Last November, former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk tasted defeat for the first time in her 15-fight professional MMA career.
Just one successful title defense away from equaling Ronda Rousey’s all-time record for a female fighter in the UFC, she had established herself as one of the greatest fighters in WMMA history.
Her opponent, Rose Namajunas, was a heavy underdog with the bookmakers and entered the fight with a 6-3 record. With 5 submissions in her 6 career wins (or 8 in 9 if we include The Ultimate Fighter bouts), many felt Namajunas’ only advantages would lie in the grappling department.
What followed was unexpected. Namajunas knocked out the five-time amateur Muay Thai world champion in the very first round to claim the UFC women’s strawweight title.
Next Saturday, Jędrzejczyk has a shot at redemption after being granted an immediate rematch against Namajunas for the belt she lost. If, however, Jędrzejczyk is to reclaim the belt, she will need to do something that hasn’t been done since August 2004.
That was the last time a defeated UFC champion successfully reclaimed their belt in an immediate rematch against the fighter who took their title.
At UFC 46, back in January 2004, a 40-year-old Randy Couture lost his UFC light-heavyweight title to a 25-year-old Vitor Belfort after the cageside doctor advised the fight be stopped just 49 seconds into the bout. A grazing shot from Belfort- the first punch landed in the fight- had opened up a nasty cut on Couture’s eyelid, giving the Brazilian the TKO win.
Due to the unfulfilling nature of that result, Couture was given an immediate rematch for the belt 8 months later. This would be the third fight between the two men, who had first met at UFC 15 in October 1997. In the rubber match, at UFC 49, Couture reclaimed his title via TKO, again due to a doctor’s stoppage, after a dominant three rounds for the American.
Couture had successfully vanquished his conqueror to reclaim his belt in an immediate rematch. Five defeated UFC champions have attempted this same feat in the 14 years that have followed, each of them coming up short.
In April 2006, at UFC 59, Andrei Arlovski lost his UFC heavyweight title to Tim Sylvia in what was one of the biggest title upsets in UFC history at the time.
Less than a year prior to this fight, Arlovski had already defeated Sylvia in a bout for the interim heavyweight championship at UFC 51. Their first bout had lasted just 47 seconds, with the Belarusian dropping Sylvia to the mat with a big right hand before submitting him with an achilles lock.
In the time that had passed since their first bout, Arlovski had won two fights by first-round TKO/KO stoppage and had seen his interim heavyweight title promoted to the undisputed title. There was little reason to think their rematch at UFC 59 would go any differently to their first bout.
Unfortunately for Arlovski, the rematch did go differently. In the span of a wild 20 seconds in the middle of the first round, Sylvia was again dropped to the canvas by a big right hand, before quickly getting back to his feet and returning the favor, dropping Arlovski to the mat and following up with strikes for a first-round TKO victory.
Arlovski was given his chance at redemption less than three months later at UFC 61- the third of four career meetings between the pair. Again, the bookmakers made Sylvia the underdog, but ‘The Maine-iac’ proved his title win was no fluke, coming out victorious in an uneventful (in stark contrast to their first two meetings) five-round unanimous decision.
It was over 4 years before another defeated UFC champion received an immediate chance at redemption. This came after B.J. Penn lost his UFC lightweight title in a close decision defeat to heavy underdog Frankie Edgar in April 2010. Of 9 polled media members, 8 scored the fight for Penn, leading to immediate calls for a rematch.
Penn and Edgar ran it back that August at UFC 118, with Edgar putting in a much more dominant performance, taking a five-round unanimous decision victory that was scored 50-45 in his favor across the board.
Coincidentally enough, Frankie Edgar himself was the next defeated UFC champion to receive an immediate rematch for their lost belt.
After almost two years as champion, Edgar lost the UFC lightweight title in a close decision defeat to Benson Henderson in February 2012 that 3 out of 7 polled media members scored for Edgar. Their rematch came that August, with Henderson claiming another close decision victory. This time, 7 out of 9 polled media members scored the fight for Edgar, whilst the other two gave a draw.
Ultimately, the judges gave the nod to Henderson on both occasions, adding Edgar to the list of defeated champions unable to promptly avenge their title loss.
The next champion hoping to seek immediate redemption was Anderson Silva in perhaps the most memorable two-fight series in UFC history.
In July 2013, Silva, whilst taunting Chris Weidman, suffered a second-round KO that brought an unceremonious end to his six-and-a-half-year title reign and his all-time record of 16 consecutive UFC victories.
Many fans undermined the credibility of Weidman’s win, attributing the result more to Silva’s mistakes than anything Weidman had done. Silva was given a rematch that December and entered the fight as a slight favorite with the bookmakers.
Their second bout was even more shocking. Weidman checked a low kick thrown by Silva in the second round, breaking Silva’s left fibula and tibia and ending the fight via TKO due to a broken leg. Silva leaving the Octagon screaming in pain on a stretcher provided some of the most difficult-to-watch footage in promotional history.
The last defeated UFC champion to receive the immediate rematch treatment was José Aldo. Just 10 months ago, Aldo lost his UFC featherweight title via third-round TKO in a unification bout with then-interim champion Max Holloway. The result was emphatic and there were originally no plans in place for an immediate rematch.
That was until an injury to Holloway’s next scheduled opponent, Frankie Edgar, saw Aldo brought in as a replacement to face Holloway again. The result was identical, with Holloway again defeating Aldo via third-round TKO in December.
Now 1-5 in immediate rematches, perhaps it is not in the best interest of a UFC champion to try to rush back to their belt after a loss.
It has now been 13 years, 7 months and 7 days since a defeated UFC champion found success in an immediate rematch. In 10 days, Jędrzejczyk tries to end that spell.
Will she replicate Randy Couture’s accomplishment from August 2004, or will she join Andrei Arlovski, B.J. Penn, Frankie Edgar, Anderson Silva and José Aldo as those who have tried and came up short?
UFC 223 takes place on April 7, 2018, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.