Currently, the UK is in a purple patch, with talent both regional and global. Fighters like Tom Aspinal, Leon Edwards, and Arnold Allen all honed their skills on home soil. Now they find themselves on the cusp of the ultimate prize. With many other homegrown fighters making a splash in the “big leagues”. I thought I’d take a look at 10 UFC champions who have both won the gold and competed for a UK based promotion.
10. Ross Pearson and Norman Parke
Right, so I’m cheating a little here, not strictly “UFC Champions” but I couldn’t have a list with only nine entries, could I? Never winning the big one, both of these men have been crowned as champions and winners of the UFC reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter. Usually referred to as TUF. If you’re not familiar with the show, two current UFC fighters will pose as team captains. Taking it in turns to pick from a number of regional or lesser-known fighters. Who will then compete in a tournament over the course of the next few months to determine The Ultimate Fighter.
Pearson took part in the ninth series, the UK vs USA (April 1st, 2009 – June 20th, 2009), winning the lightweight tournament. Norman took part in the second international series: The Smashers (September 19th, 2012 – December 14th, 2012). This series was UK vs Australia, and he also won as a lightweight. Each had competed in numerous UK MMA promotions before they came to TUF. Norman Parke even went on to compete for the BAMMA lightweight championship after his UFC tenure.
Though not as prestigious as winning the title, it is still a hard task. Many other, now top contenders failed to win the crown of The Ultimate Fighter. TUF is great for a fighter and brings much more exposure than just making it a traditional route. Allowing fighters to be fast-tracked to potential superstardom. Not only helping themself, but these two athletes also helped cement the UK as a hotbed for talent showing the world that the Brits can compete at the highest level.
9. Dan “The Beast” Severn
An early days fighter in the UFC, Dan made a name for himself, competing in the UFC 4, 5, and Ultimate Ultimate 1995 tournaments. Winning the latter two. Severn earned his opportunity to once again compete for the UFC Superfight Championship, which he failed to win ten months earlier at UFC 6 against Ken Shamrock. In a rematch at UFC 9, he bested Ken over 30 minutes and won the split decision. Winning the fight and the belt. “The Beast” put his name in the history book as a pioneer for the sport and has since gone on to fight many times all over the globe.
With over one hundred fights to his name, Dan Severn was bound to find himself fighting in front of a UK crowd. He did so for the first time on the 1st of December 2002, beating a 1-2 fighter named Mike Ward. Dan went on to compete four more times in the UK. A loss to James Thompson in 2004, he then returned with a win at MMA total combat in 2006 against Robert Berry. His next UK bout was in 2007, and he lost against Dave Legano at Cage Rage 20. His final appearance took place in 2008, and he left with a win defeating Colin Robertson. Overall amassing a combined 3-2 record while competing across the pond.
8. Ken Shamrock
Another early day pioneer. Shamrock is a name synonymous with the early years of American MMA, with both Ken and his brother Frank holding titles in the organization. Winning his first title at UFC 6 against the aforementioned Dan Severn. Defeating “The Beast” via guillotine in the first round to claim the UFC Super fight championship. He went on to defend the belt twice. Ken also went on to challenge for the Light Heavyweight title at UFC 40. Losing via TKO at the end of the third against Tito Ortiz.
Having a total of forty-nine fights and ended his career with a record of 28-17-2, finishing 25 of his 28 wins and 22 by submission. Ken was a household name making appearances and fighting in many organizations all over the world. He made his sole UK appearance at Cage Rage 25. A losing effort against Robert Berry, who got the win at 3:26 of the first by knockout.
7. Ricco Rodriguez
When first introducing weight classes, the UFC’s Heavyweight title was a little bit of a hot potato. Being passed from fighter to fighter, with ten champions in its first seven years. One of these ten men was Ricco Rodriguez. Starting his career with a 14-1 record. Ricco earned an opportunity to fight for the vacant Heavyweight strap at UFC 39, Against Randy Couture. Defeating “The Natural” in the fifth and final round via TKO to be crowned champion. Rodriguez only held the belt for 154 days before losing it to Tim Sylvia.
After losing the belt, Ricco continued to fight all around North America. By then, he had amassed a record of 32-9 before he made his first UK appearance. Coming against Rob Broughton at Cage Gladiators 9 in 2008, winning the bout via 2nd round kneebar. Rodriguez competed twice more in Britain. Defeating James Mcsweeny at BAMMA 5 in a unanimous decision. His final appearance was against Kevin Thompson at UWC 21: Xplosion 2011, winning in one with an armbar. Ending his career with a record of 54-27 (1) and 3-0 in the UK.
6. Dave Menne
Dave “The Warrior” Menne is a name many modern-day UFC and MMA fans might not be all too familiar with. Buried under a wealth of talent, competing in his division since its inception. Menne was actually the UFC’s inaugural Middleweight champion. Winning the belt at UFC 33, defeating Gil Castillo via decision in his fortieth professional MMA fight. Only holding the belt for 105 days, he lost it to Murilo Bustamante at UFC 35.
Five years after reaching what many believe to be the pinnacle of the sport, Menne found himself competing at Cage Rage 16 against Alex Reid. Reid is perhaps more well known because of his television appearances and famous love interest. This was Dave’s first and last UK appearance. He won a three-round unanimous decision. After this win, Menne went on to re-sign with the UFC for two more fights before leaving again.
5. Vitor Belfort
Vitor started his UFC career with a bang. Entering the company in 1997 as a 19-year-old, Vitor went on to win the UFC Heavyweight tournament at UFC 12. Competing a few more times for UFC before heading to Pride. Belfort returned to the states in 2002. He’d earned his opportunity at Randy Couture eighteen months later at UFC 46, defeating the Light Heavyweight champion 0:49 into round one via doctor stoppage. He only held onto the belt until the rematch, which he lost the same way he won it, doctor stoppage.
