UFC Champions After Their Title Reign: Heavyweight
The first UFC heavyweight title fight took place all the way back in 1997 between Mark Coleman and Dan Severn. Since that time, the belt has changed hands more than any other division in the UFC.
The heavyweight title is the only UFC title of the original five weight classes that has not been defended more than twice consecutively. There has never been a wildly dominant champion, and that has allowed anyone to have a serious chance to win the belt.
Every champion's reign has to end at some point. Some have had long, illustrious careers afterward, while other saw their careers basically end. Several have even been able to reclaim their lost belts.
Let's check out what every UFC heavyweight champion has been able to accomplish after his title reign.
Mark Coleman won the first-ever UFC heavyweight title at UFC 12 in 1997 with a neck-crank submission over Dan Severn. That victory unified the superfight championship, which had been held by Severn, with the new UFC championship.
Coleman would lose the title in his next fight, a unanimous-decision loss to Maurice Smith at UFC 14. That fight would win the first-ever Wrestling Observer Newsletter Fight of the Year.
Coleman would lose two more fights in the UFC to Pete Williams and Pedro Rizzo before moving to Pride, where he would spend the next seven years, from 1999 until 2006.
Coleman went 8-5 during his time with Pride. The highlight of that time was the 2000 Openweight Grand Prix. He beat Masaaki Satake in the first round of the tournament in January of 2000, then came back on May 1 and beat Akira Shoji, Kazuyuki Fujita and Igor Vovchanchyn with a second-round submission to knees to win the Grand Prix.
Coleman had a number of other fights against top-level competition in Pride. In 2001 he was submitted by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the first round, and in 2003 he scored a unanimous decision over Don Frye.
His next fight was a first-round submission loss to Fedor Emelianenko in the first round of the 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix, and the following fight was a first-round knockout loss to Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.
His second-to-last fight in Pride was a TKO win over Mauricio Rua, when Rua broke his arm during a Coleman takedown attempt. His final fight was a rematch against Fedor, which Coleman again lost by armbar.
Coleman then made the move back to the UFC, making his light heavyweight debut at UFC 93 in a rematch against Mauricio Rua. Shogun would win with a third-round TKO in a Fight of the Night.
Coleman then beat Stephan Bonnar by unanimous decision at UFC 100. His final career fight came at UFC 109 against Randy Couture. It was the first-ever fight between two UFC Hall of Famers. Couture would win the fight with a second-round submission.
Coleman officially retired in 2013.
Maurice Smith made his UFC debut at UFC 14 when he won the heavyweight title from Mark Coleman by unanimous decision. With the win, Smith's record moved to 6-7. He then defended the title against Tank Abbott, with a TKO due to exhaustion in just over eight minutes.
Smith's next fight came against Randy Couture, and Couture would go on to win via majority decision. Then at UFC 19, Smith faced future champ Kevin Randleman, who would win the decision victory.
In 1999 Smith fought for several different organizations. First, he scored a TKO over Marco Ruas at UFC 21. His next fight was a submission victory at Pride 7, which would be his only fight in Pride.
Smith also fought for WEF and Rings in 1999, going 1-2 including a submission loss to Renzo Gracie in just 50 seconds.
Following that, Smith returned to the UFC for two more fights. His first was a decision win over Bobby Hoffman at UFC 27, while his second was a decision loss to Renato Sobral at UFC 28.
Smith wouldn't have another MMA fight until 2007, at which point he fought Marco Ruas for a second time. Smith won their second fight with a corner stoppage, just as he did the first time.
Smith had four more fights in four different organizations between 2008 and 2013 including Strikeforce, Sengoku, RFA and CWC. He would go 2-2 including a decision loss in his final fight.
Randy Couture (1)
Randy Couture first won a UFC championship at UFC Japan in 1997 when he beat Maurice Smith by decision. The UFC wanted him to defend the title against Bas Rutten, but Couture instead signed with Vale Tudo Japan and was stripped of the title.
Couture lost his first fight with Vale Tudo Japan to Enson Inoue by armbar in less than two minutes. After that fight, Couture would move to the Rings organization. His first fight with Rings was another submission loss, this one to Mikhail Ilyukhin in less than eight minutes.
