UFC 295 was first billed as a legacy-defining event pitting arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time against the greatest heavyweight of all-time. Instead, after a chest injury sidelined Jon Jones for the foreseeable future, we got a look at the near future of the division, which is on the precipice of a fascinating next few years. After several years of domination from an old guard, it appears as though the next evolution of MMA heavyweight is here.
This is where we stand in the heavyweight division:
Champion: Jon Jones
Last Fight: Submission Win vs Ciryl Gane (3/4/2023)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: After blowing through Ciryl Gane to become the sport’s eighth two-division champion, Jon Jones was up for a legacy bout with Stipe Miocic. A chest injury suffered weeks before the fight scratched that, and that fight is likely on hold until deep into 2024. It was a bummer for fight fans, in general, especially considering the abbreviated action Jones gave us in his first heavyweight bout. He is largely still a mystery in the division, and Miocic would’ve provided quite the challenging platform on which Jones could show how his plethora of skills would translate. Still, it seems as though Jones fully intends to come back and duel Miocic.
Outlook: Perhaps the most shocking part of Tom Aspinall’s 69-second victory over Sergei Pavlovich is that he not only made it look easy, but he made it look like every other one of his fights. Aspinall, on about two weeks’ notice, hopped off the couch and sparked the division’s hottest knockout artist with a lightning-quick 1-2 followed by another couple punches that flattened the Russian. Perhaps most impressively, he ate one of Pavlovich’s power punches clean without so much as a wobble. Afterwards, Aspinall revealed he suffered a back injury early in his preparation, making the victory all the more impressive. The 30-year-old’s combination of size, speed, athleticism and high-level skill on the ground and on the feet make him a sight to behold. He wants to fight Jones next, but the injury to “Bones” makes the timeline blurry. It’s unclear if he would have to defend his interim title before Jones and Miocic meet, but there are options aplenty for England’s newest champ.
Outlook: “Bon Gamin” bounced back well at home when he pieced up Serghei Spivac in Paris. It was a bit of redemption after his underwhelming performance against Jones in his chance at undisputed gold, but Gane still has to answer the questions that come until you win The Big One. Nearly every fight fan would love to watch Gane and Aspinall fight in what could be a defining matchup for this generation of heavyweights, as well as Europe’s MMA scene at the moment, but if Aspinall is waiting for a unification bout, Gane still has his options available. Pavlovich, Curtis Blaydes and Jailton Almeida are all fresh faces for the former interim champion, and they are all fights that could catapult the winner to a title shot later in 2024.
Last Fight: TKO Loss vs Tom Aspinall (11/12/2023)
Next fight: vs Curtis Blaydes (4/22/2023)
Outlook: Pavlovich may have fallen short against Aspinall, but he is by no means out of the title picture. The imposing knockout savant has shown the ability to thwart grapple-heavy attacks and overwhelm opponents with his power, and he also has a lot of options available to him. Gane, Almeida and Alexander Volkov all make for enticing, main-event-worthy matchups that could cement his spot at the top of the division. In many ways, the 31-year-old is just getting started.
Outlook: Miocic is in this to get his belt back and bolster his already admirable legacy. The most accomplished heavyweight champion ever, Miocic has a chance to put a unique feather in his cap if he can defeat Jon Jones. Unfortunately, his return remains in limbo while Jones recovers. It seems like neither man is interested in any other fight, so we can at least have some sense of assurance that the Miocic-Jones superfight will get its due.
Outlook: With seven years of UFC experience under his belt, it’s easy to forget Blaydes is still a part of the division’s younger generation at 32 years of age. In many aspects, Bladyes is a nightmare matchup for most of the division’s sluggers, and in 17 UFC bouts, his only losses have come to Francis Ngannou, Derrick Lewis and Pavlovich – three of the division’s hardest hitters. Although luck hasn’t shaken things out in his favor, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Blaydes with a championship opportunity or two in the next handful of years. Up next, he could rebook his scrapped matchup with Almeida or someone further down the rankings.
In the Mix: Alexander Volkov, Jailton Almeida
Outlook: Perhaps the loudest up-and-comer in the division is Brazil’s Jailton Almeida. The marauding 32-year-old has essentially mauled everyone in his path since joining the roster in February 2022. His main event against Lewis was dominant, while a little underwhelming, but he did show that he has the gas tank to implement his grappling-heavy attack for a full 25 minutes. Almeida deserves a shot at a big name in the division next time out, whether it is Volkov, Blaydes, Pavlvoich or Gane.
Volkov, meanwhile, has strung together a sneakily strong three-fight win streak, with finishes over Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Alexandr Romanov and Tai Tuivasa. The 35-year-old has rounded out his skills nicely and remains a tricky matchup for anyone. If he can put together a couple more wins, he could find himself in serious title contention.