Especially in today’s larger-than-ever MMA landscape, the reality of the sport is that certain athletes don’t receive the recognition or credit that they deserve. Whether these athletes are overshadowed by big-name stars, or aren’t adequately promoted, the fact remains that a number of MMA fighters are highly underrated.
Let’s take a look at the ten most underrated MMA fighters of 2015.
Michael Bisping (UFC)
“The Count” is no stranger to this type of list. Perhaps it’s because of his outspoken nature, or because of his constant criticism for athletes who underwent TRT therapy, as well as those who used some sort of PED in the past; whatever the reason, Michael Bisping has been underrated for a nearly a decade (seriously, he’s approaching his tenth consecutive year competing in the Octagon!). He’s consistently fought the elite of the elite that the UFC has to offer—and despite an undefeated 2015 with victories over C.B. Dollaway and Thales Leites, many have written him off and forgotten that he’s once again a win or two away from a possible title shot. Most recently, Bisping had to withdraw from a scheduled bout at UFC 193 against Robert Whittaker, due to injury. Hopefully, he gets healthy again soon and commands the respect that he deserves (history indicates that this isn’t likely, though).
Although there was at one time a good amount of hype behind the talented Ukrainian light heavyweight, the buzz admittedly died down after a submission loss to Ovince St. Preux in 2014. However, this loss against an elite competitor shouldn’t cause for Krylov’s awesome 2015 wins—two first-round submissions—to be overlooked. The constantly improving twenty-three-year-old Krylov has yet to see a decision in a win or a loss. He is ultra-exciting to watch, and his 2015 (and entire) career is highly underrated.
Fernando Gonzalez had an impressive year, but simply hasn’t achieved the notoriety and respect that he deserves. Gonzalez is undefeated in his last four MMA fights, with two of those triumphs—over Marius Zaromskis and Curtis Millender (crafty and quality competitors)—coming this year. His Bellator title aspirations were put on hold when he faced stand-up veteran Paul Daley in the kickboxing portion of Bellator and Glory’s Dynamite show, but not in the way that many fans expected. The decision was arguably one that could have gone Gonzalez’s way; despite the scorecards and the largely pro-Daley sentiment of the fans, the reality is that the fight was much closer than many have indicated—a real triumph considering how decorated of a striker Daley is.
Gonzalez holds two solid MMA wins this year, and stepped up and gave Paul Daley a very tough fight in an area where he doesn’t have a whole lot of experience. “The Menifee Maniac” has had a very underrated year.
Although his 2015 wasn’t undefeated (as he was submitted by BJJ-ace Demian Maia), Magny has consistently made his improvements clear inside the cage—taking and winning several short-notice fights. Instead of rehashing all of these wins that fans likely remember, a look at his upcoming bout will tell the story of Magny’s year. Matt Brown was injured at the start of November and had to withdraw from his scheduled contest with Kelvin Gastelum on November 21st. Magny didn’t hesitate to fill-in on less than one month’s notice, despite the fact that the fight is scheduled to take place so close to Thanksgiving, and abroad (in Mexico)! Most importantly, the fight is scheduled for five full rounds, despite this late-replacement. Fans get excited when Magny wins on short notice, but it’s time for some more respect—and general recognition— for his 2015 accomplishments, as well as his overall career, to be shown.
Although, at the time of writing, Dos Anjos has fought only once in 2015 (he is currently scheduled to defend his title in a rematch against Donald Cerrone), the current champion deserves a lot more credit for the year that he’s had. In his massive-underdog title bid against Anthony Pettis (the man who UFC President Dana White called the “pound-for-pound best fighter in the world”), Dos Anjos absolutely dominated over the course of five rounds, demonstrating the effects of years of high-level training and battling elite competition. Although Pettis’ loss was frequently discussed post-fight, there wasn’t enough talk about Dos Anjos’ win. Regardless of what happens against the ultra-dangerous “Cowboy” Cerrone, Rafael Dos Anjos has had a very underrated year.
There isn’t nearly as much talk about the year that “El Cucuy” has had inside the Octagon as there should be. Although he is currently slated to compete against the high-level Edson Barboza in December at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale, the year that Ferguson has put in thus far is worth a good deal of recognition. He stopped the ultra-durable and long-time competitor, Gleison Tibau, and dominated the similarly seasoned Josh Thomson over the course of three rounds. Ferguson, regardless of the Barboza bout result, has truly come into his own this year—and he is still highly underrated.
After a rough, winless 2014, Glover Teixeira has rebounded into an undefeated year—boasting impressive triumphs over Ovince St. Preux and Patrick Cummins. For whatever reason, these wins over high-level opposition were largely overlooked, and there hasn’t been much talk about the fun-to-watch and exciting Teixeira’s flawless year. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of fights—and respect— the future holds for Glover Teixeira.
The return to his winning ways against Lorenz Larkin in 2014 has allowed Brunson to progress into a devastating and undefeated 2015 that just hasn’t achieved as much hype as it should have. His vicious first-round stoppages of Ed Herman and Sam Alvey (although this fight’s end was considered to be slightly premature) have demonstrated that he’s new, improved, and readier than ever to battle. Nevertheless, the Jackson-MMA product once again hasn’t had a very popular year in terms of appreciation and recognition. Hopefully, that will change in 2016.
Ryan Bader (UFC)
Since his 2013 loss to Glover Teixeira, “Darth” Bader has quietly (for whatever reason) compiled an impressive five consecutive victories. His 2015 Octagon wins are composed of two—high-quality—triumphs over both Phil Davis and Rashad Evans. With the quality of these two wins (and the one-sided nature of the Evans victory), as well as his three previous (and consecutive) triumphs considered, many will be left questioning how the man has to compete once again to secure a title shot. It’s because he’s underrated! Now scheduled to fight Anthony Johnson in late January at UFC on Fox 18, it’s hard to believe that he won’t get a shot at the belt with a victory.
But, as history once again indicates, even a shot at the belt may not be enough to garner the high-level Bader the respect that he deserves.
Fighting Jon Jones, Anthony Johnson, and Alexander Gustafsson in a single year isn’t an easy task, but “DC” managed it—and emerged victorious against Johnson and Gustafsson. Moreover, the fight that he gave Jon Jones was by no means a walk in the park for “Bones”. In fact, outside of the Gustafsson bout, it really may have been his most difficult test to date. He also secured the UFC Light Heavyweight Belt this year after Jones vacated the title, but still found himself unable to garner the respect that he deserves—from both MMA fans and fellow athletes. To fight against this level of opposition three times in a single year is unprecedented, and Cormier’s 2015 is accordingly highly underrated.
The above fighters may not have garnered the recognition that they deserve for the year, but they—as well as the hardcore fans—know exactly how successful the year was for their professional careers. It’s impossible to say what next year holds for these athletes, but as fans, we can hope that they’ll gain a stronger following and respect.