MMA Fighters have to run the gauntlet inside the Octagon many times in order to win the most coveted prize in the sport – a UFC championship title, but sometimes the belt they fought so hard to claim can then slip from their grasp again for reasons other than having suffered a knockout, submission or decision loss.
Of course, over the years there have been numerous examples of champions being dethroned after it’s emerged that they’d used performance-enhancing drugs, but that’s far from the only reason.
From career-threatening injuries to behind-the-scenes fallouts and even examples of fighters willingly walking away from the belt, join us as we explore 14 examples of UFC stars whose days as champions suddenly came to a screeching halt.
Randy Couture made an immediate impact in his MMA debut at UFC 13 back in 1997, winning the one-night tournament that evening, before going on to claim the heavyweight title later that same year with a win over Maurice Smith at UFC: Japan.
Next up the UFC planned to have Couture fight Bas Rutten, but in a surprise move, Couture made a bold decision to leave the UFC to sign for Japanese promotion RINGS instead and was stripped of his title.
Couture did eventually return to the UFC in the year 2000 however and quickly won back the heavyweight title, and in total over the course of his Hall Of Fame career in the Octagon he’d win the heavyweight title on three separate occasions, as well as claiming the light heavyweight belt twice.
Bas Rutten was already a big star in Japan when he signed with the UFC in 1998, and just a couple of fights later he was crowned the promotion’s heavyweight champion after a controversial split decision victory against Kevin Randleman.
A skilled and charismatic fighter, Rutten had all the ingredients to be a huge star for the promotion, and rather than looking to defend his new title, ‘El Guapo’ decided to vacate it in order to attempt to win the middleweight title (nowadays known as light-heavyweight) instead – a bold decision that would have made him the first fighter to win a UFC title in two separate divisions.
Unfortunately, Rutten’s many years of fighting prior to arriving in the Octagon were rapidly catching up with him and during training for his next fight he suffered serious injuries to his neck, knee and bicep that led to him retiring from the sport under doctor’s orders.