Going into UFC 203, there is a lot of pressure on UFC Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic. Not only is he defending his newly won title for the first time in his hometown, he will be fighting for a goal no one has achieved: defending the UFC Heavyweight Championship three times. It is a feat all previous UFC Heavyweight Champions have fallen short of in their attempts. If Miocic loses the belt at UFC 203, he will join a long list of fighters who were poised for lengthy title reigns, only to lose their championships right out of the gate in their first defenses. As Miocic prepares to make a run for the goal of three title defenses, let’s examine the Top 10 One Hit Champions.
10. Rashad Evans
After his decisive and iconic victory over Chuck Liddell at UFC 88, every MMA fan knew in their collective hearts that Rashad Evans had to fight for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship next. It was simply an inevitably for the division. Evans got that chance at UFC 92, where he fought then-champion Forrest Griffin. In spite of a rocky start where Griffin used his range to pick Evans apart for the first two rounds, Evans eventually gained the upper hand, where he scored a TKO victory over Griffin in the third round to win the Championship. With how impressive his victories over Liddell and Griffin were, Evans seemed poised to remain champion for an extended period of time. However, then came Lyoto Machida, who had rushed through the Light Heavyweight Division in an exciting and dynamic way. At UFC 98, these two undefeated fighters fought over the belt, and it was Evans who suffered his first career defeat when he was knocked out by Machida in the second round. It was a crippling loss for Evans, who would never reach those same heights of skill and popularity again.
9. Carla Esparza
Being crowned the first champion in the history of a UFC division is a big deal. If given the opportunity, a fighter can solidify their legend in the history of MMA, and it arguably leads to improvements in training. Dominick Cruz was the first UFC Bantamweight Champion, and it lead to him being a greater fighter. Demetrius Johnson was (and still is) the first UFC Flyweight Champion, and he has progressed to become one of the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Carla Esparza found herself in a similar situation when she won the first UFC Strawweight Championship. The odds were in her favor to have a solid and lengthy run at the top of the division for a long period of time. Unfortunately for her, all that changed when she ran into a freight train named Joanna Jędrzejczyk. In their bout at UFC 185, Jędrzejczyk used her elite striking to her tremendous advantage, eventually scoring a TKO over Esparza to become the second ever UFC Strawweight Champion. She has gone on to have the type of title reign that many believed Esparza would have. Unfortunately for Esparza, it was just not meant to be.
8. Forrest Griffin
The funny thing about Forrest Griffin is that he had a rather hit-or-miss start to his UFC career. He went 4-2 in his first six UFC fights, including a loss in his legendary fight against Tito Ortiz (which many believed he won). After his knockout loss to Keith Jardine, Griffin really turned his career around, improving his overall game to score victories over the likes of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Quinton Jackson, the latter of which won him the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. Despite some obstacles, Griffin positioned himself to be a long-reigning Champion in the division by scoring some important victories and dramatically improving his skills. But then, he hit a bump in the road named Rashad Evans. At UFC 92, Griffin would lose his Championship to Evans in the third round, despite winning the first two rounds. It was a bittersweet moment for Griffin, who would go on to have reasonable success (and heartbreaking losses) in the Light Heavyweight division.
7. Johny Hendricks
The rise of Johny Hendricks through the UFC Welterweight Division was among the most quiet in recent MMA history. Fans of the sport were unable to witness his greatness on a grand stage until UFC 141, where he knocked perennial contender Jon Fitch out in the first round with one punch. From there, Hendricks would progress to a title fight with victories over fighters like Josh Koscheck and Martin Kampmann. At UFC 167, Hendricks lost his title fight against Georges St-Pierre, although many believed he won. After GSP vacated the Championship, Hendricks was put into a title fight against Robbie Lawler to crown the new Champion at UFC 171. In a hard-fought victory, Hendricks was able to defeat Lawler to become the new UFC Welterweight Champion. The two would rematch at UFC 181, where Hendricks would lose a tedious decision to Lawler, and lose the belt in the process. Following this defeat, Hendricks would go on to defeat Matt Brown, but then lose in convincing fashion to Stephen Thompson and Kelvin Gastelum. Hendricks has had one of the biggest declines from Champion to near-irrelevancy in recent memory. At least he can remember that at one point in his career, he was the UFC Welterweight Champion.
6. Miesha Tate
The most recent pick on this list, Miesha Tate’s rise to the top of the division was a notorious one. Her rivalry with Ronda Rousey is unquestionably the best feud in women’s MMA history, and despite losing both their fights, Tate consistently remained in the title conversation because she was so impressive in all her other fights. After Rousey lost her Championship to Holly Holm, Tate found a new lease on life, and found herself in a title fight against Holly Holm at UFC 196. Tate would find success in spurts during the fight, but Holm was ultimately winning up until the last round. In a daring move, Tate got inside Holm’s range and managed to take her down and choke her out cold, finally becoming the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion. It was a “feel good” moment for Tate and her fans, who were all ecstatic to see her finally achieve her goal after being such a great ambassador for women’s MMA for so long. The moment did not last long, however, as Tate would lose the title very soon after. At UFC 200, Tate would defend her title for the first time against perennial contender Amanda Nunes. Tate, who has historically been a late starter in her fights, could not handle the intense pressure from Nunes, who would beat down and submit Tate in the first round to win the belt. It was a heartbreakingly short title run for Nunes, who had worked so hard to achieve that goal, only for it to be taken away so soon after.
