A casual’s guide to MMA: The UFC heavyweight champions

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 17: Stipe Miocic celebrates his TKO victory over Daniel Cormier in their heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 241 event at the Honda Center on August 17, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 17: Stipe Miocic celebrates his TKO victory over Daniel Cormier in their heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 241 event at the Honda Center on August 17, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) /

Here is every heavyweight champion in UFC history thus far.

The UFC originally had no weight classes, but out of the establishment of such to secure future sanctioning by athletic commissions came the creation of the UFC heavyweight championship, the oldest title still fought for today in the UFC.

The UFC’s basis was originally tournaments with no weight classes, but as time went on, tournament participants were split based on weight class. Meanwhile, prior to that, a Superfight championship was created for one-off, non-tournament bouts, which also saw tournament championships challenging for such.

And at UFC 12, reigning Superifght champion Dan Severn and Mark Coleman, who won the UFC 10 and UFC 11 tournaments — the final two before the introduction of weight divisions — faced off to determine the first-ever UFC heavyweight champion. The rest was history, starting a championship that’s produced memorable title bouts and champions — and it’s been rare to even see a title reign have even two successful title defenses.

Here is every heavyweight champion in UFC history from inception through March 2020.

Mark Coleman

Tournament champion Mark Coleman submitted Superfight champion Dan Severn in the inaugural heavyweight title fight at UFC 12.

Maurice Smith

Utilizing his guard and striking to counter Coleman’s ground-and-pound, Maurice Smith pulled off a major upset to win the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 14. He made one successful title defense, defeating Tank Abbott at UFC 15.

Randy Couture

Randy Couture edged out Maurice Smith at UFC Japan in December 1997 to become the third heavyweight champion in UFC history. He was stripped of the title in 1998 after leaving the UFC for competition in Japan; however, the exact date of Couture’s stripping is unknown.

Bas Rutten

After defeating Tsuyoshi Kohsaka in a “Road to the Heavyweight Title” semifinal, Bas Rutten defeated Kevin Randleman on a controversial decision to become UFC heavyweight champion at UFC 20. “El Guapo” vacated the title later in 1999 to drop in weight class, but injuries ultimately forced him into retirement.

Kevin Randleman

Kevin Randleman defeated Pete Williams by unanimous decision to win the vacant heavyweight title at UFC 23. He’d make one successful defense, retaining the belt against Pedro Rizzo at UFC 26.

Randy Couture (2)

Randy Couture became the first man in UFC history to become a two-time heavyweight champion, finishing Randleman at UFC 28. He made two successful defenses in 2001, defeating Rizzo in a pair of legendary contests at UFC 31 and UFC 34.

Josh Barnett

Josh Barnett finished Randy Couture at UFC 36 to become UFC heavyweight champion. Barnett, however, was stripped of the title on July 26, 2002, after testing positive for steroids — a second failed drug test.

Ricco Rodriguez

Ricco Rodriguez scored a fifth-round submission over Randy Couture at UFC 39 to win the vacant heavyweight title.

Tim Sylvia

Tim Sylvia needed just over three minutes to put away Ricco Rodriguez in the main event of UFC 41 to claim the heavyweight championship. He successfully defended the title at UFC 44, finishing off Gan McGee in just under two minutes, but was stripped of the belt on Oct. 15, 2003, after popping for steroids.

Frank Mir

Frank Mir and Tim Sylvia faced off for the vacant title at UFC 48, with Mir catching Sylvia in an armbar and breaking his arm, forcing Herb Dean to wave off the bout and declare Mir the champion in just 50 seconds.

Interim champion: Andrei Arlovski

Frank Mir didn’t get to enjoy his title reign for long. On Sept. 17, 2004, Mir was injured in a motorcycle accident, prompting the UFC to create an interim heavyweight title for the first time. At UFC 51, Andrei Arlovski submitted Tim Sylvia in just 47 seconds to claim the gold. He defended the interim championship once, scoring a first-round TKO over Justin Eilers in the main event of UFC 53.

Andrei Arlovski

While the UFC hoped for Frank Mir’s injury to heal in time for a unification bout with Andrei Arlovski, Mir’s recovery time went longer than they hoped. As a result, on Aug. 12, 2005, Mir was stripped of the UFC heavyweight championship. Arlovski was then promoted to undisputed champion. He made one successful defense of the undisputed title, knocking out Paul Buentello in just 15 seconds at UFC 55.

Tim Sylvia (2)

When Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia rematched at UFC 59, this time with undisputed gold on the line, it was Sylvia who got the first-round finish over Arlovski, making Sylvia a two-time UFC heavyweight champion in the process. He made two successful defenses of the belt in this run, defeating Arlovski in a trilogy bout at UFC 61 and Jeff Monson at UFC 65.

