In the UFC’s short history, it’s had some dominant champions along the way. Some of those title holders went on to defend their belts for almost a decade, and generally looming over their division like a specter.
Some champions were more controversial than others, and some are better known, but these ten UFC champions stand in a category of their own.
Check out the ten best champions in UFC history!
10. Tito Ortiz
Tito was the first major superstar champion in the UFC’s most notorious weight class, the light heavyweight division. Ortiz lorded over the other 205 pound fighters from 2000 to 2002. While that may not seem like a long time, Ortiz managed to defend the title five times as champion.
”The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’s” feud with Ken Shamrock helped carry the UFC through it’s darkest days, and the brash blonde haired champion proved to be a main event draw.
Who knows what would have happened to the UFC if Ortiz hadn’t have had the championship run he had.
9. Matt Hughes
Hughes ruled over the welterweight division from 2001 to 2004 and again from 2004 till 2006, and no one could stop him on his championship run. Hughes ran through five title defenses before ultimately losing the title to Georges St. Pierre.
During that run, Hughes finished all but one of his opponents, and even overcame a brief submission scare from Carlos Newton by slamming him to the ground, knocking Newton out cold. ITV was one of Hughes’ finest moments in the cage.
The way Hughes dominated the challengers to his welterweight title seemed effortless, making it no surprise that he ended up winning the welterweight belt twice and beating the likes of fellow UFC legends GSP and BJ Penn in the process.
8. Chuck Liddell
You can thank “The Iceman” for keeping the light heavyweight division alive once Ortiz and Couture lost the belt. Liddell went on a prolific knockout streak.
From 2005 until 2007, Liddell knocked out every challenger to his belt until running into Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 71. But prior to that, “The Iceman” was a true crossover star. Not only did he kick a** in the cage, but he also picked up camels in blockbuster television shows like Entourage.
From TV shows to Brisk Ice Tea commercials, Liddell was truly one of the first bigtime UFC superstars, and his title reign made him a champion to be feared.
“The Iceman” had his opponent’s broken often times before the two even started the fight; much like Mike Tyson, Liddell’s power and no-nonsense appearance made him an intimidating opponent, and the results he achieved were enough to send his opponents diving for takedowns.
7. José Aldo
The UFC’s featherweight division WAS Jose Aldo for the first four years of the weight classes’ creation.
The Brazilian striker mesmerized his opponent’s with lightening-fast leg kicks and unpredictable flying knees. Aldo was hell on wheels since becoming the UFC featherweight champion when the UFC absorbed the WEC, where Aldo also reigned supreme. For four long years, Aldo dispatched all title challengers with ease.
Some contenders he had previously beaten so bad (or quietly) like Cub Swanson that they couldn’t even get another crack at Aldo, no matter how long their winning streak was.
Of course, all great champions lose eventually, and the timing of Conor McGregor’s ascent through the division signaled dark times ahead for Aldo, who ultimately lost his belt in 13 seconds to “The Notorious”.
However, that doesn’t erase Aldo’s reign of terror over the featherweight division.
6. Ronda Rousey
Women’s MMA in the UFC would have never happened if Ronda Rousey didn’t exist. Dana White’s opinion of women’s MMA changed completely after seeing Rousey, and her dominance as bantamweight champion only further proved White’s decision to promote women’s MMA.
Rousey’s reign as champion began after Strikeforce was bought and absorbed into the UFC. After winning the inaugural title against Liz Carmouche back in late 2012, “Rowdy” absolutely destroyed every challenger in her path until running into Holly Holm four years later.
Rousey would routinely end her title defenses like she had somewhere to go right after. Quick submissions and knockout, between 15 and 30 seconds; the manner in which Rousey dismantled her opposition was a thing of beauty.
No one even came close to taking Rousey’s belt during her championship run, and her crossover success into movies and eventually professional wrestling has prepared her well for life after fighting.
The women’s MMA pioneer would eventually lose her title to Holm and again in her comeback fight against then-champion Amanda Nunes, But Rousey will forever be remembered as the definitive female fighter who paved the way for all who followed.
5. Frank Shamrock
Frank Shamrock was a UFC champion back before the sport exploded in popularity and way before it is what it is nowadays.
But Shamrock was easily the first well-rounded, comprehensive champion who could strike while on the feet but also lock in a submission on the ground. Before Shamrock, UFC fighters all came from one combat discipline.
Shamrock managed to defend his belt four times from 1997 to 1999, and even scored a TKO victory over eventual champion Tito Ortiz in one of Shamrock’s title defenses.
Shamrock and his brother Ken were especially adept at leglocks following their time in Pancrase in Japan. Most importantly, Shamrock was the template for the modern day mixed martial artist.
4. Demetrious Johnson
”Mighty Mouse” could easily end up being the best UFC champion of all time after he eventually retires, but as of now, the UFC flyweight champion comes in at number four.
Johnson hasn’t always been the highest profile champion, and his opponents haven’t always been the biggest names, but a lot of that is out of his control. For the things he can control, Johnson dominates completely.
He always seems to win, whether by knockout or submission, and he remains undefeated at flyweight. The UFC has never had another flyweight champion, and likely won’t until “Mighty Mouse” hangs up the gloves for good.
DJ hasn’t necessarily been the most characteristic champion, which has hindered his marketability in the past. But with 11 title defenses since 2012 till today, it’s hard to ignore the pure talent and skill Johnson displays time and time again.
3. Anderson Silva
“The Spider” entangled the middleweight division in his web of absolute violence for seven years.
Silva defended his belt 11 times, a record only recently beaten by Demetrious Johnson, but before that Silva was virtually unbeatable. The former middleweight champion even moved up in weight three times during that epic run, and won all three light heavyweight bouts.
Perhaps the finest moment of Silva’s middleweight dominance, “The Spider” front kicked Vitor Belfort at UFC 126, encapsulating his wild and unpredictable striking game.
2. Jon Jones
There is no denying Jones unbelievable athleticism and innate fighting abilities; if there’s any knock on the disgraced champ, it’s what he does outside of the cage that keeps him from the number one spot on this list.
From becoming the youngest-ever UFC champion in the promotion’s history back in 2011 all the way until he was stripped of the light heavyweight title in 2015, Jones fired off eight title defenses with only one being close or competitive in any way.
If it weren’t for his multiple failed drug tests and his numerous legal issues, Jones would easily be the best champion in UFC history. But the controversial light heavyweight remains his own worst enemy.
Bones already squandered his first comeback fight after his knockout victory over Daniel Cormier was turned to a no contest following another failed USADA test. Definitely the champion with the most potential, but also the most troubled champion as well.
1. Georges St. Pierre
GSP is number one on this list due to not only his five year, nine defense championship run from 2008-2013, but also his character and overall marketability.
There were never any controversies with GSP like there was with Jones, and being a Canadian, he became a massive PPV draw from a huge MMA market.
St. Pierre didn’t finish as many of his challengers as others on this list, but “Rush” had unstoppable wrestling that always led to his inevitable victory.
GSP even briefly picked up the middleweight belt last year before retiring again, making him a champion who never lost his belt in two divisions.