What makes a UFC champion?

When one takes a look back at the 81 champions in UFC history, there is one martial arts discipline that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Here’s a hint. It’s not boxing. It’s not kickboxing. It’s not Karate. It’s not Kung Fu. It’s not even Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Historically wrestling has proven to be the most successful discipline inside the UFC octagon. Beginning with Mark Coleman claiming the first UFC heavyweight title in 1997, there have been a long line of high level amateur wrestlers who have made a successful transition into mixed martial arts where they eventually claimed the grand prize of a UFC title.

To be exact, 35 UFC champions to date have come from a wrestling background. That’s a whopping 43 percent of all titleholders in UFC history. In addition to Coleman, some of the most memorable UFC champions who made a successful transition from amateur wrestling to MMA are fighters like Randy Couture, Kevin Randleman, Tito Ortiz, Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Henry Cejudo, Demetrious Johnson, Matt Hughes, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Miesha Tate, Brock Lesnar, and Jon Jones, to name just a few.

Of the 35 wrestlers who went on to become a UFC champion 20 either wrestled for a Division I school or were named an All-American. Looking back as well it’s also pretty clear to see that UFC champions with a strong wrestling base often held the titles longer than their peers who came up through the ranks from other disciplines.

Just look at the legendary winning streaks and title reigns of fighters like Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson, and Matt Hughes as examples of UFC champions who incorporated their wrestling discipline into a full mixed-martial arts arsenal that at some point or another looked nearly unbeatable. And although he hasn’t had that many title defenses yet, current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov boasts an incredible 27-0 record with no clear-cut threat to his title yet on the horizon, though current interim champ Dustin Poirier may beg to differ.

It’s also worthy to note that although former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre didn’t come from a wrestling background, he saw the need for it early on in his MMA career, relied heavily on it and incorporated it masterfully into his MMA game during his historic five-year 170-pound title reign between 2008-2013.

It’s also worthy to note that although former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre didn’t come from a wrestling background, he saw the need for it early on in his MMA career, relied heavily on it and incorporated it masterfully into his MMA game during his historic five-year 170-pound title reign between 2008-2013.

It’s also worthy to note that although former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre didn’t come from a wrestling background, he saw the need for it early on in his MMA career, relied heavily on it and incorporated it masterfully into his MMA game during his historic five-year 170-pound title reign between 2008-2013.

In addition to Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Henry Cejudo, and Khabib Nurmagomedov, another current UFC champion who comes from a wrestling background is Kamaru Usman. The former Division II All-American has a pro MMA record of 15-1 and recently claimed UFC welterweight gold in March when he won a unanimous decision over another wrestler, former champ Tyron Woodley, at UFC 235.

Though still relatively early in his UFC career, Usman is proving himself a force to be reckoned with. Since winning The Ultimate Fighter 21 tournament in July 2015, the 32-year-old “Nigerian Nightmare” has peeled off nine straight victories inside the octagon and has UFC gold around his waist. He is just the latest example of what can be accomplished in mixed martial arts when a full arsenal of MMA skills are added to an already solid wrestling base.

Take a look at this infographic from Betway that illustrates what has historically proven to be the most effective route to becoming a champion in professional mixed martial arts’s premiere organization.

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