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5 UFC legends who could've joined the champ-champ list

Israel Adesanya could be the UFC
Israel Adesanya could be the UFC's next champ-champ - but could Anderson Silva also have achieved the feat?
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 06 Jan 2021, 22:09 IST
Top 5 / Top 10
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UFC 259 is set to go down on March 9th, and in the main event, UFC Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will attempt to become the latest fighter to win UFC titles in two different weight classes. Adesanya will challenge UFC Light Heavyweight kingpin Jan Blachowicz.

Thus far, there have only ever been four simultaneous double champions in UFC history. However, could some UFC legends of the past have pulled off this feat too? It’s an interesting thought.

While we wait to see how Adesanya gets on in his attempt to become the UFC’s latest ‘champ-champ,’ here’s a look at five UFC legends who could’ve done the same in the past.


#1 Frank Shamrock (UFC Middleweight and Light Heavyweight titles)

Frank Shamrock is one of the UFC
Frank Shamrock is one of the UFC's forgotten legends.

One of the UFC’s forgotten legends, the name of Frank Shamrock, has largely been erased from UFC history due to his long-standing feud with UFC President Dana White. Long-time fans of MMA, however, remember Shamrock as one of the UFC’s all-time greats.

The adopted brother of fellow UFC legend Ken Shamrock, Frank became the inaugural UFC Middleweight champion back in 1997, when he submitted Kevin Jackson with an armbar. Shamrock went onto defend his title successfully on five occasions before retiring from active competition in 1999.

However, the Middleweight division that Shamrock ruled over actually had a weight limit of 200lbs. It was later re-christened as the Light Heavyweight division once MMA’s ‘Unified Rules’ were introduced in 2000.

Shamrock himself was naturally far lighter than 200lbs, and so could easily have fought in the new, 185lbs Middleweight division that was introduced in 2001.

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Shamrock, defeated in his final title defense – Tito Ortiz – ran roughshod over the 205lbs division when Shamrock retired. Therefore, there’s no reason to suspect Shamrock would’ve lost that title had he stuck around.

And so in 2001, when the UFC introduced its new 185lbs title, it’s easy to imagine Shamrock moving to take that title too while also holding onto the 205lbs crown at the same time. And had he done this, the UFC may not have been able to erase him from history as they’ve now done.


#2 Tito Ortiz (UFC Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight titles)

Could Tito Ortiz have won UFC Heavyweight gold during his prime years?
Could Tito Ortiz have won UFC Heavyweight gold during his prime years?

Tito Ortiz might be in the news for all the wrong reasons these days, but it’s hard to dispute that The Huntington Beach Bad Boy is a UFC legend. Ortiz was famously the UFC’s poster-boy in the early 2000s and held the UFC Light Heavyweight title from 2000 to 2003, making five successful defenses in the process.

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But could Ortiz have become the UFC’s first champ-champ had things been different? As crazy as it sounds today, it’s quite possible. The Huntington Beach Bad Boy won the UFC Light Heavyweight title (then known as the UFC Middleweight title) in April 2000. Ortiz was undoubtedly the promotion’s biggest star at that point.

At the same time, Kevin Randleman was in the midst of his reign as UFC Heavyweight champion – a reign that would come to an end at the hands of Randy Couture in November 2000.

Imagine, though, for a moment, that the UFC were unable to bring Couture back into the fold at that point. With Ortiz being a larger 205lber and Randleman being on the small side for a Heavyweight, the UFC could well have decided to allow The Huntington Beach Bad Boy an opportunity to move up and challenge The Monster for his title.

A rivalry already existed between the two bleach blondes - Randleman dropped to 205lbs in an attempt to chase Ortiz in 2001. And so, with a little more foresight, it could’ve made sense to match them up.

And had the fight gone down in 2000, I fully suspect that Ortiz could’ve won. Randleman was undoubtedly a fantastic wrestler, but Ortiz was excellent in that area in his own right and arguably had far superior submission skills and cardio.

In my mind, The Huntington Beach Bad Boy could’ve worn Randleman out in the same way that Couture did – becoming the UFC’s first champ-champ.


#3 BJ Penn (UFC Lightweight and Welterweight titles)

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BJ Penn won UFC gold at Lightweight and Welterweight, but never at the same time.
BJ Penn won UFC gold at Lightweight and Welterweight, but never at the same time.

