Power Ranking the First UFC Champion in Each Weight Class (Post-UFC 31)
The UFC has grown recently into one of the most known sporting organizations in the world, but it hasn't always been that way.
When the Ultimate Fighting Championship first started, it was only known to diehard fans who really went out of there way to find out more about the sport.
While most fans these days think of guys like Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and Dan Severn from the early days or guys like Chuck Liddell, B.J. Penn, and Forrest Griffin when they think of the legends of the sport, none of these men held a UFC belt first.
Now, a key note to remember in this article is that the list doesn't officially start until post-UFC 31 due to the fact that UFC 31 was the first event to feature the same weight classes that we have today. Also, the recently included featherweight and bantamweight divisions will be listed as well.
So, who were the first UFC champions in the weight class era of the UFC? Here they are, power ranked from the worse to the best first champions in UFC history.
7. Dave Menne: Middleweight
You mean to tell me Anderson Silva hasn't been the Middleweight Champion forever? Nope, that honor goes to Dave Menne as he won the first UFC Middleweight Championship back at UFC 33 after defeating Gil Castillo. At the time, Menne was 30-7-2, but was coming off a loss to Hiromitsu Kanehara in Japan and his fight with Castillo was his first in the UFC.
Menne would only hold the championship for about four months when he faced Brazilian Murilo Bustamante and was defeated by TKO.
Menne is now 45-17-2 and recently had a rematch with the man that defeated him for the Middleweight Championship, Bustamante, and was defeated yet again—this time, by a unanimous decision.
6. Carlos Newton: Welterweight
Carlos Newton might be best known for being on the receiving end of one of the most vicious slams in MMA history by Matt Hughes, but before that, he was a UFC Welterweight Champion.
While many will argue that Pat Miletich was the actual first UFC Welterweight Champion due to the fact that he won the title before the weight classes of today were organized, he is excluded from the list.
At UFC 31, Miletich was in action against Newton for the welterweight crown, but fans were treated to the first ever, and maybe only, bulldog headlock choke in MMA history.
Newton's run as Welterweight Champion was a short one and in his next match-up, he faced future Hall of Fame fighter Hughes and the rest is history.
5. Dominick Cruz: Bantamweight
Dominick Cruz has only been in the UFC for a short period of time, but he does have a 2-0 record inside the Octagon. When the WEC merged with the UFC back in October of 2010, Cruz entered the UFC already as the first ever Bantamweight Champion and has defended his championship twice since then.
Cruz defeated his rival first in a very close fight with Urijah Faber which he won by unanimous decision. Cruz would then defend the belt once again against current flyweight title contender Demetrious Johnson on the first title fight to be aired on free television since UFC 75. Cruz would once again win by a unanimous decision.
Dominick recently finished coaching the first season of The Ultimate Fighter Live alongside rival Faber and was scheduled to have his third fight in the UFC and against Faber at UFC 148, but a severe knee injury sidelined him.
It could be late 2013 before we see the UFC's first Bantamweight Champion inside the Octagon again.
4. Randy Couture: Heavyweight
I'm sure it's surprising to see Couture so low on the list, but remember, I'm power ranking based on their performance of their first title runs. This one of Couture's was maybe his worse.
"The Natural" became Heavyweight Champion after defeating Kevin Randleman at UFC 28, but he also successfully defended the title at UFC 31 against Pedro Rizzo in what many call one of the greatest fights of Couture's careers.
The two would meet again at UFC 34, but the outcome would remain the same as Couture would knock off Rizzo and defend his championship.
Couture would run into trouble though in his next title defense as he ran into Josh Barnett at UFC 36. Couture would be defeated by TKO in the second round.
Although Barnett tested positive for steroids post-fight and was stripped of the title, the loss was never changed.
Couture would go on to have one of the most successful MMA careers of all time, but this run as UFC Heavyweight Champion was not his best.
3. Jens Pulver: Lightweight
Jens Pulver has fought at featherweight, bantamweight, and flyweight all within the last year, but at one point in time, he was one of the best lightweights in the world. He was also the first ever UFC Lightweight Champion after he defeated Caol Uno at UFC 30.
He made his first title defense against Dennis Hallman at UFC 33 and won via unanimous decision. Pulver then won the biggest fight of his career as he knocked of future UFC Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn at UFC 35.
Pulver's win against the young B.J. Penn was labeled as an upset by many even though Pulver came into the fight as champion. Penn was a highly decorated BJJ practitioner and many were already labeling Penn as unbeatable at this young stage in his career.
Pulver would face Penn once again after coaching The Ultimate Fighter Season five alongside him, but this time, Penn would defeat the former champion by rear naked choke in the second round.
2. Jose Aldo: Featherweight
Jose Aldo is one of the fastest and most dangerous fighters in the UFC today. Like Cruz, Aldo was promoted to the UFC Featherweight Champion after the WEC-UFC merger.
Aldo made his first title defense UFC 129 against Mark Hominick and won the fight by unanimous decision as well as the fight of the night award. Aldo would defend the championship once again when he faced former lightweight title contender Kenny Florian at UFC 136, but once again, Aldo would take a unanimous decision.
Most recently, Aldo defended his title in his homeland of Brazil against undefeated Chad Mendes. Mendes would push the action throughout the first round and in an attempt to win over the judges at the end of the round, Mendes shot for a takedown, but he then woke up to find Aldo in the crowd.
Jose Aldo countered the takedown attempt with a knee that knocked Mendes out cold and won by KO at 4:59 in the first round.
Aldo then had one of the best celebrations to date as he took off out of the Octagon into the Brazil crowd to celebrate. Aldo was scheduled to make his fourth title defense this summer against another top prospect in Erik Koch, but Aldo suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw from the fight. Aldo is expected to return some time this fall.
1. Tito Ortiz: Light Heavyweight
Number one on the list is the most recent inductee into the UFC Hall of Fame: Tito Ortiz.
Tito won the Light Heavyweight Championship by defeating Wanderlei Silva at UFC 25 and defended it twice before UFC 31.
Ortiz would defeat future Middleweight Champion Evan Tanner, Vladimir Matyushenko, and his bitter rival Ken Shamrock during his title reign.
Tito holds the UFC light heavyweight record for most title defenses with five as well as longest title reign as he finished at 1,260 days as champion.
Ortiz's induction to the UFC Hall of Fame is well deserved as he will go down in history as one of the greatest light heavyweights in MMA history.
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