Whenever there’s a Champion vs. Champion fight, the stakes are raised. At UFC 273, Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan will compete in the 13th UFC title unification fight in history. Let's take a look back at the previous 12 fights.
The title unification bout between Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor is still one of the biggest fights in UFC history. It involved the pound for pound #1 fighter in the world Jose Aldo taking on who would become the biggest superstar in MMA history Conor McGregor. Aldo became the WEC Featherweight Champion in November of 2009. When the WEC merged with the UFC in 2010, Aldo was upgraded from the WEC Feathweight Champion to the UFC Featherweight Champion. When Conor McGregor made his UFC debut, he made his intentions clear from the very start: He wanted to become a UFC Champion. McGregor had a meteoric rise and dominated his competition en route to a title shot. After finishing Denis Siver in January of 2015, McGregor hopped over the Octagon fence and got into the face of Jose Aldo. The UFC announced that McGregor would challenge Aldo for the Featherweight title at UFC 189. Just 11 days before their scheduled bout, Aldo withdrew from the contest after suffering a rib injury. Chad Mendes stepped in on short notice to fight McGregor for the interim Featherweight title. McGregor finished Mendes by TKO to become the interim Champion. A fight between McGregor and Aldo was rebooked for UFC 194, this time being a Champion vs. Champion bout. McGregor shocked the world as he finished Jose Aldo by knockout in just 13 seconds to become the Undisputed Featherweight Champion of the world. At the time, no one had defeated Aldo for nearly 9 years. McGregor needed only 13 seconds.
A dream fight between Tony Ferguson and Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was scheduled to take place in April of 2020 at UFC 249. The pair was supposed to compete 4x before this but the fight ended up getting cancelled every time. Every time a new fight was scheduled it became even bigger. It seemed like Khabib vs. Ferguson would finally take place at UFC 249 but the fight was again cancelled. This time it was cancelled for a reason no one saw coming: A global pandemic. After the spread of COVID-19 the world shut down and many international borders were closed. Khabib wasn’t able to leave Russia to enter the United States. When the UFC announced they would be bringing fights back, they set up an interim Lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje in May of 2020. This was the final nail in the coffin for Ferguson vs. Khabib, as Justin Gaethje went on to finish Tony Ferguson to become the interim Lightweight Champion. Gaethje refused to wear the interim title after finishing Ferguson, as he knew he had to defeat Khabib Nurmagoemdov to be considered the true Lightweight Champion. Gaethje received that opportunity at UFC 254 in October of 2020, as he would fight Khabib for the Undisputed Lightweight title. Khabib Nurmagomedov proved without a doubt that he was the best Lightweight fighter in the world as he submitted Justin Gaethje to remain the Lightweight Champion. After the fight was over, Khabib announced his retirement from the sport. He retired as the Undisputed Lightweight Champion and the pound for pound #1 fighter in the world.
After Tito Ortiz refused to defend his Light Heavyweight title against Chuck Liddell in early 2003, the UFC ordered an interim title fight between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. At the time, Liddell was on a 10 fight winning streak and had dominated the competition while Couture was coming off back to back TKO losses at Heavyweight. Many expected Liddell to dominate Couture but the opposite happened. Randy Couture became the first fighter in history to finish Chuck Liddell by TKO and became the interim Light Heavyweight title. Less than 3 months later, Ortiz decided to return to the sport and fight Couture for the Undisputed Light Heavyweight title at UFC 44. The 40-year-old Couture dominated Ortiz for 5 rounds to become the undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion.
After the UFC purchased Strikeforce in 2011, they acquired many of Strikeforce’s fighters. One of those fighters was the reigning Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz. The UFC set up a blockbuster Champion vs. Champion fight between Nick Diaz and UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 137. However, the fight was scratched after Nick Diaz failed to attend a press conference for the event. Instead, the UFC booked a Welterweight title fight between GSP and Carlos Condit at UFC 137. GSP suffered a knee injury and his fight against Condit was scratched. With GSP sidelined, the UFC ordered an interim title fight between Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz at UFC 143. Condit defeated Diaz in a close fight to become the interim Welterweight Champion. An undisputed Welterweight title fight was booked between Condit and the returning Georges St-Pierre at UFC 154. The fight took place in GSP’s hometown of Montreal, Quebec. It was an action-packed fight that saw Condit almost finish GSP, but GSP was resilient and went on to defeat Condit by unanimous decision to remain the Undisputed Welterweight Champion.
