MMA's All-Time Heavyweights

Sep 10, 2011
They are the giants of full-contact fighting, the men who populate the heavyweight division. No other weight class provides a wider spectrum in terms of size, skill and personality. It has given rise to some of the sport’s most revered figures and some of its most hated characters. Together, they defined a generation with toughness, technique and a flair for the dramatic. They made us laugh, and they made us cry.

In conjunction with the 2011 Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, which continues with the semifinals on Saturday in Cincinnati (Showtime 10 ET/PT), has compiled its list of the 10 greatest heavyweight mixed martial artists of all-time. Members of the Sherdog editorial team -- Managing Editor Mike Fridley, Features Editor Brian Knapp, Administrative Editor Jordan Breen, News Editor Mike Whitman and Associate Editor Chris Nelson -- cast their votes for the Top 10 in a non-scientific poll sure to stir debate. Fighters received 10 points for a first-place vote, nine points for a second-place vote and so on. For each of the next five days, Sherdog will reveal two fighters who made the cut, beginning with No. 10 and No. 9, until the picture is complete.

Without question, this list will look far different in a few short years, as the sport remains in a constant state of evolution, but, for now, these are the men who have earned their heavyweight stripes.

Fedor Emelianenko went nearly 10 years between losses. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood

#1 - Fedor Emelianenko
Record: 31-4, 1 NC
Age: 34
Height: 6-foot
Weight: 223
Style: Sambo
Birthplace: Rubizhne, Ukraine
Poll Points: 50

Career Notes: For the better part of a decade, he was untouchable, a larger-than-life figure whose stoicism and humility masked a ruthless competitor within. From Dec. 22, 2000 until June 26, 2010, Emelianenko was unbeaten in 28 appearances -- 27 victories and a no contest. The most dominant and successful fighter in the history of Pride Fighting Championships, he arrived in the Japanese promotion in 2002 and passed every test set before him, including wins over Brazilian great Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), UFC hall of famer Mark Coleman (twice), former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman, four-time K-1 World Grand Prix winner Semmy Schilt and 2006 Pride open weight grand prix winner Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. Emelianenko won the Pride heavyweight title in March 2003, later unified it and remained champion until the company sold out to the Ultimate Fighting Championship four years later. Post-Pride, he defeated 2000 Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland, the 7-foot-2 Hong Man Choi and former UFC heavyweight titleholders Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, finishing all four of them in 3:14 or less. A three-time sambo world champion, Emelianenko has delivered 24 of his 31 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, 21 of them inside one round. In more than 11 years of active MMA competition, he has never lost a decision.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira personifies perseverance. | Photo: Dave Mandel

#2 - Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Record: 33-6-1, 1 NC
Age: 35
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 243
Style: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Birthplace: Vitoria da Conquista, Bahia, Brazil
Poll Points: 45

Career Notes: A picture of toughness, durability and perseverance, Nogueira carved his career out of blood, bruises and an undying will. The beloved 6-foot-3, 243-pound Brazilian -- who carries the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo -- has delivered more than half (20) of his 33 professional victories by submission. Nogueira has defeated a veritable who’s who in combat sports royalty: former UFC champions Mark Coleman, Ricco Rodriguez, Tim Sylvia, Randy Couture and Josh Barnett, onetime two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson, 2006 Pride open weight grand prix winner Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, four-time K-1 World Grand Prix winner Semmy Schilt and two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Fabricio Werdum. He captured the Pride heavyweight title in November 2001, held it for more than a year and later reached the semifinals of the 2006 Pride open weight grand prix. In 41 professional appearances, Nogueira has never lost back-to-back fights.

Randy Couture was a late bloomer and made history in the UFC. | Photo: D. Mandel

#3 - Randy Couture

Record: 19-11
Age: 48
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 220
Style: Wrestling
Birthplace: Everett, Wash.
Poll Points: 39

Career Notes: He was a real-life American hero. Couture entered mixed martial arts at the advanced age of 33 in 1997 and proceeded to put together a career of unprecedented achievement. A three-time heavyweight champion and two-time light heavyweight titleholder, he was the first man to capture UFC gold in two different weight classes. An accomplished amateur wrestler, Couture was a two-time NCAA finalist at Oklahoma State University and a three-time alternate for the United States Olympic Team. He still holds the all-time record for most appearances in UFC title bouts (15) and became the oldest fighter ever to win a UFC championship when, at the age of 43 years, 255 days, he lifted the heavyweight crown from Tim Sylvia at UFC 68. Couture also helped establish two of the most successful MMA training facilities -- Team Quest in Oregon and Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts in Las Vegas -- and parlayed his MMA stardom into roles in mainstream movies and television shows. He was inducted into the UFC hall of fame in 2006 but did not retire from active competition until nearly five years later.

Mirko Filipovic’s head kick made him one of the sport’s most feared competitors. | Photo:

#4 - Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic

Record: 27-9-2, 1 NC
Age: 36
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 227
Style: Kickboxing
Birthplace: Vinkovci, Croatia
Poll Points: 30

Career Notes: No weapon unleashed upon MMA has inspired more fear than Filipovic’s left high kick, which felled former Pride Fighting Championships middleweight titleholder Wanderlei Silva, 2000 Pride open weight grand prix finalist Igor Vovchanchyn, the 6-foot-6 Aleksander Emelianenko and moonlighting professional wrestlers Dos Caras Jr. and Yuji Nagata. In his 39-fight career, Filipovic has defeated three former UFC champions -- Josh Barnett (three times), Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman -- and an Olympic gold medalist in Hidehiko Yoshida. He compiled a stellar 16-4-2 mark inside Pride and won the Japanese promotion’s prestigious 2006 open weight grand prix; the loaded tournament field included Barnett, Silva, Yoshida, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fabricio Werdum. Filipovic sports a staggering 20 first-round finishes on his ledger. His August 2005 encounter with Fedor Emelianenko, which resulted in a unanimous decision defeat, remains one of the most-talked-about fights in MMA history.

Josh Barnett has held titles in the UFC and Pancrase. | Photo: D. Mandel

#5 - Josh Barnett

Record: 30-5
Age: 33
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 256
Style: Catch Wrestling
Birthplace: Seattle
Points: 29

Career Notes: Barnett -- who won 18 of his first 19 professional bouts -- has been a model of consistency throughout his career, with three separate winning streaks of seven fights or more. He has also been a lightning rod for controversy, having been flagged for suspected steroid use on three different occasions. Still, his physical tools are undeniable. A catch wrestler by trade, he has held titles inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Pancrase, capturing the UFC heavyweight crown when he stopped Randy Couture on second-round punches at UFC 36, eight months before his 25th birthday. A finalist in the 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix and a semifinalist in the 2011 Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, Barnett has defeated some of MMA’s most accomplished heavyweights: 1992 Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida, two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Jeff Monson, former Pride heavyweight titleholder Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, UFC hall of famer Dan Severn and four-time K-1 World Grand Prix winner Semmy Schilt (twice). A proven finisher, he has secured 25 of his 30 wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission. Three of his five career defeats have come to Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.

Frank Mir has won more UFC fights than any other heavyweight. | Photo:

#6 - Frank Mir

Record: 15-5
Age: 32
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 260
Style: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Birthplace: Las Vegas
Poll Points: 27

Career Notes: No heavyweight has won more UFC bouts than Mir’s 13, which tie him for seventh on the all-time list; his 18 Octagon appearances are also a record for heavyweights. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Mir won the UFC heavyweight championship at just 25 years of age in 2004, when he defeated Tim Sylvia by technical submission at UFC 48 and snapped his foe’s forearm with an armbar in the process. Nearly two months to the day later, he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident that resulted in a broken femur and almost ended his career in the cage. The Las Vegan’s comeback was marred by forgettable, sometimes painful, performances and lack of proper conditioning. However, Mir returned to elite-level form in 2008, when he beat Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in one 10-month span and was named “Comeback Fighter of the Year.” One of the sport’s most-potent offensive fighters, he has 10 first-round finishes to his credit, including 46-, 50-, 65-, 72- and 77-second stoppages. In addition to Lesnar, Nogueira and Sylvia, Mir owns other noteworthy victories over former International Fight League heavyweight champion Roy Nelson, 2006 Pride Fighting Championships grand prix winner Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and David “Tank” Abbott.

