5 MMA fighters who fought in the most weight divisions
While the sport of MMA has far less recognised weight classes than its sister sport of boxing, it’s still relatively easy – usually a matter of ten or fifteen pounds – for a fighter to move up or down from one weight division to another.
The reasons can be multiple – usually, they have something to do with a smaller fighter at one weight wanting to feel like the bigger man in a lower division or a bigger fighter in one division not wanting to cut weight anymore.
Most fighters in MMA have fought in a maximum of two weight divisions, particularly inside the UFC, but in some cases fighters have either dropped or gained weight in dramatic fashion, meaning they’ve appeared in multiple divisions. Here are five fighters who’ve appeared in the most weight divisions in MMA history.
#5 Kenny Florian – Middleweight (185lbs), Welterweight (170lbs), Lightweight (155lbs), Featherweight (145lbs)
When Kenny Florian appeared on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter as a Middleweight, it was quickly made clear that 185lbs wasn’t his optimum weight. Florian wasn’t out of shape at 185lbs, but he’d fought the majority of his pre-TUF career as a Welterweight and was painfully outsized by his castmates.
Florian made the final of the inaugural tournament but was beaten by Diego Sanchez, and from there he immediately made the drop to 170lbs. Wins over Alex Karalexis and Kit Cope followed, but when the UFC announced the reinstatement of the Lightweight class in early 2006, Florian decided to make the move there, as he was a smaller Welterweight, to begin with.
Immediate success followed – Florian choked out Sam Stout in his Lightweight debut and was awarded a shot against Sean Sherk for the vacant UFC title.
‘Ken-Flo’ lost that fight, but then went on a tear, winning six straight outings against the likes of Roger Huerta and Joe Stevenson before failing in a second title attempt against BJ Penn.
Subsequent wins over Clay Guida and Takanori Gomi put him back in line for another shot, but a loss to Gray Maynard quietened those talks and gave Florian an unfortunate ‘choker’ label by some analysts.
He still had one last title shot in him though – surprisingly at an even lower weight class, Featherweight. Florian beat Diego Nunes in his Featherweight debut but came up short in his title match with Jose Aldo before retiring.
While he never won a UFC title, he became one of the few fighters to appear in four different weight classes in the promotion.
#4 Diego Sanchez – Middleweight (185lbs), Welterweight (170lbs), Lightweight (155lbs), Featherweight (145lbs)
The original The Ultimate Fighter winner, Diego Sanchez’s career trajectory mirrored his castmate Kenny Florian’s when it came to moving weight classes, although he made his moves at different times in his career and for different reasons.
He didn’t spend long at Middleweight – his win over Florian in the inaugural TUF final was his only UFC appearance there, as he quickly moved back to Welterweight, where he’d won a title in King of the Cage prior to his signing with the UFC.
Wins over the likes of Nick Diaz and Karo Parisyan turned him into a top contender there, but by 2007 when he came up against hulking wrestlers Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, it looked like he was somewhat outsized. And so Diego decided to make the drop down to Lightweight after an injury forced him out of a fight with Thiago Alves.
Sanchez defeated Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida at his new weight and along with his stellar record at 170lbs, those wins were enough to earn him a shot at UFC Lightweight champ BJ Penn. But Penn dominated Sanchez and finished him in the 5th round, and that would be the end of his initial foray at 155lbs.
He moved back up to 170lbs and went 2-2 over the next 2 years before returning to 155lbs in 2013, where another 2-2 run followed with wins over Takanori Gomi and Ross Pearson being offset by losses to Gilbert Melendez and Myles Jury.
Late 2015 saw a surprising move to Featherweight but Diego never looked comfortable there and a lone loss to Ricardo Lamas ended that experiment. 2016 saw him back at 155lbs for three fights before a 2017 move back to 170lbs ended with a nasty knockout at the hands of Matt Brown.
Still active after 13 years in the promotion, Sanchez has fought in 4 weight classes, but has moved around from division to division perhaps more than any other fighter in UFC history.
#3 Joe Riggs – Heavyweight (206lbs and above), Light-heavyweight (205lbs), Middleweight (185lbs), Welterweight (170lbs)
Joe ‘Diesel’ Riggs only fought in two weight divisions in the UFC – Middleweight and Welterweight – and largely interchanged between the two throughout his two UFC stints, but he makes this list as his pre-UFC career saw him largely feature in the Heavyweight and Light-heavyweight divisions.
At one point weighing upwards of 300lbs, Riggs fought notable large Heavyweights such as Travis Fulton and ‘Cabbage’ Correira on the regional scene, putting together a record of 13-3 before signing with the WEC promotion in 2004.
He made the drop to 205lbs for the first time with his new promotion but lost his debut to Alex Stiebling. Three wins followed before Riggs decided to drop even further – to 185lbs – and another two wins led him to the UFC, where he defeated Joe Doerksen in his promotional debut.
Now firmly entrenched as a UFC fighter, 2005 saw Riggs make the drop to 170lbs – something that would’ve seemed unthinkable just two years prior. He defeated Chris Lytle in his divisional debut, but then missed weight for a title fight with Matt Hughes, suggesting that the drop in weight was a move too far.
