The UFC has produced some of the greatest sports stars in modern history. Names like Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, and Demetrious Johnson have all had title reigns that have gone unmatched in their respective divisions.
On the other hand, the UFC has also produced some champions that are incredibly overrated.
When putting together this list of the most overrated champions in the near 30-year history of the UFC, we noticed a few things. Firstly there is the UFC Heavyweight division, where no champion has ever successfully cleaned out the division.
In fact, before Cain Velasquez, nobody had even managed to defend the title more than once. Quite often Heavyweight Title fights are cancelled due to injury, and as such no Heavyweight fighter has really ever dominated the division and a lot of them are on this list.
Other trends emerging are fighters who were champions during very weak periods for their division and benefitted from not having to fight top-notch competition.
Other fighters benefitted in terms of reputation and time spent as champion as a result of being champion during a period before the sport had grown to the extent that it has now. Some champions in the early days really didn’t have to fight too many big names because the pool of fighters was much smaller than it is now.
None of this is to say that anyone who becomes a UFC fighter isn’t tremendously talented, because of course they all are, but some are more talented than others and some get more credit for their talents than perhaps they should.
With all due respect to every former UFC Champion that made it onto this list, here are the 15 most overrated UFC Champions in the history of the promotion.
15 B.J. Penn
Many consider B.J. Penn to be the greatest UFC Lightweight Champion of all time, so in that regard finding his name ranked as an overrated champion is a bit of a surprise. It’s not really much of a surprise however, when you take a long look at Penn’s record, especially his record in big fights. Penn’s hype came with him when he dominated the jiu-jitsu scene after only training for a few years, but don’t let the hype fool you, Penn was not as good as you remember and he’s downright average now.
The longest win streak that the former Lightweight and Welterweight Champion ever had was four fights and he has been embarrassed multiple times in the cage, twice by Georges St-Pierre and a whopping three times by Frankie Edgar.
Penn is scheduled to make his return to the cage, while being investigated on sexual assault accusations, shortly against Dennis Siver, but we wouldn't expect him to really get back into the title picture.
14 Frank Shamrock
Many claim that Frank Shamrock should be in the UFC Hall of Fame, but others think the idea of that is ludicrous.
Who can forget the elaborate retirement ceremony that was held for him by the Strikeforce promotion? The truth is Frank Shamrock only had two good years in the sport and that was between 1997-99, commonly referred to as “the dark period” in UFC, when the promotion was banned from Pay-Per-View and television.
Shamrock successfully defended the Light Heavyweight Championship during this period, most notably his last successful title defense against Tito Ortiz.
Shamrock would spend the latter part of his career angling for a fight with his own brother, UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock, and working as a commentator.
Shamrock never got along with Dana White however and hasn’t appeared in the UFC since Zuffa bought the promotion.
13 Junior dos Santos
The first ever event on Fox for the UFC was a bit of a strange experiment. Instead of showing a full fight card, Fox decided to only show one fight, but it would be a UFC Heavyweight title fight between defending champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior dos Santos.
Dos Santos knocked out Velasquez to become the new UFC Heavyweight Champion. After the fight, rumors started to persist that Velasquez went into the fight injured, but because the first fight on Fox was such an important one for the promotion, he decided not to pull out of the fight.
Dos Santos would successfully defend the championship against former champion Frank Mir, but was defeated soundly by Velasquez in the rematch and once more in the rubber match between the two.
Dos Santos’ title reign will always have that asterisk next to it, as a result of the rumors that Cain was injured going into the fight and since he lost to him twice after.
12 Frank Mir
At UFC 48, Frank Mir defeated Tim Sylvia to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion. Unfortunately for Mir, a motorcycle accident not long after he won the title would derail his career. Mir would be stripped of the title and wouldn’t fight again in the UFC for almost two years. When he did finally step back in the octagon, he was promptly knocked out in the first round of his return fight.
A long crawl back to the top of the division would ensue, until Mir would win the Interim Championship in a fight against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria at UFC 92. This would set up his famous UFC 100 fight against Brock Lesnar, where Lesnar would destroy him, then get on the mic and add insult to his injury.
