Current UFC Heavyweight Champion: Francis Ngannou

Francis Ngannou won the UFC Heavyweight Title when he defeated Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 on March 27, 2021 by KO. Ngannou opened as a -225 favorite against Stipe (+190), though he lost to Miocic by unanimous decision in their first meeting at UFC 220. The odds narrowed by 16% to close at (-133) Francis Ngannou vs. (+122) Stipe Miocic.

History of the UFC Heavyweight Division

The UFC Heavyweight Division was established way back in 1997. The division’s first champion was Mark Coleman, who beat fellow wrestler Dan Severn at UFC 12. Since then, there have been a further 21 UFC Heavyweight champions and 6 interim champions, the most of any weight class in the UFC.

True legends of the sport have held the title, including Randy Couture, Cain Velasquez, Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier.

In a division full of power, holding on to the belt has proven difficult. Stipe Miocic holds the record for most consecutive defences as Heavyweight champion (3), the fewest across all UFC weight classes.

The current champion is Francis Ngannou, who dethroned Miocic at UFC 260 with a vicious Round 2 knockout. Ngannou is set to fight interim champion, Ciryl Gane, at UFC 270 on January 22nd, 2022.

The first-ever UFC weight classes

After public backlash concerning the violent nature of its events (groin strikes and headbutts were legal), the UFC agreed to reform the sport with the introduction of weight classes and stricter rules in 1997. Initially, the UFC introduced a Heavyweight Division (200 lbs and up) and a Lightweight Division (below 199 lbs), later renamed to Middleweight.

The first-ever weight class championship was on the line at UFC 12, with wrestlers Mark Coleman and Dan Severn facing off. Coleman submitted Severn in Round 1 to go down in history as the first UFC Heavyweight champion.

At UFC 14, kickboxer Maurice Smith beat Coleman and later became the first fighter to successfully defend the belt at UFC 15. Randy Couture claimed the first of three title triumphs at UFC Japan a few months later, before Bas Rutten and Kevin Randleman each got their hands on the belt.

Two-time champion

Randy Couture became the UFC’s first-ever two-time champion by defeating Kevin Randleman at UFC 28. He was also the first to defend the belt twice with two consecutive victories over Pedro Rizzo.

The belt changed hands multiple times over the next few years, with Josh Barnett, Ricco Rodriguez, Tim Sylvia and Frank Mir winning the title between 2002-2004. With Mir recovering from a broken femur after a motorcycle accident, Andrei Arlovski won the interim title at UFC 51 and was later promoted to champion after Mir was stripped.

Tim Sylvia, having lost his last two attempts at the title, beat Arlovski in their rematch and successfully defended the belt in their trilogy fight. However, he was beaten by three-time champion Randy Couture in his next defence at UFC 68.

Enter Brock Lesnar

In a move that caused significant controversy and debate, the UFC gave WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar (2-1) a title shot against a returning Randy Couture. Silencing the critics, Lesnar knocked out Couture in the second round to claim the title.

He successfully defended the belt twice, finishing Frank Mir and Shane Carwin. However, his third defence against Cain Velasquez (8-0) proved unsuccessful, with Velasquez surviving Lesnar’s early blitz and pushing the pace for a late Round 1 TKO.

Velasquez would lose his first defence against Junior dos Santos by KO in just over a minute. However, he avenged his defeat at UFC 155 with a dominant five-round decision and defended the belt twice against ‘Bigfoot’ Silva and a trilogy fight with dos Santos.

Werdum with the upset

Cain Velasquez entered his third title defence against Brazilian Fabricio Werdum as a heavy -450 favorite. A jiu-jitsu world champion, Werdum was also a dangerous striker and had Velasquez hurt towards the end of Round 2. In the third, as Velasquez shot for a takedown, Werdum locked in a nasty guillotine and forced the tap.

