The UFC currently has ten championship belts in rotation (Eleven, if you count the soon to be minted women's featherweight championship). Between those ten titles, there have been an innumerable number of championship fights. Some of them have been incredible, like Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald or Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard, and some of them have been duds, like Benson Henderson vs. Nate Diaz or Anderson Silva vs. Thales Leites, but due to the UFC's signature meritocracy, most of the fights have been well earned by the challengers and were more or less by the numbers in terms of rules and ceremony. However, every so often, a title fight generates unwanted controversy, sometimes because the challenger to the belt isn't worthy of being in that position, sometimes because of something dastardly that happens before or after the fight, or sometimes because of the fight's outcome. The UFC strives to avoid these kinds of issues, but they're an inevitably of the sport, and as the company delves further into the business of booking fights based on marketing potential rather than giving opportunities to the most deserving, they're bound to happen more often. Without further ado, this list will take a look at the most controversial title fights in UFC history, meting out what made these bouts so toxic to the company.
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15 Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz - UFC 143
When longtime welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre tore his ACL in 2011, the UFC booked Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz to establish an interim title holder. Condit and Diaz are both known for their brutal, brawling styles and fans expected fireworks. However, what they got was a glorified game of cat and mouse starring two grown men, with Condit avoiding conflict, jumping in to pepper Diaz with strikes every so often, and then fleeing before Diaz could retaliate. Condit went on to win the fight by unanimous decision and fans were vehemently split on the outcome. Many argued that Condit's tactics were cowardly and the judges should have given the fight to Diaz for his aggression and willingness to engage, whereas others argued that Condit was smart not to pick a direct fight with the neigh-unstoppable Diaz. The complaints fell on deaf ears, of course, and Condit would go on to face, and lose to, GSP.
14 Anthony Pettis vs. Max Holloway - UFC 206
On November 26, the UFC stripped Conor McGregor of the featherweight championship due to inactivity. On the surface, this made sense, as McGregor had just won the lightweight championship and he had never shown any interest or intent in defending the 145 pound strap. However, it quickly became clear the UFC was scheming something. They gave the belt back to former division kingpin, and then interim champion, Jose Aldo and made the upcoming Anthony Pettis - Max Holloway fight for the interim title (The UFC LOVES interim titles). It was obvious they did this in order to give UFC 206 a "championship" main event after the planned Daniel Cormier - Anthony Johnson light heavyweight title fight was canceled. Fans were outraged at the treatment of McGregor and the decision to make Aldo, who had been hinting at retirement, champion, instead of making the Pettis - Holloway fight for the real belt and giving priority contendership to Aldo if he chose to return. Holloway would go on to defeat Pettis via TKO and a unification bout with Aldo is scheduled to happen maybe sometime in 2017.
13 Anderson Silva vs. Patrick Cote - UFC 90
Not all win streaks are created equal and Patrick Cote learned this lesson the hard way at UFC 90. In 2008, Cote was riding a five fight win streak in the UFC. While impressive on paper, none of his victories came against top talent, or even recognizable talent (The biggest name he defeated was Kendall Grove, which... yeah. Not amazing). However, despite his resume's dearth of big wins, the UFC decided to put the hard hitting Canadian in a middleweight title fight against Anderson Silva. While Cote jumped on the opportunity, many fans argued that he didn't deserve the fight and that his win streak was more impressive on paper than in reality. They were right. Silva spent two rounds clowning Cote, knocking his legs out from under him with viscous kicks, eventually winning via knee injury TKO in the third round.
12 Eddie Alvarez vs. Conor McGregor - UFC 205
This is guaranteed to make some people furious. Many fans dislike the preferential treatment Conor McGregor receives from the UFC, the way he picks and chooses his opponents, and his constant smack talking. Those same fans disagreed when he was gifted a lightweight title fight against Rafael dos Anjos, which never happened, and then Eddie Alvarez. They argued that he didn't deserve that fight and they have a point. Prior to the first fight, he had never competed at lightweight in the UFC. Sure, he obliterated Jose Aldo, but how does that equal a title fight in another division. It was even worse when he went actually against Alvarez, coming off a 1-1 series against Nate Diaz, whom he initially lost to by submission in the second round, on a week's notice, no less, and then defeated by majority decision in the rematch. While Mystic Mac did go on to win the lightweight strap, the way he got the fight rubbed many hardcore fans the wrong way.
