I may be playing the role of Captain Obvious here, but when you really think about it, it takes an unheard of amount of time, effort and punishment just to make it into the UFC, let alone win a belt. For most of these fighters, they start out young, training in their discipline of choice and than they may decide to pick it up as a career. Many end up working other jobs but continue training religiously in all of their spare time. If their work ethic, determination and dedication are sufficient, they may end up catching the eye of an instructor who can help them find their way into regional MMA competitions. If they are one of the elite few who can manage to dominate these leagues, they could move on to one of the smaller professional promotions. If a fighter is among the very rare and special few who make it through these leagues, then the UFC may await, whether directly or through The Ultimate Fighter.
Then once in the UFC, a fighter generally needs to dominate a few undercard matches and gain some notoriety before he or she can challenge the big names. After a slew of hard-fought wins, finally the title fight eliminator where a fighter will face off with an opponent probably similar in skill level, who is just as hungry for a chance at the belt. Success in this fight enables a fighter to enter a title fight, during which they have the opportunity to defeat the champ. After that come title defenses, where each time you step in the ring, you are the envy of your weight class and every other fighter wants to leave you up against the cage in disgrace. Sounds like a decent life, no? There have been some legendary champions in UFC history with the longest standing two losing their belts in 2013. GSP lost his when he left the sport for an indeterminate amount of time, and Anderson Silva lost his when he was knocked out by Chris Weidman.
Here is a list of the top 10 fighters with the most time spent holding a UFC championship belt. While this will include info on a few of the awesome streaks the league has seen, this list will be most time spent with a belt overall, so that will include fighters like GSP who held, in his case the Welterweight Championship belt, twice and those, like Randy Couture, who held belts in multiple weight classes.
10 B.J. Penn: 919 Days Total
After significant success in the Jiu Jitsu World Championship, the Hawaiian B.J. Penn was recruited to compete in MMA for the UFC. This was back in 2001. He has been a solid competitor and continues to compete in vicious and exciting fights today. He’s a fighter who is also very versatile, having participated at Lightweight, Welterweight and soon in the Featherweight. At UFC 46, he won the UFC Welterweight Championship over Matt Hughes. He didn’t hold it long however, being stripped of the belt when he left to fight in the K-1 promotion. His return to UFC saw him move to Lightweight, earning that belt in 2008. He defended his Lightweight title three times, against Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.
9 Pat Miletich: 931 Days
Prior to the UFC’s switch from tournament style fighting to its current format, Pat Miletich won the UFC 16 tournament in 1998. Recently, he has been a color commentator, and continues to be a coach, being continuously involved with Miletich Fighting Systems, the MMA training gym he started. Back in the day however, he was the first UFC Welterweight Champion, after the format change, holding the belt from October 1998 until April 2001. His wins during this period were against Jorge Patino, Andre Pederneiras, John Allessio and Kenichi Yamamoto.
8 Jon Jones: 1,080 Days and counting
The first of two incumbent fighters on this list, Jon “Bones” Jones is the current Light Heavyweight Champion of the UFC and has been dominating the division since 2011. Jones has an MMA record currently of 19-1, with his only loss coming at the end of The Ultimate Fighter 10, when he was disqualified for throwing illegal elbow strikes. Other than that, he has been perfect, beating Mauricio Rua for the title in 2011 and then a total of six defenses, so far. Since becoming the champ in 2011, he has beaten “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen and most recently Alexander Gustafson in the 2013 Fight of the Year. Glover Teixiera is his next opponent, in a fight that has been postponed a few times. As of now it is scheduled for April 26th, at UFC 172.
7 Dominick Cruz: 1117 Days
Cruz was the WEC Bantamweight Champion when the league was merged with the UFC, therefore he became the UFC champion automatically. He defended his title twice in 2011 against Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson but after that he sustained a series of injuries that have kept him out of competition since. In July 2012, Renan Barao defeated Faber for the interim belt. Cruz was still a champion of the division at that time and remained one of the two champions until January 2014 when it was announced that he had sustained yet another injury that would prevent him from competing in the unification bout against Barao. He vacated the belt in January. I contemplated not including Dominick Cruz because he hasn’t been the undisputed champ since 2012 but he was still officially the champ until recently. Call me out on it if you want.
