The best fighters in the UFC are often expected to win divisional gold at some point in their careers. However, at different times in UFC history, fighters who seem to be at the peak of their powers have failed in UFC title fights. Often these fighters are seen as future champions.
Rory MacDonald is an example. Seeking to follow in the footsteps of fellow Canadian welterweight Georges St-Pierre, ‘The Red King’ has embarked on a pretty impressive run in the UFC’s 170-pound weight class. Unfortunately, despite losing future titleholder Tyron Woodley in 2014, Rory MacDonald fell short in his title challenge at UFC 189.
While his clash with Robbie Lawler is celebrated as one of the greatest fights in UFC history, all Rory MacDonald remembers is a world championship that eludes him. Likewise, Yoel Romero is another fighter who seemed to have all the skills needed to win UFC gold, but failed in every title fight he won.
The difference between them and the fighters covered by this list is that this one lists fighters who are still active in the promotion. Romero is currently a Bellator light heavyweight, while MacDonald has retired from MMA. Additionally, since this list covers fighters who have failed to win undisputed titles in the UFC, interim championships do not count.
Therefore, let’s take a look at five of the best UFC fighters who have never won undisputed gold.
#5. Stephen Thompson, UFC welterweight
Georges St-Pierre, one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, once hailed Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson as the best striker he had ever seen. Additionally, the former welterweight kingpin expressed his belief that Thompson has all the tools necessary to become the champion of the welterweight division.
Although “GSP” may have been skewed due to his friendship and as Thompson’s sparring partner, his assessment wasn’t ridiculous. The undefeated former kickboxer entered the UFC with a massive amount of hype behind him. At the time, “Wonderboy” was unlike any forward the promotion had ever seen.
After a unanimous decision loss to Matt Brown, Stephen Thompson embarked on a 7-fight winning streak. His unbeaten run consisted of victories over future middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, former interim welterweight champion Johny Hendricks and former title challenger Rory MacDonald.
At UFC 205, he challenged Tyron Woodley for welterweight supremacy. Despite the challenge he posed, the undefeated kickboxer was unable to defeat “The Chosen One”. Instead, the fight was declared a draw and Tyron Woodley retained the title.
While the fight solidified “Wonderboy” as the second-best welterweight at the time, he would never ascend the division throne. His next fight was a rematch with Woodley. Thompson fell short again, this time losing a majority decision. Although he has come close twice, championship glory has eluded him and continues as he ages.
#4. Cory Sandhagen, UFC bantamweight
Cory Sandhagen is arguably the most skilled 135-pounder in the world. Even former bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo praised “The Sandman” as such, which is remarkable considering the Olympic gold medalist’s penchant for poking fun at the skills of other bantamweights.
Tall and lanky, Sandhagen is exceptional from the outside. Its length allows it to force its enemies to fight at a distance that better suits its frame. Additionally, his volume often overwhelms opponents who expect him to fire from a distance.
Against opponents trying to close the distance between them, “The Sandman” intercepts with hard elbow strikes. Despite being in the top 5 in the division, Cory Sandhagen lost to three undisputed champions. Aljamain Sterling choked him out in the first round and TJ Dillashaw won a title fight by beating him by split decision.
Against Petr Yan, ‘The Sandman’ lost a unanimous decision for the interim title despite showing off well. Although he is getting closer, the 30-year-old is yet to taste promotional gold despite being one of the best in the bantamweight division.
#3. Tony Ferguson, UFC lightweight
The fact that Tony Ferguson was never an undisputed champion has more to do with misfortune than anything else. “El Cucuy’s legendary 12-game winning streak coincided with a series of failed title eliminators and Conor McGregor‘s peak holding the division hostage after his win over Eddie Alvarez.
While ‘The Notorious’ reigned as the undisputed lightweight champion for quite some time, Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov have been booked in countless matchups. Unfortunately, none of the matchups materialized for one reason or another. Meanwhile, Conor McGregor’s sabbatical from MMA ultimately led to him being stripped of the title.
Throughout the division engulfing chaos, “El Cucuy” managed to win the interim lightweight championship. Alas, his misfortune was such that he fought twice for the interim title. Although he is clearly the second best lightweight in the world, he has never won an undisputed title fight.
At UFC 249, the former interim champion’s 12-fight winning streak came to an end. Justin Gaethje gave him a brutal beating in his second interim title fight. The 38-year-old hasn’t tasted victory since that fateful defeat, plummeting the divisional standings en route to a 5-game losing streak.
#2. UFC welterweight Colby Covington
As a former interim welterweight champion, Colby Covington ranks among the top 170-pounders in the sport. A relentless wrestler with bottomless cardio, “Chaos” has overwhelmed nearly every foe he’s faced, including BMF title holder and former best friend Jorge Masvidal.
Unfortunately, Covington’s inactivity hurt his chances of winning undisputed divisional gold. A look at the NCAA Division I record reveals his lack of wins against the current top 5 welterweights. Worse still, Colby Covington hasn’t beaten anyone currently ranked in the top 10 of his division other than Jorge Masvidal.
However, the strength of Colby Covington’s performances against Kamaru Usman despite the losses he suffered in both fights led ‘Chaos’ to be considered the second best welterweight in the world. Both matchups remain the former interim champion’s only fights for the undisputed title.
Besides Leon Edwards, who is the first fighter to defeat Kamaru Usman in the UFC (albeit after battling ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ for most of the fight), Colby Covington has always been the best against the former pivot. welterweights. Yet undisputed championship success continues to elude him.
#1. Dustin Poirier, UFC lightweight
Dustin Poirier is scheduled to face three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler at UFC 281. The matchup will likely be a title eliminator that will determine the next No. 1 contender for lightweight gold. If ‘The Diamond’ emerges victorious, it won’t be the first undisputed title fight he’s won.
The Louisianan is a former interim champion, having won the title against Max Holloway. The win was the fourth in a 4-fight winning streak that saw Dustin Poirier defeat former undisputed champions Anthony Pettis, Eddie Alvarez and former interim champion Justin Gaethje.
As impressive as the Diamond’s winning streak is, Dustin Poirier fell short in his first undisputed gold crack against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Despite the loss, the Louisianan bounced back with a 3-fight winning streak to earn a second title fight. This time he faced Charles Oliveira.
While Poirier initially did well and even knocked down Oliveira, he eventually lost the fight via a rear-naked choke. Prior to the fight, many hailed Poirier as the uncrowned king of the 155-pound weight class. Alas, their hopes were dashed as the former interim champion lost on his second attempt to claim undisputed supremacy.