Is he the best heavyweight fighter in MMA history? The old-timers say no, arguing that their time was deeper and more talented and that Fedor Emelianenko is the GOAT. According to current fans, Miocic has already established himself with a UFC record of four heavyweight title defenses.
Stipe Miocic, considered by many to be MMA’s heavyweight champion, returned to defend his UFC heavyweight title against Francis Ngannou, the sport’s top performer. Miocic has spent the last three years in a trilogy with Daniel Cormier. Ngannou had been waiting for this opportunity for three years.
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Will another win over Ngannou solve everything? Maybe.
But one thing is non-negotiable: Miocic belongs on the Mount Rushmore of great heavyweights, alongside three (or maybe two?) other legends. Miocic, Emelianenko and Cain Velasquez are widely considered the best of the best, but fourth place is more controversial. Even Daniel Cormier wasn’t sure about his match at first, as he felt he had put on some of his best performances at lightweight.
A 13-member ESPN panel – listed below – compiled its list, and the following four were up for grabs. An argument has also been made why this Mount Rushmore should be someone without the same last name.
Ariel Helwani: Ohio boy is king of the mountain.
Myosik is not the type to fill the breasts.
He will rarely, if ever, qualify as the most decorated bantamweight champion in UFC history. When I asked him recently if he was the greatest heavyweight champion of all time, he responded in the typical, pleasantly bland way.
So I’m going to tell him loud and clear: Miocic is the most decorated and successful heavyweight in UFC history. And so slowly, it’s no longer a close race.
Holds the record for most successful title defenses at heavyweight and welterweight (6).
He had many wins over Cormier, who I consider one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the sport. No one else can lay claim to the title (remember, John Jones’ second win over Cormier was undone due to a no contest).
He has also scored victories over legends such as Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Mark Hunt, Roy Nelson and Andrei Arlovski. And many of those victories came when his opponents were in their best years.
The best heavyweight of all time in MMA
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He handed Ngannou his first UFC loss three years ago, when it seemed like Ngannou was the scariest man in the Octagon. He weathered the big man’s initial storm and then dominated his way to victory via unanimous decision.
And now, Saturday, he will try to repeat that victory. Imagine that. Not one, but two victories… once again… the scariest man in the UFC.
And then, if he wins, a great fight against Jones awaits him. Can you imagine the media hype surrounding this fight?
And if he beats Jones, who’s next? In fact, I don’t think a wrestling match against Tyson or Anthony Joshua would take Fury completely off his game. It’s something he really wants, and his desire to fight one of these guys – like he does in boxing – is something he’s made known to UFC management on multiple occasions. I’ve heard they won’t give it up either.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. He doesn’t need these wins to keep his place on the MMA heavyweight stage. Rushmore. This work has already been done.
In fact, I dare say his face should be first on that proverbial mountain.
And yes, he’s not as popular as Randy Couture, Kane Velasquez and Cormier. He’s just not a showman. He’s not a crook. He’s more Kawhi Leonard than LeBron James.
But it’s not about what you draw or wax. We’re talking about the results of the UFC’s most competitive division in recent years.
And no one has been more successful in this division than Ohio.
Phil Murphy: Never forget the size of Fedor
Fedor Emelianenko catches Frank Mir and flattens him with a left hand. The former PRIDE heavyweight champion finishes the fight with a few more punches.
Getting a job is rarely as easy as explaining why Fedor is the greatest heavyweight of all time. He is the gold standard of dominance in MMA’s most volatile weight class. Big men and little gloves leave no room for error, but The Last Emperor has spent the better part of a decade reflexively answering the question Who is the best heavyweight on the planet?
In 2001-09, Fedor went 27-0 without a fight. His career included several promotions, but his legend was built in the Pride, where 10 of his 14 wins involved judges in the ring. And I don’t think he broke the can. Fedor beat the best of the best. His record includes victories – all final – over former UFC heavyweight champions Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, Kevin Randleman and twice Mark Coleman. Randleman and Coleman are Hall of Famers, and Arlovski will likely follow them at some point. Fedor also defeated former UFC title contenders Mark Hunt and Mirko Krokop. The unanimous decision over Cro Cop – one of the few times Emelianenko saw scorecards at the time – is widely regarded as one of the greatest fights in Pride history. Kimura vs Randleman is considered one of the wildest.
Former UFC Hall of Fame heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has a 22-2 (1 NC) record over a similar period. That’s 0-2 (1 NC) against Fedor and 22-0 against everyone else for Big Nog, the eventual interim UFC heavyweight champion. The aforementioned Cro Cop was in the midst of an 18-month hiatus with an 8-1 record – Fedor was 1. Although he is no longer in top form, Fedor has defeated former UFC champions Pedro Rizzo, Frank Mir and Quinton Rampage Jackson.
It’s unfortunate that the business side of the sport has kept Fedor from becoming the premier testing ground that is the UFC. But the simple journey of brutality through the litany of great heavyweights of the era removes any doubt that Fedor should forever be etched into the shortest list of great fighters we’ve ever seen – in any promotion.
Marc Raimondi: Velasquez could be the best at.
When Cormier defeated Miocic to win the title at 7. July 2018 win, he was voted the best heavyweight on the planet, except by one person. Cormier switched to Velasquez, who trained with him for nearly a decade at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California.
He’s still the best, Cormier said at the time. He’s the best heavyweight the UFC has ever seen.
