mma / Columns

Ranking MMA’s Double Champs: Henry Cejudo, Daniel Cormier, More

June 10, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Henry Cejudo

Until November 2016, exactly one fighter in MMA history had ever held major championships for two weight divisions simultaneously. Since then, with the sport’s major organizations hosting far more weight classes than they did in earlier years and the emergence of a more relaxed attitude about weight class jumping, six more double champions have etched their name in MMA history. The most recent occurrence—Henry Cejudo pounding out Marlon Moraes to nab UFC’s bantamweight title—marked the third crowning of a double champion this year. Two made their mark in 2018, one in 2016, and the first in 2007.

Now that we have a decent number to work with, it seems the time has come to rank these incredible feats to determine the most impressive double champion.

The criteria will cover the period from when a fighter when the first title up to when they won the second title. In the future, such a list should include the entire reign as double champion, but for this list’s purposes it wouldn’t be exactly fair as four of the seven fighters have not yet had a chance to defend their title after becoming double champion. This means only that Daniel Cormier’s title defense against Derrick Lewis isn’t considered, because to this point, he’s the only double champion with a title defense while he carried two belts. Instead, we’ll consider the strength of competition and performance over the defined period, which includes both losses for some.

It must be noted that winning one major world championship is difficult enough, and getting to the point of winning a second is a phenomenal achievement. We’re ranking a crop of incredible fighters, and in some cases, hairs had to be split.

7. Ryan Bader, Bellator Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight Champion

It appears that Ryan Bader’s jump from the UFC to Bellator in 2017 was the best move he could have made. In the UFC, Bader found himself just below the world title level. He’d win several fights, move up to face a top contender, and lose. It’s a near certainty that if he’d stayed in the UFC, he would have fought for a title by now, but his UFC career came and went without a single title fight.

Bellator thrust Bader directly into a light heavyweight title fight against Phil Davis. Bader won the fight and the title in a close split decision that didn’t inspire much excitement. He completed one title defense, a stoppage win over Linton Vassell, before entering Bellator’s 8-man heavyweight tournament to crown a new champion.

Most of the tournament field consisted of old, past-their-prime fighters. Bader and Matt Mitrione were the two favorites, which lent interest when they met in the semifinals. Bader was totally dominant there and fought perfectly, taking virtually no damage. It wasn’t exciting, but it worked.

That pushed Bader to a finals fight with 42-year-old legend Fedor Emelianenko. Predictably, Bader made short work of Emelianenko, securing the heavyweight title and his status as a double champion.

6. Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, Bellator Featherweight and Lightweight Champion

Perhaps it will seem unfair to have both Bellator double champions in the bottom two spots, but it’s about the perceived strength of competition. Freire’s wins are much stronger than Bader’s, and Michael Chandler—who Freire beat to become double champion—is undeniably a world class fighter in any organization, but on the whole, those ahead of him have better wins.

Pitbull beat Daniel Straus (in their fourth fight against one another) to take Bellator’s featherweight title for the second time. After recovering from injuries, he returned a year later to escape with the title following a close fight against Daniel Weichel. Following another defense against Emmanuel Sanchez in November 2018, Freire set his sights back toward a long-wanted grudge match against Michael Chandler, who would recapture his lightweight title a month later. He had moved up to lightweight once before, taking aim at Chandler, but it wasn’t to be.

With the timing right, Pitbull moved up to challenge Chandler in May and stopped him with strikes in one minute. It was a career-defining win for Freire, who is the most successful fighter in Bellator history.

5. Dan Henderson, Pride Welterweight and Middleweight Champion

Pride FC wasn’t much for weight classes in its first few years, and then it had just two: heavyweight and middleweight (middleweight was Pride’s equivalent of the light heavyweight division. Dan Henderson generally competed against middleweights, but wasn’t averse to trekking up to heavyweight for a non-title fight with heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

In 2005, Pride created a tournament to crown a welterweight (183-pound) champion. Henderson, who was a small middleweight and fell out in the first round of Pride’s 2005 middleweight tournament, entered the welterweight ranks.

