Despite the less than sound structuring of the official UFC fighter rankings, becoming one of the top 15 fighters in any of the promotion’s divisions is a big deal. Top five? Even better. Until you’re stuck, with no signs of a title shot in sight.
2020 has been a year unlike any other, with our world upended in countless ways. The world of professional MMA was no different. Now that the year is coming to a close, several contenders have seen their standing in the UFC change significantly.
From veterans coming into their prime to former title challengers making another run at a belt, there has been no shortage of fighters making waves while dealing with the unique circumstances being a professional fighter during a pandemic. Despite overcoming those challenges, several title-contenders find themselves somewhat stuck in their respective title pictures.
Of course, in the world of MMA (especially in 2020 and likely for much of 2021) things can change quick. Just look at how the likes of Deiveson Figueiredo and Kevin Holland rounded out the year. After solid first halves, both fighters took advantage of some opportunities and are now among those being discussed as “Fighter of the Year” contenders.
Those stories and the many others like them should give the fighters listed below some hope. Because as of now, they’re stuck.
The flyweight title picture got a much deserved turn in the spotlight to close out 2020. Featured in the main event of the final two UFC PPVs of the year, the 125-pound division got some much needed love after years of neglect from the promotion.
Unfortunately for Askar Askarov, there hasn’t been enough love to go around. The undefeated 28-year-old is sitting at #3 in the flyweight rankings, but doesn’t seem to be on the radar when it comes to potential title-challengers.
When Figueiredo was initially scheduled to defend his belt at UFC 255 in November, it was against former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. Then, when Garbrandt was pulled, it was Alex Perez who got the call. Once he’d been defeated in November, and Figgy was quickly rebooked in December, Brandon Moreno was the man the UFC looked to. And it looks like they’ll be looking to Moreno again in 2021, after he fought the champion to a draw at UFC 256.
Askarov knows all about fighting to a draw with Moreno. He did so in his promotional debut in September of last year. In Mexico, too. After that, Askarov went 2-0 in 2020, tallying victories over Tim Elliott and Alexandre Pantoja.
Following his win over Pantoja in July, Askarov looked as in contention for a flyweight title-shot as anyone. Now, after some impressive performances from other fighters over the last few months, Askarov is on the outside looking in. And it’s hard to tell when that will change. Given the promotion’s desire to book a Figueiredo-Moreno rematch, the promotion’s willingness to push Garbrandt, and the rising potential of Figueiredo chasing bantamweight gold, Askarov could be waiting a while.
He’s keeping busy, at least. Askarov is currently booked to fight second-ranked Joseph Benavidez at UFC 259 in March. It’s the only fight, outside of a title shot, that makes sense for Askarov. It’ll risk his standing in the division, while securing his spot in the title picture. While that spot may be secure with a win over Benavidez, it hardly guarantees a title shot in 2021.