UFC

UFC Champions Who Never Successfully Defended Their Belts

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterOctober 3, 2013

UFC Champions Who Never Successfully Defended Their Belts

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    John Gichigi/Getty Images

    Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes didn't believe you deserved to call yourself champion just because Dana White strapped the belt around your waist in the cage. In Hughes' mind, until you had at least one defense of your title belt, you were no real champion. 

    Simply winning it was not enough. It was the act of defending the gold belt that made a man a champion.

    Over the course of UFC history, 18 men have tried and failed to meet the Hughes standard during their time with the belt. They clawed and scratched their way to top, won the UFC title but failed, ultimately, to carve a legacy as champion. 

    Whether it was a failed drug test, a contract dispute or simply meeting their match across the cage, these 18 champions didn't manage to defend what they had worked so hard to earn.

    Think they still deserve to be called "champion"? Let me know in the comments.

Mark Coleman (Heavyweight)

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    (Photo by Jim Kemper/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
    (Photo by Jim Kemper/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Won

    UFC 12 (February 7, 1997)

     

    Who

    Dan Severn 

     

    Lost

    UFC 14 (July 27, 1997)

     

    Who

    Maurice Smith

     

    Analysis

    Coleman was supposed to be unbeatable, the ultimate expression of American wrestling prowess. Instead, the wily Smith, training with Frank Shamrock on the ground, weathered an early storm and then beat Coleman standing to earn heavyweight gold.

Randy Couture (Heavyweight)

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    (Photo by Susumu Nagao/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
    (Photo by Susumu Nagao/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Won

    UFC Japan (December 21, 1997)

     

    Who

    Maurice Smith 

     

    Lost

    Stripped of the title after leaving the promotion after a contract dispute.

     

    Analysis

    Think Couture's problems with promoters started with Dana White and Zuffa? Think again. When then UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz tried to renegotiate contract terms with the champion, he left the company altogether rather than take a pay cut.

Bas Rutten (Heavyweight)

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    (Photo by Susumu Nagao/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
    (Photo by Susumu Nagao/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Won

    UFC 20 (May 7, 1999)

     

    Who

    Kevin Randleman

     

    Lost

    Vacated the title for a proposed middleweight title bout with Frank Shamrock. Soon after, however, training injuries forced Rutten to retire from the sport.

     

    Analysis

    Rutten, the long-time Pancrase stalwart in Japan, won the title in one of the most controversial decisions in UFC history. Despite being on top for most of the bout, Kevin Randleman lost a split decision after 21 minutes in the cage. 

Carlos Newton (Welterweight)

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    Newton in action
    Newton in actionJohn Gichigi/Getty Images

    Won

    UFC 31 (May 4, 2001)

     

    Who

    Pat Miletich

     

    Lost

    UFC 34 (November 2, 2001)

     

    Who

    Matt Hughes

     

    Analysis

    Say this much for Carlos Newton—at least he went out in glorious style. He seemed to have Hughes right where he wanted him, trapped in a fight-ending triangle choke. But the challenger had a final trick up his sleeve.

    He lifted Newton high in the air and slammed him to the mat, knocking the champion unconscious. Just moments later, the power of the choke rendered him senseless as well. It was the greatest finish in UFC history. 

Dave Menne (Middleweight)

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    Won

    UFC 33 (September 28, 2001)

     

    Who

    Gil Castillo

     

    Lost

    UFC 35 (January 11, 2002)

     

    Who

    Murilo Bustamante

     

    Analysis

    In the days when Japanese MMA still ruled the roost, UFC matchmaking could be a little strange. Take the decision to match up Dave Menne and Gil Castillo in the inaugural title fight at 185 pounds.

    Castillo was a welterweight who had never competed in the UFC—or at 185 pounds.

    Menne was coming off a TKO loss to Hiromitsu Kanehara in Japan. Kanehara was no world beater himself, making Menne's presence in a title bout more than a little questionable.

    Nevertheless, they were apparently the best middleweights the UFC could lay hands on at the time. And, thus, Menne became arguably the worst fighter ever to claim a UFC title, an honor Bustamante quickly relieved him of.

Josh Barnett (Heavyweight)

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Won

    UFC 36 (March 22, 2002)

     

    Who

    Randy Couture

     

    Lost

    Stripped of the title after failing a drug test.

