After over a year of the UFC’s Heavyweight division being held up at the top with Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic’s legendary feud, we are entering a new golden era for the division.
While Stipe and Cormier’s rivalry was incredible for the history of the sport, the biggest names in the division were being sidelined for a story rather than merit. And now that Cormier has retired and Stipe put a definitive end to the trilogy, we now get to fantasy book all of the new potential challengers. But what is the order of title contenders at Heavyweight?
Francis N’Gannou will be taking on Stipe Miocic for the second time in their careers next month at UFC 260. N’Gannou was thoroughly dominated in their first fight with Stipe controlling the fight on the ground and neutralizing N’Gannou’s striking. Since then, N’Gannou lost a follow up bout against Derrick Lewis in which he had since admitted was due to the after affects of the Stipe loss. He felt as though his confidence was broken but that was quickly repaired going 4-0 after that loss, all by way of first round knockout. This rematch will be a true test for both men. N’Gannou has still not been tested on the ground since his loss to Stipe which could again be his Achilles heel. However, with three brutal fights with Daniel Cormier in between his two N’Gannou bouts, we could see a completely different Stipe Miocic in the cage.
The Winner of Curtis Blaydes / Derrick Lewis
This weekend will host UFC Fight Night: Blaydes V.S Lewis. This is a major fight for both men with the winner likely to be next in line for the winner of Stipe and N’Gannou’s fight. Both men are riding winning streaks heading into the fight with Blaydes winning his last four and Lewis winning his last three. Both men have shown the ability to go the distance even in five round fights so it will really depend on what strategies each man will want to implore to decide the winner. Lewis is definitely the more refined striker although Blaydes is very adept on the feet. The ground game is a definitive edge for Blaydes. Lewis knows how to defend on the ground, but Blaydes has the wrestling background to control the fight on the ground. Regardless of the winner, they will more than likely be next line.
Jumping a bit further down the rankings, Alexander Volkov is coming off of a decisive win over veteran Alistair Overeem recently. Volkov could follow the winner of Blaydes and Lewis for a title shot, although the UFC may want him to prove his contender status with one more win before that. A likely opponent for Volkov would be the winner of Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane later this month, both of whom would need at least one more win after that to challenge for a title themselves. All three names mentioned here could realistically be challenging for a title before the year ends.
The Wild Card: Jon Jones
Here is where things get complicated for all of the above fighters aside from N’Gannou. Former Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones vacated said championship to move up a weight class to Heavyweight. Jones is currently adding weight to his frame to make sure he will be ready to challenge for the title when the time comes. The issue for all of the fighters here is that whenever Jon Jones is ready to fight for the title, he gets to jump the line. Due to Jones’ status as potentially the greatest fighter to ever compete, he is allowed to bypass all other potential challengers and face the champion regardless if it is Stipe or N’Gannou. Whoever Jones faces for the title whether it is the winner of Stipe and N’Gannou, or one of the names previously mentioned, it will truly test his status as the GOAT.
Photo: via Esther Lin / MMA Fighting