The 5 toughest gatekeepers in MMA history

Profile Picture: Danny Howard

June 30th, 2020

MMA features plenty of great fighters who are not champions but still enjoy the same adoration and respect as some of the sport's most celebrated stars.

We call them "gatekeepers." They're the litmus test for fighters flirting with the limelight, and they’ve given those young contenders a vicious dose of reality. 

These five gatekeepers were the best of the best, and many of them are still plugging away.

5. Joseph Benavidez

Benavidez might yet become champion, should he avenge his loss to Deiveson Figueiredo next month, but he otherwise remains the best gatekeeper in the UFC's lower weight classes.

The veteran has put together strong wins over Eddie Wineland, Jussier Formiga, and Henry Cejudo.

Benavidez holds the most knockouts and wins in the flyweight division, and he is a title win away from a Hall of Fame spot.

4. Alistair Overeem

Still a terror at the age of 40, Overeem’s has wins over Frank Mir, Brock Lesnar, Andrei Arlovski, and Vitor Belfort. He has only fallen short against the true elite and has become a heavyweight legend.

While he is slowing down and has lost a step, with the years of battle catching up to him, it will still take a special fighter to beat him when he is on his game.

3. Eddie Wineland

After a respectable run in WEC, Wineland transitioned to the UFC and became one of the more fan-friendly fighters in the promotion.

Wineland’s 39-fight career has consisted of mostly give-and-take bouts that were as violent as they were dramatic, but he seldom ascended to the upper tier.

Now in the twilight of his career, Wineland has only fought four times in the last four years.

2. Derek Brunson

A nightmare for anyone on their way to a title shot, Brunson has decimated the hopes of many prospects and rebuilding champions.

He has racked up wins against Ian Heinisch, Dan Kelly, Uriah Hall, and Lyoto Machida.

1. Donald Cerrone

No fighter has epitomized the gatekeeper concept more so than Cerrone, who has been a formidable and dependable source of entertainment for some time.

"Cowboy" has had a lengthy run as one of the toughest fighters at lightweight and at welterweight and is never in a dull fight. He holds the most wins, post-fight bonuses, and finishes in UFC history. With a bout sheet that lists a who’s who of notable champions and legends, Cerrone will step away from the game as perhaps the most celebrated gatekeeper of all time.