Next month in Perth, Australia, Islam Makhachev defends his lightweight title against featherweight kingpin Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 284 in the latest entry into the limited, but impressive, collection of “Champion vs. Champion” bouts to take place inside the Octagon.
Excluding instances where interim titleholders faced off with their undisputed counterparts in a unification bout, there have been six previous instances where a titleholder from one weight class ventured to another division to face its ruler. Each of those contests were captivating affairs carrying a great deal of intrigue, and all of them produced intriguing results.
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So, in advance of next month’s showdown between Makhachev and Volkanovski, let’s revisit the previous instances where champions from two weight classes competed against one another inside the ultimate proving ground.
Georges St-Pierre vs. BJ Penn (UFC 94)
At UFC 58, St-Pierre and Penn battled to a split decision in a bout to determine who would challenge welterweight champ Matt Hughes for his title. The Canadian landed on the happy side of the cards, eventually beat Hughes to claim the title, and after a brief hiccup, embarked on a lengthy title reign.
Penn ultimately moved back to lightweight and rose to the top of the division in dominant fashion, winning and defending the title with brilliant finishes over Joe Stevenson and Sean Shark, leading to a showdown with St-Pierre being booked for UFC 94. The UFC Prime Time series mapped out the rivalry and tension between the two in the build-up to the fight, and the excitement surrounding the first “Champion vs. Champion” clash was palpable.
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The fight turned into a one-sided affair, with St-Pierre using his superior wrestling and technical brilliance to wear-out Penn, whose gas tank failed him. As the lightweight champion trudged to his corner following the fourth round, Penn’s corner waved off the fight, bringing the highly anticipated showdown to an end.
St-Pierre carried on dominating the welterweight division, while Penn returned to lightweight to post two more impressive efforts against Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez. These were two of the best fighters on the planet at the time — and are two of the all-time greats — and seeing them face off was a fit of fantasy matchmaking come true.
Conor McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez (UFC 205)
At the close of 2015, McGregor claimed the featherweight title and set his sights on the lightweight strap, eager to make history as the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold championship gold in two weight classes. He’d accomplished the feat under the Cage Warriors banner and was eager to replicate it in the biggest organization on the planet.
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An injury to then-champion Rafael Dos Anjos produced a two-fight series between McGregor and Nathan Diaz that dominated the headlines for months and resulted in Eddie Alvarez knocking the Brazilian from atop the lightweight throne.
After McGregor drew level with Diaz in their second battle, he returned his focus to claiming the lightweight title, signing on to face Alvarez in the main event of UFC 205, the company’s debut at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Ever the showman, McGregor didn’t disappoint.
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The Irishman hurt Alvarez almost immediately and crafted a masterpiece, finishing the veteran titleholder midway through the second round. It was a brilliant effort followed by a typically bombastic post-fight interview, where McGregor apologized to “absolutely no one” and posed with championship gold on both shoulders.
If you ever want to see McGregor at his absolute best, this is the fight to watch.
Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic (UFC 226)
At UFC 220, Cormier successfully defended the light heavyweight title with a second-round stoppage win over Volkan Oezdemir in the co-main event. In the main event, Miocic halted Francis Ngannou’s dramatic ascent, retaining his heavyweight title in the process.
With neither man having an obvious challenger in place, pitting the two of them together made complete sense.
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Cormier was undefeated at heavyweight before relocating to light heavyweight, and he profiled as a formidable test for Miocic, while the heavyweight champion had put together arguably the best resume of anyone in the division’s history, and seemed to have an athletic advantage over the undersized wrestler.
After coaching opposite one another on Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, the two squared off in the main event of UFC 226, and late in the opening stanza, Cormier dropped Miocic with a short hook to become just the second person to hold championship gold in two weight classes simultaneously.
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Cormier’s victory turned up the volume on the rivalry between the two, with Miocic getting a rematch and a measure of revenge at UFC 241 the following summer, setting up a trilogy bout between the two a year later. The Ohio native won the rubber match and the series, with Cormier hanging up his gloves following their third meeting.
It wasn’t the first instance of champions facing one another or even the most memorable individual matchup in the group, but it was the only one that produced a lasting rivalry and multiple championship fights.
Amanda Nunes vs. Cris Cyborg (UFC 232)
This was a monumental fight.
Nunes had cemented her standing as the top bantamweight in the sport, earning three consecutive successful title defenses, while Cyborg entered on a 10-fight winning streak and 21-fight unbeaten streak. While Nunes had to navigate a close battle with Valentina Shevchenko, Cyborg hadn’t really been challenged in years, posting dominant efforts over Tonya Evinger, Holly Holm, and Yana Kunitskaya ahead of this all-Brazilian affair.
Though it lasted just 51 seconds, this was a riveting contest, as both women came out swinging hammers. While both landed at times, Nunes delivered the more telling blows, hurting Cyborg and punishing her further each time she rushed forward looking to connect with something serious of her own.
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With Cyborg wobbled along the fence, Nunes searched for the finishing blow, dropping the featherweight champion with a clean right hand that forced referee Marc Goddard to step in and halt the action.
An elated Nunes patiently waited for her second title to be placed over her shoulder, and once it was, “The Lioness” raced around the Octagon with the biggest smile imaginable on her face. Not only did Nunes become the first woman to simultaneously hold two titles at once, but she also would go on to be the only “Double Champ” to defend each of their titles.
Henry Cejudo vs. TJ Dillashaw (UFN 143)
Cejudo claimed championship gold at UFC 227, earning a split decision win over Demetrious Johnson to become just the second flyweight champion in UFC history. Dillashaw followed him into the Octagon that evening in Anaheim and successfully defended his bantamweight title with a first-round knockout win over his former teammate and rival Cody Garbrandt.
A matchup between the two was discussed, with most anticipating Cejudo moving up to challenge for Dillashaw’s title, but instead, the bantamweight titleholder vowed to move down and dethrone Cejudo.
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Paired off in the main event of the UFC’s first event on ESPN+, Cejudo needed just 32 seconds to stop Dillashaw, defend his title, and put himself on a path to becoming “Triple C.” Dillashaw would relinquish the bantamweight title soon after while accepting a two-year suspension, and five months later at UFC 238, the Olympic gold medalist rallied to finish Marlon Moraes and claim the vacant bantamweight belt.
A year later, Cejudo successfully defended his title against former champ Dominick Cruz and then announced his retirement. He’s talked about making a return to the Octagon in 2023, and if he does, you can be sure that Cejudo will go looking to add more championship gold to his collection.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya (UFC 259)
After pushing his record to 20-0 and earning a pair of successful middleweight title defenses, Adesanya looked to join the “Double Champ” club by venturing up to light heavyweight to face newly crowned champion Jan Blachowicz. The Polish standout had won the title the previous summer with a second-round knockout win over Dominick Reyes, and with no immediate challengers at the ready, a date with “The Last Stylebender” made the most sense.
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Unbeaten and brimming with charisma, Adesanya was the favorite heading into the fight, but the veteran Blachowicz was unbothered by the attention his championship counterpart commanded or the expectations that he would fall. His size and diverse repertoire allowed him to get out ahead of Adesanya in the early stages in the fight before Blachowicz turned to his wrestling to salt away the final two rounds and successfully defend his title.
Adesanya returned to middleweight and racked up three more title defenses before dropping the belt to Alex Pereira last November in NYC, while Blachowicz came out flat and was ultimately submitted by Glover Teixeira at UFC 267.