Power Ranking the Top 25 UFC Champions of All Time

Sean SmithAnalyst IJune 20, 2012

Power Ranking the Top 25 UFC Champions of All Time

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    The UFC has not been around nearly as long as other major sports leagues, but it has already produced several great champions. In less than a month, one of the greatest of those champions, Anderson Silva, will defend his title in a rematch with rival Chael Sonnen.

    For more than five years, Silva has reigned over the UFC's 185-pound division. Since dethroning Rich Franklin in October 2006, the Brazilian champion has defended his belt against nine challengers and will have extra incentive to reach double-digit title defenses at UFC 148.

    Since his first bout with the long-standing middleweight champion in August 2010, Sonnen has personally attacked Silva. Though most of his insults have seemingly been in jest, Silva has taken Sonnen's words personally and will be looking to shut up the challenger with a more definitive win in their rematch.

    With the longest title run in UFC history on the line in only a few weeks, let's take a look at where Silva stands among the greatest champions in the organization's history.

25. Kevin Randleman

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    In May 1999, Kevin Randleman suffered a split-decision loss to Bas Rutten in a bout that could have earned him the UFC heavyweight title. However, Randleman would soon get another chance to wear UFC gold around his waist.

    After Rutten vacated his title due to injury, Randleman was given an opportunity to compete against Pete Williams for the belt at UFC 23. After five rounds, Randleman was awarded a decision victory over Williams and named heavyweight champion. 

    Following his win over Williams, Randleman was scheduled to defend his belt against Pedro Rizzo. In another five-round fight, Randleman was named the winner on the scorecards. That victory set him up for his final UFC title fight, in which he was knocked out by Randy Couture.

24. Maurice Smith

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    Despite losing seven of his first 11 MMA fights, kickboxer Maurice Smith found his way into a heavyweight title fight against Mark Coleman at UFC 14. After improving his grappling alongside Frank Shamrock, Smith pulled off an incredible upset, defeating Coleman in a unanimous decision.

    After beating Coleman, he picked up a title defense against Tank Abbott before giving Randy Couture a tough fight. Though it came down to a narrow majority decision, Smith lost his title to Couture and never earned a chance to reclaim his belt.

    While he didn't turn into a dominant champion, Smith will go down as one of the first kickboxers to find significant success in MMA.

23. Bas Rutten

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    After becoming recognized as one of the best fighters in the world while fighting in Pancrase, Bas Rutten made a late-career move to the UFC, where he quickly earned a shot at the heavyweight title against Kevin Randleman.

    With a split-decision win over Randleman, Rutten made sure he wasn't erased from MMA history by becoming champion of what has become the sport's premier promotion. However, Rutten vacated his belt to move to what is now known as the light heavyweight division.

    While training for his following fight, Rutten was injured and forced into retirement. Had Rutten's body held up for a few more years, he might have found himself much farther up this list. 

22. Murilo Bustamante

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    Though he was coming off the first loss of his career, a decision against Chuck Liddell, Murilo Bustamante was awarded a shot at the middleweight title against then-champion Dave Menne.

    Early in the second round of his bout with Menne, Bustamante score a knockout win to become middleweight champion. However, after picking up one title defense with a submission of Matt Lindland, Bustamante left the UFC for Pride.

    Bustamante proceeded to lose his next three fights and was largely unsuccessful under the Pride banner aside from a run to the finals of the 2005 Pride Welterweight Grand Prix, in which he was defeated via split decision by Dan Henderson.

    Had Bustamante stuck with the UFC and defended his title, his legacy in MMA could have turned out very differently.

21. Rich Franklin

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    With a win over Ken Shamrock in April 2005, Rich Franklin returned to the middleweight division and earned a spot in a title fight against Evan Tanner.

    Against Tanner, Franklin caused a fourth-round doctor stoppage to claim the 185-pound belt, which he defended against Nate Quarry and David Loiseau before running into current champion Anderson Silva. 

    After losing his title to Silva, Franklin would soon earn a rematch with the Brazilian. However, both of Franklin's bouts with "The Spider" ended with the American eating knees from the clinch. 

20. Andrei Arlovski

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    Three straight wins and a Frank Mir motorcycle accident led to Andrei Arlovski's first shot at a UFC title. In his first of what would be three bouts against Tim Sylvia, Arlovski secured an Achilles' lock to become interim heavyweight champion.

