Grading every heavyweight champion in UFC history

The heavyweight division is in a bit of a stalemate as fans wait for the promotion to announce what it will do with Jon Jones, Stipe Miocic and Tom Aspinall.
Jul 7, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Daniel Cormier (blue gloves) celebrates beating Stipe Miocic (red
Jul 7, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Daniel Cormier (blue gloves) celebrates beating Stipe Miocic (red / Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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Bas Rutten (1999)

Grade: Incomplete

Rutten will be one of three fighters without a grade on this list as his title reign ended before it could even begin. The Dutch kickboxer reached the apex of his career with a controversial split decision win over Kevin Randleman in 1999 to win the vacant heavyweight belt but never competed in the UFC again, vacating the title without attempting a defense.

At the point of his title victory, Rutten was by far the most accomplished mixed martial artist to win heavyweight gold in the UFC. All of his predecessors — Mark Coleman, Maurice Smith and Randy Couture — were very young in their MMA careers with the sport just beginning to take off. Contrarily, the 34-year-old Rutten held a 27-4-1 record at the time of his win over Randleman with a long history of success in Pancrase.

After winning the belt, Rutten planned to drop down to light heavyweight but suffered serious and ultimately career-ending injuries in training. Rutten would return to make one final MMA fight in 2006, a TKO victory in the WFA, but his championship window had long closed, creating one of the biggest "what if" scenarios in combat sports history.

Rutten is never considered in the discussion for the greatest fighter of all time but barring the series of debilitating injuries, he may have been the first double champion in UFC history long before Conor McGregor ever touched the octagon. At the time he declared a decision to move down in weight, the light heavyweight division was run by Frank Shamrock, whom Rutten had gone 2-1 against in Pancrase in three highly competitive bouts.

It was still likely that Rutten would not have defended the heavyweight belt regardless of his injuries due to his desire to change weight classes but as with the case of several tragic careers cut short, we will never know.