What Are The Heavyweights Fighting For?
By: Clint MacLean (@DieHardMMAPod)
We have already talked about Saturday’s Blaydes vs. Volkov match up and if you haven’t read that preview be sure to check it out here:
There is something interesting going on in the UFC’s Heavyweight division, and it’s not a good thing. There is a pile-up!! We are living in strange times right now with COVID, and lots of fights are happening that otherwise may not. Lots of fighters are taking fights simply to stay active even if they don’t improve their divisional position or if it’s a bad matchup because they need the work or the world is watching, and they see it as their time to shine. Every fighter in the UFC will tell you that one day they aim to be champion, so even if they are accepting a less than optimal fight, the goal is always to reach the top. In this main event, we have an exciting tilt between prospects, but what is on the line?
The Top 5
There was a time when the UFC’s heavyweight division rivaled all others for the most exciting. We had Cain Valasquez and his eternal rival Junior dos Santos trading the belt every time they fought. We had former champion Frank Mir attempting to rise to glory and young monsters like Todd Duffy coming out of nowhere. Brock Lesnar was making his move from fake wrestling to a pure combat sport and facing Shane Carwin in a record-breaking fight simply based on size to prove who was the saddest man on the planet! Then we threw Allistair Overeem into the mix, and Heavyweight had never been more fun. There was a strange lull, however, and the belt changed hands a few times while the division’s talent refreshed itself, and we are in a new era that promises to be just as exciting. The only issue is that right now, the top positions at Heavyweight are tied up, and the future is uncertain for the biggest names in the division.
The UFC’s Heavyweight rankings currently look like this:
Champion: Stipe Miocic
Stipe is staking his claim as the greatest heavyweight of all time. As of now, he is the only Heavyweight Champion ever to defend the belt for three consecutive fights. That may not sound like a lot, but at Heavyweight, a single shot from nearly any fighter on the roster can end with you looking up at the lights and your corner giving you the smelling salts. Stipe has used his grinding wrestling base and significant power to command the division longer than any before him, and right now, he tied up with Daniel DC Cormier, who is trying to take the GOAT title from him.
The division has been on hold after a strange situation where Stipe called non-stop and sat out nearly a year for a rematch with DC, and when he finally got the strap back, he disappeared. DC was calling for the rubber match, citing how Stipe demanded his rematch, and DC granted it to him as reason enough for Stipe to return the favor, but Stipe didn’t seem at all interested. Finally, on June 1st, 2020, we got the tweet signaling that the rematch is on, and they will finally settle this grudge match.
— Stipe Miocic (@stipemiocic) June 7, 2020
1. Daniel DC Cormier
The other side of the coin at Heavyweight is DC! He moved from 205 back up to Heavyweight, where he started his career and immediately took the belt from Stipe via knockout. DC became the 2 division champion and gave the former champ Stipe he deserved rematch to settle who was the best UFC Heavyweight of all time but lost the 2nd fight. The first fight was in July of 2018 when DC took the strap. After that, he defended it in November of 2018, and the rematch didn’t take place until August 17th, 2019! Here we sit halfway through 2020, and we are just now getting the 3rd fight announced. As excited as I am to see this epic trilogy play out, we have young right on the cusp of greatness who deserve their cracks at UFC gold who have had to sit on the sidelines for two full years!
On top of that… this will be DC’s last fight. So even if he takes back the strap, he very likely retires after getting it.
2. Francis Ngannou
I have said it for years. Francis Ngannou is the GOAT. You just don’t know it yet. Possibly the most exciting prospect in UFC history is Frankie Murder, and it’s just a matter of time before this man touches to gold. Imagine being Francis in this situation. He lost his first chance at gold in 2018 when Stipe somehow managed to stay alive in that fight to wear this freak of nature down and retain his title. Since then, he has been on a killing spree riding a four-fight win streak and a combined total of fewer than three minutes in the cage. Francis is already the scariest human alive, and he is somehow getting better! Another power puncher rose to challenge him as the next big thing in Jairzinho Rozenstruik, but Francis silenced that talk real quick.
Francis is clearing out the division like he already has the strap, and at this point, the only thing holding him back from being crowned champion is the trilogy. He has voiced his frustration and is asking for boxing matches to keep himself entertained because he is in the prime of his fighting life and wants to cash in on it, but the UFC is struggling to find him, worthy opponents. Imagine calling somebody and asking if they want to face Francis Ngannou… how do you think that conversation goes? Recently it looked like Jon Jones might step up to the plate and take on the heavyweight boogeyman, but the UFC doesn’t seem interested in letting 2 of its biggest stars kill each other off that easily. Much to the disappointment of the fans.
