The State of the Heavyweight Division: 2021

4 Mar , 2021,
oleg

The first few months of 2021 are heavy on the heavyweight matchups in UFC. We’re coming off back-to-back HW main events, with Cyril Gane defeating Jairzinho Rozenstruik in an uneventful 5-rounder last weekend, and Derrick Lewis brutally knocking out Curtis Blaydes the week before.  The Lewis-Blaydes card also had a strong supporting cast of heavyweight veterans and up-and-comers. And a month from now, the reigning and defending champion [#1] Stipe Miocic will defend his title in a rematch with [#2] Francis Ngannou. The winner of that fight will most likely take on Jon ‘Bones’ Jones in the former light-heavyweight champions heavyweight debut. With all these matchups, 2021 is on an early track to be a breakout year for the UFC’s heavyweight division. Let’s take a look at the top 10 heavyweights (most of whom are competing in the UFC), and what this year may hold for them. And if you are a gambling type, you can place a bet on your favorite fighter at sites such as www.comeon.com to make the fights even more exciting.

[#1] (C) Stipe Miocic

Stipe Miocic cemented his legacy as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time when he bested Daniel Cormier in a best of 3 series for the UFC title. He has already defeated his next opponent Francis Ngannou in a rather lopsided decision; however Ngannou racked up four first-round knockouts in his last four fights, which was enough to earn him a rematch with Miocic. If Stipe can once again fend off Francis, a matchup with Jon Jones could be next.  Should Stipe win this one as well, his name will definitely be in the GOAT discussion.

[#2]  Francis Ngannou

The 34-year old Cameroonian has taken the MMA world by storm. Ngannou is 10-2 in the UFC, with 10 stoppage wins. And 8 of those were in the first round. Perhaps the hardest puncher in the sport, Ngannou did falter twice: in the first matchup with Miocic, and in the subsequent bout with Derrick Lewis, where both men were mostly content to stare at each other. He holds knockout or TKO victories over Rozenstruik; former champions Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez; Curtis Blaydes (twice); Alistair Overeem; and Andrei Arlovski. Should Francis overcome Stipe, he could have a long reign atop the division. Of course the hypothetical matchup with Jon Jones is also nothing to scoff at!

[#3]  Derrick Lewis

Derrick Lewis has once fought for the UFC gold, where he was thoroughly manhandled by Daniel Cormier and submitted in the second round. He is not making another unlikely run at the title, on the strength of four consecutive wins – capped off with a brutal KO of Curtis Blaydes. Lewis is one of the hardest hitters in the division, second only perhaps to Ngannou. His power carries into latter rounds, and he also possesses an uncanny ability to just stand up from compromising situations on the ground. While it’s not likely that Lewis will hold the championship, he is always only one good punch away from separating his opponents from consciousness. Cyril Gane would be a good test for Lewis, as well as for Gane.

[#4]  Ciryl Gane

Undefeated French prospect Cyril Gane is 8-0 in MMA, and 5-0 in UFC, with only 3 pro fights under his belt when he made his Octagon debut. Gane is a very technical striker, moves with the quickness and agility of a much smaller man, and has even shown some ground chops in a couple of fights. This man may truly be a future of the division. However, he most recently delivered a somewhat lackluster performance, fighting safe due to the respect he gave to the hands of ‘Bigi Boy’ Rozenstruik. Fighting safe may have got him the W but it’s not likely to advance him further in the title picture.

[#5]  Curtis Blaydes

Curtis Blaydes was being lauded as one of the hottest prospects in the heavyweight division.  However his recent loss to Lewis may have put a major damper on his championship plans. Combined with his two losses to Francis Ngannou, it raises a big question of whether Blaydes is equipped to deal with the heaviest hitters of the division. He would have to solve this type of puzzle if he wants to advance beyond a high level gatekeeper.

[#6]  Alexander Volkov 

The 6’7″ Russian prospect has been chugging along in the UFC, accumulating a 7-2 record. His losses are to Lewis by KO in the most typical Lewis fashion (Volkov was winning the fight handily before catching a bomb) and a decision loss to Blaydes. Most recently Volkov got back on the winning track and stopped Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem, both with strikes in the second round. Once the Miocic/Ngannou/Jones picture clears up, Volkov may not be far from title contention.

[#7] Jairzinho Rozenstruik

A veteran kickboxer with an 85-8 record, Bigi Boy’s transition to MMA started out smooth but hit a couple of speed bumps of late. After his victory over Alistair Overeem, Jairzinho had a spiffy 10-0 MMA record; however the Overeem fight foreshadowed some of the things to come. Alistair outworked Rozenstruik on the feet and was winning on judges scorecards, before Bigi maimed his lip in the fifth round with a clubbing punch, which caused the ringside doctor to immediately stop the bout. Next, Bigi Boy took on Ngannou and was completely flatlined within seconds. He rebounded with a TKO of Junior Dos Santos, but then had an absolutely atrocious performance against Gane – similar to the Overeem fight but even less output, and this time he never got the chance to land the fight stopping shot, losing a unanimous decision. If Bigi Boy is to further climb the ranking ladder, he needs to add a bit more to his game and not just stand around idly looking for the perfect counter.

[#8] Alistair Overeem

Alistair Overeem’s longevity as an elite fighter is something to behold. After an accomplished career in Pride FC and K-1 kickboxing leagues, Overeem joined UFC in 2011 and amassed a 12-8 record over the last 10 years. Only 3 of his 20 UFC fights have gone the distance. And the UFC HW title is one accolade that has eluded him all this time.  Overeem is a glass cannon, and at age 40 will not likely sniff a title shot. He is at this point best serving as a gatekeeper, the role which he played in his last fight for Volkov.

[#9] Junior dos Santos

This will sound harsh, but coming off four consecutive T/KO losses, Junior dos Santos frankly does not belong in the Top 10 and is only here on the strength of past accomplishments. He should no longer be competing in the UFC; in fact he should not be competing at all. Nothing left to be said here.

[#10] Fabricio Werdum

The only fighter on this list who is not currently under contract with UFC, though his last fight was in the Octagon against Alexander Gusstafson. It’s not yet clear what the future holds for Werdum – he intends to continue fighting but which promotion he will end up with is anyone’s guess. While his career is obviously winding down, Werdum could still be a ‘big fish in a small pond’ of another promotion.