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How Do Underdog Champions Fare In The UFC?

Undisputed UFC Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas visits Build Series at Build Studio

Mixed martial artists spend years of their lives in an attempt to climb the ladder of the UFC in hopes of one day becoming a member of the select few who have the privilege of holding on to the company’s gold. That belt is meant to signify that you have reached the mountaintop, that you are the best fighter in the world at your weight class.

However – that is not always the case.

There are times when the holder of the belt is seen as more of a paper champion. As a fighter who is simply keeping the seat warm for the next, true heir apparent. Sometimes, the champion is an underdog.

This is a trend that has continued to grow more and more as the relevance of championship belts has seemingly diminished. Since November 12, 2016 – the date of UFC 205 – a champion has entered the Octagon as an underdog on nine occasions. To put that into perspective, from the beginning of 2009 until UFC 205 that had only occurred a grand total of six times.

Within the span of 18 months, we have seen more champions as underdogs than we had seen in the more than seven years prior.

UFC 205 has been the catalyst for the shift of the landscape of the UFC title picture. The main event of the UFC’s first-ever card in the state of New York saw Conor McGregor – maybe the most famous mixed martial artist ever – move up in weight to take on Eddie Alvarez. With a dominant performance, McGregor not only won the lightweight gold, he also proved the perceived fallacy of weight classes.  

No longer is the titleholder the best. The titleholder is simply the best right now. A person whom we tend to overlook in the moment while constantly looking toward who will dethrone him or her.

However, in the new era of MMA, we need to learn just how valuable that title is.

Since the beginning of 2009, UFC champions who have faced a challenger as an underdog are a combined 10-3-1 with 1 NC. From Frankie Edgar at UFC 118 to Robbie Lawler at UFC 189 all the way up to Stipe Miocic at UFC 220, champions have proved time and time again to be worthy of the gold.

Let’s say that you bet $100 on each of those underdog champions since the beginning of 2009. You would be up $975.00 - that is assuming the one no contest is taken as a loss as it would have been originally ruled. 

However, what about recently? Using UFC 205 as the turning point, how have dog champs done? From UFC 205 onward, underdog UFC champions are 6-1-1 with 1 NC. One of those losses is also tainted, as Jon Jones later tested positive for an anabolic steroid after defeating Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 resulting in a no contest. Again, assuming you bet $100 on each of those champs, you would have made $480.

UFC Champions As Betting Underdogs Since 2009
EventChampionChallengerWinner
UFC 223Rose Namajunas (+100)Joanna Jedrzejczyk (-130)Namajunas
UFC 220Stipe Miocic (+150)Francis Ngannou (-170)Miocic
UFC 215Amanda Nunes (+125)Valentina Shevchenko (-145)Nunes
UFC 214Daniel Cormier (+265)Jon Jones (-325)Jones (Reversed To NC)
UFC 210Daniel Cormier (+120)Anthony Johnson (-140)Cormier
UFC 209Tyron Woodley (+120)Stephen Thompson (-140)Woodley
UFC 207Amanda Nunes (+165)Ronda Rousey (-190)Nunes
UFC 205Eddie Alvarez (+140)Conor McGregor (-160)McGregor
UFC 205Tyron Woodley (+160)Stephen Thompson (-185)Draw
UFC 189Robbie Lawler (+145)Rory MacDonald (-165)Lawler
UFC 168Chris Weidman (+165)Anderson Silva (-175)Weidman
UFC 164Benson Henderson (+100)Anthony Pettis (-110)Pettis
UFC 125Frankie Edgar (+137)Gray Maynard (-147)Edgar
UFC 118Frankie Edgar (+248)BJ Penn (-270)Edgar
UFC 98Rashad Evans (+200)Lyoto Machida (-220)Machida

*No interim title fights included

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