Last Saturday, UFC 171 was a very solid event, with more than one great fight to talk about. The title fight between Hendricks and Lawler was a great deal of fun to watch, and at the end it was pretty close but it was clear who had taken the victory. Woodley and Condit had a decent fight, until Condit did his Anderson Silva impression. That was a joke, and a mean one, as that looked quite painful. Diego Sanchez and Myles Jury had a great scrap, with Jury the victor and Sanchez finishing the fight the way he usually does: looking like he was twice passed through a wood chipper, with the same “kill” face as he always has when within two square miles of the octagon.
So a new fighter has taken up GSP’s old spot. On top of that, it was the same man that many thought deserved the decision when those two met back in November. Well, whether you liked the decision back then or not, Johny earned that belt this time for sure. At ages 30 and 31 (Hendricks and Lawler respectively), these guys aren’t the youngest to have been in title fights, in fact they are roughly the average age for UFC champions.
Not all fighters end up around 30 before they have earned a title though. Especially early in the history of the UFC, it wasn’t uncommon for fighters to get 3-4 fights in and be offered a title shot. Even today however, some fighters just show up, and are so shockingly talented (like #1 on this list) that they win the Championship early, after only a few fights. Here is the list of the UFC’s 10 youngest champions of all time. In terms of my methodology, I’ve only included fighters who have held a belt during the current UFC format in terms of weight classes. So my apologies to Vitor Belfort fans, we know he was 19 when he won the UFC 12 tournament. Along with that, we are aware that Josh Barnett was 24 when he beat Randy Couture back in 2002, but he was found to be on anabolic steroids and was stripped of the belt, therefore he gets a big “X." Complain if you want, you know where the comments section lives.
Honorable mentions go to Josh Barnett, GSP and Dominick Cruz. Barnett did hold the belt for a while, but champions don’t do drugs, I mean get caught doing drugs. George St Pierre won the Welterweight belt for the first time at age 25 years, 5 months and 30 days, just 9 days older than Barao. Finally, Dominick Cruz gets a nod here because he became UFC champion out of the WEC and was 25 and 8 months when it happened. If I had used the date for when he won the WEC belt, he’d be on the list at 24 years and 11 months, but I am treating his situation the same as that of Jose Aldo, the other champ from WEC, who did make the list.
10. Renan Barao: 25 Years and 5 Months Old
One of three incumbent champions on this list, Barao has been the Bantamweight Champion of the UFC since July 2012. He won the Interim title in his fight with Urijah Faber back in 2012 after Dominick Cruz (who was champ at the time) continued to suffer from injuries, with an ACL tear this time. Barao was promoted to the Champion rather than interim back in September 2013. He successfully defended the belt against Urijah Faber back in February with a very convincing TKO.
9. Tito Ortiz: 25 Years and 2 Months Old
Currently, Ortiz holds the record for most fights ever in the UFC octagon. He retired from MMA after 15 years back in 2012, but is still active in the MMA community, as a clothing line executive and former manager. His venture into managing fighters was largely unsuccessful and he has shut down that part of his career as of February 2014. Early on in his career, he achieved success in the tournament style UFC and after five fights in the octagon, Ortiz was given a title shot. Frank Shamrock and Tito had a solid bout, but in the end, 1999’s Fight of the Year went to Shamrock. Shamrock vacated the title after this bout and in 2000, Ortiz faced The Axe Murderer and won, becoming the new Light Heavyweight Champion. He held this title until 2003 when Randy Couture beat him down handily at UFC 44. At the time of his win, he was just a few months older than 25 years old.
8. Jens Pulver: 25 Years and 2 Months Old
Pulver fought in the UFC in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. He was known for having solid Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling skills, but in his prime he could also throw punches with the best in his division. He fought four times in the UFC before he fought Caol Uno, beat him, and was named the UFC’s first Lightweight Champion, back in early 2001. He defended his belt twice, but left the UFC after encountering a problem in his contract. He has a famous and ongoing rivalry with BJ Penn. They are each 1-1 at this point, after Pulver defended his belt against Penn and later, during the finale of The Ultimate Fighter 5, when Penn was victorious. Since his departure from the UFC he has returned for a few fights, but has spent most of his time with other promotions.
