The best UFC light heavyweight champion of all time, and the worst

In mixed martial arts, the light heavyweight division is one of the most prestigious of the sport. Here is one of the best and worst to ever hold the title.
The UFC Championship
The UFC Championship / Aldara Zarraoa/GettyImages

In mixed martial arts, the light heavyweight division is one of the most prestigious of the sport. When it comes to the UFC, this rings very true and, although the division has had quite a turbulent few years, it remains one of the most solid in the entire promotion.

The light heavyweight division encapsulates the fighters between 186 pounds and 205 pounds. At present, the champion is Alex Pereira but the title has had quite an intriguing lineage and history over the years. Prior to UFC 31, which took place in May 2001, the light heavyweight championship was known as the middleweight championship. In September 2007, at UFC 75, the Pride world middleweight championship was unified with the UFC's own light heavyweight title.

First established in December 1997, the 205-pound division has crowned a total of 19 undisputed champions. The champion has been stripped of the title three times, whilst other champions have vacated the title a total four times.

Frank Shamrock was the first champion of the division, and he got the gold by defeating Kevin Jackson at UFC Japan on Dec. 21, 1997. Over his 703-day reign, Shamrock had four successful title defenses. In November 1999, Shamrock retired from the UFC and subsequently vacated the title, citing a lack of competition within the promotion. That immediately set the pace for the division's top contenders, as well as the champion, and it led to quite a turbulent history for the light heavyweight champion.

As is the case with several other titles, there have been some reigns that have certainly defined the 205-pound gold. Here is the best and worst champion of the division.

Jon Jones
UFC 239 Jones v Santos / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

Best UFC light heavyweight champion: Jon Jones

The UFC's light heavyweight division has seen some of the greatest names in all of MMA step into the fabled Octagon. That rings even more true with those who have been crowned the champions of the 205-pound division.

Out of all the memorable runs that the title has seen, there is one that reigns supreme over all the others. That is the first reign of a fighter considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time - Jon Jones. He is the current heavyweight champion (out on injury) but the title that gave him prominence was the 205-pound gold. He won the title at UFC 128 in March 201 and went on to hold the title for 1,501 days.

Jones defeated Maurício Rua at the Newark, New Jersey event and made history by becoming the youngest champion in UFC history, just being 23 years old at the time - a record he still stands. Jones' first title defense was against former champion Quinton Jackson at UFC 135. He followed that up with a defense against yet another former champion, Lyoto Machida.

Jones continued his trend of defending against former champions, with title matches against Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort. His fifth and sixth title defenses were against top contenders in the division, Chael Sonnen and Alexander Gustafsson respectively. His seventh title defense was against Glover Teixeira who, although coming up short in their bout, would ultimately go on to win the gold later in his career. His eighth and final title defense would see the beginning of his heated rivalry against Daniel Cormier.

Jones was ultimately stripped of the light heavyweight title in April 2015 due to his arrest stemming from a felony hit-and-run incident. It was the end of an era and, although he would return just a year later to work his way back up to claiming the title, that first Jones reign was an undeniable moment in MMA history.

From September 2011 to April 2015, Jones had quite an influential reign as champion and certainly elevated the 205-pound gold and the division. Jones holds several records within the light heavyweight division, including (but not limited to) most title defenses, most wins, and longest win streak.

Jones' reign is one that will go down in history as one of the most dominant in the entire promotion. It is agreed upon by many fight fans and pundits alike that Jones was and probably always will be the best UFC light heavyweight champion.

Vitor Belfort
Vitor Belfort / MAURO PIMENTEL/GettyImages

Worst UFC light heavyweight champion: Vitor Belfort

While the UFC's light heavyweight division has seen some great title reigns, there have also been some that have been a bit more unmemorable. Or at least, it was just memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Vitor Belfort is a retired fighter and, in the UFC, he competes in the middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight divisions. Belfort also competed for other promotions such as Pride FC, Strikeforce, and more. He was known and admired for his explosive power but his run with the UFC's 205-pound gold could be considered the worst.

In January 2004, at UFC 46, Belfort had a rematch against then-champion Randy Couture. The two had their meeting at UFC 15, with Couture handing Belfort his first professional loss. However, their second match had a totally different outcome.

Belfort won the fight in just 49 seconds and this kicked off his first and only reign with the title. Being adorned with the title of the worst UFC light heavyweight champion stemmed more from how exactly he won the fight but his actual reign does not help his case.

A seam from Belfort's glove had cut Couture's eye early on in the fight, causing a corneal abrasion. This prompted a referee stoppage, which immediately left a sour taste in many fight fans' mouths.

Belfort's run with the title lasted from January 31, 2004 to August 21, 2004. This is far from being the shortest reign but there was a lack of activity in the division at that time.

When the champion is not defending, the division can tend to stagnate. That is exactly what happened during Belfort's 203-day reign.

Belfort would have his trilogy rematch against Couture at UFC 49 in August 2004 and, following a doctor stoppage after the third round, Couture reclaimed the title. Granted, the UFC only put on two other spaced-out events before Belfort defended the title but, as the reign reached its conclusion, many could not help but feel a sense of redundancy with Belfort's reign.

The reign seems to have put a blemish on a rather impressive career, and just left many wishing that it never happened. Belfort's reign is one that could easily be forgotten when looking at the entire light heavyweight division's title history, and it might be for good reason.


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