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UFC Heavyweight Title: Current holder, previous winners, history and lineage

Way back when the UFC was founded, there were no weight divisions, no titles, and virtually no rules.

Events were tournaments in which a winner on the night would be crowned the Ultimate Fighting Champion.

Over the years, weight classes became more defined, with an initial Superfight Championship being contested at UFC 6, before it was unified with the UFC 11 tournament winner to create the UFC heavyweight championship.

Current UFC heavyweight champion

Jon Jones is the current UFC heavyweight champion.

Making his heavyweight debut at UFC 295, Jones returned from nearly three years out of the Octagon, beating Ciryl Gane by first-round submission.

Jones was set to defend his title against Stipe Miocic at UFC 295 on 11th November 2023, but was forced to pull out due to a severe pectoral injury that will keep him out of action for the next year.

Miocic declined fighting for an interim title, so a fight was made between Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich, with the Englishman winning by KO in the first round.

It is hoped that a unification fight between Jones and Aspinall can take place later in 2024.

How many UFC heavyweight champions have there been?

In total, 23 different fighters have been UFC heavyweight champions (including interim champions).

Excluding interim champions, there have been 20 UFC heavyweight champions.

Previous UFC heavyweight champions

The UFC Superfight Championship (first won by Ken Shamrock, then by Dan Severn) was unified with the UFC 11 tournament winner (Mark Coleman) to determine the inaugural UFC heavyweight champion.

Coleman beat Severn at UFC 12 to become the first UFC heavyweight champion. Here is a full list of UFC heavyweight champions:

  • Mark Coleman (February 1997-July 1997)
  • Maurice Smith (July 1997-December 1997; one defence)
  • Randy Couture (December 1997-January 1998; stripped)
  • Bas Rutten (May 1999-June 1999; vacated)
  • Kevin Randleman (November 1999; November 2000; one defence)
  • Randy Couture (November 2000-March 2002; two defences)
  • Josh Barnett (March 2002-July 2002; stripped)
  • Ricco Rodriguez (September 2002-February 2003)
  • Tim Sylvia (February 2003-October 2003; one defence, stripped)
  • Frank Mir (June 2004-August 2005; stripped)
  • Andrei Arlovski (February 2005-August 2005; interim, one defence)
  • Andrei Arlovski (August 2005-April 2006; one defence)
  • Tim Sylvia (April 2006-March 2007; two defences)
  • Randy Couture (March 2007-November 2008; one defence)
  • Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (February 2008-December 2008; interim)
  • Brock Lesnar (November 2008-October 2010; two defences)
  • Frank Mir (December 2008-March 2010; interim)
  • Shane Carwin (March 2010- October 2010; interim)
  • Cain Velasquez (October 2010-November 2011)
  • Junior dos Santos (November 2011-December 2012; one defence)
  • Cain Velasquez (December 2012-June 2015; two defences)
  • Fabricio Werdum (November 2014- June 2015; interim)
  • Fabricio Werdum (June 2015-May 2016)
  • Stipe Miocic (May 2016-July 2018; three defences)
  • Daniel Cormier (July 2018-August 2019; one defence)
  • Stipe Miocic (August 2019-March 2021; one defence)
  • Francis Ngannou (March 2021-January 2023; one defence, stripped)
  • Ciryl Gane (August 2021-January 2022; interim)
  • Jon Jones (March 2023-present)
  • Tom Aspinall (November 2023-present; interim)

UFC heavyweight title number one contender

The heavyweight division doesn’t have a number one contender, but with Tom Aspinall being the interim title holder, he should be next in line to fight Jon Jones.   Should Jones not recover in time, it’s possible that Ciryl Gane fights Aspinall for the interim title.

History of the UFC heavyweight division

The early UFC events were straightforward knockout tournaments, with the winner being crowned on the night. There were no weight classes, and anyone could fight anyone.

As fighter profiles grew, Ken Shamrock, one of the pioneers of the sport, fought arguably mixed martial arts’ greatest pioneer in Royce Gracie for the inaugural UFC Superfight Championship in April 1995.

The fight was hugely underwhelming, and with no judges and seemingly no winner in sight, the fight was declared a draw.

Shamrock beat Severn for the title a few months later by submission, with Severn getting his revenge the following year.

