Top 10 Mixed Martial Artists Outside the UFC

| February 25, 2021 6:23 am PST
Best MMA Fighters Outside the UFC

It is no secret that the best fighters in the UFC are typically among the best athletes in MMA.

But true fight fans know that there is a whole world beyond Dana White’s stable of mixed martial artists. Sure, some of the best fighters outside of the UFC have competed in the promotion at some point, while others may very well end up fighting under the watchful eyes of White and the company’s hierarchy.

Today, I’m looking at the top mixed martial artists outside the UFC, in no particular order.

Demetrious Johnson

  • Promotion: ONE FC
  • Weight Class: Flyweight (Champion)

When talking about the best mixed martial artists outside the UFC, this guy’s name usually comes up first.

A legendary UFC flyweight champion, Johnson was traded to ONE FC in 2018, with Ben Askren coming the other way.

One of the most respected martial artists of all time, Johnson set a record in the UFC when he put together an incredible run of eleven consecutive title defenses.

Demetrious Johnson’s Legendary UFC Title Defenses
Fighter Method of Victory Date Event
Ray Borg Submission (armbar) October 7, 2017 UFC 216
Wilson Reis Submission (armbar) April 15, 2017 UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Reis
Tim Elliott Decision (unanimous) December 3, 2016 The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions Finale
Henry Cejudo TKO (knees and punches) April 23, 2016 UFC 197
John Dodson Decision (unanimous) September 5, 2015 UFC 191
Kyoji Horiguchi Submission (armbar) April 25, 2015 UFC 186
Chris Cariaso Submission (kimura) September 27, 2014 UFC 178
Ali Bagautinov Decision (unanimous) June 14, 2014 UFC 174
Joseph Benavidez KO (punch) December 14, 2013 UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Benavidez 2
John Moraga Submission (armbar) July 27, 2013 UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Moraga
John Dodson Decision (unanimous) January 26, 2013 UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Dodson

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Johnson has, in a rather predictable style, been a massive success in the Singapore-based promotion. And fans are happy to see him do well, even if they would prefer him to be competing on the highest stage possible.

But he is a ONE FC fighter now.

The man known to fans as “Mighty Mouse” blasted his way through Yuya Wakamatsu, Tatsumitsu Wada, and Danny Kingad to win the ONE FC flyweight Grand Prix in 2019. And he looks content for the time being.

At 34, the Kentucky-born star is likely to have much time left in his career. But there is no doubt that Demetrious Johnson is still one of the best MMA fighters outside of the UFC.

Bibiano Fernandes

  • Promotion: ONE Championship
  • Weight Class: Bantamweight (Champion)

Next, a man that knows Demetrious Johnson better than most.

Bibiano Fernandes. You might have heard of him. If not, you should check him out, as he is one of the top MMA fighters outside of the UFC.

Fernandes, Johnson’s sparring partner, is also the reigning ONE FC bantamweight champion.

Fernandes is one of the most exciting fighters outside the UFC

A ferocious competitor, the Brazilian is also a multiple-time, former champion in the DREAM promotion. But at 40-years-old, the chances are that Fernandes will never compete in the UFC.

A BJJ and grappling legend, “The Flash” also took to mixed martial arts like a duck to water. He has been doing his thing since 2004 and has, at the time of writing, compiled a record of 24-4 as a professional.

Still, Fernandes remains one of the best non-UFC fighters in 2021.

Gegard Mousasi

  • Promotion: Bellator
  • Weight Class: Middleweight (Champion)

If you’re looking for the leading mixed martial artists outside of the UFC, Mousasi is another obvious stand-out.

A former champion in Cage Warriors, DREAM, and Strikeforce, Mousasi is arguably the best fighter to never win a UFC title.

The Dutchman tested free agency before leaving Dana White and co. in 2017. He quickly got his hands on the Bellator middleweight strap before losing it and winning it for the second time.

At the time of writing, the 35-year-old is reigning at the top of the 185-pound division under Scott Coker’s command.

There have been rumors that Mousasi wants back into the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but there is no solid evidence that this move is being put together.

For now, Mousasi remains a Bellator employee and arguably the best MMA fighter, not in the UFC.

Patricio “Pitbull” Freire

  • Promotion: Bellator 
  • Weight Class: Lightweight (Champion)

Another of the world’s top MMA fighters not in the UFC right now is Pitbull Freire.

The Brazilian is probably the best lightweight on the planet, given Khabib Nurmagomedov has retired.

A two-weight world champion in Bellator, I would love to see Freire take on some of the best UFC lightweight fighters or even a few in the welterweight division. Can that happen? Who knows. Stranger things have gone down in this sport.

Freire, like some of his colleagues on this list, is contracted to Bellator. As long as he is there, he will be one of the top MMA stars outside the UFC.

Thanh Le

  • Promotion: ONE FC
  • Weight Class: Featherweight (Champion)

A former LFA standout, Than Le, is now killing it in ONE FC and is among the best MMA fighters outside of the UFC.

The American holds the promotion’s 145-pound strap and has put together an impressive run of four straight wins by KO/TKO.

Le is now 35, so time is, unfortunately, not on his side. Therefore, anyone hoping to see him trade shots inside the Octagon should probably address their expectations and realize the chances are slimmer than an ant’s leg.

That’s not to say it’s impossible, of course.

As things are, Than Le is one of the most talented fighters outside the UFC today. But will that still be the case next year?

Than Le’s ONE FC Record
Fighter Result Date
Martin Nguyen Win by TKO Oct. 30, 2020
Ryogo Takahashi Win by KO Jan. 1, 2020
Kotetsu Boku Win by KO Aug. 16, 2019
Yusup Saadulaev Win by KO May. 3, 2019

Cris Cyborg

  • Promotion: Bellator
  • Weight Class: Women’s Featherweight (Champion)

It’s fair to say that Cyborg is the best female fighter not in the UFC right now.