Couture would have two more fights in Rings—decision wins over Jeremy Horn and Ryushi Yanagisawa—before he came back to the UFC, where he received an immediate title shot.
Bas Rutten had an impressive career before he won the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
Before his first UFC fight, he had a record of 25-4-1 with Vernon White, Jason DeLucia, Maurice Smith and Frank Shamrock.
In his first UFC fight he scored a TKO over Tsuyoshi Kohsaka in just over 14 minutes. With that win, Rutten earned his title shot.
Randy Couture had vacated the title, so Rutten faced Kevin Randleman for the vacant heavyweight title. Rutten would win a split decision after 21 minutes.
Rutten vacated the title several months later to drop to light heavyweight and try to be the first person to earn UFC titles in two weight classes. Unfortunately, he was forced to retire due to several injuries, including blowing out his knee, tearing his bicep and a neck issue.
He fought one more time, in 2006 against Ruben Villareal. Rutten won by TKO from leg kicks at 3:24 of the first round.
Rutten now does commentary for the World Series of Fighting.
Kevin Randleman faced Bas Rutten for the vacant heavyweight championship and lost, but after Rutten vacated the title, Randleman received another shot at the vacant belt. After five rounds, he defeated Pete Williams by unanimous decision and won the title.
He defended the title once against Pedro Rizzo and then lost the title when he was TKO'd by Randy Couture when The Natural made his return to the UFC.
Randleman then dropped to light heavyweight, where he faced Chuck Liddell and lost by knockout in less than 90 seconds. Randleman would only have one more fight in the UFC, which was a decision win over Renato Sobral.
Randleman would sign with Pride, where he had 11 fights, including bouts against many of Pride's top competitors. He won his first three fights before meeting Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in a middleweight title eliminator bout. Jackson would win by TKO. Randleman's next fight was a submission loss to Kazushi Sakuraba.
In 2004 Randleman scored arguably the biggest win of his career when he knocked out Cro Cop. It occurred in the opening round of the 2004 Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix, and Randleman's knockout in just less than two minutes won both Upset of the Year and Knockout of the Year.
Randleman would get bumped from the tournament in his next fight, a submission loss to Fedor Emelianenko. Randleman would also lose his final four fights in Pride to Ron Waterman, Cro Cop in a rematch, Kazuhiro Nakamura and Mauricio Rua.
He only fought five more times after the loss to Rua. The first was a decision win Ryo Kawamura in World Victory Road.
Randleman would then lose his final four fights—first to Mike Whitehead in Strikeforce by decision, second to Stanislav Nedkov in World Victory Road, third to Roger Gracie by submission in Strikeforce and fourth to Baga Agaev in Pro FC in 2011.
Randy Couture (2)
Randy Couture came back to the UFC and reclaimed the heavyweight title from Kevin Randleman with a third-round TKO at UFC 28. Couture then fought twice in Rings, going 1-1, before returning to defend the heavyweight title twice against Pedro Rizzo.
Couture won the first by decision and the second by TKO.
Then at UFC 36, he lost the title when Josh Barnett TKO'd him in the second round. Couture's next fight was once again for the heavyweight belt, although it was against Ricco Rodriguez for the vacant title. Rodriguez won by submission to an elbow at 3:04 of the fifth round.
After this, Couture dropped to the light heavyweight division and beat Chuck Liddell by TKO to win the interim light heavyweight title in his first fight in the division. His next fight unified the titles when he beat Tito Ortiz by unanimous decision.
He then suffered a TKO loss to Vitor Belfort due to a cut only 49 seconds into their title fight. Couture would be given an immediate rematch, which he won—reclaiming the light heavyweight title—by doctor stoppage after the third round.
The following fight was a second fight against Liddell, which The Iceman won by knockout at 2:06 of the first round. Couture then beat Mike van Arsdale by submission to get a third fight with Liddell and a chance to win back the title.
It was not to be, and Liddell won by knockout for a second straight time. After that fight, Couture decided to move back up to heavyweight and face Tim Sylvia for the title.
Josh Barnett won the heavyweight title at UFC 36 in 2002 with a TKO victory over Randy Couture. Barnett was stripped of the title four months later due to a failed post-fight drug test from the Couture fight.
After that, Barnett would go to Pancrase, where he won the openweight title with a third-round submission in his first fight with the organization. He would defend the title two times, both submissions, and then he moved on to Pride.
