Five Times a UFC Champion Ducked a Challenger

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It is a great responsibility to be a UFC champion, if not sometimes an unenviable position. On one hand, a great champion needs to uphold the integrity of the sport and reserve themselves for the most difficult, worthy challengers to the throne.

On the other hand, a UFC championship window can also be seen as a moneymaking opportunity as there is a great deal of leverage that comes with the belt. While some champions retain the mentality of “anybody, any place, any time,” others instead opt to cherry pick their fights to ensure as long of a title reign as possible that will extend the window of championship money.

Such a practice is significantly more frequent in boxing than in MMA. Anthony Joshua, has avoided fighting top heavyweights like Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury for years in a likely attempt to catch them on the way down and make money against more beatable opponents in the meantime. As it’s widely known, Joshua ended up getting knocked out by Andy Ruiz before making it to a fight with either contemporary, and while he did regain his belts, he ended up getting out-boxed twice since by Oleksandr Usyk. Now, public interest in a Wilder or Fury fight has seemingly dwindled, leaving Joshua at a crossroads in his career.

Floyd Mayweather, perhaps the greatest boxer of his time, is also guilty of ducking opponents, namely Manny Pacquiao. Mayweather successfully skirted Pacquiao’s prime, eventually meeting him in the ring after “Pac-Man” turned 36.

Five Times a UFC Champion Ducked a Challenger

Champions ducking challengers ultimately robs the fans of the big fights they want to see. When these fights do eventually materialize, fight fans can always bet on DraftKings UFC at

Again, MMA fighters are trained combat athletes so the narrative that one fighter would be physically “scared” to fight another fighter is one that is unfounded 99 times out of 100. However, the extracurricular ramifications of major bouts, specifically title fights, could lead to one fighter avoiding another for a litany of reasons.

Nevertheless, are five UFC champions who publicly ducked their challengers.

Michael Bisping Ducked Yoel Romero

“Michael Bisping! I love you!”

For a time, Yoel Romero appeared to be the man to beat in the UFC middleweight division. After knocking out former champions Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold within a two-year stretch, Romero called out middleweight king Michael Bisping, who happened to be in attendance the night Romero beat Rockhold. With the camera panning to Bisping flipping Romero the bird from his luxury box, Romero told Bisping he loved him and that he would see him soon, “boy.”

Despite the bravado from Bisping, there did not appear to be any urgency on his part to fight Romero, or any worthy challengers for that matter. After his shocking upset of Rockhold at UFC 199, Bisping sat on the title for a month before targeting a fight with UFC legend Dan Henderson. Henderson, 46 at the time, had a 3-6 record in his last nine fights, but with his time running short, Bisping played on Henderson’s desire to be UFC champion in addition to the angle of him wanting revenge for one of the most vicious knockouts of all-time at UFC 100, one of the highest viewed events in company history. Bisping handled “Hendo,” then moved to a money fight with the then-retired Georges St-Pierre despite a perceived public willingness to fight Romero.

To say Bisping never expected to be champion would be disingenuous, however, it is fair to say that once he got the belt, he was more looking to capitalize on everything that came with being champion as opposed to fighting the Romeros and Robert Whitakers of the world, who ultimately competed for the title after St-Pierre vacated.

Tito Ortiz Ducked Chuck Liddell

Much has been written about the Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell feud, so there is not much this writer can add to the story. However, it is worth noting that a primary reason for the animosity between the two former “friends” was Ortiz’ willingness to fight anybody else but Liddell.

From “The Iceman’s” perspective, he only wanted what he believed he rightfully earned with knockouts over victories over Renato Sobral and Vitor Belfort. Ortiz, on the other hand, publicly claimed he had no intentions of fighting his “friend” Liddell and that they had a mutual understanding. From Liddell’s perspective, this happened to be a lie, and instead of their first fight being for the UFC title, Randy Couture ended up beating both men in succession to claim the light heavyweight championship.

When Liddell and Ortiz did eventually fight, the UFC title was missing from the equation, though Liddell did end up defending the title against Ortiz two years later in the inevitable rematch. “The Iceman” won both fights, and MMA fans have learned to not speak of their “third fight” that took place in 2018.

