A Lineal Title Supported Argument for the GOAT in MMA

Hello there lineal title fans! Lately, I've been seeing a lot of debate regarding the greatest of all time in the sport of MMA. It makes sense considering that Anderson Silva is making his much anticipated comeback this weekend. It got me thinking about why I start tracking lineal titles to begin with. I had a theory that the fighter in each weight class with the most lineal titles could be considered the best in the division. And, after almost 5 years, I finally feel like I have enough data to make a well-informed, objective case for the Lineal Title version of the GOAT in MMA.

Let me start with my conclusions and then I'll walk through the data that got me there. A strong case can be made for each of these 5 fighters as the lineal title version of the Greatest of All-time:

1. Fedor Emelianenko

  • Longest Reigning Lineal King in History: 7 years, 1 month, 18 defenses
  • 17 lineal titles is good for 11th on all-time list
  • Peaked in 2005 when he held 15 of a possible 25 titles for 60% unification and 6th on the all-time list of male fighters approaching total unification of lineal titles in their weight class
  • Holds 4 wins over other lineal champions, good for 4th all-time and 11 titles added to the Heavyweight unification
  • Held 8 of 10 Big Ten Titles (10 most important titles in the history of the division) with the 2 exceptions being Strikeforce and EliteXC, belts established after his prime
  • Held both of the earliest active titles at Open weight and Heavyweight:

2. Cain Velasquez

  • #1 on the All-time career lineal titles list with 49
  • Also held both of the earliest active titles at Open weight and Heavyweight detailed above
  • Tied for #1 on the list of Career Big 10 titles with Shogun Rua with 11
  • Currently the only male fighter to boast total unification of all Big 10 titles in his division
  • Peaked in 2013 when he held 37 of 48 possible titles in the division, good for 77% unification and #1 on the list of male fighters approaching total unification

3. Anderson Silva

  • #1 All-time for titles won across multiple weight classes with 25 (2 WW, 23 MW)
  • 25 career lineal titles is good for 5th on the All-time list
  • One of 2 fighters to achieve Lineal King of 2 different weight classes (WW 2 of a possible 7 titles in 2001; MW peaked at 23 of a possible 48 titles in 2012 for 48% unification) The other fighter to achieve this was Hayato Sakurai who held the Welterweight crown in 2000 and the Lightweight crown in 2005. Mamoru Yamaguchi needs to be mentioned as well because, although he never successfully unified any lineal titles, he was the inaugural Bantamweight and Flyweight champion
  • Held 7 Big Ten titles throughout his career, good for 5th on the All-time list
  • Defeated 3 other lineal champions head to head, good for 11 titles added to the MW unification
  • Held the oldest active lineal titles in both the WW and MW divisions

4. Georges St. Piere

  • Second longest reigning Lineal King with 9 defenses over 5 years, 11 months (time frame frozen after GSP retired)
  • #1 Most Unification bouts won (lineal champ vs lineal champ) with 8 wins and 28 titles added to the unification at WW
  • #2 All-time on the Career lineal titles list with 40
  • GSP and Takanori Gomi are the only two champions in history to be crowned Lineal King of their division 3 separate times
  • Currently holds 8 Big Ten titles in the division and 10 for his career, good for #2 on the All-time list of Big 10 Title holders
  • Peaked in 2013 when holding 31 of 54 possible titles in the division, good for 57% unification and 8th on the All-time list of fighters nearing total unification
  • Currently holds the 2 earliest active WW lineal titles
    • Shooto - Hayato Sakurai (1998) → Anderson Silva → Yushin Okami → Jake Shields → Georges St. Piere
    • UFC - Pat Miletich (1998) → Jutaro Nakao → Tetsuji Kato → Hayato Sakurai → Anderson Silva → Yushin Okami → Jake Shields → Georges St. Piere

