Becoming a UFC champion is not an easy feat. Many fans and fighters view the UFC championship as the pinnacle of professional mixed martial arts competition. Capturing a UFC title puts athletes in a unique elite group of fighters and guarantees their place in combat sports history.
The first fighter to capture a UFC championship from England was middleweight fighter Michael Bisping. He first appeared on the third season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he won the light heavyweight portion of the contest by going undefeated in three fights on the show, all wins coming by stoppage. This earned Bisping a contract with the UFC. After going 3-1 in the UFC as a light heavyweight, Bisping shifted weight classes down to middleweight, where he would ultimately capture UFC gold.
Bisping won the UFC middleweight title in 2016 by defeating then-champion Luke Rockhold via knockout in the first round, to become the first English fighter to hold a UFC championship in history. Bisping had faced Rockhold previously when Rockhold submitted Bisping in the second round of their bout. Bisping accepted the title fight against Rockhold on 17 days’ notice, as Rockhold’s original opponent Chris Weidman was forced to withdraw from the bout due to injury.
During his title reign, Bisping made one successful title defense when he defeated former PRIDE middleweight and light heavyweight champion and rival Dan Henderson via unanimous decision. Bisping lost his title via technical submission to former UFC welterweight champion George St-Pierre in 2017.
Bisping would have one more fight following this, where he would suffer a first round KO loss to Kelvin Gastelum. Bisping officially retired from MMA in 2018, citing vision issues he was having due to fighting, stemming from a head kick he received in 2013 from Vitor Belfort.
In 2019, Bisping was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame Modern Wing and now works as a UFC commentator and sports analyst.
English UFC champions after Michael Bisping
Since Bisping’s historic feat in 2016, there have been two other English UFC champions, at the time of writing. Current UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards became the second English fighter in history to hold a UFC belt when he defeated long-reigning champion Kamaru Usman via fifth-round KO in 2022. Edwards has made two successful title defenses since becoming champion.
Tom Aspinall is the current UFC interim heavyweight champion after he defeated Sergei Pavlovich in November 2023. Much like Bisping, he took the fight on short notice and KO’d his opponent in the first round.