The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight title was established way back in 1997 at UFC 12: "Judgement Day," when men were men, events had titles, and no holds were barred.
The event itself almost didn't happen. Originally set for New York, the promotion got the boot from the Empire State after dealing with rising political pressure from Senator John McCain, among others and they were forced into a mad scramble to find a venue.
They found one in Dothan, Alabama at the Dothan Civic Center and the show would go on.
For the main event, the promotion put the UFC 11 tournament champion Mark Coleman up against the UFC superfight champion Dan Severn to decide the inaugural UFC heavyweight champ. The former was a late substitute for the injured Don Frye.
Coleman became the first man to win the title after defeating Severn by submission on the night of February 7, 1997. But like many others who would follow him, "The Hammer" failed to defend the coveted crown.
The current heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez is the 17th heavyweight champion in the promotion's history, which has entered its 22nd year of existence. Velasquez, along with Tim Sylvia, has won the title twice. Retired Hall of Famer, Randy Couture, won it three times. But in all these years, none of the champions have ever defended the title more than twice consecutively
That's right. In over 18 years since the heavyweight title was introduced, 17 champions have not been able to keep the belt for more than two fights after winning it. Velasquez, Couture, Sylvia and Brock Lesnar are the four champions to successfully defend the title twice in a row. Only six of the 17 champions defended the title once, with seven losing the title in their very next fight after winning it. As far as all-time defenses, both Couture and Sylvia defended the belt once in separate title reigns to bring their overall defense total to three.
While the lack of title defenses does stand out to many, for the retired three-time heavyweight champion Randy Couture --not so much.
"It's not that surprising," Couture told MMAMania. "Dominating any weight class in this sport isn't that common. Like any weight classes in the sport of MMA, the heavyweight division is volatile and there are many ways to win or lose a fight."
"The Natural" won the heavyweight title for the first time in December of 1997 against Maurice Smith at UFC Japan, but left the UFC before ever defending it. He would return in 2000 and defeat Kevin Randleman to win the title a second time, becoming the first champion to defend the strap twice in a row, but he would lose to Josh Barnett in his third attempt. After losing to Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 39 in a fight for the then vacant title, Couture would drop down to light heavyweight and win the UFC light heavyweight title, lose it and then win it again, before making his return to the heavyweight division.
And at UFC 68, Couture, then 43, would defeat Sylvia to win the UFC heavyweight title for a third time to end Sylvia's bid at defending the championship three consecutive times. The three-time heavyweight champion would defend the belt one more time against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 77, before succumbing to Lesnar at UFC 91.
At UFC 188, Velasquez could set a record should he defend his title for a third-straight time and defeat current interim heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum in Mexico City, Mexico, but three times has never been a charm for any UFC heavyweight champion thus far in the history of the promotion.
Velasquez may have already defended the belt several times now already, if not for being plagued with injuries throughout his career and only fighting five times since winning the title over Lesnar by technical knockout at UFC 121 on October 23, 2010. His first attempt at defending the title ended abruptly after getting knocked out against Junior dos Santos a little over one year later on the inaugural UFC on FOX card in November of 2011.
In the highly-anticipated rematch against dos Santos, Velasquez would win a lopsided decision to win the title for the second time, which he has held for over two years now, defending it successfully against Antonio Silva at UFC 160 and in a trilogy fight with dos Santos at UFC 166 in October of 2013, the last time he set foot in the Octagon. We won't ever know if he would've successfully defended his title or not, but we know he probably would've fought at least another three or four times.
The current record for title defenses in UFC history is 10 and it's held by former middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Second is former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre with nine, and third is the former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who had eight successful title defenses, before being stripped and indefinitely suspended after his arrest on a felony charge for allegedly leaving the scene of an accident in April of this year.
If Velasquez wins on Saturday night in Mexico and manages to stay healthy, he has a believer in Couture that a long title reign could materialize.
"Cain is a complete package as a heavyweight with size, speed, athleticism, conditioning, and strong skill sets . If there has been a downside to Cain, it's been in durability, but as long as his body holds up, I believe he will be at the top of the heap in the division for a while."
We find out how it all plays out tonight at the Arena Mexico in Mexico City!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 188 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under card balance on FX Channel at 8 p.m. ET before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.