At UFC 185, Rafael dos Anjos became the new UFC lightweight champion after scoring a one-sided unanimous decision over Anthony Pettis. The title is the 11th won by a Brazilian in UFC history. In honor of that occasion, here are the 11 Brazilian champions in UFC history and their rise to prominence.
1. Murilo Bustamante
The Octagon’s first Brazilian champion was none other than famed Carlson Gracie protégé Murilo Bustamante. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt signed with the UFC as an undefeated MMA pro and following the career high of winning the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships in 1999. On January 11, 2002 at UFC 35, Bustamante challenged the first ever UFC middleweight champ Dave Menne, who had seized the strap two events earlier in a unanimous decision over Gil Castillo. After a takedown-heavy first round by the grappler extraordinaire, Bustamante did the unthinkable in the second round by cracking Menne with a right and finishing “The Warrior” with strikes to take the title. At UFC 37, Bustamante would successfully defend his middleweight belt for the first and only time in a highly-unique clash with Matt Lindland where Bustamante would need to submit “The Law” twice before getting his hand raised once. Soon thereafter, Bustamante would vacate the title to sign with PRIDE FC.
2. Vitor Belfort
A lifetime ago, Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort scored two knockouts in about two minutes combined, crowning him the UFC 12 heavyweight tournament winner. Over the next seven years, Belfort would find success inside the Octagon and in PRIDE’s ring as a heavyweight and light heavyweight. Finally, at UFC 46, The Phenom would get his first shot at gold in his second shot at then-UFC light heavyweight champion Randy Couture. Far from the battle many expected, Belfort’s first punch thrown grazed Couture’s eye, which opened a cut that was serious enough for the doctor to stop the fight as quickly as it started. Just seven months later, Octagon enthusiasts saw the rubber match, where “The Natural” would regain the belt in a TKO of his own. Smash cut to 2015, and Belfort is 37 going on 38 years old and still a powerful force to be reckoned with at the top of the rankings of whichever weight he chooses to scrap at. In a couple months’ time at UFC 187, The Phenom is set to tangle with current UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman.
3. Anderson Silva
Without question, the greatest champion the UFC has ever known to date is Anderson Silva. There are two current UFC champs in Jon Jones and fellow Brazilian Jose Aldo who are making a run at Silva’s record, but “The Spider” is still at the top with 10 consecutive belt defenses. Thrust into the spotlight, Silva made his Octagon debut in a UFC middleweight title eliminator against Chris “The Crippler” Leben, who was on a five-fight win streak in the UFC. Within 49 seconds, Silva had dismantled Leben and earned himself a Knockout of the Night bonus and a spot on then-champion Rich Franklin’s dance card. Four months later, The Spider had earned a second KOTN bonus and UFC gold. From there, Silva would continue the longest win streak in company history - 16 - and record some of the most memorable performances/finishes in Octagon history, like the fifth-round triangle armbar of Chael Sonnen, the front kick KO of Belfort and the multiple knockdowns of Forrest Griffin. At UFC 162, The Spider’s seven-year reign came to an end at the hands of current champ Weidman.
4. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Before making his long-awaited UFC debut, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was one of the preeminent fixtures in the booming Japanese MMA scene, specifically as the first PRIDE heavyweight champion. Obviously, fight fans had extremely high hopes for “Minotauro”, which he immediately delivered on in his first two Octagon appearances. Winning back-to-back come-from-behind battles, Nogueira seized the interim UFC heavyweight belt with a slick third-round guillotine choke of former champ Tim Sylvia at UFC 81. After ten minutes of trying to negotiate the 6’8” Sylvia’s reach, the always-dangerous BJJ black belt Minotauro pulled guard, swept the big fella and jumped on the tide-turning submission. Nogueira’s time as champ would end later in the year as he took his first career loss via finish to former champ Frank Mir at UFC 92. Check out The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 4 to see Nogueira as a TUF head coach for the second time as his team meets Mauricio Rua’s squad.
5. Lyoto Machida
There’s always been a special aura surrounding “The Dragon.” Years prior to his UFC debut, Lyoto Machida owned wins over BJ Penn, Stephan Bonnar and Rich Franklin, and the karate black belt did not disappoint inside the Octagon, as he ran his undefeated streak to 14-0 before scoring a highlight reel KO of then-unbeaten champ Rashad Evans at UFC 98 to claim the UFC light heavyweight title. Machida would successfully defend the belt against former PRIDE superstar Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in a closely contested, five round martial arts masterpiece at UFC 104. In the rematch, Rua would take the belt from Machida in the first round. Since then, The Dragon would challenge for the 205-pound title a year later and continue to fight in the division until the end of 2013. Recently, The Dragon has reinvented himself at middleweight, going 3-1 with his lone loss in the epic, 25-minute war against current UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman at UFC 175. Up next, Machida clashes with Luke Rockhold in the main event of UFC on FOX: Machida vs. Rockhold on April 18.
6. Mauricio Rua
With a 12-1 record in the PRIDE ring, including nine KOs and a lone loss by injury, there were very few more beloved stars in PRIDE than Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. In short, Rua was a bulldozer. To win the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix, Shogun would score first-round finishes of Quinton Jackson, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona and earn a unanimous decision over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in one of the greatest bouts in PRIDE history. At UFC 97, Shogun would earn his shot at the UFC light heavyweight title by landing a Knockout of the Night on eventual UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell. After a controversial judges’ decision in his first shot at UFC gold, Rua would leave no room for questions as Shogun stopped then-UFC light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida with strikes in the first round at UFC 113. In his first defense, Rua would drop the belt to current champ Jon Jones at UFC 128. Nowadays, Rua can be seen in the forthcoming The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 4 as a head coach against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria. Also, expect to see Shogun take on “Lil’ Nog” in a rematch at UFC 190 this summer.
