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History of UFC Champions in MMA


For the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) the month of March has begun and they are offering up perhaps their biggest month in history that will be highlighted by some great cards and five championship fights. It begins on March 6 with UFC 259 that will see champions Amanda Nunes, Jan Blachowicz, and Stipe Miocic all defending their respective weight class belts on the same card.

Nunes will go up against Megan Anderson, Blachowicz takes on middleweight champion Israel Adesanya as the middleweight champion tries to become the next “champ-champ.” Then there is Miocic battling Francis Ngannou for the second time in the heavyweight division. The year got off to a good start with Conor McGregor losing badly in his return to the Octagon getting pounded by Dustin Poirier and the spectacular debut of Michael Chandler.

In February, Cory Sandhagen had a highlight-reel finish of former champion Frankie Edgar and on that card, Clay Guida continued to keep on keeping on, impressive in his victory over Michael Johnson. Kamara Usman showed why he might be the best overall fighter in MMA and Derrick Lewis finished off Curtis Blaydes in a devastating manner that halted Blaydes’ run to the title.

More recently, another heavyweight hopeful took a big step backward when rising star Ciryl Gane outclassed the favored Jairzinho Rozenstruik as Gane stayed on his toes and for most of the fight kept the battle in the center of the Octagon. With the five title fights forthcoming in March, there is a chance someone or more than one fighter could lose their championship belt.

Stipe Miocic had been the heavyweight champion once before after dethroning former champion Fabricio Werdum and then losing to Daniel Cormier only to win back his title in a rematch. Overall Miocic has defended his championship four times. In the UFC’s history, there have been 17 heavyweight champions since 1997. The UFC got its start on November 12, 1993, with UFC 1 but there were no weight divisions. It wasn’t until UFC 12 on February 7, 1997, that divisions were introduced.

Before divisional champions were crowned, those who won titles were labeled “tournament winners” and those champions are displayed below.

