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
8 of 17

Ricco Rodriguez (2002-2003)

Grade: D

Recently retiring in 2019 with a 54-27 record and one no-contest through 20 years as a professional MMA fighter, it is easy to forget that Rodriguez was once a feared heavyweight who began his career at 14-1. Winning the UFC belt at 25 years old, Rodriguez became the second-youngest champion at the time of his victory, behind only his predecessor.

After the chaotic incident that was Josh Barnett's title reign, Rodriguez was awarded a vacant title fight against former champion Randy Couture, who had just lost the belt to Barnett. Rodriguez had only lost once to that point and was on a 10-fight win streak including the last four in the UFC with victories over Pete Williams, Andrei Arlovski, Gary Goodridge, Paul Buentello and Jeff Monson.

Many still favored Couture in the matchup due to his history of greatness and through four rounds, the former champion was on his way to a third title reign largely due to his wrestling. In the final round, however, Rodriguez managed to pull off a comeback, finishing Couture late to win the belt.

Having gained the approval of several fans with the win, some expected greatness from Rodriguez in his time as champion, but he would never make a successful title defense, losing to Tim Sylvia in his next bout. The loss essentially ended Rodriguez's UFC career as the beginning of a three-fight losing streak to end a contract that he would choose not to resign.

As MMA fans tend to do, most chose to abandon Rodriguez after his championship loss, discrediting his career accomplishments. His win over Couture cannot be overlooked but Rodriguez would never find his way back to a UFC title opportunity, ending his championship window at just 1-1 with no title defenses.