A casual’s guide to MMA: The UFC light heavyweight champions

DEC 10 2011: Jon Jones during the weigh-ins during UFC 140 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, On. (Photo by Jay Kopinski/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
DEC 10 2011: Jon Jones during the weigh-ins during UFC 140 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, On. (Photo by Jay Kopinski/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The light heavyweight division is one of the most prestigious and popular in the UFC, thanks in part to some of the biggest names in MMA history.

The light heavyweight division was the crown jewel of the UFC during the earlier years. Once known as the middleweight championship, the division was flushed with the who’s who of the UFC. It became the divisional standard-bearer for the promotion, featuring the biggest fights and the biggest names in fighting to vie for the belt.

The division would be renamed the light heavyweight division not long after it’s creation and would grace the waist of many of the sport’s most popular fighters.

Frank Shamrock (Dec. 21, 1997 – Nov. 24, 1999)

Frank Shamrock, adoptive brother of fellow UFC icon Ken Shamrock, became the first man to ever win the then named UFC middleweight championship by defeating Kevin Jackson. Shamrock was so dominant during his reign, he’d retire due to a lack of competition. The title was eventually renamed to the light heavyweight championship.

Tito Ortiz (April 14, 2000 – Sept. 26, 2003)

Defeating the great Wanderlei Silva, Tito Ortiz won the vacant middleweight championship and would hold the title during the name transition from middleweight to light heavyweight. Ortiz is considered to be one of the first mainstream champions in the history of the promotion.

Randy Couture (Sept. 26, 2003 – Jan. 31, 2004)

After winning the interim championship, Randy Couture would go on to defeat Ortiz for the light heavyweight championship and merge the titles. Couture became the first man to win championships in two divisions.

Vitor Belfort (Jan. 31, 2004 – Aug. 21, 2004)

A freak accident eye injury would see Couture lose the title to Vitor Belfort, setting up a rematch.

Randy Couture (Aug. 21, 2004 – April 16, 2005)

Couture would win his third championship after defeating Belfort in the rematch.

Chuck Liddell (April 16, 2005 – May 26, 2007)

Arguably the division’s most popular fighter, former wrestler turned kickboxer would knockout Couture and ascend to legendary status. Liddell became champion at the same time the UFC was finally reaching mainstream appeal thanks in part to The Ultimate Fighter.

Quinton Jackson (May 26, 2007 – July 5, 2008)

A rematch from the old PRIDE FC days, Liddell would fall to Quinton Jackson is only Jackson’s second fight in the UFC. Jackson’s victory over Liddell would mark the beginning of the end of Liddell’s career.

Forrest Griffin (July 5, 2008 – Dec. 27, 2008)

Jackson was expected to have a lengthy and legendary run but got upset by Forrest Griffin, someone considered to be more heart than talent. Griffin was one of two winners of that first season of the Ultimate Fighter that would save the UFC.

Rashad Evans (Dec. 27, 2008 – May 23, 2009)

The second season of the Ultimate Fighter would see Rashad Evans win, and go on to defeat Griffin for the championship. By winning Evans would cement the legacy of the Ultimate Fighter’s second season.

Lyoto Machida (May 23, 2009 – May 8, 2010)

A swift punch from Lyoto Machida was all it took to end Evans run as UFC light heavyweight champion. Machida would become one of the few fighters in UFC history to have a background mainly in karate to win a championship.

Mauricio Rua (May 8, 2010 – March 19, 2011)

Mauricio Rua came over from PRIDE but suffered losses to Forrest Griffin and Machida shortly after debuting in the UFC. He’d eventually get a rematch against Machida and this time would unseat the karate expert.

Jon Jones (March 19, 2011 – April 28, 2015)

A controversial champion, Jon Jones tested positive for banned substances almost as many times as he had successful title defenses in his first reign. Jones defeated Rua by TKO and the win would launch his career into unseen notoriety like never before.

Daniel Cormier (May 23, 2015 – Dec. 28, 2018)

Jones would be stripped of the title after he hit a pregnant woman with his car and fled the scene. Daniel Cormier would defeat Anthony Johnson to win the vacant title.

Jon Jones (Dec. 29, 2018 – present)

Cormier was stripped of the title because of reasons. What reasons? Who knows. Jones would again regain the championship, this time defeating Alexander Gustafsson to regain then now vacant title.

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