    During a weak period for the heavyweight division, Arlovski picked up two title defenses with first-round knockouts against Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello. During that time, Arlovski was promoted to undisputed heavyweight champion, as Mir missed nearly two years due to his crash.

    Arlovski's third fight as champion was a rematch against Sylvia, who reclaimed the heavyweight belt with a first-round knockout. An immediate rematch also went Sylvia's way, as he defeated Arlovski in a unanimous decision after five rounds.

19. Jose Aldo

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    Since this list is ranking only UFC champions, featherweight champion Jose Aldo's three title fight wins while with the WEC were not considered when determining his position. However, if they were, Aldo might be much closer to the top of this list.

    At 25 years old, Aldo is already considered by many to be the greatest featherweight in MMA history.

    After knocking out Mike Brown to take the WEC's 145-pound title, Aldo defended his belt against Urijah Faber and Manny Gamburyan before being named UFC featherweight champion due to a merger between Zuffa's two promotions.

    In just one year of competition with the UFC, Aldo has picked up three more title defenses against Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian and Chad Mendes. The Brazilian featherweight was expected to compete in a fourth UFC title fight against Erik Koch, but he was recently removed from the bout due to injury.

18. Dominick Cruz

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    Like Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz would probably be farther up this list if his WEC title fights were considered. Prior to winning the UFC bantamweight title against Scott Jorgensen, Cruz had already beaten Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez in championship bouts.

    Since joining the UFC, Cruz has defended his title against former WEC champion Urijah Faber and top flyweight contender Demetrious Johnson. Cruz was also scheduled for a rematch with Faber until he suffered a knee injury that led to the booking of an interim title fight between Faber and Renan Barao. 

17. Jens Pulver

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    At UFC 30, Jens Pulver became the UFC's first lightweight champion with a majority decision against Caol Uno. Over the next year, Pulver defended his title with decision wins against Dennis Hallman and B.J. Penn.

    However, after his win over Penn, Pulver engaged in a contract dispute with the UFC and was stripped of his title. Pulver wouldn't return to the Octagon for more than four years, at which time his career collapsed and he lost eight of nine fights.

16. Frank Mir

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    With a nasty submission that left Tim Sylvia's arm broken, Frank Mir captured the heavyweight title in June 2004. However, a motorcycle accident that kept him out of action for nearly two years forced the UFC to strip Mir of the belt.

    At a time when the heavyweight division was at its weakest, Mir probably could have made a push for the longest title reign in heavyweight history, but he instead had to scratch and claw his way back to the top of the division upon his return.

    Eventually, Mir earned an interim title by becoming the first fighter to ever knock out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but he lost his belt not long after in a fight against Brock Lesnar for the undisputed championship.

15. Junior dos Santos

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    After dominating his first seven UFC opponents, Junior dos Santos set himself up for a spot in one of the biggest fights in MMA history. In the UFC's first fight on network television, dos Santos competed in the main event against Cain Velasquez.

    Though Velasquez was undefeated heading into the fight, dos Santos dethroned the champion in just 64 seconds. Recently, dos Santos defended his belt for the first time with a knockout of Frank Mir.

    Already, dos Santos will have a chance to tie the record for most consecutive title defenses in a rematch with Velasquez, which will take place in September. 

14. Quinton Jackson

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    After knocking out Marvin Eastman in his UFC debut, former Pride star Quinton Jackson earned a title fight with long-reigning light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell. 

    Less than two minutes into his bout with Liddell, Jackson landed a right hook that knocked "The Iceman" out cold. Following the knockout, Liddell never reclaimed his position as one of the top light heavyweights in the sport.

    Jackson, meanwhile, moved on to defend his belt in a title-merging fight with Pride champion Dan Henderson. Though, after a long layoff, Jackson lost his next fight in a controversial decision against Forrest Griffin.

13. Brock Lesnar

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    Brock Lesnar may have gotten a quick route to a title shot, but he proved he deserved it by beating one of the best in the sport. With a second-round knockout of Randy Couture, Lesnar became UFC heavyweight champion in only his fourth professional fight.

    After beating Couture, Lesnar defended his title twice, tying the record for most consecutive title defenses in UFC history, by picking up wins over Frank Mir and Shane Carwin. 

    While he didn't make any excuses for his loss, Lesnar eventually was dethroned by Cain Velasquez after battling two serious cases of diverticulitis. 

12. Pat Miletich

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    After losing just once in his first 23 fights, Pat Miletich was offered a UFC title fight against Mikey Burnett. In a fight that came down to a split decision, Miletich earned what would later be known as the welterweight title.

