After Stipe Miocic’s record-breaking title defense at UFC 220, I took a look back at the top five UFC heavyweight champions. Since then, the UFC has announced a super fight between Miocic and current light heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier.
Cormier also defended his title that night. He weathered the storm against a game Volkan Oezdemir and went on to impose his gameplan on the Swedish striker; securing the crucifix position and landing blows until the referee stepped in.
So in honor of this newly announced champion vs. champion bout, now’s as good a time as any to give the light heavyweight division the same treatment I gave the heavyweights last week.
These are the top five light heavyweight champions in UFC history.
#5. Frank Shamrock
Notable Wins: Bas Rutten, Masakatsu Funaki, Kevin Jackson, Jeremy Horn, Tito Ortiz
Title Defenses: Four
Frank Shamrock made his MMA debut in 1994 against Bas Rutten in Pancrase in Japan. Shamrock went on to have 20 fights in three years before signing to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With a record of 15-7, people weren’t exactly sure what expect when he took on the undefeated Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson in the first light heavyweight title fight in UFC history. The fight began with Jackson shooting in and taking Shamrock to the ground. Shamrock locked on an armbar and submitted the wrestler in just :16 seconds of the opening round.
In his first defense, he took on Igor Zinoviev at UFC 16. Fans still weren’t sure what to think of Shamrock since his first fight was over in the blink of an eye. And they wouldn’t get their answer in this fight. For it only took Shamrock :22 seconds to finish Zinoviev with a big slam knockout. Shamrock went on to finish submission specialist Jeremy Horn with a leglock in his second defense and knocked out John Lober for his third.
He then faced what many felt would be his toughest test to date when he took on “ The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz. Tito utilized his wrestling early in the fight and controlled Shamrock for the better part of four rounds. It seemed as though Ortiz was going to coast to a decision before Shamrock managed to get up and land blows on the exhausted Ortiz to finish him as the fourth round was closing out.
Shamrock then vacated his belt citing a lack of competition and went on to compete in WEC and Strikeforce to finish off his career.
#4. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz
Notable Wins: Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Forest Griffin, Chael Sonnen, Ryan Bader, Ken Shamrock
Title Defenses: Five
Tito Ortiz was one of the first major stars in MMA. He came from a wrestling background and improved upon the ground and pound style of wrestlers who came before. In those days, there was nothing scarier than having Ortiz on top, pressing your head into the cage and landing elbows on you. With an electrifying personality and a very public beef with UFC president Dana White, Ortiz was someone everyone followed to see what he would do next.
After Frank Shamrock vacated his title, Ortiz would win the vacant belt after dominating Brazilian slugger, Wanderlei Silva for five rounds. For the next three years, Ortiz would tear through his competition. He choked out Yuki Kondo in his first defense. Then he destroyed Evan Tanner in :30 seconds with a huge slam K.O in his second. Elvis Sinosic would be the third victim of his title reign and eat punches and vicious elbows until the referee stepped in to save him. After he decisioned Vladimir Matyushenko, he’d Tko Ken Shamrock in his fifth defense and kick off one of the most heated rivalries in the history of the sport.
Ortiz would go on to lose his belt to Randy Couture while going for a sixth title defense. He’d fail to recapture the UFC gold and have mixed results throughout the rest of his career. Yet, there is no doubting the impact he made on the sport. Some have even argued without the early stars like him, the sport may have never made it through the “Dark Ages”.
#3. Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell
Notable Wins: Jeff Monson, Kevin Randleman, Murilo Bustamante, Guy Mezger, Alistair Overeem, Tito Ortiz ( 2x), Randy Couture ( 2x), Vitor Belfort, Renato Sobral
Title Defenses: Four
The sport of MMA is almost unrecognizable from where it was a decade ago. Not only in terms of fighter evolution but also it’s image. Today, we often see fighters attending press conferences in suits. The terrible rap-metal intro is far removed from pay-per-views. For a time, the UFC was known as Senator John Mccain so infamously put it as “human cockfighting”. The UFC has and is still somewhat in the process of shifting from a bloodsport full of ‘badasses’ to a well-regulated sport full of elite athletes. But in those early days, nobody better fit the image the sport was going for better than Chuck Liddell.
