Yes in November of 1999 the UFC Heavyweight title vacated by Bas Rutten was to be filled by a match between Kevin Randleman and Pete Williams of the Lion’s Den. The fight was scheduled for UFC 23 in Tokyo, Japan in what would be the UFC’s last visit there for over a decade. Williams had won three of his last four in the UFC at the time, including his now famous KO of Mark Coleman. Randleman would walk away from the UFC 23 event with the title after winning a decision (5 rounds of 5 minutes were now the rule) over Williams. Randleman would put another 5 round defense in against Pedro Rizzo in June of 2000 before he was scheduled to defend against the returning Randy Couture in November of that year. In the first 4 years of the UFC Heavyweight Title, five men would hold the belt and there would be a grand total of only two successful title defenses.
Couture would take the title from Randleman by TKO in the 3rd round of their bout, and he would go on to defend the belt twice in 2001, both times against Pedro Rizzo. This would be the longest of Couture’s three title reigns with the Heavyweight belt. By holding the title on three separate occasions, Couture is probably cemented as the most important belt holder in the history of the UFC.
But at UFC 36, Couture would defend against Josh Barnett, who would need only to the second round to TKO Couture and capture the belt. Barnett would sully the belt like never before by failing a steroid test and being stripped before he could make even one defense. Barnett was stripped of the belt, and he was banished from the UFC (he hasn’t been back since). The belt reverted back to being property of Randy Couture.
Couture would move right in to another title defense at UFC 39, in September of 2002 against Ricco Rodriguez. Rodriguez was dominated for 3 rounds, but Ricco’s weight advantage would cause Couture to tire enough in the fourth round that Rodriguez took him out and captured the title. Luckily they do not test for buffet food, as Rodriguez passed all his post fight tests, effectively finishing the 2nd title reign of Randy Couture.
As we head into 2003, Ricco Rodriguez holds the UFC Heavyweight title, with his first defense scheduled for UFC 41 on February 28th, 2003 against Tim Silvia. We will pick it up with that defense in part 4….
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