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Folsom Prison Blues to Kings of the Cage! Light Heavyweight Title Lineage – Part 1

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One of the oldest lineal titles in the UFC, the Light Heavyweight title (i.e. 205lbs) originally began in 1997 at UFC 12, the first event with weight classes. Originally splitting fighters over and under 200lbs, it was called the Lightweight Division until UFC 14, when it was renamed Middleweight, when finally, at UFC 31 back in 2002, the organization adopted the Unified Rules (and weight classes). What we now recognize as the Light Heavyweight Division was born.

Swapping the Prison Yard for the Octagon

Originally born Frank Juarez, Frank Shamrock was taken in by foster parents Bob and Dede Shamrock, who adopted tens of troubled boys, including Frank’s adopted brother Ken. Frank was officially adopted and legally changed his last name at the age of 21. However, Frank would spend three years in the early 1990s as a resident of the Johnny Cash-famous Folsom Prison, after being convicted of burglary.

Frank and his brother Ken attended the first UFC events in 1993 and fell in love with the sport. They began training, before traveling to Japan to compete in Pancrase, where he found mixed success until the 1995 Anniversary Show, when he went on a six-fight streak, winning the title of King of Pancrase in the process. The Shamrocks would eventually return to the UFC as competitors after the introduction of weight classes to compete at UFC Ultimate: Japan 1 in 1997.

Shamrock would defeat Kevin Jackson for the Inaugural UFC Middleweight Title via a 22-second armbar. He would finish Igor Zinoviev via a slam just as quickly, before succumbing to a kneebar against Jeremy Horn in 16:28. Keep in mind that there were no decisions during this time.

His next defense would be at UFC Brazil against John Lober, who submitted to strikes after 7:40, before the introduction of rounds and the 10-point-must scoring system, prior to Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz, which Shamrock would win via R4 submission to strikes, before vacating the title, and the promotion, citing a contract dispute and a lack of competition. It’s hard to argue.

The Huntington Beach Bad Boy

With Shamrock now fighting in the WEC and Strikeforce, the UFC booked Tito Ortiz against surging Wanderlei Silva at UFC Ultimate Japan: 3. Tito would win the fight by UD and go on to defend against Yuki Kondo via Cobra Choke and Evan Tanner via slam. Following this, the UFC would be purchased by Zuffa, adopt the Unified Rules of MMA, and reform the division into the Light Heavyweight Division for Ortiz’s next defense at UFC 32 against Evin Sinosic.

Ortiz would win this bout via TKO, and his next against Vladimir Matyushenko via RD. Finally, at UFC 40: Vendetta, Tito would avenge his loss to Frank Shamrock by defeating his brother and mentor Ken via R3 Doctor Stoppage.

However, not everywhere can be Huntington Beach, so while Ortiz took a break from competition, Randy Couture came down from Heavyweight having lost his last two fights to bigger men and took on Chuck Liddell, who was on a ten-fight winning streak. Couture would mount Liddell and rain ground and pound upon him to be crowned Interim Champion, setting the stage for UFC 44: Undisputed, which was billed as Champion vs. Champion. Couture would dominate Ortiz for five rounds, to become the first-ever two-division champion in the UFC.

However, the reign would be cut short only after a 0:49 doctor stoppage against Vitor Belfort at UFC 46: Supernatural, so named for Vitor “TRT” Belfort’s physique. However, Couture would return the favor, stopping Belfort in the immediate rematch at UFC 49: Unfinished Business via doctor stoppage at the end of the third round in a bitter sense of irony.

“So You Wanna Be an Ultimate Fighter?”

Following the evolution of the UFC from no-holds-barred cage fighting to the premier MMA organization in the world, it lost much of the casual fan base who simply wanted the fighters to “just bleed”, but Zuffa was hemorrhaging money, and needed a way to get MMA on TVs during prime-time.

Enter The Ultimate Fighter. The reality show, financed by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III first hit screens on Spike TV in 2005. It was sold as a reality TV show centered around Randy Couture and #1 Contender Chuck Liddell coaching a new generation of fighters competing for a UFC title.

The first season culminated in one of the most legendary fights ever between Forrest Griffin (Team Liddell) and Stephan Bonner (Team Couture). Dana White said of this fight: “how close we came to not being here today, if it weren’t for what these guys did, I don’t know if there’s would even be a UFC.” The fight would go the distance, with Griffin winning the UD.

Liddell and Couture would face off following the finale, with Liddell avenging his previous loss to Couture via R1 KO. He would win all four defenses via KO/TKO, avenging one of his two previous losses to Jeremy Horn, another win over Couture, followed by Renato Sobral and Tito Ortiz yet again.

Pride Never Dies

Following the UFC’s purchase of Pride FC, Chuck Liddell had the opportunity to avenge his final loss to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, with the winner being guaranteed a bout with the Pride Welterweight and Middleweight (UFC Middle and Light Heavyweight) Champion. Rampage would end Liddell’s seven-fight KO/TKO streak with a brutal first-round KO.

Rampage would go on to defeat Henderson via a dominant UD. He would then go on to coach a season of TUF alongside Forrest Griffin, who had risen to become the #1 Contender. Griffin would dominate Rampage for most of the fight, winning a comfortable decision and truly realizing the full potential of being The Ultimate Fighter.

However, TUF Season 2 winner and then-undefeated phenom, Rashad Evans was hot on his tail, having defeated Stephan Bonnar, Chuck Liddell, and Michael Bisping on his way to a title shot. It set the stage for the first-ever TUF winner vs. TUF winner Championship fight at UFC 92. Griffin’s brawling style would finally fail him as the Jackson Wink-trained Evans would score a TKO in the second round.

“Welcome to The Machida Era!”

Mike Goldberg’s call echoed around the world as Lyoto Machida would fold Rashad Evans like a wet towel, taking his “0” in the process. Another undefeated fighter rising to claim the belt, Lyoto had looked untouchable as he rose through the rankings. However, the Machida Era would prove to be short lived, as he would only successfully defend once against Maruicio “Shogun” Rua in an extremely controversial (48-47 x3) UD before being rendered unconscious by Shogun in the first round of the immediate rematch. However, Shogun would never defend, ceding the belt to Jon Jones at UFC 128.

This is only half of the story- the belt changed hands again and again in drama-filled fashion, and it did again over the weekend at UFC 275. Make sure you check out Part 2 for the definitive timeline of Jon Jones’ Title Reign and beyond.

Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images

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