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10 Best Fighters in the UFC Right Now to Never Hold a Belt

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

10 Best Fighters in the UFC Right Now to Never Hold a Belt

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Sporting fine jewelry is a look that every mixed martial artist strives for.

    We're talking about championship belts here, people, not diamond rings and gold necklaces.

    So this is directed toward the athletes who keep working toward ultimate glory, specifically the UFC's entourage of ironclad superstars.

    But as common of a goal as winning a championship is in today's MMA, not everybody gets there.  Chalk it up to divisional road blocks, agonizing injuries or just plain old bad luck.

    Often left empty-handed, certain world-class specialists have been unable to claim the throne.

    Here are the 10 best fighters in the UFC right now who have never held a belt.

     

Honorable Mentions

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Rory MacDonald

    At one point in time, MacDonald was regarded as the next of kin to former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.  He possessed similar Octagon tendencies and overly proficient athleticism.  But since he's adopted a more strategic game rather than an aggressive one, the young Canadian has slightly fallen off.

     

    Chael Sonnen

    What's a list of non-champions without "The American Gangster"?  As one of most known fighters in MMA history, his three title fights have been overwhelmingly popular, to say the least.  So while people will argue his efficiency beyond elite wrestling and consistent pressure, there's no arguing that he sells his product.

     

    Fabricio Werdum

    Werdum would have made this list, but the fact of the matter is that outside of a recent victory over a declining Antonio Minotauro Nogueira, the 36-year-old has only recorded victories over Mike Russow and Roy Nelson since 2010.  He'll have a chance to reaffirm his grand potential when he meets Travis Browne at UFC on Fox 11.

10. Travis Browne

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    What Travis Browne has been doing in the UFC heavyweight division has been simply astonishing.

    From a comeback victory over Alistair Overeem to a quick first-round destruction of Josh Barnett, "Hapa" has made mincemeat out of top divisional threats.

    But what makes him even more distinguished among his peers is his natural size.  Like Jon "Bones" Jones at light heavyweight, Browne is able to utilize his reach and athleticism to overwhelm opponents on the feet.

    Furthermore, he seems to get better and more confident every time we see him.

9. Ronaldo Souza

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Not many UFC fans have welcomed Ronaldo Souza with open arms.

    It's not because his resume isn't respected or his skills haven't flourished.  Instead, skepticism has been formed around "Jacare" simply based on who he has beaten under the UFC banner.

    Sure he has been nearly unstoppable as he's finally combining striking power with world-class grappling, but wins over Chris Camozzi and Yushin Okami don't necessarily jump out at you.

    With all of that said, the former Strikeforce champion has done enough in the past for UFC fans to buy into the hype. 

    For a guy who has only lost to Luke Rockhold and Gegard Mousasi since 2003, I guess you pretty much have to.

8. Daniel Cormier

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    With a move to light heavyweight, former Strikeforce heavyweight king Daniel Cormier stands to not only improve his skills but more importantly his championship opportunities.

    It's crazy to think about how quickly "DC" has evolved since his days as an Olympic wrestler, but training with Cain Velasquez will surely make you a better competitor inside the cage.

    In any case, even considering Cormier entered the sport on the wrong side of 30, he's merely one win over Rashad Evans away from challenging for UFC gold.

    That's pretty impressive.

7. Joseph Benavidez

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    If Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson were lost in space, flyweight runner-up Joseph Benavidez would be the division's reigning champ.

    But Johnson doesn't seem to be defying the laws of gravity (maybe just physics) anytime soon, so the Team Alpha Male standout will have to work his way back toward another title shot.

    With that said, it shouldn't be hard. Benavidez is one of the purest athletes in the promotion today and one who always seems to rise to the occasion.

    It will be interesting to see if the 29-year-old shows any fascination with moving back up to bantamweight to get away from Johnson.

6. Glover Teixeira

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    Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    Outside of his terrific finishing rate (80 percent) under the UFC platform, not too many people maintain recognition for Glover Teixeira's body of work.

    So, let me enlighten you.

    The guy hasn't lost since 2005.  Convinced? 

    Okay, how about this: During that span, the Brazilian has completed seven knockouts, six submissions and five TKOs.

    Still not convinced?  How about the fact that he's basically Chuck Liddell's prodigy and has become one of the hardest hitting bruisers in the sport?

    Teixeira is going to open some eyes when he attempts to dethrone Jon Jones at UFC 172.  Based on his track record, it shouldn't surprise anyone if he pulls off the upset.

5. Chad Mendes

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Chad Mendes fell short opposite UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo back in 2012.  He may have been winning the first round, but a last-second knee to the face sent him to the loser's circle.

    Since then, "Money" has been, well, money.

    Dressed for success and ready to reclaim No. 1 contender rights, Mendes has been a divisional banshee.  Collecting heads like they were mantle trophies, the 28-year-old has finished four of his last five fights.

    For as good as Mendes truly is, it's disappointing that people sometimes forget that his loss to Aldo is the only one of his career.  That means the Team Alpha Male product stands considerably tall at 16-1.

    The fact that he's only 28 years old is just comical.

4. Johny Hendricks

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Equipped with jackhammers for hands, Johny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks has taken the welterweight division by storm.

    His wrestling pedigree, overwhelming dedication and contagious sense of self have fueled one of the most prolific rises to fame in recent memory.

    Even with a loss to former champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 167—a fight many people believe Hendricks won—the 30-year-old will have another shot at UFC gold when he takes on a resurgent Robbie Lawler at UFC 171.

    It's a battle of brute strength that will allow Hendricks to showcase his future potential as a perennial champ.

3. Alexander Gustafsson

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    No one can argue that Alexander Gustafsson didn't leave everything inside the Octagon when he lost to light heavyweight phenom Jon Jones back at UFC 165.

    For five straight rounds, "The Mauler" displayed world-class precision and timing, dragging the champ to depths unseen before.

    So even despite the title defeat, albeit at the hands of the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, the towering Swede has transcended the sport in the blink of an eye.

    If he can get past an undefeated Jimi Manuwa come March, Gustafsson will have another opportunity to pull off the unexpected and force Jones to relinquish his belt (assuming Glover Teixeira doesn't do it first).

2. Urijah Faber

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Arguably the most popular and prolific fighter in UFC history to never hold a belt, Urijah Faber easily makes this list.

    Some people might say he's not as good as he once was, being 34 and all, but outside of his recent TKO loss to champion Renan Barao, "The California Kid" has been running wild.

    His submission game has never looked better, his strikes have been more calculated since Duane "Bang" Ludwig became Team Alpha Male's head honcho, and his appetite to acquire UFC gold has never been stronger.

    Usually at this point in a fighter's career, a title run would be more impossible than Justin Bieber not speeding, but this is Urijah freaking Faber we're talking about.  The guy is an Octagon stud.

1. Gilbert Melendez

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Gilbert Melendez is the best fighter in the world without a UFC championship.

    Yes, that even includes Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, Junior dos Santos and CM Punk.  Some people will scuff at that "unfounded" insight, but take a second to marvel at his unwavering consistency.

    Melendez is only 31 years old.  He has only lost to Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson since 2007, holds a 10-2 record in title fights and has never been finished.

    He possesses one of the best boxing skill sets in the sport today and holds a black belt under Cesar Gracie.

    So while other names quickly jump into discussion before "El Nino," understand Melendez's past accomplishments and budding potential before you close the case for best UFC fighter right now to never hold a belt.

     

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