Few easy paths to linear titles
With all the different organizations in mixed martial arts boasting competing claims of who is No. 1, there is an old-fashioned way of determining who the real world champion is at each weight class.
It’s the linear test.
The linear champion, a term used more commonly in boxing, is the guy who beats the champion to become the champion, regardless of specific belts recognized by sanctioning bodies.
With the exception of heavyweight and possibly lightweight, the current linear champion in the five major weight divisions is the person who holds the UFC belt.
The politics of MMA, in which the sport’s biggest company, the UFC, doesn’t work with other promotions, makes for a series of twists and turns in the claim for linear supremacy.
For evidence, you need look no further than the oldest division in the sport, the heavyweights.
Heavyweight: Not Brock Lesnar
The first true heavyweight MMA champion, before weight classes even existed in UFC, was Ken Shamrock. The UFC debuted on November 12, 1993, in Denver, with a one-night tournament, won by Royce Gracie.
The company’s first actual singles title match was on April 7, 1995, with Gracie vs. Shamrock for what was called the “World Superfight championship.”
The match, the longest in UFC history, went 36:06 before it was called off due to pay-per-view time running out, and ruled a draw. At the time, MMA fights had no judges. If there had been judging, Shamrock, who weighed between 205 and 210 pounds, would have easily won the decision from the 180-pound Gracie.
Gracie dropped out of UFC, and on July 14, 1995, in Casper, Wyoming, Shamrock beat Dan Severn with a guillotine in a battle of the two top fighters in the organization at the time, to become the first Superfight champ.
Severn won a rematch on May 17, 1996, in Detroit, on a split decision in one of the worst fights in company history. When Mark Coleman beat Severn on February 7, 1997, the title was renamed the UFC heavyweight championship.
While Brock Lesnar holds that championship today, the linear title scenario isn’t as cut-and-dried. The UFC belt passed from Coleman to Maurice Smith to Randy Couture, all in 1997. Couture then had money issues with the original UFC ownership group, left the company without being defeated, and went to Japan.
The linear title left UFC with Couture, who lost via armbar to Enson Inoue in a Vale Tudo fight in Tokyo on October 25, 1998. Inoue then lost to Mark Kerr in the PRIDE organization. Kerr then lost to Kazuyuki Fujita on May 1, 2000, and that’s where things get really interesting.
Fujita battered Kerr to win a decision in a major upset. It was the first match for both men in an eight-man, one-night event that was billed to crown the best fighter in the sport, the original PRIDE Grand Prix tournament.
Fujita suffered a knee injury in the Kerr fight from ramming his knee into Kerr’s head so many times. He came to the ring for his second fight, in order to collect his paycheck, and as soon as the bell rang, his corner threw in the towel in a match with Coleman, so technically, he competed and lost. Coleman went on to win the tournament, and the linear title stayed with PRIDE until the closing of the organization in 2007.
Coleman’s next loss was to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who later became PRIDE’s first world heavyweight champion. Nogueira held both the linear and PRIDE titles until losing to Fedor Emelianenko via decision on March 16, 2003.
Nobody beat Emelianenko until June 26, 2010, in San Jose, when Fabricio Werdum submitted him with an armbar in 1:09 in a Strikeforce match. So while Lesnar holds the most publicized version of a world title, Werdum actually holds the linear claim that traces back to Shamrock.
Light heavyweight: All UFC
In the light heavyweight division, the UFC title, at the time called the middleweight title, dates back to December 27, 1997, when Frank Shamrock beat Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Kevin Jackson with an armbar in 14 seconds in a match in Yokohama, Japan.
Shamrock actually never lost another match until 2007, but he stopped fighting as a light heavyweight in 2003.
Shamrock would now be considered by today’s standards a medium sized welterweight. At the time, there was no middleweight division. He fought sparingly after vacating the UFC title at the end of 1999 due to better money offers, and was a middleweight when he lost to Renzo Gracie via disqualification in 2007.
Because Shamrock’s days as a light heavyweight were limited, the most legitimate title claim remained with UFC, which filled the void after Shamrock left the company with an April 14, 2000, match in Tokyo where Tito Ortiz beat Wanderlei Silva via decision. For the past decade, that title can be perfectly traced in the UFC cage to the championship held today by Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who beat Lyoto Machida on May 8, 2010 in Montreal.
Middleweight: What you didn’t know about Silva-Sonnen
The current UFC 185-pound championship was created when Murilo Bustamante beat Dave Menne via knockout in the second round on January 11, 2002, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. That linear title is held today by Anderson Silva. But while he won the UFC title nearly four years ago to start his record-breaking reign, believe it or not he actually claimed the linear title four weeks ago.
Bustamante left UFC in a contract dispute. While he lost to Quinton Jackson in Japan as a light heavyweight, his first loss at middleweight was to Dan Henderson, which ended up creating the PRIDE title, which was actually at 183 pounds.
The linear title took an interesting twist in Japan, where Kazuo Misaki beat Henderson in a PRIDE non-title match and then lost to Paulo Filho.
