Can you imagine what it must be like to ascend to the top of your sport? MMA fighters in the UFC are rightfully recognized as the best in the World. It’s incredibly difficult to compete at that level taking incredible skill, talent, and maybe a bit of good luck/timing. There have been many great champions, but here is a break-down of the first in each weight class. Some are already in the UFC hall of fame and it’s my hope that they will all get there eventually.
- Women’s Strawweight – Carla Esparza – When the UFC introduced a Women’s Strawweight division in late 2014 (TUF19), Carla Esparza eventually took the belt and became the first champion in the new weight class. Born in Torrance, California on October 10, 1987, Esparza, also known as “Cookie Monster,” began her career on the varsity wrestling team during her junior year at Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California. Carla is one of my favorite fighters to follow on Twitter @CarlaEsparza1 because she does interact with her fans.
- Women’s Bantamweight – Ronda Rousey – “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey became the first woman to earn a championship belt in the UFC, fighting in the bantamweight division. In addition to making history in the UFC, Rousey was also the first American woman to earn an Olympic Medal in Judo, and is widely considered the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world. She made her feature film debut in 2014’s The Expendables 3 and just won a fight in 14 seconds at UFC184!
- Men’s Bantamweight – Dominick Cruz – The featherweight champion at World Extreme Cagefighting when the WEC was acquired by the UFC in 2010, Dominick Cruz fought for the UFC title at the last bantamweight fight WEC hosted. He retained the title until vacating it due to injury, when Renan Barao became the new champ. Born in Tucson, Arizona on March 9, 1985, Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz has been repeatedly sidelined by injuries but still plans to make his UFC return. His break-down of fights on UFCOnFox are solid (both pre and post fight).
- Men’s Flyweight – Demetrious Johnson – Demetrious “MIghty Mouse” Jonson is the first and as of 2015, also current champion of the UFC flyweight division. Born in Madisonville, Kentucky, Johnson began his career in 2007 and was the Word Extreme Cagefighting Champion before the organization was purchased by the UFC.
- Men’s Featherweight – Jose Aldo – Another champion of the WEC when it was absorbed by the UFC, Jose also still holds the belt. Winning the majority of his bouts by knockout, Aldo began training as a fighter learning the art of capoeira, which led to an interest in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He’s facing Conor McGregor in his next title defense and it will be an absolute ripper (hat/tip to Michael Schiavello).
- Men’s Lightweight – Jens Pulver – In addition to being the first lightweight champion in UFC history, Jens ‘Lil Evil’ Pulver was also the youngest to earn the title. I’ve had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with Jens and it’s easy to see why he is so successful. He is one of the most passionate and driven people I know. If he sets his mind on something, it’s getting done, you can bank on it!
- Men’s Welterweight – Pat Miletich – Croatian-American fighter Pat “The Croatian Sensation” Miletich was the first beltholder in the UFC’s welterweight division. Inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on July 6, 2014, he’s built an effective and highly successful career of training and coaching in recent years. Plus, he is absolutely one of my favorite fight commentators calling fights on AXSTV for Legacy, RFA, and many more!
- Men’s Middleweight – Dave Menne – Competing for Cage Rage, Shooto, RINGS and Bellator in addition to the UFC, Dave “The Warrior” Menne was the first middleweight champion in the promotion. The victory was short-lived, though, as he lost the belt at his first defense against Murilo Bustamante at UFC 35.
- Men’s Light Heavyweight – Frank Shamrock – When Frank “The Legend” Shamrock earned his first UFC belt, it was in the middleweight division. Later, the division was renamed to “light heavyweight,” which Shamrock defended successfully until he retired. In addition to holding the first UFC Light Heavyweight title, he also holds the current Guinness World Record for Fastest UFC Title Fight Victory by Submission (don’t tell Ronda Rousey that after her 14 second submission in UFC184), beating Kevin Jackson in sixteen seconds. The adopted brother of fellow fighter Ken Shamrock, Frank held titles in a variety of organizations over the span of his career.
- Men’s Heavyweight – Mark Coleman – Former NCAA collegiate wrestler Mark “The Hammer” Coleman was the Pride Fighting Championships 2000 Open Weight Grand Prix champion, the first UFC Heavyweight Champion and is an inductee to the UFC Hall of Fame. Born in Fremont, Ohio on December 20, 1964, Coleman is credited with proving the value of wrestling in mixed martial arts competition and was a pioneer of the now-common ground-and-pound method.
Belts change hands and champions will come and go, but there is only one first-time champ in each weight class. These are some amazing athletes that deserve to be celebrated and appreciated!