Five Of The Toughest Roads To A UFC Title Shot
By Jack Maher
In MMA, and particularly the UFC, many fighters often face an uphill struggle to get their chance to cement themselves as the best in their division.
An untimely loss, injury or outside world events can often interfere with a fighters path to UFC gold, and here are five fighters who had a tough road to a title shot
A UFC roster member since 2012, Holloway eventually won undisputed gold in 2017, but it took a lengthy winning streak and an interim title to earn his shot.
With a 13-3 UFC record going in to his initial clash with Jose Aldo, Holloway had won his last 10 and had picked up wins over the likes of Jeremy Stephens, Cub Swanson, and Ricardo Lamas.
Holloway beat Lamas in June 2016, and an impressive win over the former title challenger should’ve been enough to confirm his status as number-one contender, but was instead placed in an interim featherweight championship fight against Anthony Pettis later that year.
Holloway stopped Pettis in the third round to secure his status as the next title challenger, but even then he had to travel to Aldo’s home soil to finally get his crack at the Brazilian’s belt.
Unlike the others on this list, Maia had actually fought for the belt before, and it was perhaps his less than entertaining showing in his attempt to capture the middleweight belt that delayed his shot at the welterweight title for so long.
After moving down to welterweight, Maia picked up numerous wins and soon entered the title conversation, with wins over Matt Brown, Jon Fitch, Gunnar Nelson and Neil Magny, Maia was clearly one of the best in the division.
A quick win over Carlos Condit in the main event of UFC on Fox 21 confirmed this, but Maia would have to wait for champion Tyron Woodley to defend against Stephen Thompson at the end of the year.
Woodley and Thompson fought to a draw, meaning a rematch was on the cards and Maia was forced to wait. He instead faced Jorge Masvidal in another high profile bout, winning by split decision. Maia’s 7-fight win streak was rewarded with the announcement coming on June 28th 2017 that he would finally face Woodley a month later at UFC 214. Maia lost in an uneventful decision.
The ‘Cowboy’ has only fought for a UFC title once in his lengthy career, and it only came after 19 fights in the organisation, in which he had went 15-4 under the UFC banner and was riding an 8-fight win streak.
Cerrone had always been viewed as a top fighter and often enjoyed picked up impressive wins but key losses to the likes of Nate Diaz and Pettis scuppered any momentum he’d built.
Cerrone went unbeaten from August 2013, fighting and winning 8 times in a row, beating the likes of Edson Barboza, Eddie Alvarez and Benson Henderson. 34 fights in to his career, and Cerrone has finally managed to maintain momentum long enough to earn a UFC title fight.
Cerrone faced former foe Rafael Dos Anjos for the lightweight belt, who he had lost to back 2013, and RDA made it 2-0 against Cerrone beating him in just over a minute in December 2015.
Despite a few setbacks along that way that made fans question if Bisping would ever fight for the middleweight championship, the Brit always maintained it was his destiny to win UFC gold.
After 25 fights in the UFC, Bisping finally got his chance to capture the prize he’d spent his career chasing. Prior to his title shot, Bisping was involved in multiple big fights, and twice had the chance to secure number one contender status, but a highlight reel loss to Dan Henderson and a razor thin loss to Chael Sonnen both meant Bisping had to rejoin at the back of the queue.
It seemed like the story of Bisping’s career would be that every time he reached the top of the mountain, he would be sent tumbling back down. But Bisping had newfound momentum after beating the legendary Anderson Silva, and when Chris Weidman dropped out of a fight against champion Luke Rockhold and the UFC was scrambling to find a replacement on two weeks notice, Bisping accepted the call.
Rockhold had previously beaten Bisping back in 2014, meaning Bisping was seen as a massive underdog, as he was facing a dominant champ on short-notice who he had previously lost to, but Bisping shocked the world by knocking out Rockhold to finally win the championship he had been chasing for years.
Despite an incredible winning streak, status as one of the best lightweights in the world, an interim title, and two scheduled undisputed title fights, Ferguson is yet to fight for UFC gold.
Riding a 12-fight winning streak, Ferguson is 15-1 in the UFC overall and has beaten a number of impressive opponents, including a win over Kevin Lee in 2017 for the interim title.
Ferguson has been scheduled to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed lightweight title, but both times the fight has fell through.
In 2018, Ferguson pulled out of the fight after suffering a freak injury days before event. Ferguson would return months later against Pettis beating the former champion on the undercard of Khabib vs Conor McGregor, who were fighting for the belt Tony was scheduled to fight for months earlier.
Ferguson was the natural number one contender for Khabib after he beat McGregor, but Khabib instead faced a spell on the sidelines, undergoing a suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission due to the altercation that took place between his and McGregor’s teams in the aftermath of their bout.
He would return in 2019 against Dustin Poirier, while Ferguson extended his win streak by beating Cerrone earlier in the year. The two were once again scheduled to fight, but this time Khabib pulled out due to travel restrictions in his native Russia caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Ferguson will return at the re-scheduled UFC 249 early next month against Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title.