7. Jose Aldo
The Octagon has only known one featherweight champion and that’s Jose Aldo. Before 145-pounders fought in the UFC, they tangled at top speeds in the WEC and Aldo was unquestionably the best there too. Making his debut at WEC 34, Aldo would destroy his first five opponents with five consecutive striking stoppages en route to a WEC featherweight title showdown against then-champ Mike Brown. Aldo would win the belt by - you guessed it - KO and then successfully defended the strap against Urijah Faber and Manny Gamburyan. The WEC’s featherweight division was folded into the UFC and with it came one of the most impressive champions the Octagon has ever witnessed. Aldo has successfully defended his UFC belt seven consecutive times, putting him fourth all-time in defenses behind Jon Jones’ 8, Georges St-Pierre’s 9 and Anderson Silva’s 10. Currently, Aldo is on a worldwide press tour promoting his next title defense on July 11th at UFC 189 against “The Notorious” Conor McGregor.
8. Junior Dos Santos
At UFC 90, Junior Dos Santos exploded on the heavyweight scene by detonating an uppercut in Fabricio Werdum’s face to earn a Knockout of the Night just 1:20 into the first round. For the next three years, “Cigano” cut a path of destruction to the UFC heavyweight title with six more wins, including four finishes. At the inaugural UFC on FOX event, champion Cain Velasquez put his belt on the line against Dos Santos. Similar to his Octagon debut, it only took Cigano one tremendous punch to fell the champion live on network TV. Six months later, Dos Santos would stop former champ Frank Mir with strikes at UFC 146. Seven months after that, Cigano would have his belt on the line against Velasquez, but Dos Santos would walk out beltless after losing his first fight in the UFC. Still to this day, Dos Santos is one of the premier UFC heavyweights, with current champ Velasquez being the only fighter inside the Octagon to best him.
9. Renan Barao
For over nine years and 30-plus pro fights, Renan Barao was unbeaten. After half a decade tearing up the Brazilian MMA scene, “The Baron” joined the WEC at the tail end of its existence and secured back-to-back submission wins. Once inside the Octagon, Barao rattled off three more victories to earn himself a showdown with Urijah Faber with the interim UFC bantamweight belt up for grabs. At UFC 149, The Baron seized the strap with a unanimous decision win over Faber. As then-champion Dominick Cruz’s return time became ever questionable, the “interim” element to Barao’s championship was dropped and Barao sealed his place as the rightful heir to the throne by scoring three consecutive finishes in title defenses against Michael McDonald, Eddie Wineland and Urijah Faber in their second meeting. At UFC 173, Barao famously faced and lost to an enormous betting underdog in TJ Dillashaw. Since then, he slapped a fight-ending arm triangle choke on Mitch Gagnon last December, and he will next face Dillashaw again on a date to be determined.
10. Fabricio Werdum
Talk about a career resurgence. The two-time ADCC and World Jiu-Jitsu Championships gold medalist as a black belt had a pedestrian 2-2 record inside the Octagon in his first stint in the UFC. Prior to that, Fabricio Werdum was a rising talent in PRIDE with a 9-2-1 career slate. After the UFC, “Vai Cavalo” took three straight wins in Strikeforce including a first-round triangle choke over Fedor Emelianenko, which made Werdum the first fighter to ever truly defeat the former PRIDE heavyweight champion. In February 2012, Werdum entered the Octagon for the first time in about four years and put on a Fight of the Night performance in beating “Big Country” Roy Nelson from pillar to post. Since his return, Werdum has won five consecutive fights, with his outclassing of Travis Browne earning him a UFC heavyweight title shot and his TKO of Mark Hunt at UFC 180 snagging Werdum the interim heavyweight strap. From 2-2 to 5-0 with a gold belt around his waist, Werdum’s rise to the top of the ranks has been incredible thus far and, in a few months, Werdum will aim to unify the division’s titles as he clashes with UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez at UFC 188.
11. Rafael dos Anjos
The journey of Rafael dos Anjos has been amazing. Making his debut about seven years ago at UFC 91, dos Anjos was purely a BJJ threat and he showed that off expertly by grounding Jeremy Stephens for the first ten minutes of their bout. In the third round, “Lil’ Heathen” uncorked an uppercut that would not only finish dos Anjos, but that would play ad infinitum on highlight reels for years to come. In his second Octagon bout, dos Anjos would lose a Fight of the Night decision to Tyson Griffin. It was a rocky start to say the least, but from then on, he climbed the lightweight ladder and evolved into a well-rounded martial artist. There was the Submission of the Night over Terry Etim, then the one-punch knockout of George Sotiropoulos, then a five-fight win streak with back-to-back wins over veteran strikers Evan Dunham and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. There were setbacks every now and then, but each time back inside the Octagon, dos Anjos grew stronger. Currently, dos Anjos has won four straight with KO of Jason High and former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson, and two dominant unanimous decisions over Nate Diaz and Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. The latter win at UFC 185 was a showcase of dos Anjos’ striking, wrestling, BJJ and his incredible conditioning, as he won all five rounds and the UFC lightweight belt. Now, the newest Brazilian UFC champion sits and waits to find out who his first challenger will be.