The Career-Defining Moment of Each UFC Light Heavyweight Champion

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2013

The Career-Defining Moment of Each UFC Light Heavyweight Champion

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    Since it formed in 2001, the UFC's light heavyweight division has churned out some of the company's most talented and entertaining champions.

    Although they all handled business differently in the Octagon, each of these 205-pound warriors used a pivotal career-defining moment to catapult their stock in the company.

    Some gutted out wins in five-round wars, while others scored impressive knockouts or submissions in their moment of glory.

    Here are the career defining moments of each UFC light heavyweight champ.

Frank Shamrock

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    Initially dubbed the UFC's first middleweight champ, Frank Shamrock officially garnered the title of the company's first ever light heavyweight champ when the UFC realigned its divisions in May 2001.

    By then, Tito Ortiz had snatched the belt that Shamrock once wore between December 1997 and November 1999.

    Before Ortiz's long reign, Shamrock went on a torrid run in the UFC, winning the belt against Kevin Jackson at UFC Japan and then defending it four straight times.

    Shamrock eventually vacated the belt and left the UFC because of a perceived lack of competition.

    Shamrock's most monumental moment, however, occurred against Ortiz in his last light heavyweight title defense at UFC 22.

    The much smaller Shamrock defied the odds and valiantly beat Ortiz into submission with elbows and hammerfists. Fans and pundits still recognize the fight as one of the most epic in company history.

Tito Ortiz

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    Although he sputtered with age, Tito Ortiz ruled the UFC's light heavyweight division for a company-record 1,260 days.

    During that span, Ortiz scored five straight impressive wins in title fights, including victories over Wanderlei Silva, Vladimir Matyushenko and Ken Shamrock.

    But Ortiz made his most lasting impression on the organization when he nearly drove the late Evan Tanner through the canvas with an unforgettable belly-to-belly slam at UFC 30.

    Following a dirty boxing exchange between Ortiz and Tanner along the fence, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" landed a flush knee and then clinched up with an unsuspecting Tanner with double underhooks.

    Ortiz then dropped his hips and elevated Tanner, smashing the former middleweight champ to the canvas and rendering him unconscious just 30 seconds into the bout.

Randy Couture

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    Of all the UFC records he owns and all the captivating fights he put on in the light heavyweight division, Hall of Famer Randy Couture experienced his career-defining moment as a heavyweight.

    At the age of 43, and following a devastating knockout loss to Chuck Liddell for the light heavyweight strap at UFC 57, Couture locked horns with gargantuan former heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia at UFC 68.

    Undersized and 13 years the elder of Sylvia, Couture set the tone early with a punch that flattened "The Maine-iac" just eight seconds in.

    Couture used his wrestling chops and ground-and-pound prowess to control and lump up Sylvia. "The Natural" cruised to a unanimous decision win, becoming the first fighter in the company's history to earn belts in two different divisions. 

Vitor Belfort

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    Not only did Vitor Belfort win the UFC light heavyweight title because of a technicality, he also lost the belt in his first title defense just 203 days later.

    A corneal scratch to the eye of Couture ended his first bout with Belfort just 49 seconds in at UFC 46.

    Less than seven months later, Belfort entertained a rematch with Couture, only to lose convincingly via TKO (doctor stoppage) at UFC 49.

    The most brilliant performance in the career of the 36-year-old Belfort didn't even come in a light heavyweight bout.

    Truth be told, Belfort put on his most captivating show against perennial middleweight contender Michael Bisping at UFC on FX 7.

    Belfort hit Bisping with a flush head kick and then finished him off in typical "Phenom" fashion by thrashing him with a ferocious barrage of punches.

Chuck Liddell

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    Between 2004 and 2006, Chuck Liddell arguably represented the most pertinent figure in the UFC.

    Liddell took the light heavyweight title by force from Randy Couture at UFC 52 and then defended the belt four times with four consecutive KO's.

    But "The Iceman" made his biggest statement when he pummeled Tito Ortiz nearly into oblivion in their rematch at UFC 66.

    In his last successful title defense, Liddell stuffed seven of Ortiz's eight takedown attempts before TKO'ing the former longtime champ in an enthralling bout that received "Fight of the Night" honors.

Quinton Jackson

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    Quinton "Rampage" Jackson has experienced plenty of highs and few lows in his 14-year MMA career.

    One win, however, instantly catapulted Rampage into a different stratosphere of fame in the realm of MMA. 

    Jackson, who already TKO'd Liddell at Pride Total Conflict 2003, locked horns with the Iceman for the light heavyweight strap in just his second fight with the company at UFC 71.

    Liddell had won five straight title bouts coming into his rematch with Jackson, but the Iceman still couldn't last two minutes.

    Rampage clipped Liddell with a clean right hook to the jaw, dropping the Californian and setting up a brutal finish just 1:53 into the match.

Forrest Griffin

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    It would be a mistake to downplay the significance of Forrest Griffin's massive upset win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 76.

    Griffin slapped on a shocking rear-naked choke and handed Rua just his second career submission loss. He also took home "Submission of the Night" honors for the first and only time in his career.

    But with the light heavyweight strap up for grabs, Griffin genuinely made his bones in his next fight against Quinton Jackson at UFC 86.

    Griffin outstruck the favored Jackson 113-73, including 77-50 in the significant strikes category.

    Not only did the match get "Fight of the Night" honors, Wrestling Observer Newsletter named the bout the 2008 "Fight of the Year."

Rashad Evans

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    Rashad Evans couldn't even manage to hold the belt for five months, but between December 2008 and May 2009, "Suga" looked like the man to beat at 205.

    Evans became the sixth different champion in just four years in the division by TKO'ing Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 for his third straight win.

    Suga took control of a back-and-forth fight in the third round and unleashed a barrage of punches on the ground to TKO and dethrone Griffin.

Lyoto Machida

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    Although Lyoto Machida has topped plenty of UFC champs—six to be precise—the 34-year-old Brazilian scored his most defining win against Hall of Famer Randy Couture at UFC 129.

    Heading into his last bout ever at the age of 47, Couture certainly had seen his heyday come and go. But that didn't diminish the fact that Machida rendered him unconscious with one of the most innovative and flashy finishing techniques in the sport's history.

    Always a dangerous an unpredictable knockout artist, "The Dragon" landed a leaping crane kick to Couture's jawline in the second round that instantly knocked "The Natural's" lights out. later awarded Machida with the "Knockout of the Year" in 2011 for his efforts.

Mauricio Rua

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    He's only experienced checkered success lately, but at one time, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua stood alone atop the light heavyweight heap.

    Despite outstriking Lyoto Machida 82-39, including 80-35 in the significant strikes department, in their first meeting at UFC 104, Shogun still lost a controversial unanimous decision.

    But in his second crack at the belt, Rua didn't let the judges make any decisions, flattening Machida with a overhand right and then finishing him off with some vicious ground-and-pound.

    Shogun's most shining moment not only netted the 31-year-old Brazilian "Knockout of the Night" honors, it also led to a "Knockout of the Year" award at the World MMA Awards in 2010. 

Jon Jones

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    While Jon Jones has enjoyed plenty of euphoria in the Octagon since capturing the UFC light heavyweight belt in 2011, no win has established "Bones" quite like his victory over Mauricio Rua at UFC 128.

    In his eighth fight with the company, Jones utterly dismantled Rua and TKO'd the venomous former kingpin to become the youngest champ in UFC history.

    Even though Jones has since impressively defended his belt five straight times, his seemingly effortless thumping of "Shogun" started the domino effect that has led to Bones' super-stardom.