Mir had another few cracks at the title but was never able to win it back. He’s overrated because the only time he won the actual title it was against Tim Sylvia during a very bleak period for the Heavyweight division.
11 Carla Esparza
When the UFC decided to add a Women’s Strawweight division, they also announced that the first champion would be decided via a tournament. This tournament would take place on a season of The Ultimate Fighter.
It seems a pretty bizarre thing to crown the division’s inaugural champion via a reality TV show, but the UFC wanted to use the season as a way to promote the division and give viewers a reason to watch.
Carla Esparza defeated Rose Namajunas in the finals of the tournament to be crowned the first ever UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion. Esparza would get absolutely destroyed by the current champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her first title defense.
For winning the title by winning a reality TV show, Carla Esparza finds herself on this list.
10 Chris Weidman
When asked after his second victory over Anderson Silva if he thought he was going to get the respect he deserved, Weidman said “probably not.”
It’s truem Chris Weidman defeated Anderson Silva twice. The first time he beat him he won the UFC Middleweight Championship and the second time he defended it. Both wins are controversial however.
In his first victory over Silva, Anderson was clowning around in the second round pretending to be on wobbly legs, a tactic Silva has done before and Weidman clipped him and knocked him out.
Then in the second round of the rematch, Weidman checked a leg kick by Silva causing a gruesome leg injury for Silva, ending the fight and many thought it would be the end of his career.
While he would defeat two past their prime fighters in Machida and Belfort in later title defenses, he would lose the title to Luke Rockhold at UFC 194.
Is Chris Weidman the guy who finally toppled the great Anderson Silva? Or was he a guy who got really lucky twice?
9 Cain Velasquez
Cain Velasquez is one of the greatest Heavyweights in mixed martial arts history. So why is he on this list? Because he is an incredibly overrated champion. When healthy, Cain Velasquez is a scary guy to deal with, but the fact that he frequently has to pull out of fights with injury, or performs poorly because of injury, has really tainted his two reigns as UFC Heavyweight Champion.
It is rumored that Velasquez was injured heading into his fight with Junior dos Santos at UFC on Fox 1. Those rumors could pretty much be confirmed when he beat JDS up twice afterwards. But then Cain lost to Fabricio Werdum and the excuse was that Velasquez wasn’t conditioned for the high altitude of the fight’s location in Mexico. After that Cain had to pull out of the rematch with injury.
He can’t stay healthy and can’t keep his fights, that’s the reason Velasquez is an overrated champion.
8 Holly Holm
This might cause some controversy. Holly Holm might one day go on to become an excellent UFC Champion if she regains the title, but as it stands right now, she will go down as a James “Buster” Douglas type champion. This is not to say that Holm is not incredibly talented and very fun to watch, but she lost her first title defense and cost herself a huge money rematch with Ronda Rousey.
Holm will probably be given another title shot sooner rather than later and how she does in that fight will define her legacy more than her loss to Miesha Tate.
One day down the line, we will see rematches of both Holm’s last two fights to Rousey and Tate. Should Holly win both, she would have to be considered the best in this era of the UFC Women’s Bantamweight division. That’s a big “if” however, as she could just as easily lose both of those fights as well.
7 Lyoto Machida
Lyoto Machida was undefeated when he knocked out Rashad Evans to win the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 98.
When Machida won the title, Joe Rogan commented about how there would be new sign-ups at karate dojos all over the world, as Machida had a very unique style that included karate like strikes, something rare in the world of modern mixed martial arts.
It looked as though Machida would be the new king of the Light Heavyweight division. His first title defense was at UFC 104 against Shogun Rua and technically it was a successful title defense. It is widely regarded as one of the worst decisions in mixed martial arts history when Machida was announced as the winner by decision.
Rua would make no doubt in the immediate rematch, when he knocked Machida out in the first minute and a half of the fight. He'd never win another title in the UFC, even after moving over to the Middleweight division.
6 Andrei Arlovski
Andrei Arlovski has recently had something of a career resurgence in the UFC, though having now lost to both Alistair Overeem and Stipe Miocic has sort of put a halt to all that.
Arlovski is a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, but he was the champion during a weak period in the division.