3. Curtis Blaydes
If Ngannou is the odd man out, then Blaydes finds himself in limbo. Much like Francis Blaydes has passed every test put in front of him except for one. Blaydes has 13 professional wins and only two losses. Those two losses have come against… you guessed it… Francis Ngannou. For poor Curtis Blaydes, there is nowhere to go. He has to keep knocking down every barrier in front of him until it becomes apparent there is no better option but him to fight for the title, and a 3rd fight with Francis likely only comes if the strap is on the line. Not only has Blaydes been winning, but he has left no doubt who the superior fighter has been finishing 2 of his last 3. Blaydes was on a five-fight win streak before the 2nd Ngannou fight and is currently riding a three-fight win streak going into Saturday. There is only one man ahead of him in the UFC’s rankings, so if he wins in devastating fashion this weekend, do not be shocked if he gets on the mic and calls for a trilogy fight and a #1 contender match while the older men sort out their drama.
4. Derrick Lewis
The Black Beast!! Old “Hot Balls” himself! This may feel like an odd spot for Lewis, and I agree. He is a fan-friendly fighter, but he is still managing to knock out just about everybody. Lewis amazingly holds a win over Francis Ngannou; however, that was Ngannou’s first fight back following the loss to Stipe, and he didn’t seem himself. Ngannou and Lewis somehow set the record for the lowest amount of strikes thrown in a UFC fight when it was billed as guaranteed fireworks. Instead, we got a snoozefest. I don’t give any weight to that win honestly, and should they rematch, I think Ngannou flat-lines Lewis. Lewis is 2-2 in his last four and was TKOd by Junior dos Santos in March 2019, so in my opinion, he should be a slot down.
— UFC Europe (@UFCEurope) July 25, 2019
5. Junior dos Santos
Speaking of Junior. The former champion is still finding a way to win! Junior is following the lead of Andrei Arlovski and is transitioning to a young murderous power puncher to a savvy veteran striker. He is currently on a two-fight skid after dropping KO’s to Ngannou and Blaydes, but before that, he put away Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis in violent fashion in a bid for a final run at the heavyweight strap. Junior’s durability seems to have faded, and he doesn’t have quite the power he used to. I fear he will be a Gatekeeper from this point forward.
The Title Picture
With rising stars like Jairzinho and Harris being turned away by existing Heavyweight talent, there isn’t a ton of turnover at the top of the division. Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem are constant threats and continue to hang around the top 5, but both have been soundly beaten by the 2nd and 3rd ranked heavyweights and are out of the picture. Alexander Volkov is essentially the last man standing. Out of all the would-be Heavyweight contender’s he is the only one with any kind of streak alive and even though he was knocked out stiff by Lewis at the final bell of their fight, that loss can be explained away as a fluke after a sound 3 round dominating performance by “Drago.”
We know that Stipe and DC are going to be setting their score, and one man will walk away from the undisputed GOAT of the UFC’s heavyweight division, but what then? Francis is lying in wait for his shot, and I would say he is undeniably the next man who gets a crack. I suspect that we will see a double retirement following the end of the GOAT trilogy. DC has already made it clear that he will be hanging it up after his next fight, and while Stipe hasn’t confirmed as much, he has talked about eye problems that have kept him sidelined. MMA is a brutal sport, and one of my favorite fighters of all time, Michael Bisping, lost an eye to it because he damaged it during his career and went blind. If Stipe is looking at a vision damaging injury, you can’t think he is long for combat sports, and if he wins, I doubt he is looking for the rematch with Francis. The winner of Saturday’s fight may be looking at a scrap with Francis Ngannou for the UFC’s vacant Heavyweight belt in a few months! As previously stated, I am all team Blaydes for Saturday’s main event, but Volkov has to realize what is on the line as well. After two long years, there is hope that you could find your way in a title fight very soon, but winning is a must to get there. I expect a changing of the guard, and after Blaydes destroys Volkov, he will get his wish. I can only hope that Stipe vs. DC 3 goes off without any issues, and Dana throws the vacant title in the center of the cage between Francis and Blaydes. Only one man can walk out with the strap. Who wants it more?