So many fighters have graced the coveted UFC octagon, but few who enter will ever eventually be considered great.
Many come to find even achieving something such as a ranking is an almost in-human task, given the elite competition to be found within the promotion. Even fewer could be considered great in the historically brutal heavyweight division though, and such is the topic of today.
We’re breaking down the 12 greatest MMA heavyweights of all time, with set criteria giving you the details why they’re ranked as is. What is the criteria for determining greatness? It’s honestly so tricky to define such a thing, as greatness can be interpreted so many ways by people. It could be the employee who remains ever-so punctual and does their job near perfect every day. Or it could be Lebron James, Tom Brady, or even Artem Lobov. Greatness itself is like an enigma. What really is it? Well, let’s break it down. At least in terms of defining greatness for this article goes.
So what will define greatness, and specifically the greatness of our soon to be mentioned heavyweights? First, we could say winning should play a major factor. After all, isn’t that the most important part of prizefighting? However, just winning itself won’t be the entire metric.
It’s most important to ask things such as: who did the fighter beat? How many title fights did they win? What’s the highest amount of wins in a row they managed to achieve (within the UFC)? And maybe the most important: how did they win? Such as a boring decision will tip the scales slightly in their favor while putting on terrifying knockouts or insane submissions would more so do that.
As such, winning will be one thing we take into account. Another would be longevity within the division. Any fighter can stand dominant , but whether that’s for one night or 10 years would make a big difference.
Lastly, such as one of the factors that made a seemingly mystical figure like Michael Jordan come to life: what type of aura do they have? Weird maybe, but think about it. This is one of the things people claim makes Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time when someone like a Bill Russell could be seen as the better due to overall titles/rings won.
Best MMA Heavyweight Fighters:
12. Fabricio Werdum (24-9-1)
We couldn’t have a list like this without mentioning Fabricio Werdum. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu virtuoso, he burst onto the MMA scene and soon found himself in the world’s premier fight organization. After rattling off two KO/TKO finishes though, he soon found adversity in losing to another legend: Junior Dos Santos at UFC 90. Werdum would succumb to defeat via a first-round KO/TKO finish and despite his two previous wins, was cut by the UFC in 2008.
What would soon come would be a resurgence? Werdum was going to make it clear this was a drastic mistake, and he did. He started fighting in Strikeforce, a company the UFC would soon later absorb. Notable wins from this terrific tear include a decision over Antonio Silva, and a legendary upset over Fedor Emelianenko via triangle-arm-bar.
Werdum was going to prove the doubters wrong, and he did so along the road to a title shot. There were some bumps along the way, but isn’t adversity a prime factor in creating greatness, as history shows? In 2015, “Vai Cavalo” would face Cain Velasquez for a heavyweight title, and finish him via submission too. As if that wasn’t already impressive, Werdum still fights, and he departed ways with the UFC on another submission victory, over the man some say beat Jon Jones: Alexander Gustafsson.
11. Mark Coleman (16-10)
The grandfather of ground and pound Mark Coleman revolutionized the game, pioneering a style that is still extremely dominant within MMA today. He showed just how potent great wrestling and strength is, making history along the way.
“The Hammer” began his martial arts career at 31, going 6-0 to start off. He was the winner of the UFC 10 and 11 tournaments, not to mention having the honor of being the first UFC heavyweight champion ever. Coleman defeated fellow Hall of Famer Don Frye to earn the strap and stayed fighting for three decades afterward.
10. Alistair Overeem (47-19 1NC)
A phenom in the heavyweight division since his kickboxing days, Alistair Overeem is an important figure in the storied history of the sport. Through Pride, Strikeforce, Dream, and so many more promotions we’ve seen Overeem dominate and blossom.
From battles with Chuck Liddell to Brock Lesnar, “The Demolition Man” has faced almost every big name and ruthless adversary the division has to offer. While falling short of the ultimate goal of winning a coveted UFC title, the magnificence of Overeem’s career alone and the memories he’s made more than earn his spot on this list.
9. Francis Ngannou (16-3)
A truly terrifying spectacle to behold, Francis Ngannou has made a career off of ending the consciousness of his opponents. Truly embodying the “how you win” aspect of our ranking system, “The Predator” has finished every single one of his UFC fights that haven’t gone to a decision, including 10 KO/TKO’s and a single submission victory.
With some of the gnarliest knockouts on his highlight reel, Ngannou kind of personifies the perfect heavyweight. While not being the most technical, the chiseled out of stone appearance, truly inspiring backstory (definitely worth the research), and fighting style make for a man who seems almost movie-like.
Currently the present UFC heavyweight champion, “The Predator” defeated Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 to claim his first title. Ngannou hopes to defend the belt on the 22nd of this month and defeat his former training partner Ciryl Gane.
8. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (38-11-2 1NC)
A head-kicking assassin, Mirko Filipovic had a long storied career that involved successful stints in K-1 Kickboxing, Pride FC, the UFC, and more.
“Cro Cop” has experienced his fair share of ups and downs. He’s been on the right and wrong side of gruesome knockout finishes. There’s little Filipovic didn’t get to experience during his career, and he did it all with the same ice-cold demeanor that he’s now become synonymous for.
Unfortunately, after going on a 10 fight winning streak, Filipovic was forced to retire after suffering a stroke in 2019.
