UFC’s Greatest Championship Reigns

Article by James Cahilellis

After watching Anderson Silva’s recent destruction of Vitor Belfort, it doesn’t seem like there is a soul in the UFC’s middleweight division who can compete on the same level as “the Spider”. Silva has clearly cleaned out his division and is one of the most dominant champions in UFC history.  That’s when I started to ponder the question, who else could have been considered a dominant champion in their time?  And more so, what defines a true championship reign?  Is it defined by how long they have held the championship, the quality of opponents faced, the number of times they have successfully defended their title, or a combination of all three?

I started looking into the UFC record books and noticed while there has been 37 different UFC champions, only 8 of them has been able to successfully defend their championship at least 3 consecutive times.  I thought this “elite eight” group of champions would be a good base to start my list of the greatest UFC championship reigns.

8.  Pat Miletich: Welterweight Champion: 3/13/1998-5/4/2001 (931 days), 4 consecutive title defenses

Miletich had his UFC debut at UFC 16, where he won the 4 man UFC Lightweight Tournament.  By UFC 18, he claimed the Welterweight title by defeating Mickey Burnett.  During his title reign, he beat the likes of Jorge Patino, Andre Pederneiras, John Alessio, and Kenichi Yamamoto before losing to Carlos Newton via submission at UFC 31.

Even though Pat Miletich held the championship for more days than four other fighters on this list, I ranked him last because of lack of quality opponents and poor record during that span (even though he went 5-0 in the UFC, he was a poor 2-3 outside the UFC).

7.  B.J. Penn: Lightweight Champion: 1/19/2008-4/10/2010 (812 days), 3 consecutive title defenses

Penn’s lightweight reign began at UFC 80 when he defeated Joe Stevenson in one of the most bloodiest battles in the UFC.  Penn went on to successfully defend his title against Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez.  The only blip in his title reign was at UFC 94, when Penn lost to Georges St. Pierre for the Welterweight championship.

I will admit, I do have a bias for B.J. Penn, but I can’t honestly see him higher on this list.  Even though he faced quality opponents (who were arguably in their prime when they faced Penn), and his only loss came when he tried to become the first man to hold 2 UFC championships at the same time, the bottom line is that his reign was just too short.

6.  Frank Shamrock: Light Heavyweight Champion: 12/21/1997-09/24/1999 (642 days), 4 consecutive title defenses

Frank Shamrock only needed 16 seconds to become the first UFC Light Heavyweight champion when he slapped Kevin Jackson with an armbar at UFC: Ultimate Japan.  He then defeated Igor Zinoviev, Jeremy Horn, Jon Lober, and Tito Ortiz before retiring the belt citing “lack of competition”.

Shamrock was more of a true champion then I believe most people give him credit.  All 5 of his opponents were beaten decisively and were considered quality opponents at that time.  Zinoviev was undefeated at the time he fought Shamrock, Horn is always a competitor, Lober was a redemption fight, and Tito Ortiz was considered a heavy favorite and the “next big thing”.

5.  Chuck Liddell: Light Heavyweight Champion: 4/16/2005-5/27-2007 (771 days), 4 consecutive title defenses

Liddell was already a big name in the UFC, sporting a 10-2 UFC record before defeating Randy Couture for the Light Heavyweight championship.  He went on to win 4 straight fights before losing to Quinton Jackson at UFC 71.

Liddell’s legacy will always be remembered by his title reign, where he had 4 epic fights with exciting finishes, and what I think stamps Liddell’s legacy even more is the story-lines underneath each of those title defenses.  He defeated Randy Couture in their rubber match, achieved redemption over a very game Jeremy Horn, destructed his “arch enemy” in a grudge fight against Tito Ortiz, and had an exciting title defense over a very worthy opponent in Renato Sobral.

4.  Tito Ortiz:  Light Heavyweight Champion: 4/14/2000-9/26/2003 (1,260 days), 5 consecutive title defenses

Ortiz’s long reign as Light Heavyweight Champion started when he defeated a young Wanderlei Silva at UFC 25.  Ortiz then went on a roll stopping Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, and Elvis Sinosic all in the first round, then finished his reign with a unanimous decision win over Vladimir Matyushenko and TKO over long time rival Ken Shamrock.

What makes Ortiz’s title reign so memorable was not only his aggressive ground and pound style, but the “bad boy” character he brought to every fight.  His title reign was eventually stopped after 3 years by UFC legend Randy Couture, but not before “the Huntington Beach Bad Boy” found his place as one of the most dominant champions in UFC history.