    Though he lost fights outside of the UFC during his reign, Miletich defended his title against Jorge Patino, Andre Pederneiras, John Alessio and Kenichi Yamamoto before losing to Carlos Newton via submission in a fight he appeared to be winning midway through the third round.

    Following his loss to Newton, Miletich competed only four more times before retiring from the sport. 

11. Tim Sylvia

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    After going undefeated in his first 14 professional fights, Tim Sylvia stepped into the cage with UFC heavyweight titleholder Ricco Rodriguez. Three minutes into the fight, Sylvia was able to stop Rodriguez with punches, earning himself the heavyweight belt.

    Sylvia defended his title against Gan McGee in his next appearance, but a failed post-fight drug test forced the UFC to strip Sylvia of his title. Despite tainting the heavyweight title, Sylvia was given two title shots in his first three fights following his failed drug test, though he came up short in both contests.

    Eventually, though, Sylvia was able to recapture UFC gold with a first-round knockout of Andrei Arlovski. In his second reign as heavyweight titleholder, Sylvia defended his belt against Arlovski and Jeff Monson before being dethroned by Randy Couture.

10. Frankie Edgar

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    Having earned his title shot against B.J. Penn with a win over Matt Veach, Frankie Edgar wasn't given much of a chance to upset the greatest lightweight in MMA history. However, in a closely contested fight with Penn at UFC 112, Edgar was named the UFC's new lightweight champion.

    The controversial nature of the decision led to an immediate rematch with Penn, who was once again favored to win. Nonetheless, Edgar put on an even more spectacular performance, defending his title for the first time in a much clearer victory.

    After chasing Penn from the lightweight division, Edgar found himself in another rematch with Gray Maynard. Maynard rocked Edgar early in the fight and looked to be on his way to finishing the champion, but Edgar recovered and rallied to retain his belt in a draw.

    Due to the fight's indecisive outcome, Edgar and Maynard were matched against one another for a third time. Once again, Maynard hurt Edgar in the first round, but Edgar stormed back and scored a knockout win of his own in the fourth round.

    Edgar then lost his title in a close fight with Benson Henderson, whose first title defense will be an immediate rematch against the 10th greatest champion in UFC history.

9. Tito Ortiz

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    Tito Ortiz's opportunity to become light heavyweight champion came with the temporary retirement of Frank Shamrock, who vacated his title due to lack of competition after beating Ortiz in a fourth-round stoppage.

    In a bout for the vacant belt, Ortiz was able to beat eventual Pride champion Wanderlei Silva via unanimous decision. Following that win, Ortiz embarked on a streak of title defenses that has still not been matched.

    Before losing the title to Randy Couture, Ortiz defended his belt against Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Elvis Sinosic, Vladimir Matyushenko and Ken Shamrock.

8. Frank Shamrock

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    After competing in Pancrase for a number of years, Frank Shamrock's first UFC fight was a title fight against Kevin Jackson in December 1997. It took Shamrock just 16 seconds to lock up an armbar and capture the UFC title.

    Shamrock's first three title defenses also ended in first-round finishes, as he stopped Igor Zinoviev, Jeremy Horn and John Lober without much trouble. Against Tito Ortiz, Shamrock needed four rounds, but he still found a way to keep his belt without going to the scorecards.

    Following his win over Ortiz, Shamrock went into a brief retirement of slightly more than one year, and he never did return to the UFC.

7. Jon Jones

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    Jon Jones earned his first title shot with a win over Ryan Bader slightly more than a year ago. However, Jones has already become one of the most dominant champions in UFC history and is closing in on surpassing the likes of Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva as the greatest light heavyweight ever.

    In less than one-and-a-half years, Jones has dethroned Mauricio Rua and defended the 205-pound title three times against former UFC champions Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans. Later this year, against Dan Henderson, Jones will attempt to move within one title defense of tying Tito Ortiz for the most consecutive title defenses in UFC history.

6. B.J. Penn

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    After twice failing to become the UFC's lightweight champion, B.J. Penn moved to welterweight and ended the great 170-pound title reign of Matt Hughes. Instead of defending that title, though, Penn temporarily left the UFC to compete under the K-1 banner.

    Upon his return to the UFC, Penn was given second shot at dethroning Hughes by replacing an injured Georges St-Pierre in a title fight, but Hughes was able to even the score with Penn by scoring a third-round knockout.

