The UFC’s lightweight division has long been considered one of the toughest weight classes in the toughest sport on the planet. The division was initially known as the bantamweight division, but the addition of extra weight classes eventually saw the division renamed as lightweight.
There have been 10 undisputed UFC champions at 155 pounds, with two interim champions crowned, since the first title was won in February 2001.
That man was American Jens Pulver, who defeated Caol Uno to capture what was then known as the UFC bantamweight title at UFC 30 in Atlantic City. He defeated Dennis Hallman and BJ Penn before eventually dropping the title when he and the UFC parted ways following a contractual dispute.
Following Pulver’s exit Penn and Uno were matched in a title fight at UFC 41, but after the pair fought to a draw at UFC 41, the 155-pound title laid dormant until UFC 64 in October 2006, when Sean Sherk defeated Kenny Florian to win the title. He then defended the belt against Hermes Franca before having the title stripped after testing positive for anabolic steroids.
The vacant title was up for grabs in Newcastle, England, at UFC 80, and “The Prodigy” BJ Penn finally got his hands on the gold when he defeated Joe “Daddy” Stevenson to capture the title.
Penn went on to defend the title three times – a record he shares with the two champions who followed him – but he remains the longest-reigning 155-pound champion in UFC history, having held the title for 812 days.
Penn was eventually dethroned by Frankie Edgar at UFC 112, who went on to cement his status in a rematch with “The Prodigy” before going on to fight twice with Gray Maynard as they completed a stunning trilogy of fights. Edgar and Maynard drew their first title fight (their second overall), but Edgar finished Maynard in the rematch to leave no doubt in the trilogy fight.
Edgar ended up being unseated by Benson Henderson, who defended the title three times before succumbing to Anthony “Showtime” Pettis at UFC 165. The belt then turned into a hot potato as, after just one defense, Pettis lost the belt to Brazil’s Rafael dos Anjos who, in turn, defended the belt just once before losing to Eddie Alvarez.
Alvarez’s reign lasted just one fight as he was famously demolished by Conor McGregor at UFC 205 as he became the first simultaneous two-division champion by adding the 155-pound title to his 145-pound featherweight strap.
The Irishman may have set a new record that night in New York, but he also holds another, less illustrious record, as the only undisputed champion in UFC lightweight history to never put his title on the line. Eventually he was stripped of the belt due to inactivity, with Khabib Nurmagomedov winning the newly-vacated belt the very same day at UFC 223, when he defeated late replacement Al Iaquinta after interim champion Tony Ferguson was ruled out of the fight due to a freak injury sustained on a FOX Sports TV set.
Dustin Poirier joined Ferguson as an interim champion when he defeated then-featherweight champ Max Holloway at UFC 236, but his bid to upgrade the belt to the undisputed version failed at the hands of Khabib at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi.
Now Khabib remains the undisputed UFC lightweight champion, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he is stuck in Dagestan and unable to defend his title. It means former interim champ Ferguson – who was due to face Khabib – will now face former World Series of Fighting champion Justin Gaethje for the interim belt on May 9 at UFC 249.
The winner will face Khabib later this year, once travel restrictions have eased and the bout can be made.
Recap the lineage of the UFC lightweight title via the video above.