Power Ranking the 10 Greatest UFC Champions of All Time
Throughout UFC history, there have been a multitude of champions. Some have been absolutely dominant champions, while some have lost the title in their first attempted defense. Even worse, some have lost the title without even attempting to defend it.
Today's MMA features many new champions, and believe it or not, Jon Jones is currently the longest-reigning champion in the UFC. With many new champions dominating their divisions, it can be hard to compare them to past dominant champions.
This list will attempt to rank the 10 greatest UFC champions of all time, while considering their number of titles held, number of title defenses, the quality of their opposition as well as their performance against that opposition.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the top-10 greatest UFC champions of all time.
Demetrious Johnson is the current, and first-ever, UFC flyweight champion. Johnson won the title at UFC 152 when he beat Joseph Benavidez by unanimous decision. Since then, Johnson has defended his title four times, against John Dodson, John Moraga, Joseph Benavidez and Ali Bagautinov. Even now, those four remain ranked in the top five of the division.
Frankie Edgar is the former lightweight champion and a current featherweight contender. Edgar won the title at UFC 112 in 2010 with a unanimous decision victory over BJ Penn. Edgar's first defense was a second unanimous-decision victory over BJ Penn. His second defense was an epic five-round battle with Gray Maynard that went to a draw. Their rematch, Edgar's third defense, ended in a fourth-round TKO victory for Edgar.
No. 10: Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey is the current, and first-ever, UFC women's bantamweight champion. Rousey was awarded the title in December 2012 at a press conference prior to UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Diaz.
Rousey had already defended the Strikeforce women's bantamweight title once, and when she came to the UFC, she didn't even think about slowing down.
In 2013, Rousey defended her title twice, against Liz Carmouche with a first-round armbar submission and then against Miesha Tate with a third-round armbar.
In 2014, Rousey has again defended her title twice. In February, Rousey scored her first-ever TKO victory, a 66-second TKO over former Olympian, Sara McMann. Rousey followed that up with a 16-second knockout over Alexis Davis in early July.
There's a chance Rousey fights again this year, but as she is dealing with a knuckle injury and impending knee surgery, I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't see her again until 2015.
No. 9: Tito Ortiz
Tito Ortiz is the former UFC light heavyweight champion. Ortiz won the title in 2000 with a unanimous decision over Wanderlei Silva, way back before Silva had spent much time in Pride.
Ortiz' first title defense came against Yuki Kondo, who had a record of 29-8-3 going into the fight. Ortiz would win the fight in less than two minutes, with a cobra choke. It was his first win with a submission hold.
His second title defense came against Evan Tanner. Ortiz won this fight even faster, with a slam just 30 seconds into the first round. Ortiz's next defense was against Elvis Sinosic, who had a record of 4-3-1 going into the fight. Ortiz would win by TKO at 3:32 of the first round.
Ortiz' next fight came against Vladimir Matyushenko. He was 10-1 at that point and his lone loss was a split decision. He would lose his second as Ortiz would win the unanimous-decision victory.
Ortiz' last successful title defense was against Ken Shamrock, in the first of three fights the two would have. Ortiz would score the TKO by corner stoppage between the third and fourth rounds.
Ortiz lost the title to Randy Couture in his next fight.
No. 8: Matt Hughes
Matt Hughes is the former, two-time, UFC welterweight champion. Hughes first won the title in 2001 with a knockout victory over Carlos Newton.
Hughes won his first three title defenses by TKO. His first was a fourth-round TKO over Hayato Sakurai and his second was another fourth-round TKO, this one over Carlos Newton.
Hughes won his third title defense against Gil Castillo by TKO due to doctor's stoppage after the first round.
Hughes' fourth title defense was the only one to go to a decision, as Hughes won with scores of 48-45, 48-47 and 49-46 over the then-future lightweight champion, Sean Sherk. Hughes' fifth defense was a first-round submission over Frank Trigg, in the first of two fights Hughes would have with Trigg.
Hughes would then lose the title to BJ Penn in 2004, but after Penn was stripped of the title, Hughes reclaimed it with an armbar over Georges-St Pierre with the vacant title on the line.