5. Jose Aldo

  • Third longest reigning lineal King with 9 defenses over 5 years, 2 months (represents a virtual tie with GSP and a chance to take the lead with a win over McGregor)
  • #2 Most unification bouts won (lineal champ vs lineal champ) with 7 wins and 13 titles added to the unification
  • Currently holds 6 Big Ten titles
  • Currently at his peak with 20 of a possible 49 lineal titles in the division, good for 41% unification
  • Currently holds the oldest active title across all weight classes
    • Shooto - Kenichi Tanaka (1990) → Hiroyuki Kanno → Kazuhiro Sakamoto → Noboru Asahi → Alexandre Nogueira → Tetsuo Katsuta → Alexandre Nogueira → Hiroyuki Abe → Alexandre Nogueira → Jose Aldo

Supporting Data:

First, I needed a starting point. I decided that my initial field of candidates would come from the list of Lineal Kings throughout history in each division. Here's how it breaks down:

1. Heavyweight / Open Weight

  • 12 Lineal Kings throughout history
  • Reigning King: Cain Velasquez (37 titles, 74%)
  • Past Kings Include: Fedor, Bigfoot, Overeem, Werdum, Big Nog, Cro Cop, Coleman, Vovchanchyn

2. Light Heavyweight

  • 12 Lineal Kings throughout history
  • Reigning King: Jon Jones (21 titles, 51%)
  • Past Kings Include: Rua, Machida, Evans, Griffin, Rampage, Liddell, Couture, Belfort, Ortiz, Wanderlei

3. Middleweight

  • 11 Lineal Kings throughout history
  • Reigning King: Chris Weidman (25 titles, 49%)
  • Past Kings Include: Anderson Silva, Sonnen, Marquardt, Maia, Filho, Misaki, Henderson, Bustamante, Menne

4. Welterweight

  • 9 Lineal Kings throughout history
  • Reigning Lineal King: GSP (31 titles, 56%)
  • Past Kings Include: Serra, Hughes, Parisyan, Strasser, Aram, Stevenson, Anderson Silva, Sakurai

5. Lightweight

  • 20 Lineal Kings throughout history
  • Reigning Lineal King: Anthony Pettis (27 titles, 45%)
  • Past Kings Include: Henderson, Melendez, Aoki, Kawajiri, Gomi, Ishida, Marcus Aurelio, Sakurai, Hansen, Edwards, Mashima, Barbosa, Uno

6. Featherweight

  • 4 Lineal Kings throughout history
  • Reigning LIneal King: Jose Aldo (20 titles, 41%)
  • Past Kings Include: Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, Kinichi Tanaka

7. Bantamweight

  • 7 Lineal Kings throughout history
  • Reigning Lineal King: Dominick Cruz (9 titles, 24%)
  • Past Kings Include: Bowles, Torres, Mizugaki, Tapia, Matsune, Yamaguchi

8. Flyweight

  • 6 Lineal Kings throughout history
  • Reigning Lineal King: Mighty Mouse
  • Past Kings Include: McCall, Montague, Gomez, Formiga, Yamaguchi

Next, I looked at the length of each King's reign, measured both over time (Years, Months) and defenses of the crown (fights won):

Champion Reign Defenses
1 Fedor Emelianenko 7 yrs, 1 mo 18
2 Georges St Piere 5 yrs, 11 mos 9
2 Jose Aldo 5 yrs, 2 mos 9
3 Urijah Faber 2 yrs, 6 mos 8
4 Jon Jones 3 yrs, 10 mos 8
5 Mighty Mouse 2 yrs, 7 mos 6

Observations / Conclusions:

  • From this list alone, I knew that Fedor would have to be in my top 5. He's just too far out in front of the pack to ignore
  • I was also pretty sure that GSP and Aldo belonged in the top 5, but wanted to reserve judgement until I saw some more supporting information
  • I was also able to eliminate Faber from consideration because Aldo was the superior choice in the Featherweight division and also has a decisive win over him head to head
  • At this point, both Jon Jones and Mighty Mouse were still in the running

The next step was to take a look at Career Lineal title numbers from both a total number of titles standpoint and percentage of unification:

