Although the reality of an interim heavyweight champion caught some off guard, it’s hard to dispute Ciryl Gane’s ascension as the most interesting challenger to Francis Ngannou’s throne. The heavyweight crown is a hard one to obtain and even harder to defend, and Ngannou gets his first chance to against his former teammate. That said, the division is in quite an interesting spot with a new generation of contenders rising as a few mainstays have made it clear they aren’t going anywhere.
With that, let’s take a look at the heavyweight division following UFC 265.
The Heavyweight Rundown
The Heavyweight Rundown
Champion: Francis Ngannou
(16-3, 12 KOs, 4 Submissions)
Last Fight: KO Win vs Stipe Miocic (3/27/21)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Ngannou showed everyone in the MMA world he was ready to become champion in his rather flawless effort against Stipe Miocic at UFC 260. He displayed patience, defensive grappling and his signature killer instinct in his second-round knockout win. “Calm Francis” is somehow more intimidating than previous renditions of Ngannou, and it felt like his coronation moment was the beginning of a long reign as The Baddest Man on the Planet. Although it seemed like a fight against Jon Jones was imminent – and it still could very well happen – his first order of business will come against Gane, whom Ngannou trained with while at the MMA Factory in Paris. It’s a fun stylistic matchup on top of the narrative intrigue, and it instantly puts Ngannou’s championship mettle to the test.
Interim Champion: Ciryl Gane
(10-0, 4 KOs, 3 Submissions)
Last Fight: TKO win vs Derrick Lewis (8/7/21)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Gane looked unbothered in the biggest fight of his life at UFC 265, calmly and methodically rendering Derrick Lewis hopeless while the Frenchman went about his violent business. Just three years after making his professional MMA debut, Gane holds a piece of UFC gold, along the way displaying a unique blend of athleticism and technique that makes him quite a puzzle for the heavyweight division. Now, he’s lined up to fight his former teammate and training partner Ngannou in a hyper-intriguing clash of styles. Gane’s speed and five-round-friendly style in contrast to Ngannou’s Earth-shattering, explosive attack is fascinating, and when the two do line up across from one another, we’ll all watch with bated breath.
Outlook: The most accomplished heavyweight in UFC history seems content to sit and wait for what is arguably a well-deserved rubber match with Francis Ngannou. The two each have a win over the other, so another trilogy bout is in order for Miocic. Sitting and waiting is always a dicey game to play, but Miocic has nothing left to prove. He could very well get his shot at the winner between Ngannou and Gane. That said, the Jon Jones of it all complicates the timeline. If Jones says he’s ready, and the matchmakers want to put him in a title fight, nobody would really bat an eye, especially if it’s against Ngannou. Nobody, except Miocic, who would have to wait even longer. Miocic was said to have accepted a fight with Jones, which is definitely an appealing matchup but, for now, the pride of Cleveland is left to wait and see.
(25-8, 20 KOs, 1 Submission)
Last Fight: TKO Loss vs Ciryl Gane (8/7/21)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: “The Black Beast” had the Toyota Center in the palm of his hand as he walked out at UFC 265. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find the small window of opportunity to unleash his nuclear right hand. Now, Lewis is in quite an interesting spot. You could’ve argued that he deserved a fight against Ngannou – he already holds a win over the champion. If Ngannou beats Gane, that option is still there, especially because Lewis already holds wins over Curtis Blaydes and Alexander Volkov. However, Gane beating Ngannou adds another obstacle to his tricky situation. Lewis might have to fight down, and maybe that option becomes clearer if Jairzinho Rozenstruik beats Curtis Blaydes at UFC 266. It’s all a bit murky for the UFC’s Knockout King at the moment, but the fan favorite is always lurking in the picture.
(14-3, 10 KOs)
Last Fight: KO Loss vs Derrick Lewis (2/20/21)
Next fight: vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik (9/25/21)
Outlook: Looking at Blaydes’ record, it’s quite the feat that his only losses have come to Ngannou (twice) and Lewis. However, it does put him in quite a tough scenario. If Ngannou remains the champion, Blaydes has a lot of work to do to earn a third shot at “The Predator.” As potentially the best wrestler and ground-and-pound artist in the division, Blaydes is a dangerous opponent for anyone looking to ascend to the Top 5. His matchup against Rozenstruik seems like it’s more intriguing for Rozenstruik – whether he’ll be able to stuff Blaydes’ takedowns, if he can get up off the mat, etc. – but it’s still a good opportunity for Blaydes to show what he learned after his loss to Lewis, and at 30 years old, time is on his side.
(33-9, 22 KOs, 3 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Ciryl Gane (6/26/21)
Next fight: N/A / vs Marcin Tybura (10/30/21)
Outlook: “Drago” is undoubtably one of the best strikers in the heavyweight division. His combination of size and technique often make him a tricky puzzle of limbs and power for his opponents, and he seems to be making gradual improvements in his defensive grappling. However, he recently became a part of Gane’s ascension story and has suffered losses to three fighters at the top of the division (Lewis, Blaydes, Gane). For now, he’ll have to work backwards and build up from there, but he has regularly shown himself as a good barometer for elite heavyweights such as when he took out Walt Harris with relative comfort. There are fights for him available such as Rozenstruik or his rumored booking against Marcin Tybura. The latter will put that grappling acumen to the test but also gives him a distinct advantage on the feet. Volkov turns 33 in October, so he is also playing with some time in his back pocket.
In the Mix: Jon Jones, Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Outlook: You can’t talk about the heavyweight division without bringing up the looming shadow of Jon Jones and his decision to vacate the light heavyweight belt in order to acclimate his body to heavyweight. His social media feed is filled with videos of lifting weights and occasionally moving around the Octagon and feeling out his filled-out frame. Jones is already in the conversation of the greatest to ever do it in the sport, and heavyweight is saturated with legacy-building opportunities, including, but not limited to, a massive fight against Ngannou or even a huge fight against Miocic. But, UFC President Dana White said he believes Jones’ heavyweight debut won’t come until 2022 so, for now, it’s a lot of anticipation building when it comes to “Bones.”
Someone who is already established in the division is Rozenstruik. “Bigi Boy” got back on track with a first-round knockout of Augusto Sakai, but he has split his last four fights. Blaydes presents a clear and obvious test for him in terms of what he has in the defensive grappling department, but it’s also clear that Rozenstruik always has the ability to find the knockout shot.