The Rich History of the Light Heavyweight Division

The Rich History of the Light Heavyweight Division

Jack MacCool|
June 06, 2022|

The Light Heavyweight Division has been home to some of the biggest and baddest names in the sport for as long as MMA has been around. In the early 2000s the 205 pound weight class was seen as the glamour division not only in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) but in MMA as a whole, with promotions like PRIDE FC and Strikeforce each playing host to some of the top talent the sport had to offer within the division.

Today the Light Heavyweight division has seen a renaissance of sorts, with its most dominant Champion, Jon Jones, vacating the belt, ushering in a new era of title winners and challengers. Or in current Light Heavyweight Champion Glover Teixeira’s case, a long-awaited second chance at glory, when he was able to dethrone Jan Blachowicz to claim the title last October–seven years after his first title shot.

Now in less than a week, Teixeira will put his belt on the line in his first title defence against an extremely dangerous Jiri Prochazka at UFC 275. Will the Light Heavyweight Division welcome a new Champion? Or will Teixeira prove the old guard still has it? Either way, fans are in store for some fireworks, and what better time to examine the history of the Light Heavyweight title than before a massive Championship fight?

The OGs of 205

The 205 pound division has seen many great champions during its lifespan, but the first champion was crowned in 1997, when Frank Shamrock defeated Kevin Jackson to become the first UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. At this time the weight class was not even referred to as Light Heavyweight yet, and was known as the Middleweight Title. Shamrock defended the belt four times before he retired in 1999.

After Shamrock retired, the vacant title match was set between Tito Ortiz and fellow Light Heavyweight legend Wanderlei Silva at UFC 25. Ortiz defeated Silva to win the belt before defending it five times. After the loss, Wanderlei would move to Pride, becoming their 205 pound champion and crafting his own legend through a vicious title reign in Japan.

After some inactivity from Ortiz, another ‘OG’ of the Light Heavyweight division would step into the spotlight when Randy Couture defeated Chuck Liddell for the interim title. Later that year, Couture defeated Ortiz in a unification belt to claim the undisputed title.

Then, 2004 would see a pair of high level title fights when Vitor Belfort claimed the crown by defeating out Couture at UFC 46. Just three months later, the two would rematch and Couture would regain the title via third round TKO.


Enter The Iceman

Chuck Liddell with his signature pose. Credits to: Getty Images
Chuck Liddell with his signature pose. Credits to: Getty Images

Chuck Liddell is one of the most well-known UFC stars ever. But his journey to the Light Heavyweight crown was not an easy one. Like numerous 205 pound stars of this era, Liddell would compete in both the UFC and Pride, racking up wins in each promotion before losing the interim title fight against Couture. After the loss, Liddell would attempt to win the Pride Light Heavyweight Grand Prix, where he would get a win over Allistair Overeem before losing to Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in the semifinal. After that, Liddell would return to the UFC and pick up back-to-back knockout wins, including a second round finish of former champion Tito Ortiz. From there, Chuck became the UFC’s biggest star. He coached in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter and defeated Couture at the end of the season to become the undisputed champion. From there, he’d defend the belt four times, with two of the defences coming against Ortiz and Couture. Unfortunately for ‘The Iceman’, his title reign would end at the hands of a familiar foe, Quinton Jackson, in May of 2007.

The Belt Becomes a Hot Potato

2007 saw multiple important moments for the Light Heavyweight division. Chuck Liddel finally lost his title by knockout after four defences when Quinton Jackson defeated him for the second time. But at the same time this was happening, Dan Henderson was making a name for himself on the other side of the globe in Pride. Henderson claimed the Pride 205 pound title when he finished Wanderlei Silva by KO in early 2007.

When the UFC purchased Pride’s assets in March of 2007, a unification bout was set up in order to find out which promotion’s Light Heavyweights truly were the best. The unification bout would see Jackson win a unanimous decision win over Henderson, unifying the titles and setting Jackson up for a fight with fan-favourite Forrest Griffin.

It was at this point that the belt became a hot potato of sorts, as no champion of this era could establish themselves as a dominant force with more than one defence of the title. Griffin would win it off of Jackson, then lose it to Rashad Evans by TKO. The then-undefeated Evans would go on to lose the title to Lyoto Machida in his first title defence. Machida would pick up a single defence of his title when he beat Shogun Rua by decision. Although we were welcomed into ‘The Machida Era’ with a lot of excitement, his one title defence came with a great deal of controversy as fans and pundits alike agreed that the judges saw the fight wrong. Rua and Machida would instantly run it back, and Shogun would pick up a violent round one knockout. Shogun’s first title defence would come against Jon Jones, and only then would the belt find a long-term home.


Jon Jones Takes Over The Division

Jon Jones broke every Championship record in the Light Heavyweight division. Credits to: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Jones broke every Championship record in the Light Heavyweight division. Credits to: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Jones’ first title opportunity came in 2011 against Shogun Rua after rattling off six wins in his first seven UFC fights. Jones would dismantle Rua, finishing the fight by third round by TKO. At just 23 years old, Jones was the youngest champion in UFC history and looked to dominate the Light Heavyweight division for years to come–and he did just that. Jones would rattle off wins over five former champions to begin his title reign. He beat Rua, Jackson, Machida, Evans, and Belfort in his first five title fights with just one of those coming by decision.

