The UFC is host to one of the greatest mixed martial artists in the world. Professional fighters—be they from boxing, kickboxing or MMA—are among the bravest athletes across all sports. It's often said that those who make the walk to the cage deserve total respect.
So the thought of fighters avoiding certain opponents is often regarded as ludicrous. The very suggestion is laughable.
But there have been situations that have called the notion into question. For example, at the height of his success, Fedor Emelianenko was one of the most avoided MMA fighters in the world. The world's greatest heavyweights were accused of avoiding him at the time.
It is a phenomenon that has followed incredibly dominant fighters for the majority of their careers. The UFC is no different. Certain mixed martial artists have encountered considerable difficulty when it comes to finding willing dance partners. Thus, this list explores 5 UFC fighters, past and present, who are some of the most ducked mixed martial artists in the promotion's history.
#5. Jon Fitch
Before his UFC 87 matchup against Georges St-Pierre, Jon Fitch was on a 16-fight win streak. With a record of 19 wins and 2 losses, Fitch was as high-level as anybody in 2008. Of those 19 wins, 8 of Fitch's victories came in the UFC. His matchup with 'GSP' remains his only UFC title fight and he earned it after 8 consecutive wins.
The alleged difficulty that the NCAA Division I standout experienced in earning a title fight stems from his opponents ducking him. Prior to 2006, preliminary fights were not broadcast. Thus, fighters like Jon Fitch who were plying their trade in the preliminaries had no visibility. Between 2006-2007, the future WSOF welterweight champion was on a tear.
Fitch's 8-fight unbeaten stretch included wins over prominent welterweights like Thiago Alves and Diego Sanchez. Unfortunately, not being known while beating everyone in sight rendered him a feared matchup. Opponents came to regard a matchup with him as a lose-lose situation as they would either lose to someone unknown or defeat someone unknown.
#4. Ryan Hall
Ryan Hall being a heavily-avoided fighter has become something of a meme in MMA internet culture. However, there is credence behind the claim. The third-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt's journey in the UFC came to a sudden halt after his unanimous decision win over Gray Maynard in 2016. For the next 2 years, Ryan Hall struggled to secure a fight.
Finally, in 2018, MMA legend B.J. Penn accepted a bout with the grappling sensation. Alas, Penn's efforts went up in flames. Hall secured a heel hook within 2 minutes of the first round and Penn had no other choice but to tap. Hall submitting a grappling wizard like BJ was evidence of why the rising featherweight was so frequently avoided.
Ryan Hall's awkward fighting style rendered him a frustrating matchup for most. Taking the fight to the mat was foolhardy due to his dangerous submission game. Meanwhile, his striking consists of openly kicking his foes without fear of consequence.
This is due to the aversion his opponents have in parrying his kicks and lunging on the inside of those kicks since Hall will eagerly pull anyone who gets too close into his guard.
#3. Kamaru Usman
The former UFC welterweight champion is one of the greatest fighters in the promotion's history. Kamaru Usman's current MMA record sits at 20-2, with his most recent loss coming against Leon Edwards at UFC 278. Long before 'The Nigerian Nightmare' was firmly in title contention, he was one of the most avoided fighters in the UFC.
Before he secured a top 10 opponent, Kamaru Usman was on a 7-fight win streak in the promotion. Most fighters don't need that long to earn matchups with top 10 foes.
The former champion's win over Emil Weber Meek was followed by a bout against Demian Maia; recognize the enormous leap in competition.
The Nigerian only earned a top 10 fight after 2 years in the UFC. He was so frequently avoided that Ariel Helwani claimed to have been told by a company rep that Kamaru Usman was the most ducked fighter in UFC history.
#2. Anderson Silva
Very few fighters have been as avoided as Anderson Silva was at the peak of his powers. The fear other fighters had for the Brazilian was so thick that it forced him to briefly abandon his division in pursuit of fights in the 205lbs weight class. Even more-so, 'The Spider' was ducked by fighters while he was the reigning middleweight champion.
Champions being avoided by contenders is almost unheard of. Typically, fighters are avoided during the youth of their careers when they present risky matchups due to being stylistically tough while having no name recognition. In 2008 alone, Anderson Silva was allegedly ducked by Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine and Brandon Vera.
What rendered the supposed ducking even more stunning was that Rashad Evans is a former light heavyweight champion and Brandon Vera is a former ONE heavyweight champion. Even then, the threat that Anderson Silva posed in 2008 was thought to have been greater than Rashad Evans facing Jon Jones and Brandon Vera fighting for a title in a heavier division.
Even the great Georges St-Pierre avoided challenging Anderson Silva and only sought to capture middleweight gold once the title was held by an easier foe like Michael Bisping.
#1. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Khabib Nurmagomedov's career will forever be followed by a massive amount of surmising. The Russian's undefeated record will always be subject to scrutiny by both admirers and detractors. What many might not know, however, is how much difficulty Nurmagomedov faced when trying to find willing opponents prior to his memorable unified title win over Conor McGregor at UFC 229.
'The Eagle' was avoided by Nate Diaz, Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis, Gilbert Melendez and even Conor McGregor. In 2014, long before Diaz ever faced McGregor, he refused a matchup with Nurmagomedov. The Stockton legend repeated his rejection of the bout in 2017 when the promotion sought a replacement opponent for Nurmagomedov after Tony Ferguson's dispute with the promotion led to an impasse.
Even though you can't trust everything Dana White says, let's hear it straight from the horse's mouth.
Similarly, Eddie Alvarez avoided a fight with 'The Eagle' at UFC 205 in favor of a bout with Conor McGregor (who was unranked at lightweight at the time) despite Khabib Nurmagomedov having signed the contract. When Nurmagomedov was in search of a replacement foe at UFC 223, Alvarez again turned down the offer.
Gilbert Melendez withdrew from his UFC 170 matchup with the Russian for undisclosed reasons and never sought to rebook the fight. Like Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis refused to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223 by demanding higher pay than the promotion was willing to offer.
Lastly, after a one-sided win over Eddie Alvarez, Conor McGregor dismissed suggestions that he fight 'The Eagle'. Instead, 'The Notorious' went on to box Floyd Mayweather Jr.