With any division in MMA, most of the talented fighters reside in the UFC. The goal of any fighter outside of the Octagon is to find a way in. Over the past several weeks, a number of heavyweights have attempted to make their case for why they should be brought into the UFC fold. Some have tasted the bright lights of the UFC before (a few even achieving championship status), while some are looking for their first shot at the big show.

Former UFC champions Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia and UFC veterans Soa Palelei and Rolles Gracie, along with Satoshi Ishii and Yusuke Kawaguchi, neither of whom has ever competed under the UFC banner, have all fought in recent weeks, either keeping the UFC within their range or burning any bridge they might have to the mega-promotion.

For Sylvia and Kawaguchi, their recent losses to Satoshi Ishii and Rolles Gracie respectively have effectively ended any chance of a UFC fight in the foreseeable future. Although Sylvia may have clamored for a spot on the big show, his loss to Ishii could be considered his second consecutive loss. In Sylvia’s previous outing, Arlovski did knock him out with soccer kicks at One FC: Pride of a Nation, but due to Arlovski not getting the referee’s okay to throw the kicks, the fight was ruled a no-contest.

Sylvia may be a former UFC heavyweight champion, but he already had a tough road back before his loss to Arlovski—even with the three straight wins he had compiled. He had put himself on UFC President Dana White’s bad side and failed to fight and beat the level of competition that would have made it impossible for the UFC to deny his re-entry into the Octagon.

Kawaguchi seems to have destroyed pretty much any hopes at a chance at the UFC. At age 32, the Japanese heavyweight, who at one point held an impressive 13-2 record, has lost his last four fights, including his December affair with Gracie. That losing skid doesn’t exactly excite anybody over a prospect.

Much like Kawaguchi, Mike Hayes, who fought Arlovski at a Russian event, has also put himself in a tough position, now dropping two straight fights—both were decision losses.

That leaves the victorious fighters from the month of action—Palelei, Arlovski, Gracie and Ishii. All fighters were successful in December, but we can still rule out at least two fighters from the list of possible UFC recruits.

Rolles Gracie has already fought in the UFC (at UFC 109 in Abu Dhabi) in a fight that was deemed “embarrassing” by his legendary cousin, Renzo Gracie. While Rolles had a chance to win early on against Joey Beltran, he effectively gassed himself out trying to go for the finish and had nothing left in the tank before Beltran stopped him with a TKO early in the second round. His cardio—or lack thereof—could be improved since then, however. Gracie does have one fight that went three rounds since his Beltran collapse, but after his monumentally disappointing showing in the UFC, it seems better that he compete in the Asian promotions and not against the talent the UFC would throw his way.

Ishii is a different story than everybody else here. He won his last fight against Sylvia, but before that he was stopped early on by Fedor Emelianenko. While losing to perhaps the greatest mixed martial artist to ever put on the gloves is nothing to be ashamed of, it was Fedor’s first finish since his 2009 fight with Brett Rogers and came after his epic collapse in Strikeforce, which many—if not all—MMA fans witnessed. That loss to Emelianenko, coupled in with the fact that Ishii is only on a one-fight winning streak, rules out the possibility of the Olympic gold medalist judoka finding his way into the UFC for the time being. If the UFC decides to go to Japan later this year, or even next year, then maybe we can revisit this conversation and talk about Ishii possibly making his UFC debut.

That leaves us with Palelei and Arlovski.

Palelei’s winning streak is pretty remarkable, and having already made his UFC debut, his second chance at the UFC should be attainable at this very moment. Since his loss to Eddie Sanchez at UFC 79, Palelei has amassed a 10-1 record with nine first-round finishes. Palelei’s only loss in that span, you may ask? It came against Strikeforce heavyweight champion and soon-to-be UFC top contender Daniel Cormier.

While the most meaningful win in Palelei’s recent extended winning streak is Sean McCorkle—and the most recognizable is the infamous Bob Sapp—the Australian heavyweight makes quick work of his opponents and should get the chance to at least perform on the undercard of a UFC event in Australia.

This finally brings us to Andrei Arlovski, another former UFC heavyweight champion.

Arlovski is 4-0 since his disastrous run in Strikeforce and has the one no-contest against Sylvia. But that disaster in Strikeforce will most likely effectively take Arlovski out of contention for any return to the UFC.

Arlovski has a fight lined up with Jeff Monson in February and is in the twilight of his career. He faced top talent in Strikeforce and failed to capitalize there. If he had won at least two fights—even maybe just one—this could be a different conversation. The UFC is a tough place even for fighters on the preliminary cards, and talented fighters grace each division, even at the lowest levels. Arlovski just didn’t demonstrate in Strikeforce that he still has that talent, and now a couple years later, that probably hasn’t changed.

Unfortunately for most of the guys mentioned, the UFC remains an unrealistic dream. The one man who has a glimmer of hope is Palelei. This should be the year he makes his return to the big stage.

Photo: Soa Palelei (Louie Abigail/Sherdog)

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain you. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a diehard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Packers.