Liddell was mohawk-sporting, tattooed-head having stereotypical tough guy. His fighting style only added to this as he had a penchant for brutally knocking out his opponents in the cage. After knocking out Tito Ortiz and Vernon White, he would go on to win UFC gold by stopping Randy Couture with punches early in their first fight. He defended his title against a foe who had choked him out earlier in his career, Jeremy Horn, beating him so badly, Horn claimed he could no longer see and the bout was stopped. Next “The Iceman” would once again knockout Randy Couture, this time in the second round. He’d go on to finish the dangerous Brazilian, Renato Sobral, before once again knocking out Tito Ortiz in 2006.
Liddell lost his belt to PRIDE import, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson when he was put unconscious by a ferocious right hook. Liddell would go 1-5 over the next three years before finally hanging up the gloves in 2010.
#2. Daniel “D.C.” Cormier
Notable Wins: Volkan Oezdimer, Dan Henderson, Josh Barnett, Anderson Silva, Alexander Gustaffason, Anthony Johnson ( 2x), Frank Mir, Antonio Silva
Title Defenses: Four
Daniel Cormier entered the MMA world with a ton of hype behind him. He had won gold in the Pan American Championships twice. He was also a member of the U.S Olympic wrestling team in 2004 where he placed 4th overall, and 2008 where he was unfortunately pulled from the games due to weight cutting issues that resulted in kidney failure. It was this experience that caused him to enter MMA as an undersized heavyweight.
Regardless of the size advantage possessed by his opponents, D.C showed he was more than able to handle the much larger men in the heavyweight class. I mean literally handle them. Cormier made it looks easy tossing his competitors like ragdolls. His wrestling skills were levels above and he picked up some pretty solid boxing to go along with them as his career blossomed. With only seven professional fights, he entered the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand-Prix as an alternate. After Alistair Overeem left and signed with the UFC D.C was thrown in with the best in the world and easily won the whole thing.
He went back to light heavyweight after going 13-0 as heavyweight. Here he beat the likes of Dan Henderson, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, Anderson Silva and most recently, Volkan Oezdemir. In 21 fights, D.C has only technically lost once since his last lost was overturned after his opponent failed his post -fight drug test.
Ah , yes. His last opponent and the only man to make Cormier look human in the cage..
#1. Jon “Bones” Jones
Notable Wins: Daniel Cormier, Vitor Belfort, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Alexander Gustaffason, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Glover Teixeira, Stephan Bonnar, Chael Sonnen
Title Defenses: Eight
I admittedly had some qualms about putting Jon Jones on this list let alone at number one. Jones has been flagged multiple times by USADA and state athletic commissions for both performance enhancers and recreational drugs. In 2016 when he failed a drug test, the athletic commission investigation showed he unknowingly took a tainted pill he believed to be a sexual performance enhancer. So, oops? Sure, mistakes happen.
After his most recent win over Daniel Cormier, Jones once again failed a urine test that was administered before the fight took place. He then went on to pass his post fight test which is where all the current confusion lies. Did he accidentally take another tainted substance as he claims? We won’t know until the investigation fully plays out. What we do know is it’s not a good look for Bones.
So holding off on judgment for the time being , there is no controversy surrounding the sheer amount of talent the New Yorker possesses. He has the most title defenses in light heavyweight history beating the absolute best throughout his UFC career. He’s overwhelmed a multitude of former champions, outwrestled the best wrestlers, out-struck the best strikers, and done it with a flashiness never seen in the division before or since. Out of 23 fights, he’s only lost once via a bizarre disqualification. He also fully outclassed the number two guy on this list with relative ease.
While we’ll have to wait for the full investigation to come to a close before we can fully begin to make sense of Jones’ legacy, the fact still remains that he’s currently the best light heavyweight, and there’s a strong case, that he’s the best fighter of all time.