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UFC Lightweight Title: Current holder, previous winners, history and lineage

With the UFC adding to its existing weight categories around the turn of the century, it prompted a rejigging of some of the weight classes.

The lightweight championship was initially (and briefly) the bantamweight championship, but has always been contested at 155lbs, and as of May 2001, the bantamweight title became the lightweight title, and the lightweight title became the welterweight title.

We look back at the history of the UFC's 155lbs division including everyone to have held the belt.

Current UFC lightweight champion

Islam Makhachev is the current UFC lightweight champion, having beaten Charles Oliveira at UFC 280 in October 2022 and made two successful defences against Alexander Volkanovski.

How many UFC lightweight champions have there been?

In total, 15 different fighters have been UFC lightweight champions (including interim champions).

Excluding interim champions, there have been 12 UFC lightweight champions.

Previous UFC lightweight champions

Here is a full list of UFC lightweight champions:

  • Jens Pulver (February 2001-March 2002; two defences; stripped)
  • Sean Sherk (October 2006-December 2007; one defence; stripped)
  • BJ Penn (January 2008-April 2010; three defences)
  • Frankie Edgar (April 2010-February 2012; three defences)
  • Benson Henderson (February 2012; August 2013; three defences)
  • Anthony Pettis (August 2013-March 2015; one defence)
  • Rafael dos Anjos (March 2015-July 2016; one defence)
  • Eddie Alvarez (July 2016-November 2016)
  • Conor McGregor (November 2016-April 2018; stripped)
  • Tony Ferguson (October 2017-Aprul 2018; interim; stripped)
  • Khabib Nurmagomedov (April 2018-March 2021; three defences; vacated)
  • Dustin Poirier (April 2019-September 2019; interim)
  • Justin Gaethje (May 2020-October 2020; interim)
  • Charles Oliveira (May 2021-May 2022; one defence; stripped)
  • Islam Makhachev (October 2022-present; two defences)

UFC lightweight title number one contender

Although Arman Tsarukyan is the number one-ranked fighter in the lightweight division, Dustin Poirier is the number one contender for the UFC lightweight title, and will face Islam Makhachev at UFC 302 on 1st June 2024.

Although Charles Oliveira v Arman Tsarukyan was billed as a number one contender fight, Tsarukyan has been passed over for a title fight despite recording a decision victory.

History of the UFC lightweight division

Although the UFC’s first two titles were contested at heavyweight and light heavyweight (initially known as middleweight, but fought at 205lbs), the growth of MMA saw lighter weight classes introduced, with the first UFC middleweight champion (upon the renaming of the 205lbs belt to the light heavyweight championhip) being crowned in September 2001.

The UFC lightweight championship was initially fought at 170lbs (the modern-day welterweight division) in October 1998, with the first 155lbs champion being crowned in February 2001.

After an 11-second win on his UFC debut, Jens Pulver fought Caol Uno for the inaugural UFC lightweight title, winning by unanimous decision. Pulver would earn two more decision wins in his first two defences against Dennis Hallman and BJ Penn.

Pulver was denied a payrise and opted to leave the UFC, vacating his title in March 2002, just over a year after first winning the belt. In the early 2000s, the UFC didn’t have the stacked roster of lighter fighters it does now, and as such, the title remained vacant for more than four years.

A four-man lightweight tournament was announced to crown a champion following Pulver’s exit, with Penn fighting Matt Serra and Uno fighting Din Thomas. Penn and Uno emerged victorious and would meet at UFC 41 in February 2003. Though Penn was the best lightweight at the time, the pair fought to a split draw.

Penn ventured into other promotions, eventually returning as a welterweight, while Uno fought in Japan, and the UFC’s lightweight division was put on hiatus, with the next title fight not occurring until October 2006.

In 2006, Zuffa, the company who owns the UFC, purchased World Extreme Cagefighting, better known for its lighter weight categories, with the UFC greatly enhancing its lightweight roster.

Sean Sherk out-pointed Kenny Florian to take the vacant title, making his first and only defence in July 2007 against Hermes Franca. The Brazilian had vacated his WEC title to join the UFC less than 12 months earlier, but lost to Sherk, whose post-fight drug test came back positive, seeing him stripped of the belt.

Penn, having dropped back down from middleweight to lightweight, beat Joe Stevenson to take the vacant title in January 2008, making three defences against Sherk, Florian and Diego Sanchez before controversially losing to Frankie Edgar in April 2010. The rematch was made with Edgar winning in more convincing fashion four months later.

Edgar drew with Gray Maynard in January 2011, winning via KO in the rematch that October for a third successful defence.

Former WEC champion Benson Henderson made the move to the UFC in 2011 and would beat Edgar in February 2012, winning the rematch in August.

As it had with WEC, Zuffa purchased Strikeforce, eventually merging the two. Then-Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez fought UFC champion Henderson to effectively unify the titles. Henderson won by split decision in April 2013, eventually losing to Anthony Pettis the following August.

Pettis would make one successful defence against Melendez before losing to Rafael dos Anjos in March 2015, as the lightweight division approached the modern era.

Dos Anjos made one defence against Donald Cerrone in December 2015, around the time Conor McGregor was unifying the featherweight division with eyes on becoming a two-weight world champion.

That would have to wait, however. Dos Anjos pulled out of the title fight with McGregor through injury, and with McGregor losing to Nate Diaz, setting up an instant rematch, it gave Eddie Alvarez the chance to jump the queue and beat Dos Anjos himself in July 2016.

In what was one of the most clinical striking displays ever seen in a title fight, McGregor dismantled Alvarez in November 2016 as the UFC made its long-awaited return to New York.

Unfortunately for MMA fans, McGregor had entered the stratosphere, and pursued a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, forcing an interim title fight between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee in October 2017. Ferguson took the interim title but was stripped of that in April 2018 due to injury, while McGregor was stripped of his belt on the same date after holding it for 18 months having never defended it.

In the meantime, Khabib Nurmagomedov, who’d recovered from career-threatening knee injuries, was making his way through the lightweight division, eventually beating Al Iaquinta in April 2018 to capture the vacant crown.

The long-awaited return of McGregor saw Nurmagomedov take on the former champion in October 2018, winning by submission, sparking post-fight brawls in and out of the Octagon that led to suspensions for both fighters.

With the champion suspended, Dustin Poirier beat Max Holloway for the interim title in April 2019, with Nurmagomedov beating Poirier five months later.

Covid-19 prevented Nurmagomedov leaving Russia to defend his title against Tony Ferguson, meaning Ferguson would fight Justin Gaethje for the interim belt.

Gaethje won in a bloody five-round battle in May 2020, but Nurmagomedov would again unify the division five months later.

Having recently lost his father, Nurmagomedov hung up the gloves with the title officially vacated in March 2021, as Charles Oliveira beat Michael Chandler to the vacant belt the following May.

Oliveira would beat Poirier that December, but was stripped of his title after failing to make weight against Gaethje in May 2022. Oliveira won the fight, but the belt remained vacant as Oliveira was unable to fight for the title.

The champion without a belt would take on rising star Islam Makhachev in October 2022, with the Russian winning via second-round submission.

Makhachev has since made successful defences against then-featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, and will take on Poirier at UFC 302 in June 2024.

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