The UFC has had historic champions, fighters who appear to be bulletproof. But today there is only one left as the others are merely keeping the throne warm for a more deserving king and queen.
Modern Day Gladiators
Before anyone misunderstands, it is important to note this caveat. Any person who steps inside a cage to engage in mortal combat, whether it be at a local promotion or the big leagues of MMA, is to be commended. It’s not for the faint of heart and the time, dedication and talent it takes to ascend to the UFC is extraordinary.
Therefore, this is not to be construed as a hit piece on any reigning champion as they have, like all MMA fighters, my most sincere respect, and appreciation for the mental toughness and physical skills they possess to do what they do. As fans, we have the luxury of sitting on our couches and critiquing these modern day gladiators as though we were judging livestock from a cattle auction. As bettors, we peruse the UFC odds and decide which fighter is worthy of inclusion in our UFC picks, without an ounce of blood, sweat or tears being shed.
With that as my qualifier, I submit to you that outside of one champion reigning today, there is no Anderson Silva or GSP in his prime, Jon Jones pre-outlaw, Ronda Rousey in her pre-celebrity incarnation, or Jose Aldo before his Teflon was stripped by Conor McGregor. The kings and queens of the Octagon ruling today should be commended but not venerated. Without further ado, let’s discuss.
Women’s Strawweight Division
Reigning Champion: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
This division has been kicking around for almost two years and with all due respect to the women battling at 115 pounds – I’m bored. The Polish-born Jedrzejczyk has had three successful title defenses and won two by decision. Get back to me if her record is still unblemished in seven fights from now.
Women’s Bantamweight Division
Reigning Champion: Amanda Nunes
Amanda Nunes recently defeated veteran Miesha Tate, who defeated boxing phenom Holly Holm, who in turn defeated the legendary Ronda Rousey. Logically that would mean that Nunes would defeat Rousey if she made a comeback, right? Not happening. Ronda, get back to training. One loss does not make you a loser.
If there is a legend in women’s combat sports it is featherweight sensation Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino who is currently a queen without a crown as the UFC does not support a 145-pound women’s division. However, if Rousey does emerge, there is definitely room for two legends in women’s MMA.
Men’s Flyweight Division
Reigning Champion: Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson
There is no doubt that Demetrious Mighty Mouse Johnson is the lone exception to my argument that there are no true, legendary champions in the organization today. The man has ruled the flyweight division ever since its UFC inception back in 2012. The only two losses on his 24-2-1 record came in the bantamweight category which proved to be a bit too heavy for the diminutive 125-pound powerhouse. After racking up 10 consecutive victories and eight title defenses, it is clear that Johnson is not only the undisputed king of the flyweights but the mythical pound-for-pound champion as well.
Men’s Bantamweight Division
Reigning Champion: Dominick Cruz
If you want to argue that Dominick Cruz is worthy of residing in the same rarified air as Demetrious Johnson, I would be hard pressed to convincingly win that debate. Cruz is one of my personal favorites and had it not been for a spate of injuries that forced him to vacate the title and take an involuntary hiatus for almost three years, I would wholeheartedly agree.
The fact that it took a split decision over an admirable, though not glorious, fighter like T.J. Dillashaw to wrest the title back into his lovin’ arms gives me pause for cause. He subsequently defended his title via a unanimous decision over 37-year-old Urijah Faber. But could this version of Dominick Cruz have defeated the Urijah Faber from 2011 when he last beat him? I’m not so sure which is why I need more time to mull Cruz’s title reign, and thus his worthiness as one of the all-time greats, and we can always check the UFC prop bets to help make up our minds.
Men’s Featherweight Division
Reigning Champion: Conor McGregor
Had McGregor defeated Nate Diaz in their first bout at 170 pounds I would be all-in on the loquacious Irishman as one of those rare gems who stands out from the rest. But his aura of invincibility was torn asunder when he gassed out and tapped out in the second round to the tough-as-nails Diaz.
I hear you McGregor fans, of which I am one, screaming at your screen that what happens at welterweight does not tarnish what he has done at featherweight. Well, it does for me, particularly when his tenure as the undisputed UFC Featherweight champion consisted of a grand total of zero title defenses. Yes, his reign of terror through the 145-pound division was startling and his 13-second destruction of Jose Aldo was shocking. But we need more and I believe we’ll get it.
Men’s Lightweight Division
Reigning Champion: Eddie Alvarez
When the name of a UFC champion does not immediately leap to mind, you know we have a title holder with work that needs to be done. Eddie Alvarez is a relentless fighter and worthy of anyone’s respect. That said, the Bellator refugee was greeted with a unanimous decision loss to Donald Cerrone in his first UFC bout but then defeated a slightly past his expiration date Gilbert Melendez via split decision. Next, he earned another split over Anthony Pettis before TKO’ing Rafael dos Anjos for the title. Not enough for me, I’m afraid, and at 32-years-old I don’t suspect he will have the stamina to etch himself into the hallowed halls of UFC greatness.
Men’s Welterweight Division
Reigning Champion: Tyron Woodley
The man can slam that’s for sure but the recently crowned welterweight king will need to do much more than catch a perennial slow starter like Robbie Lawler in the first round with a wicked right hook that ended the fight in just over two minutes of the opening round. This is the same guy who eked out a split decision over a respected but not yet elite Kelvin Gastelum in his previous fight. At 34-years-old and in a stacked division, I don’t see this reign lasting very long.
Men’s Middleweight Division
Reigning Champion: Michael Bisping
Wow…just wow. Michael Bisping is your newly-minted UFC champ. Can you believe it? I sure can’t but he’s got the strap to prove it and for at least this moment, he is the man to beat. Unfortunately for the Count, every fighter in the top five of this talented division can beat him and do it soundly. And I include former champ Luke Rockhold in this mix along with Chris Weidman, Jacare Souza, Yoel Romero and the legendary Vitor Belfort.
Enjoy it while you can Michael because you may get by the gift Dana White recently gave you in the form of the still dangerous quadragenarian Dan Henderson in your first title defense. But the next challenge will, without a doubt, be the real deal and then we’ll see what you’re made of - champ.
Men’s Light Heavyweight Division
Reigning Champion: Daniel Cormier
It’s impossible not to like Daniel Cormier…unless you’re Jon Jones. Cormier has a resume replete with Olympic wrestling accomplishments and has seamlessly made the transition to MMA. He is undoubtedly one of the best in the world at 205 pounds but he’s no Jon Jones. Assuming Jones, the former champ, and habitual law-breaker/rule violator, can right his rudderless ship and get back to where he was before the fame and fortune derailed his career, it won’t be long before he re-stakes his claim as the best in the business.
Men’s Heavyweight Division
Reigning Champion: Stipe Miocic
All the best in the world are in their mid-30’s in this division with the exception of Junior dos Santos, who at 32, is the young gun of the group. Recently crowned champ Stipe Miocic has devastating hands as evidenced by his first-round starching of former champ Fabricio Werdum last May at UFC 198. It is a feel good story to be sure as the native of Cleveland has that everyman feel about him but I am not optimistic about his chances of reigning long amongst the monsters of MMA.
Cain Velasquez will eventually come calling and that will be that. Velasquez has suffered only two losses in his career and the last one was in defense of his title in the high altitude of Mexico City where he was woefully underprepared to deal with the thin air. Fabricio Werdum pulled a shocker and subsequently lost to Miocic who now holds the title…but not for long.