The heavyweight champion of the world is often viewed as the baddest man on the planet. Mike Tyson carried that moniker on his back and translated it into international notoriety that will forever live in infamy.
In mixed martial arts, several men have been lucky enough to call themselves the biggest and the best. Other heavyweights have earned a place in the hearts of fans, but never quite reached the peak of the mountain.
With the upcoming championship battle between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez only one month away, it's easy to get worked up thinking about heavyweight action. In anticipation of that fight, let's take a look at the most popular heavyweights in MMA history.
No offense to any of these fighters, but they didn't make the cut. They may have had an impact on the sport, but didn't achieve much popularity. Maybe they tainted their legacy by being a dirty drug cheat; perhaps their popularity is best associated with another weight division. If you think a case should be made for any of these fighters (or someone else), feel free to make a comment below. If you truly care, put some effort into it. I don't want to see things like "Man, Josh Barnett is awesome!"
- Josh Barnett
- Tim Sylvia
- Cheick Kongo
- Pedro Rizzo
- Fabricio Werdum
- Maurice Smith
- Ricco Rodriguez
- Shane Carwin
- Daniel Cormier
- Gabriel Gonzaga
Greatest Achievements: UFC Hall of Fame, UFC Heavyweight Champion, UFC 10 tournament champion, UFC 11 tournament champion, Pride 2000 Openweight Grand Prix champion
Mark Coleman is one of the UFC's original bad boys. With a jacked physique and the kind of ground and pound that would give Tito Ortiz nightmares, Coleman was one of the sport's most popular stars in the mid-90s.
Coleman fell from grace in 1999 when he allegedly threw a fight against professional wrestler Nobuhiko Takada in the PRIDE organization. In an interview with Heavy.com, Coleman addressed the bout.
It was what it was. I needed to support my family. They guaranteed me another fight after that and I needed that security. It was what it was. I'm going to leave it at that.
In 2009, Coleman was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, and would end his career with a main-event bout against Randy Couture at UFC 109.
Greatest Achievements: UFC heavyweight champion, UFC interim heavyweight champion, headlined biggest event in UFC history, most wins in UFC heavyweight history
Frank Mir shocked the world in 2004 when he snapped the arm of undefeated Tim Sylvia to become the UFC heavyweight champion. The fight lasted only 50 seconds and remains one of the quickest submissions in heavyweight history.
Some of the biggest wins in Mir's career came against Brock Lesnar, Mirko Cro Cop and Antonio Nogueira. His only losses since 2006 have all come in title fights, losing against Lesnar, Shane Carwin and Junior dos Santos.
After his third consecutive loss in as many title fights, Frank Mir's time in the sun may be up. Then again, that was the consensus after his motorcycle accident in 2004.
Greatest Achievements: Ultimate Fighter 10 winner, IFL heavyweight champion
Humorous heavyweight Roy Nelson may not be the most successful fighter at the dance, but he is undoubtedly loved.
Known more for his tubby exterior and unflinching chin than his status within the division, Nelson is a goofy fighter who has tremendous power in his striking and stifling control with his jiu-jitsu.
On September 30, 2009, "Big Country" was part of the second-most watched MMA bout in history when he met Kimbo Slice on The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights.
Greatest Achievements: UFC heavyweight champion, 2010 Fighter of the Year
After destroying Brock Lesnar at UFC 121, Cain Velasquez became the first Mexican heavyweight champion in history. With the UFC targeting an expansion of the Latino fanbase, Velasquez quickly became one of the biggest stars in the sport.
Velasquez's growth has been well documented, as his recent victories have been one-sided beatdowns against world-ranked fighters Brock Lesnar, Big Nog and Bigfoot Silva.
Greatest Achievements: Strikeforce heavyweight champion, DREAM heavyweight champion, 2010 K-1 heavyweight grand prix champion
Overeem has won all of his last 12 bouts, which includes victories over Brock Lesnar, Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt. He was scheduled to challenge Junior dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight championship in May, but lost his eligibility for a license when he failed a random drug test prior to the bout.