7. Daniel Cormier (22-3)
Casual fans would see DC’s name on this list and think he’s more of a light heavyweight GOAT, however Daniel Cormier’s greatness extends into the 265lbs division as well.
Cormier’s heavyweight journey really hit its stride when he was granted a chance to face Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva as an alternate in the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix. In classic fashion, DC would slay “Bigfoot” with a first round knockout and advance to the finals to face Josh Barnett.
Few would have expected it, but Cormier dominated Barnett and after another win at heavyweight over Dion Staring, began his UFC career with an impressive 11-0 record.
You all know the rest. The legendary rivalry with Jon Jones at light heavyweight, the failed attempts to capture the belt, and finally: victorious. Cormier finally got his light heavyweight championship and moved up to face Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title, starting another prominent rivalry that’ll undoubtedly go down in history forever.
DC knocked out Miocic in their first battle and became “champ champ”, cementing his spot on this list. And even though he’d emerge the loser from the trilogy, his “never give up” spirit and the quality of that trilogy itself only cements his spot even further.
6. Junior Dos Santos (21-9)
A beloved icon of the heavyweight division, Junior Dos Santos has kind of watered down his legacy with his recent performances. However, it’s important not to forget what he accomplished during his career.
“Cigano” has given us some of the greatest heavyweight battles of our time. The trilogy with Cain Velasquez will forever be legendary, and he’s knocked out some of the biggest superstars of our era including people on this list like Fabricio Werdum, and some even ahead of him on the list!
5. Cain Velasquez (14-3)
While he didn’t have as numerous fights or wins as some on the list, Cain Velasquez has earned his spot through pure savagery. Garnering virtually all of his pro experience in the UFC, Velasquez has impressive wins over some of the legends of the division, and is a big part of it’s history.
A brilliant all-around MMA fighter, Velasquez utilized a smothering grappling approach to free up opportunities for devastating ground and pound. He was deadly on the feet, ground, and wherever the fight would go. For that, and the manner in which he won his fights and the quality of them, he’s number four on our list.
4. Randy Couture (19-11)
“The Natural” Randy Couture is an old-school MMA legend who got a late start on what would become a storied career. Couture defied father time,, he began his career late into his thirties and would regularly dispatch opponents almost half his age.
A grappling monster, “The Natural” utilizes devastating ground and pound and clinch work to annihilate opponents. He’s a 3x heavyweight champion who’s won six heavyweight title fights. A record-setter, Couture has written the book and elevated the game forever, and for that: we can only say thank you.
3. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (34-10-1)
One of the most dominant fighters in heavyweight history, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was a nightmare for his opponents in Pride FC. “Minotauro” defeated notable names such as Dan Henderson, Mirko Filipovic, and competed in three chaotic wars with Fedor Emelianenko.
“Big Nog” is an icon within the realm of the 265lbs division. He personified the “never say die” attitude with his ability to take gruesome damage and keep fighting. He’s also considered to have one of the best guards in the heavyweight division and his grappling specifically was something to behold. Due to wins, excitement, and overall heart, “Minotauro” deserves our number three spot at the very least.
2. Stipe Miocic (20-4)
Where to begin? Stipe Miocic is an unassuming guy out of Ohio, who almost radiates normality. Then you see him fight, and realize he could maybe just be the most dangerous heavyweight ever (besides Ngannou with the ferocious power).
Miocic launched his UFC career with a decision win over Joey Beltran and several finishes via KO/TKO. It would be hard to tell at that time, but Miocic would go on to slay a legends row of competition. Finishing the likes of Alistair Overeem, Andrei Arlovski, Junior Dos Santos, and Fabricio Werdum, Miocic has also set the record for most heavyweight title defenses (3), and his trilogy with Daniel Cormier has to go down as one of the most thrilling in UFC history. What’s most impressive is our Ohioan’s story is still incomplete. There’s a trilogy waiting to happen with Ngannou, or even a fresh face to fight in Ciryk Gane. Miocic could elevate himself even further with his UFC success and likely will end his career with an introduction into the Hall of Fame.
1. Fedor Emelianenko (40-6)
Fedor Emelianenko, the name inspires awe among MMA fans “The Last Emperor” is widely considered the greatest heavyweight of all time, for good reason.
Imagine a man who isn’t human. He’s a robot or at least seems very likely to be. There’s no emotion with Emelianenko. It’s all an icy persona that just radiates “I will maul you”. Then, you look at the resume.
It’s the 21 years of dominance. It’s the way he wins, the way he carries himself. “The Last Emperor” might just be the Michael Jordan of MMA. There’s really no comparison that comes close enough to the aura he gives off. The man isn’t unbeatable, but when you see the scale of competition you realize he’s really faced the best to ever do it and almost beaten them all.
We could go on for hours. There can be seminars about his history, entire books written just about his legacy. “The Last Emperor” is a special breed. He’s one of those humans that seems so great at what he does that it’s almost like he even isn’t real.
Emelianenko has beaten the best fighters great organizations could give him. Pride FC, Strikeforce, the ever-so-storied brand Affliction, DREAM, Bellator, and more. He’s done it all within the sport, and he should be considered the greatest heavyweight of all time simply because he’s earned it!