     

    Analysis

    Barnett was seemingly sitting pretty. He won the UFC title in the final fight of his contract and had some serious leverage going into negotiations with UFC boss Dana White. Then a bombshell. Reports surfaced that Barnett had failed his post-fight steroid test

    For more than 10 years, the War Master was a nomad, going from promotion to promotion. Finally, earlier this year, he made his return to the Octagon. As he winds down a Hall of Fame career, Barnett, once again, has his eye on the top prize in the sport.

Ricco Rodriguez (Heavyweight)

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    Won

    UFC 39 (September 27, 2002)

     

    Who

    Randy Couture

     

    Lost

    UFC 41 (February 28, 2003)

     

    Who

    Tim Sylvia

     

    Analysis

    Once again, Couture came up short against a younger, bigger fighter. This time, unlike with Barnett, at least his opponent was clean.

    Rodriguez seemed to have the world at his finger tips. He had just turned 25 when he won UFC gold and was the supposed future of the sport, a big man who could grapple. But instead of continued glory, it was all downhill for the young champion. His time in the sun lasted just five months. 

Randy Couture (Light Heavyweight)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Won

    UFC 44 (September 26, 2003)

     

    Who

    Tito Ortiz

     

    Lost

    UFC 46 (January 31, 2004)

     

    Who

    Vitor Belfort

     

    Analysis

    Randy Couture, thought to be washed up and done, first beat Chuck Liddell for the interim title, then literally spanked Tito Ortiz to unify the belts. But he wasn't able to hold onto the title for long. A fluke cut stopped him in just seconds, giving former tournament winner Vitor Belfort his first (and last) taste of championship glory.

    Won

    UFC 31 (May 4, 2001)

     

    Who

    Pat Miletich

     

    Lost

    UFC 34 (November 2, 2001)

     

    Who

    Matt Hughes

     

    Analysis

    Say this much for Carlos Newton—at least he went out in glorious style. He seemed to have Hughes right where he wanted him, trapped in a fight ending triangle choke. But the challenger had a final trick up his sleeve.

    He lifted Newton high in the air and slammed him to the mat, knocking the champion unconscious. Just moments later, the power of the choke rendered him senseless as well. It was the greatest finish in UFC history. 

BJ Penn (Welterweight)

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    (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
    (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Won

    UFC 46 (January 31, 2004)

     

    Who

    Matt Hughes

     

    Lost

    Stripped of the title after leaving the promotion following a contract dispute.

     

    Analysis

    Penn saw big things for himself in Japan with K-1. He was willing to fight both in Japan and for the UFC ,but Zuffa refused to budge on that point. The parties ended up in court, with Penn being stripped of his title by a different kind of judge

Frank Mir (Heavyweight)

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Won

    UFC 48 (June 19, 2004)

     

    Who

    Tim Sylvia

     

    Lost

    Stripped of the title after a motorcycle accident left him unable to compete.

     

    Analysis

    The UFC gave Frank Mir more than a year to recover from his injuries, but the champion simply wasn't ready and the promotion was forced to move on. Three years later, a rejuvenated Mir would win the interim title to cap a remarkable return.

    Won

    UFC 46 (January 31, 2004)

     

    Who

    Matt Hughes

     

    Lost

    Stripped of the title after leaving the promotion following  a contract dispute.

     

    Analysis

    Penn saw big things for himself in Japan with K-1. He was willing to fight both in Japan and for the UFC ,but Zuffa refused to budge on that point. The parties ended up in court, with Penn being stripped of his title by a different kind of judge

Randy Couture (Light Heavyweight)

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    Won

    UFC 49 (August 21, 2004)

     

    Who

    Vitor Belfort

     

    Lost

    UFC 52 (April 16, 2005)

     

    Who

    Chuck Liddell

     

    Analysis

    Couture set matters right against Belfort, turning his white shorts pink with the champion's blood.

    Then it was on to a rematch with Liddell. The two were coming off the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter, and a huge new audience saw Liddell establish himself as the top 205-pounder of his era with a dynamic knockout win.

    Won

    UFC 44 (September 26, 2003)

     

    Who

    Tito Ortiz

     

    Lost

    UFC 46 (January 31, 2004)

     

    Who

    Vitor Belfort

     

    Analysis

    Randy Couture, thought to be washed up and done, first beat Chuck Liddell for the interim title, then literally spanked Tito Ortiz to unify the belts. But he wasn't able to hold onto the title for long. A fluke cut stopped him in just seconds, giving former tournament winner Vitor Belfort his first, and last taste, of championship glory.