UFC 1

November 12, 1993

Division: None
Winner: Royce Gracie
Runner-Up: Gerard Gordeau

UFC 2

March 11, 1994

Division: None
Winner: Royce Gracie
Runner-Up: Patrick Smith

UFC 3

September 9, 1994

Division: None
Winner: Steve Jennum
Runner-Up: Harold Howard

UFC 4

December 16, 1994

Division: None
Winner: Royce Gracie
Runner-Up: Dan Severn

UFC 5

April 7, 1995

Division: None
Winner: Dan Severn
Runner-Up: Dave Beneteau

UFC 6

July 14, 1995

Division: None
Winner: Oleg Taktarov
Runner-Up: Tank Abbott

UFC 7

September 8, 1995

Division: None
Winner: Marco Ruas
Runner-Up: Paul Varelans

The Ultimate Ultimate

December 16, 1995

Division: None
Winner: Dan Severn
Runner-Up: Oleg Taktarov

UFC 8

February 16, 1996

Division: None
Winner: Don Frye
Runner-Up: Gary Goodridge

UFC 9

May 16, 1996

Division: None
Winner: Dan Severn
Runner-Up: Ken Shamrock

UFC 10

July 12, 1996

Division: None
Winner: Mark Coleman
Runner-Up: Don Frye

UFC 11

September 20, 1996

Division: None
Winner: Mark Coleman
Runner-Up: Scott Ferrozzo

The Ultimate Ultimate 2

December 7, 1996

Division: None
Winner: Don Frye
Runner-Up: Tank Abbott

UFC 12

February 7, 1997

Division: Heavyweight
Winner: Vitor Belfort
Runner-Up: Scott Ferrozzo

Division: Lightweight
Winner: Jerry Bohlander
Runner-Up: Nick Sanzo

UFC 13

May 30, 1997

Division: Heavyweight
Winner: Randy Couture
Runner-Up: Steven Graham

Division: Lightweight
Winner: Guy Mezger
Runner-Up: Tito Ortiz

UFC 14

July 27, 1997

Division: Heavyweight
Winner: Mark Kerr
Runner-Up: Dan Bobish

Division: Middleweight
Winner: Kevin Jackson
Runner-Up: Tony Fryklund

UFC 15

October 17, 1997

Division: Heavyweight
Winner: Mark Kerr
Runner-Up: Dwayne Cason

Ultimate Japan

December 21, 1997

Division: Heavyweight
Winner: Kazushi Sakuraba
Runner-Up: Marcus Silveira

UFC 16

March 13, 1998

Division: Lightweight
Winner: Pat Miletich
Runner-Up: Chris Brennan

UFC 17

May 15, 1998

Division: Middleweight
Winner: Dan Henderson
Runner-Up: Carlos Newton

UFC 23

November 19, 1999

Division: Middleweight
Winner: Kenichi Yamamoto
Runner-Up: Katsuhisa Fujii

Now as the UFC is today, there are 12 divisions between the men and women thus 11 champions because Amanda Nunes is a champ-champ holding both the women’s bantamweight and featherweight titles. The UFC is not alone as a league in Mixed Martial Arts. Bellator runs as a viable second as a competitor, and on the rise is the ONE Championship and the PFL is making headway in the sport.

This brings us to the complete list of UFC champions past and present.

The Heavyweights

Mark Coleman (2/7/1997)
SUB1 over Dan Severn (UFC 12)

Maurice Smith (7/27/1997)
UD3 over Mark Coleman (UFC 14)

Bas Rutten (5/7/1999)
SD3 over Kevin Randleman (UFC 20)

Kevin Randleman (11/19/1999)
UD over Pete Williams (UFC 23)

Randy Couture (11/17/2000)
KO3 over Kevin Randleman (UFC 28)

Josh Barnett (3/22/2002)
KO2 over Randy Couture (UFC 36)

Ricco Rodriguez (9/27/2002)
KO5 over Randy Couture (UFC 39)

Tim Sylvia (2/28/2003)
KO1 over Ricco Rodriguez (UFC 41)

Frank Mir (6/19/2004)
SUB1 over Tim Sylvia (UFC 48)

Andrei Arlovski (2/5/2005)*
SUB1 over Tim Sylvia (UFC 51)

Tim Sylvia (4/15/2006)
KO1 over Andrei Arlovski (UFC 59)

Randy Couture (3/3/2007)
UD over Time Sylvia (UFC 68)

Brock Lesnar (11/15/2008)
KO2 over Randy Couture (UFC 91)

Cain Velasquez (10/23/2010)
KO1 over Brock Lesnar (UFC 121)

Junior dos Santos (12/12/2011)
KO1 over Cain Velasquez (UFC on Fox)

Cain Velasquez (12/29/2012)
UD over Junior dos Santos (UFC 155)

Fabricio Werdum (6/13/2015)
SUB3 over Cain Velasquez (UFC 188)

Stipe Miocic (5/15/2016)
KO1 over Fabricio Werdum (UFC 198)

Daniel Cormier (7/7/2018)
TKO1 over Stipe Miocic (UFC 226)

Stipe Miocic (8/17/2019)
TKO4 over Daniel Cormier (UFC 241)

