Jon Jones returns to action this weekend after more than a three-year layoff to challenge for the vacant UFC Heavyweight Championship against Ciryl Gane. As it's a massively significant bout in the Heavyweight division, it's a great time to look back at the top ten biggest Heavyweight title fights in the UFC's thirty-year history.
There have been 48 Heavyweight title fights in UFC history, and we start this list off with Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou 1. The first pay-per-view of 2018 saw reining champion Stipe Miocic attempt to make his third consecutive title defense against rising star Francis Ngannou. Miocic had already defended the title twice against Alistair Overeem and Junior Dos Santos. He tied the record for consecutive defenses alongside Randy Couture, who set it in the year 2000, but looked to further his legacy as the GOAT of the Heavyweight division. However, to many fans, the task ahead of him seemed too challenging. Ngannou was tearing through all of his opposition in the UFC, claiming devastating knockout victories over Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski and a doctors stoppage vs. Curtis Blaydes. Despite being the champion, Miocic entered the fight as an underdog, with media and fans predicting another highlight reel KO for "The Predator" Ngannou. The first round was one of the tensest experiences fans have felt, as Ngannou came out with bad intentions, swinging huge shots at Miocic as he ducked and slipped them against the cage while trying to capitalize with counterstrikes and his wrestling.
After the first round, Ngannou slowed down heavily, allowing Miocic to cruise to an easy unanimous decision. This victory made Miocic the only Heavyweight Champion ever to achieve three consecutive title defenses, a record which he solely claims to this day.
Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane may be a controversial pick for this list because there were no records broken or huge PPV numbers, but let's dive into it. The reigning champion Ngannou had already been out for nearly a year and was receiving critique for being an inactive champion. Furthermore, he was having contractual disputes with UFC president Dana White, arguing for increased fighter pay, healthcare, and sponsorships, which White was not accepting. Meanwhile, Gane had been tearing through the Heavyweight division as an undefeated prospect and former Muay Thai fighter, capturing the interim Heavyweight gold during Ngannous's absence. Many fans saw this as a changing of the guard opportunity, with Gane's speed and striking technique being too much to handle for the champion. The fight began with Gane confidently kickboxing on the back foot, rarely getting touched by Ngannou. Going into the third, Ngannou was two rounds down and needed a comeback. During the third, after catching a teep kick, he slammed Gane onto the mat and started to use his wrestling.
He would secure 4/5 of his takedowns across rounds three, four, and five, securing control time and the rounds. He also reversed position on Gane and survived a heel hook attempt in the dying minutes of round five. With this monstrous effort, Ngannou successfully defended the Heavyweight title, winning the first decision of his career. This fight would prove many people wrong about Ngannou and give him a bargaining chip over Dana White as the reigning champion of one of the UFC's most illustrious divisions.
Our next entry takes us back to December 29, 2012, for Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez 2. Junior Dos Santos had just shaken up the Heavyweight division, knocking out Cain Velasquez in the first round of their title bout, a huge upset. The Heavyweight division is notorious for not having long-reigning champions. Many people expected Dos Santos to dispatch his rival once more, with Velasquez coming in as the biggest underdog of his career. At the time, Dos Santos and Velasquez were considered two of the best Heavyweights in the UFC, and the rematch was set to prove which man was the best. If Velasquez won, he would become just the third Heavyweight to capture the title twice, joining Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia. The fight would be an unbelievable performance from the challenger, dominantly showing why fans call him "Cardio" Cain. After a close start in the first round, Dos Santos would visibly slow down and be shocked when Velasquez landed a huge right hand which sent him crashing to the canvas. After the first round, the rest of the fight would see Velasquez utilize his wrestling, grappling, and cardio to complete one of the most dominant performances we've seen inside the octagon.
The fight would be scored 50-45, 50-44, and 50-43, favoring Velasquez, who joined a small company of champions to claim the title twice.
One of the UFCs landmark events, UFC 100, was headlined by two fighters who had a severe grudge to settle: Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir 2. Mir had spoiled the octagon debut of Lesnar, securing a kneebar in the first round to hand him his first professional defeat. Lesnar, now the reigning Heavyweight champion, had revenge on his mind heading into the bout. It was highly evident in the buildup that both fighters had animosity toward each other, which would boil over before and after the fight. When the introductions began, the octagon looked more like a boxing ring, with security guards around both fighters. Then, after a refused glove touch from Lesnar, the bout would begin.
