The UFC light-heavyweight division has produced some of the most feared and revered athletes in mixed martial arts to date. Legends lit up the Octagon in the golden era of the 205 lbs wight class and stamped their authority in a killer’s row. UFC gods like Tito Ortiz, Frank Shamrock and Chuck Liddell created legacies as famous as the sport itself.
Nowadays, the crop remains strong with the likes of Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones stealing MMA headlines; the former has arguably earned the GOAT status at 205 lbs whilst the latter was on a journey to becoming be the purest talent the UFC has ever seen. The relationship between these two arch rivals can vouch for an entire chapter alone, but we’ll leave that story for another time.
Here are our picks for the top 10 UFC light-heavyweight fighters of all time … do you agree?
1. Daniel Cormier
He had his first fight in the Light heavyweight division just weeks before his 35th birthday, so it may be surprising to some that Daniel Cormier is one of the best Light Heavyweights to ever fight in the UFC. After finishing Patrick Cummins and Dan Henderson, the then-undefeated Cormier was given a title shot against Jon Jones at UFC 182.
Cormier fell short of beating Jones, but was able to win the title in his very next fight after Jones was stripped of the belt. Since then he has beaten Anthony Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson, Anderson Silva and Volkan Oezdemir, and even at 39, Cormier has shown no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Watch Daniel Cormier’s highlight reel:
2. Jon Jones
Jon Jones entered the UFC in 2008 as an undefeated 21-year-old, and went on to become the youngest ever UFC titleholder in history at just 23 when he defeated Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua at UFC 128. He then took what was a stacked, competitive division and turned it on his head after walking through every contender the division had to offer.
This included fighters like Lyoto Machida, Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Alexander Gustafsson and Daniel Cormier. Personal transgressions have haltered Jones’ legacy in recent years, though, and he was recently suspended after testing positive for banned substances.
Here are Jon Jones’ career highlights:
3. Tito Ortiz
One of the original light heavyweight kings, Tito Ortiz was the face of the UFC during the early and mid-2000s. Ortiz won the UFC Light Heavyweight belt at UFC 25 after he defeated Wanderlei Silva via decision.
He became the most successful Light Heavyweight champion ever after five title defences (a record which has since been broken by Jon Jones). He lost his title to Randy Couture at UFC 44, but continued to fight in the UFC until 2012 before moving to Bellator to continue his career.
Watch footage of Ortiz in his prime:
4. Chuck Liddell
Before the UFC became fully mainstream, there was no striker as famous or as feared in the Octagon as Chuck ‘the Iceman’ Liddell. Liddell had a 12-1 MMA record before he got the chance to fight Randy Couture for the Interim Light Heavyweight title at UFC 43.
Liddell lost the match but won the belt two years later after defeating Couture in a rematch. He then defended the belt against Jeremy Horn, Couture, Renato Sobral and Tito Ortiz before losing it to Quinton Jackson at UFC 71.
Here are some of Chuck’s best UFC moments:
5. Randy Couture
Yes, Couture gets mentioned in this list twice, but as a two-time UFC Light Heavyweight champion, his double inclusion is certainly well deserved. After he won the UFC Heavyweight belt twice, Couture moved down to 205 pounds and defeated Tito Ortiz to win the title at 40 years of age.
He controversially lost the title to Vitor Belfort in his first defence, but won it back for a second time at UFC 49. Couture eventually moved back to the Heavyweight division, where he won the title again before retiring from the sport in 2011.
Watch video highlights of Randy Couture in action:
6. Anthony Johnson
For someone who fought just eight of their 28 fights at light heavyweight, Anthony Johnson’s inclusion in the list may come as a surprise to some. After being released from the UFC in 2012 after weight issues (from fighting as a welterweight), Johnson returned to the UFC two years later in a division more suited to his size.
He made his UFC light heavyweight debut against top ranked Phil Davis and beat him via decision before beating Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Alexander Gustafsson via first round knockout. He lost against Daniel Cormier twice – both Light Heavyweight title challenges – and announced his retirement from MMA immediately after the second loss.
See Rumble’s greatest UFC moments:
7. Frank Shamrock
The first ever UFC Light Heavyweight championship holder, Frank Shamrock was a pioneer of what would become one of the most distinguished divisions in UFC history to date. Shamrock won the newly created title (then known as the Middleweight championship) on his UFC debut in 1997.
Shamrock then successfully defended the belt three times in 1998 before he made his fourth and final defence against Tito Ortiz at UFC 22. He then fought sporadically in other organisations before making his retirement from the sport in 2009 after a four-fight stint in Strikeforce.
Frank Shamrock’s career highlights on video:
8. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua had a stellar career in Pride, and continued it when he was signed by the UFC back in 2007. After controversially losing his title challenge against Lyoto Machida at UFC 104, Shogun was given an instant rematch against the fellow Brazilian at UFC 113, and won the belt after finishing Machida in the first round.
He lost the title in his first defence against Jon Jones, and has had a mixed record in the Octagon since. However, Shogun is currently riding a three-fight win streak and is still ranked in the top ten of the light heavyweight division more than ten years after making his UFC debut.
Watch Shogun in action:
9. Alexander Gustafsson
He made his UFC debut at just 22 years of age, but youth did not stop Alexander Gustafsson from making an instant splash in the UFC Light Heavyweight division. After beating the likes of Mauricio Rua, Thiago Silva and James Te-Huna, the Swede was given a championship fight against Jon Jones at UFC 165.
While he lost that fight, Gustafsson gave Jones the toughest challenge of his career, and some fans even believed he deserved the victory. Gustafsson has since had victories over Jimi Manuwa, Jan Blachowitz and Glover Teixeira, which has kept him as one of the top contenders at 205 pounds.
Here are Gustafsson’s best MMA moments:
10. Lyoto Machida
Lyoto Machida made his UFC debut in 2007 with a fair amount of hype, as he had an undefeated record which included victories over Rich Franklin and Stephan Bonnar. The Brazilian won his first seven UFC fights, which included opponents like Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans (whose first defeat came against Machida).
The streak led to a title shot against Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua at UFC 104, which Machida won via decision to win the UFC Light Heavyweight belt. Machida later moved down to the Middleweight division, where he had an unsuccessful title challenge against Chris Weidman at UFC 175.
Watch video highlights of the Dragon in action: