History of UFC's champion vs. champion superfights
The UFC’s first event of 2019 goes down in two weeks time in Brooklyn, New York, and the main event will see an intriguing champion vs. champion fight, as UFC Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw will drop to 125lbs to take on UFC Flyweight kingpin Henry Cejudo.
It’s a major fight for a number of reasons – Dillashaw is looking to become the 7th fighter to win UFC titles in two different weight classes, while Cejudo is looking to defend the honour of the Flyweight division in general – but most notably, because matches between UFC champions in different weight classes are ultra-rare.
Cejudo vs. Dillashaw will be the UFC’s 5th fight between champions in different weight classes – the first came in 2009, but the 3 that followed have all come under the leadership of WME, who bought the UFC in 2016.
Here’s a look back at the UFC’s previous champion vs. champion clashes – what led to them, what happened in the fight, and what went down in the aftermath.
#1 Georges St-Pierre vs. BJ Penn – UFC 94 – 01/31/2009
What led to the fight?
The UFC’s first champion vs. champion encounter came in January 2009, as UFC Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre defended his title against former Welterweight champ – and reigning Lightweight kingpin – BJ Penn.
St-Pierre was still in the early days of his second reign as Welterweight champion, and had made his first defence against Jon Fitch 5 months before the fight, while Penn hadn’t fought at 170lbs since his unsuccessful title challenge against Matt Hughes in September 2006. ‘The Prodigy’ had been dominant at 155lbs though, beating Jens Pulver and then Joe Stevenson to win the Lightweight title before destroying former champ Sean Sherk in his first defence.
Critics argued that Penn didn’t deserve a title shot at the time as he hadn’t really cleaned out 155lbs while 170lbs had a clear-cut top contender in Thiago Alves, but the fight had a ton of intrigue behind it as the Hawaiian had taken GSP to the limit in their first encounter in March 2006, losing a split decision that many believed he deserved to win.
The fight ended up being built as one of the biggest in UFC history – quite rightfully so – and the promotion dedicated its first ‘Prime Time’ series to build it further.
St-Pierre ended up winning the fight via corner stoppage after the 4th round, leading many fans and observers to declare that it was living proof that when skill is relatively equal, a great big man will always beat a great smaller man.
Penn was essentially never in the fight; St-Pierre clinched with him throughout the first round and used his size to wear the smaller man out, never allowing him to impose his boxing game as he’d done in their first encounter. By the time the second round began, GSP used his improved wrestling to force Penn to the ground and cut through the guard of ‘The Prodigy’ like a knife through butter, systematically destroying him with punches and elbows on the mat.
The Lightweight champion simply didn’t have an answer for St-Pierre’s onslaught and by the later rounds, GSP was also styling on him on the feet with superman punches and low kicks. After taking a serious beating in the fourth round, Penn’s corner – which included his brother Reagan and famed boxing coach Jason Parillo – decided to throw in the towel to prevent him from taking any more damage.
What went down in the aftermath?
The feud between the two men was put to bed for good as there was no debate over who was the better fighter after such a one-sided beatdown, but despite what some fans suggested, Penn’s career didn’t really suffer for such a bad loss.
‘The Prodigy’ moved back to 155lbs and picked up where he’d left off in 2008 with dominant victories over Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez, looking better than he’d ever done before. It took until 2010 and the rise of Frankie Edgar to see him dethroned, and many would argue he’s probably still the best 155lbs champion in UFC history.
As for St-Pierre, he continued to hold the Welterweight crown and defended it a further 7 times, cementing himself as probably the greatest fighter in UFC history. Incredibly, however, his stoppage win over Penn would be the last time he finished a fight until his 2017 return from retirement against Michael Bisping.
Overall, the fight drew a great pay-per-view buyrate for the UFC – 920,000 buys – and raised the profile of both GSP and Penn, making the experiment entirely worth it.