Counting pay-per-views, Fight Nights, and all the events from UFC on ESPN to UFC on Versus, we are just over 550 UFC cards, so you can’t blame fans for feeling like they’ve seen it all. They have. However, in all of that time, there have only been five occasions where two active UFC champions have faced one another. That list grows to six this Saturday when Jan Blachowicz defends his light heavyweight title against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in the main event of UFC 259.
It takes a lot for these champ vs. champ matchups to manifest themselves and each comes with their own unique circumstances. Have the fighters cleared out their divisions, leaving a superfight as the only option? Is there so much star power involved that it’s worth pushing the rankings aside? Is it simply time to strike while the proverbial iron is hot?
After Blachowicz and Adesanya throw down, it will still be a while before we can even begin to analyze its ramifications, but by looking to the past we can get an idea of where it might one day stand among the UFC’s champ vs. champ fights.
With that in mind, here’s how the five previous such matchups stack up based on pre-fight hype, the outcomes, and their legacies, plus how much potential Saturday’s main event has to top the list.
5. Henry Cejudo vs. T.J. Dillashaw — UFC Brooklyn (Jan. 19, 2019)
Our most recent champ vs. champ fight opens the list, featuring the only fighter to attempt to drop down a weight class to capture a second belt. Bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw challenged flyweight champion Henry Cejudo fresh off of Cejudo’s shocking dethroning of longtime champion Demetrious Johnson and the two were booked for Brooklyn at the first UFC event to air on ESPN.
Hype: Most of the build to this one revolved around Cejudo cementing his legacy as one of the best combat sports athletes ever having added a UFC title to a trophy case that just so happened to include an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling. Meanwhile, Dillashaw sought to prove that he belonged atop the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Both Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt had made overtures towards dropping down to 125 pounds to chase that title, but with Dillashaw emphatically winning both of his championship bouts against Garbrandt, he guaranteed that his former teammate would have to wait.
With respect to Johnson, the Cejudo-Dillashaw matchup quickly became the most highly-anticipated flyweight matchup in UFC history, both because of Cejudo’s rise, Johnson’s trade to ONE championship, and Dillashaw’s status as one of the two greatest bantamweight fighters in MMA history.
The Fight: There wasn’t much of one, which this bout has in common with most of the entries in this list.
Cejudo was a man possessed on this night. He stormed right out of his corner throwing hard strikes, not giving Dillashaw a chance to show off the agile, tricky movement that was a signature of his best performances. There was no getting out of the way of Cejudo’s onslaught and after getting clipped by a head kick and a straight right, Dillashaw was scrambling.
Officially, the fight came to an end just 32 seconds into the first round. Dillashaw later complained about the stoppage, but Cejudo was landing clean, accurate punches on the ground and it’s easy to imagine that this TKO was seconds away from becoming a no-doubt KO.
Legacy: This is where this fight takes its biggest hit. Not only does its recency give us less time to judge its impact, but what’s happened in the two years since has muddied the waters. Cejudo one-upped Dillashaw by going up to 135 pounds and claiming a vacant title by defeating Marlon Moraes, an opportunity that only came about because Dillashaw relinquished the belt after testing positive for EPO and subsequently receiving a two-year suspension from the USADA.
Arguably, this makes Cejudo’s win and everything he’s done since even more impressive, including picking up a win over Dominick Cruz, who also happens to be one of the two greatest bantamweight fighters in MMA history. Cejudo’s immediate retirement following that has left fans wondering how much more he could have added to his resume even if he’d stuck to defending at only one weight class. But some would argue that he’s done enough to already be considered the pound-for-pound greatest. Just ask Cejudo himself.
4. Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier — UFC 226 (July 7, 2018)
Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier was one of the more predictable matchups on this list with Miocic needing a fresh challenger after halting the supposed coronation of Francis Ngannou, and Cormier getting a chance at a second UFC title by returning to the division in which he began his MMA career.
