What makes Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa so special? Somebody’s O has got to go!

September 24, 2020

UFC title fights between undefeated fighters

Somebody’s O has got to go!  This is a phrase we hear more in boxing where it is common to see undefeated boxers with more than 20 fights.  It is very rare in MMA, where the best fight the best earlier in their careers.  With the Sept. 26 UFC title fight between undefeated fighters Israel Adesanya (19-0) and Paulo Costa (13-0), we will look at how these two great middleweights arrived on their collision course.

First, we will take an in depth look at past UFC title fights between undefeated fighters, how they arrived at these title fights, and where their careers have led them afterwards.  To date, there has only been one men’s UFC title fight between undefeated fighters.  In the women’s division, it has happened five times, four of which involved Ronda Rousey.

Ronda Rousey (8-0) vs. Sara McMann (7-0), UFC 170, February 22, 2014

This was a battle of undefeated Olympic medalists.  McMann won the silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics in freestyle wrestling.  Rousey won the bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in judo.

Before women ever fought in the UFC, Rousey had achieved early success in the Strikeforce promotion.  In her fifth professional fight, Rousey defeated Meisha Tate by first-round armbar submission to win the Strikeforce bantamweight title.  She defended her title once against Canadian veteran and former champ Sarah Kaufman.  After the UFC purchased Strikeforce, they announced that Ronda Rousey was the first female fighter they had signed and she became the inaugural UFC women’s bantamweight champion.  She defended her title against Liz Carmouche by first-round armbar submission in a fight that headlined UFC 157.   This was a monumental event for women’s MMA, as the event was a huge financial success.  Rousey next defeated her biggest rival Meisha Tate at UFC 168.  This was Rousey’s first fight to go outside of the first round, as she won by her patented armbar in the third round.

McMann was coming off a TKO victory in her UFC debut against Sheila Gaff.  In her last fight prior to making her UFC debut, McMann defeated Rousey’s friend Shayna Baszler in the all-female Invicta promotion.

Coming into the fight with McMann, Rousey won her first seven fights by armbar submission, six of which came in the first round.  The fight with McMann marked another first-round finish, this time by TKO due to a knee to the body.

McMann has gone 5-4 since the Rousey fight including notable losses against Miesha Tata and Amanda Nunes.  She is coming off a win in her most recent fight in January of this year against Lina Lansberg.  McMann is currently the number 9 ranked UFC women’s bantamweight.

Ronda Rousey (10-0) vs. Cat Zingano (9-0), UFC 184, February 28, 2015

After her win over McMann, Rousey had another first round finish, this time a 16-second TKO over Canadian Alexis Davis.  This set up her next fight against fellow unbeaten bantamweight Cat Zingano who earned a well-deserved title shot after winning her first two fights in the UFC against top competition.

In the second ever women’s fight in the UFC and the first on cable TV, Zingano defeated Tate by third-round TKO in what was the Fight of the Night at The Ultimate Fighter Season 17 Finale.  Zingano then earned another third-round TKO over Amanda Nunes, who is now widely considered the greatest female fighter of all time.

Zingano was considered Rousey’s biggest threat at the time.  However, Rousey did it again with another first-round armbar, this time the fastest of her career at just 14 seconds.

Zingano went 1-3 in the UFC since her Rousey fight with the loan victory against Marion Reneau and losses to top competition in Julianna Pena, Ketlen Vierra, and Megan Anderson.  Zingano signed with Bellator and just won her Bellator debut on Sept. 11 in Beallator’s featherweight division, where she has aspirations of challenging champion Cris Cyborg.

Ronda Rousey (11-0) vs. Bethe Correia (9-0), UFC 190, August 1, 2015

After going 6-0 in her native Brazil to start her career, Correia won her UFC debut by split decision against women’s MMA pioneer Julie Kedzie.  “Pitbull” followed the Kedzie win with wins over Rousey’s friends Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler.  After going 9-0 overall and 3-0 in the UFC, Correia earned a title shot against Rousey in the challenger’s home country of Brazil.  Rousey delivered her third straight finish in under a minute, this time a knockout at the 34-second mark.

Correia went on to go 2-4-1 in the UFC after her loss to Rousey.  She has had notable losses against Raquel Pennington, Holly Holm, and Irene Aldana; and notable wins against Jessica Eye and Sijara Eubanks.  Correia is currently scheduled for her retirement fight in December against Wu Yanan.