After Cain Velasquez’s trilogy fight against Junior dos Santos in October of 2013, he was hit with various injuries and was unable to defend his Heavyweight Championship. Velasquez was scheduled to return to action and defend his title against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 180 in November of 2014 in Mexico City. However, another injury forced Velasquez to withdraw. The UFC ordered an interim Heavyweight title fight between Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt at the event. Hunt showed success early on with his striking, but Werdum finished him with a flying knee out of nowhere to become the interim Heavyweight Champion. The UFC would return to Mexico City in June of 2015 at UFC 188 for an Undisputed Heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum. To the shock of many, Werdum won every area of the fight. He did what nobody thought could be done. He outworked Cain Velasquez and got him tired. Velasquez shot for a takedown in the 3rd round which Werdum capitalized on by securing and finishing Velasquez with a guillotine choke to become the Undisputed UFC Heavyweight Champion. Werdum is the man that ended the winning streak of Fedor Emelianenko and took the title away from Cain Velasquez. With this win, he etched his name as one of the greatest Heavyweights of all time.
In October of 2018, Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Conor McGregor in the biggest box office fight in UFC history at UFC 229. The event sold 2.4 Million PPV buys and remains the only UFC event in history that’s surpassed 2 Million PPV buys. After Khabib finished McGregor, a brawl ensued as Khabib Nurmagoemdov jumped over the fence to attack the cornermen of Conor McGregor. It was an ugly scene that led to a 9-month suspension for Khabib. During his suspension, the UFC ordered an interim Lightweight title fight between Dustin Poirier and reigning Featherweight Champion Max Holloway. Poirier defeated Holloway to become the interim Champion and earned a fight against Khabib Nurmagoemdov. Poirier and Khabib were scheduled to fight for the undisputed Lightweight title at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi. Khabib continued to show how superior he was compared to the rest of the division as he finished Poirier with a rear-naked choke to remain the Lightweight Champion.
When Israel Adesanya entered the UFC, you could immediately see that he was a different kind of striker than what we were used to in MMA. He came from the world of professional kickboxing where he accumulated a record of 75-5. After winning 5 consecutive fights in the UFC, he earned an opportunity to fight for the interim UFC Middleweight title against Kelvin Gastelum after the reigning Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker was sidelined due to an injury. Adesanya and Gastelum competed in an instant classic in a fight that pushed Adesanya to his limits. Adesanya won a hard fought battle to become the interim Middleweight Champion. This led to an undisputed Middleweight title fight between Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya at UFC 243 at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. This event set an all-time UFC attendance record at 57,127 fans. Adesanya looked flawless that night as he went on to finish Whittaker by knockout to become the undisputed Middleweight Champion.
When Matt Serra won Season 4 of the Ultimate Fighter in 2006, he earned a title shot against the Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre. Not many were giving Serra a chance, who was an 11-1 underdog. He was going up against the almighty Georges St-Pierre who was leading a new generation of martial artists. Serra shocked the combat sports world, when he finished GSP by TKO in the 1st round to become the Welterweight Champion. This was the turning point in GSP’s career, as he began to rebuild himself as a fighter. He started by defeating Josh Koscheck at UFC 74. Serra was scheduled to make his first title defense against Matt Hughes at UFC 79 after the two were opposing coaches on the 6th season of the Ultimate Fighter. However, an injury forced Serra off the card. GSP stepped in on short notice to fight Hughes at the event for the interim Welterweight title. GSP submitted Hughes to become the interim Champion in what was also a trilogy bout between the pair. After having the interim title wrapped around his waist, GSP removed the belt and said that the only way he’d consider himself as the true Champion was by defeating Matt Serra in a rematch. The rematch against Serra would take place at UFC 83 in his hometown of Montreal, Quebec. This was the UFC’s first event in Canada. The rematch went as many expected the first fight to go. GSP dominated Serra and finished him in the 2nd round to once again become the UFC Welterweight Champion.
