THURSDAY TOP FIVE: Top 5 Fighters who successfully changed weight classes

By Matthew Peterson, MMATorch contributor

Frankie Edgar (photo credit Gary A. Vasquez © USA Today Sports)

This Saturday, John Dodson and John Lineker battle it out to see who moves up in the Bantamweight Title picture.  Both fighters have experienced great success at 135 pounds despite moving up a weight class, a move not usually met with such success.  Dodson has established himself as one of the fastest fighters in the Bantamweight Division and Lineker is a tank who can wade through enemy punches to land his own.  Here is my list of the top 5 fighters who also found such success after changing weight classes.

5.  Joseph Benavidez

In some parallel universe, Joseph Benavidez is a two-title champion at both 135 and 125 lbs.  He is one of the most successful fighters in the world at both weight classes but cannot seem to make that final step to being a champion.  At bantamweight, he held a record of 14-2 with the two losses coming to Dominick Cruz.  When the UFC created its new Flyweight Division, he was one of the participants in the four man tournament and won his first fight before losing a close split decision and the inaugural title to Demetrious Johnson.  Benavidez would then win three straight, earning another shot at Johnson’s belt where he was knocked out in the first round.  Following that, he has won five straight and gained a coaching position against Henry Cejudo on The Ultimate Fighter.  The two will fight in December and the winner will arguably gain another shot at the Flyweight Title. 

4.  Urijah Faber

It was difficult to rank Faber more successful in his career than Benavidez, but I went with Faber simply because he has held a major title at one point in his career.  From the start of his MMA career in 2003 and going until November 2008, Faber held a record 21-1, winning the WEC Featherweight Title and defending it five times.  He seemed to be unbeatable until he met Mike Brown, losing via knockout in the first round.  Faber would fight Brown again and lose via decision.  When Brown lost his title to Jose Aldo, Faber would face the new champion at the WEC’s first and only PPV event.  Aldo picked Faber apart with leg kicks and brutal Muay Thai, winning via decision.  Following the loss, Faber dropped to bantamweight.  He would go 10-6 at the new weight class but lost all of his UFC title bouts and most recently, his fight with young talent Jimmie Rivera.  Faber may be slowing a step as the years roll on but he has proven himself as a tough out for any opponent in either division.

3.  Frankie Edgar

Edgar established himself as a dangerous lightweight fighter with very technical wrestling as well as fast and dangerous boxing.  He would go 12-1 and gain himself a title fight against B.J. Penn at UFC 112.  Edgar was seen as a giant underdog as Penn was believed to be unbeatable at 155 lbs.  Edgar would win a very close decision over Penn and win the Lightweight Title.  Penn was given a rematch due to the close nature of the decision and Edgar would go on to dominate him at UFC 118.  Edgar would fight Gray Maynard to a draw at UFC 125 and then knock him out in the rematch at UFC 136.  After losing his title to Benson Henderson and failing to gain it back in the rematch, Edgar dropped down to 145 lbs.  He was given an immediate title shot against champion Jose Aldo where he lost a close decision.  Following the loss, Edgar would win five in a row and gain a shot for the interim featherweight title against Aldo at UFC 200.  Edgar lost the decision but looks to make a quick return to action against Jeremy Stephens at UFC 205. 

2.  Daniel Cormier

Cormier had a wildly successful amateur wrestling career in high school and college after which he made the Olympic team twice.  Following the end of his wrestling career, he took up MMA and began training at the American Kickboxing Academy.  He would go 7-0 in his MMA career before entering the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament.  He won his reserve bout against Jeff Monson and was placed in the tournament when Alistair Overeem was removed.  Despite his size disadvantage, he would knock out Antonio Silva in the first round.  Following the KO, he took on Josh Barnett in the tournament final and won a dominant decision.  He would win three more fights at heavyweight before dropping a weight class as he would not fight then-heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez due to being on the same fight team.  He won two fights at 205 lbs before taking on champion Jon Jones, losing an entertaining but one-sided decision.  When Jon Jones was suspended following a hit and run accident, Cormier took on Anthony Johnson for the vacated championship.  Despite being knocked down in the first round, Cormier would roar back and submit Johnson in the third.  He would defend his title against Alex Gustafsson and was set to take on Jones in a rematch at UFC 200.  When Jones dropped out due to a failed drug test, Cormier took on Anderson Silva on short notice and used his wrestling to win a one-sided fight.  Cormier awaits his next test, most likely a rematch against Johnson in the near future.

1.  Demetrious Johnson

Despite being quite undersized for the Bantamweight Division, Johnson opened his pro career going 14-1 before taking on Dominick Cruz for the UFC Bantamweight Title.  Johnson used his speed to outbox Cruz before Cruz began utilizing his wrestling and taking Johnson down at will.  Johnson lost the decision to Cruz and dropped down when the UFC created the Flyweight Division.  Johnson would go to a draw against Ian McCall but would come back and win the decision in the rematch.  He won a close split decision to Joseph Benavidez to earn the inaugural Flyweight Title.  Once Johnson gained the title, he would establish himself as the dominant flyweight fighter in the world.  His speed and wrestling outclassed nearly every opponent he has fought since becoming champion and he has strived for the finish until the final second of each fight.  John Dodson and Benavidez were the only fighters to come close to taking Johnson’s title and he would dominate both fighters in rematches.  Johnson’s next challenge will come from The Ultimate Fighter where flyweight champions from promotions around the world compete for the chance to fight Johnson at the TUF Finale in December.

And on a side note…

Dishonorable Mention.  B.J. Penn

B.J. Penn will always remain as an MMA pioneer, fighting at any weight class and becoming one of only two men to hold UFC titles in two weight classes.  He established himself as one of the most dominant Lightweight Champions until he lost his title to Frankie Edgar.  Following the loss, he dropped a decision in the rematch and decided to move up to Welterweight to complete his trilogy against Matt Hughes.  He knocked out an aging Hughes.  He fought to a draw against Jon Fitch where he gassed badly in the third round and was beaten badly by Nick Diaz in a fight where Diaz soundly outboxed him.  Penn then dropped off into retirement, only to come back and request a fight with welterweight contender Rory MacDonald.  MacDonald punished Penn for all three rounds, beating him badly enough for fans and UFC president Dana White to call for Penn to retire.  Instead, Penn would drop two weight classes to featherweight for a third fight against Frankie Edgar where he was picked apart and demolished in three rounds.  He blamed his performance on nutritionist Mike Dolce and talked of retirement once again.  In a disappointment for fans everywhere, Penn is now slated to fight at featherweight again, this time against contender Ricardo Lamas in the Philippines this October.

(Matthew Peterson is an MMATorch contributor who has been a fan of MMA since he first watched UFC 100.  He currently resides with his wife in St. Cloud, Minn.  He believes that Chris Lytle was God’s gift to fight fans and Cowboy Cerrone comes in at a close second.  He can be reached at or on Twitter @mattpete1088.)

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