Hughes defended the title twice in his second reign. First was another submission by rear-naked choke over Frank Trigg, this one also in the first round.
Hughes then had two non-title fights over Joe Riggs, as Riggs didn't make weight, and over Royce Gracie at a previously determined catchweight of 175 pounds. Hughes beat Riggs by submission and Gracie by TKO, both in the first round.
Hughes' second title defense in his second reign came against BJ Penn, who Hughes beat by TKO in the third round when he had Penn in a mounted crucifix position.
Hughes lost the title in his next fight when he was TKO'd by Georges St-Pierre.
No. 7: Randy Couture
Randy Couture won his first UFC title in 1997 with a majority decision over Maurice Smith to earn the heavyweight title. Couture was stripped of the title after signing with Vale Tudo Japan.
Couture came back in 2000 to win the heavyweight title a second time, this one with a third-round TKO victory over Kevin Randleman.
Couture would defend the title twice in that reign. The first defense was a unanimous-decision victory over Pedro Rizzo, in a fight that would go on to win Fight of the Year for 2001. His second title defense came against Pedro Rizzo again, although Couture was able to score the finish this time with a third-round TKO.
Couture would lose the title to Josh Barnett in his next fight, and after Barnett was stripped he received a shot at the vacant title opposite Ricco Rodriguez, but Rodriguez would win by TKO.
After the loss to Rodriguez, Couture moved to light heavyweight where he won the interim light heavyweight title in his first fight in the division with a third-round TKO over Chuck Liddell. Couture unified the titles in his next fight with a unanimous decision over then-champion Tito Ortiz.
Couture's first defense came against Vitor Belfort, and it ended in just 49 seconds when Couture was cut and unable to continue, thus giving Belfort the title. Couture came back and reclaimed the title with a third-round TKO in an immediate rematch against Belfort.
Couture would then lose the title again in his first attempted defense, when he was knocked out by Chuck Liddell in the second round.
In 2007, Couture moved back up to heavyweight in an attempt to reclaim the heavyweight title. He did just that as he scored a unanimous-decision victory over Tim Sylvia and became a three-time UFC heavyweight champion.
Couture defended the title once, a third-round TKO victory over Gabriel Gonzaga, but lost the title in his next fight to Brock Lesnar.
No. 6: Jose Aldo
Jose Aldo is the current, and first-ever, UFC featherweight champion. Aldo was awarded the UFC featherweight championship in November 2010 in a ceremony prior to UFC 123. Aldo had already defended the WEC featherweight championship twice.
Aldo's first title defense was a unanimous-decision victory over Mark Hominick at UFC 129 in April 2011. Aldo's cardio waned late in that fight, but he was able to hang on to win the decision.
He followed that up with another unanimous-decision victory, this over former lightweight title challenger, Kenny Florian, at UFC 136.
Arguably, Aldo's most impressive performance came at UFC 142 in 2012. It was Aldo's first fight in Brazil in five years, and he took on Chad Mendes. After avoiding a takedown, Aldo scored the knockout at 4:59 of the first round.
Aldo's next fight came against the former lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar. Many thought Edgar would be the one to dethrone Aldo, but it was not to be, as Aldo took another unanimous-decision victory.
Aldo scored another finish in his next defense, as he was able to score a fourth-round TKO victory over Chan Sung Jung at UFC 163 in Brazil.
Aldo's most recent defense was a unanimous-decision victory over Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169 this past February. Aldo won four out of five rounds on all three judges' scorecards.
His next fight was supposed to be a rematch with Chad Mendes, but Aldo was injured in early July and forced out of the fight.
No. 5: BJ Penn
BJ Penn won his first UFC title in 2004 at UFC 46. Penn was making his welterweight debut, and it was his first UFC fight in nearly a year. In a shocking upset, Penn submitted Hughes with a rear-naked choke in the first round. Penn would later be stripped of the title after signing with K-1.
In 2007, after a failed attempt to reclaim the welterweight title, Penn returned to lightweight where he submitted Jens Pulver to earn a shot at the lightweight title left vacant after Sean Sherk was stripped of it for testing positive for anabolic steroids.
Penn faced Joe Stevenson and scored a second-round submission to win the vacant title. His first title defense came against Sean Sherk, as Sherk attempted to reclaim the title in his first fight back. Penn would win by TKO with a flying knee and punches at the five-minute mark of the third round.
Penn then stepped up to welterweight to face Georges St-Pierre in an attempt to become the first UFC fighter to hold two titles simultaneously. GSP would win by TKO after the fourth round.
Penn then returned to lightweight to defend the title against Kenny Florian. Florian had been on a six-fight win streak, and looked to be a serious challenge to Penn. Florian made it to the fourth round, but would make it no further. Penn won by rear-naked choke at 3:54 of the fourth round.
Penn's third title defense came against The Ultimate Fighter season one winner, Diego Sanchez. Sanchez made it all the way to the fifth round, but at 2:37 of the fifth, Penn took the TKO win by doctor's stoppage.
Penn would lose the title in his next fight, against Frankie Edgar, and then he would fail to reclaim it in a rematch with Edgar.
No. 4: Chuck Liddell
Chuck Liddell is the former UFC light heavyweight champion and holds the record for most consecutive knockouts in UFC history. He accomplished this feat before and during his title reign.
Liddell won the title at UFC 52 in 2005 with a knockout of Randy Couture at 2:06 of the first round. In Liddell's first title defense, he faced Jeremy Horn and won with a fourth-round TKO.
His second title defense was a third fight with Randy Couture. Couture had taken the first back in 2003, while Liddell won the title from Couture. Liddell would win the trilogy with a second-round knockout at UFC 57.
Liddell's third title defense was against Renato Sobral. Sobral had been on a 10-fight winning streak, including wins over Mauricio Rua, Jeremy Horn, Chael Sonnen and more. He was knocked out by Liddell in just over 90 seconds.
Liddell's fourth and final successful title defense was his second fight with Tito Ortiz. Liddell won the first with a second-round knockout, but Ortiz made it further into the fight this time as Liddell would win the second fight with a third-round TKO.
Liddell lost the title in his next fight when Rampage Jackson beat Liddell for a second time, following his second-round TKO in Pride in 2003.
No. 3: Jon Jones
Jon Jones is the current light heavyweight champion, and he has the most title defenses in light heavyweight history. Jones won the title at UFC 128 with a third-round TKO victory over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
Jones' first title defense came against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 135 in 2011. Jones dominated the fight and won with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round. Jones took a fourth fight in 2011 to defend his title against Lyoto Machida at UFC 140. Jones would win with a submission again, this one a second-round technical submission to a standing guillotine choke.
Jones' next title defense was a grudge match with former training partner, Rashad Evans. Many thought Evans would have the trick to beating Jones, but all he was able to do was last the full 25 minutes. Jones won by unanimous decision, (49-46, 49-46, 50-45) and earned his third title defense.
At UFC 152, Jones faced Vitor Belfort, who took the fight on short notice. Belfort nearly won with an armbar from guard in the first round, but Jones would survive that and go on to win with a submission early in the fourth round.
At UFC 159, Jones faced former middleweight title challenger, Chael Sonnen. The hype was heavy going into this one as the two had recently finished coaching on The Ultimate Fighter. Jones would win quickly, with a TKO to elbows and punches at 4:33 of the first round.
Jones' next defense was easily his toughest, as he faced Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165. The fight would go to a unanimous decision and would win both Fight of the Night and Fight of the Year. When the scorecards were read, it was Jones who had taken the unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46). Although Jones won, it was an incredibly close fight, with fans hoping for an immediate rematch.
The immediate rematch was not to be, and Jones instead faced Glover Teixeira, who the UFC had been pushing hard to get into the title picture. Jones dominated the entirety of this fight, scoring the unanimous decision win 50-45 on all three judges' scorecards.
Jones is now set to have that rematch with Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 178 in September.
No. 2: Georges St-Pierre
Georges St-Pierre is the former UFC welterweight champion. St-Pierre first won the belt in 2006 with a second-round TKO over Matt Hughes. He was upset in his next fight as he was TKO'd by Matt Serra in the first round.