Vitor soon left the UFC and once again returned to pride for a one-off fight. After which is when he had his first fight in the UK. Competing three times overall, he defeated Anthony Rea via KO in the second round at Cage Rage 14 in late 2005, announcing himself in person to the British crowd. After a successful first fight, Belfort returned to the United Kingdom twice more at Cage Rage 21 and 23, respectively. He first defeated Ivan Sefrati in round 1 via KO. He then went on to compete for the Light Heavyweight title. Facing James Zikic, he won via unanimous decision, thus becoming Cage Rage Light Heavyweight champion. 3-0 record on UK soil.
4. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
The Polish striker is well known for being one of the best female fighters to compete in MMA. Holding the UFC Strawweight title for over two years, defending her throne five times against the best in the world. She first won the belt against Carla Esparza at UFC 185, eventually losing it to Rose Namajunas at UFC 217. Despite no longer holding the belt, Joanna has been competing at the highest level since. Even putting on 2020’s fight of the year, further cementing her legacy.
Before her UFC championship triumph, Jedrzejczyk was an undefeated prospect who was clearing up on the European scene. One fight before her UFC debut, she made a statement at Cage Warriors 69. Stopping Rosi Sexton in the second round via TKO. This win announced herself and her talents to the UK fanbase, many of which followed her into her fantastic UFC run. Still one of the UFC’s top stars, her brief stint in the UK has left fans wanting more. Hoping maybe one day she’ll return and put on the yellow gloves once again.
Now a megastar and someone who has transcended the sport. “The Notorious” is a two-time UFC champ, holding both the Featherweight and Lightweight gold simultaneously. Entering the UFC, McGregor had amassed a good following from his time in the UK. Bringing that hype to the cage, he delivered, going on a six-fight winning streak before he won Featherweight gold at UFC 194 when he spectacularly KO’d one of the greats, Jose Aldo, in just 13 seconds. He added to his collection when he challenged Eddie Alvarez eleven months later at UFC 205. He won via TKO in the second to claim the Lightweight title.
Before entering the UFC, Conor’s fighting style and out of cage theatrics garnered much attention. Initially going 4-2 on the regional scene. He really picked up speed putting together an impressive eight-fight winning streak, where he finished all eight fights. He went on to become a double champion in Cage Warriors. This was a precursor of what was to happen years later. Defeating Dave Hill at Cage Warrior 47 by second-round Rear-naked choke to win the 145lbs strap. Then beating Ivan Buchinger via first-round KO at Cage Warriors 51 for the 155lbs belt. Those in attendance might have had high hopes for the Irishmen after such an impressive run. Seeing the star, he has become still might be a bit of a shock when you consider where it all began.
Arguably one of the most important figures when it comes to British MMA. “The Count” was long thought of as a nearly man in the UFC. Bursting onto the global scene by winning TUF 3. Michael went on to take the reality TV show hype and run with it. Having a record of 10-0 before even stepping into the octagon. Bisping got to 14-0 before he suffered his first defeat to TUF 2 alumni Rashad Evans, this was the catalyst for him to drop down a weight class from Light Heavyweight to Middleweight.
This is where Michael had most of his success. Getting himself highly ranked and almost to the top of the division, but falling short each time it was in his grasp. This was until UFC 199. On short notice, Michael took a fight against then-champion Luke Rockhold. In a spectacular story, Bisping got the upset win when he KO’d the champ cold in the first round. This created a perfect ending to a fairytale story twenty-five fights after making his UFC debut.
Before all this, though, Michael had quite a good career on the UK scene. Prior to earning his chance to compete in TUF 3, he had racked up ten wins and three championship belts with defences as well. At 2-0, Michael competed for the Cage Rage Light Heavyweight title defeating Mark Epstein at Cage Rage 7, who he defeated in a rematch for the belt four months later at Cage Rage 9. With gold already around his waist, Michael got another organisation’s top prize when at Cage Warriors Ultimate Force. He would defeat Dave Radford for his Light Heavyweight belt. He would defend this belt three times before he joined The Ultimate Fighter.
1. Anderson Silva
One of the best fighters of all time. Anderson “The Spider” Silva has a highlight reel like a movie, bringing things to the Cage that many dreams of. Winning his UFC debut against Chris Leben with a superb knee. Anderson was thrust into the title picture at UFC 64. Taking on Rich Franklin, he had no fear and once again produced a highlight reel KO via knee, claiming the Middleweight gold. This was just the start for Silva and his legacy. He went on to defend his belt nine times and stay undefeated for six years. He eventually lost the belt at UFC 162 against Chris Weidman. His showman antics finally cost him. In his rematch at UFC 267, he suffered a horrific injury fracturing his lower leg. Anderson Silva is regarded by many as one of, if not the best, to ever compete in MMA.
Before Silva was at the pinnacle, he would find himself in the UK. Fighting Lee Murray at Cage Rage 8, winning the fight and the Cage Rage Middleweight title. Anderson went on to compete at Cage Rage three more times before he entered the UFC. His second appearance was at Cage Rage 11, where he defeated Jorge Rivera in the second via TKO. Cage Rage 14 saw the return of “The Spider”. At this event, he KO’d Chris Stout with one second remaining in the first round. Finally, Silva delivered a devastating elbow knockout at Cage Rage 16 against Tony Fryklund. Leaving an exclamation point on his time in the UK. Silva going on to achieve such great heights, produced hope for young up and coming fighters and showed globally that the UK was an excellent place to compete and prove your worth.