There is no championship more prestigious in mixed martial arts than the UFC Championship. The prestige that comes with holding the big gold belt is part of the allure that comes with fighting in the UFC, despite challenger promotions having the ability to make increasingly competitive offers to top talent financially.
In spite of this, not all title reigns are created equal. While there are many cases of fighters such as Anderson Silva and Demetrious Johnson lighting their respective divisions on fire with title reigns of six years or greater, there are also fighters who acquire the title by extraneous, albeit legitimate means and were never able to capitalize on all that came with being champion. Aljamain Sterling is one fighter that comes to mind, though Sterling has since solidified his reign with convincing wins over two of the greatest fighters in the history of the division. Needless to say, opportunities to bet online on fighters such as Sterling are becoming increasingly pricy.
However, for every fighter like Sterling, there seem to be five more who did not quite deserve the prestige that came with being a UFC title holder.
In no particular order, here are five former non-interim UFC champions who didn’t quite deserve the crown.
Five Undeserving UFC Champions
Much like Carla Esparza did at 115 pounds, Nicco Montano won the honor of being named the UFC’s first-ever women’s flyweight champion by winning her season of The Ultimate Fighter. Unlike Esparza, however, Montano fought against a lesser level of competition. Only three of the original 16 women’s flyweights continue to fight for the UFC, though Montano did turn heads as the 14th-seeded fighter. Unfortunately, the finale proved underwhelming. Sijara Eubanks, the other tournament finalist, would be pulled from the fight on the day of the weigh-ins in what would become a recurring pattern over her career, only to be replaced by the woman she defeated in the semi-finals, Roxanne Modafferi. Montano defeated “The Happy Warrior” by way of unanimous decision to become the company’s first women’s flyweight champion.
Nine months later, weight-cutting issues hospitalized Montano ahead of her first title defense against future champion Valentina Shevchenko. Montano was promptly stripped of the championship, prompting the UFC to make a bigger fight between Shevchenko and former strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk. A subsequent USADA suspension put Montano further behind the eight ball, and by the time she fell to Julianna Pena in her lone MMA appearance since TUF, she became little more than a footnote in UFC championship history.
As the sitting UFC light heavyweight champion, Jamahal Hill has all the tools and intangibles in his repertoire to make his inclusion on this list look foolish in the coming years. However, the means by which he became UFC champion are entirely unique to him. In December 2022, Hill, the division’s sixth-ranked fighter per the official rankings, was scheduled to take on No. 5 Anthony Smith. However, the result of the main event of UFC 282, combined with UFC President Dana White’s dissatisfaction with the fight between Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev led to White impulsively booking former champion Glover Teixeira against Hill for UFC 283 in Brazil the following month. The booking pulled Hill out of his fight with Smith, a fighter ranked higher than him, and catapulted him into the limelight.
At UFC 283, Hill battered the 43-year-old Brazilian en route to becoming the legitimate champion of the division. However, a loss to Smith could have derailed Hill’s title hopes for more than a year, and declared victor in the Blachowicz-Ankalaev fight also would have taken Hill out of title consideration, at least temporarily. The Atlanta, Ga.-native needed a lot to go right for him to get the fight in the first place, and as the No. 6 fighter in the division as of just last month, there will be a need for Hill to continue to prove himself as champion, especially with lineal light heavyweight champion Jiri Prochazka lurking in the shadows.
Many have claimed Johny Hendricks was robbed by the judges against Georges St-Pierre at UFC 167, but when St-Pierre walked away from the sport later that night, Hendricks received another chance at glory. He made good on that opportunity by defeating Robbie Lawler in a close, exciting fight at UFC 171 that earned the challenger a rematch later that year. Unlike the first fight, Hendricks began to wane as the fight progressed, with Lawler taking the rematch and the welterweight belt by way of split decision.
Though Hendricks previously alluded St-Pierre using steroids in the build to their title fight, “Bigg Rigg’s” in-cage performances fell off a cliff following the rematch with Lawler, which also happened to coincide with the UFC’s introduction of USADA in 2015. While Hendricks has never tested positive for steroids or received a ban as part of the UFC Anti-Doping Program, he blamed his decline on the company’s decision to ban IV bags in order to discourage fighters from making massive weight cuts that sometimes border on 30 pounds or more the week of the fight. As a result, Hendricks’ critiques of St-Pierre have aged poorly with time. Moreover, the events following his fight with St-Pierre have long since overshadowed the impressive career he strung together prior to the fight. He is also one of five fighters to win their first UFC Championship coming off a defeat (Tito Ortiz, Kevin Randleman, Mauricio Rua, Daniel Cormier).
Germaine de Randamie
Germaine de Randamie compiled a meager 2-1 UFC record prior to fighting Holly Holm for the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight championship, but carried with her an extensive kickboxing background with 46 wins, zero defeats and 30 knockouts. As a result, a prospective title fight with Holm, a former UFC and boxing champion, should have produced fireworks. Unfortunately, the fight bombed both in the cage and on pay-per-view, and given Holm’s marketability, the fight was thought by many to be a set-up for Holm to lead the fledgling division. However, de Randemie had other ideas. The Dutch fighter not only etched her name in history as the first women’s featherweight champion, but she subsequently turned down a fight with Cris Cyborg due to Cyborg’s past use with PED’s.
As it turns out, the UFC had other ideas as well. The company stripped de Randamie of the championship shortly after her comments, while “The Iron Lady” subsequently announced a move back down to 135 pounds. The women’s featherweight title has been cursed ever since. For several years, the championship became an excuse for Cyborg to headline pay-per-views. Once Amanda Nunes finally defeated Cyborg for the belt, little changed with challengers mostly taking on the identity of those who wanted to fight Nunes, but did not want to cut to 135 pounds. As for “GDR,” her stance on being champion, while unique, ultimately made her one of the most undeserving champions in UFC history.
The case of Michael Bisping, middleweight champion, is unique as he is one of a small handful of first-time UFC champions to win the belt despite being generally considered to be past his prime. While some, like Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez, made a career out of getting to title shots while being unable to win the big one, Bisping made a career out of reaching title eliminator fights, but stumbling just before he could secure a title shot. However, “The Count’s” fortunes began to change once Chris Weidman became the champion of the division.
Even though he never reached a title fight with Anderson Silva during the champion’s prime, the Brit met up with Silva in his first fight back from a USADA suspension. Bisping flirted with disaster, but ultimately recovered to defeat Silva, picking up the biggest win of his career. Opportunity knocked just four months later, with incumbent champion Luke Rockhold, a fighter who already once beat Bisping, in need of a short-notice opponent for a headlining tilt in Sydney, Australia. Bisping answered the bell with a quick knockout of the champ, completing an improbable career arc that ultimately landed him UFC gold.
However, rather than fighting legitimate challengers, Bisping opted for “money” fights with Dan Henderson (46-years-old at the time and 13th in the rankings) and Georges St-Pierre, who ultimately defeated him for the belt. While Bisping cannot be faulted for trying to maximize his time on top, the fact that he came up short to most of his contemporaries (Chael Sonnen, a prime Henderson, etc.) before ultimately winning the belt also cannot be ignored.