Each Current UFC Champion's Greatest Performance
There are currently nine UFC champions, and a 10th will soon be determined in the women's strawweight division. While all the UFC titleholders are now at the top of their weight classes, they each took very different paths to get to where they are today.
For light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, greatness seemed to come easy. The 205-pounder quickly climbed to the top of his division and only recently faced serious adversity in a close decision win over Alexander Gustafsson.
Meanwhile, Demetrious Johnson's road to the top was much rougher. Mighty Mouse hit some speed bumps in the bantamweight division, where he was noticeably undersized. However, the addition of a 125-pound division allowed Johnson to thrive, and he is now considered one of the most talented fighters on the UFC roster.
Other titleholders have different stories still.
Here are the current UFC champions and their greatest performances inside the Octagon.
Greatest Performance: vs. Junior dos Santos at UFC 166
In his first clash with Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez was knocked out in the first round. Then, in a rematch only 13 months later, Velasquez responded with a dominant performance over five rounds.
That set up a rubber match that went down only 10 months following the rematch.
With the fighters split through two championship bout meetings, Velasquez and Dos Santos were battling to determine the future of the heavyweight division in October 2013. The winner would have a good chance to dominate the weight class, while the loser would have a tough time working his way back to the top as long as the other was reigning.
Ultimately, the third bout looked much like the second.
Velasquez battered Dos Santos in the clinch, spending more than 16 minutes controlling the Brazilian along the fence while working his dirty boxing. In a trilogy that was expected to be very competitive, Velasquez landed 274 total strikes while absorbing only 62 from Dos Santos.
Heading into that matchup, Dos Santos was widely viewed as the clear top contender in the heavyweight division. So, Velasquez's destruction of Cigano showed that he has the potential to rule the heavyweight class for years now.
Greatest Performance: vs. Mauricio Rua at UFC 128
Although he's still only 27 years old, Jones has already had too many great outings to count on one hand.
With title defenses against former champions Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort, the light heavyweight titleholder almost has too many outstanding showings to pick from. However, Jones dethroning of Mauricio Rua still stands as his greatest work inside the Octagon.
Jones' other victories were very impressive in their own ways, but his win over Shogun was a little more special. In stomping the Brazilian, Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history, a record he continues to hold.
While Rua has declined recently, he was at the height of his career heading into that March 2011 meeting with Jones. In his prior outing, Shogun became the first and only fighter to knock out Machida. However, Rua became 205-pound champion at the wrong time to have plans of holding onto the belt very long.
By beating Ryan Bader at UFC 126, Jones earned a title shot one month later. Bones took advantage of the opportunity by demolishing Rua in all areas to claim the spot he still owns atop the light heavyweight division.
In more than 12 minutes in the cage with Rua, Jones absorbed only nine significant strikes while dishing out more than 100 total strikes and scoring three takedowns. It was one of Jones' most dominant performances despite coming against an MMA legend.
Greatest Performance: vs. Anderson Silva at UFC 162
Chris Weidman's best performance is and likely always will be his first meeting with Anderson Silva.
With only eight UFC appearances under his belt, Weidman probably has several great outings in front of him. However, it's going to be hard to top dethroning the greatest champion in UFC history.
Silva entered his initial bout against Weidman with a 16-0 record inside the Octagon. Widely considered the best fighter MMA had ever seen, The Spider didn't appear to be slowing down either.
For six minutes, it was what the MMA world had come to expect from a Silva bout. The Brazilian taunted Weidman incessantly while looking for holes to open up. However, those holes never presented themselves before Silva was clipped with a left hook early in the second round.
The unconscious MMA legend crashed to the canvas, which left the crowd silenced.
While Silva's antics caused some to shrug off Weidman's win, no previous opponent had been able to take advantage of The Spider's low hands. Weidman went on to beat Silva again and may never have to defend his championship against the Brazilian again.
Greatest Performance: vs. Robbie Lawler at UFC 171
A newly crowned champion, Johny Hendricks is still looking for a signature performance that stands out above the others.
Right now, a nod has to be given to Bigg Rigg's championship-clinching win over Robbie Lawler. However, opening-round knockouts against Jon Fitch and Martin Kampman as well as his near dethroning of Georges St-Pierre, even though it ended in a loss, could also be considered in this discussion.
It was far from his most dominant performance, but Hendricks still impressed in a decision win over Lawler at UFC 171. Not only did it earn Hendricks the welterweight belt, but the bout remains a leader for 2014 Fight of the Year based on the amount of action the 170-pounders packed into 25 minutes.
Hendricks and Lawler combined for more than 300 significant strikes across five rounds. It was tightly contested throughout, but a late Hendricks takedown in the final round sealed the scorecards for the Oklahoman.