Champion Career Titles
1 Cain Velasquez 49
2 Georges St Piere 40
3 Benson Henderson 29
4 Shinya Aoki 27
4 Anthony Pettis 27
5 Anderson Silva 25
5 Chris Weidman 25
6 Chael Sonnen 24
6 Bigfoot Silva 24
7 Gilbert Melendez 21
7 Jon Jones 21
8 Alistair Overeem 20
8 Jose Aldo 20
9 Lyoto Machida 19
9 Randy Couture 19
10 Fabricio Werdum 18
10 Ronda Rousey 18
- Fedor Emelianenko 17

Quest for Total Unification of Active Lineal Titles
Champion % Unification Number of Active Titles Year
1 Cain Velasquez 77% 37 of 48 HW titles 2013
2 Rashad Evans 71% 15 of 21 LHW titles 2008
3 Lyoto Machida 67% 16 of 24 LHW titles 2009
4 Caol Uno 67% 2 of 3 LW titles 1999
5 Ryota Matsune 67% 2 of 3 BW titles 2004
6 Fedor Emelianenko 60% 15 of 25 HW titles 2005
7 Forrest Griffin 60% 12 of 20 LHW titles 2008
8 Georges St Piere 57% 31 of 54 WW titles 2013
9 Shogun Rua 57% 16 of 28 LHW titles 2010
10 Jon Jones 51% 21 of 41 LHW titles 2014
- Chris Weidman 49% 25 of 51 MW titles 2014
- Jose Aldo 41% 20 of 49 FW titles 2014
- Jussier Formiga 40% 2 of 5 FLYW titles 2009

Observations / Conclusions:

  • Cain Velasquez really shines on these two lists, standing as the leader in both career titles and the leader in the quest to unify all of the belts. He punched his ticket to my top 5 with these numbers alone
  • GSP is again a big stand out on these lists, as the only other fighter in history besides Cain to win 40 lineal titles. At this point I was comfortable putting him in the top 5 as well
  • Rashad Evans makes an impressive appearance on this list, but didn't really have any other supporting evidence to get him passed the final cut
  • With Fedor, GSP, and Cain assured spots in the top 5 that left only 2 more available spaces. At this point it was between Jon Jones, Jose Aldo, Anderson Silva, and Mighty Mouse for those last few spots
  • The lightweights make a solid appearance on this list between Aoki, Melendez, Henderson, and Pettis. The issue is that no single fighter stands out among the rest from a lineal title standpoint. Melendez and Aoki are probably the bright spots on this list as they did a lot of the work to bring the more obscure titles from Asia into the unification. It's just not enough to be considered for the GOAT considering the competition

Next, I focused on the Big Ten (10 most important titles in each weight class):

All-Time Big Ten Title Holders
Champion Career Titles
1 Cain Velasquez 11
1 Shogun Rua 11
2 Georges St Piere 10
2 Chael Sonnen 10
2 Lyoto Machida 10
2 Bigfoot Silva 10
3 Jon Jones 9
3 Ronda Rousey 9
3 Alistair Overeem 9
4 Nate Marquardt 8
4 Rashad Evans 8
4 Fabricio Werdum 8
4 Randy Couture 8
4 Marloes Coenen 8
4 Roxanne Modafferi 8
5 Anderson Silva 7
5 Fedor Emelianenko 7
5 Dan Henderson 7
5 Forrest Griffin 7
5 Chris Weidman 7
5 Mighty Mouse 7
5 Miesha Tate 7
5 Sarah Kaufman 7
- Jose Aldo 6
- Anthony Pettis 6
- Benson Henderson 6
- Takanori Gomi 6
- Gilbert Melendez 6

Observations / Conclusions:

  • Cain and GSP further cement their positions
  • Jon Jones makes another impressive appearance while Aldo's standing is underwhelming
  • Anderson Silva and Mighty Mouse both make solid appearances on the list
  • How about Shogun Rua?! That guy has been in the mix with all the most important belts in LHW history

Next, I examined a career list of fighters who have held titles across multiple weight classes.

