The 411 MMA Top 10 3.31.14: Top Ten High-Level Gatekeepers
Posted by Alex Rella on 03.31.2014
From Michael Bisping and Roy Nelson to Kenny Florian, Stephan Bonnar, Jon Fitch and more, 411's Alex Rella counts down the top 10 high-level MMA gatekeepers!
Top Ten High Level Gatekeepers
What's up everybody, I am Alex Rella and this is the MMA Top Ten. This week we will be looking at the ten best high level gatekeepers of all time. Now the term gatekeeper in MMA has no one definition and there are different levels of gatekeeping. I believe the term to mean you are naturally a litmus test for other fighters. This week is focusing on the elite or high level gatekeepers. These are the fighters that only lose to the best fighters in the world. Whether it be in title fights, number one contender fights, or just a regular fight as they tried to climb the rankings, this list just couldn't win the big one. But this isn't necessarily bad list to be on as they have had long and lucrative careers, plus it means they only lose to the best. I tried my best to do the rankings on who they lost to and when they lost to them. So the guys who only lose while in title contention tend to be ranked higher and these are guys who are unlikely to win a title at this point in their careers. I'm sure there will be a lot of disagreement so feel free to share in the comment section.
If I were to make a list for "Fighters You Wish Were Just a Little Bit Better", Kenny Florian would be near the top of it. He's a current UFC commentator, TUF runner up, the only guy to compete in four different weight classes in the UFC, and unfortunately 0-3 in title opportunities. Florian's career was cut short due to injuries in 2011, but he had a nice career with some big wins over guys like Sam Stout, Joe Stevenson, Joe Lauzon, and Roger Huerta. His first title shot was against Sean Sherk at UFC 64 for the just brought back lightweight title. This was one of my favorite fights as the two went the distance in a bloody Fight of the Night battle, but Sherk was the clear victor in this one. Florian would win his next six fights over three years to get another chance at the title against BJ Penn at UFC 101. Florian had the right idea as he tried to copy GSP's game plan against Penn, but he isn't nearly as good and he was submitted in the fourth round. Ken Flo would beat Clay Guida and Takanori Gomi in his next two fights to end up in a number one contender fight to see who would fight Frankie Edgar. Gray Maynard took him down pretty easily throughout and won by unanimous decision. Then Florian dropped down to featherweight and the last fight of his career was against Joe Aldo for the title. Florian came out to a great start and pushed the champion for five rounds, but the combination of the large weight cut and Aldo's being awesome was too much. It would have been cool to see him return to the lightweight division, but it would probably just be more of the same as he just couldn't win the big one.
9: Joseph Benavidez
The lightest fighter on the list this week, Joseph Benavidez comes in at number . Whether he's fighting at bantamweight or flyweight, Benavidez is always at the top of the divisional rankings. Benavidez has defeated Miguel Torres, Jeff Curran, Ian McCall, and Eddie Wineland, but it just isn't enough as he wasn't able to defeat Dominick Cruz or Demetrious Johnson. Those guys have beaten Benavidez twice each and three times it was for the title. Now it's going to be a long time before he gets another title shot and he may just become a test for fighters to see if they're ready for the main event.
8: Jon Fitch
He's only 1-1 in the WSOF, but he's getting the first shot at the new welterweight champ Rousimar Palhares in July at WSOF 11. This will be a tough fight to call and while a win would get him off the list, a loss would only move him up higher on the rankings. One of the best welterweights of all time, Fitch was the number two guy to GSP for years in the UFC. He lost to GSP for the title back at UFC 87, Johny Hendricks knocking him out moved Big Rig into title contention, and then he lost to top fifteenish ranked guys like Demian Maia and Josh Burkman. Even if he doesn't win his next fight, Fitch will go down as one of the top five welterweights of all time.
7: Donald Cerrone
Cowboy Donald Cerrone might be of the most exciting fighters around today. He's an eight time Fight of the Night winner and I could probably give him a top ten highlight if I wanted to. That being said, the Cowboy has fallen short on multiple occasions to claim gold. His first opportunity was at WEC 38 against Jamie Varner. They were having a great fight until the fifth round when Cerrone connected with an illegal knee to the head. Varner was unable to continue as the knee left him with double vision and a broken hand. Varner would win by technical split decision. Some have called Varner out for faking or exaggerating the damage of the knee, but I guess only he knows for sure and Cerrone shouldn't have thrown it anyway. Cerrone rebounded with a win over James Krause and then took on Benson Henderson at WEC 43 for the interim lightweight title as Varner was still out with injuries. This was one of the best lightweight fights ever as it would win Fight of the Year in 2009, but Cowboy lost by unanimous decision. They would meet again for the unified title at WEC 48, but the fight wasn't as good this time as Henderson won by guillotine choke in the first round. That's 0-3 in WEC title fights and he's missed out on chances to get a UFC title shot as he lost to Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis. Cerrone is only 31, but it seems like he's content making money with post fight bonuses at this point. Not that that's a bad thing.
