It’s hard to appreciate just how difficult it is to be an undefeated Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder. Almost everyone suffers an early defeat that serves as a valuable learning experience, partly because there are just so many ways to lose in mixed martial arts. You can get knocked out by kicks or punches or slams, submitted in any number of ways or suffer stranger fates, like losing via injury stoppage or horrible decision. If you fight at the highest level for long enough, you lose. That’s true of virtually everyone in every weight class.
There is less overall talent at light heavyweight and heavyweight, which may seem like a favorable environment for undefeated dominance, but whatever is lacked in depth is more than made up for in average power; it’s simply easier to get knocked out in heavier weight classes. Still, being undefeated is especially difficult in the stacked divisions between featherweight and welterweight. Those tend to be the best divisions top to bottom because there are more people in the world who are in those height and weight ranges, and there aren’t as many competitive alternatives for the best 145- to 170-pound athletes in the world. The already small population of heavyweight-sized athletes is further diluted by other, often more lucrative competitive options.
That is why current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s 28-fight winning spree—12 of those victories have come in the UFC—is one of the most impressive runs any fighter has had in this sport’s short history…Like