For a moment, it looked like the UFC 294 card was doomed after both Charles Oliveira and Paulo Costa pulled out of their main and co-main event fights against Islam Makhachev and Khamzat Chimaev, respectfully. However, after some fantastic matchmaking by the UFC, two short-notice replacements were found and the card was revamped just eleven days before fight day.
UFC Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will be moving up to 155 once again to fight Islam Makhachev in their highly anticipated rematch, and Kamaru Usman, the former Welterweight king, will be making his debut at 185 lbs to fight Khamzat Chimaev in the co-main event. In the main, and co-main events alone, three out of the four fighters will be fighting one weight class above their traditional weight. In the past, we've seen a lot of fighters have success with this strategy, and with some of these fighters, a move up could prove to be very beneficial to them.
Today, we will be going over ten fighters who benefitted the most by moving up a weight class.
When "The Reaper" made his debut in the UFC following The Ultimate Fighter in 2012, he competed as a Welterweight. From his time at 170, Whittaker amassed a record of 2-2, with losses against Stephen Thompson and Court McGee. Robert Whittaker's career changed when he decided to move up to Middleweight, and he become the future Hall of Famer he is through his time at 185. He captured the Middleweight title and defended it against Yoel Romero but ultimately lost it to Israel Adesanya. Whittaker has always been a staple of the Middleweight division, one of the greatest of all-time, and has fought the best of the division.
Believe it or not, Dustin Poirier was once a hot commodity at 145. Despite going 8-3 at 145, Poirier could never get past the "elite" of the divison, with losses to the likes of Chan Sung Jung, Cub Swanson, and his last loss in the division being against McGregor. Ultimately, Poirier's size and frame was fitted much better at 155, where he became the superstar he is today. He's fought twice for the UFC title, fought for a BMF title, has fought numerous former champions and had a rivarly for the ages with Conor McGregor that resulted in two of the top selling PPV events ever.
The newly crowned Middleweight champion started his career as a Welterweight. Strickland did not possess the "personality" he has today, and he was a lot lesser known at the time. Ultimately, his move to Middleweight in 2020 resulted in an immediate five fight win streak and his popularity begun to rise. Strickland earned a title shot against Israel Adesanya and shockingly upset the champion when nobody gave him a chance. Strickland is right in the middle of his prime and seems like he has a lot to give still, which exemplifies that moving up was the best thing for his career.
Despite having a better record when he fought at 155 than at 170, Jorge Masvidal likely would never have become the massive superstar he did if he fought at Lightweight. Masvidal went 5-2 as a Lightweight in the UFC, and after he moved up, his run to the top was amongst the most special we've ever seen, putting together highlight reel knockout wins over Darren Till, Ben Askren, and Nate Diaz, which won him the BMF title. While Masvidal never won a UFC title, he is one of the baddest fighters to ever compete inside the octagon.
Unfortunately, Charles Oliveira isn't fighting this weekend, but he is a large reason as to why this article was written. Charles Oliveira's reputation as a Featherweight was someone who couldn't handle the high stakes moments, someone who folds under pressure. Labeled a "quitter," Oliveira seemingly looked for a way out of some fights, but that all changed when he moved up to Lightweight. After losing to Paul Felder, Oliveira went on an absurd twelve fight win streak, which included him capturing the Lightweight title. Oliveira has shut all doubts of him being a "quitter" aside, and has put on highly entertaining fights each and every time he competes. Charles Oliveira is a can't miss fighter.
While Daniel Cormier achieved an endless amount of success at both Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight, there was always the "Jon Jones" issue, at 205. Cormier was always at the top of the heap in the Light Heavyweight division but he was always overshadowed by his fiercest rival, Jon Jones. DC was an undefeated fighter when he first ran into Jones, who was the Light Heavyweight champion at the time. He suffered his first professional loss, by decision. After Jones vacated the title, DC defeated Anthony Johnson to win the vacant title, but was never really considered to be the champion simply because he lost to Jones. Cormier remained the champion in Jones' absence, until he returned at UFC 214, in which he became the first to knock Cormier out. Unfortunately, more problems arose for Jones, and that win was overturned to a No Contest. Daniel Cormier, with "two" losses to Jones, could never get out of his shadow, until he moved up to Heavyweight, and became a double champion, knocking out Stipe Miocic at UFC 226. Because Jon Jones could never defend his title consistently, Daniel Cormier, who was always considered to be the #2, erased those doubts by making history.
While Gilbert Burns had a pretty successful run at 155, going 7-3, he's similar to a lot of the other fighters on this list, in which he never captured his fullest potential and achieved all of the fame and glory until he moved up to Welterweight. As a Welterweight, Burns went on a four fight win streak, and was on a collision course with his longtime teammate and friend Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title. Burns ultimately came up short, but he is always a legitimate threat to the title with just how talented he is.
Dan Hooker started his UFC career as a Featherweight, straight out of the New Zealand MMA scene. At 145, Hooker could never really get a win streak going, earning a record of 3-3 by exchanging wins and losses. When he moved up to 155 in 2017, that changed. Hooker went on a four fight win streak, beating the likes of Jim Miller, Gilbert Burns, Marc Diakiese, and Ross Pearson all by a finish. After losing to Edson Barboza, Hooker went on another three fight win streak until he was stopped by a debuting Michael Chandler. Hooker has a 10-5 record at Lightweight, was likely one win away from a title shot and has gained so much popularity as a fighter.
It's crazy that someone as physcially gifted as Anthony Johnson, with the amount of power and athleticism he once had as a Light Heavyweight, used to compete down at Welterweight early on in his career. It was clear early on that Welterweight was not the right weight class for Johnson, as he missed weight several times in his career. Rumble went 7-3 as a Welterweight, but despite that, he ended getting released. A few years later, Anthony came back, this time as a Light Heavyweight. There, he went on a three fight win streak to earn a title shot against then champion Daniel Cormier for the vacant title. He was unable to capture the title, but fought on to fight the best light heavyweights in the world.
Thiago Santos is a rare breed on this list, like like Anthony Johnson becasue he moved up two weight classes. Santos started his career off as a Welterweight during his TUF days, and when he made it into the UFC he fought at Middleweight. It was clear that Santos was going to struggle making the weight and so after a 10-5 run at 185, it was time to move up to Light Heavyweight. When that happened, Santos destroyed his competition, amassing a three fight win streak en route to a title fight against Jon Jones. That fight against Jones really took its toll on the health of Santos, and so after a few losses he was cut from the roster. We know and recgonize Santos as a light heavyweight, and he earned a title shot in the weight class and proved to be a very difficult test for Jon, which came as a surprise to many.
Surely there are other examples of UFC fighters that benefitted by moving up a weight class, so leave a comment if we missed out on one!