The UFC Lightweight Title: A Visual History

By Ben Duffy Oct 20, 2020
At UFC 254 on Saturday, Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title against Justin Gaethje. If he succeeds, he will join B.J. Penn, Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson as the only men to defend the belt three times. He will also bolster his case to be called the greatest champion in the history of what is by acclamation the deepest, most competitive division in the sport.

It wasn’t always that way, of course. The lightweight division was once so unloved that, thanks to a combination of lukewarm fan interest, a thin roster and a fluke fight outcome, the 155-pound championship lay vacant from March 2002, when champion Jens Pulver bolted over a contract dispute, until October 2006, when Sean Sherk defeated Kenny Florian to capture the title and rekindle the division. Unthinkable as it seems now, many fans during that nearly five-year interregnum questioned whether the “little guys” would ever be a deep enough division to consistently develop title contenders—let alone sell pay-per-views—and wondered whether the UFC might not be better off shuttering the weight class entirely.

Thankfully, the UFC never did give up on lightweight, and by the time of Penn’s long-awaited title reign in 2008, the division was well on its way to becoming the shark tank it is today. While many of the lightweight stars from Pride Fighting Championships chose to stay in Asia after the promotion was acquired by Zuffa in 2007, the UFC’s absorption of World Extreme Cagefighting in 2010 and Strikeforce in 2013 bolstered an already loaded division even further.

Here is the history of the UFC lightweight title and the occasions on which it was won, lost or defended. It tells a story of triumph over adversity and of turning away determined challengers: not only for the individual men who have held the belt but for the division itself.

Ben Duffy/ illustration

<h2>Fight Finder</h2>