6: Yushin Okami
Yushin Okami won his first fight in the WSOF this weekend in dominant fashion as he submtted Svetlozar Savov with an arm triangle choke in the second round and now he'll main event the WSOF's first show in Japan. Okami has consistently been one of the top middleweights in the world since joined the UFC back in 2006. For years Okami was the last person to defeat Anderson Silva on paper and he has defeated plenty of other top fighters like Mike Swick, Jason MacDonald, Mark Munoz, Nate Marquardt, Alan Belcher 2x, former Bellator champ Hector Lombard, and former UFC champ Evan Tanner. But Okami makes the list this week because he has failed defeat that elite level of competition. Dana White called him a gatekeeper when he was cut from the UFC and the title fits. Not only did Okami lose to Silva in his only title shot, but he has also lost to Rich Franklin, Chael Sonnen, and Ronaldo Souza as they were making their personal runs for the title. His only loss in the UFC that wasn't to a truly elite middleweight was when Tim Boestch went insane and pulled off a crazy comeback at UFC 144. The WSOF will likely fast track him to a title shot (as they should), but he'll have to take on either David Branch or Jesse Taylor which won't be easy. A win would get him off this list though.
5: Stephan Bonnar
Stephan Bonnar is now a UFC Hall of Famer and will always be remembered for his amazing fight at the first TUF Finale, but he's number five this week. The American Psycho had a successful UFC career from 2005-12 and was always a crowd favorite, but he was never an elite fighter. Whenever Bonnar would get on a decent winning streak, he would go up against a future, former, or current UFC champion. Besides his bogus loss to Krzysztof Soszynski that should have been a no contest, Bonnar only lost to fighters that held UFC gold at some point in his career. So you can say Bonnar only lost to the best, but then again he was never able raise his level of fighting high enough to be one of the best.
4: Jim Miller
Jim Miller has consistently been in the top ten lightweight rankings for years, but it's like the guy just can't pull off enough wins to make a serious title run. Fighting out of New Jersey, Jim Miller has an impressive 23-4 record which includes a seven fight and eight fight winning streaks over some tough an respectable lightweights. He lost to Frankie Edgar before coming to the UFC and whenever it looks like he might take that next step in his career, Miller loses to better men. Gray Maynard, Nate Diaz, and Benson Henderson all knocked him out of title contention as they would go onto to challenge for the title themselves. Miller takes on Bobby Green at UFC 172 in a fight that could really go either way considering that Green is on a seven fight winning streak and has looked really awesome lately.
3: Roy Nelson
Roy Nelson will be in the main event of the UFC Fight Night 39 in Abu Dhabi as he takes on one of the best heavyweights of all time in Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, but even a win here wouldn't change his gatekeeper status. The TUF season 10 winner has a 6-5 record in the UFC and all five of those losses were nothing to be ashamed of. He lost to UFC champs Frank Mir and JDS, Strikeforce Grand Prix winner Dan Cormier, and Fabricio Werdum who's in the next heavyweight number one contender fight. The only loss that wasn't to an elite fighter was Stipe Miocic and even he could get himself a title shot if he upsets dos Santos at UFC 173. If you beat Big Country, you're most likely putting yourself in title contention.
2: Ryan Bader
I've always liked Ryan Bader since he won TUF season 8 back in 2008 and while he's spent most of his UFC career as a top ten light heavyweight, the guy just can't take that next step in the rankings no matter how much I want him to. Darth Bader has victories over Rampage and Little Nog, but his losses to Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida, and Glover Teixeira have kept him away from getting a title shot. Yes his other loss was to Tito Ortiz back in 2011 in one of the larger upsets of all time, but I don't think losing to one of the best light heavyweights of all time even past his prime is as embarrassing as others think. He's out with a broken hand now, but hopefully he gets to go up against some more midlevel fighters when he comes back so I can do a top ten on him at some point. Bader will likely build himself back up, get into title contention, and then lose as someone else will get the title shot instead. I hope I'm wrong cause it's not easy being a Ryan Bader fan.
1: Michael Bisping
Michael Bisping is one of the best heels in MMA. From his post fight antics against Jorge Rivera at UFC 127 to even his hilarious Alan Belcher and Tim Kennedy trash talk, the Count always makes things interesting. Bisping has been a top fighter in the UFC since he won TUF season 3, but like many this week he's fallen short in the biggest fights of his career. He won his first four UFC fights to end up in the first TUF winner showdown with Rashad Evans at UFC 78. Evans won this fight and would go onto a number one contender fight with Chuck Liddell. Bisping would then make the smart move to drop down to middleweight. He's had some big wins at 185 lbs, but has lost in three number one contender fights- two of which were by brutal knockouts. The middleweight division is fairly shallow and UFC management loves him so it may only take a three fight win streak or so for him to get back into title contention. That's if he gets past Tim Kennedy, which won't be easy.
• So let me know how you guys would rank them or maybe I left a fighter out that you thought should be in the top 10.
• As always, let me know if there are any topics or fighters you would like to see ranked in the future.