MMA's Linear Champions

Darren WongSenior Analyst INovember 6, 2009

LAS VEGAS - JULY 11:  (2nd R) Georges St. Pierre celebrates his victory against Thiago Alves during their welterweight title bout during UFC 100 on July 11, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. St. Pierre defeated Alves by unanimous decision.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

This Saturday, Strikeforce's main event features the top heavyweight fighter in world, Fedor Emelianenko.  But, Fedor isn't fighting for the Strikeforce title. Alistair Overeem has that belt.

Gegard Mousasi has a Strikeforce belt, but for some reason, it's not on the line this weekend when he takes on Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.

Jake Shields, and Jason Miller are fighting for a title that was vacated by Cung Le.

While Strikeforce clearly has some issues with its titles, Strikeforce isn't the first organization to do so. The UFC has long had problems keeping it's belt holders within the organization.

As a tribute to Strikeforce's title confusions, I thought it would be fun to look at the MMA linear championship titles.

These are for the most part the guys who would have UFC title belts, if the belts were on the line when the champion fought in the comparable weight class, but for another fight promotion.


World Lightweight Championship

This belt was first won by Jens Pulver. Pulver was stripped of his UFC title because of a contract dispute. His next loss would be against Duane Ludwig. Ludwig would go on to lose his next fight to BJ Penn. *** Edit - It has been noted that Ludwig had moved to welterweight at this time. Ludwig's next loss at lightweight would be against Tyson Griffin. From there, the linear title would pass from Frank Edgar to the current holder, Gray Maynard.

Another view of the world lightweight championship goes back to BJ Penn's victory over Takanori Gomi, as this might have been one of the earliest cases of two top-ranked lightweights fighting eachother. If this view is taken, BJ has defended his "linear championship" since that time, up until the present, and has unified it with the real UFC title.


World Welterweight Championship

Pat Miletich was the first UFC Welterweight Champion, but he would have lost that title to Jutaro Nakao, had it been on the line at SuperBrawl 11.

This linear title would have then wound it's way through Tetsuji Kato, Hayato Sakurai, Anderson Silva, Daiju Takase, Rodrigo Gracie, finally reaching BJ Penn.

BJ Penn, of course, loses to Georges St. Pierre, who eventually unifies this linear title, with the UFC title.

However, some people like to consider the first welterweight world champion to be Matt Hughes after his defeat of Hayato Sakurai back at UFC 36. This title also goes to BJ Penn, and eventually back to Georges St. Pierre.

Either way you look at it, the linear title ends up in the hands of current UFC Champion, GSP.


World Middleweight Championship

The first UFC Middleweight champion was Dave Menne, who promptly loses the title to Murilo Bustamante.

Most people associate the first middleweight world title as being won by Dan Henderson after defeating Bustamante at Pride Final Conflict 2003.

The linear title then would have moved to Kazuo Misaki, and then to Paulo Filho.

Unfortunately, Filho didn't make weight when he lost to Chael Sonnen, but if you include that fight, then the linear title moves from Chael Sonnen to Demian Maia, and finally to UFC middleweight contender, Nate Marquardt.

Of course, Anderson Silva is regarded as the true middleweight champion by everyone, including this writer.


World Light-Heavyweight Championship

Frank Shamrock won the first UFC Light-Heavyweight title before retiring from the weight class, however, most people associate the first World-Championship match as being the one between Tito Ortiz, and Wanderlei Silva.

Tito Ortiz won that title (also the UFC title), and from that point on, the linear title coincides completely with the UFC title currently owned by Lyoto Machida.

There is actually an argument to make that the Pride FC title is more relevant, considering Quinton Jackson's defeats of Chuck Liddell, as well as the domination of Mauricio Rua

If one does consider the Pride FC linear title that was born with Wanderlei Silva's win over Sakuraba, the line then goes from Ricardo Arona, to Mauricio Rua, to Forrest Griffin. From there, Forrest Griffin unifies that title with the UFC title.

Either way, Lyoto Machida is the linear champion.


World Heavyweight Championship

The first recognized champion was Mark Coleman. The title then goes through Maurice Smith, and Randy Couture.

Couture left the UFC, losing his linear title to Enson Inoue, who quickly surrenders it to Mark Kerr.

The title then goes through Kazuyuki Fujita, and then back to Mark Coleman all in a single day.

Coleman loses the linear title to Minotauro Nogueira, who then loses it to Fedor Emelianenko.

Emeliankenko has since defended this linear title to the present day.

There is, of course, some debate about the level of competition Fedor has faced over the past few years. Zuluzinho and Hong Man Choi aren't exactly the best title contenders.

Meanwhile, Brock Lesnar has built some real support as a fighter capable of defeating "The Last Emperor."

Nevertheless, Fedor has defeated many former UFC champions and is the legitimate linear champion.

On Nov. 7, Fedor defends his linear world heavyweight title against Brett Rogers. It's not a physical belt, but there's a lot more credit behind this imaginary title than there is behind most symbolic titles in MMA.

People should also feel a certain sense of justice knowing that the symbolic titles given out by the UFC are for the most part equal to their linear counterparts.

The heavyweight title will remain split between Fedor and Brock Lesnar for the foreseeable future, but should Marquardt get his fight with Anderson Silva, the middleweight loop will be closed as well.

There is one other UFC title to consider. The original UFC title won by Royce Gracie?

Fedor owns that linear title as well.


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