MMA & UFC Fighter Hierarchy

Posted on 31 March, 2022

Like boxing, MMA fans categorize fighters by their likelihood of becoming a champion one day and the relationship to other fighters in their weight class. See below for the most common terms people use when describing a fighter's role in crowning champions.

What is a Can?

A fighter who is significantly worse than their opponent. There's no set metric or record that makes them a can, but generally it's pretty obvious. See this MMA fighter with a 1-42 record. These cans are set up to lose to improve the record of their opponent. They're much more common in the early stages of a promising fighter's career, before you've heard of the fighter. These cans generally give up early and use it as a way to make a quick buck.

What is a Can Crusher?

Michael Venom Page. A notorious can crusher in Bellator. Shows off and looks great - because he fights people much worse than him.

The fighters who have great records because their opponents were cans are called can crushers. This is an insult. Khabib faced some mild criticism for crushing debuting fighters, who some fans deemed as cans, early in his career. A tactic adopted to avoid this criticism is to crush can crushers. That is, fighting people who have seemingly great records, but only because they crushed cans.

You can be both a can crusher and any of the categories below.

What is a Journeyman?

A reliable, middling fighter. These fighters will never sniff a title shot. Because most fighters want to be champions, calling someone a Journeyman is an insult.

What is a Prospect

One of the biggest MMA prospects of all time.
One of the biggest MMA prospects of all time.

A fighter early-ish in their career who is surging and will hopefully become a champion in the future. They have beat competition at their level already, but have yet to been tested by a gatekeeper.

What is a Gatekeeper

A fighter who himself will probably not fight for a title anytime soon, but is the test used on prospects. If the prospect wins, they're a contender. These fighters may have challenged for the title in the past or have been close to a title bout. They lose to the very top of the division, but consistently beat fighters ranked below them - until someone very special comes along.

What is a Contender

Someone who is likely going to challenge for a title soon. If they fought for a title next, no one would bat an eye.

What is an Interim Champion

Khabib couldn't defend for a while, so they made an interim champion Dustin Poirier
Khabib couldn't defend for a while, so they made an interim champion Dustin Poirier

If the champion can't defend their title for any reason (usually injury) an interim championship fight is declared. They will set up a fight between 2 contenders and the winner will be the interim champion. If the champion still can't defend their title for a long period of time or retires, the champion will be stripped from their title and the interim champion will be promoted to the real champion. If the champion can defend, the next fight will be the interim champion vs the real champion. This is called unifying the belt. It's up to the promoters discretion to create an interim championship fight, but they will generally only make one if a champion cannot defend their title for over 9 months to a year.


Kamaru Usman the UFC Welterweight Champ

The belt holder of the weightclass. Almost always the best in their division. If they're the UFC champion, there's a very good chance they're the best fighter in the world at that weightclass.