For a lot of years, the light heavyweight division was the marquee attraction of the UFC. Names like Liddell and Couture were cheered and revered by fans the world over, hailed as pioneers in a sport that badly needed them.
However, for every hero, there is a villain. Or a few villains.
At the same time Liddell and Couture were in the mix, so was the ever-polarizing Tito Ortiz—a living embodiment of a love ‘em or hate ‘em mentality.
Now, in the division these men once ruled, Jon Jones has taken up the mantle of champion—and the mantle of detested crusader of evil as well.
That may be extreme, but he sure isn’t popular. Just like the rest of these former belt holders.
He didn’t exactly gain legions of fans by besting an honest-to-heavens American hero for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 36 anyway, but when it was revealed that he did it while on steroids, things got decidedly worse for Josh Barnett.
He went on to perform in Japanese pro wrestling and in other MMA organizations, amassing an impressive record along the way and telling anyone who’d listen that he would absolutely pee in Dana White’s mouth if he got the chance.
He failed another drug test in 2009 prior to a bout with Fedor Emelianenko, essentially killing the Affliction promotion and drawing even more fan rancour.
His shtick wears on a lot of people and his history is pretty murky, but—mouth peeing aside—he could very well be back in the UFC before long.
Who didn’t hate Tim Sylvia when he was champion? Even Dana White has repeatedly referred to the Sylvia era as the worst in UFC heavyweight history, and at the time there were very few fans of the burly Maine-iac.
With his slow, methodical, Ruizian approach to defending his gold, he did little to draw fans. His absurd mohawk/facial hair combo also didn’t help matters, nor did his insistence on wearing the belt at all times.
Interestingly he’s enjoyed something of a feel-good resurgence in recent months as he’s campaigned for a UFC return and found some fan support in doing so.
Time heals all wounds, apparently. Except those incurred from Randy Couture’s epic beatdown at UFC 68. Those wounds will never heal.
He came. He saw. He conqu- well no, he didn’t really conquer. But he didn’t suck either. He just kind of…was.
Brock Lesnar joined the UFC with only one pro fight to his name, and got a shot at gold when he was only 2-1 in his career. He went on to hold that title and successfully defend it twice before being exposed as a man who hates getting punched in the face.
From there it was pretty much the end of the line, with Cain Velasquez easily taking his belt and then Alistair Overeem sending him into retirement.
Lesnar was as polarizing as any man in MMA history though. His fans are as loyal as any in the sport, his haters equally as enthusiastic on their end. Given the sheer amount of attention and buzz he generated, he’s one of the most hated to ever hold gold in the UFC, as well as probably one of the most beloved.
The original UFC bad boy. You fell on one of two sides of the Tito Ortiz fence in the early 2000s: You either wanted to see him get his face smashed in, or you cheered every smashing he laid on someone else.
He clashed with Dana White, flipped the bird when he fancied, dug graves in the cage for his vanquished foes, and fought the best the promotion had to offer at the time. For his era, he’s inarguably one of the greatest champions and true trailblazers that existed.
He saw before anyone that bad was good, that it sold. And then he sold it.
Not everyone loved him for it though.
From clashing with Matt Hughes on TUF 2 to KOing beloved warriors like Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans was really his own worst enemy for a long time. Chirp enough legends and pound enough guys that people love, and you’re naturally going to become something of a heel.
Evans has carried himself with substantial swagger for most of his career, something that rubs people the wrong way and often leaves him discredited despite his only suffering two losses (both title fights) during his career.
After his acrimonious split with former coach Greg Jackson and very public feud with friend-turned-foe Jon Jones, the heat has died down for the former 205-pound champ. Still, for a long time, he was among the most hated titleholders in MMA.
This one is a bonus, given that he’s fighting at UFC 152 and has long been loathed by fans across the globe. He’s not technically a champion in the “here’s a gold belt, you’re the best in the world” sense, though he did win TUF 3 and sometimes Bruce Buffer acknowledges that when he’s announced.
It’s enough to make an exception for one of the greatest villains in UFC history.
Vulgar, hostile, spitting, illegal-kneeing Michael Bisping. Just a guy that nobody seems to like, no matter what the situation. He’s gotten better at the PR game after obviously struggling with it for a long time, but he’s still largely reviled by fans of the sport.
The fact is that he’s been relevant in two weight classes for the best part of six years now, and with a win on Saturday he thinks he’ll set himself up for a crack at Anderson Silva. Win that fight, and he’ll be right at the top of this list. Legitimately.
Hey, stranger things have happened.