Gatekeeping has often been thrown around as something with negative connotations in an MMA context, yet it should not be branded as an insult or a derision of a fighter’s abilities.
A gatekeeper is a fighter that sets the benchmark of skill needed in order to be defeated. The gatekeeper may have attempted to establish themselves as a contender yet for whatever reason have found their ceiling in the organisation and consistently hover around the same benchmark.
Gatekeepers play a vital role in the UFC and without them, the organisation would not flourish the way it has done. They are pivotal to the rankings and ensure that a consistent stream of progression is always easily marked and viewable amongst the fighters.
There are different levels of gatekeepers as in, not all gatekeepers guard the same things. Victories over ‘entry-level gatekeepers’ show that a fighter is worthy of getting a spot on the roster and is not out of place in the UFC.
The ‘prospect gatekeeper’ is a fighter that guards the entry to the top 15. Often this may be an individual who formerly was ranked at a high level but due to age and possibly other factors, they find themselves further down the pecking order. They often have big-name value and a win over them propels the prospect into the rankings.
The ‘advanced gatekeeper’ sits among the rankings, usually hovering around the top 10, a win over this fighter will set up an individual for a crack at the top 5. Normally the advanced gatekeeper will truly be the test of a prospect’s abilities and if they are able to defeat this fighter comprehensively then they will be seen as a legitimate threat in the division.
Finally the ‘elite gatekeeper’ is a fighter who fights at the very top of their division, possibly even having a title fight in the past yet they seem unable to win the biggest fights and are still just a rung down from the champion and number one contender. A win over this gatekeeper is almost guaranteed title shot.
Now let’s look at some examples of each level of gatekeeper.
Entry level gatekeeper – Gerald Meerschaert
Gerald Meerschaert is the perfect example of an entry-level gatekeeper. In the organisation for seven years, Meerschaert has fought a whole host of names. With 17 fights in the organisation, Meerschaert has gone 9-8 with the promotion yet when looking at the defeats he has suffered they have all come against talent who have gone on to establish themselves as solid fighters in the UFC.
The likes of Kevin Holland, Jack Hermansson, Thiago Santos, Eryk Anders even Khamzat Chimaev to name but a few. The wins he has picked up have often been against fighters who are new to the organisation, perhaps with anywhere between 1-3 fights already with the UFC. Meerschaert is often the first known name that these fighters face in their career. As can be seen, when analysing his record today, anyone who beats Meerschaerts generally goes on to become an established name within the sport of MMA and is truly deserving their place in the roster.
Prospect gatekeeper- Andrei Arlovski
The next level up from the entry level gatekeeper is what I would label as the prospect gatekeeper. This is a fighter that you would have to beat if you wish to next fight a ranked opponent. Andrei Arlovski is an excellent example of this. Formerly the UFC Heavyweight champion all the way back in 2005.
The Belarusian has had remarkable longevity in this career and is still fighting in the premiere organisation at the age of 44. Even more amazingly Arlovski has stayed as a viable and competitive fighter at this time, since 2020 he has gone 6-3 in the organisation and before losing his last two contests was 6-1. Arlovski suffered a relatively steep skid in his career during the latter part of the 2010s when he lost 7 out of 9 fights between the beginning of 2016 and the end of 2018.
Many believed that he was done fighting in the UFC and was past it. Yet Arlovski simply dropped down from facing the highest-ranking talent in the company and instead took pleasure in his new role of facing prospects and up-and-coming fighters looking to break into the top 15. Arlovski proved to be more than enough of a challenge for the majority of these up and comers and between 2019 and 2022 for an 8 fight period his only losses were to Tom Aspinall and Jairzinho Rosenstruik with the Belarusian veteran turning away all other contenders hoping to crack into that top 15.
Advanced gatekeeper – Neil Magny
Neil Magny has been one of the most consistent forces in the welterweight division going back 10 years now. Making his debut in 2013, Magny has gone on to accumulate the most wins in the welterweight division’s history. 30 fights and 21 wins has seen Magny establish himself as a force in the welterweight division and a quick scan of his record sees that Magny is only ever defeated by some high-level fighters in the division.
His most recent losses came against Gilbert Burns and Shavkat Rakhmonov. Perhaps more telling is the number of young prospects that Magny has put to the sword during his time in the UFC. Phil Rowe, Daniel Rodriguez, Max Griffin and Li Jiangliang were all on win streaks of 3 or more fights before coming up against Magny. A victory over the Haitian Sensation cements your place inside the top 10 of the division and provides the perfect springboard to challenge a top 5 fighter.
Elite Gatekeeper – Derek Brunson
Although there are plenty of options for the ‘elite gatekeeper’ post, Derek Brunson embodies the position like few others.
Brunson was a serious contender in the middleweight division and only lost to a who’s who of the best names in the sport, Robert Whittaker, Israel Adesanya, Jacare Souza and Yoel Romero to name but a few. Perhaps transcending several levels of gatekeeper throughout his time in the UFC Brunson was truly an elite-tier gatekeeper towards the end of his career with the organisation.
After derailing hype trains of Darren Till, Edmen Shahbayzan and Kevin Holland, Brunson would ultimately be defeated by Jared Cannonier who was then awarded a title shot against Israel Adesanya. It is worth noting as well that after Adesanya’s defeat of Brunson at the end of 2018, (aside from a somewhat ceremonial matchup against an ageing and barely ranked Anderson Silva) Adesanya would soon receive an interim title shot against Kelvin Gastelum. Likewise, Brunson’s most recent fight, a loss against Dricus Du Plessis which resulted in his retirement, has seen Du Plessis be given what is likely a number-one contender fight against Robert Whittaker. A fight in which a victory could hold a similar amount of prestige to a championship bout.
In summary, the gatekeeping system creates a tiered form of progression. If every fighter listed here was in the same weight class it would be realistic for a win over Gerald Meerschaert to lead to a fight with Andrei Arolovski. A win over Arlovski could easily lead to a fight with Neil Magny. A victory over Neil Magny places a fighter in the cage with Derek Brunson and a victory over Brunson will likely be awarded with a championship fight or a number one contender bout at the bare minimum.
Hopefully, the level of gatekeepers has been explained a little bit more clearly now. If you disagree with or think of any other fighters that fit the categories in this list then make it known in the comments below.