Mir would look for submissions off his back in the first round but would be unsuccessful and eat ground-and-pound strikes from Lesnar. In the second, the champion would be rocked by a knee and a follow-up flying knee. However, this allowed Lesnar to secure top position, and he would rain down forceful strikes on Mir, stopping the fight midway through the second round. Lesnar celebrated before screaming in Mir's face and flipping off the crowd, creating one of the craziest scenes inside the octagon. Nevertheless, it was a defining moment for the Heavyweight division and, on a broader spectrum, was a historic night for the one-hundredth UFC pay-per-view.
The only undisputed Heavyweight title fight of 2021 was Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou 2. In our number 10 entry, we discussed how Miocic overcame the odds against Ngannou, but it was a different story this time. Since his loss to Miocic, Ngannou had built a four-fight winning streak, all coming via KO. He blasted through Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, finishing all of them in under two minutes. Meanwhile, Miocic partook in a legendary trilogy against Daniel Cormier, coming out victorious, two wins against one. Both fighters had evolved since their last bout, but the main question fans had was if Ngannou could withstand the wrestling of Miocic to keep the fight standing. Fans were treated to this answer early; after Miocic shot for a takedown, Ngannou defended it, sprawled, and managed to land ground and pound strikes, hurting the champion. Later in the second round, Ngannou knocked down Miocic and finished the fight with a massive left hook.
This fight was massive for the division, as it began a new era for the Heavyweights, being the first time in over four and a half years that the champion was not Stipe Miocic or Daniel Cormier.
While it's difficult to pinpoint precisely where Mark Coleman vs. Dan Severn should go on this list, it deserves to be here. The first-ever Heavyweight title fight was held on February 7, 1997, and had an attendance of just 3,100. This event was also the first event to include beloved commentator Joe Rogan. Coleman had previously won the UFC 10 and UFC 11 tournaments, and Severn was the current UFC Superfight Champion, claiming it by defeating Ken Shamrock by a split decision. The fight was not long, with both men feeling each other out in the opening minutes before Coleman secured a takedown. From here, Severn would be helpless to Colemans' top pressure and succumb to a scarf-hold submission.
This victory made Coleman the first-ever UFC Heavyweight Champion, starting one of the most popular divisions inside the UFC, and sprung many famous future champions.
WWE superstar Brock Lesnar challenged for the Heavyweight title at UFC 91: Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar. Although he was just 1-1 in his UFC career, Lesnar's victory over Heath Herring led him to a title fight against 3x Heavyweight champion Randy Couture. The title shot was controversial then, with Lesnar already suffering a defeat to contender Frank Mir. Still, others argued the lack of depth in the Heavyweight division made the fight justifiable. Couture was on his third reign over the Heavyweight division, already having a successful title defense against Gabriel Gonzaga. The fight would see both men try to prove themselves to be the superior wrestler, snatching takedowns on each other and landing ground-and-pound strikes. However, Lesnar would be the better striker on the feet, using his sheer size and power advantage to hurt Couture. After a competitive first round, Lesnar would drop Couture with a heavy right hand, finishing the fight with strikes on the mat.
The crowd erupted, cheering and booing for the highly controversial champion, but it couldn't be denied that he was one of the biggest draws in the sport. This was further proven when the PPV sales for UFC 91 were released, being the first-ever UFC event to break one million buys, an incredibly historical landmark for the company.
The third spot in our list takes us back to March 3, 2007, for Tim Sylvia vs. Randy Couture. "The Natural" Couture was a year deep into retirement when he announced that he would be challenging for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. At this point, Couture was a true veteran of title fights, being 9-6 across them. However, the main question heading into the bout wasn't his skillset or his determination but his age. Couture would be forty-three years old heading into the bout, and at this point, no fighter even close to that age was still a champion, let alone able to capture the title. But, when the fight came around, the fans were shocked. Couture's first punch in the fight dropped Sylvia, and the challenger dominated the rest of the round. The next four rounds saw Couture succeed with his wrestling, easily taking down the champion, even outstriking him on the feet during round three. At the end of the fight, he'd earnt a clear unanimous decision, 50-45 across all the judge's scorecards.
Couture's third reign as the Heavyweight champion and fifth overall title reign had just begun, making him the only fighter to win a UFC title five separate times, the only UFC fighter to win a title three times in the same division, and the oldest UFC champion in history. History was made in so many ways with just one victory.