5. Holly Holm
No one saw the rise of Holly Holm coming. Despite her renowned striking skills and likeable nature, no one thought she would make any splashes in the Women’s Bantamweight division, especially after her uninspiring victories to begin her UFC career. Yet, to the surprise of everyone in the world, Holm shocked the world when she defeated Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 to win the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship. Not only did she defeat Rousey, she put a beating on her that rivals any beatdown in MMA history. It was extremely impressive, and it gave Holm all the attention and pressure to follow up the performance with the same level dominance. This would not happen, as Holm’s first defense came against the aforementioned Miesha Tate at UFC 196. Holm would lose the title in her first defense, and follow it up with a lackluster loss to Valentina Shevchenko. Holm had her moment in the sun, and it came against one of the most popular and dominant fighters in MMA history. Despite losing her title right out of the gate, at least she can always look back and know that she was the one to knock the Ronda Rousey hype train off its tracks.
4. Luke Rockhold
After a rocky start to his UFC career (i.e. getting his head kicked in by Vitor Belfort in his debut), Luke Rockhold was able to get his feet under him in the best way possible. Rockhold would win four in a row against the likes of Tim Boetsch, Michael Bisping and Lyoto Machida, all victories in extremely impressive fashion. To cap off the winning streak, Rockhold would defeat Chris Weidman at UFC 194 to win the UFC Middleweight Championship. Given how dominant Rockhold had been in fights previous, and how convincingly he took the belt, mant fans believed that Rockhold would hold the belt for a great length of time. Then, everything changed at UFC 199, where Rockhold would defend the title for the first time against Michael Bisping, who was replacing an injured Chris Weidman. Despite only having ten days to prepare and that he lost to Rockhold before, Michael Bisping shocked the MMA world when he scored a first round knockout over Rockhold to become UFC Middleweight Champion. It is arguably the biggest upset in MMA history, and it is definitely nowhere near the title reign fans thought Rockhold would have.
3. Fabricio Werdum
Despite returning to the UFC after a loss to current top contender Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum wasted no time establishing himself at top of the Heavyweight division. Werdum began his latest UFC run by devastating Roy Nelson in an exciting decision win, and followed up the performance with impressive wins over fighters such as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Travis Browne and Mark Hunt. Finally, at UFC 188, Werdum’s career-defining moment came when he submitted Cain Velasquez to become UFC Heavyweight Champion. Due to his improved MMA game and his run of dominance atop the division, many believed Werdum would stay in that position for a long time. However, all of that came crashing down when Werdum fought Stipe Miocic at UFC 198. In a fight many thought Werdum would dominate, Miocic shocked the world when he used crisp boxing and movement to knock Werdum out cold to capture the UFC Heavyweight Championship. It was an odd performance from Werdum, who cost himself the chance to become the longest reigning UFC Heavyweight Champion in history.
2. Cain Velasquez
Back in 2010, Cain Velasquez positioned himself to be a major player in the UFC’s heavyweight division for years to come. He held a perfect 8-0 record, and was coming off an impressive first round knockout over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. With this momentum, Velasquez challenged then-UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar for the belt. Despite being a rather small heavyweight compared to Lesnar, Velasquez still managed to take the fight to Lesnar, stopping Lesnar in the first round via severe punishment to become Champion. At this moment, Velasquez was untouchable. Unfortunately for Velazquez, the moment in the sun did not last long, because injuries kept Velasquez out of the spotlight for a year. Upon his return, he was set to defend his championship against top contender Junior dos Santos. Sixty-four seconds into his return, Velasquez was caught with a massive overhand right from JDS that sent him careening toward the mat, ending his title reign in extremely short order. Velazquez would go on to have copious success in the Heavyweight division, where he would dominate JDS two times to get his revenge, and in the process, regain the Heavyweight Championship. Velasquez’s reign over the Heavyweight division seemed like an inevitability early on in his UFC run. However, it just took longer for him to get there than anyone expected.
1. George St-Pierre
Out of everyone who has ever won a championship inside the UFC, Georges St-Pierre was the one who had the highest upside to defend his or her belt for historical lengths. After his decimation of Matt Hughes in their second fight, GSP won the belt and had not only the momentum, but also the pressure, to walk into any fight and destroy whoever was across the cage from him. GSP would get to this point, but not before encountering a hurdle named Matt Serra. After winning The Ultimate Fighter season four, Serra would go on to defeat GSP by first round knockout to win the UFC Welterweight Championship in one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. The story of the night was less focused on Serra winning, but more on GSP losing. GSP would go on to make a major rebound and assume his destined position as the best welterweight of all time, but it took him two attempts instead of one, and that is why he is the most notorious one hit champion in UFC history.
Are there any One-Hit Champions we missed? Any you agree or disagree with? Comment down below and let me know!
(Chris Moore is a new MMATorch contributor who will write a weekly in-depth Top Ten List on a particular subject in the Specialists section of MMATorch. He has been passionate about MMA since 2009.)