When Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic meet in a rematch for the heavyweight championship at UFC 241, many people will crown the winner the greatest heavyweight to ever step in the Octagon.
Heavyweight has always been a marquee division in fight sports and through much of history the “heavyweight champion of the world” was recognized as a true global celebrity.
While the UFC has not had a big man champ who carries the name value of a Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson or Joe Lewis, it has seen its fair share of great fighters holding the heavyweight strap.
The first man to hold the official UFC heavyweight championship, defeating Dan Severn at UFC 12.
Coleman’s hulking physique and Olympic wrestling background made him an absolute force in the cage. His style of executing takedowns and brutalizing opponents with strikes on the ground has become one of the classic fight styles in MMA, a style he coined as “ground and pound.”
Despite coming to the UFC with a career record of 5-7, Smith was immediately placed in the cage with Coleman at UFC 14 in a fight the champ was expected to win handily.
It was actually Smith’s cardio and impressive ground game which led him to the championship as he was active off his back and made it hard for Coleman to effectively use his ground and pound style. As the minutes ticked by, Coleman became increasingly fatigued and even when he had Smith on his back, it was the challenger delivering strikes.
In the end, Smith took a shocking unanimous decision victory that redefined strategic thinking in the cage and placed a new emphasis on the importance of good cardio at heavyweight.
One of the absolute all-time greats in the UFC, Randy Couture was the man to take the title from Smith at UFC Japan in 1997.
Couture was an Olympic alternate in wrestling but lacked Coleman’s musclebound physique, meaning he had the cardio to keep up his attacks throughout a fight. His win over Smith wasn’t a thriller but almost three years later, at UFC 28, he captured the championship for a second time when he defeated Kevin Randleman by TKO.
Fast forward six and a half years and Couture, who had gone to light heavyweight, become champion and eventually retired from competition, returned from retirement to heavyweight where he faced 6’8” Tim Sylvia. Despite a year out of competition, moving back to heavyweight and fighting a much larger man, Couture dominated Sylvia to become UFC heavyweight champ for a third time.
In some ways, Frank Mir’s two stints as heavyweight champion are disappointing. Mir initially won the title by defeating Tim Sylvia at UFC 48. Mir was something of a submission revivalist. The heavyweight division had not featured many men who employed the beautiful techniques of submission attacks and instead had become a land for brawlers and maulers.
Mir changed that, bringing a submission game that was as mean as it was slick. He was not hesitant in the least to put a bit of extra torque on a limb he’d trapped if it meant getting the job done quickly.
Unfortunately, he suffered an accident while on his motorcycle and was kept out of action for a year and a half, during which time he was stripped of the belt.
At UFC 92 he regained the championship, knocking out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He would lose the belt in his next fight, but for his longevity toward the top of the division and multiple title reigns, Mir ranks among the UFC’s heavyweight greats.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Brock Lesnar brought a new level of star power to the Octagon. A fighting wall of meat, Lesnar brought legitimate high level amateur wrestling credentials and the ability to talk up a fight honed through a run as a top superstar in the WWE.
His 5-3 record is shorter than most but before losing his final two UFC fights — not counting a return at UFC 200 where a win was overturned due to Lesnar failing drug tests — he defeated some of the most dangerous men in the history of the UFC division, including Mir and Couture.
On sheer potential, Cain Velasquez could have been the UFC heavyweight GOAT. Instead, during much of his prime, he was sidelined by injury. After defeating Brock Lesnar for the title, he lost a bout to Junior Dos Santos in just over a minute. He was able to bounce back and rattle off four straight wins, recapture the title and avenge his loss to Dos Santos.
However, he only fought twice in 2012, twice in 2013, not at all in 2014, once in 2015 and 2016 and did not fight again until earlier this year, losing a stunning 26 second knockout. Repeated knee injuries were the primary culprit for his lack of activity compared to much of the UFC roster.
That said, Velasquez has shown elite talent when healthy and active.
Fabricio Werdum gets neatly shuffled into the “heavyweight submission greats” category. In between two UFC stints, Werdum picked up a career defining win by being the first man in more than 25 fights to defeat the legendary Fedor Emelianenko.
In the UFC, however, it was a wild run of success that included wins over Nogueira and a title capturing submission of Cain Velasquez that truly cemented his place in MMA history.
Stipe Miocic picked up three knockouts in his first eight UFC fights, but then a run of six straight wins saw him pick up five knockouts, win the UFC heavyweight championship and defend it a promotion-record three consecutive defenses of the title.
With an 18-3 record in his career and a 4-1 record in title fights, Miocic can improve his resume even more by defeating Daniel Cormier in their rematch this August.
Daniel Cormier made his way to MMA after an incredible amateur wrestling career and proved to be perfectly made for fighting, even if his physical appearance may be a bit deceiving.
Then came the big move of jumping back to heavyweight and knocking out Miocic in the first round to become heavyweight champion as well.
With one successful title defense under his belt already, Cormier looks to erase all doubt of his status when he faces Miocic in their rematch at UFC 241.