3.  Matt Hughes:  Welterweight Champion: 11/2/2001-1/31/2004 & 10/22/2004-11/18/2006 (combined 1,577 days)

Hughes’ reign started with a bang after he slammed Carlos Newton unconscious at UFC 34.  Hughes followed that win with a 5 fight win streak over Hayato Sakurai, Carlos Newton, Gil Castillo, Sean Sherk, and Frank Trigg before losing the championship to the former lightweight BJ Penn.  After the 820 day championship reign, Hughes immediately got back on the right track defeating Renato Verissimo before taking his championship back submitting Georges St. Pierre via armbar with only 1 second left to go at UFC 50.  He started his next title reign by defeating Frank Trigg again with a rear naked choke, then beating Joe Riggs and Royce Gracie (both non-title bouts) before getting revenge over BJ Penn at UFC 63.  He would eventually lose the title to future UFC Hall of Famer Georges St. Pierre.

I put both of Hughes’ title reigns on this list because of the significance of each reign.  His first title reign was dominate, being able to finish the fight in 4 out of his 5 defenses.  I believe his second title reign was more significant (and why I made it the only exception in this list) because of the quality of fighters he fought.  Defeating Georges St. Pierre for the championship is an accomplishment in itself, but then he had a miraculous victory over Frank Trigg, where he almost lost the fight due to an inadvertent low blow early in the first round.  Hughes followed that victory by defeating a Joe Riggs who couldn’t cut enough weight before the fight, then had what was billed as the “fight of the century” at that time, when he fought and defeated UFC Legend Royce Gracie by TKO in the first round.  The last successful defense was probably the sweetest in Hughes title reign, when he defeated BJ Penn, the man who originally took his championship belt from him the first time.

2.  Georges St. Pierre:  Welterweight Champion: 12/29/2007-Present (1,137+ days) 5 consecutive title defenses

St. Pierre’s dominance started at UFC 79 with his victory over Matt Hughes for the Interim Welterweight championship.  Pierre then was able to get his revenge by stopping Matt Serra by knees to the body to retake his championship belt in front of his home country at UFC 83.  Vowing never to take an opponent for granted again, Pierre has been on a roll defeating Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, and Josh Koscheck.

It doesn’t seems like there is any welterweight out there that can stop the “Rush”.  According to Fighmetric.com, Georges St. Pierre holds UFC records for takedowns landed (66), takedown accuracy (77.7%), significant strikes landed (892), total strikes landed (1942), and consecutive rounds won.  His dominance of the Welterweight division is unprecedented and his championship reign will always be considered one of the greatest in UFC history.

1. Anderson Silva: Middleweight Champion: 6/28/2006-Present (1,578+ days) 8 consecutive title defenses

Silva’s dominance started on his UFC debut with his destruction of Chris Leben.  Silva then took the Middleweight championship from Rich Franklin at UFC 64 and never looked back, beating a who’s who in the middleweight division over the past four and a half years.  His first title defense was against Nate Marquart, which he finished via TKO.  Silva then demolished Rich Franklin for a second time before unifying the UFC and Pride championships with a victory over Dan Henderson.  Also on Silva’s resume is title defense victories over Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen, and Vitor Belfort.

During his title reign, Silva has also moved up to Light Heavyweight and defeated James Irvin and Forrest Griffin by knockouts.  Travis Lutter has also made the list of victims, but his fight was a non championship match due to his inability to make weight.  Silva has finished all but two opponents and holds UFC records for most title defenses (8), most consecutive wins in the UFC (13), and longest title reign (1,578 days…and counting).  Silva also has 3 Fight of the Night bonuses, 3 Knock of the Night bonuses, and 2 Submission of the Night bonuses under his belt as well.  Never have we seen quite a fighter as Anderson Silva, and whether you love him or hate him, he deserves everyone’s respect and consideration to be the greatest fighter in UFC history.

Honorable Mentions:

Royce Gracie: Gracie is a legend of the sport and his 3 tournament championships are unbelievable.  Unfortunately, this list does not include tournament reigns, but if I ever were to write about UFC’s greatest fighters, be sure to see Royce Gracie on the top of the list.

Randy Couture: With 6 championship reigns and 15 championship fights, “Captain America” has more then enough credentials to be considered one of the greatest UFC champions of all time.  Unfortunately, Couture has never been able to hold a championship long enough to be considered a “great reign”.