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Francis Ngannou of Cameroon prepares to fight Ciryl Gane of France in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 270 event at Honda Center on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
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Where We Stand: Heavyweight Division | January 2022

The Belt Is Unified And Francis Ngannou Reigns Supreme. His Next Challenger, However, Is Not As Clear-Cut

The most sought-after title in combat sports remained in Francis Ngannou’s hands after UFC 270 thanks to the champion’s grappling prowess. Yes, that is a real sentence. In the aftermath, there’s no clear path to a particular “next” as far as the title goes, but the future of the division is looking more and more threatening as they get their first shots at the Top 5.

With that in mind, this is where we stand in the heavyweight division:
 

Champion: Francis Ngannou

(17-3, 12 KOs, 4 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Ciryl Gane (1/22/22)
Next fight: N/A

Francis Ngannou of Cameroon punches Ciryl Gane of France in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 270 event at Honda Center on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Francis Ngannou of Cameroon punches Ciryl Gane of France in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 270 event at Honda Center on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Francis Ngannou of Cameroon punches Ciryl Gane of France in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 270 event at Honda Center on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: “The Predator” maintained his apex position in unique fashion at UFC 270. Instead of a jaw-shattering knockout, Ngannou negated Ciryl Gane’s movement – which frankly kept Ngannou at bay for the first two rounds – with a grappling-heavy approach that sucked the life out of the Frenchman. At fight’s end, Ngannou achieved his first title defense as well as earned the first decision win of his professional career. He revealed he suffered a torn MCL as well as an injured ACL in the lead-up to the fight, so he will likely need surgery and time to recover. Afterward, his next challenger is a little unclear. A trilogy fight with Stipe Miocic could be made, but Ngannou and Jon Jones traded jabs over social media, and the MMA world is more or less waiting for “Bones” to make his much-anticipated heavyweight debut. What’s certain is Ngannou continues to evolve, making an already intimidating presence in the Octagon even more so.

1) Ciryl Gane

(10-1, 4 KOs, 3 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Francis Ngannou (1/22/22)
Next fight: N/A

Ciryl Gane of France punches Jairzinho Rozenstruik of Suriname in a heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Ciryl Gane of France punches Jairzinho Rozenstruik of Suriname in a heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: For the two rounds, Ciryl Gane looked good as ever, dancing around the Octagon and picking apart Ngannou from the outside. The tables turned quickly, however, as Gane wasn’t able to deal with Ngannou’s surprise turn into a grappler. Gane fought well in the last three rounds, but not well enough, and with a loss now on his professional record, it’ll be interesting to see what is next for “Bon Gamin.” He already holds wins over four of the Top 6, and Miocic is unlikely to take a non-title bout at this point of his career. Curtis Blaydes remains an interesting matchup for the Frenchman, and he could also wait and see what happens with Derrick Lewis’ upcoming fight against Tai Tuivasa at UFC 271.

2) Stipe Miocic

(20-4, 15 KOs)
Last Fight: KO Loss vs Francis Ngannou (3/27/21)
Next fight: N/A

Stipe Miocic celebrates his TKO victory over Daniel Cormier in their heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 241 event at the Honda Center on August 17, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Stipe Miocic celebrates his TKO victory over Daniel Cormier in their heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 241 event at the Honda Center on August 17, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: The most accomplished heavyweight champion in the sport’s history hasn’t been heard from much since losing his title in a rematch against Ngannou. The general feeling is Miocic wants a trilogy fight to settle the score against Ngannou, but outside factors prevented that matchup from coming to fruition. Whether he is granted that fight is yet to be seen, but a matchup against Gane could be a nice way for both fighters to earn that next shot at the title. Depending on if Lewis gets past Tuivasa in Houston, that could also prove to be a tasty matchup with title fight implications. At this point of his career, Miocic doesn’t have to prove much, but the pride of Cleveland, Ohio, certainly wants to regain the belt he defended more than anyone in the division’s history.