Light Heavyweights

Frank Shamrock (9/21/1997)
SUB1 over Kevin Jackson (UFC Japan)
Defenses: 4

Tito Ortiz (4/14/2000)
UD5 over Wanderlei Silva (UFC 25)
Defenses: 5

Randy Couture (9/26/2003)
UD5 over Tito Ortiz (UFC 44)
Defenses: 0

Vitor Belfort (1/31/2004)
KO1 over Randy Couture (UFC 46)
Defenses: 0

Randy Couture (8/21/2004)
KO3 over Vitor Belfort
Defenses: 0

Chuck Liddell (4/16/2005)
KO1 over Randy Couture (UFC 52)
Defenses: 4

Quinton Jackson (5/26/2007)
KO1 over Chuck Liddell (UFC 71)
Defenses: 1

Forrest Griffin (7/5/2008)
UD5 over Quinton Jackson (UFC 86)
Defenses: 0

Rashad Evans (12/27/2008)
KO3 over Forrest Griffin (UFC 92)
Defenses: 0

Lyoto Machida (5/23/2009)
TKO2 over Rashad Evans (UFC 98)
Defenses: 1

Mauricio Rua (5/8/2010)
KO1 over Lyoto Machida (UFC 113)
Defenses: 0

Jon Jones (3/19/2011)
TKO3 over Mauricio Rua (UFC 128)
Defenses: 8

Daniel Cormier (5/23/2015)
SUB3 over Anthony Johnson (UFC 187)
Defenses: 2

Jon Jones (12/29/2018)
TKO3 over Alexander Gustafsson (UFC 232)
Defenses: 3

Jan Blachowicz (9/26/2020)
TKO2 over Dominick Reyes (UFC 253)
Defenses: 0

Middleweights

Dave Menne (9/28/2001)
UD5 over Gil Castillo (UFC 33)
Defenses: 0

Murilo Bustamente (1/11/2002)
TKO2 over Dave Menne (UFC 35)
Defenses: 1

Evan Tanner (2/5/2005)
TKO1 over David Terrell (UFC 51)
Defenses: 0

Rich Franklin (6/4/2005)
TKO4 over Evan Tanner (UFC 53)
Defenses: 2

Anderson Silva (10/14/2006)
KO1 over Rich Franklin (UFC 64)
Defenses: 10

Chris Weidman (7/6/2013)
KO2 over Anderson Silva (UFC 162)
Defenses: 3

Luke Rockhold (12/12/2015)
TKO4 over Chris Weidman (UFC 194)
Defenses: 1

Michael Bisping (6/4/2016)
KO1 over Luke Rockhold (UFC 199)
Defenses: 0

Georges St-Pierre (11/4/2017)
KO1 over Michael Bisping (UFC 217)
Defenses: 0

Robert Whittaker (7/8/2017)
UD against Yoel Romero (UFC 213)
Defenses: 0

Israel Adesanya (10/6/2019)
TKO2 over Robert Whittaker (UFC 243)
Defenses: 2

Welterweights

Pat Miletich (10/16/1998)
Decision over Mikey Burnett (UFC Brazil)
Defenses: 4

Carlos Newton (5/4/2001)
SUB3 over Pat Miletich (UFC 31)
Defenses: 0

Matt Hughes (11/2/2001)
KO2 over Carlos Newton (UFC 34)
Defenses: 5

BJ Penn (1/31/2004)
SUB1 over Matt Hughes (UFC 46)
Defenses: 0

Matt Hughes (10/22/2004)
SUB1 over Georges St-Pierre (UFC 50)
Defenses: 2

Georges St-Pierre (11/18/2006)
TKO2 over Matt Hughes (UFC 65)
Defenses: 0

Matt Serra (4/7/2007)
KO1 over Georges St-Pierre (UFC 69)
Defenses: 0

Georges St-Pierre (4/19/2008)
TKO2 over Matt Serra (UFC 83)
Defenses: 9

Johny Hendricks (3/15/2014)
UD5 over Robbie Lawler (UFC 171)
Defenses: 0

Robbie Lawler (12/6/2014)
SD5 over Johny Hendricks (UFC 181)
Defenses: 2

Tyron Woodley (7/30/2016)
KO1 over Robbie Lawler (UFC 201)
Defenses: 4

Kamaru Usman (3/2/2019)
UD over Tyron Woodley (UFC 235)
Defenses: 3

Lightweights

Jens Pulver (2/23/2001)
UD5 over Caol Uno (UFC 30)
Defenses: 2

Sean Sherk (10/14/2006)
UD5 over Kenny Florian (UFC 64)
Defenses: 1

BJ Penn (1/19/2008)
SUB2 over Joe Stevenson (UFC 80)
Defenses: 3

Frankie Edgar (4/10/2010)
UD5 over BJ Penn (UFC 112)
Defenses: 3

Benson Henderson (2/26/2012)
UD5 over Frankie Edgar (UFC 144)
Defenses: 3

Anthony Pettis (8/31/2013)
SUB1 over Benson Henderson (UFC 164)
Defenses: 1

Rafael dos Anjos (3/14/2015)
UD5 over Anthony Pettis (UFC 185)
Defenses: 1

Eddie Alvarez (7/7/2016)
TKO1 over Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Fight Night)
Defenses: 0