The Dutchman is the only fighter to ever win world championships in both MMA and kickboxing. Additionally, he lost neither his Strikeforce nor DREAM heavyweight championship.
After defeating Fabricio Werdum in 2011, Overeem became the lineal heavyweight champion of the world.
Greatest Achievements: UFC heavyweight champion
Kevin Randleman may have won his world championship in the UFC, but his biggest accomplishments came under the PRIDE banner.
In the 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix, Randleman entered as a big underdog to Mirko Cro Cop, but scored a knockout victory to defy oddsmakers everywhere. Meeting then-champion Fedor Emelianenko in the next round, he nearly did it again by suplexing the Russian onto his head and neck. He would ultimate lose the bout via kimura.
Randleman now holds an unimpressive 17-16 record in the sport, but his mark has been made.
Greatest Achievements: 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix champion, 2003 Fight of the Year, 2005 Fight of the Year, 2006 Knockout of the Year, 2006 Heavyweight Fighter of the Year
Right leg, hospital. Left leg, cemetery.
While it might seem like more of a marketing catchphrase than an actual threat, the devastating head kicks of Mirko Cro Cop were one of the most feared attacks that MMA had ever seen.
Cro Cop showed that PRIDE had superior heavyweight talent to the UFC when he defeated a trio of UFC champions in successive bouts. His first-round stoppages over Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman and Josh Barnett earned him a second shot at the PRIDE heavyweight championship in 2005.
Although most recognizable for his PRIDE accomplishments, Cro Cop will live on highlight reels for all time. The head kick knockout he received from Gabriel Gonzaga is considered to be one of the greatest knockouts in sports history.
Greatest Achievements: Ultimate Fighter Contestant
I never said that this was a countdown of the best heavyweights in MMA history; it's about popularity.
Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson reached an incredible level of visibility due to his assorted YouTube videos. He utilized unreal power to knockout many opponents. When he made the transition into mixed martial arts, he was accepted by most with open arms.
One man who wasn't immediately sold on Ferguson was UFC President Dana White, who made the brawler work through The Ultimate Fighter to earn a UFC contract. He was eliminated in the first round, but had two miserable bouts for the company after the show's conclusion before being handed his walking papers.
Slice does much better in the sport of boxing. Since turning pro, he holds a flawless 6-0 record, which includes five knockouts.
Greatest Achievements: PRIDE heavyweight champion, PRIDE interim heavyweight champion, 2004 Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix Runner-Up, UFC interim heavyweight champion, 2002 Fighter of the Year, 2003 Fight of the Year (vs Mirko Cro Cop), 2009 Fight of the Year (vs Randy Couture)
As one of the biggest stars in PRIDE history, Big Nog is one of the most recognizable faces in mixed martial arts history—unless you confuse him with his twin brother.
Nogueira remains the only fighter to ever win gold in both the PRIDE and UFC organizations. He accomplished the latter half of that feat in February 2008 by choking out Tim Sylvia.
With other wins against the likes of Mirko Cro Cop, Josh Barnett, Dan Henderson, Mark Coleman, Randy Couture, Fabricio Werdum and Ricco Rodriguez, Nogueira's resume reads like a who's who of MMA greats.
Greatest Achievements: 2001 K-1 Heavyweight Grand Prix winner, Ending the incredible winning streak of Wanderlei Silva
Despite a six—fight losing streak that stretched across a five-year span, Mark Hunt remained one of the most popular stars among fans residing in Japan and Australia. Since the New Zealand native made his way into the UFC and began knocking out stars like Cheick Kongo and Chris Tuchscherer, he became one of the most popular heavyweights on the planet.
Never was Hunt's popularity more obvious than earlier this year when the UFC was in need of a replacement for Alistair Overeem at UFC 146. Fans across the world united through social networking sites to voice their support in the #RallyForHunt campaign.
The rally was ultimately unsuccessful, but the impact was felt nonetheless. Expect to see Hunt back in March when the UFC returns to Japan, where he remains an enormous draw.