Hype: Even with light heavyweight gold finally around his waist, Cormier was considered second-best at 205 pounds as long as Jon Jones was around (and depending on how one views Jones’ checkered history of failed drug tests). But if he moved up in weight and became a two-division champion? That’s an achievement he could proudly hold over Jones’ head.
On the other side, Miocic had already set the record for most consecutive successful defenses (3) of the UFC’s heavyweight title. A win over the decorated Cormier would boost Miocic’s resume to the point that even the most hardcore Fedor fanatics would have to put Miocic around the same level as the PRIDE legend.
The Fight: Despite this one only going a round, there was some good action once Miocic and Cormier found their range. They traded punches in the center of the octagon until Cormier landed a beautiful right hand in the clinch that rocked Miocic, leaving him vulnerable to a ground-and-pound flurry that ended the fight.
It has to be mentioned that Cormier landed a couple of ugly eye pokes, one that led to a pause in the action by referee Marc Goddard, and another that unfortunately happened right before the fight-ending sequence.
Legacy: Eye poke controversy aside, there was just some spark missing from this matchup. It felt like what it ended up being, chapter one of a series of bouts that would eventually elevate both men in the eyes of the fans. The heat was more evident in the rematches that followed as the two naturally developed a competitive rivalry.
On the negative side, this feud stretched from July 2018 to August 2020 and it brought the heavyweight division to a standstill (Cormier did sneak in a title defense against Derrick Lewis at UFC 230). And despite being part of a trilogy, none of the bouts matched the pay-per-view buys of the best outings of Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, or even Cormier’s close friend Cain Velasquez.
If you want to lump all three trilogy bouts together and rank this feud higher, I wouldn’t blame you. I also wouldn’t blame you if you held it against these two for creating the current logjam that we have at heavyweight.
3. Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes — UFC 232 (Dec. 29, 2018)
There was no one left for Amanda Nunes at 135 pounds after consecutive wins over Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey, Valentina Shevchenko, and Raquel Pennington, so the matchmakers did the right thing and put her up against its featherweight champion who hadn’t lost in 13 years: Cris Cyborg.
Hype: For the hardcore MMA fan, there wasn’t a bigger fight featuring two female fighters before this and there hasn’t been one since.
No fighters outside of Conor McGregor and Brock Lesnar could match the popularity of Rousey, but the pairing of Nunes and Cyborg came close. Nunes had the distinction of being the B-side in two main events that headlined PPVs that drew over a million buys (UFC 200 with Tate and UFC 207 with Rousey) and though she hadn’t translated that into A-side success, it was clear she could do good business with the right opponent.
Cyborg herself was looking for a proper dance partner as she was popular in her own right, but in need of someone that could actually be considered a credible threat to her 21-fight unbeaten stretch. Nunes entered this fight as an underdog by a far slimmer margin than any Cyborg opponent in years.
The Fight: As far as entertainment goes, this is No. 1 for me.
Cyborg is such a technical striker that one would think the last thing she wanted to do was engage in a brawl, but give credit to Nunes for making this fight into one. She welcomed Cyborg’s aggression, counter-striking and giving Cyborg little option but to engage once the bombs started being thrown. The featherweight champion marched forward fearlessly as she had on so many previous occasions, only to be met with unprecedented resistance.
There was every reason to believe Nunes could knock out Cyborg and yet it was still shocking when it happened. Nunes twice wobbled Cyborg with her loaded right hand, then ended it at the 51-second mark with another stunning right that sent Cyborg twisting and tumbling to the canvas.
Legacy: This one has aged well for Nunes. Not only is her win streak still going, she has the distinction of being the only fighter in UFC history to defend both belts as a two-division champion (other champions, like Cejudo and Cormier, vacated or were stripped of their belts before getting the chance to attempt this).
Cyborg hasn’t missed a step either as she left the UFC following a dominant win over Felicia Spencer, and then went on to win and successfully Bellator’s featherweight title.