St-Pierre would reclaim a title in December 2007 when he beat Matt Hughes by second-round submission to win the interim welterweight title. Then in mid 2008, St-Pierre had a rematch against Serra. St-Pierre won with a second-round TKO and reclaimed the undisputed UFC welterweight championship.
St-Pierre's first defense came against Jon Fitch, and St-Pierre won handily, earning scores of 50-44, 50-43 and 50-44. He followed that up with a TKO by corner stoppage between the fourth and fifth rounds against BJ Penn.
St-Pierre then won his next three defenses by unanimous decision without ever losing a round. St-Pierre beat Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy and Josh Koscheck with scores of at least 50-45 from all three judges.
At UFC 129 in 2011, St-Pierre took on the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, Jake Shields. St-Pierre won by unanimous decision, but two of the judges gave Shields two rounds, thus making him the first person to win a round over St-Pierre in years.
St-Pierre's next defense came against Carlos Condit at UFC 154. St-Pierre had been out for over a year dealing with an ACL injury, but didn't show any ring rust on his return, and would win another unanimous decision victory.
At UFC 158 in 2013, St-Pierre took on Nick Diaz, again dominating the fight with scores of 50-45 across the board, and taking the unanimous decision.
St-Pierre's most recent fight came against Johny Hendricks at UFC 158 in November 2013. This was easily St-Pierre's toughest fight of his title reign, as he only won by split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47).
Following that fight, St-Pierre semi-retired to deal with personal issues outside the cage.
No. 1: Anderson Silva
It shouldn't surprise anyone to see Anderson Silva at No. 1 on this list. Silva won the title at UFC 64 in 2006 in his second UFC fight. Silva scored the win over Rich Franklin at 2:59 of the first with a TKO due to knees from the Muay Thai clinch.
Silva then submitted Travis Lutter with a triangle choke in the second round, but that wasn't a title fight as Lutter had missed weight.
Silva's first official title defense came against the former King of Pancrase, Nate Marquardt. Unfortunately, Nate wasn't so great that night as he was TKO'd at 4:50 of the first round.
Next up for Silva was a rematch with Rich Franklin in Franklin's hometown. That didn't matter to Silva, as he scored another TKO with knees, this one in the second round.
Silva then faced the former Pride welterweight and middleweight champion, Dan Henderson. Silva unified the Pride and UFC titles as he scored a second-round submission by rear-naked choke over the former Olympian.
Silva's next title defense came against Patrick Cote at UFC 90 in 2008. Cote was the first person in the UFC to make it to the third round with Silva, but a knee injury early in the third forced an end to the fight and gave Silva another TKO victory.
Silva then faced Thales Leites, who had been on a five-fight win streak with three submissions. Silva went the full five rounds with Leites and took a unanimous-decision victory (49-46, 48-47, 50-46).
In Silva's next defense he faced Demian Maia, and many fans may remember the debacle that fight became. After easily winning the first three rounds, Silva took to clowning Maia and didn't fight very much. In the fifth round he was admonished by the referee, but it was too little too late. Silva would take the unanimous decision with scores of 49-47, 48-47 and 49-46.
Silva then had the toughest fight yet of his career as he faced Chael Sonnen at UFC 117. Sonnen dominated every minute of that fight, but wasn't able to see it to the finish as Silva locked up a triangle choke and armbar to score the submission win at 3:10 of the fifth round.
Silva's next fight was much easier for him, as he knocked out Vitor Belfort with a front kick—a first in the UFC—at 3:25 of the first round.
Silva's next fight was a rematch with Yushin Okami. Silva and Okami had previously met in 2006 before either was in the UFC. Okami won that fight by DQ after Silva delivered an illegal upkick from his guard which nearly knocked Okami out. Silva won the rematch by TKO at 2:04 of the second round.
Silva had another rematch in his next fight, as he faced Chael Sonnen for a second time. This one was far different from the first fight though. Sonnen won the first round easily, but after throwing a spinning backfist and falling down, Silva capitalized and hit Sonnen with a brutal body shot, eventually leading to a TKO victory for Silva at 1:55 of the second round.
That was Silva's final successful title defense, as he lost the belt to Chris Weidman by knockout in his next attempted defense.