Top Five: UFC Heavyweight Champions

The Baddest Men on the Planet

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Fight fans have always been excited to see the big guys throw down. Looking back through boxing history, men like Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier, and Mike Tyson captivated audiences.

Mixed martial arts doesn’t have near the storied history boxing does. It’s been a bumpy ride over the last 25 years.  

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In the early days, the UFC was all heavyweights. Also during those times, we’d see skilled martial artists taking on bar bouncers. As the years went on, we’d slowly weed out that sort of nonsense and build a legit division for the sizable athletes who deserved to be there. And in that time, as in every division, some men stood high above the others. They beat the best and they won the belts.

These are the top five UFC heavyweight champions.

 


#5. Tim “The Maine-iac” Sylvia

Notable Wins: Ricco Rodriguez, Andrei Arlovski (2 times), Jeff Monson, Ben Rothwell, Brandon Vera

Became UFC Heavyweight Champion: Twice

Consecutive Title Defenses: Two

 6 ft 8 and 265 + lbs., Tim Sylvia was a massive heavyweight. At this height, Sylvia appeared somewhat awkward in the cage. He wasn’t “shredded” and didn’t really fit the build of a pro athlete. Despite this, Sylvia proved himself to be a formidable force in the Octagon.

He entered the UFC with a perfect 14-0 record in 2002 . He defeated Ricco Rodriguez by knockout in the first round to win the heavyweight title in just his second fight in the organization. He defended the belt against fellow giant, the 6 ft 10 Gan Mcgee in his first defense. “The Maine-iac” then failed his post-fight drug test and was stripped of his heavyweight title.

From here, Sylvia would go 4-2 before getting another chance at gold and knocking out Andrei Arlovski in 2006 to once again become the heavyweight king. He defended the belt in a rematch with Arlovski and then went on to beat Jeff Monson to become one of three men to defend the title two consecutive times. He lost the belt to Randy Couture in his next fight and would fall short of seeing UFC gold ever again.

 

#4. Brock Lesnar

Notable Wins: Frank Mir, Heath Herring, Randy Couture, Shane Carwin

Became UFC Heavyweight Champion: Once

Consecutive Title Defenses: Two

When Brock Lesnar first entered the MMA world, it was a massive deal for a few reasons. For one, Lesnar was a huge star in pro-wrestling. Even if you weren’t a fan of WWE, you knew who Lesnar was. Another reason was his physicality and athleticism. At 265+ lbs of solid muscle Lesnar had proven himself to be incredibly quick and agile in the “squared circle”. He had also been briefly drafted by the Minnesota Vikings before injuries befell him. Lastly (probably the main reason he piqued mine and other MMA pundits interest), Lesnar was an incredibly gifted collegiate wrestler. He was a Big Ten Conference champion for two years,  an NCAA runner-up and an NCAA champion the following year. His overall record throughout his college career was 106-5.

In his first UFC fight, he took on former UFC Heavyweight champion, Frank Mir. Talk about being thrown to the wolves when you’re only 1-0 in MMA! A controversial call by referee Steve Mazagatti lead to Mir being saved from the ferocious hammer fists of Lesnar. It was seconds later that Mir snatched Lesnar’s leg and locked in a kneebar on the behemoth. The former WWE champion bounced back, easily winning a decision over Heath Herring before taking on Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight championship. He would take the belt from the much smaller, yet much more experienced Couture and finally get his revenge on Mir in his first defense. Lesnar decimated Mir on the ground and left him dazed and bloodied as the referee called the fight off.  He survived a brutal beating from Shane Carwin in the first round of his second defense and went on to choke out the exhausted Carwinext roundxt  round. He lost his belt to Cain Velasquez in his next bout.

Oh, and speaking of Cain Velasquez..

 

#3. Cain Velasquez

Notable Wins: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, Junior Dos Santos, Cheick Kongo, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva

Became UFC Heavyweight Champion: Twice

Consecutive Title Defenses: Two

In 2008, Cain Velasquez entered the UFC for his fourth professional bout. He was a standout wrestler in high school and in college was an NCAA Division 1 wrestler while being ranked in the top ten nationally for two years in a row. Even with his wrestling credentials, Velasquez showed early on that he wasn’t afraid to strike with his opponents. He had crisp boxing and even some decent kicks. He also had a unique attribute that many heavyweights seem to lack: cardio for days. He fought at a relenting pace no matter how long the fight went.  It became clear early in his UFC career that Velasquez was the whole package.

