UFC 116: A Heavyweight Title History Lesson
The UFC Heavyweight Title will be put on the line for the 22nd time at UFC 116 in Las Vegas as current UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar faces Interim-Heavyweight Champion Shane Carwin to unify the titles.
To appreciate the magnitude of this fight both physically and historically, it's important to understand what it means to the story attached to the Heavyweight belt.
The biggest prize in the promotion, the Heavyweight Title has had one of the most interesting histories in the UFC.
Subject to multiple Interim-Titles, Unification fights, and Champions being stripped and vacating titles, it's fair to say the belt has had a storied past.
So let's all get up to speed with a quick history lesson before UFC 116.
Mark Coleman defeated Dan Severn at UFC 12 to become the first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion as we know it in 1997, but he would not hold on to the new belt for long as he lost the belt later that year to Maurice Smith at UFC 114.
Smith would defend the title once before losing it to the first of Randy Couture's title runs which started at UFC Japan.
Couture would then be involved in the first controversy surrounding the title as he was stripped of the belt due to a contract dispute in 1998.
Bas Rutten would then meet Kevin Randleman at UFC 20 to crown a new champion for the vacant title.
Bas would defeat Randleman by split decision but would never get the chance to defend the title due to injuries that later retired him.
Later that year at UFC 23, Randleman would capture the vacant title by defeating Pete Williams and would go on to defend the title once against Pedro Rizzo before losing to Randy Couture's second title run.
The title fight at UFC 23 was the start of a remarkable run where Pedro Rizzo was involved in three title fights in a row, losing all three.
Couture defeated the Brazilian twice at UFC 31 and 34.
There would be a over a full year of inactivity before Josh Barnett took the title from Couture at UFC 36 in March 2002.
However, in another low point in the title's past, Barnett would be stripped of the belt later that year for testing positive for anabolic steroids in the post-fight drug test.
For the third time in it's short history, the Heavyweight Title was vacant.
At UFC 39 Couture would face and lose to Ricco Rodriguez, who captured the vacant title by submission due to strikes.
Rodriguez's reign at the top was short-lived as he lost the title to Tim Sylvia at UFC 41.
Sylvia would defend the title once before for the second time in history the UFC Heavyweight Champion failed a post-fight drug test and the belt was relinquished by Sylvia.
Sylvia would later meet Frank Mir in their now infamous UFC 48 bout to determine a new champion.
Mir was the young up-and-coming fighter at this time and he proceeded to break Sylvia's arm via an armbar in the first round to capture the title for the first time.
Soon after capturing the title, Mir was involved in a near fatal motorbike accident which would sideline him for a significant amount of time.
Due to Mir's injuries and the unknown length of his layoff, the UFC created an Interim-Heavyweight title for the first time.
Andrei Arlovski would defeat Tim Sylvia at UFC 51 to capture the new title and would later defend it at UFC 53.
After Arlovski's title defense at UFC 53, the decision was made that Mir's absence from the octagon was going to be too lengthy so Mir was stripped of his title and Arlovski was promoted to undisputed champion.
Arlovski would defend the belt one more time at UFC 55 against Paul Buentello before losing it to Tim Sylvia at UFC 61 in Las Vegas.
Sylvia would defend the title just once during his second reign as champion before his poor performances prompted Randy Couture to come out of retirement and lay a five-round beat down on him at UFC 68 to capture his third UFC Heavyweight Title.
Couture would defeat the rising young contender Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74 before his second contract dispute with the UFC would sideline him for over a year.
During the Couture contract dispute, the UFC decided for the second time to create an Interim-Heavyweight Title.
Former champion Tim Sylvia took on PRIDE legend Antonio Nogueira at UFC 81 to determine the new divisional kingpin.
Big'Nog won the title by submission in the third round to capture the title.
Soon after Nogueira captured the title, the Couture contract issues were settled and the UFC decided to set up a mini-tournament of matches.
Couture would face Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 for the Heavyweight Title and Nogueira would face Frank Mir at UFC 92 for the Interim-Title.
The winner would face each other soon after to confirm the undisputed heavyweight champion.
Of course most people will know what happened in those fights because it led to the epic UFC 100 clash between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir for the undisputed title.
Lesnar dominated the former champion Mir in the fight and got the TKO in round two of the fight to unify the titles.
Soon after the UFC 100 fight, a scheduled UFC 106 title defense for Lesnar was put on hold as the champion suffered a severe intestinal illness that would sideline him for a lengthy period.
As Lesnar's illness and recovery was unknown, the UFC for a third time introduced an Interim-Heavyweight Title.
Shane Carwin met Frank Mir at UFC 111 for the new belt and promptly dispatched Mir in the first round to become the new champion.
Which leads us to the present day and UFC 116.
If anything the history lesson has shown us how notoriously hard the UFC Heavyweight Title is to keep.
Every other division has at some point in time had a dominant champion at the top except for the big boys.
When the longest title run stretches to two defenses it says a lot.
Should Lesnar beat Carwin on July 3rd, he will already be amongst some of the best in the history of the division.
However, the history of the belt would suggest that Carwin will be crowned the new Champion.
I for one can't wait to find out at UFC 116.
Hope you enjoyed the lesson folks.
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