The UFC implemented an official fighter rankings system in early 2013, but that hasn't kept the brass from granting some truly undeserving fighters title shots.
There seems to be a certain flippancy with which title shots are handed out in the UFC. While this isn't some new phenomenon, it is one aspect of the fight game that drives fans up the wall.
Preferential treatment is routinely given to fighters that are able to sell tickets and pay-per-views. It isn't about just the fight, but also the narrative the UFC can build around the matchup.
There are plenty of UFC title shots that have left fans scratching their collective heads over the last 20 years. As such, this list has been broken up into three categories:
1. Fighters moving weight classes
2. Fighters with little UFC experience
3. Fighters coming off of losses
Each category is comprised of the five most egregiously given title shots. As a note, these lists are not based on the results of the fight but rather the initial reaction to the matchup.
Obviously, all lists are open to interpretation, so please feel free to include your picks for the most undeserving title shots in UFC history in the comments section below.
5. Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia @ UFC 68, 2007
At light heavyweight, Couture was knocked out by Chuck Liddell for the second time in three fights. He then announced his retirement from the sport.
However, little more than a year later, "The Natural" returned to the Octagon but not at light heavyweight. Couture jumped up to heavyweight, a division he hadn't competed in since 2002. He moved right to the front of the line to take on Sylvia for the title.
Couture then put on a clinic. He worked over the bigger Sylvia for the full 25 minutes, claiming the belt with an emphatic unanimous-decision victory.
At the age of 43, Couture became the oldest champ in UFC history. He defended the belt once before losing it to Brock Lesnar at UFC 91.
4. Dan Henderson vs. Anderson Silva @ UFC 82, 2008
Henderson was the Pride middleweight (205 pounds) and welterweight (183 pounds) champ when he returned to the UFC in 2007.
At UFC 75, Henderson challenged Ouinton "Rampage" Jackson for the light heavyweight title but lost a unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46). Even after this decisive loss, Henderson was given a shot at Anderson Silva's middleweight strap.
He faired worse in this title fight, getting submitted via rear-naked choke in the second round. Henderson went on to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight title but has yet to feel the heft of UFC gold around his waist.
Now at the age of 42, it seems unlikely that that will ever happen.
3. Kenny Florian vs. Jose Aldo @ UFC 136, 2011
Florian, an alumnus of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, remains the only UFC fighter to compete at four different weight classes. He previously challenged for the lightweight strap on two separate occasions but came up short in both attempts.
After losing to Gray Maynard in a lightweight title eliminator bout, Florian dropped to featherweight. He defeated Diego Nunes via unanimous decision in his debut and then was granted an immediate title shot against Jose Aldo.
Aldo summarily manhandled Florian for the full five rounds, walking away with the unanimous decision. Florian retired to work as a cage-side commentator and fight analyst.
2. BJ Penn vs. Georges St-Pierre @ UFC 94, 2009
Penn was the reigning, defending UFC lightweight champ but hadn't competed at 170 in nearly three years. He dropped his previous two fights at welterweight to St-Pierre and then-champ Matt Hughes.
"The Prodigy" was battered by GSP for four straight rounds. Penn showed heart but was totally exhausted. His corner threw in the towel after it became apparent that Penn would not be able to continue.
St-Pierre walked away with the TKO victory. Penn's UFC welterweight record is currently 2-5-1 with both wins coming against Matt Hughes.
1. Chael Sonnen vs. Jon Jones @ UFC 159, 2013
Sonnen's biggest claim to fame is that he's the only UFC fighter to almost beat Anderson Silva. He has subsequently been able to parlay this "success" into a number of high-profile bouts.
Sonnen's constant yapping got him a coaching spot opposite light heavyweight champ Jon Jones on Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter and a shot at the belt.
"The American Gangster" hadn't competed at 205 in seven years, but the UFC still granted him the opportunity. Jones unleashed the fury on Sonnen. He beat him up with punches and elbows, forcing the ref to stop the fight at 4:33 of the first round.
5. Gilbert Melendez vs. Benson Henderson @ UFC on Fox 7, 2013
Melendez was the reigning Strikeforce lightweight champ when the promotion folded and the roster of fighters was absorbed into the UFC. Melendez was automatically made the No. 1 contender in the talent-rich lightweight division even though he had never competed inside the Octagon.
It didn't help that "El Nino's" last fight in Strikeforce was a fairly uninspiring split-decision victory over Josh Thompson. Still, he got his shot at champ Benson Henderson but ended up on the wrong side of a close decision.
4. Frank Trigg vs. Matt Hughes @ UFC 45, 2003
Trigg was 10-1 and the World Fighting Alliance welterweight champ when he entered the UFC. However, most of his wins came while competing in smaller promotions. His lone loss was to Hayato Sakurai, a fighter who was defeated by Hughes at UFC 36.
Even still, Trigg was handed the title shot in his first fight with the promotion and was finished via standing rear-naked choke in the first round. This started a very heated rivalry between Trigg and Hughes.
Trigg got another shot at Hughes two years later but was finished again with a rear-naked choke in the first round.
3. Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva vs. Cain Velasquez @ UFC 160, 2013
In his first UFC bout, Bigfoot was brutalized by Velasquez—literally beaten to a bloody pulp. Bigfoot rebounded nicely knocking out his next two opponents: Travis Browne and Alistair Overeem.
The Overeem win was impressive but totally unexpected. This left the UFC with few options in the relatively weak heavyweight division, so Bigfoot was given a title shot against Velasquez only one year removed from their first encounter.
However, Velasquez dispatched Bigfoot even quicker this time around, knocking him out only 1:21 into the first round. This showed that a winning streak alone is not always indicative of an improving fighter.
2. Jake Shields vs. Georges St-Pierre @ UFC 129, 2011
Like Melendez, Shields was riding a wave of unrealistic expectation when he made the jump from Strikeforce. He hadn't lost in five years and was coming off a unanimous-decision victory over future Hall of Famer Dan Henderson.
After narrowly pulling out a razor-thin split decision against Martin Kampmann, the UFC fast-tracked Shields for a title fight with GSP. The card was hyped beyond belief and the pay-per-view broke a number of records.
However, the fight was a boring snoozefest that went to the judges' scorecards with St-Pierre walking away with the unanimous decision. Shields has since gone 2-1-1.
1. Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Couture @ UFC 91, 2008
At UFC 81, Lesnar was quickly submitted by former heavyweight champ Frank Mir with a kneebar. Lesnar was a huge crossover star from the world of WWE, and the UFC wasn't about to let a little loss derail the money train.
In his next UFC bout, Lesnar defeated Heath Herring via unanimous decision and then wound up fighting Couture for the heavyweight belt. He significantly outweighed Couture and utilized this advantage to muscle the smaller man around the cage. Lesnar finished "The Natural" by way of technical knockout in the second round.
Lesnar successfully defended the belt twice before losing it to Cain Velasquez and later retired because of complications related to diverticulitis.
5. Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz @ UFC 40, 2002
The feud between Shamrock and Ortiz fueled this fight more than anything else. At 38, Shamrock was already showing signs of wear and tear. Shamrock hadn't fought in the UFC in over six years and was coming off a split-decision loss to Don Frye at Pride 19.
Still, he found himself thrust into a light heavyweight championship fight against the younger, meaner Ortiz. "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" beat-up Shamrock for three rounds, forcing his corner to mercifully throw in the towel.
This fight marked a turning point in Shamrock's career. He's gone 3-7 since that fight, with two of those losses coming against Ortiz.
4. Justin Eilers vs. Andrei Arlovski @ UFC 53, 2005
Eilers was viciously knocked out by Paul Buentello at UFC 51. However, when Arlovski's original opponent, Ricco Rodriguez, pulled out of the interim title fight, he was surprisingly replaced with Eilers.
Buentello should have been next in line to take on Arlovski. The UFC stated that "The Headhunter" was not medically cleared to fight in the main event, but he still ended up on the UFC 53 undercard.
Arlovski tore through Eilers like tissue paper, finishing the fight via technical knockout in the first round. Eilers lost his next UFC fight to Brandon Vera and was cut from the promotion.
Eilers then went on a 10-2 run but was killed tragically before getting another chance to compete inside the Octagon.
3. Frankie Edgar vs. Jose Aldo @ UFC 156, 2013
Edgar dropped back-to-back lightweight title fights to Benson Henderson but was granted an immediate shot at Jose Aldo when he made the drop to featherweight.
"The Answer" has been embroiled in a number of too-close-to-call fights over the years, and this one was no different. It went the distance with all three judges scoring it for Aldo (48-47, 49-46, 49-46).
Now for the first time in three years, Edgar finds himself fighting in a bout that isn't for a belt. He next takes on the unranked Charles Oliveira at UFC 162.
2. Nick Diaz vs. Georges St-Pierre @ UFC 158, 2013
This whole situation was like one big soap opera. While St-Pierre was recovering from a knee injury, Diaz fought Carlos Condit for the interim belt at UFC 143. He lost via unanimous decision and abruptly announced his retirement.
Diaz was also suspended for nine months after testing positive for marijuana metabolites. GSP defeated Condit in his return. It seemed logical that his next opponent would be the surging Johny Hendricks, but instead, he was passed over for Diaz.
St-Pierre promised to give the Stockton-born bad boy the worst beating of his life. However, the fight ended up being just another 25-minute grinder. Unhappy with the result, Diaz retired again.
1. John Lober vs. Frank Shamrock @ UFC Brazil, 1998
Lober defeated Shamrock via technical decision (split) at SB3—SuperBrawl 3. After the victory, Lober went 0-5-1 in his next six bouts but was granted a shot at Shamrock who was the reigning UFC light heavyweight champ at the time.
This was a fight specifically built upon the fact that he had a win over Shamrock and not on his merits inside the cage. This fact became abundantly clear when Shamrock forced Lober to tap due to punches at 7:40 in the first round.
Lober never competed in the UFC again. As of 2009, his professional MMA record sits at 5-9-4.