At 8-0 as a pro and after demolishing everyone the UFC had put before him, he finally got his shot at the belt. His opponent would be the mountain of a man mentioned earlier; Brock Lesnar. Velasquez didn’t seem too intimidated by his muscle-bound opponent. As soon as the bell rang, he rushed Lesnar and never gave him a chance to get anything going. Velasquez won by first round TKO. He lost the belt to Brazilian striker Junior Dos Santos in his next fight, yet would later regain the title from Dos Santos in a rematch down the road.

He defended his belt against Antonio Silva before the rubber match with Dos Santos. For five rounds Velasquez beat Dos Santos senseless. Even as a fan of sanctioned violence, it was getting hard for me to watch going into the championship rounds. Velasquez would face a myriad of injuries and be out for two years before losing the title to Fabricio Werdum in 2015. Since the loss, Velazquez has been battling injuries and has only fought once in the last two years putting on a dazzling showcase against Travis Browne.

 


#2. Randy “The Natural” Couture

Notable Wins: Vitor Belfort (2 times), Maurice Smith, Kevin Randleman, Pedro Rizzo (2 times), Tim Sylvia, Gabriel Gonzaga

Became UFC Heavyweight Champion: Three times

Consecutive Title Defenses: Two

Randy Couture had one of the most impressive runs we’ve seen yet in MMA. His record, 19-11, is a little deceiving if you don’t juxtapose it with his accomplishments in the sport. Couture has won the UFC heavyweight title three times, the light heavyweight title twice, competed in the most UFC title fights in history at 15 and had the most championship reigns in the organization.

A world-class Greco-Roman wrestler, Couture kicked off his MMA career by winning the UFC 13 heavyweight tournament in 1997. He won his first UFC belt by decision later that year in just his fourth fight, against Maurice Smith. He later vacated that title, fought in Japan for a bit, then came back and TKO’d the monstrous Kevin Randleman to take his belt back four years later. He defended the belt twice in a couple of matches with Pedro Rizzo before losing it to Josh Barnett.

“The Natural” dropped to light heavyweight and won the belt there before losing a pair of fights to Chuck Liddell. At UFC 68, Couture returned to heavyweight and decisively took five rounds against the champion at the time, Tim Sylvia. He TKO’d jiu jitsu ace Gabriel Gonzaga in his next fight before dropping the belt to Brock Lesnar at UFC 91.

 

Sep 10, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Stipe Miocic (red gloves) defeats Alistair Overeem (blue gloves) during UFC 203 at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

#1. Stipe Miocic

Notable Wins: Mark Hunt, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Junior Dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski, Francis Ngannou

Became UFC Heavyweight Champion: Once

Consecutive Title Defenses: Three

Before becoming a mixed martial artist, Stipe Miocic was an NCAA Division 1 wrestler and a Golden Gloves boxing champion. Miocic was and still is an active firefighter and paramedic in Cleveland, Ohio. And when he’s not extinguishing blazes in buildings, he spends his time extinguishing former champions and Cameroonian destroyers.

Over the weekend Stipe Miocic once again proved himself to be “the baddest man on the planet.” For five rounds he completely battered and outclassed Francis Ngannou, both on the ground and on the feet. This gave Miocic his third consecutive title defense, making him the only  UFC heavyweight to ever do so.  

Miocic doesn’t just get the top spot on this list for breaking the record, though. In his five fights leading up to Saturday’s win, he had won everyone by KO/TKO. Four of those wins were over former UFC champions, and in the first round. Miocic has proven to be hittable in fights but has persevered and found ways to finish or just eclipse his opponents since his reign began. It’ll be interesting to see what’s next for the Ohioan. Dana White is calling for a super fight between him and light heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier. Personally, I like this idea. Miocic has cleared out his division and has only rematches on the horizon for the time being. Give the fans a champ vs champ match-up while the division sorts itself out

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