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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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Fight Announcements

Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou Official for UFC 220

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UFC 220 in Boston, Massachusetts has its main event. Stipe Miocic (17-2) will put his belt on the line for the third time against rising heavyweight star, Francis Ngannou (11-1)

Rumors surrounded the match-up for UFC 220 after Ngannou’s first round knockout over Alistair Overeem, at UFC 218. The Cameroonian heavyweight called for the fight himself. In his octagon interview proceeding his most recent victory, Ngannou stated:

“I’m feeling good… I’m on my way to a title shot”.

The heavy handed Ngannou has finished all of his opponents in all of his six UFC bouts. A streak which includes a kimura submission over Anthony Hamilton and a TKO victory against former UFC heavyweight champion, Andrei Arlovski. Overall, he holds a ten fight win streak. His only defeat came by way of unanimous decision to Zoumana Cisse, in his second professional MMA fight.

If victorious, Ngannou would become the first African-born champion in UFC history.

Not to be diminished, Stipe Miocic rides his a streak of his own into the beantown match-up. Five consecutive wins, five knockouts and the past four of which, ended in the first round. A victory in Boston for the champ would make him the longest reigning heavyweight champion in UFC history. Currently, Miocic is one of three heavyweights, in the promotions entirety, whom has successfully defended the belt twice.

UFC 220 will be held at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on January 20th, 2018. The pay-per-view (PPV) card will also feature light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, as he faces challenger Volkan “No Time” Oezdemir.

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Events

Ladies Fight Night 7: “Double Trouble” Preview

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Polish women’s federation Ladies Fight Night is going to celebrate their second birthday this year on the 15th to 17th of December. Two days, two events with a lot of great bouts.

LFN in Poland is being titled the new Invicta FC. The Polish owners created this federation to give European women a chance to fight on a big platform.

Hosting their first ever event in December 2015, LFN will hold two great cards next week, that will feature women who have fought under many prestigious promotions, such as the UFC, Invicta, Bellator, Glory, and Kunlun.

Two days of fantastic fights, intensified by a double dose of sports impressions. The name is not accidental, LFN 7 / LFN 8 combines two events, during which the best Polish fighters will be shown, as well as the best fighters from Europe (including France, Sweden, Italy, the Czech Republic and Romania)

The stakes are high, and we are electrified by the clashes between warriors such as Żaneta Cieśla vs Silvia La Notte and Patricia Axling vs. Cindy Silvestri. Mainly due to their vastness of their experience in the cage.

In the fight of the evening, the talented Romanian Cristina Stanciu will face Magdaléna Šormovádo. Stanciu fought twice in the UFC, but she was unfortunately cut from the promotion after suffering consecutive losses to Cortney Casey and Maryna Moroz.

Judyta Rymarzak vs Marta Waliczek is an amazing fight between two experienced kickboxers. Both making their pro MMA debuts on the night, we will witness a one-of-a-kind duel between two kickboxing perfectionists, as they look to transcend their skills into the MMA world.

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Invicta

Mackenzie Dern victorious in Invicta debut 

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Late Friday night, Mackenzie Dern (5-0, 1-0 Invicta FC) won her co-main event booking, defeating Kaline Medieros (8-6, 2-2 Invicta FC), at Invicta FC 26: Maia vs. Niedzwiedz, via submission (armbar) with only fifteen seconds remaining in the fight.

Much of the fight was controlled by Dern. The heralded prospect displayed her power, visibly damaging her opponent with multiple overhand rights. Striking is an under-developed aspect of her attack, only when compared to the twenty-four-year-olds black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Above all, she showed a progression of her striking skills. Dern looked to be bigger and physically stronger than her veteran opponent. She utilized forward pressure and found the proper timing for her overhand right throughout.

The veteran Medeiros showed her toughness throughout the fight. She defended and scrambled out of some bad positions during the grappling exchanges. Ultimately, she tapped when caught in a deeply planted armbar.  While Medeiros did earn a few hard trip takedowns, it factored minimally in the result as she refused to follow Dern to the mat. The Boston native suffered her second straight loss, Friday night. Her first was to, former Invicta strawweight champion, Angela Hill.

Dern made her professional debut in July of 2016 with Legacy Fighting Alliance (previously: Legacy Fighting Championship). In her debut, she defeated Kenia Rosas by unanimous decision. The Phoenix-born fighter won her next three bouts. Before her MMA career began, Dern won the ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) championship at 60 kg. She was the first American born female to become champion at the weight. Her grappling resume boasts many more incredible accomplishments. Justifiably, a growing spotlight now hangs over her, her skills, and potential in the sport of MMA.

Elsewhere on the Invicta 26 card, Jennifer Maia defeated Agnieszka Niedzweidz by unanimous decision. Maia retained her Invicta flyweight belt, defending it for the second time. Invicta FC 26: Maia vs. Niedzweidz, took place at the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Missouri.

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