In fact, she is one of the very best MMA fighters outside of the UFC. Period.

The reigning Bellator women’s featherweight champ is an absolute machine who busted through several promotions before finding her way to the UFC in May 2016. However, her time in the promotion was marred by several run-ins with Dana White, Joe Rogan, and even fellow fighters.

In the summer of 2017, Cyborg punched former strawweight whipping girl Angela Magana at a fighter’s retreat. Still, she was not removed from the roster.

Ultimately, what spelled the end of Cyborg in the UFC was her first pro loss in 13 years against Amanda Nunes. Oh, and the small matter of clashing heads with White. The Brazilian requested to be released from her contract, and the promotion obliged.

Regardless, Cyborg is one of the best MMA fighters not competing in the UFC today.

Kayla Harrison

  • Promotion: Invicta FC
  • Weight Class: Featherweight

Another grappling whiz, Harrison, looks nailed on to hook up with the UFC soon.

That is, if the former PFL lightweight champion can make an impression under the Invicta banner.

As things stand, Harrison is one of the best MMA fighters not in the UFC. But fans would like to see her try her arm in the shark-infested waters of the women’s bantamweight division. The only problem for Harrison is that making 135-pounds is not really feasible.

Harrison is the first American to win an Olympic gold in Judo

Will Kayla Harrison join the UFC? Maybe. After all, there is a 145-pound division that she could, one day, rule. That is if the UFC considers women’s featherweight a weight class that they want to keep.

Harrison appears to be one of the most talented fighters outside the UFC.

An Olympic gold medalist in Judo, she has shown that she can strike, too. But is she up to the standard of some of the best mixed martial artists in the Las Vegas-based promotion?

I’d sure like to find out.

Douglas Lima

  • Promotion: Bellator
  • Weight Class: Welterweight (Champion)

Douglas Lima is a savage.

When it comes to great fighters outside the UFC, Lima is in the conversation as the best of them all. But as for the best welterweight not in the UFC, he IS the conversation.

Lima’s three runs at the top of the 170-pound division have not been flawless. He has suffered losses to Ben Askren, Andrey Koreshkov, and Rory MacDonald but has had more highlights than lowlights.

A fearsome striker, the Brazilian also possesses a strong grappling game.

Can you imagine a fight between Kamaru Usman and Douglas Lima? Make it happen, MMA gods. Make it happen.

Until it does, Lima will stay one of the best mixed martial artists outside the UFC.

Rory MacDonald

  • Promotion: PFL
  • Weight Class: Welterweight

Like Mousasi and Cyborg, Rory MacDonald also raised eyebrows when he joined fighters that left the UFC for Bellator.

And like his former colleagues, he is considered one of the best fighters outside the UFC.

MacDonald was a prodigious mixed martial artist that made his pro debut just a few months after his 16th birthday.

The Canadian then embarked on a ten-fight win streak and soon found himself in the UFC. His career saw ups and downs, but he is another fighter that was desperately unlucky to win a title in the promotion.

MacDonald became the most high-profile fighter to leave the UFC for Bellator when he jumped ship in 2017. He became the promotion’s welterweight champion by beating Douglas Lima in his first fight but picked up two losses subsequently.

Although under the PFL banner, I have a feeling we will see the return of MacDonald to the world’s biggest MMA promotion.

But for now, he makes the list of the biggest MMA stars outside of the UFC and certainly one of the best.

Reinier De Ridder

  • Promotion: ONE FC
  • Weight Class: Middleweight (Champion)

De Ridder is up there with the best fighters not in the UFC.

The ONE FC middleweight king is 13-0 at the time of writing, with nine of those wins coming by way of submission.

A huge star in the promotion, De Ridder cemented his name among the most talented mixed martial artists outside of the UFC when he submitted Burmese icon, Aung La Nsang, to win the middleweight strap in 2020.

De Ridder’s ONE FC Record
Opponent Result Date
Aung La Nsang Win by Submission Oct. 30, 2020
Leandro Ataides Win by Decision Feb. 7, 2020
Gilberto Galvao Win by KO Jun. 15, 2019
Fan Rong Win by Submission Jan. 25, 2019

Will the Dutchman fancy his chances against the elite 185-pounders stateside? There is a big chance that he will.

I’d like to see De Ridder prove why he is considered among the top fighters not in the UFC today in a cross-promotional bout, but the chances of that happening are unlikely.

Instead, we might have to wait for him to push for the move to the UFC. If, of course, that is an ambition of his.

Final Words on the Best Fighters Not in the UFC

Putting together a list of ten of the best MMA fighters outside of the UFC wasn’t an easy task.

In fact, there are a few names that just about missed out here. Ultimately, I settled on the top MMA fighters outside the UFC, and the athletes speak for themselves.

There are tons of great mixed martial artists not signed to the UFC right now, and many more will emerge in the next couple of years. So, we can expect to see some new faces emerge as the leading MMA stars in Asia, Europe, and beyond.

But for now, there are plenty of topics, fights, and fighters in the UFC to talk about. I’ll leave you with a mix of some of the popular content from our UFC blog and other parts of our site.

Adam Haynes
Adam Haynes

Adam is a sports writer and tipster with a strong background in MMA, boxing, and combat sports.

When Adam isn't writing about those, as well as politics, rugby, and Gaelic Games, he can be found working on methods and strategies to beat the bookies.

For his troubles, Adam is a fan of Leinster Rugby, Glasgow Celtic, and trusting the process.

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