5 fighters who had a quick path to a UFC title shot

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UFC 262 goes down next weekend, and in the main event, former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler faces Charles Oliveira for the vacant UFC lightweight title.

UFC 262’s title fight will only be Michael Chandler’s second appearance in the octagon, giving him one of the fastest paths to a title shot in UFC history.

So with this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the other fighters who found themselves with a UFC title shot in quick fashion – and what happened when they fought for the title.

Here are five fighters who fought for a UFC title early into their UFC careers.


#1 Anderson Silva – one UFC fight before a title shot

Anderson Silva won the UFC middleweight title in his second UFC outing in 2006.
Anderson Silva won the UFC middleweight title in his second UFC outing in 2006.

When Anderson Silva signed with the UFC in early 2006, he brought with him a stellar reputation due to fighting all over the world.

The Spider did have four losses to his name but had been dominating his opponents in the UK’s Cage Rage promotion. And so it came as no surprise when the UFC matched him in a main event with Chris Leben in his octagon debut.

Many people expected Silva to defeat Leben, but the toughness of the Crippler meant that they also expected the fight to last the distance.

Instead, Silva destroyed Leben in under a minute, literally landing with every strike he threw.

The performance was so impressive that the UFC decided to give him a shot at the UFC middleweight title in just his second fight with the promotion – matching him with champion Rich Franklin at UFC 64.

And when it came to his title fight, Silva once again surpassed expectations. He abused Franklin in the clinch with his knees until the champion went down on the three-minute mark of the first round.

After just two fights in the UFC, Silva was a champion – and incredibly, he held onto the title for nearly seven years, winning 16 fights in a row in the process.


#2 Gilbert Melendez – no UFC fights before a title shot

Gilbert Melendez fought for the UFC lightweight title in his octagon debut in 2013.
Gilbert Melendez fought for the UFC lightweight title in his octagon debut in 2013.

In the modern era of the UFC – discounting fighters who competed on TUF to crown a champion in a new weight division – the only fighter to debut in the octagon in a title fight is Gilbert Melendez.

El Nino was handed an instant opportunity at the UFC lightweight division for good reason.

He was the holder of the StrikeForce lightweight title when that promotion was folded into the UFC in early 2013 and was lucky enough to join when there was no clear-cut top contender at 155lbs.

Melendez brought a lengthy seven-fight win streak into the UFC and hadn’t been beaten in nearly five years when he fought UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.

However, in a almost too close fight to call, he came out on the wrong end of a split decision against Smooth, despite many fans and observers scoring the fight for El Nino.

Sadly, that split decision was as good as it would get for Melendez in the UFC.

He defeated Diego Sanchez in a classic brawl in his next fight but then failed to unseat champion Anthony Pettis in another title shot. From there, he lost a further four fights in a row before being released by the UFC in 2019.


#3 Tim Sylvia – one UFC fight before a title shot

Tim Sylvia took just two fights to claim the UFC heavyweight title.
Tim Sylvia took just two fights to claim the UFC heavyweight title.

In the early 2000s, the UFC’s heavyweight division was seen as somewhat of a wasteland, largely because MMA’s best big men plied their trade in Japan’s PRIDE promotion.

And so after Ricco Rodriguez defeated Randy Couture to win the UFC heavyweight title in late 2002, it was always going to be hard to find a viable opponent for him.

The UFC settled on Tim Sylvia, despite the fact that the Maine-iac had only one UFC fight under his belt – a one-sided beating of Wesley Correira in an untelevised preliminary bout at UFC 39.

To be fair, Sylvia did have an impressive record at that time – 14-0 – but it was still hard for the UFC to sell him as a dangerous opponent for Rodriguez, who was at the time 5-0 in the octagon.

And when it came to fight time, it didn’t look like Rodriguez had taken Sylvia seriously either. He paid the price when the Maine-iac knocked him out after just three minutes, taking his title in the process.

Sylvia would go onto plenty of success with the UFC, holding the heavyweight title on two separate occasions and defeating the likes of Andrei Arlovski and Brandon Vera before departing the promotion in 2008.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, had one more UFC fight before leaving the promotion for good.


#4 Quinton Rampage Jackson – one UFC fight before a title shot

The UFC wasted no time in giving Rampage Jackson a title shot - he fought for the light heavyweight title in just his second UFC appearance.
The UFC wasted no time in giving Rampage Jackson a title shot – he fought for the light heavyweight title in just his second UFC appearance.

Quinton Rampage Jackson arrived in the UFC in early 2007 to plenty of fanfare.

A major star in Japan’s PRIDE promotion and the last man to defeat then-UFC light heavyweight kingpin Chuck Liddell, Jackson was so coveted by the UFC that the word was that they’d bought the entire WFA promotion in order to get him.

But Rampage hadn’t looked at his best in the years leading up to his UFC debut, and so the promotion decided to give him a tune-up fight rather than throw him at Liddell right away.

And so Jackson debuted at UFC 67 and knocked out Marvin Eastman, a fighter who’d handed him his first career loss some seven years prior.

Although some fans felt Rampage needed another fight before taking on Liddell, the UFC couldn’t resist. They booked the rematch with the Iceman for UFC 71, just four months after Rampage’s octagon debut.

And despite Liddell coming in as a hot favorite, it was the former PRIDE star who came out on top, knocking the champion out in the first round to claim UFC gold.

Rampage would go on to defend his title against Dan Henderson before losing it to Forrest Griffin in mid-2008 – and never really regained his momentum afterward.

Liddell, meanwhile, won just one of his next five UFC fights before retiring in 2010.


#5 David Terrell – one UFC fight before a title shot

David Terrell fought for the UFC middleweight crown after just one octagon appearance.
David Terrell fought for the UFC middleweight crown after just one octagon appearance.

When David Terrell debuted in the UFC in the summer of 2004, it was safe to say that many MMA fans hadn’t really heard of the Soul Assassin.

Terrell was hugely inexperienced at the time, with a record of just 4-1. However, he was a stellar grappler who’d won countless titles in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Terrell had reportedly never had a point scored against him in a grappling match.

And so when he was matched with the Olympic wrestling silver medallist – and the top-ranked middleweight in the UFC – Matt Lindland, fans expected a grappling war.

Instead, Terrell sparked Lindland out after just 24 seconds, turning himself into a star in the process.

The UFC were so impressed that they immediately decided to bring back the middleweight title, which had been vacant since 2002. The promotion matched Terrell against the more experienced Evan Tanner in a fight for the Soul Assassin’s second UFC appearance.

Unfortunately for Terrell, his inexperience shone through in the title fight. He took the fight to Tanner early and almost submitted him with a guillotine choke. But when Tanner escaped, it was clear Terrell didn’t have much left.

From there, Tanner destroyed him with ground-and-pound to leave his hopes of becoming a UFC champion in tatters.

Incredibly, Terrell would only fight once more in MMA – a win over Scott Smith – and remains one of the all-time great “what if?” questions for the UFC.

Published 03 May 2021, 17:00 IST




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