Ranking every UFC lightweight champion through history

Khabib Nurmagomedov faces-off with Conor McGregor (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Khabib Nurmagomedov faces-off with Conor McGregor (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

We take a look at how every UFC lightweight champion compares to one another in the history of the organization.

The UFC lightweight division has been considered by fans in recent years as one of the most competitive divisions the organization has to offer.

With the likes of Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson to name a few, being so close yet still not good enough to win the undisputed title, it’s hard to argue.

It has been five months since undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov retired from the sport and vacated the belt, and since then Charles Oliveira has laid claim to it. But how do these two champions compare to each their predecessors?

Here is our ranking of every UFC lightweight champion from start to finish.

11. Conor McGregor

It almost seems criminal to put Conor at the bottom of the list given his reputation in the combat sports world, but while his achievements in MMA are indeed ‘Notorious’, his record in the lightweight division is not as good as it seems. Stepping up from winning the featherweight championship with a 13 second KO of Jose Aldo, McGregor put on a striking masterclass to take the lightweight belt off Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. 511 days later, he was stripped of the title due to inactivity, and upon his return to the division, he has lost three fights from three; to tough competitors in Nurmagomedov and Poirier (twice) nonetheless.

10. Charles Oliveira

As the current champion of the division, Charles Oliveira should also command more respect than to be placed this low, especially considering how well-rounded his fight game is, having won his last three bouts via TKO, decision and submission respectively. His resume inside the Octagon sadly is not as impressive as other names on this list, but to his credit, he is the one currently holding the belt.

9. Jens Pulver

As the first man ever to lay put his hands on the UFC lightweight belt, Jens Pulver is a name often neglected when people look back at the past UFC champions. With two title defenses to his name against Dennis Hallman and B.J. Penn, Pulver did have a great impact in the division. Maybe his time came just too soon.

8. Sean Sherk

Sean Sherk’s MMA debut at 155 pounds was for the vacant UFC lightweight championship after Pulver was stripped of the title due to a contract dispute. He fought Kenny Florian for the title and won by unanimous decision, mainly thanks to his success with wrestling. It is safe to say Sherk had a much bigger impact at welterweight, losing only two fights from 32, and even those were against Matt Hughes and Georges St-Pierre.

7. Eddie Alvarez

Next up, we have none other than ‘The Underground King’ Eddie Alvarez. Alvarez earned the right to a title shot after split decision victories over former champion Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, before dethroning Rafael dos Anjos with a first round TKO. Sadly, the Philadelphia-born fighter was never able to defend his title, losing it to Conor McGregor 128 days after winning it; but he stands a very relevant name nonetheless.

6. Rafael dos Anjos

It seems cruel to rank Rafael dos Anjos higher than Eddie Alvarez given that the Brazilian lost his belt to him, however dos Anjos’s resume speaks volumes and his impact in the division was arguably much bigger. The Rio de Janeiro native had won 10 of his last 11 fights before losing his belt to Alvarez, with the list including the likes of Donald Cerrone (twice), former champions Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis, as well as fan favorite Nate Diaz. After losing his title, dos Anjos made the move up to welterweight, where he remained relevant, before returning to the division he made a name for himself in late last year.

5. Anthony Pettis

Anthony Pettis has had a rough time in recent years, having lost 10 of his last 16 bouts since losing the belt to dos Anjos in 2015. However, the impact he had before then was unquestionable. He took the WEC lightweight belt off Benson Henderson before his UFC debut. Three years later, he then went on to take the Henderson’s lightweight belt off him, before defending it against Melendez. And while Pettis’ record in recent years doesn’t seem too impressive, he still has notable wins against Donald Cerrone, Stephen Thompson, Michael Chiesa and Charles Oliveira.

4. Benson Henderson

While Pettis would not be too happy being put behind Henderson, he had a huge impact on the lightweight division in his prime. He dwarfed Frankie Edgar when squaring off with him for their title bout, beating him twice in quick succession. With notable wins over Diaz, Melendez as well as Jorge Masvidal, in his prime, Henderson was a daunting prospect for any lightweight contender.

3. B. J. Penn

B. J. Penn is an absolute legend in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The Hawaiian born competitor was so versatile that during his career, he fought at featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight. As well as this, he also fought Lyoto Machida in an openweight bout where Penn weighed in at 191 pounds and Machida at 225. It’s safe to say he didn’t win that particular bout unfortunately, but his career was impressive. Penn won belts at two divisions, beating Matt Hughes for the welterweight championship and later Joe Stevenson for the lightweight championship. It’s safe to say we’re unlikely to meet another fighter who will take literally any fight quite the way Penn did.

2. Frankie Edgar

Frankie Edgar’s longevity in MMA is a thing of legend. At 39 years of age, he is still fighting in the organization today, with his most recent bout being against No. 3 bantamweight contender Cory Sandhagen. During his prime in the UFC, Edgar was seemingly unstoppable, beating Penn (three times), Sherk, Oliveira and Chad Mendes. His grappling abilities were unrivaled, providing him with an impressive 15-1-1 record by the time he lost his lightweight belt.

1. Khabib Nurmagomedov

It doesn’t take a genius to work out who was going to top this list of fighters. Khabib Nurmagomedov is probably the most dominant and impressive force the UFC has ever seen. With a record of 29-0, Nurmagomedov has given every man who has plucked up the courage to enter the Octagon with him, a masterclass in wrestling. The way he takes fighters down, ties up their legs with his own and controls them on the floor is a conundrum that no fighter has come close to solving. In his last three fights, he won by submission against Gaethje, Poirier and McGregor, with whom the rivalry made the fight the biggest PPV event the UFC has ever seen.

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