Greatest Achievements: UFC heavyweight champion, King of Pancrase (4x)
At the time of his retirement due to injuries, Rutten was undefeated in his past 21 fights. Of those bouts, he picked up victories over world champions Maurice Smith, Guy Mezger and Frank Shamrock. His final record sits at 28-4-1, although his true legacy lies in non-competitive contributions to the sport.
As a star of the sport before it's boom, Bas Rutten could have easily faded into obscurity after his retirement in 1999. Instead, he used his undeniable charisma to keep his face, or should I say voice, in the spotlight.
Rutten may be recognizable to many fans as the voice of PRIDE, where he did color commentary alongside Stephen Quadros. Additionally, Rutten co-starred in the 2012 film Here Comes The Boom alongside Kevin James.
Greatest Achievements: UFC 8 tournament champion, UFC Ultimate Ultimate 96 tournament champion, UFC 10 tournament runner-up, 2002 Fight of the Year (vs Yoshihiro Takayama)
At one point Frye had amassed an incredible record of 15-1, which included wins over major players like Ken Shamrock, Gary Goodridge and Tank Abbott.
His PRIDE bout with Yoshihiro Takayama would not only go on to win fight of the year, but is the kind of battle that displays enough heart and overall toughness to turn a man into a legend.
Don Frye may not have ever squared off with Hall of Fame fighter Dan Severn, but the two will likely go down in history as the owners of MMA's best moustache.
"The Predator" has enjoyed a successful transition into acting, including a voice-over role in the box office hit The Ant Bully.
Greatest Achievements: UFC heavyweight champion
Brock Lesnar is the biggest star the MMA has ever known. He single-handedly helped bring the sport into countless new households based on his previous fame from professional wrestling.
Unlike Kimbo Slice, Lesnar was able to parlay his popularity into a world championship. Only two fights into his UFC career, the DeathClutch fighter was tapped to challenge Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight championship.
Were it not for a career-altering battle with diverticulitis, Lesnar's career might have lasted much longer than it did. Unfortunately for the UFC, the affliction did not allow Lesnar to maintain the dietary or training regimen that he would have liked to follow and cut his career down to only eight bouts.
To this day, Lesnar is the only man to defeat reigning world champions in three consecutive bouts. After defeating Couture, he beat interim champions Frank Mir and Shane Carwin to unify the belt.
Greatest Achievements: UFC heavyweight champion, UFC interim heavyweight champion
Undoubtedly the biggest star of the UFC's heavyweight dark period, Andrei Arlovski made his name by submitting champion Tim Sylvia in only 47 seconds.
Arlovski's popularity is largely based on his enormous knockout power. 14 of his 18 professional wins have come by knockout, and he has the distinction of being the only man to ever KO Roy Nelson.
"The Pitbull" tainted his legacy by losing four consecutive bouts between January 2009 and February 2011. However, he has done some damage control by earning stoppages in his last four fights.
Greatest Achievements: UFC 6 tournament runner-up, Ultimate Ultimate 96 runner-up, Ultimate Ultimate 95 semi-finalist, UFC 11 semi-finalist, UFC Japan semi-finalist
Who doesn't know Tank Abbott? Whether it's for his popular beat-em-up style or his often-mocked fall from grace (losing eight of his last 10 fights and 11 of his last 15), he is a pioneer fans are undoubtedly familiar with.
As one of the original brawlers who was always willing to bet that his chin was better than yours, the now-rotund Abbott represented the type of fighter early fans wanted to see and early critics despised.
Although Abbott never won a world championship, he achieved a level of fame that few pioneers could claim for themselves. Not only did he represent the UFC in an episode of FRIENDS, but the man known as "Tank" would also enjoy a career working for World Championship Wrestling
Greatest Achievements: UFC heavyweight champion (reigning), 9-0 record in the UFC
Some fighters on this list have experienced a roller coaster of success and failure during their MMA career. Since joining the UFC, it's been pure ascension for heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.
dos Santos made his UFC debut as a massive underdog against Fabricio Werdum and scored a tremendous uppercut knockout. Since that time, he has picked off notables Shane Carwin, Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez (among others) to call himself the best heavyweight fighter on the planet.
