With his unanimous decision win over Daniel Cormier in their rubber match at UFC 252 on Saturday, the soft-spoken Ohioan became the first man to successfully defend the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight belt four times. He had already held the distinction of being the only heavyweight champ with three consecutive title defenses—unlike fellow three-time defenders Tim Sylvia and Randy Couture—but by moving into sole possession of the record, Miocic made a compelling case as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, and perhaps in the history of the sport.
Miocic’s dominance makes it easy to forget the fact that for much of its early history, the UFC heavyweight division was a complete mess. Founded in 1997, the division spent its first decade in a state of near-constant turmoil. There were three different champions in the first year. Multiple champs abandoned the title to fight elsewhere. Two champions, Sylvia and Josh Barnett, lost their belts in the lab rather than the Octagon. The UFC’s heavyweight title was also a clear second fiddle to its Pride Fighting Championships counterpart for most of that first decade. With the 2007 absorption of Pride and, a few years later, the acquisition of Strikeforce, the UFC heavyweight division eventually gained the preeminent status it still enjoys. Today, the fighter wearing UFC heavyweight gold can lay a claim to “baddest man on the planet” status that is hard to dispute.
Here is a graphic representation of the 23-year history of the UFC heavyweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended. Interim title fights are omitted with the exception of Arlovski-Sylvia 1, since the winner of that fight ended up inheriting the undisputed title without a unification bout. From 6-foot-10 giants to 5-foot-9 monsters, from larger-than-life pro wrestlers to humble firefighters, from drug scandals to grisly injuries in and out of the cage, the picture tells a story as strange and amazing as the sport itself.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration