an impact on his drawing power. However, Assuncao quietly put together one of the most impressive records in the division.
He holds a win over current champion TJ Dillashaw, as well as the next top contender Marlon Moraes. He’s also defeated Cody Garbrandt’s latest conqueror Pedro Munhoz and Aljamain Sterling. Unfortunately for the Recife native, his style is just not attractive enough for the UFC to want him near a title. Sometimes politics enter the playing field.
Another fighter at 170 with a reputation for being an absolutely lovely guy, Demian Maia is a beast. He’s arguably the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner on the entire roster but has never managed to hold UFC gold, despite 29 fights for the world’s premier MMA promotion.
His most recent title shot was against Tyron Woodley, at UFC 214 in 2017. Just to show how difficult it is to get to the top, his first shot at gold was back at UFC 112 in 2010, against Anderson Silva, at middleweight.
If you’re a fan of the UFC heavyweight division, you know who the Dutchman is. He’s a former PRIDE and K-1 world champion, while he also held an interim DREAM title too. The kickboxer has beaten a host of stars including four former UFC heavyweight champions: Junior Dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski, Frank Mir, and Vitor Belfort.
Although he’s come close, he’s never been able to get a hold of a UFC title himself. His one and only title shot in the UFC was against Stipe Miocic and he was knocked out in the very first round. While the heavyweight division is notoriously thin, he’s going to have to put something special together to get back to those heights again.
Fans voted Nate Diaz as one half of the best fight in the history of the UFC. His all-action brawl against Conor McGregor was one of the most entertaining battles we’ve seen in an octagon (even if Rory MacDonald v Robbie Lawlor was even better).
However, Stockton’s finest has never won a title. He did defeat Conor McGregor while he held the featherweight title, but both of their clashes took place at welterweight. Diaz also lost to Benson Henderson in 2012, when he fought for the lightweight title.
Nate’s older brother Nick is another anomaly on this list. Both of the brothers are loved by fans for their no-nonsense attitudes and anti-hero personalities, even if frustration has mounted a little bit because they’ve been out of the game for so long.
Nick could and should have been a much bigger star. He fought for the welterweight title against Georges St. Pierre in Montreal, back in 2013. He also had a shot at an interim title – back when that actually meant something – but lost out to Carlos Condit. At this point, it looks like he may never fight again.
One of the best fighters on this list never to win a UFC strap, Henderson did hold the PRIDE middleweight and light-heavyweight titles before the Japanese promotion was bought by the UFC, as well as the Strikeforce light-heavyweight title.
Renowned for his ferocious power, Henderson is widely regarded as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time. He defeated 21 champions across four major MMA promotions. Unfortunately, he never hit those lofty heights in the UFC, going 3-7 in the promotion. Somehow he still managed to get a title shot against Michael Bisping, and came oh so close to knocking the Brit out again, in London, back in 2016.
Another fighter who underwhelmed in the UFC, Mirko Cro-Cop is one of the most iconic MMA stars of any era. The Croatian is renowned for his left high kick, described as right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery. Coming from a kickboxing background, his striking was superior to many of his opponents.
Cro-Cop has won PRIDE, RIZIN and K-1 Openweight Grand Prix in the past, but was never able to do enough to become a genuine top contender in the UFC heavyweight division. The 44-year-old was forced to retire in 2019 after suffering a stroke.
Ok, he did win UFC 1,2 and 4 tournaments, but Royce Gracie technically never won a UFC Championship because he fought in the pre-weight division era. Arguably the single most important individual on this list, the Gracie family revolutionised martial arts with their version of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Royce was a major player in this.
The Brazilian did have a chance to become a UFC champion of sorts when he took on Ken Shamrock at UFC 5 in the first-ever ‘Superfight’. The pair fought out a draw.
He’s got the most wins, finishes and appearances in the history of the UFC. However, somehow Donald Cerrone has never managed to win UFC gold. ‘Cowboy’ has competed against the very best and became a fan-favourite for his quick turnarounds and his all-action style.
There’s still time for the veteran to get a belt. He’s riding a renaissance wave after dropping back down to lightweight from welterweight, but once again time is not on his side, and in Khabib Nurmagamedov, the 155lb division has one of the most dominant fighters in history as a champion.