11 Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson - UFC 204
Speaking of undeserving challengers, Dan Henderson didn't deserve a middleweight title fight against Michael Bisping (Lukewarm take alert!!!). Hendo is a legend of the sport and one of the best to ever step into the cage (Or ring, in his Pride days), but prior to UFC 204, he was 3-6 in his last nine fights and clearly over the hill. However, he was lobbying for one last big fight before retiring and he already had a built-in storyline with Bisping, a rematch of their UFC 100 fight. The UFC saw dollar signs and granted Henderson's wish. Fans were baffled by the decision to give an aging Hendo a title fight over more deserving contenders like Yoel Romero or Jacare Souza. Hendo managed to keep the fight close, but Bisping's unanimous decision victory was obvious and the whole thing left a sour taste in fans' mouths.
10 Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen - UFC 159
Do you remember UFC 151? To be frank, it was an embarrassing debacle. It turned fans against Jon Jones and super charged the conversation about the UFC's overexposure. Long story short, Dan Henderson tore his MCL and, because the card was too rubbish to survive without the main event, UFC 151 had to be canceled when Jon Jones turned down a replacement fight against Chael Sonnen. Sonnen, one of the best talkers in UFC history, managed to use his expert verbal marksmanship to work his way into a title fight with Jones, anyway, at UFC 159. Although furious with Jones, declaring him a coward for not taking the initial replacement fight, most fans agreed that the fight was a joke and Sonnen was an unworthy challenger. At the time, Sonnen was coming off a brutal middleweight title loss to Anderson Silva and hadn't competed at light heavyweight in seven years. When the actual fight came, it was no contest, with Jones destroying Jones via first round TKO.
9 Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit - UFC 195
Robbie Lawler was one of the most unexpected champions in UFC history. His rise from middleweight gatekeeper to welterweight champion was inspiring and an affirmation that anything can happen in MMA. His title reign was defined by his epic close encounters with the likes of Rory MacDonald, Johny Hendricks, and Carlos Condit. While several of Lawler's title fights were close, arguable decisions, none more so than his fight with Carlos Condit at UFC 195. The two warriors went the full five rounds, with Lawler using his power punching and wrestling, and Condit using his diverse, innovative striking arsenal and viscous ground game. Lawler scored a razor thin split decision and fight struggled with the result. Lawler's detractors accused the judge's of giving him a champion's advantage, while his fans said Condit simply didn't do enough to win the belt. Either way, the fight was one of the best of 2016 and continued Lawler's streak of masterpiece clashes.
8 Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz - UFC 158
Remember all that hullabaloo about Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz earlier? Well, it all ended up being much ado about nothing, as Diaz eventually got his title shot against Georges St-Pierre, albeit one he 1000% didn't deserve. After his loss to Condit, which didn't sit well with Diaz anymore than it did his fans, Diaz lobbied for a fight with GSP by using the Diaz signature endless stream of soul searing smack talking to egg the UFC and GSP into making the match-up a reality. Fans were livid by this booking, as Diaz hadn't fought in over a year and his last fight had been that fateful lose to Condit. The fight was a dream match for many, but the way it came about was pure money mongering by the promotion. The UFC got served their just desserts, however, when GSP absolutely conquered Diaz, winning via an unquestionable 50-45 x3 unanimous decision.
7 Randy Couture vs. Vitor Belfort - UFC 46
Vitor Belfort has accomplished a lot in his career. He's one of the most brutal strikers in MMA history, he once got so muscular that he looked like a T-Rex, and Anderson Silva once kicked him in the face so hard, it ended up on the cover of a video game. He's also a former UFC light heavyweight champion, although how he won the belt led to much derision from fans. At UFC 49, Vitor fought Randy Couture for the 205 pound strap and early into the fight, a loose seam from Vitor's glove cut Couture's eye. The fight was stopped and Vitor was declared the winner via TKO, making him the new champion. Fans hated the decision, deeming it a freak accident and claiming Vitor wasn't a real champion. The two had a rematch at UFC 149 and Vitor lost the belt soundly, losing via third round doctor stoppage TKO.
6 Ronda Rousey vs. Bethe Correira - UFC 190
One of the biggest arguments against Ronda Rousey's greatness is that her level of competition isn't on par with the rest of the UFC, as women's MMA is a bit underdeveloped compared to men's and the women's bantamweight division is one of the promotions most shallow. That argument gained traction when Rousey was faced with opposition like Bethe Correira. Before fighting Rousey, Correira was riding a three fight win streak, albeit against sub-standard competition and her victories were all unimpressive, to say the least. However, she talked her way into a fight with the champ, calling out Ronda and personally "hunting" her circle of friends, the Four Horsewomen (Woooooooo?). The UFC booked a fight between the two women and fans rolled their eyes with such ferocity, the Earth titled of its axis. They derided the UFC for feeding their golden goose such weak opposition. The fight was another highlight reel win for Rousey, as she knocked out Correira in just 34 seconds.