His first two fights in Pride came against Mirko Filipovic. Cro Cop won the first due to an injury just 46 seconds into the first round and the second by unanimous decision.
In 2006 Barnett participated in the Openweight Grand Prix. He won his first two fights with submissions over Alexander Emelianenko and Mark Hunt. His third fight in the tournament was a split-decision victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. In the finals, he met Cro Cop for a third time, and the kickboxer was once again victorious, this time with a submission to punches.
Barnett's final fight with Pride was a rematch against Minotauro, which Nogueira would win by unanimous decision.
After that, Barnett bounced around to several different organizations, including Sengoku, DREAM, Affliction and Impact FC. He won all six of the fights, beating Hidehiko Yoshida, Jeff Monson, Pedro Rizzo and Gilbert Yvel.
In 2011 Barnett signed up as a participant in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. He won his first two fights in the tournament over Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov, both with arm-triangle submissions.
He would then meet Daniel Cormier in the finals, and DC would take the unanimous-decision victory in a dominating performance.
Barnett had one more fight with Strikeforce—another win by arm triangle—before finally returning to the UFC.
Barnett won his first fight back with a TKO over Frank Mir in less than two minutes. In his most recent fight, Travis Browne knocked him out in just one minute.
Ricco Rodriguez won the heavyweight title with a fifth-round submission to an elbow strike in a fight against Randy Couture after Josh Barnett was stripped of the title.
Rodriguez lost the title in his next fight when Tim Sylvia knocked him out in just over three minutes. His next fight was a decision loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in Pride, which he followed up with another decision loss to Pedro Rizzo at UFC 45.
After that, Rodriguez had several fights with different organizations. His next notable fight came against Ron Waterman at WEC 16 in 2005. The fight was for the WEC Super Heavyweight Championship, which Waterman defended with a unanimous decision.
After that fight up until 2011, Rodriguez went 27-6 fighting in many different organizations against a lot of lower-level competition. Some notable opponents he faced were Ben Rothwell, Antonio Silva and Jeff Monson. All three of them beat Rodriguez by decision.
In 2011 Rodriguez beat James McSweeney and made his Bellator debut against Seth Petruzelli. Petruzelli scored the knockout, and that would be Rodriguez's only fight with Bellator.
After that fight until today, Rodriguez has had 16 fights that have resulted in a record of 6-9 (one no-contest), with no more than two wins in a row. His most notable recent fight was a first-round loss by submission to punches to Glover Teixeira.
Teixeira was signed to the UFC after that win.
Tim Sylvia (1)
Tim Sylvia had a title shot in just his second fight with the UFC. He beat Ricco Rodriguez with a first-round knockout and won the belt. He then defended the title against Gan McGee but was stripped after testing positive for steroids.
His next fight was another shot at the heavyweight title, which was still vacant after the UFC stripped him of it. Frank Mir won that fight in just 50 seconds with an armbar that broke Sylvia's arm.
Sylvia scored a win over Wes Sims at Superbrawl 38 and then got another shot at a UFC title, against Andrei Arlovski for the interim heavyweight title. Arlovski won that fight with an Achilles lock in just 47 seconds.
Sylvia then scored a knockout win outside the UFC. He came back to the Octagon and scored a head-kick knockout over Tra Telligman.
Sylvia won one more fight—a decision over Assuerio Silva—before getting another title fight, this one for the undisputed heavyweight title against Andrei Arlovski.
Frank Mir (1)
Frank Mir had his first UFC fight in 2001 and received his first title shot in 2004. He submitted Tim Sylvia to win the title, but due to a motorcycle accident and subsequent injuries, Mir was forced to vacate his title.
His first fight back was in 2006 when he was knocked out by Marcio Cruz. He was able to rebound in his next fight against Dan Christison with a unanimous decision but was knocked out again in his next fight when Brandon Vera won in just 69 seconds.
Mir had a serious resurgence in his next two fights. First, he submitted Antoni Hardonk with a kimura in 77 seconds, and then he earned Submission of the Night for his kneebar over Brock Lesnar, which took only 90 seconds.
Mir's next fight was against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the interim heavyweight title.