Conor McGregor (11/12/2016)
KO2 over Eddie Alvarez (UFC 205)
Defenses: 0

Khabib Nurmagomedov (4/7/2018)
UD over Al Iaquinta (UFC 223)
Defenses: 3

Featherweights

Jose Aldo (11/20/2010)*
Defeneses: 7

Conor McGregor (12/12/2015)
KO1 over JOse Aldo (UFC 194)
Defenses: 0

Max Holloway (6/3/2017)
TKO3 over Jose Aldo (UFC 212)
Defenses: 3

Alexander Volkanovski (12/14/2019)
UD over Max Holloway (UFC 245)
Defenses: 1

Bantamweights

Dominick Cruz ( 12/16/2010)#
UD5 over Scott Jorgensen (WEC 53)#
Defenses: 2*

Renan Barao (1/6/2014)*
UD5 over Urijah Faber (UFC 149)#
Defenses: 1

TJ Dillashaw (5/24/2014)
TKO5 over Renan Barao (UFC 173)
Defenses: 2

Dominick Cruz (1/17/2016)
SD5 over TJ Dillashaw (UFC Fight Night)
Defenses: 1

Cody Garbrandt (12/30/2016)
UD5 over Dominick Cruz (UFC 207)
Defenses: 0

TJ Dillashaw (11/4/2017)
KO2 over Cody Garbrandt (UFC 217)
Defenses: 1

Henry Cejudo (8/4/2018)
SD5 over Demetrious Johnson (UFC 227)
Defenses: 1

Petr Yan (7/11/2020)
TKO5 over Jose Aldo (UFC 251)
Defenses: 0

Flyweights

Demetrious Johnson (9/22/2012)
SD5 over Joseph Benavidez (UFC 152)
Defenses: 11

Henry Cejudo (8/4/2018)
SD5 over Demetrious Johnson (UFC 152)
Defenses: 0

Deiveson Figueiredo (7/18/2020)
SUB1 over Joseph Benavidez (UFC Fight Night)
Defenses: 2

Featherweights (women)

Germaine de Randamie (2/11/2017)
UD5 over Holly Holm (UFC 208)
Defenses: 0

Cris Cyborg (7/29/2017)
KO3 over Tonya Evinger (UFC 214)
Defenses: 2

Amanda Nunes (12/29/2018)
TKO1 over Cris Cyborg (UFC 232)
Defenses: 1

Bantamweights (women)

Ronda Rousey (12/6/2012)
Undisputed Champion (prior to UFC 157)
Defenses: 6

Holly Holm (12/15/2015)
KO2 over Ronda Rousey (UFC 193)
Defenses: 0

Miesha Tate (3/5/2016)
SUB5 over Holly Holm (UFC 196)
Defenses: 0

Amanda Nunes (7/9/2016)
SUB1 over Miesha Tate (UFC 200)
Defenses: 3

Flyweights (women)

Nicco Montano (12/1/2017)
UD over Roxanne Modafferi (TUF 26 Finale)
Defenses: 0

Valentina Shevchenko (12/8/2018)
UD over Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 231)
Defenses: 3

Strawweight (women)

Carla Esparza (12/12/2014)
SUB3 over Rose Namajunas (TUF 20 Finale)
Defenses: 0

Joanna Jedrzejczyk (3/14/2015)
KO2 over Carla Esparza (UFC 185)
Defenses: 5

Rose Namajunas (11/4/2017)
KO1 over Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 217)
Defenses: 1

Jessica Andrade (5/11/2019)
TKO2 over Rose Namajunas (UFC 237)
Defenses: 0

Zhang Weili (8/31/2019)
TKO1 over Jessica Andrade (UFC Shenzhen)
Defenses: 0

As mentioned, there's the other MMA leagues with Bellator as the biggest and most popular next to the UFC. That league has seen many ex-UFC fighters jump ship and join them. Ryan Bader is one example and in Bellator, he has become a champ-champ winning the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles. Other former UFC fighters in Bellator are Cris Cyborg and Gegard Mousasi both of whom won titles. Corey Anderson also recently jumped ship as did Sergio Pettis. Josh Barnett did the same.

Some of Bellator’s champions found the gold in that league they could not in the UFC and some Bellator standouts tried to make it in the UFC and failed. Examples would be Ben Askren, undefeated coming from Bellator but in 15 seconds, Jorge Masvidal essentially ended his UFC career. Lyman Good won a Bellator title. So did Eddie Alvarez. Now we have Michael Chandler in the UFC. Rory MacDonald finally won a belt but it was in Bellator and not in the UFC. Who can ever forget his UFC epic battle with Robbie Lawler?

