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The 5 best Heavyweights in UFC and MMA history

Can new UFC champ Francis Ngannou establish himself as an all-time great at Heavyweight?
Can new UFC champ Francis Ngannou establish himself as an all-time great at Heavyweight?
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 29 Mar 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

UFC 260 saw a new Heavyweight champion crowned, as Francis Ngannou dispatched longtime champ Stipe Miocic with a second-round knockout.

Francis Ngannou is now the 22nd UFC Heavyweight champion in the history of the promotion, but how does he hold up against the top MMA Heavyweights of all time?

Right now, it’s probably too early to say, especially given that he’s only been UFC Heavyweight champion for two days. However, Ngannou definitely has the ability to be ranked amongst the best when all is said and done.

For now, though, here are the top five Heavyweights in UFC and MMA history.


#5 Daniel Cormier (UFC record: 11-3-1, MMA record: 22-3-1)

Few Heavyweights can match the credentials of former UFC champ Daniel Cormier
Few Heavyweights can match the credentials of former UFC champ Daniel Cormier

It’s easy to forget just how credentialed at Heavyweight Daniel Cormier was, largely due to his massive accomplishments at 205lbs.

‘DC’ is one of just four fighters to hold UFC titles in two different weight classes, but his run at Heavyweight in the UFC was admittedly somewhat limited if impressive.

However, his run in StrikeForce that saw him capture that promotion’s Heavyweight title, as well as the list of fighters he defeated, definitely puts him up there with the best.

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Cormier debuted in StrikeForce in 2009, making his professional MMA debut there. By the end of 2012, he was 10-0 and had beaten Antonio Silva and Josh Barnett to win the StrikeForce Heavyweight title.

The former Olympic wrestler then transitioned into the UFC in 2013, and debuted with a win over former UFC Heavyweight champ Frank Mir.

A win over Roy Nelson ended up being his final one in the division until 2018. But that year, while still holding the UFC Light-Heavyweight title, he KO’d Stipe Miocic to claim the UFC Heavyweight title too.

Cormier defended his title against Derrick Lewis before dropping it back to Miocic in a rematch, and retired following a loss in their trilogy fight in 2020.

His overall record at Heavyweight was 15-2, with Miocic being responsible for his only defeats. And given the accomplishments of fighters he overcame, he belongs on any list of all-time greats.


#4 Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC record: 5-6, MMA record: 34-10-1)

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is the only man to hold Heavyweight gold in the UFC and PRIDE
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is the only man to hold Heavyweight gold in the UFC and PRIDE
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Arguably the best grappler we’ve ever seen in MMA at Heavyweight, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s career probably lasted a little too long.

However, despite a poor ending that saw him suffer four losses in his last five fights, ‘Minotauro’ remains a legend – and is the only fighter to capture both the PRIDE and UFC Heavyweight titles during his career.

Nogueira burst onto the scene back in the early 2000’s after winning the Heavyweight title in Japan’s RINGS promotion.

From there, he transitioned into PRIDE, and after beating their consensus top Heavyweight Mark Coleman, he defeated Heath Herring to become the first PRIDE Heavyweight champion.

Nogueira held the PRIDE title for two years, defending against all comers before being dethroned by Fedor Emelianenko in early 2003.

After that, though, he continued to win in PRIDE, beating the likes of Mirko Cro Cop and Sergei Kharitonov before moving to the UFC in 2007. And in his second fight with the promotion, he defeated Tim Sylvia to become the interim UFC Heavyweight champion.

‘Minotauro’ was never able to defend his title, losing it to Frank Mir in his first defense. And while he turned back the clock to beat Randy Couture in 2009, injuries and miles caught up with him shortly after.

However, with a phenomenal mix of boxing and grappling, Nogueira was widely recognised as one of the best two Heavyweights of his generation. In his prime, his guard was deadly, and his triangle choke was practically MMA’s equivalent of a pro-wrestling finisher.

Essentially, had he entered the UFC at his best, he’d probably be considered their greatest Heavyweight of all time.


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#3 Cain Velasquez (UFC record: 12-3, MMA record: 14-3)

At his best, Cain Velasquez looked unstoppable in the UFC
At his best, Cain Velasquez looked unstoppable in the UFC

A product of California’s famed American Kickboxing Academy, Cain Velasquez started MMA in 2006. And within just two years and as many fights, his reputation was enough for the UFC to sign him.

A two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, Velasquez was simply a phenom inside the Octagon.

Despite being a smaller Heavyweight, his wrestling skills allowed him to basically take down anyone he faced, and he also possessed a brutal kickboxing game honed under coach Javier Mendez.

