“You can’t hold them both.” UFC President Dana White said, “He’ll have accomplished this, and then he’ll have to figure out which one he wants to give up. You can’t tie up two divisions for that long.” This was in 2016 before Conor McGregor‘s UFC 205 victory at the historic Madison Square Garden crowning him the first simultaneous two-division champion. At UFC 259, Israel Adesanya has an opportunity to become the UFC’s 8th double champion. And what the heck will the UFC do with another double champion? What does the champion want and what does UFC history have to say?
Double Champions in History
Nigeria’s Israel Adesanya, middleweight champion, has an amazing opportunity at UFC 259 to defeat reigning Polish light heavyweight champion, knockout artist, Jan Blachowicz. In their last fights, Adesanya and Blachowicz both fought at UFC 253 on Fight Island. If Adesanya were to defeat Blachowicz he would join a list of such greats as Randy Couture, BJ Penn, Conor McGregor, Georges St-Pierre, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo. Couture, Penn, and St-Pierre were not simultaneous double champions but instead held two titles at separate times.
Dana White had frequently said that the UFC does not do double champions. “If he wins, he’ll hold two belts, and then he’ll decide which one he’s going to give back to me.” In no uncertain terms, the UFC was not in business to allow a champion to try to defend two championships. And they rarely allowed champion vs champion match-ups to happen, UFC 94,St-Pierre vs. Penn being a special occasion. In the 28 year history of the UFC, 70% of UFC double champions have happened in the past five years.
The Champ-Champ Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor was the first simultaneous double champion and was stripped of his featherweight title two weeks after winning his lightweight title, in November 2016. All the while this is a surprise to McGregor himself, “You ain’t doing nothing without contacting me first. I’m still the two-weight world champion.” McGregor says he was never contacted about this first and insists he would have defended two belts, telling Ariel Helwani, “I would’ve went in and would’ve slapped [Max] Holloway or this guy he’s fighting, or [Jose] Aldo, or whoever they wanted. No problem. All they had to do was ask. Instead, they created an interim belt. They gave back the unified belt to a guy I KO’d in 13 seconds.”
What we see clearly in this situation is that the double champion wants to defend in two divisions however the UFC has hard rules saying that one cannot be a two-division champion, that’s the rule, that’s the precedent.
Double Champion Daniel Cormier
Almost exactly two years after McGregor was stripped of his featherweight title double champion Daniel Cormier was allowed to hold and defend two championships, setting a record becoming the first UFC fighter to defend two championships, in November 2018. Cormier, the former Olympian, path to double champion status is a bit unique. Quick summary; light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was stripped, Cormier won the vacant title, defended twice. Jones came back and defeated Cormier, the fight was overturned due to a Jones drug test failure, and the title was given back to Cormier. Unlike McGregor he didn’t want it, “I don’t want this title,” he said in 2017. Cormier afterwards defended the title again then went to heavyweight, won a championship and defended once. When Jones was set to return Cormier relinquished his light heavyweight title.
What makes this situation a bit different than the McGregor situation is the UFC didn’t have another champion after Jones to hold the title. At featherweight in 2016 they already had an interim champion, while in 2018 the belt was stripped from Jones as the fight was ruled a no-contest, so the previous champion gets the title.
Double Champions Amanda Nunes & Henry Cejudo
However, just a month after this, December 2018, Brazil’s Amanda Nunes becomes a double champion simultaneously when she knocks out featherweight champion Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino. The GWOAT, Nunes has defended both championships multiple times and is looking to again this weekend at UFC 259. Why is Nunes allowed to defend both? It likely has to do with the health of the divisions. Women’s bantamweight is historically quite strong, while featherweight is a bit weaker. For example, women’s featherweight on the official UFC top 10 rankings has only one fighter, just Nunes listed.
UFC flyweight champion, and Olympic gold medalist, Henry Cejudo moved up in weight to win the vacant bantamweight title in 2019. This was after defeating bantamweight champion at flyweight TJ Dillashaw, who was later stripped of his bantamweight title. Akin to McGregor Cejudo was stripped of one of this championship, which was later changed to relinquished. He was not allowed to defend both.
UFC 259 and Israel Adesanya
If Adesanya becomes a double champion he has stated he wants to defend both championships, “Middleweight’s mine, middleweight is my perfect weight class. So when I do 205, I’ll just hold up that division once in a while that’s all. I’ll defend my belt when it’s time.” Like McGregor, who was stripped, he is clearly stating he will hold and defend both titles. And, like the Nunes situation, health of the division may impact the UFC’s decision. Light heavyweight has two fighters in it’s top five who aren’t coming off losses, the top contender clearly being 41 year old Glover Teixeira, who is on a five-fight win streak. Middleweight has an upcoming clash between Paulo Costa and former champion Robert Whittaker. If Whittaker were to win this fight and earn a re-match against Adesanya, Whittaker and Adesanya combined would have completely defeated the entire middleweight top 5 and 8 of the top 10.
Historically we could assume Adesanya would be stripped of his titles, as we’ve seen with McGregor and Cejudo. However, due to the health of both divisions, it would be conceivable that Adesanya is allowed to hold and defend both titles, as he intends to do, as we’ve seen with Cormier and Nunes. There is precedent for both. In other words, we don’t know how Dana White and the UFC will act. Again, I ask, what the heck is the UFC going to do with another double champion?
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