In every single sport on the planet, the right to be called a champion is a huge accomplishment. Teams have to train and compete for an entire season and usually go through a mini tournament of sorts and after all that, you become a world champion. Cue the confetti and the fireworks and the hundreds of supermodels throwing themselves at you; you're awesome!
Well, that's not exactly the case in Mixed Martial Arts. No, unlike most other sports where winning a world championship should solidify your career as incredible, winning a UFC championship doesn't necessarily make you a legend. For every Jon Jones, Anderson Silva or Georges St-Pierre, there's a list of men who held UFC titles without living up to the legacies of other men who held those belts.
That isn't to say that the men on the list aren't good fighters. It's just to say that for one reason or another, they weren't going to be championship material for long. For a lot of these entries, the reason why they qualify for this list is due to drug test failures. Now, failing a drug test is already bad if you're Joe Schmo on the Fight Pass prelims, but it's even worse when you call yourself a champion and you fail a drug test. Especially before these new drug test policies were put in place by the UFC.
Aside from that, the usual reason why fighters make this list is for not defending their title because after all, you're never a true champion until you defend your title. And now, I present to you the top 15 worst champions in UFC history.
15 Daniel Cormier
Daniel Cormier is not a real champion, at least not yet. Just have to get that out of the way, before I continue on. Due to well documented legal troubles earlier this year, Jon Jones was stripped of the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and as a result the UFC had to crown a new champion. Enter UFC 187, where Cormier (the man who Jones had just defeated in January) took on the number one contender Anthony Johnson.
Cormier won the match by submission in the third round but as Dana White strapped the belt around the waist of the new"champ"', we knew that Cormier was holding fool's gold. The legal system (and Jones himself) beat Jon Jones, not Cormier.
The only reason Cormier is at 15 is that Cormier is still a fantastic fighter and it wasn't his fault that Jones got stripped of the title. Cormier though has a chance to prove himself as a worthy champion by defeating the man who gave Jones his biggest test, Alexander Gustafsson in his first title defense.
14 Mauricio Rua
This Shogun's war effort was brutally halted before it even got off the ground. Looking anemic compared to his PRIDE days, most people wrote off Mauricio Rua's UFC aspirations because of poor performances versus Forrest Griffin and the one-dimensional Mark Coleman. After knocking out Chuck Liddell and giving the human riddle Lyoto Machida fits in their UFC 104 match, it seemed like Rua was back in form and sure enough he knocked out Machida in their UFC 113 rematch, capturing the Light Heavyweight Championship.
Immediately after his win, things weren't looking good for Shogun. Not only did he require another knee surgery but his challenger Rashad Evans pulled out of their UFC 128 six weeks before their title fight. His replacement? Jon Jones.
Jones obliterated Rua in their title fight and Shogun hasn't looked the same since. While he can still put away many mid level talents, nobody would dare call Rua a threat to the title anymore.
13 Carlos Newton
If champions were judged solely on their look, Carlos Newton would be near the top of everyone's list. Ridiculously cut in his prime and a practitioner of "Dragon Ball Jiu-Jitsu" , Newton was Canada's premier fighter before a certain Saint came along. Like his fellow countryman, Newton won the UFC Welterweight Championship by defeating a legend from Mid-Western U.S.A, Pat Miletich.
While Newton was able to defeat the teacher, he was unable to defeat the student. In his first title defense, Newton would fall to Miletich's protege Matt Hughes via KO in the second round and subsequently fail again in the rematch. Newton's career never recovered and would finish his career with a record barely above .500. If only Newton ascended to the Super Saiyan level, he might have avoided this list.
12 Lyoto Machida
As Joe Rogan proclaimed over his headset that we were now living in the Machida era, it seemed like the real world Karate Kid was destined to rule over the light heavyweight division for years to come. Not so much.
After winning the championship over Rashad Evans at UFC 98, Machida had his first title defense end in controversy as he narrowly won a decision over challenger Mauricio Rua at UFC 104. Many felt that Rua should have won the fight based off his leg kicking attack and as a result a rematch was scheduled for UFC 113. In the rematch Rua knocked out Machida in the first round, closing the book on the Machida era before it began.
