The oldest championship in the UFC, the heavyweight title was created at UFC 12 when Superfight Champion Dan Severn faced UFC 11 tournament winner Mark Coleman to unify the titles. Follow the path of the UFC heavyweight championship belt through the years.
In the first UFC heavyweight championship, Mark “The Hammer” Coleman submitted a bare-knuckled Dan Severn with a choke 2:57 into the fight at UFC 12 on Feb. 7, 1997.
In the first UFC title defense, Coleman battled Maurice Smith in a 21-minute epic at UFC 14 on July 27, 1997. The bout was later named Fight of the Year as Smith, a kickboxer, neutralized Coleman’s world-class ground game to score the upset via unanimous decision. Smith successfully defended the title once against Tank Abbott, winning via submission due to exhaustion.
While Smith was able to stop Coleman’s ground game, he could not solve the wrestling of Randy Couture at UFC Japan on Dec. 21, 1997. Couture won the bout via majority decision to take the title, but his reign was short-lived as he vacated shortly after because of a contract dispute.
After Couture was stripped, Pancrase legend Bas Rutten defeated Kevin Randleman for the vacant title at UFC 20 on May 7, 1999, winning a close split decision. Rutten chose to vacate the title in order to drop to the 205-pound division, then known as middleweight, but was forced to retire after suffering multiple injuries in training.
In the first heavyweight title fight to use the five five-minute round format, Kevin Randleman defeated Pete Williams via unanimous decision. Randleman held the title for almost a year, defending against Pedro Rizzo. The former Division I wrestler passed away in 2016 at age 44.
Couture became the first two-time champion in UFC history when he defeated Randleman via TKO at UFC 28 on Nov. 17, 2000. This time, Couture was able to defend the title, winning a pair of bouts against Pedro Rizzo.
At UFC 36 on March 22, 2002, Josh Barnett was able to out-wrestle Couture in the second round of their title bout and finish the champion with strikes for the TKO. Barnett was named champion, but he failed a post-fight drug test for anabolic steroids and was stripped of the belt in July of that year before leaving the UFC to fight in Japan.
In the defining moment of his career, Ricco Rodriguez captured the vacant title with a submission win over Randy Couture in the fifth round at UFC 39 on Sept. 27, 2002.
Rodriguez’s time as champion came to a swift end in his first defense against Tim Sylvia. The challenger won the fight via knockout at 3:09 of the first round at UFC 41 on Feb. 28, 2003. Sylvia beat Gan McGee in his first title defense but was stripped of the title for failing a post-fight drug test.
On June 19, 2004, at UFC 48, fan favorite and jiu-jitsu expert Frank Mir broke Tim Sylvia’s forearm with an armbar to take the vacant heavyweight title. Mir was forced to vacate the title after a motorcycle accident left him unable to compete for more than a year.
With Mir unable to compete, Andrei Arlovski fought and defeated Tim Sylvia for the interim title on Feb. 4, 2005, at UFC 51. After one interim title defense, he was promoted to undisputed champion in August and defended the real belt once more.
Sylvia became the second two-time heavyweight champion when he avenged his earlier loss to Arlovski on April 15, 2006, at UFC 59. Sylvia later won the rubber match between the two in his first title defense.
After a stint at light heavyweight in which he twice won the 205-pound belt, Couture returned to heavyweight and defeated Sylvia by unanimous decision at UFC 68 on March 3, 2007. Couture is still the only fighter to hold any belt three times.
In just his fourth MMA bout, pro wrestling star Brock Lesnar smothered Couture with his grappling and finished the fight with punches to win via TKO in the second round at UFC 91 on Nov. 15, 2008. The biggest pay-per-view draw in the company’s history, Lesnar twice defended and unified the title, beating interim champs Frank Mir at UFC 100 and Shane Carwin at UFC 116.
A former All-American wrestler at Arizona State, Cain Velasquez was able to out-grapple and control the larger Lesnar on the ground, winning the title with a first-round TKO at UFC 121 on Oct. 23, 2010.
Junior Dos Santos
In the first UFC fight on network television, Junior dos Santos floored Velasquez with an overhand right, finishing with strikes on the ground to become champion in 64 seconds on Nov. 12, 2011. He successfully defended the belt against former champion Frank Mir the following year.
Velasquez earned a rematch against dos Santos at UFC 155 on Dec. 29, 2012, avenging his loss with a unanimous decision victory that included a 50-43 score on one judge’s card. He successfully defended the title twice, including a rubber match with dos Santos that ended with a TKO in the fifth round.
After winning an interim title bout against Mark Hunt, Fabricio Werdum submitted Velasquez to win the title at UFC 188 on June 13, 2015. Werdum citied his acclimation to the high altitude of Mexico City, where he also fought Hunt, as a reason he’d succeed ahead of the fight. That prediction proved correct as Velasquez tired faster than usual, allowing Werdum to apply a third-round choke.
In front of 45,000 fans at UFC 198 on May 14, 2016, Stipe Miocic knocked out Werdum to take the belt. Miocic, a firefighter from Ohio, stunned the crowd in Curitiba, Brazil, with a one-punch KO while moving backward against a charging Werdum midway through the first-round. Since, Miocic has tied the record for most successful title defenses in division history with first-round knockouts of Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos.