Fighters switch weight classes for various reasons. Some want a new challenge, some are undersized, some can’t seem to get past a certain foe.
Regardless of the reason, it’s incredibly difficult to dominate in any weight class in the sport of mixed martial arts. And it’s almost unheard of to be dominant in multiple weight classes. But some talents are so great they can transcend weights.
These are the top five multi-divisional fighters in UFC history.
5. The Notorious” Conor McGregor
“DEFEND OR VACATE MCNUGGET #%$#!!”
I know, I know, Conor McGregor has never actually defended a belt at any weight class or for any organization.
But McGregor has still fluidly moved between featherweight and lightweight for years. After a couple of years of alternating between the two divisions, he’d win the Cage Warriors featherweight title in 2012. Six months later, he’d go back up to 155lbs and capture the title there in a performance that’d help, for better or for worse, usher us into the “McGregor Era.”
He signed to UFC as a featherweight but always had his sights on being a two-division champion. After tearing through the featherweight division, culminating with a finish of the undisputed featherweight king (Aldo) that rocked the MMA world, he immediately began calling out the lightweight champion at the time, Rafael Dos Anjos. This fight would never happen due to various injuries.
In the meantime, “The Notorious” would take a couple of fights in the welterweight division against the fellow brash lightweight Nate Diaz. After going 1-1 with the Stockton native, he’d finally get his chance to make history against the reigning lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez. McGregor outclassed “The Underground King” on the biggest stage in combat sports and would become the first person in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously.
4. Dan Henderson
Dan Henderson would enter the PRIDE welterweight grand-prix (welterweight went up to 183 lbs in PRIDE) in 2005. He beat Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono on the same night to earn his place in the final of the tournament. He’d face Murilo Bustamante in the final and win a split-decision to be crowned as the welterweight champion.
Still holding his title, he would go up to 205lbs and take on one of the most terrifying light heavyweights of all time in Wanderlei Silva for his title. Henderson knocked out the Brazilian and became not only the first to hold belts in two different divisions in PRIDE history but also the only fighter to do it simultaneously.
Henderson would bounce between middleweight and light-heavyweight after the UFC absorbed PRIDE. He went on to do a brief stint in Strikeforce that saw him win their light-heavyweight title. He then signed to a super fight against the man many consider to be the heavyweight G.O.A.T, Fedor Emelianenko. Henderson, weighing in at 207 lbs for the heavyweight bout, wasted little time in going after Emelianenko. After some wild exchanges, Henderson would find himself behind the Russian landing right hands until his foe fell flat on his face, eyes closed. A fighter who was dwarfed by his competition for most of his career had knocked out the greatest heavyweight of all time.
3. Daniel “D.C.” Cormier
Before Cormier was one of the best light-heavyweights of all time, he was a dangerous heavyweight who held a perfect 13-0 record. D.C. was forced to debut and compete in MMA as a heavyweight after trashing his kidneys cutting weight in wrestling for years. Undersized in the division, he used his speed and Olympic level grappling to handle much larger men.
Defeating the likes of Soa Palelei and Jeff Monson early in his career, he’d truly rise to prominence by taking out Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Josh Barnett en route to winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand-Prix. He’d leave Strikeforce and beat former champion Frank Mir and the durable Roy Nelson after signing with UFC. It was then announced that Cormier would attempt to drop to 205lbs.
At the lower division, Cormier would defeat the likes of Dan Henderson, Anthony Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson and Anderson Silva in short notice bout. The only person he could never get past was the infamous Jon Jones. Falling to Jones twice, their last fight was ruled a no contest after a failed drug test. Not being the first time he had failed a drug test, this put Jones’ whole career in question. I’m not going to argue that he’d win against a “clean” Jones like many do, but the infractions are worth taking into consideration when thinking about the legacy of both men.
2. “The Prodigy” BJ Penn
Penn never backed down from a fight. In recent years, we’ve sadly seen a shell of the fighter he once was. But for nearly a decade, BJ Penn was considered one of the best on the planet. He’s still remembered by many to be the best lightweight of all time. Early in his career, he’ beat Din Thomas, Caol Uno, Matt Serra and Takanori Gomi at 155 lbs.
In 2004, he moved up to welterweight and took on the heavily- favorited, Matt Hughes for the title. Penn would win and go on to sign a deal with K-1 FEG and be stripped of his belt. While fighting for FEG, the tenacious Penn took on future UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. Penn went into the bout at 189 lbs and made it a decent fight even though he’d lose a decision.
He’d return to the UFC at welterweight and fell to Georges St-Pierre and Matt Hughes back to back. Deciding to go back to his natural weight class, Penn would win the vacant belt after a bloody fight with Joe Stevenson. His title run saw him completely dismantle Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez. During this time frame, he’d lose another bid at Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight belt and go on to have a rough time against other top welterweights and failed run as a featherweight. Despite his ongoing losing streak, you can’t talk about multi-division greats without mentioning Penn.
1.Randy “The Natural” Couture
Within his first four pro fights, Randy Couture was the UFC heavyweight champion. He left the organization in 1998 to fight overseas. Couture would return and immediately win his belt back after defeating Kevin Randleman in 2000.
“The Natural” would lose the belt in 2002 to Josh Barnett. But Barnett failed a post-fight drug test and was stripped. Couture would battle Ricco Rodriguez for the vacant title and lose in the fifth round. This prompted him to drop to light-heavyweight where he’d beat Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz to be crowned the champion of that division. He’d lose via cut to Vitor Belfort, regain his belt, only to lose it again to Liddell. The next year he fought Liddell for the third time and was knocked out.
He went back to heavyweight and outworked Tim Sylvia for the heavyweight title. He’d defend against jiu-jitsu ace Gabriel Gonzaga and lose the belt in his next bout to the massive Brock Lesnar.
Truly a living legend, Couture had the most championship reigns at six, was the first fighter to hold championships in two weight classes, and has had the most title fights in the organization with 15.