UFC 11 tournament champion Mark Coleman would then take on Severn for the inaugural UFC heavyweight championship in September 1996.

Coleman won but would lose to Maurice Smith in his first title defence. Smith would make one successful defence against Tank Abbott, before losing to Randy Couture.

Couture would have his title stripped when leaving the UFC to fight in Japan in the late 90s, with Bas Rutten taking the vacant title in May 1999.

Rutten dropped down to light heavyweight, vacating the heavyweight belt, with Kevin Randleman (who lost to Rutten earlier that year), beating Pete Williams and successfully defending against Pedro Rizzo.

Upon his return to the UFC, Couture reclaimed the title in November 2000, beating Randleman and making two defences against Rizzo before losing to Josh Barnett.

After failing a drug test, Barnett was stripped of the title in July 2002, with Ricco Rodriguez beating Couture for the vacant title and Tim Sylvia beating Rodriguez to become champion.

Sylvia was then stripped of the title having failed a drug test, and lost to Frank Mir for the vacant crown in June 2004.

With Mir suffering long-term injuries following a motorcycle accident, Andrei Arlovski fought for the interim title, beating Sylvia and then defending against Justin Eilers.

With Mir’s recovery taking longer than planned, Arlovski was promoted to undisputed champion in Augusta 2005, and beat Paul Buentello in his first full title defence.

Sylvia beat Arlovski in their rematch in April 2006, winning the trilogy fight the following July and defending again against Jeff Monson, but lost to Couture, who became the UFC’s first three-time champion.

Couture would defend against Gabriel Gonzaga in August 2007, but another contract dispute from Couture saw him leave the UFC again, vacating his title in October 2007. Dana White however insisted Couture’s contract still stood and that he remained UFC champion.

With no agreement in place between the two parties, Nogueira beat Sylvia for the interim title in February 2008.

Then came Brock Lesnar…

The arrival of Lesnar meant title fights weren’t as clear cut as previously. Couture was still the official champion, while Nogueira was the interim champion.

Rather than getting Couture to unify against Nogueira, Lesnar leapfrogged the division with a 2-1 professional record to fight for the title (which he won in November 2008), while Nogueira would defend against Mir.

Mir took the interim belt in December 2008, and the division was unified in July 2009 when Lesnar beat Mir.

However, when Lesnar spent a year out of the Octagon recovering from illness, Shane Carwin fought Mir for the interim title in March 2010.

Lesnar then returned in July 2010 to fight Carwin, unifying the division once more.

In October that year, Cain Velasquez beat Lesnar for the title, losing to Junior dos Santos in November 2011.

Dos Santos beat Mir in May 2012, with Velasquez reclaiming the title, beating Dos Santos in December 2012.

Velasquez defended against Antonio Silva in May 2013, beating Dos Santos in the trilogy fight in October 2013.

Velasquez was set to defend against Fabricio Werdum, but after suffering a knee injury, Mark Hunt fought Werdum for the interim title. Upon his return from injury, Velasquez fought new interim champion Werdum, with Werdum winning to unify the division.

Stipe Miocic then beat Werdum in August 2019, and became the first man in UFC history to make three successive heavyweight title defences, beating Alistair Overeem, Dos Santos and Francis Ngannou, before Daniel Cormier stepped up from light heavyweight to beat Miocic in July 2018.

Cormier beat Derrick Lewis in his first and only title defence, before Miocic beat Cormier in August 2019, defending the title in their trilogy fight 12 months later.

Ngannou, in his second heavyweight title fight, beat Miocic in March 2021, but with Ngannou declaring himself unable to make a scheduled title fight date in August 2021, an interim fight between Ciryl Gane and Derrick Lewis was made.

Gane won the interim title, but lost to Ngannou in January 2022, with Ngannou being stripped of the title after leaving the UFC over a contractual dispute.

Former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones beat Gane for the vacant heavyweight title in March 2023, but when Jones suffered a severe pectoral injury in preparing to fight Miocic, Tom Aspinall beat Sergei Pavlovich for the interim title.

A return date has not been confirmed for Jones, but it is expected the two-weight champion will fight either Miocic or Aspinall for the UFC heavyweight title.

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