Randy Couture (3)

In arguably one of the greatest victories in UFC history, then-43-year-old Randy Couture scored a one-sided victory over Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 to become the first (and only to date) fighter in UFC history to become a three-time UFC heavyweight champion. Couture successfully defended the title against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74 but disappeared from the UFC for the rest of 2007 and most of 2008 due to a contract dispute.

Interim champion: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

With Couture keeping himself on the sidelines, an interim title was once again established. At UFC 81, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (aka “Big Nog”) submitted Tim Sylvia to win the interim crown. While Nogueira and upcoming challenger Frank Mir were coaching The Ultimate Fighter, Couture returned to the company. This led to a unique, tournament-style ruling from Dana White: the winners of the upcoming Couture vs. Brock Lesnar title fight and the Nogueira vs. Mir interim title fight would later face each other to determine the undisputed champion.

Brock Lesnar

At UFC 91, in just his third UFC bout and fourth MMA fight altogether, former NCAA heavyweight and WWE champion Brock Lesnar shocked the MMA world with a second-round finish of Randy Couture to claim the UFC heavyweight title.

Interim champion: Frank Mir

At UFC 92, in the coaches fight of the latest TUF season at that point, Frank Mir became the first man to finish Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and claimed the interim championship, gaining at least a portion of the crown taken away from him due to injuries. He would not capture the full gold, however. While the UFC didn’t get the Couture vs. “Big Nog” fight it planned for, it did get a rematch of Mir spoiling Brock Lesnar’s UFC debut — and in that rematch at UFC 100, Lesnar scored his revenge with a second-round TKO of Mir.

Interim champion: Shane Carwin

Unfortunately for Brock Lesnar, he would end up with bouts of mononucleosis and diverticulitis, ailments that made him sicker than he had ever been in his life. As a result, another interim title bout had to be created. And at UFC 111, the then-undefeated Shane Carwin made quick work of Lesnar’s old foe, Frank Mir, to win the interim championship. When Lesnar and Carwin unified the title at UFC 116, Lesnar narrowly survived Carwin’s first-round onslaught before submitting Carwin in the second round.

Cain Velasquez

In just over four minutes of the first round, Cain Velasquez ended Brock Lesnar’s reign on top of the UFC heavyweight division, becoming the new UFC heavyweight champion at UFC 121.

Junior dos Santos

The UFC on Fox era started with a bang on Nov. 12, 2011, when Junior dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez in just 64 seconds to become the new heavyweight champion. He successfully defended the title one time, defeating Frank Mir at UFC 146.

Cain Velasquez (2)

Cain Velasquez scored revenge over Junior dos Santos and gained the UFC heavyweight title back, winning a one-sided rematch at UFC 155. Velasquez retained the title twice in this run, defeating Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 160 and winning a trilogy bout against JDS at UFC 166.

Interim champion: Fabricio Werdum

Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum were scheduled to face off in a heavyweight title bout to headline UFC 180 in Mexico City. Velasquez, however, was forced off the card with injury a little less than a month before the event, with Mark Hunt stepping in to face Werdum in an interim title fight. Werdum finished Hunt in two rounds to claim the interim gold.

Fabricio Werdum

Velasquez and Werdum finally clashed in Mexico City at UFC 188, pulling off a surprise by submitting Velasquez to become the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion.

Stipe Miocic

With one perfectly timed strike, Stipe Miocic sent Fabricio Werdum crashing to the mat and stunned and silenced a Brazil crowd at UFC 198, scoring a knockout in under three minutes to become UFC heavyweight champion. In this run, Miocic made history by becoming the first heavyweight in UFC history to have at least three successful defenses, defeating Alistair Overeem at UFC 203, Junior dos Santos at UFC 211 and Francis Ngannou at UFC 220.

Daniel Cormier

Former Strikeforce heavyweight champion and then-UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier stepped up to heavyweight to challenge Stipe Miocic to a champion vs. champion showdown at UFC 226 with Miocic’s title on the line. Cormier pulled off a first-round knockout to make history and become the second champ-champ in UFC history. He retained the heavyweight title with a second-round submission of Derrick Lewis at UFC 230, becoming the first man to successfully win and defend both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles, as well as the first champ-champ to have successfully retained both of the titles he had held.

Stipe Miocic (2)

Stipe Miocic was able to gain revenge on Daniel Cormier, stopping him in the fourth round of their UFC 241 main event to regain the UFC heavyweight title.

dark. Next. Predicting the champion of each division at the end of 2020