Machida would never taste championship gold again, failing in title fights versus Jon Jones and Chris Weidman. Still one of the best fighters ever, Machida will not be mentioned on a list of great champions anytime soon.
11 Bas Rutten
This entry is the one that pains me the most. I and anybody with a brain loves them some Bas Rutten. The most likeable character in the history of the sport and a destroyer in the ring, the UFC Hall of Famer is certainly one of the best strikers in the sport's history. Unfortunately, Rutten's UFC championship reign is not a shining moment in his career.
At UFC 20 Rutten would take on Kevin Randleman for the vacant Heavyweight championship. Randleman took down Rutten at will but Rutten landed more strikes from the bottom and as a result Rutten took the incredibly tight decision. Rutten would vacate the title in order to drop down a weight class but injuries forced him into retirement before he made a go for the LHW title.
I don't care how handsome you are "El Guapo", zero title defenses is no good. But you're still awesome.
10 Ricco Rodriguez
This man has fought an astounding 76 matches, defeated Randy Couture and is a former ADCC world champion yet he's virtually unknown to most MMA fans. This would most probably have to do with Ricco Rodriquez's weak UFC title reign.
Rodriguez defeated Randy Couture at UFC 39 by pounding "The Natural" so bad he broke his orbital bone with an elbow in the fifth round to gain the Heavyweight Championship. It seemed like Rodriquez's submission grappling skills and size would keep him atop the division for a while. In his first defense he would get knocked out by the Maine redwood tree known as Tim Sylvia. Drug and weight issues would keep Rodriguez from ever returning to championship glory.
9 Tim Sylvia
Poor Tim Sylvia. This guy can't seem to catch a break with the MMA fanbase but by the same token, I will not play nice either. Maybe it's the fact that he got knocked out by over the hill boxer Ray Mercer in nine seconds or that time where he soiled himself during a fight , but "The Maine-iac" is the whipping boy of many MMA fans.
Another reason why he's not given much respect by MMA fans? His title reigns. Sylvia has two, and they're both rather crappy. His first title reign ended after he was busted for steroids in his first title defense and his second one was better, but he was UFC champion at a time where all the best heavyweights (like Mirko Cro Cop, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fedor Emelianenko) competed outside the UFC. Sorry Tim, but crap happens.
8 Rashad Evans
Back when winning The Ultimate Fighter actually meant something, "Suga" Rashad Evans won the second season of the reality show and quickly ascended up the UFC Light Heavyweight rankings by defeating names like Stephan Bonnar, Chuck Liddell and Michael Bisping. Evans' quest to the top would end with a championship victory over the original Ultimate Fighter winner, Forrest Griffin at UFC 92.
Evans had quite an ego in his early days and that was shown in the Forrest Griffin fight when he did, um, this. It would be pretty pathetic if Evans were to lose his title in his first defense right? Well guess what happened.
When faced against the human riddle known as Lyoto Machida, Evans struggled to find an effective strategy to deal with the karate master. After one round of frustration, Evans came out for the second round and got knocked to the fence where it appeared he was mouthing off to Machida as he was getting pounded. Knowing a fist would shut him up, Machida knocked out Evans and ended Suga's only title reign.
7 Forrest Griffin
Who doesn't love them some Forrest Griffin? Griffin's career and story is one of a common blue collar worker who rose from humble origins to become the UFC Light Heavyweight champion. Too bad he didn't stay at the top for long.
Griffin was a jack of all trades but master of none when he fought. Despite this, Griffin managed to land a hell of a leg kick on Quinton Jackson in their title fight which hobbled the champ and through the course of five rounds Griffin earned a unanimous decision and the Light Heavyweight Championship. In his first title defense, Griffin would drop the title to Rashad Evans, a man with more powerful striking and wrestling than Griffin could match. Thus continuing the Light Heavyweight division's game of hot potato.
