10 Fighters that earned title shots early in to their UFC career

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT – mmafighting.com

The rise of Francis Ngannou has happened in what many could call a ‘whirlwind’. His unique story differentiates himself from most who have challenged for a UFC title. Five years separates him from being an MMA newbie and a Heavyweight title contender.

Crazy stuff.

This brings a question to be addressed, what other fighters have earned title shots relatively early in to their UFC career? Ngannou impressively earned contention in just over a two year stint, putting up an active streak of 6-0 in the course of his UFC run. Ngannou’s co-main compatriot, Volkan Oezdemir, has taken just 350 days to earn his shot at UFC gold. An incredible statistic.

This list will not feature a plethora of female fighters that were brought in to relatively new divisions in the UFC. Joanna Jedrzejczyk relentlessly went 3-0 in just over 7 months to become UFC Strawweight champion for example, but it was just the second defense of a three month old belt.

This will also not feature TUF winners granted title shots on winning their respective shows. To avoid skews, we will look at established divisions and titles at two years in to their existence or more. As the early 2000s featured lots of immediate title shots to compensate for lack of divisional contenders, the results will feature title bouts within the last 10 years.

So aside from Ngannou and Oezdemir, who else has earned early title shots in their UFC career?

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10. Eddie Alvarez 

Title: UFC Lightweight Title

Duration in UFC: 1 year, 9 months, 10 days (649 days)

Record before title shot: 2-1

MMA fans were well aware of the impact ‘The Underground King’ would have on the UFC’s Lightweight division. Alvarez was known for his wars with Michael Chandler in Bellator, and for having as good of a career as one could have outside the UFC, most notably going undefeated in Dream in Japan.

His UFC debut didn’t go to plan however. Donald Cerrone handed Alvarez a harsh welcome at UFC 178 in September of 2014. The fight was close. Octagon jitters may have been a factor. None the less, Alvarez bounced back with two big wins over divisional contenders in Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez. That was enough for Alvarez to be granted a shot at RDA in July of 2016, 1 year and 9 months in to his UFC tenure.

Alvarez went on to score a KO of Dos Anjos and capture the lightweight title. He would later lose it to Conor McGregor at UFC 205 in the promotion’s Madison Square Garden debut.

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PHOTO CREDIT – mixfighter.com 

9. Daniel Cormier

Title: UFC Light Heavyweight Title

Duration in UFC: 1 year, 8 months, 14 days (623 days)

Record before title shot: 4-0

Cormier made a name for himself at Heavyweight outside the UFC, most notably winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand-Prix. He defeated the likes of Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva and Josh Barnett despite being outweighed quite a bit. A drop to Light Heavyweight was inevitable, and Cormier did so two fights in to his UFC career.

‘DC’s wins over Patrick Cummins and Dan Henderson were so scarily dominant that he earned his shot at the Light Heavyweight strap. His turnover of 623 days may have been shorter if his original bout with Jon Jones had happened the first time it was scheduled at UFC 178.

You could write a book about the Jon Jones/Daniel Cormier saga, so I’m going to keep this short. Cormier was unsuccessful first time around, but went on to win the title later in the year vs Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson after it was vacated.

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PHOTO CREDIT – sherdog.com 

8. Bethe Correia

Title: UFC Women’s Bantamweight Title

Duration in UFC: 1 year, 7 months, 25 days (602 days)

Record before title shot: 3-0

It may have been a forgettable fight for Bethe Correia, but she did have a quick turnaround from UFC debut to UFC title shot.

It seems peculiar to look back on how dominant Ronda Rousey’s reign on the Bantamweight division was. She had cleared out the division after defeating Cat Zingano in February of 2015. Fresh faces were needed and Bethe Correia provided that with a twist.

Correia had defeated two of the famed ‘Four Horsewoman’ that Rousey was a part of, Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler. It was a picture perfect rivalry and exactly what Rousey needed at the time – an inexperienced challenger to build her super-stardom. Rousey won via 1st Round KO. Correia still remains an active fighter in the division but has not challenged for the title since.

