New weight – new life. Why ex-UFC champions change diets and divisions

By | May 11, 2024

Conquering a second division is the dream of any UFC champion. However, they don’t always move to a new category while still holding a title. Lately, former champions have been changing divisions to reboot their careers and largely to escape the burdens of weight cuts and grueling diets. But is this decision justified?

It all started with the legendary ‘Captain America’ Randy Couture, the first former champion who decided to switch divisions in search of success. After a series of failures in the heavyweight division, Randy moved down in 2003 and managed to win a title in his first fight in the new division. This was the first case where a former champion was able to establish himself in a new division.

In recent years, this trend has become predominant. Former title holders no longer end their careers to move into bare-knuckle fighting or pop-boxing. They started trying their luck in new weight classes to re-experience the taste of victory and to feel the cherished gold around their waist again. With this logic, Brazilian fighter Deiveson Figueiredo decided to conquer the bantamweight division. Instead of engaging in endless trilogies and quadrilogies at flyweight, the ‘God of War’ rightly decided to move up in weight and make some noise at 135 lbs. It’s worth noting that he looks at least decent. Thanks to good distance boxing and the ability to cut angles, he was able to win his debut against the somewhat awkward gatekeeper Rob Font. At that time, fans and analysts didn’t believe in Figueiredo’s chances to successfully establish himself in the new division. However, he managed to silence the critics and in his second fight confirmed the seriousness of his intentions. He became the first to not only take down but also choke out Cody Garbrandt. The American, despite his decline, still has an 80% takedown defense rate, which didn’t save him in the fight against Figueiredo. And currently, Deiveson has two wins in the division against strong opponents. He’s already talking about a title fight with O’Malley, but most likely, he needs at least one more win to enter the circle of contenders.

However, not every former champion moves up in weight due to a lack of career prospects. Aljamain Sterling, who competed with Deiveson at UFC 300, switched categories for slightly different reasons. His transition was mainly characterized by his desire to relinquish the title to his friend and sparring partner Merab Dvalishvili. However, besides this circumstance, Sterling repeatedly stated that it has become difficult for him over the years to make the cut to 135 lbs. And in his fight against Kattar, Aljo, despite the performance not being particularly spectacular, was able to successfully employ his wrestling against a considerably bigger guy. He managed to completely neutralize his opponent’s strongest side, not giving him a single chance for victory. If Sterling can also successfully use his wrestling against future opponents, it is quite possible that within a year he will be considered one of the contenders.

But the prime example of a former champion positively affected by a category change is Alex Pereira. On April 9, 2023, many fans turned away from Poatan after he was sent to the ‘land of dreams’ in a title rematch with Israel Adesanya. However, immediately after the loss, he announced plans to move to 205 lbs. And what do we see? Just over a year after the defeat by Izzy, Alex not only became the champion but also defended his title for the first time. Also in this division, he remains undefeated and is on a three-fight win streak, and all the opponents he faced before were champions. And it was Pereira who was entrusted to headline the main tournament of the year—UFC 300. Simply insane.

Undoubtedly, moving to another category for former champions is a huge risk that may be unjustified. Age, gaining additional weight, and loss of speed all play a role. However, the idea of becoming a double champion or simply giving oneself a second chance under different circumstances attracts former dominators. Especially when there are vivid examples that it is not an unachievable goal. Overall, moving to another weight class is a new opportunity to prove not only to oneself but also to fans that you are still competitive, that it’s not quite over with you yet, and that your peak continues.

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