The list of UFC champions historically has included long-serving legends, and title reigns over almost before they started. What should we expect from our batch of champions in 2018?
The UFC has seen several new champions crowned this year, putting fresh faces atop a number of the promotion’s weight classes. How long they last as champions remains to be seen. Based off of the past, however, we can judge how some of these new champs may fare.
We’ve seen title reigns last years, and others last months, with no real way to gauge how long a champion “should” remain at the top of the rankings. Upsets happen on a regular basis, and judge’s decisions aren’t always easy to predict. Accounting for all of the variables is tough. So, we decided to take a look at the average title reign for each division throughout the history of the UFC, and use that as a guide.
The average length was calculated by taking the number of title fight victories, then dividing that by the total number of champions per division. Interim title victories are also included, whether they resulted in unified title reigns or not. Draws are also considered victories, for our purposes, in the sense that the champion retains the belt.
From there, we took note of the obvious outliers and looked at what the future could hold for the current champion in each weight class.
We’ve also only included divisions with at least four title changes. This means we’ve left out men’s flyweight, as well as the women’s featherweight, flyweight, and strawweight divisions. The averages in these weight classes don’t tell us much, other than that fighters like Demetrious Johnson and Joanna Jedrzejczyk are extremely talented.
These numbers are anything but perfect. Still, having an idea of what champions have accomplished in the past is as good a guide as any when it comes to the uncertainty of professional fighting at the highest level.
The UFC’s largest weight class holds the lowest average title reign length at 1.82 victories (40 title wins/22 title reigns). That’s not exactly surprising given the nature of the heavyweight division. We’ve never seen a champion in the weight class defend their belt more than twice during a single reign.
The first UFC heavyweight champion was Mark Coleman. He defeated Dan Severn at UFC 12 in 1997. Since then we’ve seen 21 additional title reigns, with 10 champions failing to defend their belt once. There’s also been a few fighters who have won the belt back after losing it, including Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, and Cain Velasquez.
Current champ Stipe Miocic is on the verge of history, matching Couture, Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, Velasquez, and Brock Lesnar’s reigns with three heavyweight title victories. He’ll get his shot against monstrous prospect Francis Ngannou in 2018, a test that looks as tough as any following UFC 218. Miocic is already an above-average champion, and if he can stop Ngannou’s rise, will deservedly be among the all-time heavyweight greats.
At 205-pounds, the average UFC champion has secured 2.86 victories (40 title wins/14 title reigns). Some of MMA’s best have fought at light heavyweight, tallying impressive reigns atop one of the toughest divisions in the sport.
No reign is more impressive than Jon Jones’, which stands at nine victories from March of 2011 to January of 2015. He tops the likes of legends such as Frank Shamrock (5), Tito Ortiz (6), and Chuck Liddell (5). It was Shamrock who got things started, winning the inaugural title at UFC Japan in December of 1997.
Light heavyweight also features multiple title reigns from Randy Couture, who managed to do the same at heavyweight.
Daniel Cormier is the current title-holder, following more issues from the aforementioned Jones. Jones’ runs may be tarnished to some, but Cormier’s resumé isn’t in doubt. He’s due to defend his belt at UFC 220 in January against rising prospect Volkan Oezdemir. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see Cormier join Couture in the history books and challenge for the heavyweight title at some point in the future. He holds a 13-0 career record in the larger weight class.
We have multiple averages for middleweight, helping signify just how dominant Anderson Silva has been as 185-pound champion in the UFC. With Silva, the average is 2.7 victories (27 title wins/10 title reigns). Without Silva, the average is 1.78 victories (16 title wins/9 title reigns).
Silva’s 11 title victories give him far more than anyone in the history of the UFC middleweight division. Chris Weidman (4) and Rich Franklin (3) are the only other fighters with more than two, and both fought Silva twice. Weidman was 2-0 against the all-time great, while Franklin went 0-2.
The first 185-pound champion in the UFC was Dave Menne, who won the title at UFC 33 in September of 2001.
The middlweight division has a new undisputed champion, after Georges St. Pierre vacated the belt. GSP did so a little more than a month after winning the title at UFC 217. The move comes following the revelation that he’s suffering from ulcerative colitis. Now, former interim champ Robert Whittaker will take the mantle and attempt to defend the 185-pound belt for the first time in his home country of Australia against Luke Rockhold at UFC 221.
The average UFC welterweight title reign is the second longest we measured, coming in at 3.17 victories (38 title wins/12 title reigns). Following inaugural champion Pat Miletich’s lead, champions at 170-pounds have been more successful than their counterparts in other weight classes.
Miletich won the first welterweight title at UFC Brazil in 1998, and defended it four times before losing the belt to Carlos Newton at UFC 31. As impressive as his reign was, he still ranks behind Matt Hughes (6) and Georges St. Pierre (11) for longest title fight victory streaks in the welterweight division.
The story of welterweight is similar to that of middlweight, with GSP playing the Anderson Silva role. The difference is other fighers, like Robbie Lawler and and current champion Tyron Woodley, have been able to find success for several bouts as well. Featuring some of the best fighters in UFC history, topping the charts at 170-pounds (and staying there) is no easy task.
