It has been a hugely surprising (and mostly demoralizing) year so far for the UFC champions who started 2016 with a gold belt wrapped tightly around their waste. Of the ten champions, seven have already lost their titles. Having a UFC gold belt wrapped around your waist is the pinnacle of the fight game for most fighters, yet there are actually very few people who can say that they are, without a doubt, the best in the world at what they do.
We all know that the UFC has created a culture of entertainment, spectacle, and amazing moments, but is it truly the ultimate in competition, the best of the best, meeting to decide who the leading fighter in the world really is? A few short years ago there was no doubt in most weight divisions. With GSP, Anderson Silva, and the emerging Jon Jones, that left very few to question if they were, at that particular time, the greatest in their respective weight divisions.
But with over half of the champions that started the year losing their titles already, are the new champions really the best in the world? Did they really deserve their opportunity at the belt in the first place? When they captured the belt, were they just a fortunate product of circumstance or did they get lucky with one punch or did they have it given to them through their opponents foolishness or arrogance?
This two part article looks at all the UFC weight divisions and the champions and asks: Is the champion really the best in the world? Did they even deserve their shot in the first place? This is part one. Part two of this article will cover UFC’s other five titles and it will be published tomorrow.
Champion: Stipe Miocic
Stipe shocked Brazil when he sent Fabrico Werdum to sleep with a thunderous knockout in Curitiba, Brazil. He got his championship opportunity after he beat Mark Hunt in a five round, one-sided beatdown that you could barely call a fight. He knocked out Andrei Arlovski inside one minute. Added to that, he was involved in a razor thin decision loss to Junior dos Santos. So, it is fair to say that he deserved his shot at the belt, but that is mainly due to the merry go round of the UFC Heavyweight division. Even now, in 2016, no UFC Heavyweight Champion has ever managed to defend his belt twice, which is a testament to the knockout power that men their size possess, but also how no one single person has ever separated themselves from the pack.
Is Miocic the best in the world? Possibly. Having just won his title, he has a lot of work ahead of him to prove it. He certainly has his hands full in the next challenger Alastair Overeem. On a four fight win streak and having beaten Dos Santos and Arlovski himself, Overreem is certainly the most deserving challenger. Then after that you have a possible rematch with Werdum, and the phenom that is Cardio Cain Velasquez. If he survives all of that as champion, he will be without doubt the best. At the moment, the jury is still out.
Champion: Daniel Cormier
Of all the current UFC Champions, Daniel Cormier is probably the one who feels the unluckiest. One of the best MMA practitioners in either Heavyweight or Light Heavyweight, Daniel Cormier will be seen as the man who is second best in the division until he gets his rematch with Jon Jones.
DC earned his title when the Champion Jones managed to get himself stripped of the title and suspended from the company. He fought for the vacant belt against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. He then beat Alexander Gustafson to defend his title. Next, he was all primed for the big rematch against the only man who ever defeated him, Jon Jones, on the biggest stage of them all, UFC 200. Of course, we know that the bout never came to pass because Jones failed his USADA drugs test and was pulled from the bout just three days before the event.
He then went to fight Anderson Silva, who many believe is the greatest MMA fighter of all time, dominated him for all three rounds, and was then booed by the audience. Talk about not catching a break.
Is Cormier the best in the world? Yes he is, as long as Jones is not in the division. Unfortunately for him, through no fault of his own, many fans will never truly see him as the true champ until he gets his shot at redemption, but that may never come to pass.
Champion: Michael Bisping
Michael Bisping is the feel good story of MMA. A guy who has been around the sport from the early days, who had come through the Ultimate Fighter when it was interesting (wow, that was a long time ago) and had fought everyone. For years he could never get over the hump. Time after time, in a no. 1 contender bout, Bisping would fall just short. Then the stars aligned, and he was called up on short notice to fight Luke Rockhold after Chris Weidman had to pull out from the fight due to injury.
Did Bisping earn his title shot? We all know that Bisping, at the time, should have been nowhere near a title fight. The UFC’s number 1 back up choice was Jacare Souza, but for some reason they asked Rockhold who he would want to fight. Like most fighters, Rockhold knew that Bisping could talk a good game and build up hype for the fight on short notice and therefore secure a bigger payday rather than fight the unheralded but extremely dangerous Souza. His confidence was buoyed by the fact that he had already beaten Bisping in Australia, sending him crashing to the floor and submitting him with a Guillotine choke. The old adage “be careful what you wish for” came to pass, as Bisping got his revenge and knocked out Rockhold in the first round.
Is Bisping the best in the world? I don’t think so. I believe that Weidman, Rockhold, and Souza are better fighters. For his first defense, he has chosen to fight Dan Henderson, a 45 year old who, since UFC 157 in February 2013, has a record of 3 wins and 6 losses. If he fights two of the first three names, then I might start believing, but right now, fighting Henderson, no chance in hell.
Champion: Amanda Nunes
Amanda Nunes destroyed Meisha Tate at UFC 200 to become the promotion’s fourth Bantamweight Champion in four consecutive fights. With Rousey in her self-imposed hiatus, the division is in a state of upheaval with everyone seemingly able to beat everybody else.
Nunes was given her opportunity, somewhat surprisingly, after a three fight win streak, and she took full advantage. Holly Holm, after beating Rousey in the first place, was not given her rematch after she lost the title to Miesha Tate.
Until Rousey returns, I doubt Nunes will ever be seen as the true champion or until she pulls out a nightly impressive win streak. With the momentum that the division had earned while Rousey was the champion before falling to the vicious left headkick, it seems somewhat surprising that the unheralded Nunes was given her shot.
Is Amanda Nunes the best in the world? We simply have to wait and see until Rousey returns or retires. Until then, the whole division is in a state of flux and is a mess entirely of the UFC’s making.
Champion: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Jonna Jedrzejczyk is a star in the making and UFC knows it. Rarely have you seen the promotion get behind one of their athletes like Jedrzejczyk. She is a smart, engaging woman, who is as violent an athlete as you will see.
Undefeated in 12 MMA fights, she made a mockery of season 20 of the Ultimate fighter as we were told time and again that the women in the house were the best in their weight class in the world. Carla Esparza won the season and, with it, the Strawweight belt, and then got a one-sided beating by Joanna who had never been in the Ultimate Fighter season which rendered the season all rather pointless.
Is Joanna Jedrzejczyk the best in the world? Joanna Champion is the best in her division, make no mistake about it. Claudia Gadelha has run her extremely close both times they fought, but will have to continue to evolve her game and her stamina if she wants to rip the title away from Jedrzejczyk. Everyone else in the division seems a little too one dimensional or not good enough all around in order to be a credible threat.
Up Next: The other five men’s weight divisions. Are the current champions the best? Get my take tomorrow.
(Christopher King of Arundel, England is a new MMATorch contributor. He got hooked on MMA after watching UFC 114 featuring “Rampage” Jackson vs. Rashad Evans and from there, he says, “I spent a ridiculous amount of money and time watching every event from UFC 1 up to the present so I could understand the history of the sport, the fighters, the weight divisions and everything else in between. It was the style of fighting that drew me in, in order to see what martial art was the most effective, and from there, the fighters themselves, their story, their training and the sacrifices that they go through.” Follow him on Twitter – @ChristofKing)