Frank Mir had been the Heavyweight Champion but was involved in a motorcycle accident and eventually had to be stripped of the title because he was unable to compete for so long.At UFC 51, Arlovski defeated Tim Sylvia to win the championship, but would lose his rematch and then the rubber match later down the line, never sniffing the title picture again.
5 Rashad Evans
When Rampage Jackson defeated Chuck Liddell for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 71, it started a weird period in the division where nobody could hold onto the title. Everyone assumed that Jackson would be the champion for awhile, but after defeating Dan Henderson in his first defense, Jackson would lose a decision to Forrest Griffin in a real upset.
Rashad Evans reaped the rewards of Griffin winning the title when he was awarded the first opportunity against the new champion. Griffin was the first beatable champion the division had ever had and Evans earned a TKO victory in the third round.
How well did Evans do as a champion? His very next fight Lyoto Machida knocked him out so cleanly that the image of Evans unconscious against the cage is now one of the more famous photos in mixed martial arts history.
4 Johny Hendricks
A lot of people mistakenly believed that Johny Hendricks defeated Georges St-Pierre to win the UFC Welterweight Championship. Those people believe so because they turned off the main event of UFC 167 early before they read the decision.
In a controversial decision, the judges awarded GSP a split decision victory that night, but the real story happened behind the scenes.
Anyone who watched this fight and has seen other GSP fights knows his heart just wasn’t into this fight for some reason, and in the weeks that followed he would announce a break from the UFC.
Hendricks, who would defeat Robbie Lawler for the vacant Middleweight title in his next fight, but lost his first fight under the new drug testing rules. Draw your own conclusions there. He's since only gone 1-1.
3 Tim Sylvia
Tim Sylvia was a bit of a throwback to the very early days of the UFC. He didn’t look like the athletic specimens that you see at the top of UFC’s divisions these days; Tim Sylvia is a large man with a lot of jiggle on him. Like Tank Abbott, Sylvia was just a big guy who could throw bombs.
He lost his first fight for the title against Andrei Arlovski, but would later avenge that loss and then successfully defend the Heavyweight title against Arlovski as well.
The Heavyweight division was so weak at this point, that it caused a 44 year old Randy Couture to come out of retirement because he was so sure he could compete on that level. Couture was right to believe that as well, as he won the title after defeating Sylvia via decision at UFC 68.
2 Forrest Griffin
Forrest Griffin is one of the most beloved fighters in history. As a competitor on the original Ultimate Fighter series (and the winner of the Light Heavyweight tournament that season), Griffin is often credited with saving the UFC.
The UFC still wasn’t in a good position financially when the reality TV show first began airing on Spike TV, but they had a huge ratings success in the finale of the first when Griffin and Stephan Bonnar had an incredibly entertaining fight, one that helped pave the way for a new contract between the UFC and Spike TV.
Some people point to that fight as having been the most important in the history of the UFC.
Griffin as Light Heavyweight Champion didn't offer much however. He limped his way to the title, defeating Rampage Jackson by repeatedly delivering leg kicks throughout a five round fight. It was more as if he “out-pointed” Jackson than it was he defeated him.
Griffin’s first title defense was in a losing effort to Rashad Evans and he would be embarrassed by Anderson Silva his next fight after that.
1 Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is the most overrated fighter and champion in the history of mixed martial arts. That’s not to say he wasn’t good, as he was incredibly good for the amount of experience he had, but he was never the dominant champion that his appearance made him look like.
Gifted with the perfect athletic frame, Lesnar had a very successful career as a WWE performer before heading to the UFC. In his first fight, Frank Mir showed how much Lesnar still had to learn, as he defeated him via heel hook in the first round.
After that Lesnar destroyed Heath Herring and then defeated an older Randy Couture to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship. The catch with the Couture fight is that there was a massive size difference between the two and Couture would eventually head down a weight division afterwards.
Then, after Lesnar avenged his loss to Mir at UFC 100, he really struggled. He only defeated Shane Carwin after Carwin gassed himself out by beating on Lesnar so hard in the first round that he had nothing left for the second and got himself submitted.
Lesnar was then made to look like he didn’t belong in the cage by both Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem, proving Lesnar couldn’t hang when up against fighters his size but with an advanced skill set.