Tyron Woodley Ducked Colby Covington

Sure Tyron Woodley eventually fought Colby Covington in the UFC, but given the latter’s divisive personality, it is easy for the fans to forget that Woodley balked at the chance to fight Covington on several different occasions while champion.

The two colorful personalities feuded endlessly in the MMA media throughout 2018 and 2019, trading barbs that bordered on personal. Despite being seemingly positioned for a title shot after defeating Rafael dos Anjos for an interim title in 2018, Covington would be passed over and stripped of his interim title. Nasal surgery prevented Covington from making a quick turnaround against Woodley in the fall, however, Covington said that Woodley had ducked him twice since then. He even claimed that he signed on to coach against Woodley on The Ultimate Fighter but that Woodley refused to sign the contract, citing injuries. However, the lengthy timeline of a TUF season, combined Woodley’s silence on the matter perhaps spoke volumes about his true intentions. Simultaneously, Woodley called for “money fights” with the Diaz Brothers.

Woodley eventually met his match in Kamaru Usman and finally met Covington in the cage following another defeat at the hands of Gilbert Burns. Covington ended up stopping Woodley in the fifth round after “T-Wood” picked up a rib injury after landing awkwardly from a Covington takedown.

Nicco Montano Ducked Valentina Shevchenko

Nicco Montano, the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion, is largely a footnote in MMA history and the butt of many jokes on social media for being considered to be a weak champion. Montano, who has not competed in four years, won the belt at The Ultimate Fighter: A New World Champion Finale, which is notable for being one of the few seasons with title implications for the tournament’s winner. Montano defeated Roxanne Modafferi that night, though it worth noting that Modafferi was a late replacement for Sijara Eubanks, who had to pull out the week of the fight.

Enter Valentina Shevchenko, who was revealed to be the Montano’s first challenger. “The Bullet” represented a significant step in competition, so much so that Montano was lined as high as an 8:1 underdog on most sportsbooks. When the time came for the fight, Montano was hospitalized after a disastrous weight cut led to kidney issues and promptly stripped of her title. For what it’s worth, Shevchenko outright accused Montano of looking for an out, while Montano called Shevchenko “a lying bully.” Montano ultimately saddled the UFC with the blame for making her fight in September instead of October, but did not seem overly upset over being stripped of the belt. The optics of the situation, combined with Shevchenko’s narrative, caused MMA fans to believe, in large part, that Montano sought an out for having to take such a significant step up in competition.

Only Montano can know the truth, but it is worth noting she fought just once since winning the titles, dropping a competitive fight to former women’s bantamweight champion Julianna Pena at 135 pounds.

Aljamain Sterling Ducked Merab Dvalishvili

At the risk of upsetting some Long Island MMA fans, the optics of the Aljamain SterlingMerab Dvalishvili could lead one to believe Sterling is ducking his Georgian teammate. On the flipside, there appears to be a mutual disinterest between the two fighting one another, but this is just how things appear on the surface.

A worthy challenger saying “thanks but, no thanks” to championship opportunities is uncharted territory in the UFC. Of course, there is no evidence that Dvalishvili, despite being plenty worthy of a shot at gold, has been offered a fight against his teammate, but it is fair to wonder if that would have been the case had he not already publicly denounced the idea. After all, there have been many friends at the top of divisions that would only  fight one another if a belt was on the line, and many more that have seen their friendships crumble with the UFC title in the picture.

To this writer’s knowledge, Sterling has never publicly said, “Merab can have a shot at the belt if he wants. He had as much of a hand in this as I have, and he’s earned this opportunity if he wants it.” Instead, the narrative is, “Merab will wait his turn until I move up in weight [and kill off any other dangerous challengers of mine along the way].” Of course, it could be perceived that Dvalishvili is content with the situation and happy to fight Henry Cejudo while Sterling takes on Sean O’Malley for the bantamweight strap. On the other hand, this situation could also be seen as a calculated attempt on Aljo’s part to avoid what could arguably his most dangerous challenger.

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