6 Jose Aldo: 1200 Days and counting
Jose Aldo is the second of two fighters on this list who did not win a match in the UFC in order to be declared a champion. He is also the second of two incumbent champions on this list. Much like Dominick Cruz, he was awarded the UFC title after UFC’s merger with WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) back in 2010. He has held the featherweight title since then, defending his belt six times. In chronological order, his victims have been Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung and most recently Ricardo Lamas in February.
5 Tito Ortiz: 1,260 Days
The Huntington Beach Bad Boy had a rough life prior to his time with the UFC. He grew up poor, with drug addicted parents and occasionally, during his youth, fell into problems with drugs as well. He started fighting in the UFC while he was still in college and quickly rose as a prominent star in the league. In April of 2000, Ortiz beat Wanderlei “The Axe Murder” Silva for the Light Heavyweight Championship, after the belt was vacated by Frank Shamrock. He followed this up with five defenses, against Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Elvin Sinosic, Vladimir Matyushenko and finally Ken Shamrock. He lost his belt in 2003 and never gained it back. He did, however, continue to compete in the UFC until 2012, and after his loss in that year to Forrest Griffin, he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He also married the most successful adult film star of all time, so you might say he’s multi-talented.
4 Randy Couture: ~1500 days Total
“The Natural” is the second fighter on this list after B.J. Penn to have held championship belts in two different weight categories. He first held the Heavyweight Championship in the UFC before its current weight class structure; as for much of the 1990’s the league separated its fighters only by whether they were under or over 200 pounds. He continued his success after the UFC brought in its current weight class structure, competing at both Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight and holding both belts twice. Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, Gabriel Gonzaga and Tim Sylvia are just some of the names he squared off against during his time in the octagon. Throughout his career, he held a UFC Championship five times. His total days with a belt however, is unclear due to a contract dispute in January 1998, and information is unavailable as to what exact day he was stripped of his title.
3 Matt Hughes: 1,577 Days Total
The two-time Welterweight Champion was considered the best in the world by many during his prime with the UFC. Hughes has the second most wins in the history of the league and defended his Welterweight title seven times, which was a record in the division until Georges St-Pierre broke it, achieving nine in his career. Among Hughes’ title defenses were fighters Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg twice and B.J. Penn. When he retired, Dana White famously told Hughes that he was the best fighter of all time. Beyond his time competing in the octagon he founded his own gym, Hughes Intensive Training (HIT) which would later be purchased by retired fighter Jesse Finney.
2 Georges St-Pierre: 2,204 Days Total
Arguably Canada’s finest athlete, the former Welterweight Champion left the sport back in late 2013 to deal with a few personal matters. It is unclear whether he will return or whether this could turn into retirement. Whether it does or not, he has had what is undeniably one of the finest careers the UFC has ever seen. The Quebec native held the belt just briefly in 2006, only to lose it to Matt Serra few short months later. After some bad blood, at their rematch, GSP dominated, earning his belt back. Due to multiple instances of two champions due to injury and contract disputes, GSP held the belt and occasionally shared the belt from December 2007 until November 2013. He defeated the likes of B.J. Penn, Dan Hardy, Carlos Condit and most recently, my pick for the winner this weekend, Johny Bigg Rigg Hendricks, in a controversial judge decision. I’ll pose the first of two questions to you, valued reader: do you think GSP will return to the sport and if he does, will he be a contender? I argue, with his work ethic and overall intelligence in the octagon, he has a few years left during which he will be a contender, however, I am unsure as to whether he will return to the sport in that time.
1 Anderson Silva: 2,457 Days
What more can really be said of Anderson “the Spider” Silva? The guy dominated at Middleweight from October 2006 until September 2013. He had ten successful title defenses, and eleven if you include the fight against Travis Lutter, prior to which Lutter failed to make the 185 pound weight requirement so the bout was officially not a title fight. Among his victims are some big name fighters, such as Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen (twice) and of course Vitor Belfort. So 10/11 impressive title defenses before he lost twice to Chris Weidman. Once because Weidman caught him with a decent set of punches while Silva was doing his characteristic taunting and showboating and once when his shin folded in half when Weidman checked a kick. Despite his knowledge of the sport, fantastic reach and overall skills and confidence, it's unsure if we've seen the last of The Spider. His recovery seems to be going well, and while he has indicated that the title may not be an interest for him anymore, is he going to say “no” if Dana tells him to get back in the ring against Weidman? Again, as with GSP, let us know, have we seen the last of the greatest ever in title situations?