The Ultimate Fighting Championships have been around for nearly 20 years. In that time we have seen some of the world’s greatest fighters battle inside the octagon. UFC history is littered with great Brazilian jiu-jitsu artists, tactical wrestlers, and perennial strikers such as: Royce Gracie, Georges St. Pierre, and Anderson Silva. The greatest of them have proven themselves to earn the title of “Champion.”
Like every other sport, fans will long debate who are the best. The conversation gets even deeper when discussing champions. Where it gets difficult is naming the champion of champions. Who is the best ever? Montana or Elway? Louis or Ali? The UFC has produced many champions over the years. Here are the selected few that can call themselves the best of the best.
Jens Pulver is a commonly underrated champion in UFC history. Pulver won the UFC Lightweight title by defeating Japanese Shooto champion Caol Uno.
He would defend the title twice, defeating Dennis Hallman and future champion B.J. Penn. He is only the second man to beat Penn at 155 pounds. He left the UFC in a contract dispute after the Penn victory. Had he stayed in the UFC, there's no telling how long "Lil' Evil" would have would have reigned.
Frankie Edgar is one of the most resilient fighters in the UFC today. Edgar defeated B.J. Penn to win the UFC Lightweight title in a closely fought, five-round battle. In his four title fights, he is 3-0-1 with three of the fights going the full five rounds.
In his last three fights, he completely outclassed B.J. Penn in a rematch, and withstood a devastating onslaught by challenger Gray Maynard in both of their epic fights. He is only the second fighter to defeat Penn at 155 pounds.
With three impressive title defenses currently under his belt, Edgar is beginning to stake a claim for the little guys in the UFC.
“The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” ruled the UFC Light Heavyweight division for more then three years. Tito Ortiz defeated PRIDE legend Wanderlei Silva for the title in 2000, which was vacated by Frank Shamrock after he retired.
He would go on to defend the belt five times, then a UFC record. A candid figure, Ortiz is known for his brash persona and walk-out t-shirts that mock his opponents. The shirt from the Jerry Bohlander fight was BY FAR the craziest.
He is most noted for his battles with the Shamrock brothers against whom he holds a 3-1 record; the three wins were all against Ken.
Frank Shamrock was one of the early stars of the UFC. As a member of Lion’s Den, he won the UFC Middleweight title — predecessor to the 205 pound light heavyweight title — by defeating UFC 14 tournament winner Kevin Jackson in 1997.
He would go on to defend the title four times during his two-year reign as champion, with victories over Jeremy Horn and future UFC champ Tito Ortiz.
Shamrock retired from the UFC after his fight with Ortiz finishing his title run with a 5-0 record, including four wins by submission and one by knockout.
One of the most talented fighters to ever grace the octagon, Pat Miletich was one of the first truly dominant fighters of the smaller weight divisions.
While he is often the forgotten champion, his influence is entrenched in the sport. He began his UFC career by winning the UFC Lightweight tournament at UFC 16 in 1998.
He later won the UFC Lightweight title — predecessor to the 170 pound welterweight title — later that year by defeating Mikey Burnett at UFC Brazil. He defended the title four times before losing to Carlos Newton.
Miletich later became one of the premier trainers in mixed martial arts with Miletich Fighting Systems. He’s trained numerous fighters over the years including UFC Hall of Fame inductee Matt Hughes.
Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell is one of the most brutal knockout artists in UFC history.
During his title reign, Liddell defeated a relative who’s who of MMA with wins over Jeremy Horn, Randy Couture (twice), Renato Sobral, and Tito Ortiz.
His trilogy with Couture and his two wins over Ortiz were just some of the highlights of his stellar career. MMA’s mainstream appeal would not be possible without Chuck’s contribution to the sport.
Royce Gracie is a deity in MMA circles. He is arguably the primary reason I am sitting here writing about this sport today.
The Gracie family used the Ultimate Fighting Championships as a showcase for their famed art, Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Royce represented the family well by winning three of the first four tournaments.
In his first UFC run, he posted a record of 11-0-1 with wins over Dan Severn, Ken Shamrock and Kimo Leopoldo, all of whom had significant size and weight advantages. He set out to prove that with the right skills, size would not matter.
Regardless of who else may come along, his influence will always be felt in the UFC.
No championship discussion would be complete without mentioning Matt Hughes. A product of the Miletich Fighting Systems, Hughes tore through the welterweight division winning seven title defenses across two reigns as champion.
He is one of only two fighters to ever defeat Georges St. Pierre and is also the only man to beat UFC legend Royce Gracie in the UFC. Most noted for his wins over St. Pierre and Frank Trigg (twice), he also holds victories over former UFC champions Sean Sherk and Carlos Newton.
You will be hard pressed to find anyone who will say a bad word about Georges “Rush” St. Pierre…well maybe Josh Koscheck. One of the most dominant champions in MMA history, St. Pierre competes with a skill set unlike any other.
Undefeated since a 2007 loss to Matt Serra, St. Pierre has run through some tough competition, including Matt Hughes, B.J. Penn and Jake Shields.
He won the UFC Welterweight title on three separate occasions, including one interim title that he unified in his dominating rematch over Matt Serra. No matter the strength of the opponent, whether striking or wrestling, St. Pierre has made fighters of both styles look pedestrian.
Currently at 22-2, he is on a nine-fight win streak and continues to rule over a division that is overflowing with talent.
Anderson Silva is the most superior champion of all time hands down.
He’s 14-0 in the UFC and 9-0 in title defenses, with only three fights going past the third round. Silva doesn't just win, he embarrasses his opponents. He’s perhaps the most accurate striker in UFC history and definitely one of the most powerful as his punches and kicks appear so effortless.
Even while injured and with his back to the wall, he snatched away victory from his toughest opponent to date, Chael Sonnen. Victory when faced with certain defeat, THAT is what makes a champion.
Yes, “Captain America” tops off the list. Randy Couture is the most prolific champion in UFC history because all he’s ever done is win championships.
In 24 UFC fights, Couture fought in 15 title fights compiling a 9-6 record — 6-3 in the heavyweight division and 3-3 in the light heavyweight division — winning the heavyweight and light heavyweight title three times each, including one interim light heavyweight title. He also won the UFC 13 Heavyweight tournament.
Who has he defeated in his career? Chuck Liddell, Vitor Belfort, Tim Sylvia, and Tito Ortiz just to name a few. He won his last title at age 43, a UFC record. Without a doubt, Randy was truly “The Natural.”