It was obvious almost from the opening seconds of his first bout in the UFC on Dec. 19, 2015, that Francis Ngannou was going to be a significant factor in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
Ngannou is a massive man, at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, with ferocious punching power. By May 2017, he had made such an impression that it wasn’t a stretch to say with the right promotion and the continued growth, Ngannou would not only challenge Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title, but that it could also be the most significant heavyweight title fight in UFC history.
Miocic will defend his belt against Ngannou on Jan. 20 in the main event of UFC 220 in Boston in a heavyweight title bout unlike any before it in UFC heavyweight title fight history. Miocic will set the UFC record for most consecutive safely title defenses if he wins the bout, and he likely would be considered the UFC’s greatest-ever heavyweight should he win.
Ngannou has been making waves since joining the UFC and has been the trendy pick to win the title. His power is scary and, despite his lack of experience, he’s favored in the bout.
So going into Miocic-Ngannou at UFC 220, here are my picks as the five most significant heavyweight title bouts in UFC history:
5. Randy Couture won a unanimous decision over Tim Sylvia at UFC 68, March 3, 2007, in Columbus, Ohio – The card drew 19,049 fans to Nationwide Arena, which at the time was the largest attendance for an MMA fight in the U.S. in history.
Couture had already held the UFC heavyweight title on two other occasions heading into this bout, but there were fears for his safety as he was fighting the giant champion, who at 6-8, 265 pounds was more than eight inches taller and more 40 pounds heavier than Couture.
Couture entered the cage to a deafening roar and made the crowd delirious just eight seconds into the match when he dropped Sylvia with his first punch.
Couture went on to win a unanimous decision and capture the heavyweight belt for the third time.
4. Cain Velasquez stopped Brock Lesnar at UFC 121 on Oct. 23, 2010, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. – This was a changing-of-the-guard fight. Lesnar had become a huge star by this point and the low-key Velasquez wasn’t a household name.
But it was a matchup of terrific wrestlers who also happened to have enormous power. Velasquez used his wrestling to keep the fight standing and battered Lesnar with his hands to lift the title from him.
3. Brock Lesnar stopped Randy Couture in the second round at UFC 91 on Nov. 15, 2008, in Las Vegas – This was another changing-of-the-guard fight. It pitted the massive new star with only three MMA fights under his belt against the beloved old veteran who was in a sense making one last stand.
Lesnar was simply too big for Couture and couldn’t be muscled around in the clinch. Lesnar landed a big punch and finished Couture to become the champion in a bout many felt he didn’t deserve.
2. Junior dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez in the first round at UFC on Fox 1 on Nov. 12, 2011, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. – The fight was massive because it was the start of a new era in MMA, when broadcast television was airing the fights. Because of that, the bout had a social significance to it.
But it was also hotly anticipated as a fight. Dos Santos entered as the challenger and was on a roll with his elite boxing. Velasquez’s wrestling let him dictate where the fight would go, but on this night, he was caught and finished by a dos Santos punch.
1. Brock Lesnar stopped Frank Mir in the second round at UFC 100 on July 11, 2009, in Las Vegas – UFC 100 was a star-filled card, the UFC’s version of WrestleMania. Many of the UFC’s biggest stars – and soon-to-be stars – appeared on the show. In addition to Lesnar and Mir, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Dan Henderson, Michael Bisping, Mark Coleman and Stephan Bonnar all fought on the show.
The show reportedly sold in excess of 1.6 million on pay-per-view and likely had a significant impact in Fox deciding to partner with the UFC two years later.
Lesnar overpowered Mir and won the fight when it was stopped in the second round.