Cormier left the heavyweight division before he could challenge Velasquez for the title, returning after Velasquez’s run ended. Cormier has been outspoken about not wanting to fight Velasquez, and not just because they are good friends. Cormier admitted that he would not have beaten Velasquez based on what happened between them in sparring.
At his peak, Velasquez was probably the best heavyweight in MMA history. He combined technical boxing, punching power and American wrestling with the best physical fitness the division has ever seen. Velasquez still holds the record for most takedowns (34) and strikeouts (1,464) in UFC heavyweight history.
Velasquez is a two-time UFC heavyweight champion and has a 12-3 record with 10 knockouts (second most in UFC heavyweight history). His victory over Brock Lesnar in 2010 is one of the most memorable fights in the heavyweight division. After Velasquez was knocked out by a bad leg against Dos Santos in 2011, he came back and dominated Dos Santos twice to establish himself as the top heavyweight at the time. In addition, his prominence in Mexico, his parents’ homeland, has helped the UFC gain popularity in a country better known for boxing.
Velasquez’s problem is injuries. Velasquez fought just three times after 2013, when he was in his early 30s.
But Cormier knew. In 2018, while training for his title defense against Derrick Lewis, Velasquez, who hasn’t fought in three years, put his teammate through a tough camp.
Because I knew what was going to happen in training, where I had to fight Cain Velasquez, I never claimed the championship, Cormier said on a recent episode of DC & Helwani on ESPN. I didn’t know what I could change to beat him.
Jeff Wagenheim: Why should we limit our Mount Rushmore to three.
When I fight on the mound, you see me in the stoic faces of Miocic, Emelianenko, Velasquez and… nobody else. Though I apologize for designing the Fab Four’s memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota, my tribute to MMA’s greatest heavyweights will only include three indelible mugs.
Miocic is, in my opinion and that of many others who follow the sport, the greatest heavyweight in history. Most people who disagree prefer Emelianenko, who was popular before Miocic came along. Velasquez won 13 of his first 14 fights and became a two-time UFC champion. This trio stood out above the rest of the large crowd of fighters.
Cormier? A great fighter and an absolute gentleman, for sure, but most of his best performances were in a different weight class. He won the Strikeforce Grand Prix at bantamweight before beginning his UFC career with two wins at heavyweight. He fought nine times in the lightweight division before going 2-2 in the big division. His only defeats came against the GOAT of both divisions, Miocic and Jones. And Cormier prevailed as champion.
But when I was asked to submit a list of four names for this project, I struggled with my fourth choice before deciding on Werdum. He spent his entire 34-fight career at heavyweight, winning two of the biggest victories in the history of the weight class. Emelianenko’s submission in 2010 ended a Russian decade of 28 fights. And five years later, Werdum knocked out Velasquez, who was then on his way to an undefeated record at heavyweight. What is a double shot… specifically, 1-2 grapples.
I can’t say for sure that Werdum did better than Washington, but it’s close enough that he doesn’t have a granite case for the perennial spot on the mountain. Some of our competitors even support three-time UFC heavyweight champion Couture or Nogueira, the first Pride heavyweight champion. I would rank them both under Cormier and Werdum, just as I would rank DC and Werdum under the Big Three.
Then give me the three-faced Rushmore. I don’t look at Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt and say: Sorry, guys, one of you has to go. These four presidents have earned their place in American history. The history of heavyweight MMA, on the other hand, isn’t quite set in stone. Let’s make room for a big bump to take its rightful place.
Brett Okamoto: Wait, DC belongs to this group.
Daniel Cormier is one of only four fighters in UFC history to hold two belts at once. Stephen Ryan/Getty Images
The easiest thing I can do to include Cormier is that if he wins a trilogy against Miocic in 2020, I would consider him the greatest heavyweight of all time. Period. So how can I say with good intentions that he was one win away from being the best in history, but because he didn’t compete in that fight, he didn’t even make the top 4? I can’t disagree with that, because it doesn’t make any sense.
You can’t discuss Cormier’s place in the heavyweight division without mentioning the fact that at the height of his career, he chose to compete outside of the weight class. I’d say Cormier’s first was from 2015 to 2018. He turned 36 in 2015 – the same year he first fought Jon Jones at 205 pounds – but keep in mind he was late for a fight, so I think his prime was probably between 36 and 38. And for most of that time, he fought at lightweight.
I’m not saying we should just assume that Cormier would have been a great heavyweight in those years, but it should be noted that he had less time than others to perform. And I’m sorry, you can’t ignore that he left the division undefeated in 2014, came back in 2018 and immediately knocked out the undisputed champion in Miocic. That says a lot about what this guy was capable of as a heavyweight, which is why I would consider him the best of all time if he had beaten Miocic in the trilogy last year at the age of 41.
Of the four heavyweights on the list, I think Cormier will be the most controversial. But that’s because he’s the only one who has fought in a non-heavyweight division. I’ve got it. Who are the best heavyweights of all time? Miocic, Emelianenko, Velasquez, all rolled off the tongue with ease. But with DC, there’s definitely a tendency to classify him as a lightweight. Frankly, this is a mistake. Cormier was better at heavyweight than at light heavyweight, and while his work wasn’t as deep as others, he clearly proved he was one of the best of all time. Put this man on Mount Rushmore.
Language panel : Kel Dansby, Andrew Davis, Andrew Feldman, Andres Ferrari, Tim Fiorvanti, Ariel Helwani, Eric Jackman, Roman Modrowski, Phil Murphy, Arda Okal, Brett Okamoto, Mark Raimondi, Eric Tamiso, Jeff Wagenheim