The PFL (Professional Fighters League formerly the World Series of Fighting [WSOF]) is trying to make a splash having recently signed Anthony Pettis who will make his debut on April 23. Former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum is now with the PFL. Kamara Usman’s brother Mohammed is with the PFL sporting an overall record of 7-1. Another UFC alum is Tom Lawlor now in the PFL as is Gleison Tibau.

The PFL has had some familiar names as champions:

  • Justin Gaethje
  • Jon Fitch
  • Marlon Moraes

The PFL dates back to 2013 with its first champion Steve Carl who defeated another UFC alum, Josh Burkman for the welterweight crown on October 26, 2013. Former UFC champion and standout Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson shipped out to ONE Championship after losing his flyweight title to Henry Cejudo something he defended a record 11 times. Johnson has not won that league’s flyweight title yet but it’s just a matter of time before he does.

The ONE Championship crowned its first champions on October 6, 2012, with Kotetsu Boku winning the lightweight title and Soo Chul Kim taking home the bantamweight belt. Popular for a long time and producing many UFC fighters was the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) league. The champions are everyday names and found much success in the UFC after leaving the WEC. Examples would be former WEC champs Brian Stann, Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, Gilbert Melendez, Benson Henderson, Chris Leben, Anthony Pettis, Jamie Varner, Urijah Faber, Jose Aldo, Eddie Wineland, and Dominick Cruz.

Not to be outdone, the now-defunct Strikeforce brought many outstanding fighters into the mainstream after winning titles in that league:

  • Alistair Overeem
  • Gegard Mousasi
  • Muhammed Lawal (“King Mo”)
  • Dan Henderson
  • Jake Shields
  • Ronaldo Souza
  • Nick Diaz
  • Nate Marquardt
  • Clay Guida
  • Gilbert Melendez
  • Josh Thompson
  • Cris CyborgSarah Kaufman
  • Miesha Tate
  • Ronda Rousey

For the women, many evolved from the league “Invicta” where Cris Cyborg won a title in 2013. Megan Anderson who is set to challenge Amanda Nunes on March 6 in a UFC championship bout won the featherweight crown in Invicta in 2017. Felica Spencer is a Invicta alumnus. Sarah Kaufman also fought in Invicta. Other champions there include Jennifer Maia, Carla Esparza, Angela Hill, Jessica Penne, and Michelle Waterson.

Yet, there is still another league that exists and that is the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) which was created out of the organizations RFA and Legacy FC has hosted names like:

  • Sergio Pettis
  • Brandon Moreno
  • Eryk Anders
  • Sage Northcutt
  • Kevin Holland
  • Ian Heinisch
  • Joaquin Buckley
  • Markus Perez
  • Khalil Rountree
  • Ryan Spann
  • Greg Hardy
  • Tim Elliott
  • Mackenzie Dern
  • Randa Markos
  • Maycee Barber
  • Lauren Murphy
  • Kamar Usman
  • Curtis Blaydes
  • Derrick Lewis
  • Dominick Reyes
  • Brian Ortega
  • Holly Holm
  • Valentina Shevchenko
  • Henry Cejudo

For a great resource to search for any fighters, check out ESPN’s “MMA Fighters” page. Links to all the leagues are as such:

There you have it. A brief encyclopedia for MMA that hopefully serves all Mixed Martial Arts fans well. Of all pro and college sports, MMA seems to have been the one that has been affected the least because of COVID-19. March is going to be UFC’s best month in history and the other leagues continue to try to play catchup.

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About the author

Harv Aronson

Harv Aronson was born and raised in Pittsburgh but now lives in Florida with his beautiful wife Melissa.

Harv currently writes for Abstract Sports, the Sports History Network, and the magazine Gridiron Greats. Harv wrote the published book "Pro Football's Most Passionate Fans" and as a professional writer has had articles published in an array of sports publications.

Harv loves all sports but football and baseball are at the top of his interest. His passion is for sports history. You can also watch Harv’s videos on his YouTube channel “Total Sports Recall.”

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