    Following the loss, Penn returned to the lightweight division and captured the vacant title with a win over Joe Stevenson. Before losing his belt to Frankie Edgar, Penn defeated predecessor Sean Sherk, failed at becoming a two-division champion against St-Pierre and picked up his second and third lightweight title defenses against Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.

5. Chuck Liddell

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    In April 2005, Chuck Liddell was offered a rematch and title shot against light heavyweight champion Randy Couture. With a first-round knockout of "The Natural," one of the most impressive title runs in UFC history began.

    Liddell proceeded to defend his title four times, knocking all four of the challengers out in impressive fashion. Couture, Jeremy Horn, Renato Sobral and Tito Ortiz all fell short of ending Liddell's reign as 205-pound champion.

    As quickly as Liddell rose to greatness, though, he fell into retirement. A knockout loss to Quinton Jackson in his fifth fight as champion led to losses in five of Liddell's final six fights. After a knockout loss to Rich Franklin in June 2010, the UFC brass talked Liddell into retirement and a non-fighting role with the company.

4. Randy Couture

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    It took Randy Couture four fights to win his UFC title, as he stole the heavyweight belt in a majority decision over Maurice Smith. However, a contract dispute caused Couture to leave the UFC without defending his title on that occasion.

    Three years later, Couture returned to the UFC and dethroned Kevin Randleman from the top of the heavyweight division in his first fight back inside the Octagon. This time, Couture stuck around to defend his belt twice against Pedro Rizzo before losing it against Josh Barnett, who failed a post-fight drug test and was immediately stripped of the title.

    Given a chance to quickly earn his title back, Couture came up short in a fight with Ricco Rodriguez, who stopped "The Natural" with an elbow in the fourth round.

    Following the loss to Rodriguez, Couture moved to the light heavyweight division, where he won an interim title by defeating Chuck Liddell. Then, Couture became undisputed champion with a victory over long-reigning titleholder Tito Ortiz.

    However, Couture would lose his title quickly due to a cut suffered in the opening minute of his first title defense against Vitor Belfort. In a immediate rematch with Belfort, Couture regained his belt only to lose it in his following fight against Liddell.

    After losing a rubber match with Liddell that could have put him back on top of the 205-pound division, Couture returned to heavyweight and scored an epic win against Tim Sylvia. Before age and his size disadvantage at heavyweight finally caught up with him in a loss to Brock Lesnar, Couture picked up a title defense against Gabriel Gonzaga. 

3. Matt Hughes

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    Until Georges St-Pierre reached his full potential, Matt Hughes was the greatest welterweight in the history of the sport. Hughes' first run as UFC champion began in November 2001, when he scored a knockout of Carlos Newton by slamming his way out of a triangle choke.

    Hughes went on to pick up five straight title defenses against Newton, Hayato Sakurai, Gil Castillo, Sean Sherk and Frank Trigg.

    After losing his belt to B.J. Penn, Hughes quickly returned to title contention and regained his belt with a first-round submission of St-Pierre. Then, Hughes defended his title with another win over Trigg and should have earned a second title defense against Joe Riggs, but the fight was changed to a non-title fight after Riggs failed to make weight.

    Following a win in another non-title fight against Royce Gracie, Hughes was finally dethroned permanently by a more experienced St-Pierre.

2. Georges St-Pierre

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    Georges St-Pierre got his first shot at UFC gold in October 2004, but he wasn't ready for a legend like Matt Hughes at the time, as he was forced to tap due to an armbar with one second remaining in the opening round.

    It took St-Pierre two years to earn a rematch with Hughes, but he showed major improvement from their first meeting and scored a second-round knockout win to become welterweight champion.

    After losing his title in a massive upset against Matt Serra, St-Pierre refocused and hasn't been defeated since. St-Pierre earned an interim title in a rubber match with Hughes before exacting revenge against Serra to become undisputed titleholder.

    Since beating Serra, St-Pierre has defended his title against Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields.

1. Anderson Silva

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    It has been nearly six years since Anderson Silva captured the UFC's middleweight title with a swift destruction of Rich Franklin. Since then, Silva has defended his title nine times and remains the top 185-pound fighter in the world.

    Silva has disposed of top middleweight contenders Franklin, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami. Additionally, Silva won two light heavyweight bouts against Forrest Griffin and James Irvin, and defeated Travis Lutter in a non-title contest.

    In July, Silva will look for his 10th straight title defense in a rematch with Sonnen. A victory over his rival would furhter cement Silva's legacy as the greatest fighter in MMA history.