He then went on to defeat Chael Sonnen, Alexander Gustafsson, and Teixeira to bring his defence total up to seven. It was then that he would face his biggest rival and biggest challenge for the first time–Daniel Cormier. DC was a former Olympic wrestler who had won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix and held an undefeated professional record when he faced Jones in 2015. Jones would get the decision win over Cormier but their stories involving each other were far from over.

The Jones/Cormier Rivalry

Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier face off at UFC 214 weigh ins. Credits to: Esther Lin/MMA Fighting
Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier face off at UFC 214 weigh ins. Credits to: Esther Lin/MMA Fighting

Though he was hardly ever in trouble within the Octagon, the trouble in Jones’ life manifested itself outside the cage when he was involved in a felony hit and run shortly after his win over Cormier. He was stripped of the title on April 28, 2015. This led to Cormier and Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson fighting for the newly vacant title later that year. Cormier would defeat Johnson by submission to become the undisputed champion. This paved the way for another Cormier Jones matchup, but leading up to their rematch Cormier had to pull due to injury and was replaced by contender Ovince Saint Preux. Jones would defeat OSP by unanimous decision to win the interim title. It was then that the much-anticipated rematch between Jones and Cormier was scheduled to take place at UFC 200. Unfortunately for fight fans everywhere Jones was suspended for one year by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for a doping violation, meaning the rematch would have to wait.

Daniel Cormier after defending his Light Heavyweight title against Volkan Oezdemir. Credits to: Barry Chin-Globe Staff
Daniel Cormier after defending his Light Heavyweight title against Volkan Oezdemir. Credits to: Barry Chin-Globe Staff

In the meantime, while Jones was out, Cormier had been building his own legacy at Light Heavyweight. He defeated Alexander Gustafsson by split decision in his first title defence in an all time classic, followed by a non-title win over the great Anderson Silva at UFC 200 after Jones was pulled. After that, Cormier picked up another submission win over Anthony Johnson and at that point it was finally time for Jones and Cormier to share the Octagon again.

In their second matchup it was clear that Cormier had improved and was extremely prepared for the bout. It was a back and forth first two rounds with each fighter finding their own success. In the third round however, Jones landed a flush head kick that sent Cormier reeling. After the kick Jones finished it on the ground with brutal ground and pound to regain the Light Heavyweight title he had formerly held for so long. But yet again after the fight Jones found himself in hot water, having tested positive for an anabolic steroid. Jones was suspended by USADA and stripped of the title by the UFC. Cormier was then reinstated as champion and the result of the rematch was changed to a no contest. From there DC would defend the belt one more time against Volkan Ozedemir before moving up to heavyweight and knocking out Stipe Miocic to become a two division champion. Less than 200 days after winning the Heavyweight Championship Cormier would vacate the Light Heavyweight belt.

After serving his suspension from USADA, Jones returned to face Gustafsson for a second time for the now vacant 205 pound title. Jones would finish the Swede in the third round to reclaim the title once again. From there he would defend the belt three more times against Anthony Smith, Thiago Santos, and Dominick Reyes before vacating the belt in August of 2020 to focus on a move to heavyweight.


Post-Jones Era

Glover Teixeira became the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion in October of 2021. Credits to: Getty Images
Glover Teixeira became the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion in October of 2021. Credits to: Getty Images

With Jones finally out of the title picture, the UFC’s Light Heavyweight Division saw parity it had not seen in a long time. In the first vacant title fight since Jones left, the UFC pitted Dominick Reyes against Polish contender Jan Blachowicz. Reyes had beaten Jones in many people’s eyes and was thought to be the future of the division without Jones in it. Blachowicz had other plans however, as he outperformed Reyes en route to a knockout victory. Jan was the first champion of the post-Jones era, but many saw him as a transitional champion given his age.

Jan’s first title defence came against Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya, who many thought would become MMA’s next double champion and biggest star. It was Blachowicz though, who would use his patient counter striking and wrestling to out-point "The Last Stylebender" and win a decision.

Coming off the best win of his career, Blachowicz would face Glover Teixeira in his second defence. The 42 year old Teixeira would give Jan everything he could handle through two rounds, finishing him by choke in just over seven minutes. Teixeira had finally reached the top of the mountain a full seven years after Jones had beaten him.

Whether it’s the all-time greats like Jones, or the massive pay-per-view stars like Liddell and Jackson, the Light Heavyweight Division has been home to some of the best MMA has had to offer. Even as we move into a new era of contenders trying to make their name and build their legacy, the 205 pound division remains one of the best in the sport across multiple promotions. Now just days away, UFC 275: Teixeira vs. Prochazka will set the stage for the future of the sport’s glamour division.

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