After PRIDE went down in 2007, Filho was signed by WEC and won its middleweight championship. Filho’s only career loss was November 5, 2008, to Chael Sonnen, in what was supposed to be a WEC middleweight title match. Filho didn’t make weight, thus the match was made WEC non-title, but Sonnen beat him via decision.
With Sonnen as the rightful champion, the linear “belt” moved with Sonnen to UFC when WEC dropped its middleweight division. Sonnen then lost to Demian Maia, who lost to Nate Marquardt. Marquardt lost to Sonnen, and the title finally wound up with Silva on August 8, in Oakland, via fifth-round triangle submission.
Welterweight: GSP’s world
The welterweight title was created on October 16, 1998, when Pat Miletich won a decision over Mikey Burnett at the UFC’s only event ever held in South America, in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The 170-pound class was first called the lightweight championship, but quickly was changed to the welterweight division.
In those days, before Zuffa had purchased UFC, fighters didn’t have exclusive contracts. Miletich, as champion, fought on a February 2, 1999, SuperBrawl show in Honolulu, where he lost via triangle choke to Jutaro Nakao. During Miletich’s UFC title reign, he lost three times outside the UFC.
The linear title, however, still ends up with current UFC champion Georges St. Pierre, but there is a winding road there.
Nakao lost in Japan to Tetsuji Kato, who lost to Hayato Sakurai, who lost to, of all people, a 167-pound Anderson Silva on August 26, 2001. Silva lost in Japan to Daijyu Takase, who lost to Rodrigo Gracie, also in Japan. Gracie lost to B.J. Penn in Honolulu. Penn returned to UFC and lost to St. Pierre on March 4, 2006. This was prior to St. Pierre’s first title win over Matt Hughes on November 18, 2006, in Sacramento, Calif.
In the past four-and-a-half years, St. Pierre only lost once, to Matt Serra, and immediately regained the title in the rematch.
Lightweight: Two lines of thought
The holder of the current linear lightweight championship is a matter of interpetation.
The current UFC lightweight championship can be traced back to February 23, 2001, when Jens Pulver won a majority decision over Caol Uno in Atlantic City, N.J. Since Miletich’s title was still being called “lightweight,” the 155-pound title was originally called the bantamweight title.
A few months later, both titles underwent name changes. Pulver also ended up in a financial dispute with UFC, and left the organization and fought elsewhere without losing the championship.
Pulver’s first loss after winning the title was in Montreal, where he was knocked out in just 1:13 by Duane “Bang” Ludwig. Ludwig went to Japan and lost by submission to Penn on May 22, 2004 in Tokyo. Penn did not fight at lightweight again for three years, but when he returned, he defeated Pulver, Joe Stevenson to claim the vacant UFC title, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez. He would actually not lose a lightweight match until April 10, 2010 when he dropped the UFC title to Frankie Edgar, who beat Penn again in a rematch last weekend.
But could Penn truly said to remain the linear lightweight champion when he didn’t fight at that weight for three years, and had to be coaxed back into the division?
If you believe the answer to that question to be “no,” the most logical progression after Penn stopped fighting as a lightweight would be to move to the PRIDE World Lightweight Grand Prix tournament held in Japan in 2005. UFC didn’t even have a lightweight champion at the time, so the top lightweights in the world were involved. But the big issue in that tournament is that the weight class was 161 pounds, not 155, and that does make a difference.
Takanori Gomi won the tournament, beating Luiz Azeredo in the finals on September 25, 2005, via decision. Gomi solidified his claim beating Hayato Sakurai, which created PRIDE’s first lightweight championship.
This version of the linear title takes several turns from there. Gomi lost to Marcus Aurelio, who lost to Mitsuhiro Ishida, who then lost to Gomi. Gomi lost to Nick Diaz in Las Vegas, but the loss was overturned because Diaz tested positive for marijuana. Gomi then lost in one of the great upsets in MMA history, to unheralded Sergey Golyaev on November 1, 2008. Golyaev immediately lost to Eiji Mitsuoka, who lost to Kazunori Yokota, who lost to Tatsuya Kawajiri. By this point, in Japan, the lightweight division was 154 pounds, close enough to the 155 that has been the North American standard.
The title line would end with Dream champion Shinya Aoki, who quickly submitted Kawajiri on July 10, 2010, which was less than three months after Aoki was completely dominated in a Strikeforce fight by Gilbert Melendez.
Wow, that made my head hurt..
See...the problem with the above is that the Succession is NOT practically Dynastic.
If the above were true, there would be ONE SINGLE belt passed on from person to person, like father to son, and thats the only way it could go, it could never move on without an heir, because it would effectively be a crown.
But there are litterally hundreds of Welterweight Championship belts...because for every event a new crown is made. So when Matt for example lost to GSP...he kept the physical token he walked in with, and GSP got a brand new belt...the belt GSP has now, never was in Hughes possession. So you might get ideological dynasties, or Training Camp Dynasties...but the Title itself isnt Dynastic.
At any moment the UFC could make a new belt and give it to someone else, instantly voiding the belt before. So nothing, truely, is passed on from one Champion to the next except the office.
This puts your argument on a par with MMA maths...because its all, he beat him who beat him who beat him....irrespective of the level of the fighter, or organisation