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PHOTO CREDIT – Flocombat

7. Kyoji Horiguchi

Title: UFC Flyweight Titile

Duration in UFC: 1 year, 6 months, 6 days (553 days)

Record before title shot: 4-0

A trend in this list appears to be divisions crying out for contenders. Women’s Bantamweight, Light-Heavyweight, and now Flyweight.

When discussing a lack of contenders, more often than not a dominant champion is to blame. With Flyweight, Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson was the culprit.

Horiguchi was a solid young prospect who had racked up a four fight win-streak in just over a year into his UFC career. Demetrious Johnson had bested 5 top contenders in the Flyweight divison, so a 4-0 record was enough to secure Horiguchi a shot. Many claimed it was a little premature, but a lack of any other viable options may have forced his case.

The Japanese prospect started very well against ‘Mighty Mouse’, but was finished with an armbar just 1 second to go in the fifth round. It was the latest finish in UFC history. Horiguchi would go on to win three fights after this defeat, eventually signing with Rizin FF in Japan. He is now 8-0 after his lone UFC title loss.

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PHOTO CREDIT – mmafighting.com

6. Chael Sonnen 

Title: UFC Middleweight Title

Duration in UFC: 1 year, 5 months, 17 days (532 days)

Record before title shot: 3-1

This may be cheating, as Sonnen made his UFC debut in 2005, 5 years before his shot at UFC Middleweight gold. But he compiled a 1-2 record in his first stint, which resulted in his departure from the promotion.

After three years going 7-1 between 2005-2008 in promotions like Bodog and WEC, Sonnen got the call up to return to the UFC. And he lost (to Demian Maia).

Three wins over high calibre competition thereafter including Yushin Okami and Nate Marqaurdt earned Sonnen his shot at Anderson Silva in 1 year and 5 months. It was a memorable title fight, as Sonnen dominated 4 and a half rounds with his relentless wrestling orientated gameplan. The end was in sight until Anderson miraculously locked in an arm triangle from bottom guard to secure a huge comeback win and retain the title.

Sonnen would go on to lose a rematch to Anderson Silva and lose a shot at the Light Heavyweight title, at the hands of Jon Jones.

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PHOTO CREDIT – BT SPORT 

5. Dan Hardy

Title: UFC Welterweight Title

Duration in UFC: 1 year, 5 months, 9 days (525 days)

Record before title shot: 4-0

Possibly another case of a lack of contenders and a dominant champion.

In this case, Georges-St-Pierre was 13-2 in the UFC’s Welterweight division. Hardy had put up a 19-6 record and had been a standout in Europe holding the Cage Warriors Welterweight title before debuting in the UFC.

‘The Outlaw’ was an asset for the UFC in Europe. Three out of his first four UFC wins were on cards in England. After defeating Mike Swick at UFC 105 in November of 2009, Hardy faced Georges-St-Pierre for the title in March of the next year – 525 days in to his UFC tenure.

It was an unsuccessful bout for Hardy, who valiantly went all 5 rounds with the Canadian champion. Hardy would go on to lose his next three fights in the UFC after fighting for the title. He compiled a two fight win streak before retiring from MMA competition following a diagnosis of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an unusal heart disease. He has hinted at a comeback to the promotion since his departure in 2012, but to this date it is to no avail.

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PHOTO CREDIT – Sportv.globo.com

4. Benson Henderson

Title: UFC Lightweight Title

Duration in UFC: 9 months, 27 days (302 days)

Record before title shot: 3-0

The Benson Henderson quick title shot case was unique. When the UFC merged with the WEC, many of the world’s top lighter weight fighters came in to the promotion with high reputations. Benson Henderson was one of those candidates, having held the WEC Lightweight Championship until the final night of its existence. That night, Henderon famously was the victim of the famous Anthony Pettis ‘Showtime Kick’ off the cage on the path to a title loss.

