Becoming a UFC champion is to reach the pinnacle of any given mixed martial arts division. The promotion's title denotes the very best in the world at every weight.
Reaching this point demands a sprawling skill set, hardy determination and uncommon ability. It also demands specialization.
Every UFC champion has one or more unique tools that set him apart from the competition besides being a superior fighter.
Here we will take a look at one advantage of each champion that differentiates him from the field.
You've probably heard Joe Rogan harp on Velasquez's insane cardio enough already, but what other choice do I have? Rogan is absolutely right.
While Velasquez has a lot going for him—great wrestling, good stand-up, excellent grappling—his cardio is arguably the key to his success. What's more is that while most of his attributes are replicated (or nearly so) by other UFC heavyweights, his gas tank is unique.
Velasquez cannot only survive long, grueling fights, he is able to maintain a ferocious pace for 25 minutes —a rarity at heavyweight. Remember his decision win over Junior dos Santos? Velasquez just kept on coming and coming.
His excellent stamina gives him an edge over the competition and has largely contributed to his status as the divisional king to this point.
Make no mistake: I'm not discounting Jones' other qualities, and I'm not saying he is only where he is because he won the genetic lottery. I'm simply stating that his length gives him a unique edge that none of his foes enjoy when they fight him.
He is an excellent practitioner of all facets of MMA, but his reach has confounded many opponents by turning dangerous, aggressive guys into baffled, frustrated victims.
While it is common for any fighter to hold an edge in reach in any given match, few apply it as successfully as Jones does, which is one reason for his dominance.
First, Chris Weidman was a college wrestler. Then he ventured into grappling and qualified for the ADCC tournament. After that, he made it to the UFC as a mixed martial artist. Now he's the middleweight champion of the world.
Weidman keeps growing in leaps and bounds. From wrestler to all-around grappler to complete mixed martial artist—his upside is through the roof.
Case in point: Look how much he has grown as a striker during his time in the UFC. He started out a novice, next outboxed Demian Maia, then absolutely thrashed Mark Munoz and most recently knocked out Anderson Silva, arguably the best striker in the sport.
And before you get all "Silva wasn't trying" on me, just remember that others have been humiliated by Silva's posturing, yet Weidman cracked the code. Besides, even if you throw out the Silva win, the growth remains undeniable.
You're quite right—every fighter technically has takedowns as a part of his arsenal in mixed martial arts. But there are takedowns, and then there are GSP's takedowns.
No one has stopped the Canadian's offensive wrestling to much effect over the last several years. His go-to move, while pretty basic, is an ace in the hole, a trump card, a hammer...whatever you want to call it, it's a weapon that no one has had an answer to.
Things aren't going well on the feet? To the ground we go.
Close round that a takedown could steal? Takedown time.
Need to do a little damage? Takedown first, ground-and-pound second.
It's useful to have takedowns that no one can manage. It's such a decisive tool to wield, and while St-Pierre has plenty of other things going for him, he is arguably the most dominant fighter in the world because he is so effortless. He is consistently able to turn a 50-50 offense-to-defense situation into a 100 percent offense vs. defense scenario by putting—and keeping—welterweights on their backs.
Pettis could be labelled a "quick" fighter for his explosive strikes and rapid pace. But that's not precisely what I'm talking about.
What I'm talking about is his ability to finish fights in the blink of an eye. Case in point: his UFC 164 win over Benson Henderson and his recent finishes of Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon.
Henderson is a notoriously tough opponent to finish, but Pettis was able to snatch a submission win before "Bendo" even knew what was happening.
It wasn't the first time Pettis has done something like that, and it won't be the last. No matter how a fight is going—whether it's at the beginning or the end—Pettis can score a knockout or submission out of nowhere and end it all.
That's a dangerous trait for a fighter to carry, and it has been vital to his success to this point.
Aldo doesn't load up and go for the stoppage every time he strikes. He is quite methodical in his approach, though his finishing record and compounded damage suggest he is a power-punching finisher.
The reason he has been so successful is because he is able to go for accuracy, speed and technique, while his natural power courses through everything he throws.
Think about his leg kicks. He doesn't need to turn into them any more than anyone else, but he can do a lot more damage than most fighters do.
Same goes for his hands. You'll rarely see him go for broke with any one strike, but the way he is able to channel dynamite and iron through each punch turns him from a point fighter to a knockout artist.
Dominick Cruz: Unpredictability
Cruz's wild style has baffled many opponents. When they gear up to unload, they are suddenly popped in the jaw and then instantly left alone by three feet of separation. When they think they've got Cruz's timing down pat and prepare to counter, he jolts them down for a takedown.
Behind all the feints, stance switching and head movement is a clever, effective strategy. He always keeps opponents on edge because they don't know what is coming next. His fighting style is so awkward that it's impossible to prepare for, and even if an opponent could, it is so fluid that the training would likely be worthless anyway.
Renan Barao: Balanced Game
Maybe this is a cop-out, but I just couldn't settle on any one advantage for Barao. He is such a well-rounded fighter who always approaches his matches intelligently, so pointing to his balanced game as his definitive edge is certainly accurate, even if it is a touch mundane.
Nevertheless, there is nothing boring about the way he fights. He knows his opponents' strengths and makes sure they can't play to them. Couple his cerebral approach to fighting with his unholy skills and advanced athleticism, and you've got not just a champion but a legitimate pound-for-pound player.
Perhaps the most obvious call of the list, Johnson is widely renowned for his otherworldly speed.
The way he moves, attacks and retreats—it's almost comical to watch because it happens so ridiculously fast.
And let's not forget that speed at flyweight is like water in an ocean. To stand out so far above the field for this ability is remarkable.
When you couple his remarkable speed with the rest of his considerable arsenal, it is no wonder he wears UFC gold.
Whereas men's MMA has had time to grow and develop over the years, the women are still relatively new to the fold. As a result, overwhelming singular abilities are enough to hold off the competition. For now.
Such has been the case for Rousey to this point. Her judo-armbar combination has foiled every opponent she has faced, and in the first round no less.
While she will have to develop the other areas of her game to remain ahead of the curve, her excellent clinch, superior ground-control and unstoppable armbar represent the sharpest specialization in all of WMMA, which has set her on a championship course.
Until someone figures it out she will be the UFC champ.