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The Debate – Who’s the greatest fighter to have never won a world title?

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Joseph Benavidez

When a fighter starts out their fledgling career, you’d be hard pressed to find a competitor whose ultimate goal isn’t to win championship gold.

Having the belt strapped around their waist is the validation that fighters crave, the ultimate reward for all the hours logged in the gym and the tangible recognition that they have reached the pinnacle of the fight game. And yet, that special group of fighters to actually reach the summit is such a small one.

For whatever reason, not every fighter, no matter their immense quality, can win a world championship, so we at MMA Latest News have taken it upon ourselves to debate who we think is the very best to have never won a world title in a major promotion:

(Disclaimer: interim title holders and fighters currently booked in a title fight are not eligible e.g Khabib Nurmagomedov)

The case for Mirko ‘Cro Cop’, by John Michael Edwards (@JMichaelEdwards)

No disrespect to the other fighters that have been listed, but if not for a couple of setbacks in his career we could be calling Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic the greatest heavyweight of all time.

While the latter part of his career has been a bit spotty, during his heyday in the early-mid 2000s there wasn’t a striker more feared than “Cro Cop”. Although his left high kick was the most lauded weapon in his arsenal (“Right leg, hospital. Left leg, cemetery”) he also had a piston of a left hand that was both sneaky and deadly accurate.

It was after his draw against Wanderlei Silva back in 2002, that we really got to see what “Cro Cop” could do in an MMA ring with 4oz gloves. He went on a five fight winning streak, finishing 4 of 5 of his opponents including Pride legends Kazushi Sakuraba, Heath Herring and Igor Vovchanchyn (the latter two in highlight reel fashion) with only the iron skull of Kazuyuki Fujita being spared. This lead to his first shot at gold against arguably the number 2 all-time greatest Heavyweight, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. “Cro Cop” dominated the majority of the fight, but in typical “Big Nog” fashion he toughed it out and ended up submitting his foe in the 2nd round.

After destroying two more opponents, “Cro Cop” ran into his second big setback via an upset KO loss to former UFC Heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman. This was a devastating loss as it knocked Filipovic out of the 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix and a much-anticipated potential showdown with champion Fedor Emelianenko.

Following setback number two, “Cro Cop” went on probably his most impressive run, winning seven straight, running through former champions Mark Coleman and Josh Barnett, avenging his loss to the aforementioned Randleman, and finishing Alexander “brother of the champion” Emelianenko. This streak finally led to what “Cro Cop’s” Pride career had been focused on: a fight against “The Last Emperor” himself.

The fight was competitive, but as the topic of this article is what it is, Filipovic came up short in his bid to wear the Pride belt, and although he would go on to win the 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix, he underwhelmed upon his arrival in the UFC (with his last big setback being a KO upset loss to Gabriel Gonzaga which would have led to a title shot) and never earned the accolade of being the best Heavyweight in the world.

The case for Joseph Benavidez, by Graeme Harper (@GraemeHarp)

When it comes to fighters who have never tasted championship gold, Joseph Benavidez is without doubt the best to fall just short of the mountain top.

Since his debut in 2006, Benavidez has been a standout athlete in the lower weight classes throughout his career and a decade plus later, ‘Joe Jitsu’ remains steadfast within the truly elite circle of fighters. From competing at flyweight all the way up to featherweight, Benavidez has beaten a who’s who of contenders during his time in the WEC and UFC.

His electric pace and technical prowess on the feet have helped Benavidez earn notable decision victories over the likes of Eddie Wineland and Ian McCall, while his brilliant ground game has helped him earn guillotine submission wins over names like Tim Elliot and Miguel Torres – the later coming at a time when many considered Torres a pound-for-pound great. ‘Joey B’ has simply taken on all comers and bested them in the cage. Even to this day, Benavidez currently rides a six-fight win streak and most recently defeated the number two ranked flyweight in Henry Cejudo.

To praise his drive and excellence even further, Benavidez isn’t content with his already remarkable achievements and made a drastic change of surroundings so late in his career by moving from Team Alpha Male to Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig’s Elevation Fight Team in order to better himself and continue to vie for title contention nearly 30 fights into his career.

With a 25-4 record, Benavidez’s accomplished skills have seen himself earn three title fights throughout his career but still, those loses are nothing to be ashamed of. He has only ever lost to two men in his career and when you can say that only Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson have had their hand raised at your expense, it’s fair to say Benavidez has been the cruelest victim of fighting in the same period as two of the finest to ever put on a pair of gloves.

The case for Rory MacDonald, by Ruairi Carberry (@Ruairi67)

“Rory’s tuning him up.” During Rory MacDonald’s successful run in the UFC, this was a commonly heard quote that tended to come from Joe Rogan’s mouth. A martial artist blessed with unparalleled talent, MacDonald’s, star burned brightly from a young age. He has stunned the masses with beautiful technique and a fiercely competitive edge that led him to be named “The Canadian Psycho.”