After knocking out Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono in the same night, Henderson advanced to the tournament finals to fight Murilo Bustamante, who he held a quick knockout win over. The rematch went much better for Bustamante, who controlled most of the fight, but Henderson, who came closer to finishing, received a split-decision and the title.

Pride’s booking philosophy made title fights a rarity and championships were defended infrequently. Henderson’s next outing saw him beat Kazuo Misaki by decision in a non-title bout, but four months later they met again in the opening round of the 2006 Welterweight Grand Prix, and Misaki beat Henderson. The loss came in another non-title bout so Henderson kept his strap. Misaki, who ended up winning the tournament (despite a semifinal loss to Paulo Filho), probably would have challenged Henderson for the title in 2007 had Pride continued operations.

Henderson bounced back to beat Vitor Belfort in a 205-pound bout, and in February 2007 found himself in a title fight against middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva. Since had been champion since 2001, and at the time was still a terrifying prospect. Through his Pride run, Silva had lost only one middleweight bout, which he later avenged. He was, however, coming off a devastating knockout loss to heavyweight Mirko Cro Cop the prior September.

Henderson, who was known less for his H-bomb and more as “Decision Dan” at this point, shocked Silva with a third-round knockout to take the title. He never had a chance to defend it as Zuffa purchased Pride and he was moved into a fight against his UFC championship counterpart, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

4. Conor McGregor, UFC Featherweight and Lightweight Champion

Although Conor McGregor’s reign as featherweight and lightweight champion was hardly lengthy, he can be credited for making being “champ-champ” the in thing. McGregor stormed up the featherweight ranks, landing on longtime champion Jose Aldo’s doorstep.

Weeks before they were to meet, Aldo fell out of the fight with an injury. With an enormous live gate sold on McGregor’s appearance, he remained on the card against Chad Mendes. This was an enormous gamble. McGregor had never passed the “wrestler test,” Mendes was one of the strongest wrestlers in the division, McGregor had little time to adjust, and unbeknownst to most he was battling a knee injury. But the show goes on, and McGregor capped off one of the best nights of fighting the UFC has ever seen with a memorable interim featherweight championship victory. This only added fuel to an already hot feud with Aldo.

The built to Aldo vs. McGregor lasted more than a year. The fight lasted all of 13 seconds. McGregor timed Aldo with a left hand that left him unconscious, and left McGregor as the undisputed featherweight champion.

McGregor immediately attempted to become a double champion, with the UFC setting up a fight against lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. When that fell through days before the fight, McGregor remained on the card again, with Nate Diaz stepping in this time. For a night at least, Diaz upended the MMA world, upsetting McGregor with a second-round submission in one of the few MMA fights the world took notice of. They ran it back with an immediate rematch, and this time McGregor took a very close and exciting decision. With that, it was back to being a double champion.

Dos Anjos had fallen to Eddie Alvarez in July 2016 in a major upset. Alvarez had been one of the world’s top lightweights for eight years by that point, but he wasn’t built to be a long-term champion; his fighting style would make sure of that. Still, the performance that McGregor had against Alvarez was astounding. It was bell-to-bell dominance; what figured to be a close matchup proved to be an outright mismatch. Although McGregor never defended his featherweight title—he was stripped a month after beating Alvarez—and lost to Diaz during his run, the strength of his wins over Aldo and Alvarez boost his ranking here.

A Brief Interlude: Double Champs that Could Have Been
Matt Hughes was a longtime welterweight champion that had talked about going up to middleweight. The UFC decided to let him try it, and the concept for season two of The Ultimate Fighter was for Hughes to coach opposite the middleweight champion, setting up a middleweight title fight after the season’s end. The middleweight champion ended up being a friend and sometimes training partner of Hughes, Rich Franklin, so the idea of a fight between the two was dropped.

