In the UFC, getting to the top of the mountain is difficult, staying there is near impossible. Few fighters ever manage to get their hands on a championship. For those that do, few manage to hold onto them for all that long.
Living legends such as Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Georges St. Pierre wowed fans, fighters and pundits alike with their lengthy reigns. For most champions, holding the gold for years is a tall order. Indeed, the record for most successful defenses in one reign in the heavyweight division is just three (Stipe Miocic).
While some champs shoulder the disappointment of losing the prize in their first defense, there are others who never even make it that far. Due to a variety of factors, some champions never put their belts up for grabs at all.
Here are three UFC fighters who never defended their titles:
#3. Former UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten
An MMA pioneer and former three-time King of Pancrase, Bas Rutten secured the UFC heavyweight title near the end of his career. The liver shot master got his first crack at UFC gold against Kevin Randleman in a match for the vacant strap at UFC 20.
For Rutten, the first five or so minutes of the fight were nothing short of disastrous. Coming in hot off a a five-year undefeated streak, Rutten took a merciless beating from Randleman. Busted open and barely defensive in his guard position, Rutten got some relief when the doctor came in to check on his cut.
Taking advantage of the breather, Rutten landed one of his patented liver kicks to Randleman. From that point on, the fight was a considerably more even and slower-paced affair. The bell was rung at the 21-minute mark (this was a simpler time in which the UFC hadn’t committed to five-round fights yet) with the result going to the judges.
In a controversial split decision, Rutten won the UFC heavyweight title. Rutten never defended the belt. Instead, he decided to cut down to the middleweight division for two reasons: the first was it being nearer his regular walking weight and the second was his desire to win gold in two divisions.
Due to a litany of injuries, including knee, arm and neck problems, Rutten’s dream never even came close to coming true. He would only fight once more in 2006, when he scored a first-round TKO win on Ruben Villareal.
#2. Former UFC women’s featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie
The first ever UFC women’s featherweight champion was not the first to defend the gold. Germaine de Randamie, widely regarded as one of the greatest women’s kickboxers of all time, won the title at UFC 208, defeating Holly Holm via unanimous decision.
The win was mired in controversy owing to de Randamie continuing to punch Holm after the horn had sounded at the end of rounds two and three. In neither case did the referee deduct any points from ‘The Iron Lady’ for her transgressions.
UFC president Dana White planned for de Randamie to defend her strap against Cris Cyborg first. De Randamie refused, citing Cyborg’s history of PED use as her excuse before revealing she was moving back to the bantamweight division.
Germaine de Randamie was subsequently stripped of her title without a single defense to her name.
In the bantamweight division, she is yet to hold the gold. Like every other notable name in the women’s bantamweight scene, she came up short in her challenge to reigning champ Amanda Nunes.
#1. Former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor
‘The Notorious’ briefly had the honor of being the UFC’s very first champ-champ back in 2016. McGregor famously sent long-term featherweight champ Jose Aldo packing in just 13 seconds in their title unification bout at UFC 194. From there, the new undisputed champ revealed his intentions to move up to the lightweight division.
After a series of fortuitous events led to McGregor having a classic pair of fights with Nate Diaz in 2016, the Irishman finally set his sights on the lightweight prize. In one of the finest performances of his career, McGregor picked then-champ Eddie Alvarez apart, scoring a TKO win over ‘The Underground King’ three minutes into the second round.
McGregor was stripped of the featherweight title soon after on account of his inactivity in the division. Following his lightweight title win, McGregor took some time off before moving into promoting his boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather. Leaving another UFC title undefended, McGregor was again stripped due to inactivity in April 2018.
To date, McGregor has not won back either of the belts he never defended. His one shot at the lightweight title since then came at UFC 229. There, McGregor endured one of the worst beatings of his career at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov. ‘The Eagle’ submitted ‘Mystic Mac’ three minutes into the fourth round.