The UFC Heavyweight Title: A Visual History

By: Ben Duffy
Mar 30, 2021
All hail King Francis, 17th of his line, undisputed monarch of the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight division.

In the main event of UFC 260 on Saturday, Francis Ngannou knocked out Stipe Miocic to claim the strap Miocic had defended a UFC record four times. While the fact of the knockout may not have been a shock, Ngannou showed markedly improved takedown defense and composure compared to their first meeting in 2018. Combined with his numbing power, those refinements in Ngannou’s game appear to spell bad news for Miocic, Jon Jones or anyone else looking to topple the 34-year-old slugger from his newly acquired throne.

Ngannou’s title essentially certifies him the No. 1 heavyweight in the sport, but UFC heavyweight gold and global top dog status were not always so synonymous. 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, Tim Sylvia and Josh Barnett, lost their belts in the testing 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 UFC heavyweight champ can lay a claim to “baddest man on the planet” status that is hard to dispute.

Here is a graphic representation of the 24-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 Andrei Arlovski vs. Tim 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/ illustration

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