Combat sports fans have always had a unique love affair with the heavyweights.
They might not be as quick or as athletic as the lighter weight divisions, but there’s just something about watching two big goliaths throw down that gets the adrenaline pumping like no other.
In light of the upcoming UFC 119 heavyweight main event between Frank Mir and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, let’s take a look back at the top 15 greatest heavyweights of all time.
Criteria will be based on a combination of championship wins, legendary fights, crowd reaction, and overall career accomplishments.
Nicknamed “The Predator,” Don Frye is one the manliest men to ever put on a pair of gloves. Chuck Norris wets his bed in the middle of the night from having Don Frye nightmares.
Frye transitioned into mixed martial arts after a successful collegiate wrestling career in Arizona State. He was one of the pioneers of the well-rounded style that is dominant in MMA today. Not only was he an accomplished wrestler but he was also a Judo black belt with some professional boxing experience.
Frye won both the UFC 8 and Ultimate Ultimate 96 tournaments defeating notables such as Gary Goodridge and Tank Abbott.
“The Predator” also became a legend in the PRIDE Fighting Championships with memorable battles against Ken Shamrock and Yoshihiro Takayama.
Frye last fought in September of 2009, losing by way of strikes to Dave Herman. He has since retired from the sport at age 44.
Once known as an indestructible Ukrainian wrecking machine, Igor Vovchanchyn was a terrifying heavyweight to trade punches with.
Vovchanchyn has won several tournaments in his MMA career and once went undefeated through 32 consecutive fights. Granted of those 32, the only notable opponent he defeated was a much smaller Kazushi Sakuraba but still, winning 32 straight fights is no easy task.
In 2000, Vovchanchyn made it to the finals of the PRIDE Grand Prix losing to Mark Coleman via submission from knees.
In the early 1990’s, Ken Shamrock truly lived up to the moniker “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.” He began his career as a professional wrestler in Japan and alongside fellow Japanese pro wrestlers Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki formed the shoot fighting promotion known as Pancrase.
Shamrock would become the very first King of Pancrase with submission victories over his mentor Funaki, Matt Hume, and Takaku Fuke. He also successfully defended his title against the legendary Bas Rutten, forcing “El Guapo” into submission.
Shamrock was also the first UFC Superfight champion, defeating Dan Severn to win the vacant belt. During his reign as Superfight champion many considered Shamrock to be the greatest fighter in the entire world.
Unfortunately, Shamrock didn’t evolve with the sport and has lost nine of his last 12 fights.
However, in the early days of MMA Shamrock was clearly one of the best. He will always be remembered for his memorable rivalries with Royce Gracie and Tito Ortiz in the UFC and Don Frye in PRIDE.
Perhaps the most controversial heavyweight on this list, Josh Barnett is the only MMA fighter in history to test positive for anabolic steroids three times in a row.
It is for that reason why he is not ranked higher on this list, and surely there will be an abundance of people who believe he shouldn’t be ranked at all.
However, if we can look past the whole steroid scandal Barnett has beaten some of the best heavyweights in the history of the sport.
Of course some can make the argument that defeating a fighter under the influence of a PED shouldn’t really count but if that were the case, why do juiced up major league baseball players like Barry Bonds receive so much recognition?
The bottom line is, Barnett holds wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Aleksander Emelianenko, Randy Couture and Dan Severn. He’s a former UFC heavyweight champion, a former King of Pancrase and a PRIDE 2006 Openweight Grand Prix finalist.
Granted, he was probably juiced up in all of those fights. Which begs the question, is Barnett really one of the greatest heavyweights of all time or one of the biggest frauds in MMA history? I’ll leave that open for debate.
Fabricio Werdum has always floated around near the top of the heavyweight division but has never really accomplished anything career defining. That was until he dethroned “The Last Emperor,” Fedor Emelianenko, and shocked the world in the process.
Emelianenko has long been considered the pound-for-pound greatest fighter on the planet, yet all it took was a little over a minute for Werdum to submit the Russian with a triangle armbar.
That victory alone solidifies the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt as one of the greatest heavyweights to ever compete in mixed martial arts.
Werdum also holds key victories over Aleksander Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Brandon Vera.
Coldwater, Michigan’s Dan “The Beast” Severn is the epitome of a badass. Even at age 52, Severn still actively competes in MMA on the regional scene and is riding a staggering five-fight win streak.