Andrei Arlovski won the interim heavyweight title with a submission over Tim Sylvia at UFC 51 in 2005. He defended the title over Justin Eilers before being promoted to undisputed champion due to the length of time that Frank Mir would be out. Arlovski then defended the undisputed title with a 15-second knockout of Paul Buentello.
In Arlovski's next fight, he lost the title when Tim Sylvia scored a TKO victory. Arlovski was granted an immediate rematch but lost again, this time by unanimous decision.
Arlovski then won three more fights in the UFC, over Marcio Cruz, Fabricio Werdum and Jake O'Brien, before leaving to fight in other organizations.
His next two fights came against Ben Rothwell in Affliction and Roy Nelson in Elite XC. Arlovski won both fights by knockout.
His next fight was in Affliction against Fedor Emelianenko for the WAMMA heavyweight championship. Fedor won by knockout in the first round.
Arlovski then moved on to Strikeforce, where he would go 0-3, losing to Brett Rogers, Antonio Silva and Sergei Kharitonov in the first round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
After his time in Strikeforce, he bounced around to ProElite, ONE FC and WSOF where he went 6-1 (one no-content). The loss came at the hands of Anthony Johnson, and the no-contest was in a fourth fight with Tim Sylvia.
In April 2014 Arlovski re-signed with the UFC and faced Brendan Schaub at UFC 174, where he scored a split-decision victory.
Tim Sylvia (2)
Tim Sylvia won the heavyweight title for the second time when he beat Andrei Arlovski by TKO in the first round at UFC 59 in 2006. He defended the title twice by decision against Arlovski and then against Jeff Monson. Sylvia lost the title when Randy Couture beat him at UFC 68.
After the loss to Couture, Sylvia had only two more fights in the UFC. First was a unanimous decision over Brandon Vera at UFC 77. That win earned him a shot at the interim heavyweight title against Minotauro. Nogueira would win the Fight of the Night with a guillotine choke in the third round.
Sylvia then requested his release from the UFC, which was granted, and he moved to Affliction to face Fedor Emelianenko for the WAMMA Heavyweight Championship. Fedor won by knockout in just 36 seconds.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Sylvia was knocked out by boxer Ray Mercer in just nine seconds in his next fight.
Sylvia went 7-1 though his next eight fights, with his most notable opponents being Paul Buentello and Mariusz Pudzianowski. Most of those fights took place at super heavyweight.
In 2012 Sylvia faced Arlovski for a fourth time, although this one took place in ONE FC. The fight ended in a no-contest due to illegal soccer kicks.
Sylvia has now lost his last three fights, all of which took place over the heavyweight limit. His last fight was in October 2013 against Ruslan Magomedov, who won his UFC debut on May 31.
Randy Couture (3)
In 2007 after losing the light heavyweight title to Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture returned to the heavyweight division to face Tim Sylvia for the heavyweight title. Couture pulled off the huge upset and scored a decision victory. He defended it one time with a TKO over Gabriel Gonzaga before losing the title to Brock Lesnar.
Couture's first fight after losing to Lesnar was against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Minotauro would win a unanimous decision, but their bout won Fight of the Night.
After that loss, Couture returned to the light heavyweight division, scoring a unanimous-decision victory over Brandon Vera.
Couture's next fight came against Mark Coleman, which Couture won with a rear-naked choke in the second round. He followed that up with another submission victory, over James Toney in the heavyweight division.
Couture's final fight came against Lyoto Machida at UFC 129. The Dragon won with a knockout in the second round. Couture officially retired after that loss.
Since his retirement, Couture has been involved with Bellator, including doing commentary at Bellator 96 and coaching on the reality show, Fight Master: Bellator MMA.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira won the interim heavyweight title with a submission over Tim Sylvia at UFC 81 in 2008. He defended that title against Frank Mir, but Mir won with a second-round knockout.
Nogueira's first fight after losing the title was a unanimous-decision victory over Randy Couture at UFC 102. That win earned Minotauro a title eliminator match against Cain Velasquez. Velasquez won with a first-round knockout.
Nogueira was then out for 18 months but came back to face Brendan Schaub at UFC 134 in Brazil in 2011. Nogueira was a massive underdog but scored a first-round knockout to earn Knockout of the Night honors.