UFC Hall of Famer BJ Penn was famously given a chance to become the UFC’s first champ-champ when he faced Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94 in 2009. The reigning UFC Lightweight champion, Penn, attempted to dethrone UFC Welterweight champ St. Pierre. However, he failed pretty badly as GSP stomped him for four rounds.

However, had things been slightly different, Penn could well have become the UFC’s first champ-champ five years before he stepped up to fight the Canadian legend.

2002 saw then-UFC Lightweight champion Jens Pulver relinquish his title after a financial dispute with the promotion. And so a tournament was put together to find a new champion. Penn and Caol Uno advanced to the finals and squared off at UFC 41 in 2003 with the title on the line.

However, despite The Prodigy quite clearly out-fighting the Japanese star, the judges declared the fight a split draw, and the title remained vacant.

Penn would not fight in the UFC for another year. But when he returned, he moved up to 170lbs and promptly dethroned longtime UFC Welterweight champ, Matt Hughes, claiming his title in the process.

With that in mind, there’s an easy conclusion to reach. Had the judges made the right call and awarded Penn the UFC Lightweight crown at UFC 41, he could well have become the promotion’s first double champion with his win over Hughes a year later.


#4 Randy Couture (UFC Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight titles)

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Randy Couture became the UFC
Randy Couture became the UFC's first double champion in 2003 but never held his titles simultaneously.

While he never held his UFC titles simultaneously, Randy Couture will always be remembered as the first fighter to win UFC titles in two different weight classes. The Natural first claimed the UFC Heavyweight crown by defeating Maurice Smith in 1997, and then won it again in 2000 by defeating Kevin Randleman.

And despite being 40 years old at the time, 2003 saw Couture drop to 205lbs to defeat Tito Ortiz to win the UFC Light Heavyweight title.

With that in mind, though, could The Natural have actually become the UFC’s first-ever champ-champ? The answer is almost definitely. Couture held the UFC Heavyweight title from November 2000 until March 2002, when he was dethroned by a steroid-assisted Josh Barnett.

But what if Couture had chosen to drop to 205lbs before he lost his title? History tells us that The Natural was better than the UFC’s best two Light-Heavyweights at the time – Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. This is because both men went down at the hands of Couture in 2003.

With that in mind, had Couture chosen to go after Ortiz and his title in 2001 before losing his UFC Heavyweight title, there’s no question that he could’ve beaten him and added the UFC Light Heavyweight title to his haul. And in the process, Couture would've become a champ-champ.


#5 Anderson Silva (UFC Middleweight and Light Heavyweight titles)

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Anderson Silva could
Anderson Silva could've won the UFC's Light Heavyweight title had he chosen to go for it in 2009.

There’s definitely an argument that Anderson Silva is the UFC’s greatest fighter of all time, and he’s almost certainly the promotion’s greatest ever Middleweight champion. After all, he ruled the division for the best part of seven years, making 10 successful title defenses.

But could he have also become a champ-champ in the UFC? It’s almost a certainty. And in fact, the only reason The Spider didn’t pull the feat off was arguably because he chose against doing so.

Silva moved up to 205lbs in July 2008 after his third successful UFC Middleweight title defense. And in a fight apparently designed for him to “test the waters” at Light Heavyweight, he sparked out James Irvin in a minute.

After dropping back to Middleweight for another two title defenses, Silva then moved back to Light Heavyweight in August 2009. He sliced through former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin, making him look completely inept en route to a first-round knockout.

So why did Silva not pursue the UFC Light Heavyweight title? The answer is probably because of who held it at the time.

When Silva knocked Griffin out, the reigning UFC Light Heavyweight champ was Lyoto Machida – a friend and sometimes training partner of The Spider. And so, unsurprisingly, the two Brazilians stated that they weren’t interested in fighting one another.

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Shogun Rua eventually dethroned Machida in mid-2010, but whether Silva was willing to fight Rua remains a mystery. Shogun severely injured his knee shortly after winning the title and was sidelined for almost a year. During this time, plenty of new contenders rose up to challenge Silva.

Had The Spider decided to fight Machida in 2009, though? Based on the form he showed at the time, it’s hard to imagine that he would’ve lost. And so it wouldn’t have been surprising to see him become the UFC’s first champ-champ, some seven years before Conor McGregor managed it.

Published 06 Jan 2021, 22:09 IST
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