Since his debut, MacDonald has proven himself to be one of the elite martial artists at 170 pounds. Jake Ellenberger and Nate Diaz were cast aside early on and greats like BJ Penn soon followed. However it is the body of work after a split decision loss to Robbie Lawler at UFC167, that really stands out.

Against Demian Maia, he fended off a first round ground assault only to come out and punish the grappling wizard in rounds two and three. His one-sided beat down of the current welterweight king, Tyron Woodley was one of the most beautiful displays of striking in recent memory. MacDonald even managed to put Woodley on his back on more than one occasion.

Ultimately Rory’s second fight with Lawler will be the one he is remembered for. At UFC 189 the image of MacDonald and Lawler glaring at one and other at the end of the fourth round will remain in the minds of MMA fans for decades to come. The Canadian Psycho in all his glory.

Tristar fighters are lauded for their ability to be technical, pragmatic and calm on fight night. MacDonald is no different and under the instruction of Firas Zahabi, he has become a nightmare to deal with in the striking realm. On top of that, he is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, has some of the fiercest ground and pound in the 170-pound division and is still entering his athletic prime.

Rory was destined to be great from the moment he made his debut. Dubbed the heir apparent to Georges St-Pierre, the pressure placed on MacDonald was huge. It may have stunted his progress in the short-term forcing him to wait for the all elusive gold.

In the words of Chuck Mindenhall, “ He wasn’t a champion, but he busted up a couple.” The technical skill, the ferocious intensity and the incredible heart he has shown during his career, make Rory one of the greatest fighters to have never captured a world championship. Although with time on his side, a mind-set that encourages growth and a rumoured clash with Bellator’s’ welterweight champion Douglas Lima on the horizon, that could change in an instant.

The case for Donald Cerrone, by Fionnán Rowan (@FionnanRowan)

A dynamic fighter who has amassed an impressive 19-4 record whilst fighting under the UFC banner, Donald Cerrone is an obvious choice for the greatest fighter to have never captured a world title.

With wins over fighters such as Edson Barboza, Matt Brown, and Eddie Alvarez, it is the final hurdle which has proved the most difficult for ‘Cowboy’ as he is yet to emerge victorious in the four title fights he has taken part in during his UFC & WEC career.

The overall success which ‘Cowboy’ has enjoyed throughout his career is often overlooked, as many are quick to dismiss the possibility of a fighter who has faltered so many times at the last hurdle being considered a great.

Although titles are very important when determining the greatness of a fighter, they are not the sole indicator of success. If we evaluate the career of Donald Cerrone from a different perspective, that is where his greatness is evident.

One of the most consistently active fighters in recent years, since signing with the UFC in 2011 ‘Cowboy’ has fought an impressive 23 times, with 19 of these bouts taking place at lightweight, arguably the promotion’s most competitive division. Over the course of these bouts, Cerrone has been awarded post fight bonuses on 12 occasions, which makes a strong case for him being one of the most exciting fighters currently on the roster.

Since making the move to welterweight at the beginning of 2016 ‘Cowboy’ has gone from strength to strength, amassing a perfect 4-0 record where he is yet to go the distance. His versatility has been on display for all to see as he has picked up three TKO victories and one submission win in fights where many felt he would struggle stylistically.

It is hard to ignore the case of Donald Cerrone as being the greatest fighter never to capture a world title when all these factors are taken into account, and with the current run of success he is enjoying at welterweight it would be no surprise to see him challenge for a world title yet again in the near future.

The case for Chael Sonnen, by Aaron Moran (@Aaronmrn)

My definition of the greatest fighter in mixed martial arts to never win a title is not based on records or athletic ability but the impact they have had on the sport. For this reason, my pick for the greatest fighter to never win a title is Chael P. Sonnen.

The American Gangster came from mid – card obscurity beating the likes of Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt and over the course of 4 years, Sonnen became the most talked about fighter in the sport by taking guys down verbally and physically. He holds a win over the current middleweight champion Michael Bisping, he finished Shogun Rua in a matter of minutes and faced the two greatest champions in UFC history.

He has the ability to remain in the public eye even after losing a few fights and despite missing three years due to suspension, he is still facing former champions and will be continuing to fight former champions as he makes his Bellator debut this weekend.

His work outside of mixed martial arts is worth mentioning too as he has a successful podcast, clothing line, an analyst on the leading sports network in the US and is currently using his experiences in marketing himself on the new series of the celebrity apprentice.

Sonnen may have been “basically clean” but he is in my opinion the greatest ever to never hold the belt.

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Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg

Harry Davies

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The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.

The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.

Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.

Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.

Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.

Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.

With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:

  • Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
  • Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
  • Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
  • Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
  • Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
  • Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
  • John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
  • Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
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Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions

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  • The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.

More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.

Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.

There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.

While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.

With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.

Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.

Former UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone has looked spectacular since making the move up to 170-pounds.

However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.

At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.

The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.

So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.

The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.

The UFC’s official website only lists four fighters in the women’s featherweight division.

Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.

Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.

Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.

The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.

From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.

Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.

Could we see the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley compete at 175-pounds in the future?

If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.

As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.

However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.

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James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury

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Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.

The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016.  James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.

After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.

Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.

Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”

His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.

 

 

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