Only the shallowness of the featherweight division keeps this fight from ranking any higher, as it doesn’t sound quite as impressive when one of the titles on the line is from the only UFC weight class that doesn’t have an official contenders’ list. Still, Nunes has made the most of a dual-championship run that has lacked compelling challengers, much like Cyborg herself once did.
2. Eddie Alvarez vs. Conor McGregor — UFC 205 (Nov. 12, 2016)
Conor McGregor takes The Big Apple.
Back when things always seemed to work out for McGregor and the UFC, the timing was perfect for the promotion’s biggest star to headline its first show in New York with the state legalizing MMA in 2016. Eddie Alvarez was fresh off of taking the lightweight title from Rafael dos Anjos and saw dollar signs when the featherweight champion came knocking on the 155-pound door.
Hype: I’d argue that this was the most hyped fight on this list, even if the majority of it was generated by the presence of McGregor.
There has simply never been a hotter fighter in MMA history than McGregor following his 13-second knockout of the legendary Jose Aldo and a two-fight series with Nate Diaz that took the UFC to another level of mainstream success. Anything he touched turned to gold and it didn’t take much of Mystic Mac’s promotional wizardry to build up his pursuit of the lightweight title.
Few fighters had ever garnered as much respect as Alvarez from the hardcore crowd and his ascension to the top of the UFC was viewed almost as a birthright. All that was left was for him to earn some well-deserved love from the casual crowd and what better way to do it than to expose the McGregor myth at Madison Square Garden.
The Fight: Once again, McGregor made the most of his moment.
Who knows, maybe Alvarez was uncharacteristically caught up in the hype and that led to a flat performance. Or maybe McGregor was a stylistic nightmare for him. Or maybe McGregor in his prime was just that damn good.
Whatever the answer is, Alvarez was never really in this one. McGregor was equal parts calm and springy, his famed left hand ready to strike at any time. When it landed a minute into the fight, Alvarez felt it. He bounced up from an early knockdown, but seemed out of sorts for the rest of the fight. McGregor dropped him again and re-watching the fight, it’s hard to believe Alvarez even made it to round two.
He didn’t make it much farther than that. Alvarez was known for being one of the lightweight division’s true warriors and while a comeback wasn’t impossible, there was just no beating this version of McGregor. Three minutes into round two, Alvarez was beaten to the punch one too many times and McGregor put him away. McGregor was now the “champ-champ”, a feat that was met with a roar from an enthralled New York audience.
Legacy: It’s complicated.
On the one hand, this was the peak of McGregor’s in-cage success. Even taking into account that he had the privilege of skipping the line to earn a title shot in the UFC’s deepest division, the fact remains that he did something no other fighter had ever done by becoming the first to hold two UFC belts simultaneously.
On the other hand, McGregor never defended either of his titles, a dent in his legacy that his detractors are always quick to point out. While he can’t be blamed for leveraging his UFC stardom into a megabucks boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, he doesn’t have to be lavished with praise for his business savvy either.
It took years for the lightweight ship to be righted, with Khabib Nurmagomedov eventually taking the helm and poetically bringing things full circle with a win over McGregor at UFC 229, an event that broke pay-per-view records. Ironically, Nurmagomedov’s recent retirement—and White’s denial of it—have once again left the division in limbo.
1. Georges St-Pierre vs. B.J. Penn — UFC 94 (Jan. 31, 2009)
Georges St-Pierre was in the early stages of a historic welterweight championship run when his old rival B.J. Penn came calling. The two had previously fought in a 170-pound bout at UFC 58, with St-Pierre winning a close split decision and then going on to defeat Matt Hughes to earn his first UFC title. Penn would later move to a more appropriate weight class of 155 pounds and rattle off three straight wins there to become lightweight champion and set up a superfight rematch with St-Pierre.
Hype: It’s not hyperbole to say that when this fight was booked, it was viewed as a meeting of two fighters near the top of any respectable all-time pound-for-pound list.
It’s easy to look at Penn’s current record and fail to realize just how loaded his resume was. Not only was he arguably the best lightweight in the world, he had the audacity to move up to 170 and challenge Hughes in just his ninth pro fight. He submitted Hughes inside of a round, becoming welterweight champion and the only fighter from 2001-2006 to beat Hughes.