But pace was the name of Velasquez’s game. Renowned for his cardio, he would simply force opponents to wilt as he pushed them harder and harder, eventually and inevitably breaking them down the stretch.

Velasquez went 5-0 in the UFC before knocking out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to claim a title shot, and from there, he destroyed champion Brock Lesnar to win the UFC Heavyweight title.

However, an injured shoulder and knee then derailed him, and he lost his title to Junior dos Santos in his first defense.

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But Velasquez quickly recovered, and ended up beating Dos Santos in a rematch to win the title back before defending against Antonio Silva and Dos Santos in their third bout.

Unfortunately, though, history then repeated itself. Injuries kept Velasquez on the shelf for over a year, and when he returned, he wasn’t the same fighter. He fell to defeat to Fabricio Werdum, losing his UFC title in the process, and would only win one more fight in the Octagon.

Had he been able to remain healthy, though, there’s little doubt that he’d be remembered today as the greatest Heavyweight in UFC and MMA history.

At his peak, nobody could really come close to matching his brand of wrestling, striking and ferocity.


#2 Fedor Emelianenko (UFC record: 0-0, MMA record: 39-6-1)

Fedor Emelianenko was recognised as MMA
Fedor Emelianenko was recognised as MMA's best Heavyweight for over a decade

Comfortably standing as the greatest fighter to never compete in the UFC, Fedor Emelianenko would be widely recognised as the best Heavyweight in the history of MMA for some fans.

However, it’s hard not to hold the fact that he never entered the Octagon – and missed out on facing opponents like Randy Couture, Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem – against him.

That’s really the only black mark on his ledger, though.

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For what felt like forever, Fedor reigned over PRIDE’s Heavyweight division with an iron fist, and then became such a star that big-name fighters basically followed him across the globe to chase a bout with him.

‘The Last Emperor’ claimed PRIDE’s Heavyweight title in just his second fight with the promotion, defeating Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who was seen as practically unbeatable at the time.

And from there, he beat anyone who came up against him, from Kevin Randleman and Mark Coleman to Mirko Cro Cop and Mark Hunt.

Fedor’s brand of wrestling, brutal punching power and submission skill basically made him a nightmare opponent for fighters of any style.

And after leaving PRIDE in 2007, he then defeated two former UFC Heavyweight champions in Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, finishing both men in the first round.

The Russian’s ten-year unbeaten run came to an end in StrikeForce in 2010, and after losing to Fabricio Werdum, he was also defeated by Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson. By that point, though, it was clear his best days were behind him.

And ignoring the run he’s been on since – suffering ludicrous defeats to the likes of Matt Mitrione and Ryan Bader – his incredible record still holds up today, with wins over six former UFC champions on his ledger.


#1 Stipe Miocic (UFC record: 14-4, MMA record: 20-4)

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In terms of his UFC accomplishments, no other Heavyweight comes close to Stipe Miocic
In terms of his UFC accomplishments, no other Heavyweight comes close to Stipe Miocic

The man dethroned by Francis Ngannou – Stipe Miocic – sits at the top of the pile when it comes to MMA Heavyweight greats, meaning Ngannou is already well on his way to becoming a great himself.

Miocic might not have been quite as feared as Cain Velasquez or Fedor Emelianenko when they were at their best, but in terms of accomplishments, you can’t argue against the native of Cleveland, Ohio.

An NCAA Division I All-American wrestler and a Golden Gloves boxer, Miocic always had the tools to make his way to the top of the UFC.

And after debuting there in 2011, he quickly put together an impressive record of 12-1, with his only loss coming in controversial circumstances after an eye poke from Stefan Struve.

Miocic suffered his second loss in the UFC in 2014, coming up short in a contentious decision against Junior Dos Santos. This time, though, the loss only spurred him on.

Miocic began destroying anyone who got in his way, and finally captured the UFC Heavyweight title by defeating Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198.

Wins over Alistair Overeem, Dos Santos in a rematch and Ngannou in their first meeting quickly gave him the record for the most UFC Heavyweight title defenses.

And despite dropping the title to Daniel Cormier in 2018, Miocic was able to regain it in a rematch and then defeated ‘DC’ for a second time, proving his worth as the greatest Heavyweight in UFC history.

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Obviously Miocic has now been dethroned, and whether Ngannou can overtake him at the top of the Heavyweight mountain is a fair question. For now, though, he remains the best and most credentialed Heavyweight we’ve seen in MMA.


Published 29 Mar 2021, 19:03 IST
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