The champion comes across as a soft-spoken sweetheart during interviews, but is an absolute killer in the cage. At 28 years old, it's scary to think that his career is just beginning.
Greatest Achievements: PRIDE heavyweight champion, 2004 PRIDE heavyweight Grand Prix winner, 2000's Fighter of the Decade, 2003 Heavyweight of the Year, 2004 Heavyweight of the Year, 2005 Heavyweight of the Year, 2005 Fight of the Year (vs Mirko Cro Cop), 2009 Knockout of the Year
Fedor Emelianenko is not only the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time, but was commonly discussed as the greatest pound for pound fighter in history until he lost a trio of bouts under the Strikeforce banner.
After defeating Big Nog for the PRIDE heavyweight championship, he would go on to defeat other notables Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, and Mirko Cro Cop. He held the lineal heavyweight championship for more than six years until losing it to Fabricio Werdum in 2010.
The great Fedor debate will ultimately center on his refusal to sign with the UFC to face the perceived best heavyweights on the planet. For Emelianenko to lose against lesser competitors in a smaller organization would forever mar his legacy.
Greatest Achievements: UFC Hall of Fame, UFC Superfight Champion, UFC 1 semi-finalist, UFC 3 runner-up, Ultimate Ultimate 96 semi-finalist, King of Pancrase (2x)
Originally, Ken Shamrock was just a tournament semi-finalist at UFC 1 who fell victim to Royce Gracie in 57 seconds. If anyone saw that fight and suggested to you that the Lion's Den fighter would go on to be considered one of the best the sport has ever seen, you'd laugh in their face.
Shamrock was the first member of the UFC to transition into a prominent role in professional wrestling. As an important figure of the WWF's Attitude Era, Shamrock became so popular that many continue to associate the sport with Shamrock.
Later, Shamrock would drop to the light heavyweight division—which was better suited for his frame—where he would engage in memorable rivalries with Tito Ortiz.
Unfortunately, Shamrock's legacy could potentially be that of a man who didn't know when to hang it up. Still not retired at the age of 48, Shamrock has lost 10 of his last 14 fights, which includes nine via knockout or TKO.
Greatest Achievements: UFC Hall of Fame, UFC Superfight Champion, UFC 5 runner-up, UFC 5 tournament winner, Ultimate Ultimate 95 tournament winner
Dan "The Beast" Severn was the third man inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, following Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie. Not bad considering that his official record in the UFC was 12-4. He was also honored by UFC fighter Tom Lawlor, who sported similar attire as well as The Beast's signature mustache at a UFC weigh in.
Like Shamrock, the no-nonsense Severn made a move into the World Wrestling Federation during the Attitude Era. After nearly two decades in the sport, Severn still makes appearances for certain organizations.
Severn absolutely embodies the mentality of "I'll fight any man, anytime, anywhere." With 127 professional bouts to his credit, Severn is one of few fighters to achieve more than 100 wins in the sport. He frequently competed in bouts that were only one week apart, even after the age of 50.
Greatest Achievements: UFC Hall of Fame, UFC heavyweight champion, UFC light heavyweight champion, UFC interim light heavyweight champion, UFC 13 heavyweight tournament winner, 2001 Fight of the Year (vs Pedro Rizzo), 2007 Fight of the Year (vs Tim Sylvia), 2009 Fight of the Year (vs Big Nog)
What can be said about Randy Couture that you don't already know? I'm sure there are some anecdotes that may humor you, but when it comes down to recognizing greatness fans are fully aware of the impact "The Natural" had on the sport of mixed martial arts.
Couture was the first man to ever capture UFC gold in two weight divisions, and he remains the victor of the only Hall of Fame vs Hall of Fame fight in the promotion's history.
Although he is a natural light heavyweight, Couture found his biggest success at heavyweight, winning the UFC 13 tournament as well as winning the UFC heavyweight championship three times. He would defend that belt another three times and go on to headline many events under the Zuffa banner.
While this list is not ranked by any means, there is no question that Randy Couture is the most popular heavyweight in the history of the division.
Captain America, we salute you!