Even the first fight with St-Pierre is viewed with reverence despite Penn taking a decision loss as Penn famously went to the club after while St-Pierre went to the hospital. Prime B.J. Penn was a marvel.
Heading into his rematch with “GSP,” you couldn’t ask for a more competitive matchup as both were considered invincible at that point in their careers. Something had to give.
The Fight: This is the only fight on this list to go past round two, but in truth it wasn’t that competitive.
Since suffering a shocking defeat at the hands of Matt Serra, St-Pierre and his team ramped up their preparation to 11 and reinvented St-Pierre as the ultimate wrestler/striker hybrid, with an emphasis on the former especially when it came to dealing with dangerous and unpredictable strikers. His superior size and wrestling proved to be too much for Penn, who struggled to initiate any offense despite his prodigious grappling, and after a steady diet of takedowns, top control, and ground-and-pound from St-Pierre, an exhausted Penn failed to get off the stool for the fifth and final round.
It was one of the most complete performances of St-Pierre’s career against one of his greatest rivals.
Legacy: Both fighters continued to thrive after this fight. Penn dropped back down to lightweight where he belonged and rattled off two more dominant defenses of his title before stumbling into the grim stretch that extends to this day. St-Pierre added more challengers to the pile, names like Johny Hendricks, Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, Jake Shields, and Thiago Alves, to put together a championship run rivaled only by a select few.
There was even some controversy surrounding the fight as St-Pierre and his team were accused of “greasing” to counter Penn’s grappling. Sure enough, St-Pierre’s cornerman Phil Nurse appeared to apply Vaseline to St-Pierre’s face and then massage St-Pierre’s back and shoulder with the same hand, a clear violation of the rules. After a formal hearing of the Nevada Athletic Commission, no sanctions were handed out to St-Pierre’s team, but the incident remains a crucial part of any discussion of the fight.
This was the UFC’s first champ vs. champ bout and the novelty of it combined with the outstanding careers of both men still makes it an incredible clip to load up on Fight Pass. It’s hard to imagine any matchup surpassing the magnitude of this one.
What about Blachowicz vs. Adesanya?
Until Blachowicz vs. Adesanya happens, the outcome and its legacy can’t be discussed, but we can discuss the build-up for the fight and what it could mean for the future.
There’s a sense that Blachowicz vs. Adesanya is happening a tad too soon, especially with clear No. 1 contenders in both the light heavyweight (Glover Teixiera) and middleweight (Robert Whittaker) divisions. Neither of those matchups have the cachet of the UFC 259 main event, but if fairness were a concept in MMA, those two would be getting title shots instead.
In an odd way, it also feels like Blachowicz and Adesanya are settling for each other, as both have spent more time publicly feuding with Jon Jones than anyone else. Blachowicz wants that Jones fight so that he can become the true, lineal champion, while Adesanya was hoping a title win at 205 pounds would force Jones to face him after months and months of trash talk. However, Jones is currently set to move to heavyweight and there’s no guarantee he ever returns to the division he’s conquered several times over.
No matter who wins it feels like we’re going to end up with more questions than answers. If Blachowicz wins, does he just defend against Teixeira next? If Adesanya wins, does he return to 185 and forget this whole light heavyweight thing ever happened? The UFC has struggled to capitalize on finding fights for two-division champions, so is it in their best interests that Blachowicz retains?
I can’t see Blachowicz vs. Adesanya rising higher than the No. 3 spot on this list no matter what happens on Saturday. Fortunately for both men, it’s a short list, and all signs point to the fight being a milestone moment for the winner, regardless of how it compares to these other historic matchups.
What is the best UFC champ vs. champ fight so far?
This poll is closed
St-Pierre vs. Penn
Alvarez vs. McGregor
Miocic vs. Cormier
Cyborg vs. Nunes
Cejudo vs. Dillashaw