Lineal Title Holders Across Multiple Weight Classes
Champion Career Titles Weight Classes
1 Anderson Silva 25 MW, WW
2 Chael Sonnen 24 LHW, MW
3 Gilbert Melendez 21 LW, FW
4 Randy Couture 19 HW, LHW
4 Lyoto Machida 19 LHW, MW
5 Dan Henderson 12 Open, LHW, MW
5 Vitor Belfort 12 LHW, MW
6 Eddie Alvarez 11 WW, LW
7 Bibiano Fernandes 10 FW, BW
8 Demian Maia 9 MW, WW
8 Mighty Mouse 9 BW, FLYW
9 Wanderlei Silva 8 Open, LHW, MW
9 BJ Penn 8 WW, LW
10 Gegard Mousasi 7 LHW, MW
10 Robbie Lawler 7 MW, WW

Observations / Conclusions:

  • To me, this solidifies Anderson Silva's place in the top 5, especially because he was not only a Welterweight title holder, but one of only 2 fighters in history to hold the Lineal crown in 2 different weight classes
  • It's impressive that Hendo and Wandy each held titles in 3 different weight classes
  • This means that the final spot is between Jones, Aldo, and Mighty Mouse. Johnson is the only other candidate to appear on this list as he has held lineal titles in both the Bantamweight and Flyweight divisions. This probably would have been enough to vault him into the top 5 if not for Aldo's standing on the next list that I'll show below. But, it's important to note that Mighty Mouse is in his prime and on the edges of just about every major category that I'm using to measure lineal title success. So, he'd be one to watch out for over the next year or two.

Next, I looked at how the champions did when fighting other lineal champions. In my mind, this is where a fighters stripes are really earned in the lineal title world. it's two guys claiming to be champion of the world meeting to find out who is really the man. And, I tend to put more emphasis on champions who do the work to unify the titles themselves instead of beating one fighter and stealing all of their mojo.

Unification Bouts Won
Champion vs. Champion Wins Titles
1 Georges St. Pierre 8 28
2 Jose Aldo 7 13
3 Bibiano Fernandes 5 8
4 Shinya Aoki 4 17
4 Fedor Emelianenko 4 11
4 Hatsu Hioki 4 5
4 Urijah Faber 4 4
4 Mighty Mouse 4 4
5 Anderson Silva 3 11
5 Ben Askren 3 4

Observations / Conclusions:

  • Jose Aldo locks down that final spot for me here, especially because he'll have a chance to match GSP's win total in his next match against McGregor (3 titles). He and GSP really stand apart from the rest with their ability to face the best and come out on top
  • Notice Jon Jones doesn't appear on this list. Part of the reason is that, from a lineal title perspective, he built off of the success of guys like Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, and Shogun Rua. He may have defeatEd all of them, but he did it at a time when they had all suffered previous losses and were on the downside of their respective careers
  • Mighty Mouse was close to making the cut as well, but his percentage of unification in his division is lower than anyone else being considered and he cannot be identified as the leader in any of the categories presented

Final Decision:
You may interpret the data that I've supplied differently, so my choice for GOAT in MMA based on lineal title accomplishments is just my personal opinion. To me, it comes down to a debate between Cain Velasquez and Georges St Piere. Cain has the bigger numbers: 49 titles, 77% unification, 11 Big Ten titles. But, his reign hasn't been that long and he was able to capture all of his lineal titles with just two wins over JDS and Bigfoot Silva.

GSP also has really big numbers: 40 titles, 10 Big Ten titles. But, he was also a Lineal King of the WW division for nearly 6 years and 9 defenses. Over that stretch, he added 28 titles to the unification and beat 8 lineal champions. On top of that, he is the only other fighter besides Takanori Gomi to be crowned Lineal King on 3 separate occasions.

The answer is clear, lineal title fans: GSP is the GOAT!*
* based solely on lineal title accomplishments

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.