Tim Sylvia has twice held the UFC heavyweight crown. | Photo: D. Mandel

#7 - Tim Sylvia

Record: 29-7
Age: 35
Height: 6-foot-8
Weight: 265
Style: Kickboxing
Birthplace: Ellsworth, Maine
Poll Points: 13

Career Notes: Spawned by the legendary Miletich Fighting Systems camp in Iowa, Sylvia remains one of only two men -- Randy Couture is the other -- to win the undisputed UFC heavyweight championship twice. He was also the last to successfully defend it more than once. At 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds, Sylvia was one of the most physically imposing figures ever to compete inside the Octagon. He opened his professional MMA career with 16 consecutive victories and compiled a 9-4 mark in the UFC, winning the heavyweight championship for the first time in February 2003, when he stopped Ricco Rodriguez on first-round punches. Wins over former UFC heavyweight titleholder Andrei Arlovski (twice), onetime heavyweight King of Pancrase Assuerio Silva and two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Jeff Monson buoy his resume. Sylvia has secured 19 of his 29 professional victories by knockout or technical knockout.

Mark Coleman introduced ground-and-pound to MMA. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood

#8 - Mark Coleman

Record: 16-10
Age: 46
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 245
Style: Wrestling
Birthplace: Fremont, Ohio
Poll Points: 11

Career Notes: Credited with introducing ground-and-pound to MMA, Coleman won an NCAA national championship in wrestling at Ohio State University and finished seventh at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. “The Godfather of Ground-and-Pound” made a seamless transition to mixed martial arts, as he won his first six fights in the UFC, all of them finishes. The tournament winner at UFC 10 and UFC 11, he became the first heavyweight champion in the promotion’s history in February 1997, when he submitted Dan Severn with a first-round neck crank at UFC 12. Three years later, Coleman won the 2000 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix, snapping Igor Vovchanchyn’s 37-fight unbeaten streak in the final. He was inducted into the UFC hall of fame in March 2008.

Cain Velasquez is known for his conditioning and technique. | Photo: Daniel Herbertson

#9 - Cain Velasquez

Record: 9-0
Age: 29
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 244
Style: Wrestling
Birthplace: Salinas, Calif.
Poll Points: 10

Career Notes: Arguably the crown jewel of the famed American Kickboxing Academy, Velasquez captured the UFC heavyweight championship in a one-sided technical knockout over Brock Lesnar at UFC 121 in October. A decorated amateur wrestler, he won a junior college national championship as a freshman at Iowa Central Community College and then moved on to Arizona State University, where he became a two-time All-American and two-time Pac-10 Conference champion. Known for supreme conditioning, pure technique and savage ground-and-pound, Velasquez has finished eight of his first nine foes, six of them inside one round. The 29-year-old Salinas, Calif., native was named’s “Fighter of the Year” for 2010.

Fabricio Werdum is regarded as one of the premier heavyweight submission grapplers to enter MMA.

#10 - Fabricio Werdum

Record: 14-5-1
Age: 34
Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 246
Style: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Birthplace: Porto Alegre, Brazil
Poll Points: 9

Career Notes: A two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist and two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, Werdum owns a 2-2 record in the UFC, 4-2 in Pride Fighting Championships and 3-1 in Strikeforce. The 34-year-old holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo and muay Thai; he reached the quarterfinals of both the 2006 Pride open weight grand prix and the 2011 Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix. Werdum posted his signature victory in June 2010, when he became the first man in nearly a decade to defeat Fedor Emelianenko, as he lured the Russian legend into his guard and submitted him with a first-round triangle armbar. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Brazilian has recorded other notable victories over onetime UFC heavyweight title contender Gabriel Gonzaga (twice), former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, former EliteXC heavyweight titleholder Antonio Silva and 2003 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist John Olav Einemo.

Others Receiving Votes: Andrei Arlovski (3), Ricco Rodriguez (3), Igor Vovchanchyn (3), Brock Lesnar (2), Pedro Rizzo (2).
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