After a rematch with Velasquez fell through due to injury, Werdum’s first title defence would be in his native Brazil at UFC 198. The challenger, Stipe Miocic, was 8-2 in the UFC, with 5 wins coming by knockout. Miocic knocked out Werdum with a fade right hook in Round 1 and started his reign as the UFC’s most successful heavyweight champion.

The UFC’s greatest heavyweight

Stipe Miocic squared off against veteran striker Alistair Overeem at UFC 203 in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. In an exciting, back-and-forth striking match, both men got rocked before Miocic managed to secure a takedown and knockout Overeem via ground and pound. 

Next up for Miocic was a rematch against former champion, Junior dos Santos. Miocic finished the right via TKO in Round 1 and avenged his loss from their first fight. Stipe’s next defence against rising phenom Francis Ngannou saw him enter the fight as the slight underdog. 

Ngannou entered with a 6-0 record in the UFC, all by stoppage. Utilizing his grappling game, Miocic nullified the unprecedented knockout power of Ngannou and sealed a dominant unanimous decision victory. In doing so, he broke the record for most consecutive UFC Heavyweight title defences.

Daniel ‘Double Champ’ Cormier

UFC Light-Heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier, went up a weight to challenge Stipe Miocic in a superfight. The headliner of UFC 226 would be the first of an epic trilogy between the two. Wrapping Miocic up in a clinch, Cormier landed a flush right hand on the chin and finished the fight with ground strikes.

Daniel ‘DC’ Cormier, a former Strikeforce Heavyweight champion, became the second-ever double-champ in UFC history. However, Miocic would exact his revenge in their rematch at UFC 241 a year later. After several liver shots began to wear on Cormier, Miocic dropped him and secured a TKO victory to reclaim his belt.

Their trilogy fight was arranged almost exactly a year later at UFC 250. Stipe grew as the fight went on, dominating the striking and clinch exchanges to win by unanimous decision. Cormier retired after the fight and Stipe was all set to defend the belt for a second time against Francis Ngannou.

The first African Heavyweight champion

Francis Ngannou had come up short in his first shot at the belt vs. Miocic at UFC 220. After securing four first-round KO victories with a combined fight time of 162 seconds, he was given a second shot at UFC 260.

With an improved all-around game, Ngannou negated Stipe’s grappling and knocked him out cold with a lead hook in Round 2. He became the 22nd UFC Heavyweight and first African-born champion.

Ngannou will fight interim champion and former training partner, Cyril Gane, at UFC 270.

UFC Heavyweight Rankings

Fighter Pro Record Last 5 Next fight
C Francis "The Predator" N'Gannou 16-3
Ciryl Gane (2022-01-22)
IC Ciryl "Bon Gamin" Gane 10-0
Francis N'Gannou (2022-01-22)
2 Stipe Miocic 20-4
3 Derrick "The Black Beast" Lewis 25-8-1 NC
Chris Daukaus (2021-12-18)
4 Curtis "Razor" Blaydes 15-3-1 NC
5 Alexander "Drago" Volkov 34-9
6 Jairzinho "Bigi Boy" Rozenstruik 12-3
7 Chris Daukaus 12-3
Derrick Lewis (2021-12-18)
8 Shamil "Abrek" Abdurakhimov 20-6
Tom Aspinall (2022-03-19)
9 Marcin "Tybur" Tybura 22-7
10 (T) Tom Aspinall 11-2
Shamil Abdurakhimov (2022-03-19)
10 (T) Augusto Sakai 15-3-1
Tai Tuivasa (2021-12-11)
12 Blagoy "Baga" Ivanov 18-4-1 NC
13 Walt "The Big Ticket" Harris 13-10-1 NC
14 Sergey Pavlovich 14-1
15 Sergey "Polar Bear" Spivak 13-3

Michael is a lifelong fight fan and martial artist. He has been in the MMA world for over a decade as an athlete and analyst. A consummate student of the game, Michael lives and breathes fight sports.