Reliving Every UFC Champ's First Fight in the Octagon
Next Saturday at UFC 162, MMA GOAT Anderson Silva defends his middleweight title against Chris Weidman. Light heavyweight champ Jon Jones, lightweight champ Benson Henderson, featherweight champ Jose Aldo and flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson are also all scheduled to defend their belts before the summer is out. In addition, women's bantamweight queenpin Ronda Rousey is starring as a coach on season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, which begins airing in September.
So with all the belt action on the horizon, now seems like a good time to look back at the UFC debut for each of the promotion's champions. It is a stroll down memory lane that we are taking. Video provided as rules permit. Please enjoy.
Heavyweight Champ: Cain Velasquez
Opponent: Brad Morris
Event: UFC 83
Date: April 19, 2008
Cain Velasquez only needed a grand total of five minutes and 58 seconds to earn his first two professional wins (both TKOs). That was enough for the always-heavyweight-needy UFC. Just two fights in to his career, at the ripe age of 26, Velasquez was in the Octagon.
Velasquez continued his pattern of quick work and punching by TKOing Australian Brad Morris in just a little over two minutes.
Light Heavyweight Champ: Jon Jones
Opponent: Andre Gusmao
Event: UFC 87
Date: August 9, 2008
Perhaps counterintuitively, it wasn't a flashy knockout or submission win for Jon Jones in his first UFC fight, but rather a unanimous decision. He threw some spinning stuff and what not, but all in all he was pretty reserved. It's one of only three occasions in his 13-fight UFC career where Jones went the distance.
The video is more of an official UFC Jones compilation, but it does begin with some UFC 87 footage.
Middleweight Champ: Anderson Silva
Opponent: Chris Leben
Event: UFC Ultimate Fight Night 5
Date: June 28, 2006
Admittedly, I haven't done exhaustive research here, but off the top of my head I'm hard pressed to think of a stronger opening statement for a UFC career than Anderson Silva's 49-second knockout of Chris Leben.
The runup to the fight included Leben saying he would send Silva back to Japan and easier competition. As we all know in retrospect, that was kind of silly. More than once, Leben bulled his way in. Silva counterstruck—and how. Blow after blow, punches, kicks and finally the culminating knee, all right on the dot. And the GOAT had arrived.
Welterweight Champ: Georges St-Pierre
Opponent: Karo Parisyan
Event: UFC 46
Date: January 31, 2004
Georges St-Pierre has the longest UFC tenure of any current champ. And it's surprisingly not even that close.
Also, what is he doing in that picture? Perhaps it's some kind of experimental takedown technique.
Karo Parisyan almost caught GSP at the outset—the judoka nearly locked on a fatal kimura—but GSP survived. While the photo might suggest it was an action-packed bout, GSP spent the final two frames grounding, pounding, scoring and winning. A rock-solid debut for the best welterweight ever.
Lightweight Champ: Benson Henderson
Opponent: Mark Bocek
Event: UFC 129
Date: April 30, 2011
Bring on the WEC transplants!
Benson Henderson entered this fight looking for a rebound. His previous engagement, for the WEC lightweight strap, ended in a defeat punctuated by Anthony Pettis' highlight reel all-timer—the Showtime Kick.
Henderson flashed his signature defense and athleticism, shaking free of Bocek's grappling to bust up the Canadian and earn the redemptive decision W.
Featherweight Champ: Jose Aldo
Opponent: Mark Hominick
Event: UFC 129
Date: April 30, 2011
On the same night as Henderson's debut, Jose Aldo announced his UFC presence with some authority. This one is probably best known as the Good God, What is Coming Out of Mark Hominick's Head fight.
And it was truly a striking clinic from Aldo.
Most people forget, however, that Hominick stormed back and nearly got a stoppage in a dominant final round. Aldo went on to get the decision, but looking back, this might have been one of Aldo's closer fights.
Thanks to a grandfathered title belt, Aldo walked into the Octagon with the featherweight championship. He departed just the same, and hasn't given it back since.
Lineal Bantamweight Champ: Dominick Cruz
Opponent: Urijah Faber
Event: UFC 132
Date: July 2, 2011
The most recent non-Rousey debut on this list saw another grandfathered WEC titlist and another UFC debut victory that began a lighter-weight championship dynasty.
In a rematch of a WEC bout contested at featherweight and won by Faber, Cruz used that wild-angled boxing and unmatched footwork to frustrate Faber and outpoint him for the victory.
Here's a video of Faber and Cruz getting it on in the WEC banner. Kind of the same thing? Well, not really, but hey—a free fight is a free fight.
Interim Bantamweight Champ: Renan Barao
Opponent: Cole Escovedo
Event: UFC 130
Date: May 28, 2011
Two UFC debutantes faced off here, and as a former WEC featherweight champ, Cole Escovedo was the favorite in many eyes.
Barao started a little stiffly, but opened up as time went on, staying clear of Escovedo's strong and dangerous guard to land some of those trademark flashy strikes and a few takedowns to win the decision going away.
Flyweight Champ: Demetrious Johnson
Opponent: Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto
Event: UFC 126
Date: February 5, 2011
Demetrious Johnson debuted in the bantamweight division, as the flyweight bracket hadn't yet been created in the UFC.
And he did so against a far more (at the time) famous fighter in Japanese knockout sensation "Kid" Yamamoto. Johnson, seemingly unfazed by the bright lights, did what he does best: He used his unparalleled quickness and movement to stay out of Yamamoto's range and landed takedowns with ease. It was a dominant effort from Johnson and would set the tone for the rest of his Octagon career.
Women's Bantamweight Champ: Ronda Rousey
Opponent: Liz Carmouche
Event: UFC 157
Date: February 23, 2013
Ronda Rousey is the most recent champ to debut in the UFC, and first to debut in a real main event.
Liz Carmouche did her part to challenge the overwhelming favorite, climbing aboard Rousey's back at one point and creating some danger with a rear-naked choke. But Rousey powered out, worked for position and eventually locked on the signature armbar. Seven wins, all by first-round armbar, and no signs of slowing yet.