Maybe the porn-stache gives him immortality?
In his prime, Severn was a truly dominant force in the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. As a four time All-American wrestler out of Arizona State University, Severn was one of the first MMA fighters to utilize an overwhelming wrestling base in the Octagon.
The UFC Hall of Famer has held various championships over the course of his career including the UFC 5 Tournament title, Ultimate Ultimate 95 Tournament title, UFC Superfight title and many others.
The man boasts over 90 career victories in MMA competition and has had memorable battles with some of the greatest fighters of all time including Royce Gracie, Mark Coleman, and Ken Shamrock.
With three losses in a row, it may be difficult to remember that there was once a point in time where Andrei Arlovski was the most feared heavyweight on the planet.
From 2002-2005, “The Pitbull” completely annihilated nearly every foe in his path with a vicious arsenal of striking. Consecutive knockout victories over Ian Freeman, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Wesley “Cabbage” Correira earned Arlovski a heavyweight title shot with Tim Sylvia at UFC 51.
Arlovski submitted Sylvia with an Achilles lock in just under a minute to earn the coveted UFC heavyweight championship. The deadly Belarusian striker defended the crown twice before losing it in the rematch with Sylvia at UFC 59.
“The Pitbull” is nowhere near the top of the heavyweight division in the year 2010, but it would be foolish to deny Arlovski as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.
As the very first UFC heavyweight champion in history, Mark Coleman was also the first to introduce the style of ground and pound to the sport.
In addition to holding the UFC title, Coleman was also a two-time UFC tournament winner and a 2000 PRIDE FC Open-Weight Grand Prix champion.
“The Hammer” has accomplished more over the course of a 14 year career than most heavyweights do in their lifetime.
That being said, consistency has never been a strongpoint of Coleman’s and anytime he faced a top ranked fighter he usually ended up on the losing end.
However, the UFC hall of famer is without a doubt one of the greatest heavyweights to ever step foot inside the Octagon.
Despite a recent loss to Randy Couture at UFC 109, don’t be surprised to see Coleman rack up a few notable wins in smaller shows as he still has the wrestling base to give guys problems—just ask Stephan Bonnar.
Current reigning UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar has risen to the top of the sport faster than any fighter in history.
Whether you love him or hate him, you cannot deny Lesnar’s freakish athletic ability and the unbelievable improvements he has made in just a short period of time.
Here’s a man with only six professional fights to his name and four of his five wins were over Heath Herring, Randy Couture, Frank Mir, and Shane Carwin.
Certain fans will criticize Lesnar for his professional wrestling background, but the bottom line is he’s as real as it gets.
He was one of the top amateur wrestlers in the country back in the year 2000 and now 10 years later he’s on top of the UFC’s heavyweight division.
In the WWE, Lesnar learned how to promote a fight and people can insult him for it all they want but he has brought MMA to the mainstream better than any other heavyweight before him.
If this were a list of the 10 goofiest heavyweights of all time, Tim Sylvia would receive the top billing.
“The Maine-iac” doesn’t exactly come across as the most intelligent guy in the world; in fact, he seems to resemble a humanized version of the blue monster Sully from the film Monsters Inc.
All jokes aside, Sylvia has had one of the most impressive reigns as UFC heavyweight champion in the organizations history. He defeated Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41 to claim his first heavyweight title and he defended the gold once against Gan McGee.
After his first title defense he pulled a Josh Barnett, tested positive for steroids and was stripped of the title.
Sylvia would eventually reclaim the title three years later defeating arch nemesis Andrei Arlovski at UFC 59.
The massive heavyweight ended his reign with two more title defenses besting Arlovski in a rubber match and outpointing Jeff Monson.
If you’re ever in a situation where you suffer a life-threatening injury and feel like all of your dreams have been crushed, look to Frank Mir’s story for motivation to get back up on that horse.
Let’s rewind the clocks back to the year 2004, Mir won the UFC heavyweight championship at UFC 48 snapping Tim Sylvia’s arm in the process.
Then, a severe motorcycle accident left Mir without a championship and according to doctors without a career. Doctors informed Mir, who was lucky to be alive, that he would never fight again which forced UFC President Dana White to vacate the heavyweight title.
