Comparing Streaks – Why Jon Jones Title Reign Means More than Tito Ortiz’s

Tito Ortiz was the guy that got me into MMA. He was brash, cocky and a guy who used two main weapons (his wrestling and his cardio) to become a star when the sport was banned from PPV. And he is the standard in the light heavyweight division by which we technically have to measure every champion: Tito’s title defense record still stands as the best for anyone fighting at 205 in the UFC and one of the best on a historical basis.

If there was a true MMA Hall of Fame Tito would have a hard time getting in from a lot of voters, though. Why? Because he compares out to a poor man’s Lennox Lewis: MMA edition. He was a champion who fought everyone of his era and had a significant run with the belt … but his title defenses aren’t much to write about when we look at them through the lens of history. He also happened to lose to nearly everyone that mattered, as well, during his prime years without the title. Tito essentially was gift wrapped an extended title reign when the best talent wasn’t available.

Tito’s reign means something, but not as much as we think when we break it down beyond the raw numbers.

The only people ahead of him (and his streak) in UFC history are Georges St. Pierre at welterweight and Anderson Silva at middleweight. Chuck Liddell is right behind him at four, alongside Frank Shamrock (when the title was called middleweight), and no other champion has defended successfully it more than once. For as much as Ortiz’s career has gone profoundly downhill, as he his 1-7-1 in his last nine fights, on a historical basis (based on numbers alone) Ortiz has technically set the standard that only has been equaled in recent memory.

Unfortunately Tito’s record, on a historical basis, isn’t quite the meaningful record it’ll be played out to be on Saturday night if and when Jones defeats Gustafsson and takes his place atop the UFC light heavyweight mountain of champions. We’ll be hearing about Jones making history, et al, and it’ll be a significant moment in UFC and MMA history if Jones can get a sixth win as champion.

Jones is the greatest light heavyweight champion in UFC history, by far, but this is a final moment where he officially moves ahead of him on the one historical level that matters to many people: title defenses. And it’ll be a much more significant moment than almost all of Tito’s title reign.

If there was a true MMA Hall of Fame, like the boxing version, Tito would be a long shot to get in despite his historical importance. His title wins aren’t that impressive on a cumulative basis, especially in comparison to Jones. Tito’s important, historically, but he never was elite. His reign as champion was plagued by the best talent being in Pride. It was a different era when Ortiz won, of course, but the level of competition he faced as champion is a significant step below every other major champion of his era.

And we have to compare Tito’s wins as champion In this case; what you do as champion matters more, historically, because it’s when you’re at your best.

His only win of note as champion was Ken Shamrock, which was the first real moment that MMA in North America started to come back. Yuki Kondo was just a journeyman fighter who didn’t do much in his career besides beat guys without Wikipedia pages while losing to anyone of note. Elvis Sinosic was a high profile Australian fighter … whose best win was over Jeremy Horn and had an awful, awful run in the UFC. Ken Shamrock was important to the founding of the UFC, and of the popularity of MMA … but his best years were in Pancrase against guys like Bas Rutten. Evan Tanner was probably his best win as champion, based on Tanner’s brief title run at middleweight.

Compare this to Jones, who went through a buzzsaw of elite talent as champion. Tanner was the only one of Tito’s five wins to hold a title … and that was at middleweight, which he lost in his first defense. All but one of Jones’s title defenses have been against a champion at 205, though admittedly Vitor Belfort’s was a fluke, nothing more. Belfort does have a heavyweight tournament win, though, and the worst win on Jones record was Chael Sonnen. Sonnen is still a better win on his record than on Tito’s, all things considered, as he’s fought for a UFC title three times.

If Jon Jones wins Saturday night, and odds are he probably will in emphatic fashion, he’ll have tied the bow on the greatest light heavyweight title run in UFC history.

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