5 Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks - UFC 167
2013 was the year for fan-enraging, ultra close decisions that would have shattered the status-quo. The closer of the two such fights on this list was Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks. At UFC 167, GSP faced off against Bigg Rigg, and a lot of fans were hoping to see Hendricks win the belt and shake up the stagnant welterweight division. It seemed like a far off dream, since GSP had barely been threatened by anyone since winning the belt back in 2008, but Hendricks challenged GSP like none before him, the fight going the whole 25 minutes. When the final bell rung, it looked as if Hendricks had finally conquered the seemingly omnipotent St-Pierre. However, the judges awarded GSP with a razor thin split decision and fans the world over were enraged. To many, it was the ultimate example of the champion's advantage: GSP didn't do enough to rightly secure victory, but the judges gave him the win because he was Georges St-Pierre. The fury was kicked up to eleven when GSP announced a hiatus and vacated the title at the post-fight press conference.
4 Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson - UFC 165
And now for the other fight! A mere two months before GSP and Hendricks squared up, Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson met in the cage for a fight with an even more contentious outcome. At UFC 165, Jones, still a villain in the eyes of many fans, fought the Gustafsson. Physically, Gustafsson was the closest thing Jones had to a counterpart in the division, with similar height and reach. However, Jones had been damn near untouchable as a champion and, although fans were ready to see him fall, most people thought he was going to cruise to victory again. However, the ensuing fight was an absolute brawl, a master class in brutality, one of the best fights in UFC history. Both men traded blows for 25 straight minutes, with Jones emerging via an extremely controversial unanimous decision. Fans revolted at the judges' decision, pointing to all the damage taken by Jones, who had to go to the hospital, while Gus was almost unscathed. While the fight was actually quite cut-and-dry for Jones upon review, fans just wanted to see the champ disposed at all costs and they were upset that they lost their best chance.
3 Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort - UFC 152
The UFC 151 debacle was so poisonous to the company, it's not surprising that it spawned more than one entry on this list. When Jon Jones turned down a last minute fight with Chael Sonnen, the company quickly booked a light heavyweight title fight for UFC 152, later that same month. This time, Bones was paired up with former light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort. The scene in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where the fight was held, was the absolute peak of fan hatred towards Jon Jones. Fans treated Jones like he was a leper. When he came out, he was booed out of the building and Vitor was treated like he was in his native Brazil. Seemingly everyone in the building wanted to see the Old Lion destroy the champ, and they almost got their wish when Vitor sank in a dangerously close armbar in the first round. However, Jones escaped and spent the next three rounds pummeling Belfort, before tapping him out in the fourth round.
2 Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia - UFC 112
Before he was the GOAT, Anderson Silva was known more as being a jerk. He would taunt excessively, dance around the cage, and more or less treat his opponents like fools. He showed very little respect to Patrick Cote and Thales Leites, but the worst example of his shenanigans was his fight against Damien Maia. Maia was a replacement fight for Vitor Belfort and Silva treated him like he didn't deserve to be in the cage with him. He started out strong, but quickly started taunting and mocking his opponent, refusing to engage for the final three rounds of the fight. The crowd turned on Silva during the fight, actively rooting for Maia. Silva ended up winning by unanimous decision, but his antics were so bad, Dana White flat out refused to put the belt on the Spider, claiming he was too disgusted to do it.
1 Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar - UFC 91
Here it is, the Holy Grail of UFC controversy, the very moment they decided that marketing and money was more important than meritocracy. While it's recently reached its apex with McGregor and Rousey, this is where it all started. Brock Lesnar, a former WWE and IWGP heavyweight champion, a "fake" wrestling champion, was given a title shot against Randy Couture, one of MMA's most revered legends. At the time of the fight, Lesnar was 1-1 in the UFC, having lost to Frank Mir and defeated Heath Herring, and 2-1 in professional MMA in general. His resume wouldn't get a normal man into the UFC, but because he was Brock Lesnar, the UFC decided to fast track him to the title. They wanted to cash in on the possibility of luring in some of the WWE's audience. To be fair, it worked, as Lesnar's PPV numbers are historically great, but this was the ultimate betrayal of MMA fans. A WWE guy was given a title shot ahead of more worthy competitors. It doesn't matter if he was also a former NCAA heavyweight champion (AKA, a legit wrestling champion), or would go on to win, or would be one of the best heavyweight champs in history, he was a fake wrestler and that was a deal with the Devil MMA fans were sickened to make.
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