Woodley has shown his ability to do just that against varying types of opponents, defeating Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia in back-to-back bouts. His future at welterweight may be less certain though, as he faces potential shoulder surgery and a desire for a big money fight. Should Woodley stick around at welterweight, the winner of Robbie Lawler and Rafael dos Anjos’ bout in December will likely decide the next challenger for his belt.
The 155-pound weight class may be stalling at the top recently, but historically has some of the most consistent champions in the promotion. The average title reign is 2.4 victories (24 title wins/10 title reigns).
Jens Pulver got things going at UFC 30, and defended his belt twice before being stripped of the title due to contract disputes with the promotion. He was followed by greats like BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar, and Benson Henderson, each of which had four title victories at lightweight.
Since then, things have been less stable. Neither of the three most recent champions have defended their belt once.
Of course, part of that is due to some unique circumstances surrounding current champ Conor McGregor and interim-title holder Tony Ferguson. But the point remains. Things with the Irishman don’t seem to be clearing up anytime soon, and every MMA fan can get behind clearing things up in one of the most talented weight classes in the promotion in 2018.
Barely making the cut with exactly four separate title reigns (and just three champions), featherweight doesn’t provide as much insight as some of the other divisions. A major reason for that is Jose Aldo’s impressive reign at the outset of the weight class, which has an average title reign of 3.25 victories (13 title wins/4 title reigns).
Promoted to undisputed champion at UFC 123 in November of 2010, Aldo’s initial run featured seven title victories. That was then halted by Conor McGregor at UFC 194.
As he’s currently doing to lightweight, McGregor’s decisions then put the featherweight division in a weird spot. Due to those choices, we were given multiple interim champions, but things seem to be finally settled thanks to Max Holloway.
The current champion has soundly defeated Aldo twice in 2017, following his interim-title win over Anthony Pettis at UFC 206. That makes three consecutive title-victories for the Hawaiin and 12th straight win overall. Holloway has options, too. Whether he faces Frankie Edgar, as was originally scheduled for UFC 218, or sees what McGregor is up to at 155-pounds, his reign doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon.
Featuring a handful of champions with just a few title wins, bantamweight has an impressive list of reigns given its relatively short existence. The average title reign of a UFC bantamweight champion is 2.3 victories (14 title wins/6 title reigns).
Fan-favorite Dominick Cruz got things going after being named the inaugural 135-pound champ. Cruz defeated Scott Jorgensen at WEC 53 in December of 2010, prior to the UFC-WEC merger. He then defended the belt twice, including once against Demetrious Johnson, before vacating the belt due to injuries in 2014.
Cruz’s three title wins were then topped by Brazilian Renan Barao (4), and matched by current title-holder TJ Dillashaw during his first run as champ. That streak was ended by Cruz, who joins Dillashaw as the only fighters in UFC bantamweight history to be champion on multiple occasions.
Now, Dillashaw is back on top, and has some options for his next bout. There’s talk (again) of a match-up with UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. But, nobody would be mad about rematches with either Cruz or former teammate Cody Garbrandt in 2018. Either way, holding on to the bantamweight belt is no easy task, despite how impressive some of the champions have been.
Another division with exactly four separate title reigns showcases the drastic differences that can be had when it comes to being a champion in the UFC. The average women’s bantamweight champion in the promotion records 2.75 victories (11 title wins/4 title reigns).
The division was run by Ronda Rousey for a few years after she was crowned champion at a press conference in December of 2012. She made good on the move, defending the belt six times against six different challengers. Then, Holly Holm happened at UFC 193.
Holm’s reign didn’t last long, and neither did Miesha Tate’s, who defeated Holm with a fifth-round submission at UFC 196.
Current champion Amanda Nunes won the belt from Tate in less than four-minutes at UFC 200, and proceeded to provide some stability at the top of the division. Nunes sent Rousey back into hiding at UFC 207 and defended the belt once-more against Valentina Shevchenko earlier this year.
She’s now waiting for another contender to step-up, and it looks as though Raquel Pennington is next in line. She’s currently healing-up from an ATV accident, and hoping for a return in May, for a shot at Nunes.
What We Learned
Most champions find a way to defend their belt at least once, but anything beyond that is considered above average for most divisions. Champions come and go, and defending a title (even once) should be praised. But, a dominant champ doesn’t always result in economic success for the UFC.
It’s no secret that combat sports, and sports in general, are star-driven. While dominant champions are great for the record books and fight posters, it’s stars like Brock Lesnar and Conor McGregor who draw mainstream fans. Regardless of whether or not they have a belt around their waist. Impressive title-holders in a variety of weight classes, from Fabricio Werdum and Robbie Lawler to Jose Aldo and Demetrious Johnson, have struggled to produce the kinds of numbers that mainstream stars pull regularly.
The trick is getting both in one package. Superstar champions like Ronda Rousey, Georges St. Pierre, and Anderson Silva are the perfect fighters for the UFC and mainstream fans alike. Finding fighters like that is easier said than done. When it comes to MMA’s premier promotion, it’s the fighter that makes the title, not the other way around.