The UFC was founded in 1993, making it less than 25 years old. In sporting terms, that’s relatively young. And the action you see on your television these days is drastically different than those early days, where there were no weight classes and little rules or government regulation. That all changed when Zuffa bought the failing company in 2001 and transformed it into a legit combat sports empire.
Soon, the UFC roster was separated into five weight classes, each given their own championship. Later, the UFC would add three more weight classes (featherweight, bantamweight, and flyweight) and a women’s division. Over the years, many different fighters have been able to call themselves champion. But the one thing that is guaranteed in prize fighting is that no one stays on top forever. Eventually every champion becomes a former champion, but in some cases it happens without even suffering a loss.
There have been numerous cases where the UFC has had to take a championship away from a fighter, for a number of different reasons. Here’s a list of every single time it’s happened.
Before we get into the titles that were taken away from fighters, let’s take a moment to run through all the times where a championship was simply vacated by the owner. It doesn’t happen often, but UFC champs have voluntarily relinquished their belts on four separate occasions in UFC history.
Legendary dutch striker Bas Rutten vacated the heavyweight title in June 1999 to drop down a weightclass into light heavyweight. Unfortunately, injuries would be forced him to retire shortly after. Later that same year, Frank Shamrock vacated the light heavyweight title when he retired from the UFC, citing a lack of competition (like most fighters, his “retirement” didn’t stick).
In more recent memory, Canadian welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre vacated the welterweight title after his ninth straight title defense (a fight that many people feel he actually lost). He cited concern for a lack of stricter drug testing, plus some personal and professional burnout. So far, he hasn’t returned to the UFC, despite plenty of rumors.
Lastly, Dominick Cruz was forced to vacate the bantamweight championship in early 2014 when he suffered yet another training injury. He hadn’t defended the belt since October 2011 after tearing his ACL, having to have that surgery re-done after his body rejected the replacement ACL, and then tearing his groin. He would eventually return, win his championship back by beating T.J. Dillashaw, before losing it to Cody Garbrandt in December 2016. It was Cruz’s first lost in almost 10 years.
Now on to champions who had their belts yanked away, for one reason or another, in chronological order.
In January 1998, Randy Couture was the brand new heavyweight champion, having just defeated Maurice Smith at UFC Japan. UFC matchmakers wanted him to face off against Bas Rutten, but Couture decided to exit MMA altogether and signed with Vale Tudo Japan. The UFC stripped him of the title, putting it up for grabs in a fight between Rutten and Kevin Randleman (which Rutten would win). Couture would later return to the UFC, win back the heavyweight title, drop down to light heavyweight and win that title (twice), and then move back up to heavyweight and win that title for a record-breaking third time, at the age of 43-years old!