A casual’s guide to MMA: The UFC lightweight champions

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - SEPTEMBER 07: Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia is interviewed after his submission victory over Dustin Poirier in their lightweight championship bout during UFC 242 at The Arena on September 7, 2019 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - SEPTEMBER 07: Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia is interviewed after his submission victory over Dustin Poirier in their lightweight championship bout during UFC 242 at The Arena on September 7, 2019 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) /

The UFC’s lightweight division has been filled with some of the most legendary fighters in the promotion’s history. From Jens Pulver to Khabib Nurmagomedov, here is every UFC lightweight champion ever.

The UFC’s lightweight division hosts fighters ranging from 146 to 155 pounds. From its very inception in 2001, the division has hosted some of the most recognizable fighters in the UFC. The division began on a rocky start after the inaugural champion Jens Pulver left the UFC, resulting in a year-long suspension of the division. After nearly three more years of the division barely having fights, the division was revived in 2006 by champion Sean Sherk. Since then, the lightweight division has been a staple of the UFC, providing some of the best fighters in the sport as a whole.

Here’s a look at all the lightweight champions the UFC has ever had.

Jens Pulver

Jens “Little Evil” Pulver was the UFC’s first lightweight champion. Beating Kaol Uno via unanimous decision at UFC 30, Pulver would go on to defend the belt two more times against Dennis Hallman and BJ Penn before eventually departing from the promotion in 2002, consequently being stripped of the title. Pulver, who had one of the shortest title reigns in UFC history, was a rocky but appropriate start for the upcoming problems that the lightweight division would face.

Sean Sherk

Sean “Muscle Shark” Sherk became champion on Oct. 14, 2006, after a long, championless stretch for the lightweight division spanning from 2002 to 2006. Sherk’s well-roundedness made him a phenom fighter, having bouts against all-time greats like George St. Pierre, Penn, and Nick Diaz. The 36-4 fighter won the title in a fight against perennial contender Kenny Florian via unanimous decision.  After his title win, he defended once against Hermes Franca before being stripped for failing a post-fight drug test.

BJ Penn

Until recently, BJ Penn was regarded as the greatest lightweight champion of all time. Penn won the belt at UFC 80 in 2008, tapping out lightweight Joe Stevenson. After his finish of Stevenson, Penn would go on to defend the belt three times, with each of his defenses being finishes. Legends like Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez were all finished at the hands of Penn. Penn was almost unstoppable in his prime, and the level of skill he possessed on both his feet and on the ground was something that was almost unheard of at the time. Eventually, though, Penn’s reign would be ended by a surging lightweight by the name of Frankie Edgar.

Frankie Edgar

One of the most respected lightweights of all time, Frankie “The Answer” Edgar won the UFC lightweight title at UFC 112 on April 10, 2010. Edgar would go on to put on some legendary fights as champion, including a razor-close split decision rematch with Penn and two absolutely legendary comeback fights against rival lightweight Gray Maynard. Edgar’s wrestling and speed helped him defend the championship three times before being dethroned by Benson Henderson.

Benson Henderson

In 2012, former WEC champion Benson Henderson would beat the champion at UFC 144 by unanimous decision. This win would begin Henderson’s time as champion, which would also last three defenses. In his time as champion, Henderson would beat lightweight legends such as Edgar (a second time), Diaz, and Gilbert Melendez. The lightweight champion was known for his versatility and dangerous grappling. Henderson would eventually lose to long-time rival Anthony Pettis.

Anthony Pettis

Anthony “Showtime” Pettis came into the UFC as the last WEC champion before the company merged with the UFC. Known for his wildly exciting fighting style, Pettis only suffered one loss in the UFC before surging all the way to a title shot against a long-time rival in Henderson. Pettis would end up dethroning Henderson again at UFC 164 via first-round armbar on Aug. 31, 2013. Despite being the first UFC champion to ever be put on a Wheaties box, Pettis’s reign as champion would be one of the shorter ones in UFC history. After defending his title once by catching Gilbert Melendez in a guillotine choke, Pettis would be beaten by a prime Rafael Dos Anjos via decision.

Rafael dos Anjos

Rafael dos Anjos has fought everyone. With names like Kamaru Usman, Khabib Nurmagamedov, and Colby Covington on his record, dos Anjos’ record looks more like a pound-for-pound list rather than a fight record. Dos Anjos had been in the UFC since UFC 91, and a three-fight win streak finally propelled him into a title shot against Pettis at UFC 185 on March 14, 2015. Dos Anjos would put on a clinic to beat Pettis via unanimous decision and would carry that same talent into his first defense, where he would knock out Donald Cerrone in the first round. Dos Anjos would only defend once before he was dethroned by fellow lightweight veteran Eddie Alvarez via first-round TKO.

Eddie Alvarez

On July 7, 2016,  former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez won another major promotion title when he TKO’d UFC champion Rafael dos Anjos inside the first round. Alvarez, who holds a 30-7 record, was one of the most feared lightweights in the world as UFC champion. With ferocious wrestling and striking skill and power, Alvarez was matched up against UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor and proceeded to lose via TKO in the second round. Though Alvarez defended the belt a grand total of zero times, he is an MMA legend, holding wins over fighters like Michael Chandler, Pettis, and Melendez.

Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor put on one of the most impressive striking performances in UFC history against Alvarez at UFC 205 on Nov. 12, 2016. With the impressive second-round knockout of Alvarez, McGregor became the first UFC fighter to simultaneously hold two UFC championships at the same time (featherweight and lightweight). Despite his success in the UFC, McGregor would instead have a boxing match against boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, leaving the lightweight division without a defending champion for more than a year. McGregor’s reign over the lightweight division would last 511 days before he was stripped of the title.

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib Nurmagomedov won the lightweight title against Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 on April 7, 2018.  The famed Sambo grappler holds an unstained 28-0 record in MMA. Since winning the belt, Nurmagomedov has defended it against both McGregor and Dustin Poirier, becoming one of the most popular fighters in the UFC in the process. Despite only having two defenses, Nurmagomedov is well on his way to becoming the greatest lightweight of all time.

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