When Bruce Buffer is introducing a combatant and yells: "AND FORMER, LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION," it's quite the ambiguous term. It's a little vague because the fans don't know if the fighter was a multi-time belt holder or if they simply won it once and failed to defend it. There are many excellent fighters, even future Hall of Famers that won a Championship but did not successfully defend it. The Light Heavyweight division is a useful example because there was a time period between 2008 and 2011 where the belt was only successfully defended once, by Lyoto Machida at UFC 104. Even that victory was surrounded by controversy as the fans and media almost unanimously felt Mauricio Shogun Rua had won the fight.
Matt Hughes has gone on record saying that he doesn't believe that a fighter is worthy of being called a champion unless they defend the belt at least once. That's easy for Hughes to say, he's a nine-time champion! Hughes' point is somewhat valid, in the sense that he shouldn't be in the same category as just any former champion, but he might take it a bit too far. By saying that someone can't be considered a champion unless they defend it, is kind of implying that they simply "had a good night" or "got lucky." As we're about to see on this list, it's obvious that a lot of these champions who failed to defend their belts did not simply get lucky, as their title wins were hard fought and oftentimes spectacular. Here are the top 10 UFC champions, that could not successfully defend their strap!
10 Evan Tanner
9 Bas "El Guapo" Rutten
Many know Bas Rutten as the hilarious bald guy from Inside MMA, or for co-starring in "Here Comes the Boom" and arguably being funnier than Kevin James (just kidding, there's no arguing there). Some moderate fans only know him for his hilarious self defence videos. But the truth of the matter is, Bas Rutten was a force to be reckoned with in his prime. He was a 5th degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate and a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He also perfected the liver shot (before it was cool), whether it be with a knee or a punch.
8 Carlos Newton
Carlos Newton finished his career with a 16-15 record, which is far from impeccable. But it's important to bare in mind that Newton faced top notch competition throughout his career. Take into account that some of his losses came at the hands of Dan Henderson, Matt Hughes, Matt Lindland, Kazushi Sakuraba (in his prime) and some guy named Anderson Silva.
7 Matt "The Terror" Serra
Matt Serra scored one of the biggest upsets of all-time when he knocked out Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69. Serra started off as a +700 underdog which was the biggest margin for a title fight in UFC history. The spread only grew on fight day as pundits were dropping huge amounts of cash on St-Pierre to win. Serra hit GSP with an overhand right which buckled his knees, then followed up with a onslaught of punches as St-Pierre had lost his equilibrium and could not recover. This was a true underdog story, but it would be very cheap to refer to it as lucky. There were many hurdles Serra had to jump in order to get the title shot in the first place. It wasn't as if he was just magically placed there.
6 Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort
Ok, we can concede this one to Hughes. In this particular case, one could make the argument that Belfort was never a legitimate champion. He won the belt off of the legendary Randy Couture at UFC 46. The legitimacy of this win is contested because 49 seconds into the bout, Belfort connected with a punch but the seam of his glove cut Couture. "The Natural" started to bleed profusely and the doctors deemed that he could not continue. Belfort was therefore awarded the belt and a TKO victory. Couture promptly avenged the controversial loss at UFC 49 with a TKO of his own.
5 Forrest Griffin
Forrest Griffin won everyone's heart on The Ultimate Fighter 1, with his whit, charm and sheer lunacy. What really won him over with the fans, was the fact that "the common man" could relate to him. Griffin did not have an incredible pedigree coming onto The Ultimate Fighter and did not display any skills that particularly stood out. He was just an average Joe that worked really hard and would not take no for an answer. There were times when he was training at Extreme Couture, where they would turn out the lights and lock the doors and he would still refuse to leave.
4 Mark "The Hammer" Coleman
"The Hammer" does not get enough credit for his accomplishments in the UFC. Partly because when he was competing, the sport was considered taboo and they were lucky to get over 2.000 fans to come watch an event.
These days, it's not uncommon to see a fighter compete less than three times a year. Coleman fought three times in one night at UFC 10! It's not like he was fighting slouches either. After he earned a ground and pound victory over Moti Horenstein, he had to deal with two savages in Gary Goodridge and Don Frye. It was like a WWE gauntlet match, but in MMA. Coleman finished all of his opponents, winning the UFC 10 tournament.
3 Frank Mir
It's a shame Frank Mir was forced to take nearly two years off rehabbing his knee after his motorcycle accident. At the time of his accident, he was in his prime and tearing apart the Heavyweight division. The UFC had never seen a Heavyweight with such great Jiu-Jitsu and overall versatility. The accident unfortunately tore all the ligaments in his knee and broke his leg in two places. He was stripped of his Heavyweight Championship because he was obviously not able to defend it.
2 Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
1 Rashad "Suga" Evans
There may be a collective "eye roll" when seeing Evans at #1 on the list and that's okay (that's what the comment board is for). What people don't realize is that Rashad Evans is one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC. He has compiled a MMA record of 21 wins and 3 losses. It's also not like he was eased into the UFC, as all his fights have been against top competition. He's scored wins over the likes of Michael Bisping, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Thiago Silva, Rampage Jackson and Dan Henderson. He won the Light Heavyweight Championship off of Forrest Griffin at UFC 92, but lost it to Lyoto Machida via KO at UFC 98. But how can he not be considered a true champion? He basically faced murderers row and come out on top in all but one of the fights and is a no doubt future Hall of Famer.
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