Anderson Silva (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

By The Numbers: Who Is the Greatest UFC Champion of All Time?

On Saturday night in Kansas City, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson tied Anderson Silva’s record for title defenses. Johnson’s history-making performance at UFC on Fox 24 has prompted many fans and those in the media to speculate about the flyweight titleholder’s place in history. Is he the greatest pound-for-pound fighter the UFC has ever seen? Is he the company’s greatest champion?

Many have anointed the all-time king of the flyweight division as the all-time king of the UFC, so let’s take a closer look at this championship run and the run of those he has to contend with for that distinction.

The Contenders

Johnson’s win puts him tied at the top of the title-defense list with the aforementioned Silva. The next two on the list are Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones. These four fighters form the discussion for greatest of all time in UFC history. Several criteria should go to settling this debate: strength of opponents , number of defenses, performances and stature as champion. Points, which appear in parentheses next to the fighter’s name, are given out for each criteria based on the fighter’s rank compared to the other legends.


Strength of Schedule — Resume

Johnson (1): While he did fight the likes of Dominick Cruz and Miguel Torres during his bantamweight days, he has had no fights against former or future flyweight champions or future flyweight Hall of Famers. He has defeated one Olympic gold medalist (Henry Cejudo) and two The Ultimate Fighter winners (Tim Elliott and John Dodson).

Silva (3): Silva has topped former champions Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort. The former longtime middleweight champion’s list of victims includes future Hall of Famers Belfort, Henderson, Franklin and Chael Sonnen.

GSP (2): St-Pierre defeated current or future Hall of Famers B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz. The former welterweight kingpin has also topped two former champions — Matt Serra and Penn — and future champions Johny Hendricks and Penn.

Jones (4): The troubled former light heavyweight titleholder holds victories over five former champions — Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and the aforementioned Belfort — and future champion Daniel Cormier. Jones’ resume includes victories over seven future Hall of Famers: Rua, Jackson, Machida, Evans, Belfort, Sonnen and Cormier.

The edge goes to… Jones. He’s a mess outside the cage, but he wrecked nothing but studs during his title run. He didn’t always get them in their prime, and Sonnen and Belfort had come up from 185 pounds, but none of his opponents, except for Alexander Gustafsson, were ever really close to defeating him. His resume is by far the best.

Strength of Schedule — The Odds

What about the average of the money-line average for all their fights? Well…

Johnson (1): -607

Silva (4): -369

GSP (3): -376

Jones (2): -569

The edge goes to… Silva. This number is relevant, because it shows that Silva was in the most fights where, according to the probability, he could have lost. This stat distinguishes itself from resume in that it speaks to what was believed to occur on fight night, as opposed to what the opponent was capable of doing.

Strength of Schedule — Opponent’s Winning Percentage

Johnson (4): .817

Silva (1): .804

GSP (3): .816

Jones (2): .807

The edge goes to… Johnson. In fairness, this is a little skewed, because both Silva and Jones faced Sonnen, who does not have a great winning percentage. However, giving Johnson his due, he is the lone loss on a couple of fighters’ resumes, which says a lot. Also, if this stat was removed, it wouldn’t have changed the final standings.

Total Number of Title Defenses

Johnson (4): 10

Silva (4): 10

GSP (2): 9

Jones (1): 8

The edge goes to… Johnson and Silva. This is the number that started all the talk. Both Johnson and Silva have an impressive set of title defenses, but for different reasons. Silva’s because it was almost ended by Sonnen, but wasn’t, and also because he took a couple of detours up to 205 pounds and still was able to defend throughout. Johnson’s set of defenses is impressive because no one has gotten close to him during his run. He is head and shoulders above his division.


Johnson (2): 2 knockouts, 4 submissions, 5 decisions

Silva (4): 7 knockouts, 3 submissions, 2 decisions

GSP (1): 1 knockout, 9 decisions

Jones (3): 2 knockouts, 3 submissions, 4 decisions

The edge goes to… Silva. This one isn’t even close. Silva was a wrecking ball at middleweight. Demian Maia and Thales Leites were the only men to go the distance with the “Spider.” Jones’ ability to handle high-level guys and the way that both Johnson and St-Pierre dominate their opponents is just no match for the way that Silva went in there and wiped his rivals out.

Best Representation of a Champion

Johnson (4)

Silva (2)

GSP (3)

Jones (1)

The edge goes to… Johnson. This was actually a tough one. St-Pierre and Silva have represented themselves well as champion, but they do have a few controversies. Meanwhile, there isn’t a mark on Mighty Mouse. He is someone who can be held up as a role model without any worry of having to justify his behavior. He has also consistently fought the top guy in his division and has always conducted himself as a professional in the lead-up to a fight, during the bout and after the dust settles.

Biggest Draw

Johnson (1)

Silva (3)

GSP (4)

Jones (2)

The edge goes to… St-Pierre. Both Silva and Jones have had some big nights, but you could routinely pencil GSP in for 700,000 buys when he was champ, regardless of opponent. He could carry this number on the strength of who he was. This is evidenced by how popular he will be in his return as well.

Final Tally

Johnson: 17

Silva: 21

GSP: 18

Jones: 15

The edge goes to… Silva. So, Silva has it, and probably with good reason. All of the other greats had a hole in their title run. Whether it was how tough their opponents were, how often they finished them, how they represented themselves as champion, or how much of a draw they were, every one of these greats had a weak spot. “The Spider” is the only one who really checked all boxes. A lot of Silva’s recent performances have perhaps played into the view of how he performed in his prime. Yet, his legendary run and any discussion of it really extends from his victory over Rich Franklin to his loss against Chris Weidman. During this stretch of time, no one entered the Octagon looking to put on a show and take out high-level opponents quickly like Silva. Is he the greatest fighter of all time? That is a discussion for another day. However, he is certainly the greatest champion of all time.