Nowadays when someone is called ‘champion’, you expect that person to defend his or her title at least once. That’s the unspoken rule. To be considered a champion, you have to have had at least one successful title defense.
Unfortunately for some fighters, they obviously didn’t get that memo. There are a handful of, so-called ‘champions’ in UFC history that failed to defend their belts. Can they be considered champions, when it all comes down to it? It’s difficult to say. It really depends on your definition of a champion.
Some of the guys (and girls) on this list have all had some sort of excuse for not being able to defend their titles. Let’s take a look at 7 UFC Champions Who Never Defended Their Titles.
#1 Randy Couture (Heavyweight)
Back in 1997, UFC legend Randy Couture won the heavyweight title with a unanimous decision. “The Natural” put on the performance of a lifetime for over 20 minutes, when back then the UFC only had a single round to determine a winner. Couture was awarded the UFC heavyweight title for his efforts.
But before he could defend his title, Couture was stripped of the belt following a contractual dispute. Then UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz had a rift with Couture and tried to renegotiate contract terms with the heavyweight. However, Couture didn’t like what he was offered and chose to leave the company instead of taking a pay cut.
#2 Bas Rutten (Heavyweight)
Legendary MMA figure Bas Rutten defeated the late Kevin Randleman in 1999 towards the end of his career. Winning by split decision in extremely controversial fashion. Despite Randleman dominating for an entire 21 minutes, Rutten bizarrely took home the win. It turned out to be “El Guapo’s” last fight for the promotion however.
Shortly after winning the heavyweight title, Rutten vacated the belt for a proposed middleweight showdown with Frank Shamrock. What he didn’t count on were injuries that would inevitably force him to retire.
#3 Josh Barnett (Heavyweight)
Title defense woes continue at heavyweight even during the UFC’s most recent days. At UFC 36 in 2002, heavyweight Josh Barnett defeated Randy Couture to win the title. But was soon after stripped of the belt due to a failed drug test.
Barnett thought he had it all planned out and that everything was going his way. He captured UFC gold in the last fight on his contract. And had some serious leverage going into contract negotiations with Dana White. However, that’s when everything went downhill for Barnett who found out he failed a post-fight doping test.
#4 BJ Penn (Welterweight)
“The Prodigy” BJ Penn, one of only a handful of fighters to have won two UFC titles in two different weight divisions, captured the UFC welterweight title in 2004 with a victory over Matt Hughes. But again due to another contract dispute, Penn opted to leave the UFC instead of defend his belt.
At the time, Penn saw huge opportunities fighting overseas in Japan. He was willing to compete both in Japan and in the UFC. But the UFC refused and instead took his title away by force.
#5 Frank Mir (Heavyweight)
When Frank Mir beat Tim Sylvia for the UFC heavyweight title in 2004, he looked poised to go on a terrific title run as champion. However, a motorcycle accident left him unable to compete. Talk about tough luck.
Mir had no choice but to vacate his title despite being given over a year to rehab from his injuries. The UFC was forced to move on from Mir, even though he was clearly the world’s best heavyweight at that point.
#6 Germaine De Randamie (Women’s Featherweight)
After winning the UFC’s inaugural women’s featherweight title with a victory over Holly Holm, Germaine De Randamie was on top of the world. But everyone know who the real player in the featherweight division was. It was Cris “Cyborg” Justino, who patiently waited in the wings for her shot at UFC hardware.
When Dana White tried to make the De Randamie vs Cyborg bout however, De Randamie refused. White tried to push and push for the bout to happen, but De Randamie constantly denied and did not want any part of Cyborg. The UFC had no choice but to strip De Randamie of the title due to her unwillingness to defend the belt.
#7 Conor McGregor (Featherweight)
“The Notorious” Conor McGregor won the UFC featherweight title after shocking the world with a 13 second knockout of Jose Aldo. But instead of going on to defend that belt or fight Aldo in a rematch. McGregor instead pursued two welterweight bouts against Nate Diaz.
After dealing with Diaz, McGregor went on to a lightweight title bout against Eddie Alvarez. Soon after, he became the UFC’s only simultaneous two-division champion. But the fact remained that McGregor still held the featherweight belt with no intention of defending it.
McGregor refused to let go of the 145 lb. title.
With the featherweight belt on the shelf for more than a year however, the UFC finally put their foot down on McGregor and stripped him of the belt, much to his chagrin.
Today, McGregor still holds the lightweight belt but if he doesn’t defend it soon, he might get stripped once again. Will he defend the lightweight belt? Only time will tell. Tell us what you think.