One of the greatest super-fights in UFC history is Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier. The reigning Light-Heavyweight Champion, Daniel "DC" Cormier, moved to Heavyweight to challenge Stipe Miocic for his Heavyweight title. This bout was massive for both fighters, with Cormier attempting to become just the second double-champ in UFC history, the first being Conor McGregor. Miocic was also looking to improve the record of most consecutive Heavyweight title defenses to four, making him the only champion to ever do so at Heavyweight. Both men were considered two of the greatest fighters in their divisions, and the bout winner was likely to top the pound-for-pound list. To say there was a lot on the line for both fighters would be an understatement. The fight would see Cormier try and navigate the vast height and reach disparity, with Miocic having a five-inch height and eight-inch reach advantage. Both men would catch each other on the feet with their sharp striking, but Cormier won more of the exchanges. With forty seconds left in round one, Cormier landed a short right hook on the chin of Miocic inside the clinch and followed up with ground-and-pound strikes, knocking the champion out cold.
Cormier was the first ever Light-Heavyweight and Heavyweight simultaneous champion, cementing himself in the history books alongside Conor Mcgregor, and later joined by Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo. It would also spark the greatest Heavyweight trilogy of all time and one of the best trilogies the UFC has seen.
The biggest Heavyweight Title fight of all time was for legacy, status, dreams, and the honor of being the UFC Heavyweight GOAT. This fight was Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier 3. The two Heavyweights were 1-1 in their rivalry, with Cormier claiming a first-round stoppage in their first bout at UFC 226. Despite dominating a large portion of their rematch, Miocic rallied back to secure a fourth-round TKO at UFC 241 to reclaim his lost title. Heading into this fight, Cormier had already announced this was his final fight as a martial artist and was looking to leave on top of the division as the champion. The consensus heading into the fight was that whoever won would earn the honor of the UFC Heavyweight GOAT; with both men holding many accolades already, it was irrefutable that whoever won the historic trilogy would go down in history. The fight itself was the most competitive fight of the trilogy, with both men finding success in their striking. Miocic's most vital round would come in the second, dropping "DC" in the closing seconds with a solid right hook. Cormier would suffer a horrendous eye poke in the third round, which went unanswered by referee Marc Goddard, and the fight continued.
At the end of the fight, the sentiment was that Miocic had secured the second and third rounds unanimously, whereas rounds one, four, and five were closely contested. After one of the greatest Heavyweight fights of all time, Miocic would win via unanimous decision, cementing himself as the Heavyweight GOAT of the UFC. Cormier also stuck true to his pre-fight ideals, retiring as the #1 ranked Heavyweight contender in his post-fight interview, truly making this the biggest Heavyweight title fight ever.
Stipe Miocic Keeps the Title Reign Alive
A back-and-forth bout between two top Heavyweights was Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem. The champion, Miocic, was looking to make the second title defense of his Heavyweight crown, but Overeem was looking to spoil the champion's return to his hometown, Ohio. The challenger would drop Miocic early with a heavy shot but attempted a guillotine choke instead of following up with strikes. This moment allowed the Ohioan to recover and return to his feet, where he would secure a takedown and smash Overeem on the ground en route to a first-round KO victory.
Brock Lesnar Goes to War With Shane Carwin
One of the craziest fights we've seen inside the UFC octagon is Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin. Carwin would give Lesnar hell in the first round, out striking him forty strikes to just eight and knocking him down. Many referees would've stopped the beatdown in the first round. However, the fight continued into the second, where Lesnar quickly took down a gassed Carwin and submitted him with an arm-triangle choke. This fight would be just the second UFC PPV to break 1 million buys, with the first featuring Lesnar, and to this day is one of the greatest comebacks we've seen inside the octagon.
Stipe Miocic Rallies for Comeback of The Year
We talked about their first and third fight, but let's also give some love to the second. Miocic had one shot to prove that he was the greatest Heavyweight in the world at UFC 241: Cormier vs. Miocic 2. One of the scorecards had Miocic three rounds down heading into the fourth. But the Heavyweight GOAT utilized punishing body strikes to slow down the champion Cormier and finished the fight via TKO late into round four. This victory made him the two-time UFC Heavyweight champion, setting up their phenomenal trilogy fight.
Jones vs. Gane has full potential to make a significant mark on this list, depending on how things play out at UFC 285. If Jon Jones becomes a champion of two weight classes, it'd be difficult to argue against a spot for him on this list. Though equally speaking, if Gane can hand Jones his first proper loss, that would also earn him a placement on this list. Either way, UFC 285 will be a night of legacy to see who becomes the new ruler of the Heavyweight division. As a member of the Verdict Community, let us know your thoughts on the list and prediction for the fight in the comments below.