This is a topic that’s been up for debate since Tito Ortiz was mowing through UFC competition circa 2000. During his MMA reign as champion, Ortiz defended his title five times, dismantling challengers, Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Elvis Sinosic, Vladimir Matyushenko and Ken Shamrock. The run leaves Ortiz in the history books as the 205 pound champion with the most consecutive successful defenses of the title, but one must weigh the level of competition and capabilities of your typical “a level” fighter in 2000. It’s not exactly a stretch to say that the game has evolved in a tremendous way, and fighters today are decisively more refined in their attack and overall fight IQ. However, I’m not aiming to discredit Ortiz’ run as champ either: he faced those assigned to challenge, and he did a fine job of disposing each one, until he ran into Randy Couture.
Couture in contrast was unquestionably one of the finest champions to compete in this sport. The man won multiple titles stretching multiple divisions. Throughout his career he projected a classy persona that led legions of fans to dedicate their time to following “The Natural”; few ever faltered in their fanaticism. While Couture will go down in the history books, it won’t be due to remarkable stretches as champion, it will come as a result of the odds he defied, the upbeat attitude always proffered, and his otherworldly game planning inside the cage.
While Couture was fighting to prove that age is little more than a number, both Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva were carving catastrophic paths through the divisions under two different promotional monikers, in two separate time frames.
Chuck Liddell proved to epitomize the fan favorite fighter. He packed power in both hands, both legs, a (then) unrivaled takedown defense and a chin built for punishment. He too defended the title on numerous occasions, falling short of Tito’s record five defenses, but falling behind by just one defense, having successfully retained the title on four separate occasions. During his stint as a champion, Liddell stopped all four of his challengers: Randy Couture, Jeremy Horn, Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Tito Ortiz.
Rewind a few years and you’re staring at Wanderlei Silva’s remarkable run through the Pride Fighting Championships light heavyweight talent pool. Wanderlei lie claim to the title in 2001, leveling Kazushi Sakuraba in brutal fashion. “The Axe Murderer” unleashed absolute havoc upon the Pride ranks for six years, picking up some amazing wins; Sakuraba twice over, Quinton Jackson twice over, Ricardo Arona, and Hidehiko Yoshida. The man, with very few occasions appeared human, and the world worshipped the bloodthirsty phenom.
There are some great prospects out there that look to possess the tools to not only win, but retain the 205 pound title. Jon Jones is quickly staking his claim as a future pound for pound king (he’s outclassed former champions Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in his last three outings alone, now defending the belt on two occasions), and Lyoto Machida’s style is so insanely unorthodox, that the future still looks as though Machida may be capable of bringing longtime dominance back to the Machida clan can he make the required adjustments to keep pace with the freakish Jon Jones.
At the end of the day, it’s virtually impossible to label the sports’ greatest light heavyweight champion. But there’s absolutely little doubt in my mind, that the men mentioned in this piece, must earn high consideration, from all fans.
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