UFC had a great, albeit weird 2015.. The year had 41 events and 20 title fights, but also saw seven of the 10 weight classes’ champions lose their belt.
Champions usually only defend their title two or three times a year, so 2015 really highlighted how quickly the mixed martial arts world changes.. It’s even more odd when you consider how long some of the dethroned champions had held their title.
On Dec. 12 at UFC 194, two champions lost their belts in back-to-back fights. First, Chris Weidman (13-1) of the middleweight division put his title on the line against challenger Luke Rockhold (15-2). After a back and forth first couple of rounds, Weidman seemed to find his groove in the third round until he attempted an ill-advised spinning kick. Rockhold saw it coming and took advantage of it, throwing Weidman to the floor and using vicious ground and pound to bloody Weidman’s face. It was shocking that referee Herb Dean didn’t stop the fight then, but he probably wanted to give the former champion the benefit of the doubt since it was late in the round. There was no recovery in the fourth round for Weidman though, as Rockhold eventually finished the job to win via technical knockout and claim the title. Weidman had been undefeated prior to the bout and had held the title since July of 2013.
In the following fight, Jose Aldo (25-2) put his featherweight belt on the line against Conor McGregor (19-2). With several months of buildup and debate as to who would emerge victorious, it was one of the most highly anticipated fights in UFC history. The result was rather anticlimactic though, as McGregor only needed 13 seconds to knock Aldo out. Before the fight, Aldo had been the only UFC featherweight champ in history, officially holding the title since November of 2010.
Holly Holm (10-0) shocked the world with an upset win over the immensely popular Ronda Rousey (12-1). Similar to Aldo, Rousey had been the only champion of the women’s 135 pound division prior to the fight against Holm. Prior to the fight, there was talk of Rousey being an unstoppable force and with the amount of hype surrounding her, Rousey bought into it by saying that she had plans to retire undefeated. That idea disintegrated when Holm tenderized Rousey for a round with her superior boxing skills before knocking her out cold with a kick to the head early in the second round, and Rousey lost the title she had held since February of 2013.
Jon Jones (21-1) losing his belt was a completely different case. He didn’t lose his title inside the Octagon, he lost it in a non-fighting manner when he was involved in a hit-and-run earlier in the year. Jones struck a 25-year-old pregnant woman, who suffered a broken arm from the accident. Jones’ car was a rental and contained a pipe with marijuana inside it. He had defended his belt against Daniel Cormier (17-1), the current UFC light-heavyweight champion back in January and was set to fight Anthony Johnson (20-5) in May before the incident. Jones had held his belt since March of 2011 and will attempt to win it back in 2016.
Cain Velasquez (13-2), another long-time champion, lost his UFC heavyweight champion status to Fabricio Werdum (20-5-1) on June 13 at UFC 188. Velasquez started his second stint as champion of the heavyweight division in December of 2012 but only defended it twice in that span due to numerous injuries. His third title defense of that run didn’t go the way he had hoped, as Werdum beat him up on the feet for two and a half rounds before submitting him with a guillotine choke. Velasquez was given an immediate rematch which will take place Feb. 6, 2016.
Former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis (18-3) was upset by current champion Rafael dos Anjos (25-7) at UFC 185 on March 14. Dos Anjos destroyed Pettis over the course of five rounds with a suffocating game-plan, which included beating him in the standup and on the ground and ending his title reign which began in August of 2013.
Last but not least, Carla Esparza (10-3) had only held the women’s strawweight title for a few months which she earned when she beat Rose Namajunas (4-2) in The Ultimate Fighter 20 finale in December of 2014. Pettis wasn’t the only fighter to lose his title at UFC 185, as Esparza saw her short title reign come to an end at the fists of Polish striker Joanna Jedrzejczyk (11-0) one fight prior. Esparza tried to use her wrestling to take Jedrzejczyk down but could not. That left her a fish out of water on the feet against Jedrzejczyk, who knocked her out late in the second round.
The only three champions to retain their title through 2015 are Robbie Lawler (26-10) of the welterweight division, T.J. Dillashaw (12-2) of the bantamweight division and Demetrious Johnson (23-2-1) of the flyweight division.
Lawler will attempt to defend his belt on Jan. 2, 2016 against Carlos Condit (30-8) and Dillashaw will try to retain his title against former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (20-1), who only lost his belt due to multiple injuries.
Johnson, the only UFC flyweight champion ever, doesn’t have a confirmed fight upcoming yet, but has held his title since September of 2012, the new longest reign of any current champion.
After the madness that 2015 brought on UFC champions, it will be interesting to see how many can hold their belt in 2016.