Evan Tanner (Middleweight)

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    Tanner in action
    Tanner in actionJohn Gichigi/Getty Images

    Won

    UFC 51 (February 5, 2005)

     

    Who

    David Terrell

     

    Lost

    UFC 54 (June 4, 2005)

     

    Who

    Rich Franklin

     

    Analysis

    When Murilo Bustamante left the UFC for Pride in 2002, the promotion didn't bother crowning a new champion for three years. Tanner, more myth than man at this point, shattered David Terrell in the very first round. It was the last significant bout of Terrell's career.  

Georges St-Pierre (Welterweight)

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    (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
    (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Won

    UFC 65 (November 18, 2006)

     

    Who

    Matt Hughes

     

    Lost

    UFC 69 (April 7, 2007)

     

    Who

    Matt Serra

     

    Analysis

    When pundits say, "Anything can happen in MMA," this is the fight that makes them so confident it's true. Matt Serra was not supposed to beat Georges St-Pierre. But the combination of tiny gloves and the human brain makes anything possible—including the unthinkable.

Matt Serra (Welterweight)

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    Won

    UFC 69 (April 7, 2007)

     

    Who

    Georges St-Pierre

     

    Lost

    UFC 83 (April 19, 2008)

     

    Who

    Georges St-Pierre

     

    Analysis

    Serra was supposed to make his first defense against Matt Hughes after a heated season of The Ultimate Fighter. When a back injury postponed that fight, it opened the door for a rematch with St-Pierre. Serra was the most hated man in Canada that night, but fans left happy when GSP regained the title in his hometown.

Forrest Griffin (Light Heavyweight)

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Won

    UFC 86 (July 5, 2008)

     

    Who

    Quinton "Rampage" Jackson

     

    Lost

    UFC 92 (December 27, 2008)

     

    Who

    Rashad Evans

     

    Analysis

    Griffin, the hero of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, was already one of the sport's top-drawing cards. But the win over "Rampage" gave him a legitimacy the reality stars had been lacking. They could ascend to the top of the sport. Forrest, and then season two's champion, Rashad Evans, proved it beyond a doubt.

    Won

    UFC 65 (November 18, 2006)

     

    Who

    Matt Hughes

     

    Lost

    UFC 69 (April 7, 2007)

     

    Who

    Matt Serra

     

    Analysis

    When pundits say "anything can happen in MMA," this is the fight that makes them so confident it's true. Matt Serra was not supposed to beat Georges St-Pierre. But, the combination of tiny gloves and the human brain makes anything possible—including the unthinkable.

Rashad Evans (Light Heavyweight)

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Won

    UFC 92 (December 27, 2008)

     

    Who

    Forrest Griffin

     

    Lost

    UFC 98 (May 23, 2009)

     

    Who

    Lyoto Machida

     

    Analysis

    Evans' reign on top was short-lived. He beat Chuck Liddell to earn a shot and dispatched Griffin with a furiosu ground and pound assault that had the champion reeling. He waited for his opening for two rounds; when it came he was ready to pounce.

    But Evans was on a short rope. The Machida Era, all 350 days of it, was dawning. 

Mauricio Rua (Light Heavyweight)

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    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Won

    UFC 113 (May 8, 2010)

     

    Who

    Lyoto Machida

     

    Lost

    UFC 128 (March 19, 2011)

     

    Who

    Jon Jones

     

    Analysis

    It turned out there was a new kingpin waiting to take over the light heavyweight division. But it wasn't Lyoto Machida or his rival, Mauricio Rua. Jon Jones was the next big thing. At UFC 128, he proved it.

Cain Velasquez (Heavyweight)

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    HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 20:  UFC Fighter Cain Velasquez speaks at the UFC on Fox: Velasquez v Dos Santos - Press Conference at W Hollywood on September 20, 2011 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Won

    UFC 121 (October 23, 2010)

     

    Who

    Brock Lesnar

     

    Lost

    UFC on Fox 1 (November 12, 2011)

     

    Who

    Junior dos Santos

     

    Analysis

    Velasquez seemed likely to rule the heavyweight division for years. He still might. But he tore his rotator cuff in the Lesnar fight and aggravated it before his tussle with dos Santos.

    Now healthy, he has regained, and defended, heavyweight gold.

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