Certain UFC champions capture their titles with such dominant performances that fans can't imagine any opponent defeating them. In other cases, UFC champions enthrone themselves at the divisional peak by defeating a foe who many once regarded as unbeatable.
In both cases, it's reasonable to assume that newly crowned champions are primed for longlasting title reigns. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Sometimes, fighters who claim their divisional titles after dominant win streaks fail to defend their new thrones.
It would be like Jon Jones or Anderson Silva suffering defeats after they first became UFC champions. Yet, such situations aren't impossible and have happened throughout the promotion's history.
This list details five such champions who many thought would be dominant but failed to secure a single title defense.
#5. Holly Holm – former UFC women's bantamweight champion
Holly Holm is responsible for one of the greatest upsets in UFC history. 'The Preacher's Daughter' entered the promotion with an undefeated record and a highly credentialed boxing background with multiple world titles. At UFC 193, she was scheduled to face another undefeated fighter, Ronda Rousey.
Holm was a massive underdog. At the time, 'Rowdy' was thought of as invincible and had dispatched every single foe via either KO or submission. In the eyes of fans and even Joe Rogan, she didn't seem to have any chinks in her armor. Defeating her was considered an impossible task for 'The Preacher's Daughter'.
But at UFC 193, Holm defeated Rousey in one of the most lopsided wins in UFC title history. 'Rowdy' had close to zero moments of success in their bout besides one punch. She was thoroughly outstruck and made to look absolutely foolish en route to a second-round KO.
Holly Holm slayed the beast and was crowned the new 135 lbs champion. She did what no one before her could. Not only had she defeated Ronda Rousey, but she also extended her then undefeated record to 10-0. Not only had she never lost, but she had also beaten the then greatest women's fighter of all time.
Many thought she would be a dominant champion. After all, if 'Rowdy' couldn't outgrapple her, no one could. And who was going to outstrike a former world champion boxer? She seemed impossible to beat, so when her first title defense was booked against Miesha Tate, the conclusion was foregone.
Most people gave Tate no chance of winning, while casual fans thought it impossible for someone who lost twice to Rousey to defeat the one woman responsible for beating her. But after the two squared off, Tate mounted a brave comeback to dethrone Holm via a fifth-round rear-naked choke.
#4. Petr Yan – former UFC bantamweight champion
Although he is no longer the reigning 135 lbs kingpin, Petr Yan is still regarded by some fans as the greatest bantamweight in the world. The Russian striking specialist is a well-rounded fighter with cold-blooded confidence and some of the best boxing in the UFC.
At UFC 251, he faced José Aldo for the vacant bantamweight throne. 'Scarface' is a former featherweight titleholder and one of the greatest fighters in MMA history. During their clash, 'No Mercy' looked as good as he ever has. He outworked and brutalized the legendary Brazilian en route to a fifth-round TKO.
His first title defense came against Aljamain Sterling, a man who many people thought would trouble him the most. Instead, 'No Mercy' dominated his foe throughout the bout, securing a knockdown and several takedowns against an increasingly helpless opponent.
Before the bout's conclusion, many fans and analysts were already predicting a dominant reign for 'No Mercy' based on how easily he was winning. In the last 31 seconds of the fourth round, however, 'No Mercy' committed a fatal mistake. He landed an illegal knee and caused the first disqualification in UFC title history.
Thus, Sterling was awarded the title and Yan was dethroned by an opponent he was beating with supreme ease.
#3. Luke Rockhold – former UFC middleweight champion
Before his first UFC title fight, Luke Rockhold had an MMA record of 15 wins and only two losses. He was on a four-fight win streak, all of which were finishes. During his prime, he was a highly effective striker with brutally powerful kicks and one of the best ground games in MMA.
His Brazilian jiu-jitsu skill-set was so great that even multi-time BJJ world champion and ADCC champion Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza couldn't outgrapple him. Thus, when he was scheduled to face the then reigning 185 lbs champion Chris Weidman, he was regarded as the favorite by many.
Weidman, a wrestler, couldn't risk taking him to the ground where Rockhold's superior BJJ would pose problems. Furthermore, the former All-American was an inferior striker, so he was ill-equipped to deal with his foe's kicks. The bout was closely contested, but Rockhold took over after his foe's ill-advised wheel kick.
He dragged the former NCAA Division I standout to the mat and brutalized him with vicious ground-and-pound towards the end of the third round. While Weidman survived, he was defeated in the fourth round via TKO. In defeating him, the AKA phenom captured the middleweight title.
He looked unstoppable and was at the helm of a five-fight win streak. Many thought he was primed for a lengthy run at the top of the division. Instead, he was on the wrong end of a historic upset when he was KO'd by Michael Bisping, of all fighters, in the first round during his first title defense.
#2. Cody Garbrandt – former UFC bantamweight champion
Most divisions in the promotion live under the massive shadow of their greatest legends. In the 2010s, no shadow loomed larger over the bantamweight division than Dominick Cruz. He is a two-time titleholder in the UFC's 135 lbs weight class and is widely regarded as the greatest bantamweight of all time.
Whether it was in his WEC run prior to signing with the UFC or after joining Dana White's banner, 'The Dominator' was the preeminent force at 135 lbs. Cody Garbrandt, however, didn't care. The brash Team Alpha Male star was an undefeated knockout artist with a perfect record of 10 wins and no losses.
All but one of his wins was a knockout. More than that, both he and 'The Dominator' had a mutual opponent, Takeya Mizugaki. The only difference is that 'No Love' KO'd his Japanese foe earlier than 'The Dominator' had. Thus, his matchup with Cruz was hotly anticipated.
Once the two crossed swords, Garbrandt looked light years ahead of him. Not only did he knock him down twice, but he also took him down and made 'The Dominator' miss more punches than he ever had prior. Garbrandt looked like a superior fighter against someone who hadn't lost in 9 years at the time.
So after he dethroned him to claim the bantamweight title and extend his unbeaten record to 11 wins, he looked impossible to defeat. He claimed victory against the greatest 135'er of all time and had enough KO power to behead anyone with his right hand.
Alas, his first title defense ended in disaster. 'No Love' suffered a devastating second-round TKO loss against former teammate T.J. Dillashaw. As soon as he captured the title, he lost it.
#1. Conor McGregor – former UFC featherweight champion
The UFC has not seen anything quite like Conor McGregor's rise through the featherweight rankings. The manner in which 'The Notorious' indiscriminately targeted every prominent 145'er with his patented brand of trash talk almost felt like a declaration of war.
The former two-division Cage Warriors champion entered the UFC with a tremendous amount of hype behind him. His sharp tongue, slick striking skills and crushing punching power made him a must-watch piece of entertainment. During his run through the featherweight division, he embarked on a six-fight win streak.
All but one of those wins was a TKO. At the time, the reigning 145 lbs king was none other than José Aldo. 'Scarface' was at the very peak of his powers during the Irishman's ascension. The legendary Brazilian hadn't tasted defeat in 9 years and recorded seven title defenses.
He was expected to defeat everyone he faced. But at UFC 194, he met his match in the form of a sniping straight left that flatlined him in 13 seconds. McGregor became the first fighter to defeat Aldo in the UFC and was crowned the new featherweight king.
Despite fans having high hopes for McGregor as a champion, he never defended his title. Instead of losing it inside the octagon, he was stripped of his crown due to his inactivity and refusal to return to the featherweight division.