Power Ranking Every UFC Champion
The UFC championship belt represents the ultimate achievement in the sport of mixed martial arts.
For fighters—even those outside the UFC—this strap stands as a goal, a dream, a life-changing accomplishment. Winning the UFC championship validates the sacrifices and the pain, but the work does not end once it's seized.
Champions receive more attention—more glory when they win and more criticism when they lose. They're sought after by movie studios, by advertising agencies and by reporters at every level, making it oh-so-easy for them to lose focus and to drop the belt in their next defense.
The best champions combine charisma, focus and excellence inside and outside of the cage, becoming worldwide stars who can carry a pay-per-view card or a press conference with skill and grace.
Right now, the UFC houses nine champions of varying popularity. Taking into account a variety of factors, including their appeal as a fighter and as a personality, let's break down which champions best wear that coveted shiny belt.
9. Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw
TJ Dillashaw might not hang out at No. 9 on our list for long.
The Team Alpha Male bantamweight recently snagged the belt from Renan Barao at UFC 173, and he did so with authority, knocking out the lauded Brazilian in the fight's final frame.
The finish was not a fluke, either. He absolutely crushed Barao from start to finish, showing that he possesses all the necessary tools to construct a lengthy run at the top.
However, we know little of Dillashaw's marketability. He seems like a genuinely nice guy outside the cage, and he was complimentary of Barao and his team in his UFC 173 post-fight interviews. He's good-looking, trains at an excellent camp and is an intense, ruthless competitor once the cage door closes.
The pieces are there; now we just need to see if he can handle the pressure. Until we get a feel for how he'll reign as the champion, it's impossible to put him any higher on the list.
8. Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis
Do you guys and gals remember Anthony Pettis?
He's that electrifying striker with an almost too-good-to-be-true bottom game who won the lightweight title last August. He is an incredible talent, but his inability to fight on a regular schedule severely impacts his status as one of the greatest champions today.
Despite holding the belt for almost one year now, he has not defended it. In fact, he's not even scheduled to defend it until December, when he will take on challenger Gilbert Melendez at the UFC's end-of-year card.
Almost 17 months without a title defense is just too long to get the public invested in your story and your journey as champion.
To the UFC's credit, it has plastered Pettis on TV, where he's worked as a Fox analyst and provided some commentary and feedback on different events throughout the year. Unfortunately, the lightweight champ does not stand out as an incredible talent behind the mic as he does inside the Octagon, so this attempt to keep him in the public's eye is so-so at best.
If Pettis could just get on track, stay healthy and fight every six to eight months, I have no doubt that he'd be a huge star. His style is flashy and devastating, and, at 27 years old, he's just entering his athletic prime.
Until then, though, he gets dinged for inactivity and lands at No. 8 on our list.
7. Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks
That picture says it all.
At UFC 167 Johny Hendricks challenged legendary mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title. While he came up short on the judges' scorecards, he tested GSP like nobody had before him, earning the respect of fans and critics across the globe.
Whether or not Hendricks won that fight (and nearly every media outlet on record felt that he did), the Oklahoman powerhouse walked away from his fight with GSP as one of the promotion's most rapidly rising stars.
We couldn't stop talking about the beating GSP absorbed, and we couldn't stop debating Hendricks' claim at the title. When GSP left the sport of MMA shortly after their UFC 167 showdown, it was clear that Hendricks was ready to assume his position atop the 170-pound mountain, and that's exactly what he did.
He faced Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 for the vacant welterweight title, this time winning a close decision.
Now, Hendricks will face the winner of UFC on Fox 12's main event between Lawler and Matt Brown in his first title defense. If he can notch that first defense and prove that he is the king, Hendricks will position himself to become one of the promotion's most heralded champions.
For now, however, his championship victory at UFC 171 was too close, and there are too many killers in the welterweight division who are waiting to usurp the throne.
6. Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman
Chris Weidman, like the fighters below him on this list, just needs to keep doing what he's doing, and his status will rise.
Right now, his claim to fame is beating the greatest mixed martial artist of all time—twice—but each victory was a little wonky.
First, he challenged Anderson Silva at UFC 162. "The Spider" elected to play games and dance around the Octagon, forgetting that he was in a fistfight, and Weidman made him pay with a crushing left hand that shut out the lights in Round 2.
"Ahh, whatever. Silva was just playing, guys," the skeptical public said.
As the greatest champion and fighter in UFC history, Silva obviously received an immediate rematch, this time facing Weidman as the challenger at UFC 168.
Again, the end came in Round 2—almost to the second—and Weidman defended his title by checking a leg kick and causing Silva's leg to snap in half. It was gruesome, and, unfortunately for Weidman, it didn't help to dismiss the naysayers due to its freakish nature.
Now, Weidman is slated to face Lyoto Machida at UFC 175. Barring any bizarre endings, a win over Machida will prove without a doubt that Weidman is the man at middleweight, and the UFC can begin to hype him for what he truly is: an incredible champion.
Until then, the asterisk beside his wins over Silva will prevent fans from fully buying into him as the undisputed king of the division.
5. Flyweight Champion Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson
Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson is the No. 4 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and he has completely wrecked the flyweight division during his time at the top.
