Every competitor who steps into the cage strives to be the best fighter in the world. The best indicator of a fighter’s success is the ability to capture a championship belt in their weight class.
These days, there is a myriad of organizations, each with their own championship per weight class. And while every champion, regardless of organization, had a hard-fought route (despite what fans say on forums, it’s not easy to be a champion anywhere or at any division), the Holy Grail of mixed martial arts competition is the UFC gold.
In relation to how many fighters currently and have competed in the UFC, very few have captured the coveted title of champion. Some have had legendary title runs, some have lost in their first defense. And some fighters have willingly given up the top spot in their division.
George St-Pierre (GSP) announced yesterday he’d be vacating his recently won middleweight title. Though GSP has some of the most impressive accolades in the history of the sport, he adds a new record to his legacy: shortest title reign in UFC history at 31 days.
But GSP is not the first to voluntarily give up his crown. Let’s take a look back with a brief history of champions vacating the UFC title.
*Note: this article is just looking back at fighters who officially vacated their belts. Many others left the organization and were stripped or were stripped other reasons*
Dutch Kickboxer, Bas Rutten, entered the UFC with a record of 25-4-1. The former King of Pancrase had made quite the name for himself in Japan. He had torn through most competitors falling only to famed catch-wrestler Masakatsu Funaki and Ken and Frank Shamrock. He’d avenge his losses against Frank and Funaki and debut in the UFC in 1999 taking out Tsuyoshi Kohsaka 14 minutes and 15 seconds into the fight.
This would earn him a title shot against wrestling powerhouse, Kevin Randleman for the vacant heavyweight title later that year. Rutten would win a somewhat controversial split-decision with Randleman using his wrestling to control his opponent for the majority of the fight. Rutten, landing more blows, was awarded the victory and subsequently gave up the title to drop down to the light-heavyweight division (then known as middleweight) in an attempt to be the first fighter to hold win belt in two divisions. Unfortunately, multiple injuries would befall the striker and he’d be forced to retire before realizing his dream.
Frank Shamrock was considered by many to be one of the first complete mixed martial artists. A grappling technician, Shamrock also outclassed many on the feet. After a storied career in Pancrase, he’d win the UFC light-heavyweight title in his debut in the organization with an armbar over Kevin Jackson in the first round.
Shamrock would defend his title three times before taking on his toughest test in the surging Tito Ortiz in 1999. After a fierce contest, Shamrock managed to finish his much larger foe in the fourth round to defend his title for the fourth time. Many were heralding him as one of the greatest mixed martial artists at the time and were excited to see what would be next for the tenacious shoot-fighter.
Instead, Shamrock vacated his title and retired from UFC. He cited lack of competition among his reasons and felt he had accomplished all he could with the organization.
Dominick Cruz is the best bantamweight to ever do it in the somewhat short history of the division. After amassing a record of 15-1 ( his only loss to legendary lighter weight fighter, Uriah Faber) Cruz would win the WEC bantamweight title in 2010. He’d defend that belt twice before the UFC absorbed the lighter weight classes. In his third defense, he became the first UFC bantamweight champion. He’d maintain his UFC crown twice before dealing with a string of bad luck.
It was announced Cruz had a serious ACL injury in 2012 and would need surgery. Later that year we found out His body rejected the cadaver ACL and he would need a second surgery. after a lengthy recovery, he would be scheduled again to fight in 2014 and would tear his groin in the lead up to the bout. After nearly three years on the sidelines, he agreed to vacate the title and the UFC would crown the then-interim champ, Renan Barao, as the official UFC champion.
Sadly, being injured for that long, it seems as though Cruz didn’t really have a choice in the matter of relinquishing his belt. I’m assuming UFC brass gave him the option to give it up in a dignified manner or be stripped.
And this brings us back to the man mentioned earlier in the article, Georges St-Pierre.
George St-Pierre is now the only fighter in UFC to vacate not one, but two titles. As a welterweight, GSP had the most title defenses in the history of the division with nine. While he had dominated most of his competition during his reign, besides falling to Matt Serra in one of the biggest upsets of all time, his last couple of title defense saw him take more damage than fans were used to seeing him absorb. After a difficult win over Johnny Hendricks in 2013, GSP disclosed he’d be taking a break from competition to reevaluate his career.
A few months later, vacated his title to explore other ventures in his life. He also noted his issues lenient drug testing policies at the time as a reason for his exit from the sport.
Earlier this year it was reported that GSP would return to take on Michael Bisping for the middleweight title. He won the belt in November at UFC 217 and would then be very vague about his future plans in the sport over the last month. First, he said he had a neck injury that would need to be addressed. Last week, it became public knowledge that the champ was suffering from colitis.
Yesterday he declared he would vacate the title as to not hold up the middleweight division any longer while he again reevaluated his career and future in the sport.