3) Derrick Lewis

(26-8, 21 KOs, 1 Submission)
Last Fight: KO Win vs Chris Daukaus (12/18/21)
Next fight: vs Tai Tuivasa (2/12/22)

 DECEMBER 18: Derrick Lewis celebrates after his knockout victory over Chris Daukaus in their heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 18, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: The UFC’s Knockout King bounced back from his disappointing effort in the interim title fight against Ciryl Gane with a bulldozing knockout of Chris Daukaus in the last main event of 2021. It reestablished Lewis in the thick of the title picture, and with Ngannou’s win over Gane at UFC 270, it fortifies Lewis’ chase for another crack at gold. Lewis holds an infamous decision victory over Ngannou at UFC 226, a fight both men would certainly like a chance to rectify. His win over Daukaus and impending matchup with Tuivasa shows he is willing to take on the crop of rising young heavyweights in the division and provide an elite test of their championship quality.

4) Curtis Blaydes

(15-3, 10 KOs)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik (12/11/21)
Next fight: N/A

Curtis Blaydes celebrates his TKO victory over Shamil Abdurakhimov of Russia in their heavyweight bout during UFC 242 at The Arena on September 7, 2019 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Curtis Blaydes celebrates his TKO victory over Shamil Abdurakhimov of Russia in their heavyweight bout during UFC 242 at The Arena on September 7, 2019 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: “Razor” Blaydes firmly planted himself within the division’s Top 5 with his dominant decision win over Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC 266. His wrestling-heavy style may not provide explosive finishes, but the way he grinds to get results is admirable, and it’s why he’s one of the best in the division. A ground-and-pound savant, Blaydes has only lost to Francis Ngannou (twice) and Derrick Lewis. He could sensibly face Ciryl Gane in a classic striker-vs-grappler matchup to try and get a third chance at Ngannou, but he also could take the Derrick Lewis-route of facing the up-and-comers in the division in the meantime. Time is on Blaydes’ side, as he is only 30 years old with almost six years of UFC experience under his belt.

5) Alexander Volkov

(34-9, 22 KOs, 3 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Marcin Tybura (10/30/21)
Next fight: vs Tom Aspinall (3/12/22

Alexander Volkov of Russia punches Alistair Overeem of the Netherlands in their heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 06, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Alexander Volkov of Russia punches Alistair Overeem of the Netherlands in their heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 06, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Alexander Volkov of Russia punches Alistair Overeem of the Netherlands in their heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 06, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: “Drago” has grown into one of the more stalwart presences among the UFC’s heavyweight elite. A diverse and skilled kickboxer, Volkov has also improved his defensive grappling, adding weight and improved technique to thwart would-be takedowns. With losses to Lewis, Blaydes and Gane, Volkov might find himself fighting athletes in the lower half of the Top 10 before getting to rematch territory, which makes his fight against Aspinall critical. It’s a high-risk, lower-reward kind of fight for him as it doesn’t do much to improve his stock in the division, but he is in danger of losing his Top 5 spot should he lose to Aspinall.

In the Mix: Tom Aspinall, Chris Daukaus, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Tai Tuivasa, Jon Jones

Outlook: Heavyweight is seeing a much-needed wave of young talent rise to the top, represented most notably by Tom Aspinall and Chris Daukaus. At 28 and 32, respectively, they figure to play a major factor in the future of the division, and they’re already challenging for those Top 5 spots. Daukaus fell to Lewis in his first main event, and Aspinall gets his first chance at breaking into the elite when he headlines UFC’s return to London in March against Alexander Volkov. Another factor in the future of the division, and perhaps the most notable name of the bunch, is Tai Tuivasa. “Bam Bam” already has main event and Top 10 experience, and after his three-fight losing skid, appears to be back on track. The 28-year-old is expected to fight Derrick Lewis in Houston at UFC 271, which could skyrocket him back to where he was only a couple years ago. Jairzinho Rozenstruik is on a bit of a bumpy road since his breakthrough in 2019, but “Bigi Boy” still stands as a highly skilled opponent for anyone who faces him.

Of course, we’re all waiting to see if Jon Jones will ever make his divisional debut and return to action, which has major title implications if it does indeed happen. Granted, that sentence has been written in some form or fashion several times in the last couple of years, and the waiting has only continued.