If Brock Lesnar wins next weekend against rising star Cain Velasquez, he will become the most successful heavyweight champion in UFC history. That says less about Lesnar, who is beyond dispute a beast of a man with the potential to be among the greats, and more about the sad, small history of the UFC's heavyweight champions over the years.
Since Mark Coleman was crowned champion back at UFC 12, nine of the men who held gold failed to successfully defend their prize a single time. Six others were able to defend the belt just one time. Only two other men, Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia, dispatched a pair of challengers during a single title reign before falling victim to the next big thing.
Lesnar, if you remove the morass and the confusion surrounding the UFC's bizarre decision to create an interim title everytime the champion gets a head cold, has successfully defended the title he won from Randy Couture twice. His battle with Cain Velasquez will be his third title defense. A win separates Lesnar from the pack and makes him the greatest champion the division has ever known -inside the hallowed confines of the Octagon.
For much of the sport's brief history, however, the top fighters have plied their trade elsewhere. The great migration began when tournament champion Mark Kerr risked the wrath of the courts system to do battle in the rings of Pride. Following Kerr's lead, and the money, for years the top heavyweights on the planet called Japan home. From Kerr, to a resurgent Coleman, to a new generation of amazing fighters like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Heath Herring, and Fedor Emelianenko, Pride heavyweights were the top guys in the division.
Fedor's loss to Fabricio Werdum changed everything. The balance of power shifted once again back to the UFC. For the first time in the 2000's, the UFC champion is truly the sport's best in the division. With a win over Velasquez, Lesnar will become the UFC's top heavyweight ever. A subsequent win over Junior dos Santos might open up further discussion - by the end of 2011 we might be calling Brock Lesnar not just the top UFC heavyweight of all time, but the top heavyweight. Period.