Finding success in the UFC is tough. Becoming a UFC champion is even more difficult. But despite those challenges, there have been several fighters who not only found success in the UFC and won a UFC belt but also held on to it longer than ordinary champions and defended their belts more times than regular title holders.
Let’s take a look at the best champions in the history of the promotion and list them down with the best title reigns we’ve ever seen in the history of the UFC:
10. Tito Ortiz
The Huntington Beach Bad Boy replaced Frank Shamrock as the best light heavyweight in the UFC. Shamrock beat Ortiz at UFC 22 in one of the best fights in MMA history but after Shamrock retired, Ortiz won the vacant title by defeating Wanderlei Silva and began a reign that lasted 1,260 days.
Ortiz was the promotion’s superstar when the UFC started to gain popularity. His fights with Chuck Liddell, Forest Griffin, and Ken Shamrock affirmed his status as the sport’s first pay-per-view superstar. However, his reign as champion from April 2000 to November 2002 broke the record for most successful title defenses at five and he won four of those fights by stoppage.
9. Matt Hughes
Matt Hughes will always be remembered for his slam knockout of Carlos Newton in 2001. But that was just the beginning of his legend. After winning the UFC welterweight belt against Newton, Hughes made a record five consecutive successful title defenses. The first three were knockout wins then he decisioned former champion Sean Shrek at UFC 42. Then at UFC 45, he submitted Frank Trigg via standing rear-naked choke in the first round.
Hughes won the title again in 2004, defeating Georges St. Pierre. He went on to defend the belt two times before losing it to GSP in a rematch. He fought St. Pierre a third time for the interim belt at UFC 79 but he lost via submission. His biggest fights came after his second title reign but no doubt, his first rule was one of the most dominant title reigns in the history of the UFC.
8. Chuck Liddell
Chuck Liddell was the UFC’s biggest star during the 2000s decade and is a key figure in the UFC’s transformation from a niche sport to a major business. His rivalries with Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz propelled the sport to greater heights. But the Iceman was also one of the UFC’s most dominant champions.
Liddell won the title in 2005, avenging his previous loss to Randy Couture with the 2005 Knockout of the Year at UFC 52 in the first-ever fight between TUF coaches. They fought a third time, and Liddell smashed Couture again. His fourth title defense and second fight against Tito Ortiz at UFC 66 was the biggest fight in promotion history with 1M PPV views and over $5M in gate revenues. He knocked out Ortiz for his fourth consecutive title defense. After 770 days, Liddell yielded the belt after suffering a knockout loss to Quinton Jackson at UFC 71.
7. Jose Aldo Jr.
Junior is considered as the best featherweight of all-time. He captured the WEC belt in 2009 by knocking out Mike Brown at WEC 44. He made two successful title defenses before the promotion was merged with the UFC. Aldo was promoted as the UFC’s inaugural featherweight champion and he made seven successful UFC title defenses before running into Conor McGregor’s left hand at UFC 194.
Aldo’s 13-second loss to McGregor was unfortunate and the UFC never gave Aldo a chance to redeem himself. That setback will never take away the fact that he made a record seven consecutive title defenses in the UFC and he reigned as featherweight champion for a total of 1,848 days. That’s impressive.
6. Ronda Rousey
Rousey is considered as the fighter who put women’s MMA on the map. Rowdy was a former Olympic medalist in Judo and she used her throwdown skills to become the most dominant female fighter in the history of the UFC. Sure, her career ended with back to back knockout losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, but there is no doubt that her reign as champion was spectacular.
Rowdy reigned as UFC women’s bantamweight title for a total of 1,074 days and she made a total of six successful title defenses. After she was promoted as the inaugural UFC women’s bantamweight champion, Rousey beat Liz Carmouche at UFC 157. After that, she submitted five consecutive opponents in a total combined time of three minutes and eight seconds. She won her first 12 bouts, nine by armbar submission and three by knockout before she suffered back to back losses.
5. Frank Shamrock
The end of the 1990s proved to be a challenging period for the UFC. Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie were gone and they needed a star to carry the promotion to the next era. Ken’s adopted brother Frank Shamrock carried the torch for the UFC during that transition period.
Frank came to the UFC after a successful run in Pancrase. He defeated Kevin Jackson during his octagon debut to win the inaugural light heavyweight title in 1997. His first three title defenses ended in first-round stoppages. For his fourth defense, he faced Tito Ortiz and defeated the Huntington Beach Bad Boy via 4th round TKO in the 1999 Fight of the Year. Shamrock retired, citing the lack of quality opposition. He would return a year later in Japan and he also went on to become the inaugural light heavyweight champion for the WEC and Strikeforce.
4. Jon Jones
Jon Jones is the youngest champion in the history of the UFC. He won the light heavyweight belt in 2011, taking the fight on short notice and having little trouble in disposing Shogun Rua. Then he defeated seven challengers convincingly one after the other. Imagine a guy defeating former champions Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, and Vitor Belfort in succession.
Bones would go on to rule for 1,501 days as the 205-pound champion, 5th longest in the history of the UFC. He made seven successful title defenses during that period and barely lost a round, except for his war with Alexander Gustaffson at UFC 165. He never lost the belt inside the octagon and was stripped after drug and legal issues.
3. Demetrious Johnson
Demetrious Johnson was the inaugural UFC flyweight champion. After Mighty mouse lost to Dominick Cruz in 2011 when he challenged for the bantamweight title, the UFC held a flyweight tournament to determine the champion in a new division. He won it convincingly and went on to defend the belt a record 11 times.
If there was a UFC fighter who cleaned up his division, it was DJ. He beat one top contender after another and when he was done, he went after the entire Top 10 and beat everyone. A rematch with Henry Cejudo at UFC 227 proved to be his last UFC bout. After losing the title in a close decision, he never got a rematch. Instead, the UFC traded him to the ONE Championship.
2. Georges St. Pierre
While Anderson Silva ruled the middleweight division, Georges St. Pierre was the man in the welterweight division. GSP was a two-time welterweight champion but his second reign stood out. After reclaiming the belt with a win over Matt Serra, he started his long reign with five wins where he didn’t lose a single round. He defended the belt four more times but took a leave of absence after defeating Johny Hendricks at UFC 167.
Like Jon Jones, GSP never lost his belt in a fight. He relinquished it to take a leave of absence. His title reign lasted a total of 2,064 days and 9 consecutive title defenses. St. Pierre returned at UFC and submitted Michael Bisping at UFC 217 to win the UFC middleweight title. He also relinquished that belt due to inactivity.
1. Anderson Silva
Silva is considered the GOAT of MMA. The Spider holds the record for the longest title reign in UFC history at 2,457 days. Silva went undefeated from 2006 to 2013 and he won 16 consecutive bouts during this period. Eleven of those bouts were successful title defenses and Silva defeated every fighter the UFC put in front of him. But early on, his weakness was his tendency to taunt opponents, and that eventually cost him his title.
At UFC 162, Silva was well in control of his bout against Chris Weidman when he exposed his chin in round two. Weidman took advantage and landed a punch that knocked Silva out. He earned a rematch but he broke his leg in the fight and his career was never the same again. Age also caught up with the great Spider.