In this piece, I’m going to take a look at the most dominant set of champions the UFC has ever had. I’ll do this by finding the group of reigning UFC champions that had the highest number of average successful title defenses between them at any one point in promotional history.
To get us started, here is a graph I put together displaying the average number of successful title defenses made by reigning UFC champions between 1997 and 2017.
I’ve gathered data from the 1st of each month from March 1997 until the present day, listing all the reigning champions at each date, and how many successful title defenses they’d made as of that date.
Between 2007 and 2013, our champions (most notably Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre) were relatively consistent and long-standing, as reflected by a steady climb in this graph. After 2013, however, we saw a relatively steep drop-off as multiple long-term champions lost their belts.
In fact, in the 6 years between the 1st of January 2007 and the 1st of January 2013, UFC titles changed hands 16 times. In just 4 and a half years since then, the belts have changed hands 23 times.
Today, I’m going to focus on this graph’s peak; between the 25th of May 2013 and the 6th of July 2013. In other words, the most dominant crop of champions in UFC history.
At the time (25th May – 6th July 2013), Velasquez had just 1 successful title defense to his name, but he would later go on to equal the heavyweight record of 2 successful title defenses, a record shared by Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, Brock Lesnar and now Stipe Miocic.
Velasquez’s first-round TKO victory over Antônio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva on the 25th of May 2013 (a day shy of the one-year anniversary of his first first-round TKO victory over Silva) is the result which marks the start of this premier era, taking the average number of successful title defenses per reigning champion up to 3.89. For some context, today’s champions boast an average of 2.09 successful title defenses between them, up from a 7-year low of 1.3 in 2016.
The youngest champion in UFC history had 5 successful title defenses to his name during this period, having most recently defeated Chael Sonnen at UFC 159. Jones would go on to defend his belt on three more occasions, before being stripped of the belt following a felony hit-and-run incident. Only Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Demetrious Johnson (three men who also appear in this list) boast more successful title defenses in UFC history.
It’s Silva who had the unfortunate honor of ending this era of peak collective dominance, with his loss to Chris Weidman on the 6th of July 2013 bringing his streak of 10 successful defenses to an end, and single-handedly bringing the defenses per champion figure all the way down from 3.89 to 2.78. Viewed by many as the greatest fighter of all time, Silva holds the record for most consecutive UFC victories as well as most successful UFC title defenses, sharing the latter record with Demetrious Johnson.
‘GSP’ had 8 title defenses to his name in the summer of 2013, and would go on to add one more defense to that tally before vacating his belt. St-Pierre lies third in the list of all-time successful UFC title defenses, and joint-second in terms of all-time UFC victories. No one has more wins in UFC title fights than ‘GSP,’ who is widely regarded as the greatest welterweight of all time.
Henderson would not improve on his tally of 3 successful title defenses seen in the table, losing the title in his next bout, against Anthony Pettis in August 2013. Henderson shares the record for most successful title defenses in lightweight history with B.J. Penn and Frankie Edgar, and put his title on the line once every 138 days during his reign as champion.
Aldo had made 4 successful title defenses at this point, and would go on to make 3 more before being dethroned by Conor McGregor in December 2015. Aldo is one of just two fighters on this list (the other being Demetrious Johnson) who still holds a belt today, and lies fifth in the list of all-time successful UFC title defenses.
Unfortunately, the 2 title defenses Cruz had at this time were as far as it went for him in this title reign, as he would be forced to vacate the belt following multiple long-term injuries. Cruz would, however, go on to reclaim the belt in January 2016, and notched one more defense against Urijah Faber later that year. Cruz holds the record for most successful defenses of the undisputed UFC bantamweight title.
He may have contributed just 1 title defense at the time, but fast-forward to today and ‘Mighty Mouse’ has just equaled Anderson Silva’s all-time record for successful UFC title defenses. Arguably the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world today, Johnson is still champion and has yet to taste defeat in 13 flyweight bouts.
Like Johnson, back then Rousey had recorded just 1 title defense, but she would go on to defend her belt on 5 more occasions, with all wins coming via TKO/KO stoppage or submission. Her record of 6 successful title defenses is a record for a female in the UFC, with only 5 fighters in UFC history boasting more successful defenses.
I think it’s fair to say that’s not a bad batch of champions. Amazingly, this one selection of reigning champions contains the 6 most successful title reigns in UFC history (belonging to Johnson, Silva, St-Pierre, Jones, Aldo and Rousey).
This sport is still young and growing, so I’m reluctant to state anything too definitively, but it does seem possible that the dominance of UFC champions peaked in the summer of 2013.