The UFC is often regarded as the home of the world’s greatest mixed martial artists, and with good merit. The promotion features some of the absolute best in each discipline and many prominent MMA legends fought under the UFC banner.
Currently, most pound-for-pound lists that compile the best fighters in the present day stack UFC fighters at the top. Despite the longheld assumption that Dana White fields the greatest mixed martial artists in the world, though, other MMA promotions have contested the claim.
Not long ago, Chatri Sityodtong asserted that ONE Championship possessed superior fighters. Similarly, Patrício ‘Pitbull’ Freire has repeatedly issued challenges to reigning featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and former flyweight and bantamweight titleholder Henry Cejudo.
Unfortunately, Dana White is unlikely to ever entertain the idea of cross-promotion with another MMA organization, giving fighters from other promotions a license to continue claiming superiority over their UFC counterparts.
Thus, this list compiles five times when fighters outside of the UFC claimed to be the best in the world.
#5. Raufeon Stots – Bellator bantamweight
Bellator’s interim bantamweight champion is a fighter who’s escaped the relative notice of MMA’s casual fanbase. Many of the UFC’s spectators have likely never heard of Raufeon Stots. Yet the fighter they remain unaware of is a highly skilled bantamweight with 18 wins and 1 loss.
Raufeon Stots mirrored former welterweight kingpin Kamaru Usman in a way. Prior to his devastating loss against Leon Edwards, ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ had also only ever tasted defeat once, while enjoying an abundance of wins.
Furthermore, both men are NCAA Division II wrestling standouts with Nigerian roots and a collegiate connection to Nebraska. Thus, in the aftermath of his recent third-round knockout win against Juan Archuleta, Raufeon Stots did as Kamaru Usman once did and proclaimed himself to be the best fighter in the world.
#4. Gegard Mousasi – Bellator middleweight
Gegard Mousasi has been subject to various debates in the sport of MMA. The Dutchman is a former UFC fighter who fans either heralded as a future titleholder or as someone too disinterested in capitalizing on his exceptional skill set, depending on the outcome of his bouts.
However, the truth of the matter has always been that ‘The Dreamcatcher’ struggles with strong wrestlers who don’t allow him to impose his primary kickboxing game. Despite the five-fight win streak he enjoyed in his last two years with the UFC, Gegard Mousasi left the promotion’s middleweight division for Bellator.
Within two fights under Scott Coker’s banner, the Dutchman captured the middleweight title. Gegard Mousasi went on to become a two-time Bellator champion before being defeated by Johnny Eblen in his most recent bout.
Prior to the loss, Gegard Mousasi’s victory at Bellator 275 left him confident enough to crown himself as the world’s best middleweight. That was despite struggling to assert the same during his days as one of Dana White’s fighters.
#3. A.J. McKee – Bellator lightweight
On the very last day of July last year, the MMA world watched with baited breath as it witnessed what seemed like the birth of a new star. A.J. McKee made good on his promise to unseat Patrício ‘Pitbull’ Freire, capturing Bellator’s featherweight belt and Grand Prix title in the process.
The American was a charismatic presence in the prime of his youth. At the time, he seemed destined for a future run in the UFC as MMA’s latest undefeated sensation. Emboldened by his quick win over Patrício ‘Pitbull’ Freire, A.J. McKee set his sights on challenging UFC featherweight kingpin Alexander Volkanovski.
While he praised the Australian great, McKee claimed to be the best featherweight in the world. Unfortunately, the American tasted defeat for the first time in his immediate rematch against ‘Pitbull’.
While McKee bounced back with a lightweight win against Spike Carlyle, any talk of him as the world’s best has all but ended.
#2. Patrício ‘Pitbull’ Freire – Bellator featherweight
Among the pantheon of Bellator legends, Patrício Freire is in a league of his own. He is the greatest fighter in the promotion’s history.
A former simultaneous two-division champion, Patrício Freire owns wins over the likes of top-five UFC lightweight Michael Chandler and former flyweight title contender Wilson Reis.
Throughout his career, the Brazilian has argued against those who regard the UFC as the home of the world’s best mixed martial artists. ‘Pitbull’ has consistently claimed that he is the best fighter in the world, even calling for cross-promotion bouts with the top fighters in the octagon.
Most recently, ‘Pitbull’ laid out an open challenge to UFC featherweight kingpin Alexander Volkanovski before asserting that Dana White lacked the courage to book the bout.
#1. Yoel Romero – Bellator light heavyweight
Yoel Romero is among the most terrifying fighters across the globe. The Olympic silver medalist is a hulking fighter whose high-level wrestling prowess is surpassed only by his thunderous knockout power. The Cuban phenom built his career off of lulling foes into his explosive counter-strikes en route to vicious KOs.
To do so, Yoel Romero establishes a lackadaisacal rhythm. He throws strikes at a very low volume while operating at a speed much slower than his actual one. Once his opponent is accustomed to that rhythm, ‘The Soldier of God’ breaks it, shocking opponents with a display of monstrous speed and explosiveness.
‘The Soldier of God’ is a former UFC fighter who challenged for the middleweight title multiple times, both interim and undisputed. After a three-fight losing streak, the longtime wrestler signed with Bellator in a return to the light heavyweight division.
While his initial bout against Phil Davis was unsuccessful, his subsequent two fights were KO/TKO wins. Before facing Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 285, Yoel Romero expressed his desire to fight at both 185lbs and 205lbs, stating that he is the best middleweight in the world, not former foe Israel Adesanya.