In February of 2008, former WWE Superstar Brock Lesnar made his UFC debut against Frank Mir at UFC 81. This was a major event for the UFC as many people were watching MMA for the first time. Brock Lesnar immediately charged towards Frank Mir when the fight began and started to attack. Referee Steve Mazzagatti halted the action after Lesnar hit Mir with punches to the back of the head. This was the turning point of the fight as Lesnar lost momentum. When the fight restarted, Mir secured and finished Lesnar with a kneebar, handing him the first loss of his professional career. Lesnar rebounded from this loss by defeating Heath Herring at UFC 87. Brock Lesnar was such a box office draw that the UFC granted him with a Heavyweight title shot against Randy Couture after just one win in the UFC. This was a return fight for Couture who was going through contract issues with the UFC, after trying to secure a fight against Fedor Emelianenko outside the Octagon. Before Couture decided to return to the UFC to fight Lesnar, the UFC had booked an interim Heavyweight title fight between Frank Mir and Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira. Both Lesnar and Frank Mir both finished their title fights by 2nd round TKO which set up a rematch between the two for the undisputed UFC Heavyweight title. The rematch would take place at UFC 100 which at the time was the biggest blockbuster event in UFC history. Lesnar avenged his loss to Mir by finishing by TKO to become the undisputed UFC Heavyweight Champion.
After Brock Lesnar defeated Frank Mir at UFC 100, he was scheduled to defend his title against the undefeated Shane Carwin at UFC 106 in November of 2009. However, Lesnar was forced out of the fight after suffering diverticulitis. With Lesnar sidelined due to the illness, the UFC put on a fight for an interim Heavyweight title between Shane Carwin and Frank Mir at UFC 111. If Carwin won, we would see the fight that was originally scheduled for UFC 106. If Mir won, we’d see a trilogy fight between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir. Carwin pummeled Mir with uppercuts and finished him to become the interim Champion. He earned an opportunity to fight Lesnar for the undisputed title at UFC 116 in July of 2010. Up until that point, Carwin had finished every opponent he had fought by 1st round knockout. It looked like he was going to continue that streak against Lesnar when he rocked him in the 1st round. Lesnar stayed composed while Carwin emptied the tank. Carwin would enter the 2nd round for the first time in his career against Lesnar. He came into the 2nd round as a depleted fighter. Lesnar took him down and finished him with an arm triangle choke. This fight earned Lesnar a tremendous amount of respect from the fight world as he proved he could take punishment, recover, and come back to win. It proved he was a true fighter.
After Conor McGregor defeated Jose Aldo to become the UFC Featherweight Champion, the division was left in limbo. McGregor was scheduled to move up in weight to challenge for the Lightweight title but instead fought Nate Diaz in back to back fights in the Welterweight division. With the Champion out of the division, the UFC set up an interim title fight between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar at UFC 200. Aldo defeated Edgar to become an interim Champion. After McGregor won the UFC Lightweight Championship in November of 2016, it was clear that he wouldn’t be returning to the division. This forced the UFC to strip McGregor of his title and upgrade Aldo from the interim Champion to the undisputed Champion. At the same time, Max Holloway was scheduled to fight Anthony Pettis for the interim Featherweight title at UFC 206. After Holloway defeated Pettis, he would go on to challenge Jose Aldo for the undisputed Featherweight title at UFC 212. This fight was certainly the most unique in terms of how we got to an undisputed title fight. Holloway went on to finish Aldo to become the Undisputed Champion.
When Francis Ngannou defeated Stipe Miocic to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion, it seemed like Ngannou was going to be an active Champion that regularly defended his title. However, Ngannou was going through contract issues with the UFC and did not fight Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 as the promotion wanted. Just 4 months after Ngannou became the Champion, the UFC announced that Derrick Lewis would fight Ciryl Gane for the interim Heavyweight title. Gane was a prodigy and a former training partner of Francis Ngannou. He finished Lewis to become the interim Champion. After it seemed like Ngannou would hold the title for a long time, Cyril Gane came out of nowhere and became the biggest threat to the division. Ngannou and Gane were set to compete for the undisputed Heavyweight title at UFC 270 in January of 2022. Ngannou did in his fight against Gane what he had never previously done in his career. He won a fight by decision. With this win, Ngannou handed Gane the first loss of his professional career and left no doubt that he was the undisputed best Heavyweight fighter in the world.