Henderson quickly proved his worth in the UFC, scoring wins over UFC stalwarts in Clay Guida and Jim Miller. He stayed incredibly active, fighting three times in just over six months en route to the title. He got his shot at UFC 144, defeating Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision. Henderson would later defend his title three times between 2012-2013, eventually dropping it to Anthony Pettis in August of 2013.

‘Smooth’ went on to compile a 4-2 record in the UFC after losing the title. He most notably went 2-0 on a move up to Welterweight. Since leaving the promotion for Bellator, he is 1-3 with two championship losses.

US PRESSWIRE Sports

PHOTO CREDIT – Dulovo

3. Brock Lesnar

Title: UFC Heavyweight Title

Duration in UFC:  9 months, 13 days (287 days)

Record before title shot: 1-1

The transition from professional wrestling to mixed-martial-arts competition isn’t always a smooth one (See CM Punk, Dos Caras Jr). But having an NCAA All-American wrestling pedigree sure does help.

Mutli-sportsman Lesnar had finished up a stint on the fringes of NFL team the Minnesota Vikings when he decided to pursue a career in MMA. After taking a debut fight in Japan, the UFC saw dollar signs and signed Lesnar to a multi-fight deal with the promotion. He learned quite quickly that he’d need more than his overwhelming power to succeed inside the Octagon.

Frank Mir, who he later built a rivalry with, handed Lesnar his first loss at UFC 81 via kneebar. After besting Heath Herring, Lesnar was granted a shot at Randy Couture and the UFC Heavyweight Championship just nine months in to his UFC tenure. His size, power and ferocity was too much for Couture to handle, and he successfully won the title just four fights in to his MMA career.

Lesnar would go on to avenge his earlier loss to Frank Mir and go 1-2 in the promotion before taking a five year hiatus and returning at UFC 200, defeating Mark Hunt. He later was found in violation of USADA’s drug testing policy, which led to him declaring his retirement for a third time.

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PHOTO CREDIT – Wrestling News Source 

2. Gilbert Melendez

Title: UFC Lightweight Title

Duration in UFC:  UFC debut

Record before title shot: 0-0

What’s more unique than earning a title shot early in to your UFC tenure? Earning one on your debut.

This was another case of a UFC merger, this time with Strikeforce. Melendez was widely regarded as one of the top lightweight’s outside of the UFC. He was Strikeforce Lightweight Champion and defended his belt 4 times over a two year stretch.

There was lots of rumour talk surrounding the signing of Melendez. It was quite public that Melendez held out for a big contract. Upon signing with the UFC, he was granted an immediate title shot, losing a split decision to Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox in San Jose, April 2013.

Melendez never lived up to his success in Strikeforce, going 1-5 in the UFC including two Lightweight title losses. Injuries have been a factor in his run. He will be widely known for one of the most entertaining brawls in MMA history alongside Diego Sanchez at UFC 166.

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1. Joe Soto

Title: UFC Bantamweight Title

Duration in UFC:  UFC debut

Record before title shot: 0-0

We may never see a case like Joe Soto’s championship debut again.

It was the night before UFC 177 weigh-ins, and Renan Barao’s body had failed him during his weight cut. The UFC were keen to showcase Dillashaw to save the PPV. In stepped Joe Soto, who was originally scheduled to fight Anthony Birchak on the card, to challenge for the Bantamweight strap. It was an unusual case, as Soto came fresh from Tachi Palace Fights to the big stage.

Many predicted Dillashaw would overrun Soto but he rather impressively lasted almost five rounds with the champion. Dillashaw proved too much for Soto in the end, scoring a knockout in the fifth round. Soto would go on a two fight skid after the loss, before turning things around and going 3-1 thereafter.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed the article. Follow me on twitter @JBAtlanticPress. For enquiries, my e-mail is atlanticsportspress@gmail.com. 

 

 

 

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