There is a lot on the line at UFC 136. Not just the two titles and the future title match implications, but a chance for two men to finally capture the gold that has long eluded them. I’m speaking of Kenny Florian and Gray Maynard of course, who’ve both been chasing UFC gold for the better part of their careers, only to fall inches short of the finish line. For Gray, who many people felt deserved a title shot over current champion Frankie Edgar in the first place, it was the resilience of the champ that proved to be his undoing. And for Florian, it was just a terribly unlucky spell when it came to title fights. But come Saturday, both men will have a chance to erase our doubts and finally move up to that deluxe apartment in the sky.
Unfortunately, Florian and Maynard are not the only men who have felt the repercussions of looking directly into the belt. There are a few guys out there who just seem destined to be number 2 in a company that loves to fuck with the number 2. Anyway, we thought we would awkwardly point out six of them, excluding “Kenflo” and “The Bully,” from across the room for your reading pleasure. And we’re going by Brock Lesnar rules here, so interim belts don’t count. Enjoy.
6. Jon Fitch
Poor Jon Fitch. Not only did it take the man 8 straight UFC wins to earn his first title shot, but when he finally got there, it got really, really ugly. Following his unanimous decision loss to George St. Pierre at UFC 87: Seek and Destroy, Fitch went on a five fight win streak, scoring wins over Paulo Thiago, Ben Saunders, and Thiago Alves, the latter of which was originally slated to be a number one contender match. After Fitch picked up another lackluster victory, Dana White changed his mind, proving the theory that he is truly a man of smoke and mirrors when it comes to title shots. Fitch’s hopes for another go at GSP were further crushed at UFC 127, when his fight with B.J. Penn went on to a majority draw. A rematch was originally planned to be rescheduled, but instead a match between Penn and Nick Diaz was put together, most likely for a number one contender spot. But if Fitch can impressively (re: finish) get past Johny Hendricks at UFC 141 in December, maybe he’ll finally earn the chance at redemption he deserves. But we won’t be holding our breath, because 15 minutes is an awfully long time to do so.
5. Jim Miller
The story of Jim Miller is not unlike that of Fitch. After dropping a unanimous decision to Gray Maynard at UFC 96, Miller went on a seven fight killing spree, scoring wins over Mark Bocek, Duane Ludwig, and Gleison Tibau, among others. But with the clusterfuck of contendership that is the lightweight division, it seemed that Miller would be passed over due to his lack of name power, despite the fact that he was knocking off every fighter before him in increasingly impressive fashion. It was finally at UFC Live: Lytle vs. Hardy that Miller was given a legit contender in former WEC lightweight champ Ben Henderson, in a bout that had title implications written all over it. Miller came up short however, dropping a bloody unanimous decision to “Smooth” and likely erasing his streak in the eyes of the UFC’s head honchos. Let’s just hope he doesn’t have to win another seven before he’s given another top contender.
Joseph Benavidez is in a tough spot a this point. Both losses in his seventeen fight career have come at the hands of current champ Dominick Cruz, and though he continues to knock off top contenders, it’s hard to believe he’ll be given another shot at the “The Dominator” anytime soon. And it’s a shame, because he arguably gave Cruz his toughest test to date in their battle back at WEC 50, which he lost by split decision. His refusal to fight teammate Urijah Faber only further eliminates any hopes of a clear cut number one contender, so where does Benavidez go from here? The biggest factor in Benavidez’s title hopes is that of his size, and until the UFC decides to add a flyweight class to their roster, Benavidez seems destined to be Team Alpha Male’s other number 2 man. Speaking of which…
3. Urijah Faber
At one point in time, Urijah Faber seemed so beyond the abilities of the challengers he was facing as the WEC featherweight champion that people were clamoring for “The California Kid” to change divisions and seek another title. He was even given his own day for Christ’s sake. But then, Faber ran face first into the fist of Mike Brown, the impact of which was so devastating that it may have cursed him forever. His rematch against Brown was perhaps even more unsuccessful; not only did he break both his hands in the unanimous decision loss, but in doing so he ended the rumors that Brown’s original victory was a fluke. Things would only get worse, as Jose Aldo would soon become the featherweight champ and inflict the above damage to Urijah’s leg in his second failed attempt to reclaim his title. Faber soon found himself doing the only thing he could do, making the drop to bantamweight. And after a couple nice wins over Takeya Mizugaki and Eddie Wineland, he again found himself running face first into the frail but deadly hands of Dominick Cruz, dropping his third straight unanimous decision title bout. Though Faber (and a lot of us) rallied for an immediate rematch, it looks like Faber will have to get another couple wins before he can give the title another go. Fourth time’s the charm, Urijah.
Diego Sanchez is probably in the worst position of any fighter on this list. For a while, he was the assassin of the welterweight division, dismantling the likes of Joe Riggs and Karo Paryisyan. Consecutive losses to Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch effectively killed most of his hype, so after a couple wins against lesser opponents, Diego decided to drop to lightweight, where he picked up quality wins over Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida. The bout with Guida was so epic that Sanzchez was given a shot against B.J. Penn for the title. Sanchez was simply outclassed from the very beginning by Penn, who after dropping “The Dream” in the opening minute, went on to inflict the pictured cut on Sanchez and scare him out of the lightweight division for good. Sanchez packed the pounds back on for his return to welterweight, where he again found himself on the receiving end of a beatdown, this time compliments of John Hathaway. Luckily, Sanchez was able to rebound with victories over top contenders Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann, and again finds himself on the cusp of title-hood when he faces Jake Ellenberger at UFC 141. If he is unable to best “The Juggernaut,” then we could be looking at Sanchez’s long awaited return to middleweight in the near future.
And that takes us to number 1…
We all know the story of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria, so I’ll make this short. Since winning (and then losing) the very first Pride heavyweight championship, it pains me to say that Nogueria’s career has dwelled on the outskirts of contender-ship. Fedor Emelianenko took Nogueria’s belt in his first defense, and with it he took Big Nog’s thunder for the better part of his career. Nogueria would fall again to Emelianenko in their eventual rematch, and when he came to the UFC, the interim title he choked Tim Sylvia out for was quickly taken away compliments of Frank Mir. A follow up victory over Randy Couture was soundly eradicated by a brutal knockout loss to current champ Cain Velasquez, and it seemed as if we had seen the last of the legend known as “Minotauro.” Well, shame on us. Nogueria was given rising prospect Brendan Schuab for his next challenge, and knocked that sum’ bitch out faster than we could pick the color scheme for his retirement party. Could we be witnessing yet another resurgence of Big Nog, this time capped off with UFC gold? One can only hope.