At long last, we’ve come to the last division for us to go over with the heavyweights. A division that has been promoted as a glamour division in boxing, it hasn’t quite translated that way for MMA, largely due to the sports inability to produce a long-reigning undisputed champion. Perhaps Cain Velasquez could have been the long-reigning champion, but his long injury history turned what could have been one of the greatest careers in the history of the sport into merely a great career. Thus, Velasquez isn’t in the running at the very top. Regardless of who you believe was the top heavyweight for the division in the 2010’s between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier, solid arguments can be made for both parties.
1. Stipe Miocic: Miocic edges out Daniel Cormier for two reasons: he holds the record for most consecutive title defenses in UFC heavyweight history with three and Cormier’s lengthy excursion at light heavyweight. Longevity isn’t everything, but it has to count for something and it’s enough to be a separator between a pair of greats who both own a win against the other. The other names Miocic has beaten is the most complete resume for the decade too. Mark Hunt. Roy Nelson. Junior dos Santos. Alistair Overeem. Fabricio Werdum. Perhaps most impressive was his win over Francis Ngannou, a freight train that few believed could be stopped at the time. Miocic ate the best the powerful Frenchman had to offer and proceeded to embarrass him after he did. Not too bad for a firefighter. Not bad at all….
2. Daniel Cormier: Allow me to remind everyone that Cormier began his career as a heavyweight and won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix… as an alternate. While his resume isn’t as complete as Miocic’s, there are still plenty of impressive names on there, including Miocic, Bigfoot Silva, Josh Barnett, Derrick Lewis, Frank Mir, Nelson. When the only guy you’ve lost to over the decade in the division is the #1 name on the list, you’re doing something right. Keep in mind, it’s the same case for Cormier at light heavyweight. Cormier is more than just an all-time great heavyweight. He’s an all-time great, period.
3. Cain Velasquez: Some might say it was a mistake for the UFC to give Velasquez the push they did, particularly within the Mexican community. Velasquez clearly had the talent to be the man for the division over the entirety of the decade. Injuries ruined things. It isn’t just the lack of activity either. His first career loss came while he was battling a knee injury against dos Santos. The last loss of his career – provided he is officially done – saw a diminished Velasquez fall to Ngannou. But when Velasquez was on, he was a whirling dervish. He dethroned Brock Lesnar. He avenged his first career loss twofold, putting on two of the most devastating beatings in the history of the sport on dos Santos. Two decimations of Bigfoot. His last career win over Travis Browne tends to be overlooked too. Velasquez may be the ultimate case of what-if.
4. Francis Ngannou: Had Ngannou received a second title shot before the close of the decade, we very well could have been talking about him as the top heavyweight of the decade. The big man had a hell of a run before running into Miocic, blasting Overeem into another dimension with one of the all-time great KO’s that literally had people wondering if Overeem was dead. The Miocic loss left Ngannou lost for a bit – his loss to Lewis is one of the worst fights in MMA history – but he found himself at the end of 2018 and bulldozed Curtis Blaydes (for the second time), Velasquez, and dos Santos to put himself next in line once Miocic and Cormier settle their rubber match. At the close of the decade, there was no one who invoked more fear in the sport, much less the division.
5. Fabricio Werdum: Werdum narrowly edges dos Santos due to the impressive run he had to claim the title from Velasquez. Most remember his crowning performance against Velasquez for Werdum’s intelligent preparation – he came out weeks ahead to acclimate to the altitude of Mexico City and creating Sea-Level Cain – but his picking apart of Browne and KO of Hunt along the way to the title should be equally remembered. Don’t forget Werdum also handed Fedor Emelianenko his first legit loss to open up the decade as well. That win and his claiming of the UFC title ensured his place amongst the all-time heavyweight greats.
6. Junior dos Santos: The first few years of the 2010’s looked like the decade would belong to dos Santos. Brutal beatdowns of Nelson and Shane Carwin preceded his dethroning of Velasquez, followed by an easy defense over the decorated Mir. While dos Santos was hit and miss for the rest of the decade after Velasquez, he was always fighting top competition and managed to turn out several quality wins over the course of the decade, including over Miocic, Hunt, and Lewis. The Brazilian sure finish the decade the way he started it, but it hardly means he ever proved himself to be an easy out, even as the amount of damage he accumulated over the decade piled up.
7. Curtis Blaydes: If Blaydes had the opportunity to fight a higher level of competition, he very well could have ended up higher on the list. Unfortunately for him, many of his victories weren’t against the best competition, his best wins coming against a past-his-prime Overeem and an even-further-past-his-prime Hunt. Nonetheless, Blaydes utilized his wrestling pedigree and impressive physicality to great effect, mauling several of his opponents on the ground. In fact, Overeem looked like he was a slasher film victim after Blaydes was done with him. Too bad he couldn’t make his contests with Ngannou competitive. Nevertheless, there’s a strong likelihood Blaydes will be higher on the list of 2020’s heavyweights.
8. Alistair Overeem: Even though he has a bad habit of ending up on the wrong end of a highlight reel, Overeem has produced several of his own over the last decade. The former Strikeforce champion KO’d dos Santos, Arlovski, and Hunt in brutal fashion, in addition to wins over Werdum (twice), Lesnar, Nelson, and Mir. He may not pose the intimidating figure he did early in the decade during his Ubereem phase, but Overeem has managed to be a noteworthy figure throughout the course of the decade.
9. Mark Hunt: Hunt’s career was thought to be over when the decade began. Instead, the meat of career was just beginning. Even though he ended the decade with a .500 record, Hunt was one of the most feared men in the division all the way up until his last fight in 2018. Given his KO’s of Chris Tuchscherer, Chieck Kongo, Stefan Struve, Nelson, Mir, and Lewis, there wasn’t anything gentle about Hunt. Several of his opponents were never the same after their meetings with Hunt, particularly Struve. Then again, I doubt I’d be the same if I had to deal with a broken jaw. There was always considerable risk of that happening when someone stepped in the cage with Hunt.
10. Derrick Lewis: It’s hard to say whether it was the impressive brutality behind Lewis’ wins or his personable interviews post-fight that has made the Black Beast a fan favorite. While the easy answer is both, we wouldn’t be getting those colorful interviews without Lewis doing his job in the cage in the first place. His come-from-behind win over Alexander Volkov was one of the greatest in the history of the sport and his KO’s over Shamil Abderakhimov and Browne were masterpieces in violence. Even if it was a terrible visual performance, securing a win over Francis Ngannou has to count for something as well… right?
Honorable Mentions: Frank Mir, Bigfoot Silva, Andrei Arlovski, Alexander Volkov, Vitaly Minakov, Josh Barnett, Roy Nelson, Cheick Kongo
Mir fought his way into a UFC title shot and broke Big Nog’s arm before a steep decline. Silva decimated Fedor (when it still meant something) and upset Overeem to earn his own UFC title shot before TRT was banned. Arlovski’s revitalization led to potential title talks briefly. Volkov was Bellator champion before what has been a largely successful UFC run. Minakov never came to the UFC, but was also Bellator champion while terrorizing the Russian circuit. Unfortunately, he lacks a signature win. Barnett made it to the finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, but wasn’t active enough over the decade. Nelson was always a tough out in his prime, but never got over the hump. Kongo put together an eight-fight win streak, but could never secure a win over a truly elite opponent.