Ronda Rousey vs Bethe Correia UFC190 weigh

Ronda Rousey (12-0) vs. Holly Holm (9-0), UFC 193, November 14, 2015

After going 33-2-3 as a professional boxer and winning multiple world titles, Holly Holm transitioned fully into MMA.  Holm had some early success in her MMA career including a win in Bellator and three knockout victories in the well-respected Legacy FC promotion (now the LFA following a merger with RFA).  Holm earned decision victories over Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau in her first two UFC fights to earn a title shot against Rousey in front of a record breaking 56,214 fans in Melbourne, Australia.

Having won her last four title fights in under two minutes combined, Rousey was a huge favorite going into the fight.  In one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, Holm knocked Rousey out in the second round with a head kick followed by hammerfists on the ground.  The win cemented Holm as one of the best combat sports athletes of all time, becoming the first fighter to win major world titles in boxing and MMA.

In her first title defense, Holm lost the belt to Meisha Tate via fifth-round rear-naked choke.  Holm was well in control of winning a decision before getting caught with the submission.  Holm has went 3-5 since beating Rousey, which includes losses in title fights against Germain de Randamie for the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight title, Cris Cyborg for the featherweight title, and Amanda Nunes for the bantamweight title. Holm also lost against one of the all-time women’s pound-for-pound greats and current UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Schevchenko.  Holm had notable victories over Bethe Correia and Megan Anderson at bantamweight and featherweight respectively.  She is coming off a decision victory in her most recent fight, a rematch with Raquel Pennington.  Holm’s next fight is scheduled for Oct. 3 against top prospect and number 6 ranked contender Irene Aldana.  Holm is currently ranked number 2 in the UFC women’s bantamweight division.

For Rousey, she would come back to fight just one more time, a title fight against Amanda Nunes, who dominated Rousey with a 48-second TKO victory.

Joanna Jedrzedczyk 4(12-0) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-0), UFC 205, November 12, 2016

This was a battle of undefeated Polish strawweights on the UFC’s first card in New York at the famed Madison Square Garden arena.  The fight was Joanna’s fourth title defense.  She earned her title shot after defeating fellow undefeated fighter Claudia Gadelha (12-0) in her second UFC fight.  Joanna defeated Carla Esparza for the title by second-round TKO in March of 2015.  She defended her title against Jessica Penne just three months later, winning by third-round TKO.  Next up was a title defense against Valerie Letourneau in the co-main event for the aforementioned Rousey vs. Holm UFC 193 record-breaking event in Melbourne, Australia.  Jedrzedczyk defeated Letournau by unanimous decision.  Her next title defense was a rematch against Claudia Gadelha after coaching against Gadelha on The Ultimate Fighter season 23.  Joanna won a unanimous decision at the TUF 23 Finale in July of 2016.

Kowalkiewicz started her MMA career going 7-0, which included winning and defending the KSW women’s flyweight title in her native Poland and a split decision victory over Mizuki Inoue in Invicta.  She won her first two UFC fights by unanimous decisions over Randa Markos and Heather Jo Clark.  This set up a stawwetight title eliminator fight against Rose Namajunas in the co-main event at UFC 201.  Kowalkiewicz won a split decision in the Fight of the Night, which earned her the title shot.

Joanna earned a hard fought unanimous decision victory over her countrywoman to improve to 13-0.  Kowalkiewicz has went on to go 2-5 since her title fight, with a notable victory over Felice Herrig and notable losses against Claudia Gadelha, Jessica Andrade, Michelle Waterson and Alexa Grasso.

Joanna defended her title one more time in an entertaining unanimous decision victory over future champ Jessica Andrade that brought her record to 14-0.  She then lost her title to Rose Namajunas by first-round knockout and lost again to “Thug” Rose by unanimous decision in an immediate rematch.  She beat Tecia Torres in a non-title fight before moving up in weight to fight Valentina Schevchenko for the vacant flyweight title.  Joanna gave Schevchenko her best fight to date at 125 pounds, but lost a unanimous decision in her attempt to become one of a select few to win UFC titles in two weight divisions.  Joanna came back with another solid non-title victory over Michelle Waterson, which set up another title shot against Weili Zhang.  Joanna lost a split decision in what was a top candidate for Fight of the Year and perhaps the most exciting women’s MMA fight of all time.

It appears based on the above title fights that it may be easier for top undefeated women to fight each other in MMA, compared to men.  This may be true; however, it is also very rare as top women fighters tend to fight each other earlier in their careers than many of their male counterparts.

Fun fact:

All-time female MMA greats Weili Zhang, Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes all lost their first MMA fight.

Amanda Nunes UFC 250 post fight two belts

Click here for notable undefeated men’s UFC title fights and a look at Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa