UFC Weight Classes & Their Champions: A History

The Middle Years (1997-2000)

The First Heavyweight Champion – Mark Coleman

The First Heavyweight Champion – Mark Coleman

The First Heavyweight Champion – Mark Coleman (Feb. 7, 1997-July 27, 1997)

In the inaugural heavyweight championship, Mark Coleman (UFC 11 tournament winner) defeated Superfight champion Dan Severn at UFC 12 with at choke at 2:57. Don Frye (the winner of the Ultimate Ultimate ’96) was scheduled to face Severn by winning that tournament, but had to withdraw due to injuries.

The First Lightweight Champion

During the time that the lightweight division included everyone under 200 pounds, there was never a champion or championship fight. At UFC 14, the division was renamed the middleweight division (still including everyone under 200 pounds) and the lightweight moniker was dropped until UFC 16, when a third division was created.

A Minor Change (July 27, 1997, UFC 14)

UFC 14 was the first time we heard the term middleweight (within the UFC). The lightweight moniker was dropped and replaced by middleweight presumably to better reflect the definition as related to other forms of combat (such as boxing) and, therefore, lead to less confusion among the fans.

The Second Heavyweight Champion – Maurice Smith (July 27, 1997-Dec. 21, 1997)

Smith defeated Mark Coleman by unanimous decision at UFC 14, becoming the second heavyweight champion. The fight went the distance, 15 minutes, plus 2 3-minute overtime periods.

The First Middleweight Champion – Frank Shamrock (Dec. 21, 1997-Sept. 24 1999)

Frank ShamrockShamrock won the inaugural middleweight belt at UFC Japan when he defeated Kevin Jackson in 16 seconds (armbar). He defended his title five times, the last being against Tito Ortiz at UFC 22 (Sept. 24, 1999). After that fight, Shamrock retired, leaving the title vacated until Ortiz claimed it at UFC 25, beating Wanderlei Silva.

The Third Heavyweight Champion – Randy Couture (Dec. 21, 1997-Jan., 1998)

Couture defeated Maurice Smith by majority decision at UFC Japan to become the third heavyweight champion. He never defended his belt in this, his first time being a champion, as he was stripped of the title when he signed with Vale Tudo in Japan.

The Third Major Format Change (Mar. 13, 1998, UFC 16)

The UFC now had three weight classes. The heavyweight division remained the same (200 pounds and over), the middleweight division was shrunk to include only fighters between 170 and 199 pounds, and the lightweight division resurfaced to included all fighters under 170 pounds.

First Lightweight Champion – Pat Miletich (Oct. 16 1998-May 4 2001)

Pat MiletichMiletich defeated Mikey Burnett by split decision to become the first lightweight champion. He defended his title four times until losing it to Carlos Newton at UFC 31. Between the Burnett fight up to and including the Newton fight, the lightweight division was modified twice. By UFC 26 it was shrunk to include only fighters at 155 pounds up to, but below, 170 pounds due to the creation of the new bantamweight division. At UFC 31, the Ultimate Fighting Championships permanently adopted the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, which put Miletich and his belt in the welterweight division.

Bas Rutten

The Fourth Heavyweight Champion – Bas Rutten (May 7, 1999-June, 1999)

Rutten defeated Kevin Randleman in what was a very close fight. He won by split decision. He retired soon after leaving the title vacant until Randleman took it at UFC 23.

The Fifth Heavyweight Champion – Kevin Randleman (Nov. 19, 1999-Nov. 17, 2000)

Kevin RandlemanRandleman defeated Pete Williams by unanimous decision at UFC 23. He defended his title once before losing it to Randy Couture at UFC 28.

The Second Middleweight Champion – Tito Ortiz (Apr. 14 2000-May 4, 2001)

 Tito OrtizOrtiz beat Wanderlei Silva by unanimous decision at UFC 25 to win the vacant middleweight championship (Frank Shamrock had retired giving up the belt). He defended his belt five times before losing it to Randy Couture at UFC 44.

By UFC 31, Ortiz moved into the newly created light heavyweight division, keeping his belt in the process. He, therefore, become the UFC’s first light heavyweight champion. An explanation of these confusing events will be discussed later.

What happened to the lightweight division during the fourth major format change?

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