6 Matt Serra
Was Matt Serra's victory over Georges St-Pierre a fluke? No. Serra's body shots in their UFC 69 encounter opened up GSP's head to strikes where Serra put his lights out with his underrated KO ability. Does that mean that Serra was going to rule over the welterweight division for long? Hell no.
In his first scheduled title defense, Serra was supposed to take on GSP's rival, Matt Hughes. Even after a whole Ultimate Fighter season of buildup, the fight fell through due to a Serra knee injury. Once he recovered, GSP beat Hughes to take his spot and in his hometown of Montreal, St-Pierre dominated Serra to take back his title. Oh well Serra, at least you can still say you won in the greatest upset of MMA history. Just don't call yourself a great champion.
5 Vitor Belfort
For all of the UFC's blustering about Vitor Belfort being a former UFC champion every time "The Phenom" has a fight, one would think that the UFC should remind themselves just how poor of a champion Belfort actually was.
In his second match versus Randy Couture, Belfort landed a glancing punch to the eyelid of Couture which caused such a nasty cut that the fight was stopped and as a result, Belfort was the new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Not only was it the most anti-climatic finish to a title fight ever, but in the rubber match Belfort would get thoroughly drubbed by "The Natural" in three rounds and lose the only UFC title he would ever hold.
After losing his TRT privilege and losing to Middleweight champ Chris Weidman at UFC 187, it's safe to say that we can close the book on Belfort's championship aspirations.
4 Sean Sherk
When your nickname is "The Muscle Shark" and you end up testing positive for steroids, you are begging to be made fun of.
In 2006, the UFC rebooted their lightweight division after putting it on hiatus for three years and like a shark (hehe) smelling blood in the water, Sherk jumped at the chance to compete for the vacant title. Dominating an outmatched Kenny Florian at UFC 64, Sherk would capture the title and defend it against Hermes Franca at UFC 73 before pissing hot for the steroid Nandrolone in a post-fight drug test. The UFC would strip Sherk of the title and it was won by fan favorite B.J. Penn.
In his return fight against the new champion, Sherk was TKOed in the third and would go 2-1 in his next three fights before calling it a career. Overall, defeating an under-developed Kenny Florian and getting popped for roids makes for a horrendous title reign, nabbing Sherk the number four spot.
3 Josh Barnett
What's worse than popping for steroids in your first title defense? How about testing positive for steroids in your title win? Well done Josh Barnett, you've outdone Sean Sherk.
Although not looking like a guy who would test positive for steroids, "The Warmaster" would nevertheless test positive after his UFC 36 win over Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight title. The UFC would then blackball Barnett from their organization and the former champ would take his talents to Japan, the land of freak shows and invisible drug testing.
Not only did he lose his title, but he would test positive again prior to a planned match-up with Fedor Emelianenko years later. At least Barnett was a great fighter though, not like these next two...
2 Evan Tanner
Evan Tanner by all accounts seemed like a really cool dude. There's an entire documentary based around his life all the way up to his tragic death due to heat exposure in September 2008. His life story is captivating... but his actual fighting skill? Eh, he was alright.
Despite being just a decent fighter, Evan Tanner somehow found himself a UFC Middleweight champion after defeating David Terrell (?) at UFC 51 to win the vacant title (the actual champion Murilo Bustamante vacated the title to fight in PRIDE). After defeating the unknown Terrell, Tanner dropped the title to Rich Franklin at UFC 53 and went 1-3 in his last four fights before his death. Really the only reason he isn't number one is because at least some people knew him, unlike...
1 Dave Menne
Somehow, Dave Menne has 24 matches more than Evan Tanner yet he is completely unknown. Even crazier still because he is actually the first UFC Middleweight Champion ever! Yes the same title that was held by legends like Rich Franklin, Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman was once held by this guy.
Menne won the title by a man somehow more unknown than him, Gil Castillo via decision at the cure for insomnia known as UFC 33. A scant 105 days later Menne would get TKOed by BJJ artist Murilo Bustamante and would never sniff UFC gold again. So long Menne, we hardly knew ye.