A rarity in the modern era of the UFC, immediate title rematches are often birthed by one of two scenarios: a terribly controversial decision, or a stunning upset against a long-reigning champion.
Saturday night at UFC 218, we’ll get our latest chance to watch two elite fighters square off for a second consecutive time, as UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway tries to close the book on former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo. The two first met at UFC 212 in June, with Holloway aiming to dethrone Aldo from his place atop the 145-pound mountain. While Aldo looked competitive to start the fight, likely winning the first two rounds with higher aggression, Holloway stole the show in Round 3. Finally finding his rhythm after ceding the first two rounds to the champion, Holloway stopped Aldo via TKO to decisively end his reign.
The UFC originally intended to ditch this matchup, booking Frankie Edgar to face Holloway in his first defense as the undisputed champion. But disaster foiled those plans, with Edgar suffering an orbital bone injury weeks before the contest. In stepped Aldo, granted the immediate rematch.
Whether or not Aldo will be able to correct the mistakes he made in the original bout is the overarching question here, a mystery many have used as motivation in the past for immediate rematches.
Historically speaking, the overwhelming answer to that question is no.
Let’s look at the most recent examples.
Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio Rua
Fresh off an emphatic knockout win over then-champion Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida was set to kick off the Machida Era with a title defense against Shogun Rua. Viewed as the biggest puzzle the sport had seen in years, Machida’s elusive movement and knockout power made him an easy favorite going in against Rua. But Rua, a vicious striker with a high output at the time, took it to the champion to justify a title change after five rounds of action.
The judges didn’t agree, allowing Machida to retain. The UFC didn’t see eye to eye with the scorecards, though, granting Rua a second consecutive bout against Machida several months later. Rua would not be denied this time around, blistering the champion to the tune of a first-round knockout.
While the outcome was different, the elements of the fight remain stable with Rua winning the exchanges.
Frankie Edgar vs. B.J. Penn
Saturday’s original headliner, Frankie Edgar, knows the immediate title rematch all too well. Seen by many as a man in way over his head in an original showdown with then-ligthweight champion B.J. Penn, Edgar stunned the mixed martial arts world with a unanimous decision over the seemingly unstoppable Penn in April of 2010. They met again just over three months later, with many expecting Penn to have a greater say in the outcome of this contest.
Edgar dismantled Penn far worse than he did in the first outing, cementing himself as the new reigning king at 155 pounds.
Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard
Edgar immediately moved on to defend his title against, at the time, the only man who held a victory over him in professional MMA, Gray Maynard. The champion’s night got off to an incredibly rough start, on the fringes of a first-round TKO after Maynard pummeled him from the jump. Edgar recovered admirably, somehow fighting his way to a split draw on the judges’ scorecards after absorbing such a terrible beating.
An immediate rematch was largely in order, as is often the case with any bout that results in a draw.
The second fight was much of the same: Maynard nearly stopped Edgar in the opening round before the champion rebounded with an impressive amount of heart. Only this time, Edgar wouldn’t let it go to the judges (who easily could have scored this one a draw too). Edgar finished Maynard in the fourth round, retaining his belt for the third consecutive fight.
Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar
Having defended his title in emphatic fashion, Edgar was next tasked with facing former WEC lightweight champion and surging UFC contender Benson Henderson. The two would fight to a narrow decision after five rounds at UFC 144 in February of 2012, with Henderson coming out on top. Much to the dismay of Edgar and all his fans, who felt the champion did enough to remain champion, the UFC seemed primed on moving away from an immediate title rematch to clear up the overflow of contenders that resulted from two years’ worth of title fights featuring just three names (Penn, Edgar, Maynard).
Edgar argued against it, stating that after granting both Penn and Maynard an immediate rematch, he was deserving too.
Six months later, Edgar got his wish. He fought far better this time than the first, seen by many as the true winner. The judges didn’t agree, however, once again awarding Henderson the controversial nod.
Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva
It was about a year before the UFC hosted a title contest that was worthy of an immediate rematch, easily the most famous of any other fight featured on this list. Anderson Silva, several months removed from dismantling light heavyweight Stephan Bonnar and nearly a year from last defending his middleweight title against Chael Sonnen, was tasked with defending his crown against an up-an-coming title contender, Chris Weidman. With Silva at the peak of his fighting career and Weidman still seen as a handful of years away, few expected to see the champion finally suffer defeat.
Yet, that’s exactly what we saw.
Despite Weidman defeating Silva via knockout, the result didn’t convince too many people that Weidman truly beat the champion. In fact, many argued the champion beat himself, having been hit with the KO blow only after he was seen taunting Weidman inside the cage.
Silva promised to take a rematch more seriously, and took Weidman on again just five months later.
What we got was yet another controversial finish, with Silva breaking his leg on a checked low kick midway through the second round. Weidman was once again awarded the victory.
But while the finish may not sit well with those who were looking for clarity, everything that took place before that should have. Weidman was clearly the better fighter, dominating virtually every exchange.
Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson
Fast forward three-plus years. The UFC once again felt the pressure to book an immediate championship rematch. Defending his title for the first time against Stephen Thompson at UFC 205, Tyron Woodley was hoping to showcase his greatest skills on the grandest stage of his career. He didn’t do that, spending a majority of his fight against Thompson concerned with the challenger’s striking, and rarely focusing on his own offensive attacks. The champion surely had his moments, but not consistently enough to convince the judges that he’d won the bout. The original matchup was ruled a majority draw, paving the way for a sequel.
Woodley and Thompson met four months later, with the sequel essentially mirroring the original… in the worst ways possible. Neither man was eager to exchange, both fighting tentatively for almost the entire 25 minutes. Woodley retained his title.