UFC 146: Ranking the Dominance of the Past Seven Heavyweight Champs
Junior Dos Santos has yet to encounter trouble in the UFC. The towering Brazilian has utilized his boxing, and little else, to dispatch his eight UFC foes with ease. His punching proficiency shines in the octagon.
Junior comes into his May 26 championship bout with Frank Mir as the strong favorite. His betting line is listed at -550 on 5dimes.com, meaning a risk of $550 on Junior will win the wagerer only $100.
Unlike many of his peers, Dos Santos is well-liked. The gentle giant defuses trash talkers with his disarming friendliness, a contrast to some of his fellow UFC champs; polarizing characters like Jon Jones and Anderson Silva.
With his sparkling track record in mind, many are hailing Dos Santos as the man to clean out the division, just as many thought Cain Velasquez would do the same.
In fact, many thought Brock Lesnar would hold the belt for a long time, too.
See a trend?
One thing that UFC history has taught us is that the heavyweight belt tends to get around. The coveted gold has yet to be defended more than three times by the same man, and no more than two times consecutively. The heavyweight division has yet to see a true "dominator".
"Dominance" is a word we like to associate with fighters. Who's the most dominant heavyweight champ of all time? Given how often the strap changes waists, can the word "dominant" really be used to describe any UFC heavyweight champion?
Sure it can.
Here’s a ranking of the past seven UFC heavyweight champs based on their "dominance" in the UFC.
Quantifying "dominance" is subjective. Since no heavyweight has an outstanding number of title defenses, title defenses aren't the most important variable here.
7) Shane Carwin Brings Up the Rear
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Shane Carwin snatched the interim belt from Mir with uppercuts of doom. He also channeled his inner-ogre against Brock Lesnar in the first round of their title unification fight, but Shane's sputtering gas tank allowed Brock to pull off a herculean submission in round two.
Conversely, Carwin looked feeble in his last bout against Dos Santos. By the end of the fight, his face looked like it was turned inside out by Junior's surgical hands.
The Colorado native’s granite hands granted him an impressive streak of knockouts in the UFC, but it would be a stretch to perceive his career as especially "dominant." His shoddy gas tank and aged body have blocked Carwin from actualizing dominance.
6) "Big Nog" Is Alright
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Pride legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira choked out Tim Sylvia to earn the interim belt in 2008. He proceeded to lose it to Frank Mir in decisive fashion.
“Minotauro” has been hit or miss in the octagon. Since the buyout, Nogueira hasn't reached the pinnacle of dominance he enjoyed in Pride.
However, he’s shown flashes of brilliance: his knockout over Brandon Schaub and his hard-fought victory over Randy Couture are nice additions to his highlight reel, and serve as testament to his skills. But “Big Nog” is reaching the twilight of his career and it’s doubtful he’ll ever smell the heavyweight belt again.
5) Mir Is Always a Threat
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Frank Mir has hovered around the belt his whole UFC career, which has been an extensive career indeed.
Mir created an indelible image in the annals of UFC history by mangling Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s right arm with a kimura in their second match, thereby proving he’s the slickest submission artist in the division. He’ll have another shot at UFC gold at UFC 146.
The submission savant first wielded the belt after nearly destroying Tim Sylvia's arm with an armbar in 2005. Mir had to relinquish the strap after missing a year of fight time due to a motorcycle crash, an accident that surely altered the fate of the heavyweight division.
Mir won the interim title from "Big Nog" in their first matchup in 2008 and failed to defend it against Brock Lesnar in their rematch, but his impressive UFC record (14-5) and powerful submission skills beget him.
4) Let's Try to Take Brock Seriously
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Brock Lesnar raked in big bucks for the organization, yet the pale behemoth was seen by many fans as a joke. I mean, he was marketed as a flashy gimmick.
Gimmicky or not, Lesnar’s elite athleticism and perseverance served him well. Dare I say he looked dominant in the octagon on a few occasions. Ask Frank Mir.
Yes, he was gifted with a title shot due to his star power, but the former Minnesota Viking did successfully defend his title against Shane Carwin and Frank Mir. That’s two title defenses, a feat that neither juggernaut Cain Velasquez nor Frank Mir has matched.
The Brock train was derailed by Velasquez and retired by Alistair Overeem, but the facts reflect well on Lesnar. The enigmatic wrestler defended his title twice and defeated three of the men on this list in his short UFC career.
3) Cain's Skills Are Elite
I'm not mad, my eyebrows are stuck like this.
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Velasquez, like Dos Santos, carried an aura of invincibility throughout his first seven UFC bouts. His punching combinations are lightning, evidenced by his blinding three-punch knockout of Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera. And of course, his wrestling pedigree is swell. More often than not, Cain will take the fight where he wishes.
Velasquez’s untouchable aura, however, evaporated when he ate a hook to the temple from the current champion.
Despite failing to defend his title, Cain’s impressive UFC record (7-1), his Division I wrestling skills, and his crisp, well-rounded striking firmly rank Velasquez as the third most dominant UFC heavyweight champion.
Just watch, he'll be alright.
2) Couture Leads in All-Time Heavyweight Title Defenses
Looking dapper, old man.
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Sure, Randy may have been handed many a title shot. Consequently, he’s the all-time leader in heavyweight title defenses in the UFC with three.
Against staggering odds, at 43 years old, “Captain America” dismantled Tim Sylvia to regain the belt in 2007. The greybeard guarded his title from Gabriel Gonzaga later that year.
How did the old man do it? His ageless grit and work ethic were awesome, that's how.
Randy first captured the strap in 2000 and retained it by defeating top-notch Muay Thai practitioner Pedro Rizzo twice in 2001.
Couture's career was blessed by UFC brass, but again, the stats speak for themselves: he’s defended the title more than any other heavyweight.
1) Junior Might Just Be That "Dominator"
How long will that gold be on his waist? I'd bet a long time.
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The current title-holder has been impeccable with his heavy hands. Without fail, his measured punches have found the faces of all comers. According to fightmetric.com, Dos Santos has handily out-struck each of his eight UFC opponents.
But we have yet to see his prowess on the mat, a skill that will surely be tested at some point, and perhaps seasoned veteran Frank Mir will be the grappler to put Dos Santos to the test. An impressive victory over Mir may silence Dos Santos’ doubters, for there are few novel threats remaining for the violent pugilist in today’s UFC heavyweight division.
Another looming concern: although Dos Santos is a volume puncher, his head movement is pedestrian. Even laughing-stock Roy Nelson tagged “Cigano” cleanly 40 times in their fight, as per fightmetric.com. In a division made for giants, fighters who expose their chin often get laid out. Junior's jaw has been up to the test so far, though.
Regardless, Dos Santos’ track record sparkles—he has had no problem battering high-level wrestlers (Cain Velazquez and Shane Carwin) or strikers (Mirko Cro Cop).
Of every fighter ever to carry the belt thus far, I think Junior has the best chance of holding on to it long-term. (Let's hope history doesn't make a fool out of me.)