Two years later, Mir stepped back into the Octagon a shell of his former self. He was losing to fighters that he ordinarily would have destroyed and he was also battling an addiction.
Mir’s family, most notably his wife Jennifer, snapped Mir back into his old mentality. He started winning fights again, he submitted Brock Lesnar in Lesnar’s UFC debut earning a shot at the interim heavyweight title.
Mir then became the first man to ever knock Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira out to earn the interim heavyweight title.
“Right kick, hospital; left kick, cemetery.”
In terms of highlight reel knockouts and pure excitement, “Cro Cop” has been involved in more memorable fights than you can count on both hands.
In his prime, this Croatian kickboxer was knocking fighters out left from right in the PRIDE Fighting Championships. In September 2006, Filipovic won the PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix with wins over Ikuhisa Minowa, Hidehiko Yoshida, and Wanderlei Silva.
He also holds three wins over Josh Barnett and victories over Igor Vovchanchyn, Mark Coleman, and many other formerly top-ranked heavyweights.
He hasn’t been able to transition his PRIDE dominance into his UFC career but he is currently riding a two-fight win streak.
A win over Frank Mir at UFC 119 would put “Cro Cop” back into title contention.
The legendary career of Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira is one that is filled with championship reigns, insane battles and some of the most memorable moments the sport has ever seen.
Nogueira was the first reigning PRIDE heavyweight champion holding the title from November 2001 to March 2003. In that time period, he defended the crown against Enson Inoue, Bob Sapp, Semmy Schilt and Dan Henderson.
The Sapp fight in particular was extraordinarily memorable as Nogueira was slammed viciously on his head but was able to survive and secure the submission victory.
Nogueira made a career out of Rocky Balboa-esque comebacks and that’s part of the reason why he has become such an icon in this sport.
“Minotauro” jumped into the UFC after the demise of PRIDE and submitted Tim Sylvia to earn the interim UFC heavyweight title before losing it to Frank Mir in his first defense.
Nogueira also holds big wins over Randy Couture, Mirko “Cro Cop” and Josh Barnett.
The story of Randy “The Natural” Couture is a truly remarkable one. Beginning his MMA career at age 34, Couture has been proving naysayers wrong for over 12 years.
The Olympic caliber wrestler won his first UFC heavyweight championship with a victory over Maurice Smith back in 1997. A month after winning the bout Couture vacated the crown due to a contract issue but he eventually reclaimed the gold with a decisive win over Kevin Randleman three years later.
In 2007, Couture came out of retirement requesting a fight with then heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia at UFC 68.
Very few gave Couture a chance but “The Natural” shocked the world completely dominating Sylvia to win back the heavyweight title. If that wasn’t inspirational enough, Couture proved doubters wrong yet again defeating No. 1 contender Gabriel Gonzaga to defend the strap.
Now at age 47, Couture is 3-2 in his last five fights. Those two losses were in the heavyweight division, against Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in competitive fights.
For nearly a decade, “The Last Emperor,” Fedor Emelianenko, has reigned over the heavyweight division like an unstoppable monarch.
Before his shocking loss to Fabricio Werdum, Emelianenko maintained an unbeaten streak (aside from a controversial loss from a cut to Tsuyoshi Kosaka) for nine straight years.
The Russian defeated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2003 to win the PRIDE heavyweight championship, a title he held for three years and never technically lost.
As PRIDE champion, Emelianenko defeated notables such as Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Mirko “Cro Cop,” and Mark Hunt before the organization folded in 2007.
Emelianenko was then signed to upstart promotion Affliction, proceeding to knock out former UFC champions Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski to win the WAMMA heavyweight title.
After the demise of Affliction, Emelianenko opted not to sign with the UFC and went to rival promotion Strikeforce instead. He had a difficult time in his victory over Brett Rogers and was submitted by Werdum.
One loss in nine years is an incredible feat considering the resume of top-ranked opponents Emelianenko has stepped into the ring with. They may not be considered top-ranked now, but they were before Emelianenko defeated them.
Mitch Ciccarelli is the sexiest MMA columnist on the face of the earth. His articles make women take their clothes off and make men smash their laptops into millions of pieces out of pure jealousy. Mitch is a staff writer to both HeavyMMA.com and Bleacher Report.
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