With a recent win over Matt Brown, Lawler earned a rematch with Hendricks. Should the champion find a way to finish Lawler this time around, it would likely become the new greatest performance of his career.
Greatest Performance: vs. Benson Henderson at UFC 164
Anthony Pettis has had several solid performances, but two stand out, and both came against Benson Henderson in championship bouts.
The elite lightweights originally met under the WEC banner in a bout that will always be remembered for the Showtime Kick that sealed Pettis' decision victory. While that may forever be the standout moment in Pettis' career, his best overall outings came inside the Octagon.
When the WEC lightweight division joined the UFC roster, Henderson eventually became champion, while Pettis took a longer road to the top. In August 2013, Pettis did have a second run-in with Henderson and won more swiftly in the rematch.
Pettis landed some heavy kicks to force a Henderson takedown in the first round. Showtime then quickly locked up an armbar to capture the 155-pound championship, which he is now preparing to defend against Gilbert Melendez.
Greatest Performance: vs. Chad Mendes at UFC 142
Undefeated since November 2005, Jose Aldo isn't short on great performances.
From his win over Mike Brown to capture the WEC 145-pound championship to his thigh-smashing win over Urijah Faber to retain that belt, Aldo has had multiple outings that could reasonably be considered his personal best.
For me, Aldo's most impressive showing came against Chad Mendes in Brazil. One of the better wrestlers Aldo had faced, Mendes was thought to have the skill to take away the champion's striking. It didn't work out that way, though.
Mendes failed to secure a takedown at UFC 142 in January 204, and he paid for it by eating a brutal knee in the closing seconds of the first round. The knockout was followed by Aldo running out of the Octagon and crowd surfing with his home fans.
Greatest Performance: vs. Renan Barao at UFC 173
Only one bout removed from a loss to Raphael Assuncao, TJ Dillashaw was widely expected to be another notch in Renan Barao's belt heading into UFC 173.
Heading into that defense of his bantamweight championship, Barao had not lost in more than nine years. With multiple wins over Dillashaw's Team Alpha Male teammate, Urijah Faber, Barao looked to be a fighter who wasn't losing his belt anytime soon.
Then, Dillashaw shocked the MMA world in May 2014.
Dillashaw didn't only win—he dominated Barao. In all five rounds, Dillashaw landed more strikes than the Brazilian and ultimately finished the Nova Uniao product with strikes in the fifth stanza.
On August 30, Dillashaw and Barao will go at it again. Despite the quick turnaround, it's hard to imagine Barao not coming more prepared this time around.
Greatest Performance: vs. Joseph Benavidez at UFC on Fox 9
Johnson has not lost since moving to the 125-pound division, but that hasn't freed him from criticism.
His first four flyweight bouts went to the scorecards, which gave Mighty Mouse a reputation as a fighter who lacked finishing ability against high-level opposition. Just as those critiques began to grow louder, though, Johnson silenced them.
First, the flyweight champion scored a submission in the fifth round of a title defense against John Moraga. However, that finish still left some critics questioning Mighty Mouse's knockout power.
Heading into his rematch with Joseph Benavidez, Johnson was hardly expected to score his first knockout win in the 125-pound division. His previous meeting with Benavidez went to a split decision, and the Team Alpha Male fighter had never been knocked out in his prior 22 MMA bouts.
Nonetheless, Johnson went out and put Benavidez away with punches in around two minutes. Showing he had the ability to stop opponents whether standing or on the ground, Johnson finally began to become recognized as one of the best fighters in MMA following that December 2013 victory.
Greatest Performance: vs. Miesha Tate at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey
It seems so long ago already, but there was a time when Ronda Rousey wasn't sitting atop the women's bantamweight division.
Before Rousey became the face of women's MMA, Miesha Tate was Strikeforce's 135-pound female champion. Only four fights into her UFC career, Rousey was given an opportunity to challenge Tate in March 2012, and that matchup would take women's MMA to a whole new level.
A solid wrestler in the women's bantamweight division, Tate was viewed as an opponent who might force Rousey to stand. Back then, Rousey was simply locking up armbars in the opening round against every opponent she faced. Tate, being more proven than any of Rousey's prior adversaries, had a shot at changing that and dragging the judoka into deeper waters.
Tate ultimately did end up looking better against Rousey than anybody else had, but that still wasn't enough. With 33 seconds remaining in the first frame, Tate suffered the same fate as all of Rousey's foes had, as she was caught in an armbar and submitted.
While Rousey would go on to beat Tate again inside the Octagon, the women's bantamweight champion hasn't had a win as meaningful and impressive as her crowning performance under the Strikeforce banner. That initial win over Tate launched Rousey's career and ended up changing MMA forever.