B.J. Penn was the UFC lightweight champion when he moved up to challenge welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in 2009. St-Pierre dominated the battle of the two pound-for-pound greats, ending Penn’s hopes at becoming a simultaneous two-division champion. He’ll have to settle for being a mere two-division champion—he’d previously won the welterweight title from Matt Hughes in 2004.

Gegard Mousasi became the first Dream middleweight champion in 2008, but gave up his title and moved up to light heavyweight. In 2009, he won Strikeforce’s light heavyweight championship, and then won Dream’s version in 2010. If only he’d held onto the middleweight title a little bit longer.

Rory MacDonald captured Bellator’s welterweight title in January of 2018, and immediately moved to vie for Gegard Mousasi’s newly-won middleweight title. It did not go swimmingly for Mr. MacDonald.

T.J. Dillashaw moved down in weight in a bid to become a double champion earlier this year when he met Henry Cejudo. But Cejudo made quick work of him, and then Dillashaw failed a drug test anyway.

3. Daniel Cormier, UFC Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight Champion

The obvious asterisk with Cormier is that he never beat Jon Jones to either win or retain the light heavyweight title. If he had, he’d be an easy #1 on this list. His strength of competition is unbelievable, but he’s missing a win over the guy.

Cormier’s title reign began with his 2015 win over Anthony Johnson. Later that year, he retained his title in a battle against Alexander Gustafsson. He then dominated an out-of-shape Anderson Silva in a non-title bout, and then defeated Anthony Johnson in his second title defense.

It was the third title defense that complicates things. Jon Jones knocked Cormier out with a head kick but then failed a drug test. The fight was overturned to a no contest, the UFC stripped Jones of the title, and the belt went back to Cormier. Even if the fight remained a loss on Cormier’s record, I don’t think his place on this list is any different.

Following a title defense against Volkan Oezdemir, Cormier returned to his old heavyweight stomping grounds—the division that actually suits him best—to challenge Stipe Miocic. Miocic had defended his title more than any other UFC heavyweight champion, and Cormier ended that reign with a first-round knockout.

2. Henry Cejudo, UFC Flyweight and Bantamweight Champion

I grappled with the ordering of Cejudo and Cormier on this list. Cejudo only has three fights to consider, it includes a win over the guy, which gives him the slight edge within this short period we’re examining.

Cejudo barely got through Demetrious Johnson, but he left the fight with the title nonetheless. With the arguable exception of Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson is the most dominant champion the UFC has ever had, so Cejudo ending that reign holds a lot of weight.

Then came a fight with the bantamweight champion, but in a twist, it was the bantamweight coming down to challenge Cejudo. Dillashaw is one of the best bantamweights ever, and Cejudo toppled him in 32 seconds.

All of that led to Saturday night, with both Cejudo and Marlon Moraes vying for the vacant bantamweight title. Cejudo toughed it out and took over the fight, stopping Moraes in the third round to join the club.

1. Amanda Nunes, UFC Women’s Bantamweight and Women’s Featherweight Champion

The last five fights of Amanda Nunes’s career have been incredible. It started with a shellacking of Miesha Tate to win the bantamweight title. Then she tore through Ronda Rousey, who people seem to forget was once ridiculously dominant.

Valentina Shevchenko provided the best challenge to Nunes, but the champion retained her title. Nunes then dominated Raquel Pennington, before moving on to the biggest fight of her life as far as legacy is concerned.

Cris Cyborg had not lost in thirteen years, and nobody had come close to beating her in that time. She had no real opposition at 145 pounds. Nunes went up in weight for the challenge, and carried all her speed and firepower. She did the unthinkable in knocking Cyborg out in 51 seconds, the high point of a decorated career.

She’ll look to add another major name to her resume when she defends the bantamweight title against Holly Holm next month.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.