This weekend, Alistair
and Alexander
will square off, with the winner set to inch closer to
one of the most exclusive clubs in MMA history.

First and foremost, of course, the winner of the UFC Fight Night 184 headliner
will be on the short list of contenders for the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight
title, with the chance to join the 16 men who have left the Octagon
with that belt. And if either one manages to pull that off, they
will join an even more select group: fighters who have won
heavyweight titles in three major promotions. Overeem’s Strikeforce and Dream titles are cornerstones of his historically
impressive career, while Volkov’s Bellator MMA and M-1 Global hardware almost bely the fact that he is
still only 32—a spring chicken, by heavyweight standards. While
both the Dutchman and the Russian seem like long shots to win a UFC
belt, the possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand. After all,
if there is one thing that can almost always be said about the UFC
heavyweight title, it is: “Well, crazier things have happened.”

Founded in 1997, the division spent its first decade in a state of
near-constant turmoil. There were three different champions in the
first year. Multiple champs abandoned the title to fight elsewhere.
Two champions, Tim Sylvia and
, lost their belts in the testing lab rather than the
Octagon. The UFC’s heavyweight title was also a clear second fiddle
to its Pride Fighting Championships counterpart for
most of that first decade. With the 2007 absorption of Pride and, a
few years later, the acquisition of Strikeforce, the UFC
heavyweight division eventually gained the preeminent status it
still enjoys. Today, the fighter wearing UFC heavyweight gold can
lay a claim to “baddest man on the planet” status that is hard to

Here is a graphic representation of the 24-year history of the UFC
heavyweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended.
Interim title fights are omitted with the exception of Andrei
vs. Tim Sylvia 1,
since the winner of that fight ended up inheriting the undisputed
title without a unification bout. From 6-foot-10 giants to 5-foot-9
monsters, from larger-than-life pro wrestlers to humble
firefighters, from drug scandals to grisly injuries in and out of
the cage, the picture tells a story as strange and amazing as the
sport itself.

Duffy/ illustration