7. BJ Penn: 25 Years and 1 Month Old
Penn is a UFC veteran and is still among the most entertaining fighters to watch. He started out as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, earning his black belt and winning gold at the World Jiu Jitsu Championship in 2000. The next yea,r he was recruited into the UFC at just 22 years old. He lost one title fight, had another called a draw before he had the chance to fight Matt Hughes for the Welterweight belt and won, back in 2004. He was just over 25 at the time. Since then, he had a stint during which he held the UFC Lightweight title and at one point he even fought GSP for the Welterweight belt. Had he beaten St-Pierre, he would have held both belts at once. Although he has lost his last two bouts, we have not seen the last out of BJ. There is rumor of he and Jens Pulver fighting for a third time, but thus far nothing is set in stone.
2 Ricco Rodriguez: 25 Years and 1 Month Old (10 days younger than Penn)
Rodriquez’ career is more than a bit hard to follow. Name a country that allows mixed martial arts, and he’s probably fought there. Name a promotion that puts on MMA fights and he’s probably fought in it. He has fought in 75 MMA fights and has over 50 wins. His stint with the UFC occurred over ten years ago when he was 23. After four UFC fights, all finished by punches, he had earned the opportunity to fight Randy Couture for the Heavyweight championship. He won in the fifth round, pummeling The Natural with elbows. He was just over 25 years old at the time. He did not hold the belt long, as Tim Sylvia knocked him out five months later, in his first title defense.
5. Frank Mir: 25 Years Old
Poor Frank. Poor, poor Frank. He really isn’t looking too good these days. His last four fights have all been losses. In the last two years he has been TKO’d twice; once by Junior dos Santos (for the belt) and once by Josh Barnett. He was also beaten by unanimous decision by Daniel Cormier and Alistair Overeem. It;s al little surprising how well Mir took all the punishment back in February, because Overeem was putting the hurt on as if he had found Mir in bed with his wife, mother, 18 year old cousin and sister (I don’t know whether Overeem has such female relatives, it’s just a hypothetical).
Mir’s career with the UFC started back in 2001, however, and back then he was tearing through opponents like it was nobody’s business. Back in 2004, he submitted Tim Sylvia to earn the UFC Heavyweight title for the first time. He did not have a chance to defend the title, and was later stripped of it after being injured when his motorcycle hit by a car in September 2004.
4. Frank Shamrock: 25 Years Old (14 days younger than Mir)
From 1994 to 2009, Frank Shamrock participated in events for Pancrase, UFC, K-1 and Strikeforce. His first UFC fight was against Bas Rutten and he won via decision. That was at age 22, back in 1994. Years later he beat Kevin Jackson in just 16 seconds, with a vicious armbar to take the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. He was just over 25 years old at the time.
3. Carlos Newton: 24 Years and 8 Months Old
Another retiree from the world of fighting in MMA, and the Canadian representative on the list, Carlos Newton held the UFC Welterweight title back in May 2001 at the tender age of 24 and 2/3rds. His fight against Pat Miletich was a good one in which he was able to beat the champ with a bulldog choke. When’s the last time you saw that happen? Newton was around from the early days of the UFC, participating at UFC 17 and losing in the final round of that tournament. His last fight in the UFC was back in ’04, but he continued to participate in MMA events until 2010 when he retired at 34.
2. Jose Aldo: 24 Years and 2 Months Old
The incumbent UFC Featherweight Champion is second on the list, having won the WEC belt when he was just over 24 years old. When the UFC and WEC merged and UFC ate WEC, Aldo became the UFC Champion automatically, as prior to this there was not Featherweight division in the UFC. It's important to add that Aldo hasn’t lost a fight since 2005 and his record in the UFC has been spotless, defeating all opponents thrown at him. Since 2011, he has fought six times in the UFC, winning via unanimous decisions against Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian, Frankie Edgar and most recently Ricardo Lamas in February, while also knocking out Chad Mendes and TKO’ing Chan Sung Jung.
1 Jon Jones: 23 Years and 8 Months Old
The current Light Heavyweight Champion is, to this point, the youngest champion in the history of the UFC. He has only been in the league since 2008 but he was successful right from the start. His first two fights both resulted in wins, one of which came against veteran Stephan Bonnar. To date, he only has one loss in the UFC, which came via disqualification against Matt Hamill at TUF Heavyweights’ finale. Had he not used downward elbow shots, he would have won, as Hamill was simply outmatched. Since then, however, Jones has been flawless. After he mangled Ryan Bader in February 2011, he got his title shot against Mauricio Rua at UFC 128, winning that fight handily as well and becoming the youngest UFC champion of all time.