It’s often said that winning the belt is one thing, but defending the belt is another task altogether. There are few feats more impressive in MMA than a long-reigning champion who retains the belt against multiple challengers, regardless of their styles or strengths.
I wanted to take a look at how the dominance of UFC champions has changed throughout history and how today’s batch of title-holders compare to their predecessors.
I’ve compiled a graph below that shows the average number of successful title defenses made by the reigning UFC champions at any point in promotional history.
If at a certain point in UFC history, 10 reigning champions held 10 combined successful title defenses, the average at that point on the graph would be 1. If 8 reigning champions held 16 combined defenses, the average at that point on the graph would be 2.
I’ve collected that data for every point in UFC history and here are the results:
As you can see, statistically speaking, the dominance of UFC champions peaked in 2013. In the following two-and-a-half years, that figure saw a significant fall, largely due to the dethroning of long-reigning champions like Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey and José Aldo.
The graph, however, has shown a relatively steady increase as of late and today’s 12 reigning UFC champions hold a total of 27 successful title defenses between them- an average of 2.25 successful title defenses per champion.
Looking at the graph above, that’s a fairly strong figure in terms of reigning UFC champions’ dominance, but they’re far from the most dominant crop of UFC champions we’ve seen.
Statistically speaking, the most dominant crop of champions in UFC history (see table) reigned between the 25th of May 2013 and the 6th of July 2013. The 9 reigning champions at that time held a combined 35 successful title defenses- an average of 3.89 defenses each.
Let’s take a closer look at the most dominant crop of champions in UFC history:
It was Velasquez’s first title defense- a first-round TKO victory over Antônio Silva on the 25th of May 2013- that marked the start of this premier era, taking the average number of successful title defenses per reigning champion up to 3.89.
Velasquez would go on to record one more successful defense before losing the belt to Fabrício Werdum via third-round submission.
Only Stipe Miocic has more successful title defenses in UFC heavyweight history.
The youngest champion in UFC history, Jones had made 5 successful title defenses at the time- most recently having defeated Chael Sonnen at UFC 159. Jones would go on to defend his belt on three more occasions before being stripped of the title following a felony hit-and-run incident.
Jones has the fourth-most successful title defenses in UFC history and the most at light-heavyweight.
It was 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. This single-handedly brought the defenses-per-champion figure all the way down from 3.89 to 2.78.
Silva holds the UFC record for the most successful title defenses at middleweight and has the second-most successful defenses overall.
‘GSP,’ who had 8 title defenses to his name in the summer of 2013, would go on to add one more defense to that tally before vacating his belt.
St-Pierre lies third in the list of most successful title defenses in UFC history and holds the record at welterweight.
Henderson would not improve on his tally of 3 successful title defenses as seen in the table, losing the belt in his next bout, against Anthony Pettis, in August 2013.
No one holds more successful title defenses than Henderson in UFC lightweight history.
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 holds the fifth-most successful title defenses in UFC history and the most at featherweight.
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, notching one more defense against Urijah Faber before losing the belt to Cody Garbrandt.
No one holds more successful title defenses at bantamweight than Cruz.
He may have contributed just 1 title defense at the time, but fast-forward to today and ‘Mighty Mouse’ has made 11 successful UFC title defenses. Johnson is the only fighter in this table who still holds their belt today.
Johnson holds the all-time record for the most successful title defenses in UFC history.
Rousey had recorded just 1 title defense at the time, but she would go on to defend her belt on 5 more occasions with all wins coming via TKO/KO stoppage or submission.
Her streak of 6 successful title defenses is a record for a female in the UFC and ranks sixth overall.
For a glittering 43 days in 2013, the champions with the 6 most successful title reigns in UFC history (Johnson, Silva, St-Pierre, Jones, Aldo & Rousey) held their belts at the same time.
Alongside them reigned the most successful bantamweight, lightweight and the second-most successful heavyweight in UFC history.
We may not have realized just how special a batch of champions we had at the time, but together they hold a record that may never be beaten.