His combination of speed and skill and his ability to remain calm under fire make him a unique talent inside the Octagon, and he owns almost every advantage over any given fighter in the 125-pound class.
In short (no pun intended), Mighty Mouse is a superstar talent—except he isn't exactly a superstar.
He will headline his first pay-per-view card as champion at UFC 174 even though he's already defended the belt three times. Flyweights simply do not move the needle like bigger fighters do, and Mighty Mouse's reputation suffers from this fact.
On top of this, he is reserved and polite outside of the cage. He does little to generate controversy or interest for his fights, and he's not movie star material right now.
His fighting is top-notch, but to truly become one of the UFC's most recognized champs, he either needs to defend his belt 15 times or bust out of his shell and let people know that he's one of the best fighters in the world.
The best part of this latter option? He wouldn't even have to stretch the truth.
If Mighty Mouse would dive into the world of self-promotion a bit further, he would elevate his stock and position himself as one of the promotion's marquee combatants.
Despite numerous impressive title defenses and a near-perfect run at the top, I'm not sure that he is that just yet.
4. Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez
In the combat sports world, big dudes reign supreme.
There was a time when heavyweight fighters were nothing more than brawlers with big bellies and a rock 'em, sock 'em attitude, but today, the heavyweight elite looks an awful lot like the smaller fighters on the roster.
They're quick, exceptional everywhere a fight goes and well-conditioned, and they still possess that scary, one-shot knockout power.
No heavyweight embodies this well-rounded skill set like the champion, Cain Velasquez.
While he is shy and quiet outside the realm of combat, his in-cage persona is downright scary. He's lethal with his hands, and he pushes a pace that no heavyweight on the planet can match, a combination which has earned him the most knockouts (nine) and tied him for the most title defenses (two) in the division's history.
He appears a step ahead of everyone in the division, and if he can piece together a lengthy reign, there is no doubt that he can challenge for the No. 1 spot on this list. Now, though, his stay at the top is young, and he still has plenty of challenges ahead.
First up is Fabricio Werdum, a world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner who boasts an ever-evolving, diverse and powerful stand-up attack.
Velasquez will tackle this challenge at UFC 180 in Mexico City. With a win, Velasquez can raise his stock and become one of the UFC's most noted superstars.
3. Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo
Can anybody in the featherweight division even remotely challenge Jose Aldo?
The 145-pound king has defended his UFC title six times since being absorbed into the organization in April 2011. Before that, he ruled the WEC, winning the title and defending it twice before the promotion merged with the UFC.
Overall, he is 24-1 in his professional career and has not lost (or even really been challenged) since becoming the WEC champion. He's three steps ahead of his opponents inside the cage, and the results are equal parts marvelous and terrifying.
However, as a non-English-speaking Brazilian, Aldo's popularity outside of the cage is almost invisible in the U.S.
He methodically goes about his business inside the Octagon, and he disappears from the public's eye between fights. This has recently become a point of contention for the Brazilian champion, and there is no clear solution in sight.
As long as he keeps winning fights, however, Aldo cannot fall on this list. His streak and excellence as a fighter are just too good.
2. Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey is an undefeated professional mixed martial artist.
She's a former Olympic medalist in judo, and she's the UFC's first ever female champion.
Oh, and if you weren't aware, she's kind of attractive, too. Go ahead, hit up Google images. I'll wait.
Added together, she is the perfect combination of beauty and beast, a ferocious competitor inside the Octagon and an eyebrow-raising example of the female form outside the cage.
She's landed movie roles, and she's quickly become one of the sport's most recognizable faces since turning professional in March 2011.
This unbelievable ascension to the top of her sport is a product of her ability to balance in-cage and out-of-cage success, and there's no telling just how far she'll ride this wave of brilliance. When we're talking about noteworthy, marketable and successful UFC champions, we're talking about Rousey.
If she keeps this up for another year or two, she can potentially displace our No. 1 champion. For now, though, somebody has her one-upped, but for entirely different reasons.
1. Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones
Jon "Bones" Jones is the UFC's most powerful champion right now.
Like Ronda Rousey, the 26-year-old light heavyweight assumed the role of champion early in his career, capturing the belt three years ago in March 2011 (the same time Rousey began her pro career).
Inside the cage, the sport has never seen somebody like Jones. At 23 years old, he defeated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, a legend by any definition, via TKO in less than 15 minutes. He then finished Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida in equally devastating fashion to kick-start his reign.
Not bad, huh?
Now with seven title defenses to his name, he stands as the UFC's most dominant light heavyweight of all time, and with two or three more wins, he could make a case as the greatest fighter of all time.
It's not all perfection with Jones, though.
Outside of the Octagon, he is largely hated by fans. Some think he's fake, and others think he's dirty, and the combination has led him to become arguably the most hated and criticized champion today.
And still, for the UFC, that's fine. Fans feel something toward him, and that's really all that matters. Whether they tune in to watch him win or get knocked out, they're still tuning in, and they're still filling seats in arenas across North America to watch him fight.
Because of his polarizing personality and undeniable skills as a mixed martial artist, Jones is currently the UFC's most compelling champion.