Riggs steadied the ship in 2006, though – remaining at 170lbs for three fights with a loss to Mike Swick being his only foray back up to 185lbs. A loss to Diego Sanchez ended his initial UFC run, and ‘Diesel’ headed back to the regional scene where he continued to move between divisions, even taking a lone fight back up at 205lbs in 2012.
2014 saw his UFC return – at 170lbs – but two losses sent him back up to 185lbs, where he went 1-1 before being released by the UFC again. He’s since fought at 170lbs, 185lbs and 205lbs on the regional scene.
Despite never quite reaching the potential his coaches suggested he had, Riggs’s drop from over 300lbs all the way to 170lbs remains one of the most impressive weight losses in MMA history.
#2 Anthony Johnson – Welterweight (170lbs), Middleweight (185lbs), Light-heavyweight (205lbs), Heavyweight (206lbs and above)
Now retired from MMA following a hugely successful UFC run as a Light-heavyweight, Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson initially made his debut in the promotion as a Welterweight, but it quickly became clear that 170lbs was a weight cut too far for him.
In just his second fight with the promotion, he missed the 170lbs weight limit – coming in at 177lbs – and was beaten by the much smaller Rich Clementi after running out of gas. Johnson managed to make 170lbs on four more occasions before another miss against Yoshiyuki Yoshida – this time he came in at 176lbs and dwarfed his opponent before knocking him out.
The writing was on the wall, but ‘Rumble’ still starved himself to make 170lbs three more times before deciding to make the move up to 185lbs in early 2012. Somehow, that move went even more wildly wrong and he missed weight for his fight with Vitor Belfort by a whopping 12lbs.
Belfort defeated him and due to his weight issues, the UFC decided to release him from his contract. He missed 185lbs for his first fight on the regional scene, and that was finally enough to force him up to 205lbs for good.
Johnson then won five straight – including a lone foray up to Heavyweight, where he defeated former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski by decision – and that was enough for the UFC to bring him back in 2014.
From there, the rest was history, as Johnson knocked out the likes of Alexander Gustafsson, Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira to become one of the most feared men in the world at 205lbs. He couldn’t quite get to the very top though – two losses to Daniel Cormier prevented him from winning the UFC title, and he retired in 2017.
Johnson fought in three weight classes in the UFC, albeit with one caveat – as he never made weight for his fight with Belfort, it could be argued that he never truly fought as a ‘true’ Middleweight.
#1 BJ Penn – Featherweight (145lbs), Lightweight (155lbs), Welterweight (170lbs), Middleweight (185lbs), Light-heavyweight (205lbs), Heavyweight (206lbs and above)
BJ Penn is an MMA legend for many different reasons, but even ignoring all of his great accomplishments, he’d still go down in the sport’s history for being the only man to ever compete in six different weight divisions – moving all the way up to Heavyweight despite 155lbs being his optimum class.
Penn debuted in the UFC – and in the sport of MMA – as a Lightweight in 2001, and won his first three fights with frightening ease. His first title shot didn’t go so well though and he was defeated by champion Jens Pulver.
Two more wins put him back in line for the title, but in one of the worst decisions in UFC history, he was robbed of his first championship win by the judges, who decided his title fight with Caol Uno was a draw. And so with Welterweight champ Matt Hughes having cleaned out his division, Penn moved up to 170lbs for a ‘Superfight’ of sorts.
Penn’s victory over Hughes was one of the biggest upsets in MMA at the time, but his title reign would be short-lived as he dropped the belt to leave the UFC. From there he went on one of MMA’s all-time great wanderings – floating between Japan’s K-1 and his own Rumble on the Rock promotion – and it was during this period that his weight truly fluctuated.
‘The Prodigy’ moved to 185lbs – where he looked horribly out of shape – for wins over Rodrigo and Renzo Gracie, and those fights sandwiched a truly bizarre outing at Heavyweight – against future UFC Light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
For that fight – which was technically classed as ‘Openweight’ – Machida came in at 225lbs, very much a Heavyweight, while Penn weighed in at 191lbs. Even then – in a testament to his greatness – Penn managed to go the distance.
2006 saw him return to the UFC as a Welterweight, but a failed title challenge triggered a move back to 155lbs, where he finally lived up to his potential and won the UFC title, defending it successfully 3 times.
Even then he couldn’t stick to one division – 2009 saw him move up to 170lbs for an attempt to hold two UFC titles at the same time, but he was defeated by champ Georges St-Pierre. In 2010 he lost his Lightweight crown to Frankie Edgar, and that was enough for him to move back to 170lbs.
Penn defeated his old rival Hughes in his first fight back in the division, but a draw with Jon Fitch and losses to Nick Diaz and Rory MacDonald appeared to signal the end, and he retired in 2012.
2014 saw him return to action; the return wasn’t a surprise but the weight class was, as he moved to 145lbs to fight Edgar for a third time. Despite looking fantastic physically, however, Penn was firmly past his prime.
Edgar defeated him in one-sided fashion, sending him back into retirement and a comeback in 2017 went just as badly – he lost to Yair Rodriguez and Dennis Siver.
As of now, Penn remains on the UFC’s active roster, but for how much longer he will stay there is a mystery. What isn’t in doubt is the likelihood that no other fighter in MMA history will ever fight in as many different weight classes as the sport’s ultimate wanderer.