His next fight was a rematch with Frank Mir, and Mir won even more viciously this time as he broke Nogueira's arm with a kimura in the first round.
Nogueira had a 10-month layoff due to that injury and came back to fight Dave Herman. Minotauro won with a submission in the second round, earning Submission of the Night.
His two most recent fights have both been losses. First, Fabricio Werdum submitted him in the second round, and then Roy Nelson knocked him out in the first. The loss to Nelson was particularly brutal.
Nogueira recently underwent surgery to restore his ACL. His next fight is unknown at this time.
Brock Lesnar won the heavyweight title in 2008 at UFC 91 with a TKO over Randy Couture in the second round. His first title defense came against Frank Mir at UFC 100, and Lesnar again won with a second-round TKO.
His second title defense was against Shane Carwin, and after nearly losing in the first round, Lesnar came back and won by submission in the second.
At UFC 121, Lesnar lost his title to Cain Velasquez by first-round TKO.
Lesnar's next fight came 14 months later against Alistair Overeem at UFC 141. The Reem won with a first-round TKO that began with a body kick.
Lesnar retired after the fight and would later return to the WWE.
Frank Mir (2)
Frank Mir won the interim heavyweight title at UFC 92 in 2008. He knocked out Minotauro Nogueira in the second round to win the title but was beaten by Brock Lesnar in a title unification fight.
Mir rebounded with a submission win over Cheick Kongo in just over a minute and then earned a shot at a new interim heavyweight title against Shane Carwin. Carwin won by knockout in just under four minutes.
Mir then won his next three fights—a third-round knockout over Mirko Cro Cop, a unanimous decision over Roy Nelson and a Submission of the Night over Minotauro.
With that win, Mir earned a title shot at the undisputed champion Junior dos Santos. Cigano won with a TKO in the second.
Unfortunately for Mir, he wasn't able to rebound after that loss and dropped his next three in a row. His first fight after losing to Dos Santos was a unanimous-decision loss to Daniel Cormier on Fox.
He followed that up with a TKO loss to Josh Barnett and a unanimous-decision loss to Alistair Overeem.
His next fight has not yet been announced.
Shane Carwin won the interim heavyweight title at UFC 111 when he scored a first-round Knockout of the Night over Frank Mir.
Carwin's next fight was against Brock Lesnar for the unified heavyweight title. Carwin nearly won the fight in the first round with strikes, but he gassed badly and was submitted by Lesnar in the second round.
Carwin had one more fight after that, a heavyweight title eliminator against Junior dos Santos at UFC 131 in 2011. Carwin lost by unanimous decision.
In late 2011 he needed back surgery and was out for roughly a year. When he returned, he was chosen to coach The Ultimate Fighter opposite Roy Nelson. The two were supposed to fight at the finale in December 2012, but a knee injury forced Carwin to withdraw from the fight.
He officially retired in 2013 due to several different injuries.
Cain Velasquez (1)
Cain Velasquez first won the heavyweight title at UFC 121 in October 2010 when he scored a TKO over Brock Lesnar.
His first title defense came against Junior dos Santos in the UFC's first fight on Fox. Dos Santos knocked him out in about a minute.
Velasquez's next fight was against Antonio Silva at UFC 146. He won by TKO in 3:36 and left Silva a bloody mess.
With that win, he secured a second title shot.
Junior Dos Santos
Junior dos Santos won the heavyweight title with a knockout over Cain Velasquez at UFC on Fox 1. He followed that up with a successful defense against Frank Mir, which ended by TKO in the second round.
Dos Santos then faced Velasquez in a rematch, with Velasquez winning the unanimous decision and reclaiming the belt.
After that fight, Dos Santos faced Mark Hunt and scored an incredible knockout from a wheel kick and punches. The win earned him a third fight with Velasquez.
Velasquez controlled the entirety of the fight and finished Dos Santos with a slam and punches at 3:09 of the fifth round.
Cain Velasquez (2)
Cain Velasquez is the current heavyweight champion. He has twice defended the heavyweight title since winning it back from Junior dos Santos. He beat Antonio Silva with a first-round TKO and Dos Santos with a fifth-round TKO.
Velasquez is currently coaching on The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America opposite Fabricio Werdum. They will face off at UFC 180 on November 15 with the heavyweight title on the line.