There is one in every division, nobody wants to have that title but it seems like that’s the only type of title they’re destined to hold. I’m speaking of course of the divisional gatekeeper. The fighter the UFC uses as a measuring stick for up and coming fighters or guys on the verge of a title fight. In some cases the gatekeeper has challenged for the belt, but comes up short.
Always the bridesmaid and never the bride is the role they fall into. Many fighters go their whole career in this spot and still have very successful careers an example would be Kenny Florian. Aside from his UFC debut the only fights he would lose would be title fights or title eliminators yet he became one of the most popular fighters in the sport. He had tremendous talent but it wasn’t in the cards for him to have that gold strap around his waist.
Here is a list of who I personally think are the current gatekeepers for each division. Guys that up and coming fighters must get passed to be considered true contenders. Getting past them is no easy task but if you manage to do so you’re placed on the short list for your crack at the belt.
Women’s Bantamweight – Meisha Tate
The women’s division is fairly young and there hasn’t been much time to establish a true gatekeeper but from the looks of it Tate might be the most fitting. Once a Strikeforce champion, Tate has fallen into this role after her transition to the UFC. Her first appearance was against Cat Zingano, after she lost the fight Zingano was given a title shot but injury forced her out and the fight defaulted back to Tate. Her second meeting with Rousey might have lasted longer then the first but the outcome was the same. Tate is a well-rounded fighter and poses a big problem for just about every one currently in the division, but as we’ve seen twice she just doesn’t match up well against Rousey. I see Tate having a great career hovering around the top of the division but as long as Ronda holds the belt that’s as far as she will go
Flyweight – Joseph Benavidez
Joseph Benavidez is by far one of the best flyweights on the roster. He holds a UFC record of 7-2. Those two losses have come by the same man, the current title holder Demetrious Johnson. Their first meeting was a close split decision but the second joey was stopped brutally in the first round. When fighting people not named mighty mouse Benavidez always looks impressive, he has finished four of his seven wins in the octagon. After losing two title shots he finds himself in a weird situation, clearly his skills are well above any other contender in the division but getting that third date with the champ is going to take some work and it might be a long road for him.
Bantamweight- Urijah Faber
If you look in the dictionary under the word gatekeeper you’re sure to find a picture of this man. Faber has had more title shots than anybody on the UFC payroll. He held the belt back in his WEC days but hasn’t been able to replicate that success in the UFC. He has dropped three title fights, one to Dominick Cruz and two to Renan Barao. Faber is one of the most popular fighters in the organization so at this point in his career he might fall into the role we’ve seen other fighters such as Rich Franklin be in and just take “fun fights.” Faber puts on great performances every time we see him in the ring and fully convinces us that he deserves another title shot. Once he finally gets there its like another fighter steps into the octagon. Faber has had a great career and will probably be a future hall of famer so finishing out his career in this role is nothing to hang your head about.
Featherweight – Clay Guida
Clay Guida is a special kind of fighter, his high intensity style is always fun to watch. If you go in there with him at anything less than 100% you’re in for a long night. Guida has had 19 fights in the UFC and not a single title fight. He’s gotten as close as a title eliminator fight but has never earned a shot at UFC gold. Even after changing weight classes he has filled the gatekeeper spot at lightweight and now at featherweight. Whether or not he ever reaches the top at this new weight class is yet to be seen, Guida put on a great show in his most current fight but has also been stopped by Chad Mendes who is the current number one contender so only time will tell if Guida can escape his current role.
Lightweight – Donald Cerrone
The lightweight division is one of the most solid in the UFC, anyone in the top ten is capable of beating the other so it’s hard to pick one as a gatekeeper. The person that comes to mind is Cowboy Cerrone. It seems like this man is fighting every other month and delivering time after time. But when it comes to top-level competition he always falls short. The only guys that have a win over Cowboy are Nate Diaz, Raphael Dos Anjos and current champ Anthony Pettis. The losses are nothing to be ashamed of but are major setbacks when trying to earn your title shot. If you’re not a top ten fighter you’re very likely to end up on the opposite end of a fight night bonus.
Welterweight- Demian Maia
The 170lbs division is another hard one to measure, since the departure of GSP the welterweight division has turned into a murder’s row of fighters. Josh Koscheck held the gatekeeper role for years until he ran into a string of bad luck moving him from perennial contender to potentially hanging up the gloves. The closest ranked fighter to meet the criteria would be Demian Maia. He saw a great start once he moved down in weight rattling off three straight wins against tough opposition, but again when up against the elite guys at the top the skills to ascend to the next level just weren’t there. A veteran of the sport, his loss to Rory McDonald might have been the final nail in the coffin of title aspirations.
Middleweight – Michael Bisping
If there was ever a gatekeeper that the entire division was well aware of it has to be Michael Bisping. It seems like there is a different guy calling out Bisping every day. Even when he is coming off of a loss the top guys at 185 want a piece of the hard-nosed Brit. They know that beating him is just as good as a golden ticket to a title shot. A nine-year UFC veteran Bisping has fought the who’s who of the middleweight division and holds an impressive 14-6 record. I wouldn’t say Bisping is on the back-end of his career but if he ever hopes to get a title shot he cant afford anymore losses after dropping a decision to Tim Kennedy.
Light Heavyweight – Ryan Bader
Want a title shot at light heavyweight? No problem just beat Ryan Bader. That seemed to be the trend more than a couple of times. Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida, and Glover Teixiera have all gone to challenge for the belt after getting past Bader. With that said I think of everyone on the list Bader would be the guy I see maybe getting a title shot after maybe two or three impressive wins. He is a young guy with a lot of talent but the lack of patience is what has been his downfall in his most recent losses. I think if he can get better at that he could be in the mix for a title shot in under a year.
Heavyweight – Stefan Struve
At only 26 years old Struve already has 13 UFC fights under his belt but every time he puts together a few wins and seems like might be in the conversation he’s paired up with a heavy hitter of the division and comes crashing down in brutal fashion. Struve is one of the few heavyweights that have a good mixture of submissions and KO/TKOs but none against the guys that will take him to the next level. He floats around from the middle to the bottom of the rankings. He’s always fun to watch and has only gone to a decision once in his UFC career, so one way or the other someone is getting finished in his fights. His losses have all came by TKO/KO and if that trend continues he might not have much more time in the sport, so if there was ever a time to try to make a title run for him it would be now.